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The Self-Depreciation Jar

Chapter Text

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

Chapter Text

T’Challa allowed them the use of one of his jets, piloted by Nareema, to get back to the United States. Bucky lasted approximately five minutes and thirty three seconds in the back of the plane before he lost patience and moved up front, sinking into the co-pilot seat. Nareema glanced over at him with a faintly amused smile, one eyebrow raised in silent query. Bucky sighed.

“I can’t listen to them talk anymore,” he muttered, fishing his phone out of his pocket. The general sense of smug superiority radiating off of Steve and the others was more than he could take right now. They all seemed to think that by getting pardoned, they’d ‘gotten one over’ on Tony. Barton in particular was talking about he couldn’t wait to lord this over Tony’s head. Steve, on the other hand, appeared to believe that all was forgiven and forgotten and that Tony couldn’t wait to see them home.

It was all enough to irk Bucky on a level he couldn’t properly express in words.

“They talk a lot of air,” Nareema said, returning her gaze to the clouds around them. “It’s like poison.”

“Right? I would be amazed at how delusional it all is if it didn’t piss me off so much,” Bucky said. Some of the tension in his shoulders eased when he unlocked his phone and saw all the texts from Tony that were waiting for him. Apparently Tony was tracking their plane.

“What will you do when you land?” she asked quietly.

That was the million dollar question. Bucky sighed. “I don’t know. I’m torn.”

Nareema nodded. This wasn’t the first time they’d had this discussion. Bucky would’ve gone crazy in Wakanda with only Steve and the other Avengers to talk to. He’d always been careful about what he said, mindful of the fact that Steve was his best friend, but Nareema, like all of her comrades within the Dora Milaje, were eerily good at picking up on what wasn’t spoken out loud. She probably knew more about the situation than Bucky did.

They were quiet for a long time, before Nareema broke the silence to say, “We’re landing.”

Bucky sat up and peered out the windows as the plane began to descend. He’d seen the Compound before in pictures, but never in person. It was larger than he’d expected, and he suddenly understood why T’Challa’s jet was able to land there with no problems. The jet actually flew over the Compound in order to reach the runway, and Bucky’s eyes picked out several people pointing to the sky. He swallowed.

The wheels of the plane touched down with nary a jolt, which was to be expected of one of T’Challa’s best pilots. Bucky stayed where he was for a moment after the plane stopped moving, looking out the windshield. The Compound was maybe a ten minute trek from the runway. Too short a distance to come to a decision that he’d been grappling with for almost two years now.

“Bucky, come on!” Steve shouted.

“Good luck, White Wolf,” Nareema said, extending a hand to him.

Bucky looked from her hand to her face. “You’re… not coming?”

Her smile was sympathetic. “I don’t have permission to leave the plane. My orders were to fly you here and then return. I have ample fuel to get back.”

“Oh. Well… thank you. Thanks for everything.” Bucky clasped her hand firmly.

“Remember your meditation,” she said.

“I will.” He had to make himself let go, because he knew that if he didn’t Steve would be up here to get him. Bucky stood up and moved through the door, making his way off the plane to where the others stood on the runway. He thought it might actually be the first time he’d ever seen Maximoff smile when the conversation wasn’t about getting revenge on Tony Stark.

“Guess there’s no welcoming committee,” Barton said.

“You’re perfectly capable of walking,” Natasha said, though the curl of her lip suggested she wasn’t overly thrilled at the lack of welcome either.

“Come on, Avengers.” Steve beckoned to them with a great big grin on his face, then clapped a hand around Bucky’s shoulders and started walking. Bucky ended up being tugged along with him. Natasha, Barton, Lang and Wilson fell into step behind them, and Bucky was uncomfortably aware of the fact that they probably looked a lot like an invading species.

The Compound rose above them as they approached. At first it looked as though there was no one around; then, the front doors opened and a woman walked out. She had dark hair pulled back into a severe bun and was wearing what looked like some kind of sleek black uniform. Her heels clicked on the pavement as she strode towards them. There was no welcoming smile on her face.

“Maria!” Steve exclaimed, beaming.

“It’s Agent Hill, actually,” Agent Hill corrected. “Good morning. I’ve been tasked with walking you through your return to the Compound. Except you, Mr. Barnes.”

Bucky shrank back as all eyes turned to him. “Uh… what do you mean?”

“You can have your orientation with me or you can choose to have it with Mr. Stark,” Agent Hill said calmly. “It’s your choice.”

Almost immediately a babble of confused voices broke out behind him, with Steve’s rising over them all to demand, “What do you mean, a private orientation?! Tony can’t touch you, Buck. He can’t hurt you!” His grip tightened on Bucky’s shoulder to the point of pain, and the last of Bucky’s patience snapped.

“Would you stop?” Bucky hissed, jerking out from under Steve’s heavy arm. “Just… stop.”

“Bucky? What’s wrong?” Steve looked at him with a wounded gaze. He didn’t understand. That was problem. Steve never understood.

“I’d like to see Tony very much,” Bucky said to Agent Hill, rather than answer.

“He thought you might feel that way,” she said quietly. “He couldn’t be here to greet you, though he wanted to.” Her eyes flicked meaningfully to the others. Louder, she added, “If you enter the Compound, FRIDAY will direct you to where Mr. Stark is.”

“No!” Steve yelled, grabbing for Bucky’s arm. Bucky dodged him.

“Stevie, knock it off. You can have your orientation and I’ll have mine. We’ll meet up later.” Bucky marched towards the Compound.

“Bucky, don’t!” Natasha called out.

Something whistled. Bucky’s head rose to follow the sound automatically; a glob of… something hit the ground right behind him, causing Steve to jerk his hand back before he could touch Bucky. Bucky stared at the grey stuff and slowly realized that it looked a lot like webbing. A very familiar webbing that he’d once had to spend hours scraping off of his arm and out of his hair.

“Hands off, Captain,” a familiar voice called. Bucky looked up and saw the blue-and-red suited superhero above them, clinging to the side of the Compoud. Spider-Man waved at Bucky.

“Spider-Man, do Tony and Stephen know you’re out here?” Agent Hill demanded, putting her hands on her hips.

Spider-Man cocked his head. “What are you talking about? Dad’s the one who sent me out here. Something about making sure that Mr. Freeze gets where he wants to be.”

Mr. Freeze. Bucky had to bite back a laugh. “I’ll catch you later, Stevie,” he said over his shoulder, and proceeded into the Compound. Spider-Man literally crawled in after him, still hanging from the ceiling, and the doors slid shut on the sound of Steve yelling his name. Bucky probably shouldn’t have gotten as much satisfaction from that as he had.

“Wow, he’s noisy,” Spider-Man said, effortlessly flipping down to the ground. Much to Bucky’s surprise, he reached up and pulled his mask off. The boy – and he really was just a boy, couldn’t have been older than eighteen – underneath smiled and stuck a hand out to shake.

“Uh, should you have done that?” Bucky asked.

“Dad trusts you, and that’s enough for me. He doesn’t trust easily. I’m Peter. Peter Parker.”

“Dad… are you really Tony’s kid?”

Peter’s grin broadened. “Biologically? No. In every way that counts? Yep. Pop is forever telling me that I’m Tony’s kid through and through.”

“Pop?” Bucky repeated, feeling more lost than ever.

“Stephen Strange. Dad’s boyfriend, though I keep telling them they should just go ahead and get married… they’re like this.” Peter crossed two of his fingers and made a face. “It’s really kind of gross to see them making out all over the place. I swear they do it just to bug me.”

“I could see Tony doing that,” Bucky said, for lack of anything else to say. He was feeling very overwhelmed. Living in Wakanda, where news about Tony Stark had been both periodic and dissected in a biased way by Steve and the others, had not prepared him for this. Tony had shared glimpses of his life here during their text messages, and Bucky did recall mentions of Stephen and Peter, but he was beginning to realize that those glimpses were just a tiny fraction of how everything had changed.

Steve was going to flip out.

“Come on. I’ll show you to where Dad is,” Peter said. “You’ve got pretty much free reign of the Compound, but that is restricted to you. You are never to take Rogers or anyone in his band into the places I’m about to show you, is that clear?” There was a sudden hardness to Peter’s eyes, and his grip had tightened on Bucky’s hand to the point of pain. The kid was strong, Bucky realized. Very strong.

“I get it,” Bucky said. He couldn’t blame Peter for being protective of Tony after how things had gone done – particularly when he’d overheard some of the more disturbing plans Barton and Maximoff had cooked up.

He followed Peter into the Compound, looking around curiously. Steve had described a newly built place that was still largely sterile, with the Avengers not having had the time to truly make their mark. That didn’t reflect what Bucky was seeing. Everywhere he looked there was a personal touch, whether it was pretty decorations or artwork on the walls or a sweatshirt tossed over the couch or video game controllers strewn in front of the television or dishes piled in the sink.

“Oh, ew!” Peter whined as they walked into the kitchen. Bucky looked up and spotted Tony standing near the coffeemaker, heavily intertwined with a tall man that Bucky vaguely recognized. He’d seen Stephen Strange on television before, usually accompanying Tony in some way, but had never met the man in person.

Tony broke the kiss to laugh. “Didn’t May ever teach you not to interrupt your elders?”

“Aunt May says you’re way past the age where you should be this invested in public displays of affection,” Peter said triumphantly, putting his hands on his hips.

Strange sighed and disentangled himself from Tony. “May isn’t wrong,” he said, swatting at Tony when Tony made a grab for him. “I see you’ve brought company.”

“Snowflake!” Tony said, his face lighting up when he caught sight of Bucky. “You made it!”

“Uh, yeah,” Bucky said, feeling trapped now that all three of them were staring at him.

“Peter, did you do your homework yet?” Strange asked, looking away from Bucky.

“Yes?”

“Let’s go double check to make sure you didn’t forget anything.” Strange slung a casual arm around Peter’s shoulder and led him out of the room, giving Bucky a wide berth as they went. The skin on the back of Bucky’s neck prickled and he swung around to look at Tony.

“I wouldn’t hurt ‘em,” he said, half-panicked.

“What?” Tony said, looking surprised. “Oh, no – Bucky, Stephen was just giving you space. I’ve been told that our crew can be a lot to take sometimes, especially at first. I really did mean to be out there to greet you when you got here, but…”

“It’s fine. You, uh, should probably avoid them for a while,” Bucky said.

“I expected as much.” Tony pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. When he looked up again, he was forcing a smile. “How about a tour? I can give you a quick rundown of things as we go. I’m sure that, considering who you’ve been living with, your flow of information hasn’t exactly been impartial. That’s part of the reason why I offered to give you a separate tour; I wanted you to have the opportunity to make your own choice without… without anyone else trying to influence you.”

Bucky relaxed a little. “Shuri and Ramonda and the Dora Milaje told me what they knew. Shuri is fascinated by your work.”

“She is?” A small smile played aorund Tony’s lips. “That’s good to know. You sound like you spent a lot of time with them.”

“They were good to me,” Bucky said quietly. Better than he’d deserved. He caught a glint of understanding in Tony’s eyes and looked away, feeling like Tony had seen too much.

“I’m glad. I can’t say our accommodations are as good as theirs, but we try. Right this way.” Tony beckoned and walked out the door, leaving Bucky to fall into step beside him.

Chapter Text

Tony, mercifully, kept the tour brief. He showed Bucky where the bedrooms were, then took him to see the gym, the training area, the outdoor training area, the workshops, and then they circled back around to the common rooms. Bucky didn’t see anyone else as they went, and he suspected that word had been sent out to avoid the two of them. He appreciated the consideration; it gave him the chance to actually absorb everything.

Which is probably why he only noticed the jar in the living room for the first time then. It was sitting on a stand against the far wall. Made of clear glass, the jar looked exactly like a pickle jar except that it was as long as Bucky’s arm and five times as wide around. It was also about half-full of coins and one and ten dollar bills. The sign above it, printed out on a computer and taped to the wall, proclaimed it to be ‘THE SELF DEPRECIATION JAR’.

Bucky stared at it for a long moment. “You… you do realize I was joking.”

“Yeah, unfortunately Peter got a hold of my phone and thought your joke was the greatest thing ever,” Tony said dryly. “He and Stephen implemented that damn jar. Now everyy time I say something bad about myself, I have to drop ten dollars in.”

“Ten dollars?” Bucky said, turning to look at him.

“Peter tells me it’s adjusted for inflation.”

“But there are quarters and dollar bills too?”

Tony smirked. “If I have to do it, so does everyone else.” He moved closer to the jar, touching the glass in a way that almost seemed fond. “I have to be honest. I wasn’t in a very good place when you sent me that first email. It’s why it took me so long to answer you.”

Bucky stiffened. “You didn’t have to answer me. I never expected you to.”

“I know. That’s part of why I did,” Tony said.

“Tony… I really am –”

“Don’t,” Tony said, cutting him off. “I don’t need to hear any more apologies from you, Bucky. I know you’re sorry. I know that if you had the power to change things, you would in a heartbeat. That’s why you’re here. And frankly… your apologies have helped, but you were never the person that I really needed to hear it from. You were a prisoner of Hydra, forced to be their puppet. No one has ever forced Steve Rogers to do anything.”

“No one except his ma,” Bucky said quietly. “What do you want from me?”

Tony was quiet for a moment before he sighed. “I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Rogers and the others didn’t read their pardons very closely.”

“I don’t know,” Bucky said, a little confused at the sudden change in subject.

“Oh, I know they didn’t. You would’ve heard all about it if they had,” Tony said with a bitter smile. “Their pardons had very specific rules attached to it. For example, if they don’t want to be Avengers anymore, they’ll be monitored as civilians for the next two years to insure that they’re following the rules and aren’t resorting to vigilantism.”

“I doubt that’ll be a problem. They all seemed pretty keen.”

Tony nodded slowly. “I figured as much. Things work differently here now, though. We’ve put a lot work into changing things to suit everyone, not just a few people. The Avengers aren’t just one team now; there are multiple teams. Mostly it’s to prevent burn-out. It gets to be a lot if we have more than one battle within the course of a week, especially since some of the Avengers have day jobs. But we also have specialist team, like the magic users, who may be called out for something specific.”

“Okay,” Bucky said. “That… makes sense to me. Why would they be mad about that?”

“Because we already have these teams and systems in place,” Tony replied, crossing his arms. “And Rogers will not be given control over a team. I don’t know for sure, since these kinds of decisions are made by the team leaders and I’m not one, but in my opinion it’s unlikely that Barton, Romanov, Maximoff, Wilson, Lang and Rogers will even be assigned to the same teams.”

Bucky winced. “Okay, yeah, now I see what you mean.” Steve was going to hit the roof when he found out that he wouldn’t have control over his team anymore.

“Frankly,” Tony went on, “none of them will even be seeing a battle for at least a month. There are a whole bunch of tests that new Avengers have to undergo to prove that they’re battle ready. Since none of us ever took them when the Avengers were first formed, they’ll have to do so now. I don’t even know if all of them will pass. Psychological testing is part of it, and I have my doubts about… about some of them.”

“By some of them, you mean Steve.”

“Not just him. Maximoff is so full of hatred towards me that I don’t think she can function in a battle situation even if she wanted to, but I also think they’re going to find a lot of fault with her lack of control. Then there’s Romanov. She has no loyalty towards anyone and has already shown that she’s willing to switch sides at the drop of the hat if she feels like it benefits her. She’s not as good of an actress as she thinks, and our psychologists are the best in the world. They’ll catch that. I even wonder about Barton, since I know for a fact that Laura is planning to serve him with divorce papers now that he’s back on U.S. soil.” Tony’s voice was very matter-of-fact.

Bucky considered that, matching Tony’s rundown against what he knew of Steve’s team, and found that it rang true. Tony couldn’t have known that being in Wakanda had made Maximoff’s and Barton’s mental states deteoriate even further. It was good to know that the two of them would need to be approved by psychologists before they’d be allowed back on the field; Bucky was positive that Maximoff, at least, would never pass muster. He didn’t know enough about Romanov to accurately say.

Then there was Steve. Bucky wanted to shake his head when he thought about his oldest friend. Time had not been kind to Steve, leaving him with an artificial, inflated sense of self-importance. If Bucky had to hear one more rant about how ‘the safest hands are our own’, he was going to throw up. That was exactly how Hydra looked at the world, though he wasn’t about to point that out to Steve.

Steve just had no understanding of how the world worked, or why it worked the way it did. He hadn’t made any effort to learn about things that mattered, preferring instead to rely on people like Romanov to fill in on the fly. He clung to the past, spending hours filling Bucky’s ear about how things used to be and about how things would be in the future. To hear Steve tell it, he and Bucky were the exact same boys who’d been shipped off to war over eighty years ago.

“If Steve doesn’t pass, where does that leave me?” Bucky asked.

“You and Rogers are not a package deal,” Tony said. “You’re individuals and will be treated as such. If you want to be an Avenger, you’ll have to go through the same tests. You have way more freedom in the Compound than they do, even though you’re not officially on the team yet. That’s about the only sway I have in the situation.” He looked up at Bucky.

“Basically, like I said, I wanted to tell you this without their influence. I thought you deserved to know. I’ll answer any question you have, and, if I don’t know, I’ll find out the answer. I want you to be able to make an informed decision that’s your decision, not what the decision someone else wants you to make.”

“Thank you,” Bucky said quietly. He couldn’t put into words what that meant to him; it had been hard for him to re-learn autonomy, but he was getting better at making choices for himself. But for something this huge… it would be too easy to fall back on letting Steve made the decision for him, and Bucky couldn’t afford to do that. This was going to affect how the next several years of his life went.

Tony nodded, looking uncomfortable. “I have a copy of the accords for you to read as they currently are. And I want to introduce you to Rhodey. He’s my team lead, and, if you’re successful with passing your tests, there’s a good chance you could be on our team, since we’re lacking a sharpshooter at the moment.”

“Who else is on your team?” Bucky asked.

“Besides me and Rhodey, there’s Stephen Strange and Hope van Dyne, codename Wasp,” Tony said. “Stephen is a magic user, and Hope’s powers are very similar to Lang’s.”

“Peter’s not on your team?”

“Kid’s not twenty-one yet, so he can’t be an official Avenger. He’s signed an amended version of the Accords, which are meant for people who aren’t of age. They’re usually only called in when shit gets real.”

Bucky glanced again at the jar. There was no way all that money had come from five people. “Seems like everyone gets along well, then.”

Tony followed his gaze. “I did say everyone. There’s fighting and squabbling sometimes, but that’s pretty common. There’s a lot of us and, although we might be divvied up into small groups, we’re all still Avengers at the end of the day. We try to remember that.”

There was a quiet sense of pride radiating off of Tony. It was a good look for him, Bucky thought, remembering all those press conferences not long after Siberia. Bucky had been in cryo when they happened, but he’d seen the videos. Tony had been visibly struggling, small and pale and swaddled in bandages as he tried to convince the world at large that the Avengers could still be trusted. A hell of a lot of work had been done between then and now.

“I’ll read the accords,” Bucky said. “And I’d like to meet… Rhodey, was it?”

“James Rhodes,” Tony said with a nod. “He was a Colonel with the army, but he received an honorable discharged after his accident. Now he’s a full time Avenger.”

“He’s also your best friend,” Bucky said.

“That he is.”

“Maybe he won’t want to meet me,” Bucky said. “I – I did kill –”

“Okay, no, stop,” Tony said, holding a hand up. “You owe the jar a quarter.”

“What?!”

“No self-depreciating comments, remember? That includes dwelling on events in the past that we had no control over, or for which we’ve already apologized,” Tony said evenly. “By the way, I forgive you, Bucky.”

Bucky stared at him. “What?”

“I forgive you. What you did wasn’t your fault, and I know you never would’ve done it if they hadn’t literally forced your hand. What the Winter Soldier did was never going to be held against you; it was always Hydra’s fault. The pardon issued for you was for what happened after you left Hydra’s control and were running around with Rogers. We all know that wasn’t your fault. No one will hold it against you.”

“That’s… I don’t…” Bucky didn’t know what to say. He was too shocked to form a response.

Tony smirked at him. “Now Rogers, on the other hand, is a different story. He may get punched in the face a couple of times.”

“He deserves it,” Bucky said, still stunned. He’d never expected to hear those words from Tony Stark.

“Glad you agree.” Tony paused. “For the record, I’m sorry for what happened in Siberia.”

Bucky recoiled. “What?! No! You don’t have to apologize for that.”

“I hit you. A lot,” Tony pointed out.

“Just… please, don’t,” Bucky said quietly. “I don’t need that.”

Tony frowned for a moment, then acquiesced. “Okay. That’s fair. And since you didn’t know the rules of the jar, we’ll let that one slide.”

Bucky just nodded, slightly overwhelmed.

“I think Rhodey is busy right now,” Tony continued. “So why don’t I take you back to your bedroom and set you up with a copy of the accords? FRIDAY can help you, or she can find me if you run into something you don’t know. I'm just gonna be hanging out with Stephen and Peter.”

“That would be… good,” Bucky said. He followed Tony back to his bedroom – his bedroom! – and was glad to be left alone for a few minutes to gather himself. He sank down onto the bed and looked around. If what Tony said was correct, Bucky had been granted a room within the team floors. Steve and the others would be on the lower floors, where potential recruits stayed. It didn’t take a genius to work out that this was more special consideration given to him by Tony, no matter what Tony said.

He frowned, turning back to the tablet Tony had handed to him. Bucky didn’t know what he wanted yet, but he did know that he wanted to be as informed as possible. The next time Steve, or anyone else, said anything to him about the accords, he wanted to be able to form a response based on his own thoughts and opinions. And that would only come by reading the accords.

“Mr. Barnes, Mr. Rogers would like to speak to you,” FRIDAY announced.

“Tell him I’m busy. I’ve got some reading to do,” Bucky replied, picking up the tablet. Reclining on the bed, he opened up the tablet to find the first page of the accords and started to read.