So it's the birthday of the reliably wonderful musesfool, and I wanted to write her a little something. Given that she and I saw Captain America: Civil War together twice and we had long discussions in which we kept repeating - to absolutely no objection - that Bucky and T'Challa were the best, I figured I knew who to write about. Hahahaha. Why do I always forget how difficult writing is? Anyway, honey, happy birthday!
(It's a short fic, rated PG, that tries to show how Bucky, T'Challa, and Steve got to the mid-credits scene of Captain America: Civil War. Title from Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers.)
Where the Spinning World Sleeps on Its Axis
Horror takes a long time to fade. Perhaps the American soldiers believe that he needs silence, for Captain Rogers drags his eyes away from his friend - the man whom he, T'Challa, nearly killed in a spirit of misguided vengeance - to gauge his bearing every few minutes. Barnes, whom he has heard the Captain call "Bucky," like the very name is a talisman, has settled into his seat on the aircraft as if it were his grave. His face is sad, unquiet, and silent; the lines carved into it need no accompanying words.
T'Challa is loath to disturb whatever peace Barnes can find. It cannot be much, if keeping his eyes shut is better than answering the gaze of his lone friend. Perhaps Barnes, like him, is reflecting on how easy it was for a true madman to make many of the world's most powerful humans dance to his discordant tune.
It would be easy to say that the Avengers - what an absurd name, with the concept of collateral damage built into it - broke apart because of a lack of trust in each others' intentions, but from what the Captain has been saying, it seems that they are not all known quantities in any case. It might be pride that made him offer Wakanda as an oasis, but at least it is a genuine offer; his people are diligent, creative, and kind, and they will exert themselves to offer hospitality to a man wronged by their king.
The Captain, he sees, does not know what to expect. Barnes, it looks like, has learned not to have any expectations at all.
Even sitting, Barnes is lopsided, his spine kinked in a way that does not look human, and T'Challa sees no improvement when Barnes finally stands to exit the aircraft. He does not ask Barnes how he is doing; Barnes has not lied to him yet, and in any case, the Captain is hastening to glue himself to his friend's weak side.
The Dora Milaje waiting on the ground look as unconcerned as cats. The Captain eyes them briefly, but it is Barnes who sees that they have angled their bodies to guide their king to the sleek blue vehicle at the end of the runway. Barnes sighs grimly, squares his shoulders, and moves like he must either march or drop. T'Challa sees a gesture ripple through the ranks of Dora Milaje, passed almost imperceptibly from one woman to the next, and the vehicle approaches and comes to a purring stop three feet from Barnes.
T'Challa smiles. If he must live in a world without his father, let it be here, in his home, where every step he takes strengthens and gladdens him, where his kinswomen find kindness even for strangers.
Barnes retreats back into his lone and blind silence once they are in the car, but his chin lifts when the windows are lowered enough for him to feel a pleasant breeze on his cheeks. Rogers has situated himself opposite, aligned with the Dora Milaje, and T'Challa notes his unwavering gaze. How tired must the Captain be - he has only just buried one friend, fought several others, and tried to rewind time on behalf of the last. How tired he himself is. He follows Barnes's example and closes his eyes.
If he is dreaming, it is a restful dream. His father sits in a velvet veld, the greenness of the land glowing. It is nowhere T'Challa has seen but it is unmistakably home. His father sleeps, his head tilting to one side, like rest is the sweetest reward the world can offer.
A touch on his knee rouses him. T'Challa slides his eyes open and sees Barnes, head tilted in exhausted slumber, the spare lines of him somehow an exact echo of the king's. T'Challa reaches out and touches Barnes's knee, a gentle waking that startles Rogers far more than Barnes. "Bucky," the Captain says, like a reflex, but Barnes keeps looking at T'Challa and finally nods. An alliance has been built on such fragile gestures, and if it comes again to war, the alliance will hold. Barnes is his burden now, the one to whom he owes his repentance.
The Dora Milaje move with brisk efficiency once the vehicle has stopped in front of his home, and the inexorable army of attendants swarms, some bearing Captain Rogers away, others waiting for his pronouncement of Barnes's fate. There is too much to do to dismiss them all, and he is more concerned with making his own shoulder into a prop for Barnes than directing them. Most of them move discreetly away as his personal attendants close ranks around him and Barnes.
They leave him at the door of his rooms, giving thanks that he has returned unscathed. The Wakandan words mean nothing to Barnes, but the sound of them must soothe him in some measure, because he sets his shoulders at a less punishing angle.
T'Challa has never been the kind of prince waited on hand and foot, unable to dress or feed himself without a bevy of servants, but it has been years since he last served another with his own hands. Barnes stays where he is put but shifts uncomfortably as the steam rises between them as T'Challa fills his bath.
Barnes's attire is stiff with blood and carries the smell of sweat. T'Challa is gentle but insistent; he has needed to be peeled out of his warrior's gear often enough to know that the rest Barnes is craving first requires cleanliness. Barnes startles, subsides, and submits to T'Challa's ministrations. When he speaks, his voice is low without being flat or insistent; he speaks like there is still ice in his mouth. "Your Highness."
T'Challa pulls garments off him and shepherds Barnes into the depths of the copper tub. Its rich shine is far from generous to Barnes's winter-pale skin, but the heat it contains is still therapeutic; Barnes sinks in and seems to melt a few crucial degrees. The way his eyes close again when T'Challa pours a generous capful of his own bath oil – the sandalwood spice reserved for the royal line – might speak of trust rather than the desire for oblivion. Barnes even tips his head obligingly forward when T'Challa begins to knead at his wrought-iron frame, and T'Challa, feeling his fingers failing to make much of a dent against Gordian knots, frowns. Barnes is not his obligation, his burden, after all.
Barnes is a man. Barnes must choose his path, whether he forgives T'Challa or not. His hurts are not all T'Challa's doing, and he alone can say what needs mending, or if he wants to mend at all.
Barnes turns as best he can in the fragrant water to look at him. Through the steam, T'Challa sees a level gaze and a profile like a knife's edge. "Your Highness, let me sleep," Barnes says.
In English, he knows, sleep can be a euphemism for death, and Barnes's voice gives nothing away. "Rest, then," he returns, matching opacity giving way to a directive despite himself. "I will keep you safe."
Barnes considers him for the span of a long breath, then dunks his head under the water. His hair swirls for the uncounted moments he lies beneath the shimmering surface. When he comes up for air, he raises his hand and T'Challa clasps it unhesitatingly.
Barnes stands, finds his balance, and lets go. "Yes, Your Highness."
T'Challa tosses him a towel and counts it as a victory that Barnes rubs its pleasing roughness between curious fingers. "Come, my friend. Rest."
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/458783.html.