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By Royal Request

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When Bucky Barnes received a message from King T’Challa’s secretary stating that the King requested to see him, Bucky needed to leave immediately for Wakanda. That meant that he could not return to Darcy Lewis’ apartment where he had spent the night before.

Prior to receiving the message, Bucky had worked out for three hours and dressed quickly in a white v-neck t-shirt, tan cargo pants, tac boots, and a brown leather jacket. He then bought a few gifts for Darcy: a new .mp3 player to replace her broken one, a gift card to treat herself and her new acquaintance Wanda Maximoff to snacks at the local coffee shop, and a cell phone to call him in case of emergency. Now, because of the King’s request, he would not be able to deliver the gifts in person. So, he quickly boxed the items, included a note to Darcy, and packed his duffel bag. With both the box and bag in tow, he left his tiny apartment and rode his motorcycle the few blocks to Darcy’s.

When he reached the building, Bucky sneaked in through the rear entrance, left the box for Darcy at her superintendent’s door, and headed to the airport hangar which housed the jet that King T’Challa sent for him.

Bucky was upset about having to leave Darcy without saying good-bye, so he was glad that he took the time to scrawl a quick note. He did not know how long he would be gone, but he knew that he had to go. The King and Princess of Wakanda had come to his aid when he needed assistance and shelter, so he would do anything to repay that debt.

“My bike will be safe here?” Bucky asked a member of King T’Challa’s flight crew in the airplane hangar.

“Yes, Sergeant Barnes. We will take good care of it,” the young man assured him as he folded back the long sleeves of his grey jumpsuit.

Bucky boarded the quinjet and settled in for the flight to Wakanda. Although he loved his adoptive country and was grateful for her people’s acceptance of him, deep down he did not want to go. He thought that perhaps he might feel better about it if he had been able to make Darcy understand why he needed to make the trip. What he could not divulge is that using the codename “White Wolf,” he had uncovered activity between Hydra and a rogue member of the Hatut Zeraze – Wakanda’s War Dogs. Having gained that intelligence, Bucky needed to share what he discovered with His Majesty. How he felt about Darcy was now immaterial. He had a duty to inform the King.

* * * * * *

When the quinjet arrived in Wakanda, it was late afternoon and Bucky was immediately escorted to a hover skiff which took him to the palace. It had been a few months since he was a guest in Wakanda, but the awe that he felt upon his first trip there was still with him.

As he disembarked the skiff, Bucky looked toward the palace doors and saw that they were flanked by members of the Dora Milaje ― the King’s personal guard. These women were some of the most highly skilled hand-to-hand combatants in all the world, and they were fiercely protective of their King. Each stood on guard with a spear at her side staring at Bucky in a way that let him know that if he so much as put a toe in the wrong direction, he would face serious consequences. Stepping forward to make her presence known was their leader, General Okoye, who Bucky recalled had a distinct dislike of foreigners, and especially him.

Approaching the Dora, he told himself, ‘Stay calm, Buck. Keep your wits about you and remember protocol.’ He stopped within eight feet of General Okoye, gave her the cross-armed Wakanda salute, and said, “Wakanda Forever.”

At first, Okoye did not respond but instead sneered at him as she looked him up and down.

‘I had hoped that we had seen the last of this one,’ she thought. ‘Of what benefit does the King see in him?’ “Why are you here, Colonizer?” she asked knowing full well what Bucky’s business was.

“General, I am here to see King T’Challa, by his royal request,” he responded.

Okoye slammed the butt of her spear on the ground, and two of the Dora briskly stepped forward and flanked the soldier. After giving their general the Wakanda salute along with the nod of their heads, they escorted Bucky into the palace. Okoye kept a level eye on him as they disappeared through the gilded doors. She did not want him in the palace or anywhere near the King for that matter. She did not trust the foreigner, but her hands were tied.

Inside the palace, Bucky was led to a large room which appeared to be a reception parlor of sorts. It was lavishly decorated with plants and African art, and at the far end of it sat King T’Challa. On either side of him stood more Dora with spears.

“Wakanda Forever,” Bucky said as he saluted the King and nodded his head.

“Hello, Sergeant Barnes. It is good to see you again. I trust you have been in good health,” said T’Challa.

“Yes, Your Majesty. I have, thanks to you and Princess Shuri,” Bucky assured him. “I trust that all is well with the King. You wished to see me?”

“Always getting straight to business, aren’t you, Sergeant?” the King observed with a deep, throaty chuckle. “Yes, I wish to hear what you have learned during your time in America. However, you have had a long trip, and the sun will soon set. My staff has prepared a suite for you and will escort you there now. Please rest for tomorrow morning I ask that you share your findings with me and the Taifa Ngao."

During his previous stay in Wakanda, Bucky’s neighbor Gamba ― a member of the farming Border tribe, which protects Wakanda’s borders ― had told him of the Taifa Ngao, the King’s council of tribal of elders. With the exception of the mountain dwelling Jabari, the chiefs of each of the 5 tribes met with the King on a regular basis to discuss matters of Wakandan politics and business issues.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Bucky replied with a nod.

The Dora that escorted Bucky into the parlor stepped to his side again and the three backed out of the chamber careful not to turn their backs to the King.

Bucky was then led down a long hallway to a suite that faced the west. As Gamba had told him, one was considered an honored guest if he were given such a suite, for Wakandans believed that there was no greater sight to behold than a Wakandan sunset.

Bucky stood on his balcony and basked in the warm breezes of the evening and the last rays of the setting sun. He was tired from his trip and decided to enjoy some of the fruit that the staff had placed on a table for him and then retire early. He wanted to be fresh and “on his toes” for his meeting the next morning with King T’Challa and the Taifa Ngao.

* * * * * * *

The next morning, Bucky was awake and had just finished dressing for breakfast when he suddenly heard a commotion in the hallway and a man’s voice yell, “Protect the King!”

“What the hell?” Bucky said and raced to the door of his suite fearing there was an attempt on the King’s life. When he threw open the door to see what the disturbance was, he was met by a large man in a dark mask who clubbed him in the head. Quickly losing consciousness, Bucky fell to the floor in a heap.

* * * * * *

“Thanks for meeting me,” Darcy Lewis said to Wanda Maximoff as the two young ladies entered the coffee shop and approached the barista.

“It’s my pleasure,” the auburn haired Sokovian replied.

“I hope you didn’t have trouble finding this place.”

“No,” Wanda said with her pronounced accent. “Steve gave me directions. It’s a nice-looking place. Do you come here a lot?”

“Sometimes,” replied Darcy not admitting that she had been there two days prior with Bucky.

After placing their drink orders, Wanda said, “Allow me,” and pulled her wallet out of her purse.

“No, this is on me!” declared Darcy. “Someone gave me a gift card, so this is my treat.”

Smiling, Wanda agreed. “All right, then. Next time, I’ll treat.”

The two walked over to a table, removed their coats, and sat down.

“I’m glad you called, Darcy. I really don’t know many people though I’ve been in your country for a few years. The only people I really know are the Avengers.”

“Yeah, Steve told me that you’re kinda far from home. It must be hard for you,” Darcy surmised.

“Yes, I miss my family and my country. The Avengers make me feel welcome and try to cheer me up, but sometimes it’s hard. Besides, there’s no one there my age,” Wanda confessed.

Sympathetically, Darcy replied, “I can only imagine.”

“I’m settling in, though, and Steve’s friend, Sergeant Bucky, is learning Sokovian to talk to me in my language. Do you know him?”

“Who ― Steve?” Darcy asked stalling for time. Bucky specifically told her not to tell anyone about their relationship. She knew it was not that he was embarrassed by her. Instead, he wanted to keep her safe from anyone who might harm her because of him.

“No, I mean Bucky,” Wanda corrected her.

‘What would be the harm in telling Wanda?’ she wondered. ‘No...Winter said, ‘Tell no one,’ and that means no one,’ she scolded herself. “Bucky? I...I think I may have met him...once...” Darcy remarked.

“Darcy!” the barista called.

“I’ll get them,” she offered and then quickly rose to pick up their order. ‘Whew! I almost didn’t get out of that one.’

“No boyfriend today?” the barista asked her.

Darcy froze worried that Wanda had heard. “Boyfriend? What boyfriend? I don’t have a boyfriend.”

“The hot guy with the long hair that you were here with the other day...” the petite blonde clarified.

“Oh...that guy? That guy’s not my boyfriend,” Darcy scoffed with a shrug of her shoulders.

“So, you’re not with him?”

“No!”

“Well, mind if I go for it, then?” the barista asked with a suggestive grin.

Darcy froze again. “Uh...yeah...sure. Go for it,” she remarked still pretending that she barely knew Bucky. As she turned and walked away, Darcy said under her breath, “You so much as look at my ‘boo,’ and I’ll Tase you so fast.”

When Darcy returned to the table with the coffee, she seemed somewhat annoyed.

“Are you all right?” Wanda asked.

“Yeah...I’m fine,” Darcy insisted. “There was just a minor mix-up with our order. That’s all.” ‘I hate lying,’ she thought. ‘I’m not good at it. I want to tell the world about me and Winter, but I can’t.’

“Steve told me that you’re a scientist. What kind?” Wanda wondered before sipping her hot brew.

“Who me? No! I work for Jane Foster. She’s the scientist. I’m her assistant. I type her essays, run errands, carry equipment...stuff like that.”

“Do you like it ― your job?”

Without hesitating, Darcy replied, “Yeah. I really do. Jane’s work in astrophysics is fascinating. It offers a lot of variety and besides, we’ve met a lot of Asgardians. Can’t beat that.”

The two young women laughed heartily.

“Yes, I know Thor. I’m sorry things didn’t work out for him and Jane,” Wanda said.

“They’ll both get over it,” Darcy suggested.

“And what about you?”

“Hey, I’m already over it.”

“No, silly! I mean are you seeing someone?” Wanda asked curiously.

Suddenly, Darcy remembered that Wanda is known as the Scarlet Witch. Aside from being able to physically move things with her mind, Wanda could control other people’s minds as well. Frantically, Darcy tried to remember what she specifically had heard about her. ‘Does she have to actually touch you to control your mind, or can she just think about it and do it?’ she wondered. ‘What if she gets into my head and finds out about me and Winter?’

“Darcy?”

“Yeah?” she asked as she snapped to attention.

“Are you dating someone?” Wanda asked again.

“Who ― me? Nah...Jane keeps me pretty busy, and you know what they say about girls who wear glasses...”

“No, I don’t.”

“You never heard the saying, ‘Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses?’”

Wanda scoffed and then asked, “Is that an American saying?”

“Yeah...” said Darcy. Smiling, she thought, ‘Good thing it ain’t true.’

* * * * * *

Bucky moaned as he slowly regained consciousness. Without touching his head, he could tell that there was a lump where he was clubbed. Raising his head and looking around, he realized that he was lying on the ground in a forest.

‘What the hell?’ he wondered.

Bucky rolled to his left side to raise himself and was shocked to realize two things: he was naked and his left arm was missing.

“HOLY CRAP!” he screamed. “Are you effing kidding me? What kind of crazy medieval sh*t is this?!” Horrified, he stood up and looked around anxiously. ‘Where the hell am I?’ he asked himself and tried to remember what he could about what happened before he lost consciousness.

‘I got up, dressed, and someone yelled something about the King...Oh, my God! King T’Challa’s in danger. They must want me out of the way...Damn it! Where the hell am I, and how do I get back to the palace?’ he wondered.

Bucky began walking and after a few yards, he stopped.

‘Wait a minute...how did I even get here? To get me out of the palace, they would have needed to use the landing pad. That means they used a hover skiff...which means there would be no tracks...” he realized with disappointment.

Looking up at the sun, Bucky wondered what time it was. When he lost consciousness in the palace, it was just after 8 o’clock. Currently, the sun was high and the temperature was about 114 degrees F [46 degrees C], and that was in the shade.

‘Come on, Buck. Which way do you walk?’ he wondered as he scanned his surroundings. ‘They say you can only walk halfway into a forest because once you reach the center, then you’re walking out of it...but what if I’m not at the center yet? Holy effing crap!’

* * * * * *

“So, when you’re not on a mission or saving the world, what do you do?” wondered Darcy?

Wanda laughed and replied, “Steve and Clint want me to finish high school.”

“High school? Really?”

“I didn’t finish before I left Sokovia, and I’ve been gone for a few years,” she said becoming sad at the memory of leaving her homeland. “So, I study and read a lot. Like I said, Sergeant Bucky talks to me in Sokovian to help me with the homesickness. He wants me to correct him when he gets something wrong, so I guess I’m tutoring him,” she laughed.

Darcy wanted to tell Wanda that she already knew that, but she bit her tongue.

“I’m sure you’ll finish school and do well,” Darcy encouraged her companion.

“American culture is different from Sokovian, and sometimes I have questions when I study. If I have questions, could I talk to you?”

Darcy almost spat out her coffee. “Whoa! Slow down, girl!” she said. “I’m not sure I could help anyone else with their studies. It’s...been a few years.”

“Well, not just with my studies but with fitting in and understanding things. Sometimes people say things, and I have no idea what they mean ― even though I’ve been here for a few years,” Wanda confessed.

Darcy remembered how Bucky told her that because he spent so much time in cryostasis and his mind had been electronically wiped over and over, he occasionally felt that he did not understand things ― that he sometimes felt disconnected or out of step. He admitted that sometimes he felt he and Darcy were speaking two different languages. She insisted that was only because he was from an era when people were more formal, but Wanda is young and expressed a similar sense of bewilderment. ‘So much for my theory,’ Darcy thought.

“I guess I can understand how you might feel that way. Sure...you can talk to me. I’d like that!” Darcy assured Wanda.

* * * * * *

Bucky had been walking for a few hours after he realized which way was west. His feet were sore and bloody, and his skin was sunburned. ‘The sun sets to the left side of the palace when you’re facing it. So, if I walk in that direction, I should be going the right way,’ he told himself. ‘Why didn’t they just kill me?’ he wondered about whoever did this to him.

“Damn! I wish I had my tac boots,” Bucky snarled as he stepped in bramble. As he stopped and looked around, his stomach began to growl.

‘I didn’t even get breakfast,’ he thought as he looked at the trees to see if any bore fruit.

Suddenly, he felt something crawl across his right foot. “UH!!!” he yelped and looked down to see a lizard. Shaking his foot to get it off, the soldier said, “Yuck!” and cringed.

* * * * * *

“So, what are you doing this morning?” asked Darcy.

“I had no plans other than studying. Today is history day,” Wanda replied and wrinkled her nose.

“Hmm...” remarked Darcy. “There’s a flea market two blocks from here and it opens in an hour. Can you be persuaded to do that instead?”

Smiling broadly, Wanda agreed. “That sounds like fun.”

“Great! Let’s do it, girl!” Darcy cheered. She was glad that she listened to Bucky when he urged her to contact Wanda as Steve had suggested. It was nice to have another friend in the superhero community other than her boss’ ex-boyfriend, Thor.

* * * * * *

Bucky could tell that the sun was past high noon and he needed to eat and drink something before he passed out. He began to look around again and finally saw an apple tree not far away.

‘I hope I’m not imagining things,’ he thought as he began to walk more briskly. When he reached the tree, Bucky sighed. “Damn it!” he snapped realizing that the apples were too high for him to reach. “How the hell am I gonna get those? I can’t climb a tree with only one arm,” he lamented.

Looking at the ground surrounding the tree, Bucky saw a few large stones amid rotten apples which had fallen. He picked up one of the stones and threw it at a cluster of apples but missed.

‘My left arm is more accurate,’ he thought not realizing that his aim was actually being hampered by starvation and dehydration which were taking a toll in the intense heat.

Bucky kept throwing rocks until he finally hit a few apples which fell to the ground. Snatching one up, he took a few bites and gobbled them down. It was not until he sat at the base of the tree to rest that he looked at his legs and realized how tanned his skin had become. He also noticed that his lips were chapped. He shook his head and felt defeated.

He had been thinking about Darcy as he walked and wondered if he would ever see her again. ‘If I die out here, she’ll never know what happened to me,’ he worried. ‘If I get out of this, I’m gonna do two things,’ the soldier decided. ‘I’m gonna kick the ass of whoever did this to me, and I’m gonna make up for lost time with Darcy.’

At first, the apple upset his stomach since it had been a while since he had eaten anything. ‘Come on, Buck. You need this,’ he told himself. When his stomach settled down, he ate two more apples. Realizing that time was working against him as the sun continued to head west, he rose to begin walking again. Before Bucky left the tree, he took one more apple with him.

* * * * * *

As Darcy and Wanda strolled through the flea market looking at jewelry, books, and clothing, Darcy thought about Bucky.

‘I wonder what he’s doing right now ― if he’s safe and if he’s thinking about me,’ she pondered. ‘I can’t believe how much I miss him.’

* * * * * * *

“Ow! Damn it!” Bucky yelped for the umpteenth time as he walked along with the sun getting low in the sky. He was feeling weaker from the day’s heat, and his lack of food and water. He was beginning to doubt that he had chosen the right direction to walk. As he finished the last bite of apple and dropped the core, he suddenly heard voices.

‘I must be hallucinating,’ Bucky thought. He listened closer and realized that he really was hearing voices. Stepping over to a tree, he peered around it and saw a large brown camping tent with an old black pickup truck next to it. He carefully stepped closer but did not understand enough Wakandan to make out everything the men were saying.

Bucky quietly approached the tent to ask for help but when he reached the truck, he froze. Looking into the flatbed, he saw his clothes.

Anger began to rise in the soldier and he clenched his right fist. He walked over and scooped up his clothes but saw that his left arm was not with them. Walking a few feet away, he began to dress and stifled yelps because of his sunburn.

When Bucky was dressed, he walked to the back of the tent, hooked one of the tent’s ropes to the truck’s tow hook, and climbed behind the wheel of the vehicle. As he started the engine, the three men inside the tent began to yell. Bucky dragged the tent a few yards and then stopped. Getting out, he walked up to the tousled tent and waited for the men to crawl out of it.

“Where’s my damn arm? WHERE IS IT?” he yelled as he grabbed the first man out by the throat. As the man tried to free himself from the soldier’s grip, he yelled in Wakandan. Bucky understood a little of what the man said as he defiantly cursed Bucky.

“Wrong answer,” the soldier snarled. He released his grip on the man long enough to kick him sharply in the chest. As the man lay on the ground gasping for air, Bucky grabbed one of the other two men.

“WHERE IS IT?” he demanded. Not waiting for an answer, Bucky punched the man and knocked him out cold.

As the soldier grabbed the third man, the man began to beg for his life in Wakandan.

“Why me?” Bucky yelled as he began to feel weaker from dehydration.

The man was quaking with fear but managed to say in English, “They said you must not speak to Taifa Ngao.”

Bucky was stunned. “‘They?’  Who is ‘they?’”

The man refused to say another word.

“Oh, cat’s got your tongue, huh?”

The man remained silent.

Bucky was determined to get back to the palace and get to the bottom of this.

“I’m gonna ask you again. Where’s my effing arm?” he sneered as he held his fist close to the man’s face. When the man motioned toward the tent, Bucky demanded, “GET IT!”

The man crawled into the lopsided tent and when he came out, he held Bucky’s cybernetic arm up to him as if it were an offering.

The soldier snatched his prosthesis from the man and gave him a merciless stare.

When Bucky attached the limb, he realized that it had been damaged, presumably when it was hastily removed. However, most of the basic functions seemed to be working.

Moving quickly, he picked up a bundle of rope that he found in the flatbed of the truck. He grabbed the man by the back of his shirt, dragged him to a tree, and tied him to it.

“Since you refuse to talk, I’ll let you sit and think about it for a while,” advised Bucky. While the man yelled for help, the exhausted soldier tied up the other two men as well.

As the conscious man wriggled attempting to free himself, Bucky quipped, “Don’t go anywhere.” He then got into the truck and drove west.

* * * * * *

It was 11 o’clock a.m. and the flea market was bustling, yet Darcy felt as if she were all alone.

“Darcy? Where are you, girl?” asked Wanda.

“Huh?” she replied snapping to attention.

“You look miles away,” Wanda remarked as she put a candle back down on a vendor’s table.

“Sorry. I guess I was just thinking about work.”

Wanda knew the glow of a woman in love when she saw it, and she could not help but wonder who was the object of Darcy’s affection.

‘Where is Winter and what’s he doing right now?’ Darcy pondered. ‘I hope he’s safe and hurries back. I really miss him.’

* * * * * *

It was 6 o’clock p.m. when Bucky arrived in the village where he stayed while recovering from his deprogramming.

When the truck came to a stop next to his neighbor Gamba’s large hut, the older man stepped outside and stared at Bucky in shock.

“Sergeant Barnes?” he asked.

Bucky pushed open the driver’s side door and spilled out onto the ground.

“Sergeant!” Gamba yelled and ran to him.

“Water!” the soldier rasped. His mouth was dry and his tongue tingled. As Bucky struggled to walk with his wobbly legs, Gamba put his arm around Bucky’s waist and led him into his hut. Sitting down hard, the soldier felt as if he were losing consciousness.

A moment later, Gamba held a cup of water to Bucky’s dry, cracked lips.

“Here, Sergeant. Drink!” he urged as he helped the soldier steady the cup. “I didn’t know you were back in Wakanda. What happened to you?”

Bucky explained what transpired that day pausing for a moment to catch his breath and drink more water.

* * * * * *

“Who are these men that did this to you?” asked Gamba. 

“I don’t know, and they’re not talking.”

“Where are they now?”

“Taking a ‘time out’ in the forest,” Bucky remarked.

“You need medical attention, Sergeant,” Gamba decided as he opened a small wooden box and removed a Kimoyo bead. Squeezing it with the thumb and index finger of his right hand, he placed the bead in the open palm of his left hand. Suddenly, a holographic image appeared before them.

“Yes, Gamba? What is it?” the image of General Okoye asked.

“My General, Sergeant Barnes is with me and in need of medical assistance.”

“Sergeant Barnes?” Okoye asked with dismay. “He disappeared this morning and did not attend the council meeting with Taifa Ngao and the King.”

Bucky was shocked. “The King? The King is safe?”

“Of course the King is safe! The Dora Milaje protects him,” she replied smugly. “I was at the meeting today, and the King expected you there as well.”

“I’m sorry that I disappointed him,” Bucky said with his feelings slightly wounded.

Speaking up, Gamba informed her, “My General, Sergeant Barnes was abducted this morning and should have medical attention.”

“I shall dispatch a skiff at once,” Okoye replied before her image disappeared.

Bucky knew that Okoye did not trust or like him and preferred that he not be in the palace, so he was all the more appreciative that she was sending a transport for him.

“You will be all right, Sergeant,” Gamba promised Bucky with a pat on his shoulder.

“Thanks, Gamba...and please call me ‘Bucky.’” After a moment, he asked, “Gamba, I don’t understand something. Why didn’t they just kill me?”

The older man did not hesitate with his response. “In Wakandan culture, it brings bad luck and shame on one to kill a man in cold blood. A man must be given the chance to fight for his life. In this heat, they expected you to slowly die on your own.”

“Same difference, if you ask me,” Bucky remarked. “One of them did say they didn’t want me to appear before Taifa Ngao. Maybe they knew what I was going to say.”

“Perhaps...”

“Which means they’re working for someone I can implicate,” Bucky surmised.

* * * * * *

After lunch with Wanda at Luigi’s ― Bucky and Steve’s favorite Italian restaurant ― Darcy returned to her apartment where she tried to concentrate on typing one of Jane Foster’s recent essays on astrophysics. However, Darcy’s mind kept wandering as she could not stop thinking about Bucky.

‘I miss my boo,’ she thought as she pined for Bucky. 'I hope he hasn’t gone on a mission and gotten himself captured or all shot up. That would really bite. He needs to get himself a Taser. It would cut down on all the kicking and punching for sure.’

* * * * * *

The days passed as Bucky lay in a bed in the palace infirmary recovering from his day in the hot forest.

“I’ve been in here for days, now. When can I go home?” he asked his nurse, who was a thin young woman with a heart-shaped face and large brown eyes.

“You can leave, Sergeant, when the doctor tells the King you are ready,” she informed him as she took his blood pressure and checked his pulse. While updating his chart, she stated, “I will let the doctor know that your vitals are improving.” She then turned and left him alone in the ward.

Annoyed, Bucky sighed and stared at the ceiling.

“I’ve got things to do, you know!” he called as he listened to her footsteps fade. It was quiet in the ward for a few moments, and then he heard footsteps approaching. Thinking it was his nurse returning, Bucky said, “This constitutes holding me hostage, you know.”

“King T’Challa and I are sorry you see it that way, Sergeant Barnes,” said Princess Shuri as she approached him and stood next to his bed.

“Oh! Your Highness...I...I didn’t realize that was you.”

Staring into his large blue eyes, Shuri assured him, “As much as the King would like to hear the information you came to Wakanda to give him, we would both prefer that you were fully recovered before doing so.”

“Princess, what happened to the men who did this to me?”

“I’m told that they were captured and are in jail as we speak.”

Sitting up in bed, Bucky pressed, “Who put them up to it?”

“Sergeant, I do not know. They are not speaking, but I would assume that it is related to what you have to say to the Taifa Ngao. Although I am a princess, I do not involve myself in matters of politics. However, as a scientist I am concerned about your well-being and will start running diagnostic tests to ensure that you are stable and improving enough to speak with my brother and ― “

“...and go home,” Bucky interjected.

When Shuri glared at him, he replied, “I’m sorry, Your Highness. I’m just eager to get back home,” he confessed as he thought about Darcy.

“That is understandable,” the young princess admitted. “Perhaps tomorrow or the day after.”

Disappointed but hopeful, Bucky slowly nodded and lay back down on the bed.

“For now, get some rest, Sergeant Barnes.”

“Thank you, Your Highness...and it’s ‘Bucky.’”

Shuri patted his right hand and turned to leave the ward.

* * * * * *

Almost two weeks passed while Bucky recovered in the infirmary. Princess Shuri had visited him every day since his escape from the forest and upon her latest arrival, she bore a broad smile.

Looking up from his bowl of porridge, Bucky was hopeful. “Good morning, Your Highness. Do you have good news for me?” the anxious soldier suspected from her demeanor.

“I do indeed, Sergeant,” she replied. “How are you feeling?”

“I feel well, Princess. Thank you.” The pain of Bucky’s sunburn had subsided days ago, but he still bore a tan. He was glad that his lips were no longer chapped since the hot porridge would have smarted.

“The doctor and I have consulted about your recent test results and feel that you are well enough to go home. However, King T’Challa would still like you to appear before him and the council before you leave.”

Unable to contain his joy, Bucky remarked, “That’s great news, Princess! Thank you.”

“I knew you would be pleased. Your nurse will bring your clothes and release you, and the Dora will escort you to the King’s throne room.”

“Thank you again, Princess!”

“You are welcome, Sergeant. Oh, and one more thing...I have repaired your cybernetic arm. If you break it again, it will not be returned to you.”

When Bucky looked shocked, Shuri laughed.

“I am kidding with you, Sergeant.”

“Oh, thank goodness...” he said relieved. Bucky had become able to care for himself and do most things with the use of only one arm, but the threat of taking the prosthesis still caught him off guard.

“Good-bye, Sergeant,” the Princess said. As she exited the infirmary, she shook her head and mumbled, “That broken white boy is always in peril.”

Two of the Princess’ technicians entered the ward and reattached Bucky’s cybernetic arm. When they finished, he cheerfully dressed and waited as his nurse took his temperature and blood pressure one last time. She then nodded to another nurse who opened the infirmary’s double doors to allow two Dora Milaje guards to enter.

The guards approached Bucky and crossed their arms in the Wakanda salute to which Bucky nodded and returned the salute.

“Sergeant Barnes, King T’Challa requests your presence,” one of the Dora informed him.

“I’m ready,” he assured them. The three then entered the hallway and proceeded to walk to the throne room.

Another set of Dora pounded the butt of their spears against the floor outside the throne room before palace attendants opened the doors to reveal King T’Challa sitting on his throne flanked on either side by the Taifa Ngao ― the council of chiefs from the Merchant, Border, River, and Mining tribes along with the Queen Mother, Ramonda, and a shaman. The only chief that was not present was M’Baku of the Jabari tribe who lived in the mountains. The Jabari were traditionalists who shunned technology and did not participate in Wakandan politics.

Bucky nervously stood before King T’Challa wearing his battle togs: his blue tunic, brown tactical pants, and knee-high brown boots. Although he was not going into combat, he felt that his uniform was more appropriate to wear in front of the King’s advisory council than street clothes. Standing with his feet planted slightly apart and his hands clasped behind his back, Bucky waited for the King to speak first as protocol dictated.

Before King T’Challa could say anything, a member of the Taifa Ngao council spoke up.

“Your Majesty, what is this colonizer doing in the King’s throne room?”

Addressing the assembled chieftains and Queen Mother, T’Challa replied, “I have asked Sergeant Barnes to return to Wakanda regarding a matter of national security. Following his departure weeks ago, I received information that questionable contact had been established between a possible Hydra operative and a member of Hatut Zeraze ― Wakanda’s ‘War Dogs.’”

The council members all gasped in unison.

“Hydra?” Eshe, the chief of the Mining tribe, asked in disbelief.

“Indeed,” replied the King.

“And just what was the nature of the communication?” pressed Abasi, the chief of the River tribe.

“Upon hearing that one of our War Dogs was approached by Hydra, I requested that Sergeant Barnes monitor all communication that was received by Hatut Zeraze.”

“This is outrageous!” said Abasi.

“Why him, Your Majesty? Why have an outsider spy on Hatut operatives?” Adisa of the Merchant tribe inquired.

“Because I can trust him,” T’Challa replied definitively.

“Why should we trust him?” wondered Malaika of the Border tribe.

“Sergeant Barnes’ background as a former Hydra operative means that he has knowledge and insight into Hydra’s tactics and personnel,” said King T’Challa. “Yes, he is an outsider, but he is loyal to Wakanda. He has been waiting patiently to share with us what he has learned, so let us give him an opportunity to speak.”

Bucky swallowed hard as all eyes turned to him, and he took a deep breath before speaking.

“Your Majesty, as you requested, I started monitoring communication received by Hatut Zeraze. The majority of the communication was Hatut operatives speaking to one another ― nothing untoward or out of the ordinary. However, one day I intercepted a communication from someone unknown to your ‘War Dogs.’ It appeared to be an operative testing the waters, so I took note of the codename and while I continued to monitor all communications, I did a bit of probing and determined that the entity was in fact a Hydra operative.”

The assembled council collectively gasped once again.

“What was the contact in aid of?" Eshe inquired.

“Seemingly, it was to proposition a Hatut Zeraze operative for the purchase of Vibranium.”

“That’s impossible! Are we to take the word of this colonizer as he casts doubt on the integrity and loyalty of our War Dogs?” Abasi demanded.

“I realize, My Elder, that the idea of Hydra getting its hands on Vibranium is astounding. However, I assure you that I took great care in analyzing and verifying the correspondences that I intercepted.”

As willing as Bucky was to assist Wakanda in any way possible, he could not help but be eager to go home and reunite with Darcy.

Abasi scoffed at the tanned soldier’s explanation but rather than confront the elder, Bucky simply looked at the King.

“Sergeant Barnes’ life was endangered as a result of gaining this knowledge. His findings are credible. When it comes to intel, Sergeant Barnes is elite,” T’Challa remarked. His tone made it clear that he expected no argument.

“What now, Your Majesty?” asked Adisa somewhat sheepishly.

Authoritatively, King T’Challa replied, “I order the immediate replacement of all Hatut operatives around the globe. Their substitutes will be dispatched from Wakanda at once. Going forward, senior Hatut operatives will keep a closer eye on their subordinates and monitor their encounters with outside entities.” Gazing at Bucky, he advised, "Wakanda may not be finished with White Wolf and may call upon him again in the near future.”

Bucky’s heart sank at the suggestion that he may not be returning home as yet. However, he realized that he owed a great debt to his adoptive country, and that superseded any personal interests.

“Thank you, Sergeant Barnes. That will be all for now. May your journey home be a safe one,” T’Challa bade him.

Almost unable to contain his joy, Bucky bowed to the King and remembered what his neighbor Gamba said about not showing his back to the monarch. As the soldier backed out of the throne room, King T’Challa asked Malaika for a report on activity along Wakanda’s borders.

Feeling a sense of relief, Bucky walked toward his quarters to change his clothes.

“A quinjet awaits you, Sergeant Barnes. It will transport you home,” one of the Dora informed him.

‘Home,’ Bucky thought. ‘For a long time, my home was here in Wakanda, and I was sad to leave it. Now, as much as I love it here, I’m eager to get back to New York.’

“Leaving us so soon, Sergeant Barnes?” asked Sergeant Ayo, General Okoye’s second in command.

Smiling, he replied, “I’m afraid so, Sergeant. Someone is waiting for me.”

“You must not keep her waiting any longer,” she remarked to Bucky’s surprise.

“How did you...?” he wondered.

“Sergeant, I am a soldier, but I am also a woman. You've heard of 'women's intuition,' yes?” she quipped.

He had never known the Dora Milaje to be anything but staunchly serious, but he swore that he saw the slightest hint of a smile playing on her lips.

As Bucky stared at Ayo in wonderment, she turned to walk away. “Travel safely, White Wolf.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” he called behind her.

* * * * * *

Bucky made himself comfortable in the quinjet’s seat and prepared himself for takeoff. This was the second time that Wakanda had nursed him back to health, and he pondered the notion that instead of returning home, he was actually leaving it. While his bright sunburn was gone, he retained a tan.

‘I hope it’s cloudy in New York,’ he thought not wishing to see the sun for a while.

Due to the speed of his transport, he would soon be stateside. He decided to take a quick nap and surprise Darcy when he arrived rather than contact her in advance. He thought the surprise would be just what they both needed.