The first time Bucky met Shuri he was not in pain. The room was white and clean and only Shuri was there, looking at a screen on which his brain waves glowed blue and his heart rate beat a slow steady rhythm in the corner. She smiled and addressed him as Sergeant Barnes, and he tried to shake his head and to open his mouth to to correct her. Panic creeped in around the edges, but he reminded himself she was there to help as he felt her hand touch his remaining arm in reassurance. She smiled slightly and said, "There's no need to say anything. We're just checking some stimuli. In fact, I did not expect you to wake up. I apologize for the confusion. We'll put you back under momentarily."
He was cold, as often was the case, body more used to the frigid air of a cryo tank than the warm weather of the country protecting him. But the shoulder did not hurt; the head did not hurt. He closed his eyes.
Shuri visits him once a week. At her prompting a man named Ayodele had given him a hut to stay in, and animals to keep care of, much to his surprise. He finds it hard to accept a kindness, so he works to keep the little farm running as it should. She teases him sometimes, about how hard he works to upkeep the land, how having the strength of multiple men does not mean he must show it off. Bucky doesn't tell her he's forgotten how to be idle or what it's like to not have a task, that even when he was in cryo there was always a mission waiting in the wings for the next time he was revived; he does not know how to sit around and do nothing.
He suspects Shuri might understand a bit of it though, if he told her, with the way a tablet of some sort always in her hands when she visits and the way she has an inability to stay still and take in the world around her.
"You could do that with two hands, you know," she says one day, sitting on a stack of lumber Ayo had left behind, a princess holding court. The children are there too, watching from behind the trees that line the perimeter of the farm. They come when Shuri comes, always, and sometimes they come other times, whispering words he can't understand, as they do a poor job of hiding, ducking in and out of the trees as he works. Bucky finds he doesn't mind being seen, for once. He's not doing anything that needs hidden; it's a new and curious concept.
"Why do you care so much?" He shoots back, chucking another bale of hay over the fence. "I don't need it. I've been augmented enough for three lifetimes."
He's sweaty and a little tired, and his one arm has tanned considerably in the sunlight. His muscles ache after a long day, and he relishes the concept of going to bed on his sturdy pallet and waking up the very next morning, sore and reminded of the hard work of the previous day, that his work is helpful to animals and damaging to no one. While he's lost some weight struggling to balance the diet needed for his metabolism, working with the animals has helped him keep up his strength.
He knows she's made him a second arm already; he sat still when she took the measurements, even gave her a short list of wants (no pain, no pain, no pain) but he's not ready for it. There is no penance for the things he has done, but he doesn't need to run and he doesn't need to fight.
"Why choose to spend so much time on me, anyway? You have all this technology, which I will admit is pretty awesome, okay, and yet you help me and so few others."
Shuri shrugs. "That is a question for our king. However, my answer to it is simple: You are here and they are not."
It's a rainy, stormy day the first time Bucky tries on his new arm.
The moisture in the air had stuck to his skin as he hurried to usher the animals to shelter, rounding up the goats and chickens and pulling the cow into their little lean-to, and for the first time since waking up in Wakanda, he thought maybe it would more efficient to have two arms again.
Sitting in Shuri's lab, he watches the rivulets of rain run down the window and make the patterns, as Shuri explains what she's about to do, how she's happy he decided to give it a try. She connects all the little pieces, staring at the holo display as she intricately weaves the neurons together in a way he doesn't even begin to try to parse out. She talks the whole time, rattling away about her brother the king, about her work on the latest upgrade to the kimoyo beads, at the village gossip. He's learned to chime in occasionally, offers his own learned tidbits, but he is aware he is mostly out of his depth when it comes to holding a conversation with anyone.
He braces himself once she tells him the arm is online, sliding to the floor once he feels the sensation return, from shoulder to fingertip. He sits quietly, clenching and unclenching his new vibranium fist.
She sits down next to him on the floor while he gets used to it; he's not sure he's ever seen her be as quiet and still as this.
"It doesn't hurt," he says, after bit.
"Of course not," she returns. He can feel the breath from the punch of her words on his new wrist, but she speaks quietly. "It is my handiwork after all."
He has to ask it. "Are you sure you don't want something of me?" It comes out softly.
Shuri shakes her head. "Just that you show off my craftsmanship." She climbs up from the floor and adjusts some numbers on the display he thinks represents his arm before grabbing a towel from a tiny closet against the wall and wiping off his bare arm, still damp from the outdoors. He runs a metal finger over his wet arm, then grips the towel after she hands it to him. Gentle movements.
Shuri sits back down beside him. "I don't expect you to fight for my honor or anything, if that's what you're worried about." She pulls at his metal fingers, forces his fist to open flat, and places a newly upgraded kimoyo bracelet into it. "Or fight for any reason that isn't one of your own making," she adds quietly, knocking her body gently against the metal arm (his arm, two arms now.)
Bucky stares at the bracelet for a moment, then slides it over the arm. "If ever a need did arise I would feel better fully armed in a fight, I suppose."
A sharp laugh startles out of her. "Why, Sergeant Barnes, did you just make a pun?"
He smiles and shrugs a shoulder. Then both shoulders. There's no pain.
He tells her he is still not ready.
Steve comes back on a Thursday.
"Where is the fight," Bucky asks, the king himself greeting him with the arm Shuri built him and the acceptance that he and Steve can only ever exist in the same time and place with an abundance of violence promised heavy in the air.
He squares his shoulders as the arm is connected, a simple procedure since the first test. The arm is different color than it was last he saw it, an upgrade of some sort added by Shuri, he's sure. Bucky isn't sure if Shuri has mentioned the arm's trial runs to T'challa, or if anyone remembers the fact that he wouldn't need two arms to kill a man, but. There is always a fight, eventually, and two arms is better than one.
He braces for the pain.
(And still, it does not come.)