A Brief History of Romantic StuckyNat Part 5: Captain America: Civil War from Berlin to Wakanda

This is the fifth and final part in my five part series about romantic StuckyNat, the story of Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, and Natasha Romanoff falling in love with and wanting to be with each other. This part picks up in the middle of Captain America: Civil War, as Zemo is evaluating Bucky in his cell. It ends with the end of the movie. I’ve worked hard to keep the series canon compliant, so there’s no speculation about anything beyond the tags at the end of the film. ( I’d be happy to speculate in another post, just ask in the comments!)

Bucky couldn’t believe his ears as he heard the things this psychiatrist was saying to him. He’d known something was wrong even before the fake doctor had pulled out the red book and started reading his code words. Bucky panicked and started pounding his way out of the cell, as he felt himself disappearing inside his own mind again. He was left to watch helplessly as he hurt the two people he loved most in the world, again, nearly killed Howard’s son, and dozens of others. This nightmare would never be over. Even buried deep inside himself, barely aware, he was devastated. It didn’t matter how long he ran, or hid, or tried to avoid anything or anyone that could control him. He’d always be found and used. It was a relief when Steve finally knocked him out. He wanted to stay that way forever.
When he woke up, Bucky wasn’t sure where he was, only that his arm was restrained in an awkward position and he wasn’t back in a cell. Once again, he didn’t even try to get free. If the red book was back in play, it was better for everyone if he was contained. Steve looked like he didn’t know who Bucky was any more. Like Bucky had already used up all of his chances to prove that he was still Steve’s Bucky. Bucky himself wasn’t sure if he was Steve’s Bucky anymore.
Then they started talking. Bucky realized that the combination of Steve and Natasha’s presence, and that last cognitive recalibration, had restored a flood of memories he hadn’t had access to before. There was no time to sift through them all now, but he felt a rush of warmth at how much more familiar Steve felt to him. He’d known all along that he loved Steve, but he hadn’t had all of the memories to help him realize why, or to read Steve’s body language. Now much of that had come back to him, and it was like finally coming home. Even though he also realized that Steve didn’t quite love him back in the same way, Bucky still knew he’d lay down his life for Steve all over again.

Steve listened in on Bucky’s psychiatric evaluation while he continued to look for an opening to get Bucky, along with Sam and himself, out of the hands of the authorities. He’d given Tony and the system a chance, but it was clear that Bucky was being found guilty without anyone bothering to even look for evidence. He would be executed long before an investigation could be completed, if they even did one. There was something corrupt in this situation, but Steve didn’t have time to ferret it out right now, not with Bucky’s life at stake. Natasha was too caught up in her own anger to see it, Tony too caught up in his own ego and what he wanted to get out of the accords for himself. Ross had played Tony perfectly.
Then there was T’Challa. Steve didn’t know much about him, or Wakanda, but he did know that T’Challa had somehow managed to get custody of Bucky over the US. Letting Bucky disappear into a small secretive nation that blamed him for the death of their beloved king was not something Steve was prepared to do.
If Bucky said he didn’t set off the bomb, Steve believed him. He still knew Bucky better than he’d ever known anyone else, even after a separation of 70 years. Bucky certainly deserved to be questioned with his lawyer present, and given all of the other rights due an American citizen and returning Prisoner of War. The reminder that Steve himself was viewed by some as US government property, just as Bucky had been viewed as HYDRA property, steeled Steve’s resolve to take matters into his own hands.
Then the lights went out. Thank goodness they had Sharon on their side, and she sent him and Sam straight to Bucky. Who knows what they were planning to do to him under cover of darkness.
When Steve and Sam got to the floor where Bucky was being held, they discovered that the psychiatrist had activated the Winter Soldier. Their suspicions that something wasn’t right were correct. Now he just had to get Bucky under control again before there were too many more injuries, and use the chaos to escape.
At least Bucky didn’t shoot him this time. Wrestling with a helicopter hadn’t been ideal, but Steve wasn’t letting Bucky out of his sight. Bucky was getting cognitive recalibration and they were leaving together, even if it nearly killed the both of them. Disappearing into the water would slow the search down and hopefully knock Bucky out cold long enough to reset him, so Steve pushed the helicopter in, hanging onto its side as they went.
Once Steve and Sam had gotten Bucky hidden and safely restrained, Steve thought about his latest encounter with the Winter Soldier. Something had been different this time. He was still a fighting machine, but his eyes weren’t as flat and lifeless as they’d been 2 years ago. Something more of Bucky remained in them. He’d been easier to stop, too. Maybe Bucky had been able to hold the Soldier back from the commands a bit.
When Bucky woke up, Steve couldn’t help but be wary. Was he still the Winter Soldier? The lost, skittish Bucky who hadn’t trusted Steve in Bucharest? Would Steve be able to get through to him at all?
But as they talked, Steve realized that he could finally recognize his Bucky in the man sitting in front of him. There was a warmth in his eyes that Steve hadn’t seen since Bucky fell from the train. Steve wanted to bask in it, to find out if Bucky could still love him, even to just hold Bucky again, but now was not the time. They were on the run, and the world needed to be saved, again.
Starting with getting their gear back from Sharon. She was a better friend than he had any right to expect. He hoped Bucky wouldn’t take it the wrong way when Steve kissed her goodbye. There had been some attraction between the two of them, but the timing had never been right, and now it never would be. They both knew it. That kiss was them both saying goodbye to the possibility of anything more. Steve already had Bucky, and possibly Natasha, if he hadn’t lost her because of this clusterfuck. When this fight was over he’d tell them both how he felt and what he hoped they could have together.
As for Bucky… he just. Well. While he’d known Steve wasn’t obligated to wait for him, he wasn’t prepared to have the evidence that Steve hadn’t waited thrown in his face at that moment. Not when he’d just fully remembered his own feelings. He knew Steve had never loved him back in the same way, but he’d had a small kernel of hope that once they found each other again, now that it was legal for two men to be together, Steve would realize what he was really feeling. Best to put that dream aside and try to find a way to go on then. Bucky tried not to let his face freeze in a grimace when Steve turned to look at him. Steve was putting himself in danger again for Bucky. Bucky could be happy for Steve, whatever choices he made.

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Look at the framing on that shot. No dialogue necessary.

The last 24 hours had been an emotional roller coaster ride for Nat. Bucky had somehow been activated as the Winter Soldier and carried out an attack. Then he’d escaped with Steve and Sam. Before that she’d overheard Sharon and Steve develop a convincing theory about Bucky being framed for the UN bombing. But Bucky still didn’t recognize her. While that was difficult to face, she was a big girl. Even if he never did, she’d survive. Ross was now not only ready to kill Bucky on sight, but Steve as well. There were more important issues to devote herself to than her emotions. Her boys needed her professionalism more than her love right now.

 Then the fight at the airport had gone horribly wrong. She’d felt she had no choice but to help Steve and Bucky escape before they all ended up seriously injured or dead. She wasn’t so sure she was fighting on the right side any more anyway, after everything that had happened. When Natasha left Tony with Rhodey at the hospital, she knew it was time to rethink everything that had happened since Lagos. She’d find Steve and Bucky once they were done with their current mission to Siberia. If she was going into hiding, she’d go with them.
It killed Steve to stand on opposite sides from his friends like this, staring down Tony, Natasha, and the rest as if they were enemies. But he knew he was doing the right thing. Saving Bucky and Wanda from the effects of the Accords, clearing Bucky’s name, and stopping Zemo were important. He hoped Tony and Nat would be able to see that someday. Steve had given up everything to do the right thing over and over when it came to helping others and saving the world. This was the right thing for him to do now.
Steve could tell by the way they fought that almost everyone on Tony’s side was very angry with the Avengers on his side. They needed to end this quickly before anyone got seriously injured. He was proud of the way Wanda and Sam performed during the fight and utilized their training. Leaving the rest of the team behind while only he and Bucky escaped was one of the hardest things he’d ever done. Steve was grateful that Natasha saw reason and helped them escape at the last minute. He knew she would face consequences for her loyalty to him.
Bucky wasn’t sure he wanted to fight at all any more, but if he did, he wanted it to be at Steve’s side, for a cause they both believed in. He could see how hard it was for Steve to fight against his friends, and appreciated that Steve would still do that for the person Bucky had become.
It was hard for Bucky to see Natasha there and still not say anything to her. He wanted a moment with her so badly. Even if Steve had moved on, perhaps Bucky and Natasha could still at least be close friends. But he didn’t want to blurt something out in a situation like this, and he assumed she didn’t either. The Red Room didn’t train its operatives to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Once this was all over, he’d find her, eventually, when it was safe.
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On the quinjet, when they finally had a quiet moment, Steve tried to reassure Bucky that the devastation that had followed him for 70 years wasn’t his fault, but Bucky didn’t think either one of them actually bought it. Steve wouldn’t even look at Bucky when he said it. Bucky would need to find a way to keep the people he cared about safe from the Winter Soldier, whatever it took. If nothing else, he could slip away and go even deeper into hiding somewhere isolated where no one would ever find him. Steve and Natasha had each other and brand new lives, they’d be fine without him. It looked like Steve had Sharon if he wanted her, too.
Steve felt so guilty that he couldn’t even look at Bucky when they talked in the quinjet about the things Bucky had done as the Winter Soldier. It was all Steve’s fault, not Bucky’s. Steve should have gone back for Bucky when he fell from the train. Steve should have made sure Bucky never fell. Steve should have loved and taken better care of Bucky when he’d had the chance. He hadn’t figured out how to say any of that to Bucky yet, didn’t know if Bucky would even want to hear it, and now wasn’t the time anyway. So he said what he could to make Bucky realize that Bucky wasn’t the one to blame, no matter what. Someday he’d find a way to make the rest clear to Bucky. To make things right between them again.
Bucky armed himself with some of Natasha’s weapons once they got to the missile silo in Siberia. It was a small way of feeling close to her again. Then Steve brought up an old childhood adventure at Coney Island. He lit up inside, hearing Steve remind him of their pre-battle ritual of sharing an old memory. Bucky felt stronger and more wanted than he’d felt since he’d jumped onto that train in the Alps in 1945.

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.
The last shots that we see of Steve, Natasha  and Bucky in CA:CW before the movie ends.
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