Barnes, 107th Infantry 32557038.
That’s the most that Barnes can get his internal recognition to identify himself as, the most of the identity that Steve Rogers wants him to have that Barnes can absorb. He is just Barnes now, not James Buchanan, not Bucky, just Barnes. He’s walking away from Princess Shuri now, his first 21st century friend. He’s completely unwilling to call Sam Wilson his friend, with a different but similar sentiment for King T’Challa. Barnes is not meant to have friendships with kings, and he thinks that that might be a piece of New Yorker from the 1930’s in him, but he doesn’t know. He doesn’t remember. He doesn’t always want to.
Princess Shuri has given him enough to leave with, a way out. She developed the software that took the triggers out of his mind, designed him an arm but didn’t attach it, simply because he doesn’t want it. He trusts Shuri, trusts Wakanda, trusts a grand majority of the people he has met in this giving country, but. There’s a hesitation there. He was not allowed to read files, not allowed to know them, not allowed to find out anything more than a casual visitor, so far and few between as those were. He does not want the chance to be made a weapon of again, and he trusts Princess Shuri with his life, but perhaps not with his future. It is not kind, but it is what he is.
Steve Rogers does not know that Barnes is leaving. Steve Rogers doesn’t even know that Barnes is awake, functioning and walking around, let alone able to leave under his own regard. The cryogenic tubes in Wakanda are not see-through like Hydra tubes, and it is easy for Princess Shuri to fool Rogers into believing that Barnes is still in one of them.
Madame Okoye, who does not like to be called Madame in the slightest, has taught Barnes how to pilot one of the Wakandan ships. It’s a game of kinetics rather than logic, and Barnes likes it much more than classic, Western flying mechanics. Barnes leaves in the dead of night, not because he is worried of Rogers seeing him through the one way glass that is used on all Wakandan ships, but rather because he has found himself more comfortable in shadow. He wonders, idly, how uncomfortable that would make Rogers, but he finds that he doesn’t much care. Rogers is not his problem.
Princess Shuri stands on her toes to press a kiss to his cheek, patting his face once. She has treated him like a mix between a cat, an older brother, and a very strange friend during his stay. He has come to adore her in the place of the three sisters that stand foggy in his memory, though the parts of him that are shaped like the Bucky of Rogers’s memory ache for them. The princess puts a hand on his shoulder and then steps back from him, wiping her hands down her skirt like she had never admitted to such affection.
“Well, White Wolf. Now you leave me. I get used to you, colonizer, and now you’re off with the wind! I should have expected this,” Princess Shuri scolds. He can see the teasing smile trying to work it’s way onto her face, but he puts his hands up in defense anyway.
“Princess -” he starts, but she rolls her eyes.
“You know I am joking, white boy. Go find yourself, or whatever it is the kids are doing these days,” she says, as if she is not much more child than he is, as if he is a younger brother to her rather than the man who had been tag teaming with her older brother in carrying her around and throwing things at her as she invented. He crosses his arms over his chest, a Wakandan salute, before kissing her forehead.
“Wakanda forever, princess. Be well,” he says as he leaves her, unforgiving of the way his chest aches. He will forget to miss her soon, or they will meet again; these are how things work in his life. He does not know how to miss his mother nor his father, barely knows how to miss the sister shaped holes in his life, barely remembers Steve’s mother or the people who lived on their block. He remembers Steve Rogers in vivid color, but it’s different from what Rogers expects as well; they are just memories. They are recordings, movies that Barnes can watch when he’s bored or when they come to him, but they are not something that belongs to Barnes.
Most of Bucky Barnes died when he fell of the train.
It feels like a life that was once lived by this body, but perhaps not by Barnes. He considers it as he climbs into the ship, immediately walking over to the operation plate. Engaging the plane is actually easier than most Western ships, not needing so much personal adjustment as it adjusts to Barnes instead. He has to stand to operate the ship, but Barnes is used to standing. He would stand for days sometimes on missions, the serum constantly repairing the wear it would leave on his bones and joints without a complaint. He doesn’t know immediately where he’s going, but there are only so many places to go.
So, he goes, theoretically home. To Barnes, that might be Moscow, that might be St Petersburg, or it might be a thousand bases where they had destroyed him, but none of them are full of memories that Barnes would like to relive. Instead, he turns on the stealth operations and heads for New York, heads to Bucky’s Brooklyn. Tony Stark will be there. In New York, not really in Brooklyn, but in the area.
Maybe he’ll take care of Barnes. Maybe he’ll do what needs to be done. Or, maybe he’ll surprise Barnes. That seems to be his thing. It doesn’t matter.
Barnes guides the ship across the sea much faster than it would be in a western plane, taking perhaps four hours. He doesn’t really think about time, or needs, or anything that would help other people contain how long things take in their life. Barnes knows how long it takes Wilson to eat a sandwich, how long it takes the Captain to walk twenty feet, but he doesn’t really time things within himself. It seems pointless to observe himself as he observes others, as if there is something to learn from the practiced maneuvers that he takes to look normal in the eyes of others. It seems pointless to think about himself at all, sometimes.
Eventually, Barnes lands the ship in Central Park. He turns on a sensor that will make it pilot itself back to Wakanda, a natural return mission that Princess Shuri told him was an option for him to take if he ever wanted it, but he doesn’t. He can’t, not so long as Rogers has taken field in Wakanda with Wilson and the Witch who can take over minds and all of the Rogue ilk. It is not fault of Wakanda that Barnes does not want to stay, but he still must leave. He needs to find out who he is, not just who he was.
He has supplies, but only enough for a few days; he refused to take more from Princess Shuri. She had offered him a small world of possessions, offered to engineer a way to fit them into a backpack, but Barnes had declined. He does not want to be attached to a marvel of modern science, not like that, and she understood. She had pouted and shoved at him playfully and called him boring, but she had not pushed him on the issue. It’s what he likes about the Princess rather than Rogers. She always understands.
He knows that she doesn’t expect the ship to come back yet, but it’s time. He’ll stay in New York whether Stark finds him or not, and he’ll wait it out. He has to debate with himself about whether or not he should let cameras see his face, knowing that it would be a toss up on whether Stark or the new HYDRA found him first. Based on the difference in resources, he allows it. He turns his baseball cap backwards and nods to the nearest camera. Walking down the street is almost easier when he’s walking as if he’s proud to exist, and that is much more Bucky Barnes than it is Winter Soldier.
It’s not even four hours before the Iron Man suit is hovering beside him as Barnes sits atop a roof. His leg is hanging over the edge of the roof, precarious, but Barnes doesn’t really think about it. It wouldn’t bother him to fall, he thinks, only the possibility of survival. He looks at Stark blankly.
“Wassup, Red October?” the Iron Man asks, sounding confused and hesitant. Barnes had expected anger and hellfire, but he’s used to things being different than when he left them. Stark will remember his anger soon. If there’s anything that people remember, it’s how to hate the person who killed their parents.
“Stark. You found me. What now?” he asks in return, raising an eyebrow. It’s the only expression that ever feels natural, this blank and slightly smug curiosity, but that’s neither here nor there. The head of the Iron Man suit tilts to the side, a pattern of body language that Stark can’t even control while inside of a massive tin can. Barnes wonders what it’s like to feel like that, so deeply that it is something that is so natural that one can’t push it down so simply as a tick.
“Are you going to try to kill me?” Stark asks, and Barnes barks out a humorless laugh. It’s a fair question, he supposes, but the bitterest parts of him imagine how it would be for him to end the Stark line like that, for him to take out the last three. It almost burns in his nose, and it’s the closest Barnes has been to crying in almost eighty years.
“Nope. Not even if you try to kill me first,” he says, shrugging a shoulder and letting his eyes fall. He scans over the ground so far below him and waits for the vertigo to set in, waits for how easy it would be to fall again. Bucky had fallen. So should Barnes. Stark interrupts, putting himself between Barnes and the open air.
“Hey, no, none of that. People don’t die in front of me anymore, I don’t allow it, thanks,” Stark says, and then he’s hauling Barnes up by the ribcage. It’s almost like how one would grab a child from up under their armpits, but instead making steady holdings of the ribs that still stand out against Barnes’s skin.
“What are you -” he starts, but being interrupted seems to be a trend today. Barnes hopes it does not continue as such.
“You’re not allowed on roofs anymore! I’ve just decided. So. We’re going back to my tower! At least for a little while. And, you know, if you consent. Consent is important, kids. That’s what I’m trying to teach the kids anyway,” Stark rambles, though it’s odd to hear so many words at once through the grumbling of the Iron Man mask. It sounds much more gravelly than the Tony Stark on tape, and something in Barnes is calmed by that. He doesn’t know why, but he relaxes in the hold of the Iron Man anyway, going limp in the carry that will take him to a place that he does not know simply because he does not know it, but he knows the man carrying him. He only knows him in name and reputation, but he knows Stark.
Stark starts flying off when Barnes goes limp, and Barnes supposes that’s fair. He isn’t going to give a verbal response anyway, so Stark may as well get going. Flying from Brooklyn to Manhattan should be stranger when thrown over someone’s shoulder as if one is a bag of potatoes, but Barnes doesn’t mind it. It’s a bit freeing in that he knows it’s something that Bucky never experienced. It’s completely new.