"Where are you taking me, exactly?"
Shuri ducked around another corner. "These tunnels lead down to the pools were the kings of Wakanda consolidate their rule in ritual combat."
Bucky hurried after her. "I heard about that."
"I come here whenever I want some time away from the city. It's a quiet place. Perfect for reflection and making difficult decisions." She looked back at him, a mischievous smile on her face. "Perfect for relaxation as well."
His pace stalled. Was that innuendo in her voice? His stomach did an odd little flip as he considered the possibility. Nah, he thought. I probably imagined that.
Sure, they were married, now, but it was a marriage of convenience, designed to give him political protections now that it was public knowledge where he'd been hiding for the past two years. Just because he was in love with her, didn't mean that she reciprocated his feelings.
Wishful thinking, he chided himself as he pushed on.
He only realized that they'd reached the end of the tunnel when he stepped out into the open. The torchlight illuminated a deep pool of water beyond which a canyon stretched out to either side as far as the eye could see. Water rushed across the edge above, cascading into the abyss and forming a series of shallow pools along the way.
The moon hung bright and large in the sky, and starlight shimmered in the moving surface of the water. The sound of the waterfalls roared in his ears, muting only when he emerged from the tunnel and was no longer exposed to the way it echoed off the walls.
His steps faltered at the edge of the nearest pool. Several of them were scattered around various outcrops, the river filling them to overflowing.
"Over there is where my brother fought M'Baku and Killmonger." Shuri pointed down to a different plateau to his left which lay deeper than the one on which they stood. "The pool is too shallow for swimming. That's why I prefer this one."
Bucky let his gaze skim over the surface of the water to the edge of the cliff across from them. He took in the sky, the warm wind, the cool mist of the waterfalls that hung in the air. Contrary to Shuri's description, it was not a quiet place, but he felt a sense of tranquility and solace steal over him and knew why she might regard it as such.
Standing on the edge of the pool, with the cliffs rising towards the sky on either side of him, he felt oddly sheltered from the rest of the world. For a moment, he could almost imagine that he and Shuri were the only people left on earth, and that they hadn't fled from an entire palace full of wedding guests the second an opportunity to sneak away had presented itself.
Bucky inhaled deeply. This place was beautiful.
He started to say as much when his gaze found Shuri, who had left the torch she had used to guide them through the tunnels in a scone that was set into the rough-hewn wall closest to him.
The words he had been about to say froze on his tongue.
Shuri stood with her back to him, her hands brushing the straps of her wedding gown off her shoulders. The silky sheet of red and gold fell softly down her back, leaving her standing in her underwear. Her hair pulled up in artful braids, exposing her neck and the delicate links of the gold necklace she had wound around it twice.
"What- what are you doing?" he asked, his voice sounding hoarse to his own ears.
She looked across her shoulder, and her smile was teasing as the fabric of her dress trailed to the ground. "I'm going for a swim, of course." Her hands went to her underwear.
Bucky whirled around and tried very hard not to think about the smooth skin and lean muscles she'd revealed to him. He forcibly banished the image of her strapless bra embracing the small, shapely swell of her breasts. He had no business thinking about her this way, had no business thinking about her at all.
It wasn't as if they were in love. Shuri had taken pity on him. That's all that was happening here, and he couldn't possibly feel more wretched about it.
Mysterious. That's how he'd heard himself described as he'd wandered through the throng of wedding guests. He had to admit that there were worse attributes by which he could be known, but the underlying fact was that he was an outsider with a sketchy past who had married King T'Challa's sister, who was brilliant and vibrant and beloved by everyone and at least twelve years his junior.
Twelve years, by a conservative estimate. Bucky didn't really know how much he had aged on the missions that had interrupted his cryogenic sleep. Both months and years were an equally vague if valid estimate.
He didn't really want to think about it. Twelve years was more than enough to make him feel old. He didn't need to round that number up to a technical eighty-two, or factor in the life experience of fighting in a global war, getting brainwashed, and being used as an assassin by the very people he had been trying to fight in the first place.
Someone as damaged as he was had no business marrying a bright young woman who had her entire life ahead of her.
And, yet... and yet, he'd agreed to it, hadn't he?
"Of course," he rasped. Struggling to regain some semblance of dignity, he kept his eyes firmly on the wall in front of him. "If that's what you want. I'll just- I'll just keep watch and make sure no one bothers you. Let me know when you're done."
His tone was a little too casual to feign nonchalance, and he felt a flush steal up his neck. Gritting his teeth, he mentally smacked himself upside the head. He was a grown man, for heaven's sake, and here he was feeling like a damn teenager.
Embarrassed by his reaction, he began walking back towards the tunnel when Shuri's voice stopped him in his tracks.
"Are you not going to join me?"
Join her? In the water? Where she was naked? Bucky closed his eyes. This is was such a bad idea. He shouldn't. He really, really shouldn't. Especially since his body was already getting excited at the prospect, which was just one more reason, why this was a terrible idea.
She's just trying to help you, he reminded himself. She doesn't even think of you that way. You're the only one in this relationship who's in over his head, and you need to get a grip on yourself. She realized how uncomfortable you've been all day and brought you here so you can breathe for a minute... and take a swim, apparently.
He cleared his throat and turned his head. "Do you want me to?"
Shuri laughed. "If I didn't want you. I wouldn't have asked you to come with me." While he'd been preoccupied with his own thoughts, she had quietly moved behind him, and he startled when he felt her hand on his shoulder. Her voice dipped lower, losing all traces of amusement.
"If I didn't want you, I would never have agreed to marry you, either."
Her words hit him like a punch to his chest. "Shuri," he groaned.
"Come into the water, James. Let's swim and enjoy the moonlight for a moment. Everything else will fall into place when the time is right."
He swallowed heavily. His gaze returned to the tunnel.
Stay, or go? Worry and guilt were urging him forward. Hope was pulling him towards Shuri and the water.
Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and reached for his pants.
As soon as Bucky felt the water close over his head, he relaxed. He held his breath and let himself drift in the water. His heartbeat was steady and strong in his ears, and he only kicked back up to the surface when his lungs started to burn.
When his head emerged from the pool, Shuri punched the surface next to him with the heel of her palm, and a wave of water smacked him right in the face.
"What was that for?" he sputtered.
"Don't scare me like that. I was getting worried that you'd drowned, and it's too dark to see anything in the water."
"I guess I lost track of time," he apologized.
Shuri rolled her eyes. A smile flashed across her lips, and seconds later another wave splashed into his face.
He chased her, then let her to turn the tables on him and dunk him under the water. Laughter came surprisingly easy after the third time she had gotten the better of him, and before long they were both breathing hard and drifting side by side, their arms crossed upon the ledge of the pool, the depth of the canyon stretching before them.
"You like it here," Shuri commented as she studied his face. "You look much more comfortable than you did all week."
"It was a lot," he admitted sheepishly. He dimly remembered a time when he had enjoyed parties, but he'd been a different person back then. "Thank you," he continued, "for showing me this place. It's beautiful."
"I should come here more often," Shuri mused. "I've been so wrapped up in my work for the Outreach Center in Oakland, I can't even remember the last time I came here. It must have been over a year ago."
"You love your work, though. That's not a bad trade-off."
"I do enjoy the work, but there's more to life than that. It's the connections we have to our friends and families that ground us and lets us discover who we really are."
Bucky smiled at that. He couldn't help but admire her and the certainty with which she spoke. Her sense of self-assurance was something he'd shared before the war, and though he'd regained some of it since he'd come to live here, progress was slow.
He told her as much, and her smile was gentle when she covered his hand with hers. "You will get there. Healing takes time. My mother always says that finding out what you want - what is truly important to you - is always a good first step. And then you start working towards that."
"You make it sound easy."
She laughed. "It is not. But it is worth it."
"What is it that you want?" he wondered. "You and king T'Challa took on a lot of trouble so I can stay here. I won't ever be able to repay that dept, but if there's anything I can do t-"
Her fingers covered his mouth. "I already told what I want. But if it is obligation that would have you offer yourself, then I'd rather we stay friends."
He sucked in a sharp breath. There was really no mistaking her intentions, now.
Shuri let herself drift into his personal space until he could feel the wet slide of her body against his own. Her hand trailed down to his chest, where she placed it above his heart.
"Is it obligation that you feel, James?"
His pulse pounding in his throat, Bucky shook his head.
The smile that bloomed on her face was radiant. Before he was able to gather his wits, he found himself with his arms full of her, all smooth, warm skin sliding along his chest, her breasts pressing against him as she laughed, loopeing her arms loosely around his neck.
Flipping his wet hair back, he leaned back against the edge of the pool.
Her eyes were dark but held an inner light that warmed his soul, and all of a sudden he realized that the awkwardness and guilt he'd felt since she'd offered to marry him had drained away.
"Are you going to kiss me, or do I have to do everything on my own," she whispered against his lips.
A hot surge of desire went through him, and he pulled her closer.
"Are you sure this is what you want?"
"Is that not what I've been telling you for the past two weeks?" she asked. There was a gentle smile on her face, but he could hear a hint of exasperation in her voice.
"This is not what I wanted for you," he admitted.
"And what is it that you would you want for me?"
"An amazing life. Loving someone who's just as young and brilliant as you are. Someone who doesn't carry the baggage and scars that I do."
"And does it matter what I want?"
"Of course it does," he hastened to assure her when he saw the place above her nose curl with annoyance.
"Then get it through that thick head of yours that what I want is you. I chose you," she said emphatically. "Which leaves you with the choice to give in to your fears or fight for us and the future we can have together."
He felt chagrinned at her gentle admonishment. "Well, if you put it like that."
He bent his head to kiss her. His lips slid warm and tender across her own, and Shuri moaned into his mouth. Her fingers curled into his hair, and she pulled herself closer against him. He could feel her nipples hard against his chest, brushing against his pectorals, the sensation eliciting a rumbling groan.
Shuri laughed into his mouth, her delight at his reaction apparent, and it only spurred him on. Using his metal arm, he pulled himself onto the edge of the pool until only his hips and legs were still submerged in the water. Shuri settled herself astride his abdomen. Her fingers clenched in his hair, forcing his head back.
He complied eagerly and lost himself to the taste of her, content to let her take the lead. Her tongue brushed wetly against the seam of his lips and when he opened to her, she delved into his mouth, tasting him with a satisfied growl.
His stomach tightened, and he could feel the blood rushing down to fill his cock until the soft head brushed against the swell of her ass.
Shuri hummed against his mouth and ground herself lightly against him. His hands clutched at her waist. It took every ounce of self-control not to lift her and sheat himself inside her, but he was determined to be patient.
Shuri, however, had no such intentions. She reached between their bodies and held him steady, her eyes glinting with want and desire at the needy sound falling from his lips. When she lowered herself onto him, taking him inside her body, his breath hissed out of his lungs.
"Shuri," he gasped in surprise. He sucked in a breath. "God."
Shuri's smile turned positively wicked. "Mmmh. I love the way you feel," she said unabashedly. "Hard and thick. I don't think my toys will ever compare from now on."
"I am glad- fuck, glad you approve," he panted. A thought suddenly occured to him, and he wanted to smack himself for not asking sooner. "Is this your fir-"
She kissed the tip of his nose, her eyes bright with laughter. "No, but they don't compare either."
His startled laugh turned into a curse when she started to move.
The water splashed up around them as she rolled her hips, and it took Bucky an embarrassing minute before he recollected himself enough to do anything but let her ride him and watch the pleasure transform her already beautiful face into something that took his breath away. Lifting his head, he wrapped his mouth around one of her nipples and brushed his tongue over the tight nub.
Shuri gasped. Her hand held the back of his head. "Yes. Like that. Oh, that feels wonderful."
Eager to give her more, he pushed his hand between them to strum at her clit. To his surprise, Shuri hissed, and within seconds he felt her tighten around him.
He whipped his hand away, afraid that he had hurt her. "Are you alright?"
Shuri laughed breathlessly. Her forehead fell against his shoulder. "I am more than alright. I just didn't expect to come so fast."
"Should I take it as a compliment?" he wondered wrily, which made her laugh harder. He could feel the vibrations going through her body and straight to his dick, and he gritted his teeth to hold on. It felt amazing.
"You might as well," she replied, pressing a kiss to the underside of his chin. "I have been imagining this night for the past two weeks."
"And did your toys play a part in that?" he wondered.
Her gaze turned playful. "Would you like a detailed description?" She rolled her hips against him.
Bucky sucked in a sharp breath. His own imagination was running rampant.
"Later," he said. "Definitely later."
Shuri made a humming sound and snuggled into his arms. Her fingertips drew idle patterns onto his chest, and it wasn't that Bucky didn't enjoy the cuddling - he very much reveled in it, and fully intended to revisit the subject later - but there was a part of him - a very insistent part - that was snug and warm and deep inside her body was getting rather desperate for friction.
"Are-" he cleared his throat, a little embarrassed that his voice was pitched so high, "Are you planning to move at all?"
Shuri playfully flicked her tongue across his nipple, and his hips bucked up into her before he could stop himself.
"Why? Is there something wrong? Are you feeling alright?" she asked, feigning innocence.
Bucky let his head fall back against the rock, submitting to his fate and the fact that he was married to a brilliant, mischievous young woman, who had him completely wrapped around her fingers... and he liked it that way.
"No, I'm great. Everything's fine. Just, you know, slowly dying, but what a way to go, eh?"
"Oh, poor boy," she teased him. "Have I been neglecting you?" Her hips lifted off him until only the head of his cock was lodged inside her. When she came back down, she did so slowly, the movement both agonizing and exquisite, mingling torture with extasy.
He was gone for her. Completely gone.
"Do with me what you will," he groaned, and he wasn't even joking.
"Oh, I have every intention to, James." Her smile was radiant. "After all, the night is still young."