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The Self-Depreciation Jar

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T.S. so whats the chief complaint today

B.B. they saw your press release. I had to listen to Maximoff bitch for almost an hour about how unfair it is that you get to strut around on American soil while theyre banished

B.B. she used the word banished so many times I wanted to slam a dictionary over her head

B.B. maybe then she would figure out that being a fugitive is not the same as being banished, especially considering she willingly became a fugitive

T.S. omg hahaha if you do please send me footage I will frame the picture for my living room

Steve and the others didn't like living in Wakanda. Culture shock, Shuri told him later. Bucky wasn't even sure what that meant. He wasn't sure what a lot of things meant, and he didn't know if he could depend on Steve to be honest. Or perhaps that wasn’t fair: he didn’t know if he could depend on Steve to be unbiased.

It was fortunate that Shuri made it clear from the day that Bucky opened his eyes that she was always ready and willing to answer any questions that he might have. The queen mother of Wakanda, Ramonda, was equally welcoming. Between the two of them, they filled Bucky in on much of what he had missed during his time with Hydra and then on the run.

It was during one of those conversations that Bucky discovered that the person responsible for freeing him of the code words wasn't Shuri at all, but rather Tony Stark. She may have been the person who administered the tech, but Stark was the one who created it. Shuri freely admitted that Stark's explorations into the link between technology and the mind were beyond anything that she had been working on. Apparently, Stark had sent the B.A.R.F to Shuri and included strict instructions on how to use it. Shuri may have vetted the tech, but she hadn't modified it.

"I know better than to play around with things I don't understand," Shuri had said, serving him a cup of tea. "I may know a lot about technology, but what I don't know much about the mind. Anything I changed could have had a drastic implication on the results. It could've done nothing at all, or it could've made you worse. Doctor Stark has published many articles on his work. I've read several of them. He knows what he's talking about."

"Did you tell Stevie that Stark's the one who healed me?" Bucky had asked. The resulting look from Shuri made him feel extremely stupid, which was fair: it had been an extremely stupid question.

Tony Stark's name was mud around Steve and his crew. Anything that could be even remotely connected to Stark was suspect, and nothing Stark ever did was looked on in a positive light. Had Steve known that Stark was the one who created the technology that healed Bucky, it would've been enough for Steve to put his foot down on using it. And that meant that Bucky would've still been locked away in a cryogenetic state, waiting for the day when he wouldn't be a danger to the people around him. He could move, and breathe, and live thanks to Stark.

Could anyone blame Bucky for writing a thank you e-mail?

Well, Steve probably could. Bucky carefully didn't tell him, more for the sake of his own sanity than anything else: Steve could be like a dog with a bone, and sometimes that invasive, smothering attitude got on Bucky's nerves. No, Bucky thought about it for a long time. It took him even longer to write the e-mail. There was so much he wanted to say to Stark, but he wasn't sure that Stark would want to hear it. The words 'I'm sorry for killing your mom and dad, and I'm sorry for helping to beat your ass and abandoning you to die, and I'm sorry my best friend was an asshole who kept it from you' weren't realy the kind of thing that e-mails were for.

He wrote, and erased, the e-mail multiple times over. Until finally, he went with short and sweet: Thank you. Feels good to know that I won't hurt anyone else.

Bucky didn't expect to get an answer, and for many weeks he didn't. In the meantime, he filled the time either working out at the gym, spending time with Shuri, Ramonda or the Dora Milaje - Xoliswa in particular took great pleasure out of sparring with him and knocking him on his ass every damn time - and, when he had to, spending time with Steve and the others. It was uncomfortable to listen to them complain about the heat (Wakanda's pervasive, dry heat bothered all of them), their accomodations (apparently the small set of rooms allocated to them in the palace had nothing on the Compound), the Accords (an evil piece of work, in Wanda's words) and Stark. Always Stark. It got to the point where Bucky hated hearing Stark's name come up.

So he was surprised to return to his room one morning and find that there was an e-mail waiting for him from that very man. It was just as short as Bucky's original e-mail, basically saying that Bucky had nothing to thank him for. That couldn't stand - Bucky had everything to thank Stark for - so he wrote back. And then Stark answered. So Bucky answered. And before he knew it, Bucky was exchanging multiple e-mails a day with Tony Stark. The e-mails slowly progressed to text messages, after a rather bemused looking T'Challa passed a phone to Bucky one morning.

T.S. hows life in Wakanda

B.B. I can neither confirm nor deny that's where we are

T.S. ok but like, you know i sent the BARF to Shuri right

T.S. and also personal instructions addressed to Shuri

B.B. I was aware of that thank you

T.S. sure you were

"Do you ever think that maybe Stark ain't so bad?" Bucky asked. It was morning, and he was sitting on the balcony with only Natasha for company. In spite of their daily rants about how much they hated it here, Steve and the others rarely rose before 10am. Barton had taken to sleeping until noon most mornings. Bucky typically got up with the sun, because he had an open invitation from the Dora Milaje to join their early morning practice. He enjoyed meditating with them; it was slowly helping him to regain some familiarity and understanding over his own mind.

Natasha turned her head, looking at him with cool green eyes. "Why do you ask that?"

"I dunno. I just, I see what they say about him on the television and it seems like he's been doing a lot of good stuff lately." Bucky kept his face studiously impassive, which was one of the few holdovers from being the Winter Soldier that he truly appreciated. He'd noticed the way that Natasha kept tabs on everyone, her gaze seeing far more than people realized.

"Ah," Natasha said softly, as though she had come to some kind of great understanding. "Bucky, you should know that you can't always rely on the press to report the truth. They report on what will make a good story."

Bucky considered that for a moment. "So what you're saying is, Stark isn't doing that good stuff?"

"No, that's not what I'm saying at all. Tony really is doing all the stuff that you see. But what you don't see is what goes on behind the scenes. The shitty decisions that Tony makes on a regular basis, he's really good at hiding the fall-out from those. That's what he's been trained to do since he was a child. A lot of the time, even the most highly skilled journalists only see what he wants them to see. As an example, consider the fact that the vast majority of the press from the so-called civil war has been very favorable towards Tony, and very negative towards us. That wasn't a coincidence. We didn't have anyone to speak on our behalf, so Tony was able to control the flow of information and make himself look like the victim."

"But he was the victim. Stevie and I left him to die," Bucky said.

"There were extenuating circumstances," Natasha said, patting his arm. "No one blames you or Steve for what happened."

Maybe they should. Bucky sure as hell blamed himself. He should've never raised a hand to Stark. He would've deserved it if Stark had killed him. Saying that now wouldn't help, so instead Bucky said, "But Stark must have some good in him if he does all this stuff. It can't all be because he wants to shore up political capital and goodwill."

Natasha raised an eyebrow. Bucky felt a flicker of annoyance at her slightly surprised and impressed look. He might have been a prisoner for centuries, but he wasn't stupid. He'd been reading a lot since he'd woken up. Ramonda, who had devoted a large chunk of her time to helping him get caught up, had told him that he was progressing in leaps and bounds. Just because he chose not to demonstrate his intelligence didn't mean he was an idiot. In fact, when he compared himself to the likes of Maximoff and Barton, Bucky thought he might well be considered a genius.

"I don't deny that Tony can be a good person when he wants to be. He's just... short-sighted. He's not capable of seeing the big picture," Natasha explained, with an air of superiority that made Bucky's skin itch. "He doesn't always understand that sometimes people have to do things because it's for the best. The end can justify the means. Tony doesn't get that."

"Are you... are you trying to excuse the fact that you and Steve didn't tell Stark about me and his parents?" Bucky asked in disbelief.

"I don't have to excuse it. We were right, weren't we? Tony couldn't handle it." Natasha sipped from her orange juice, then stood and stretched. It was a calculated move, Bucky knew, designed to let him see the full scope of her body. It didn't do her any good, but she didn't know that. She winked at him, then turned and sauntered back into the palace. It was obvious that she was expecting him to watch her ass as she went. Instead, Bucky looked down at the remains of his breakfast.

"No, you were wrong," he said, so softly that it probably would've been unintelligible to anyone but Steve - and even then, Steve wouldn't have wanted to hear it.

T.S. i hate press conferences

B.B. it looked like you did pretty good. I'm no expert when it comes to the press, but it looked like you had them eating out of the palm of your hand

T.S. appearances can be deceiving. I'm good at making myself look better than I am.

B.B. sheesh I swear you need a jar

T.S. uh excuse me?

B.B. you know like those swear jars they have for people who are trying to curse less? Ramonda’s got one set up for Shuri.

B.B. Except you need one where every time you make a bad remark about yourself, you have to put a buck in

T.S. excuse you I am fine the way I am

Bucky was sitting in Shuri's lab, letting her finish up some work on his new arm, when the door flew open. Shuri jumped in surprise and alarm and accidentally pinched a wire. Bucky swore under his breath as a jolt of white hot pain shot up his arm and into his shoulder. It was a damn good thing that Nareema was the one holding his arm, because it twitched uncontrollably and probably would've punched Shuri in the face otherwise. She held on, her musces straining, until Bucky, gasping, had worked through enough of the pain to consciously relax.

"Sorry, shit, sorry," he panted.

"It's not your fault," Nareema said with a dark glare towards the entrance.

"Bucky, we've been pardoned!" Steve cried, seemingly unaware of what his entrance had caused. "Come see!" He vanished as quickly as he'd come. Bucky sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Do you need to go?" Shuri inquired.

"Nah. Finish what you started, Princess. I'm sure I'll hear all about it in detail later." Bucky patted at his pockets and sighed. "And I'll get you a dollar later for your swear jar."

Shuri exchanged a look with Nareema and shook her head. "Save your money. In this case, knowing how much that hurt, it was warranted."

B.B. we're coming back?

T.S. correction, you're coming home