But as they walked into the silo, for Bucky it was like going back into the scene of his worst nightmares. Suddenly, Tony Stark was there, a man he couldn’t bring himself to trust, truce or no truce. He remembered how tenacious Howard was. Tony didn’t seem any different. He’d bet anything this truce was very temporary.
Bucky’s apprehension only grew when they discovered that the other Winter Soldiers were already dead. Zemo had probably killed them in the cryo tubes to put Bucky on edge. Being killed while helpless in cryo was another nightmare scenario. A jumpy, off-balance Winter Soldier would be easier for Iron Man to incapacitate, leaving only an angry, over-emotional Captain America to fight. And that had been Zemo’s plan all along. Lure the three of them here, then goad them into killing each other. Once again, Bucky and Steve were merely pawns in someone else’s violent game.
At first, Bucky started to leave when Steve told him to run during the fight with Tony. It was second nature to follow Steve’s orders, even when he didn’t want to. He was so used to doing as he was told, especially here in this place. But he’d eventually realized that Steve needed his help, no matter what his orders were. He’d die for Steve as many times as it took. He’d give up his metal arm. It was a reminder of the worst parts of his life anyway. Zemo and Tony were not winning this one.
When they’d arrived in Siberia, Steve had tried to reassure Bucky that they were a team again and that he wouldn’t let anyone activate the Winter Soldier. He felt nauseous thinking about what had happened to Bucky here, but he and Bucky both needed to put that aside and stay alert. Zemo was waiting for them somewhere inside. Steve only grudgingly trusted Tony when he arrived at the silo. It was a fragile truce.
Steve was already upset that Tony had detained Wanda, his surrogate daughter, as if she wasn’t even a person with rights, and that Tony didn’t have any respect for how important Bucky was to Steve. He was much more than the “war buddy” Tony kept trying to reduce him to. Now Tony wanted to kill Bucky over something Bucky would never have done on his own. Bucky would never kill a friend like Howard. Tony had seen the Winter Soldier files. He knew what they’d had to do to Bucky to force him to commit these assassinations. What the hell? Steve understood how hard it was for Tony to find out his parents had been murdered. Steve knew what it was like to try to deal with big emotional shocks, but murder wasn’t the answer. Steve would die before he’d let Tony have Bucky. The way Tony was fighting, it might just come to that.
Then Tony had the nerve to compare his friendship with Steve to Steve and Bucky’s relationship. Like the few short years of tumultuous, acrimonious friendship he and Tony had shared could ever compare to the lifelong everything that Steve and Bucky had been to each other. Steve knew Tony was stunted emotionally, but he had no idea how limited his understanding of love and relationships was. How many times had he and Bucky died for each other? It was in the fucking history books they taught in school, for fuck’s sake! Even without their romantic love, their friendship was celebrated as one of the truest, most devoted friendships ever. And Tony thought Steve should have chosen Tony over the man who’d nursed him back to health more times than Steve could count? Who’d saved his life more times than Steve could count? What planet did Tony live on?
By the time the fight was over, Bucky had lost his metal arm, and all three of them were beaten and bloody. Steve wasn’t even surprised that Tony was petty enough to bring up the shield again. He’d dropped it without a second thought. The time when he’d felt like he was fighting for something important as Captain America was long gone. Now all they wanted Captain America to stand for was control and the restriction of rights. That wasn’t something Steve Rogers was going to do.
But, in exchange, he’d gotten something so much more precious. Bucky, who was still the most beautiful thing Steve had ever seen, even after everything. Steve held him as close as he could as they walked back to the quinjet. Steve felt Bucky clinging to him, even though Bucky was reeling from his injuries. He wasn’t sure where they’d go. One of the countries that didn’t sign the accords would have to do for now. They’d recover a little and make plans to rescue the others that they’d left at the airport.
Suddenly, T’Challa was standing in front of them. Would this day never end? Steve started to pull Bucky behind him while he explained that Bucky was framed for T’Chakka’s murder. T’Challa stopped him immediately. He told Steve that he had heard Zemo’s confession, and had captured Zemo and left him for Tony Stark to find. T’Challa actually apologized for blaming an innocent man without waiting for an investigation and due process, then offered them sanctuary in Wakanda.
Steve was floored. He appreciated what it took for the king to admit his mistake. They immediately took T’Challa up on the offer of sanctuary. The country’s secure borders made it the perfect place to hide.
Once he’d settled in Wakanda, Steve sent Tony a letter. He doubted their friendship would ever be the same. He didn’t even know if he wanted it to, but they had to coexist and most likely cooperate in this world. It would be best if they could learn to work together again. Communication, as always, would be key in rebuilding trust.
After resting and healing for a few days, Steve and Bucky headed to The Raft to break out the rest of their team. Steve was reminded strongly of Azzano. He’d never thought he’d be liberating team members from being held in such unfair conditions by his own country. It made him sick to see what they’d done to Wanda. She was barely even a chronological adult.
Bucky wasn’t surprised to see how the rest of the team were being held. He was much more familiar with how the governments and prisons of the world worked than Steve was. Pierce, and most of his other handlers, had been high-ranking government officials, leaving him with few illusions. Bucky was just glad that they could get everyone out and back to safety.
Once they’d returned to Wakanda, Bucky finally approached T’Challa about either deactivating his code words or going back into cryo. They decided to set up a committee of doctors, psychologists, Wanda, and anyone else the committee felt might be helpful to try to solve the issue. Bucky would go back into cryo to wait for the solution. He knew Steve wouldn’t like this, but Bucky was just so tired of fighting and killing. He couldn’t take the chance that someone would slip into Wakanda and trigger him the way they had in Berlin. He couldn’t repay T’Challa’s kindness that way. He couldn’t take the chance that Steve or someone else he cared about would be killed by the Winter Soldier this time. He just couldn’t.
Steve knew and understood Bucky’s reasons for going back into cryo immediately, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t breaking his heart. He hadn’t told Bucky his feelings yet because it felt wrong to burden Bucky with Steve’s issues when Bucky already had so much to carry. So Steve tried to stay strong, to let this be Bucky’s choice. He wanted so badly to wrap Bucky in his arms and never let him go again. Instead, he grew more and more despondent as he watched the ice envelop the love of his life. He knew it meant an escape to a peaceful rest for Bucky, but it would never mean anything but a cold, suffocating, lonely death to him.
And now he was alone, without Bucky, once again. All he could do was try to keep Bucky safe from anyone who might try to take him. He was having his own nightmares of the other Winter Soldiers, killed in their cryo tubes in Siberia by Zemo, frozen and unable to defend themselves. Steve would help Bucky’s doctors find his cure any way he could. He’d try to keep himself from burning down the world that had done this to the person he loved more than life, when, without Bucky, all he knew how to do was fight. Or die.
He’d do his best to keep breathing this time. Sometimes that was the hardest one of all, without Bucky.
Steve wondered where Natasha was. It was time to find a way to get in touch with her. She was undoubtedly lying low, after helping them escape from the airport. Between himself, Clint, Wanda, Sam, and T’Challa, it shouldn’t take long to find her. Or for her to find them. Steve needed her more than ever now.
Bucky disappears into the icy mist of cryo, finally getting the peaceful rest he’s needed for decades.
As Natasha prepares to leave Tony’s side, we can see her reflection behind her. She still wants to bring both sides together.
Steve steps back into the shadows, as T’Challa steps forward. Steve can’t be the front man right now, since he’s a wanted criminal. He’ll need to work behind the scenes.