[Border Tribe Village, Wakanda]
<two women watch in the distance as Bucky one-arm tosses bales into a wagon>
Shuri: He is still withdrawn. I have done all I can for him, but he is still just a broken white boy.
Ael Xander: <places her hand on Shuri’s shoulder> Through no fault of your own. Not everything can be fixed with science, my soul sister. It is his psyche that is in need of healing now. <she leaves Shuri’s side, making her way down to the hut for another counseling session with her patient>
Bucky: <mildly surprised to see her> Back again, Doc? I thought you’d given up on trying to get into my head.
Ael: <glares slightly at the incorrect title, knowing he’s said it intentionally to irritate her, rattles off her credentials> RN, healer, empath, PTSD and abuse counselor, warrior, and a master of the mystic arts. I could easily get into your head on my own. But I can better help you if you let me in. <changing the subject> Shuri tells me you’ve refused the new arm she’s made for you.
Bucky: <shrugs> I do just fine with one. At least now, I’m only half as dangerous.
Ael: <gently> The conditioning has been removed. You’re not a danger to anyone unless you choose to be. You have control over your life and your mind now.
Bucky: <pacing the room> Do I? What life? I’m a wanted fugitive. A murderer. All those years, all the things I did. I can’t come back from that. I don’t deserve to.
Ael: You can’t
Bucky: <interrupting> You’re going to say I can’t blame myself. That it wasn’t me. But it was. Every kill, <looks down at his remaining hand in disgust> my hands did it.
Ael: You’re not wrong. But what I was trying to say is that you can’t erase what happened. You can only go forward.
Bucky: I wish Shuri had just erased my entire memory. I could start over as someone else.
Ael: As a blank slate. No friends, no happy memories of your youth, no emotions or morals. Isn’t that what HYDRA did to you between missions? You’d rather go back to that?
Bucky: They tried. <wincing, his face tightened in pain, remembering> It was like being locked in my own mind. Stuck in a chair, watching everything on a giant movie screen, with no control to stop myself. Now and then, something would jar me loose, I could almost get free and take control, but then they’d just ‘wipe’ me again. It never erased anything. It just locked me back down. <points at his temple> Every moment, it’s all still here. I’d see it all replay when they put me back in cryo, like a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. Tell me any of that is worth keeping.
Ael: All of it is. Because as painful and terrible as it was, it brought you here, on the other side. You survived.
Bucky: <slumps down on a stool, head hung low, shaking it, refusing to look up at her> It doesn’t feel like it. A part of me feels like this is all the dream, being free. At any moment, I’m going to wake back up in the chair.
Ael: You’re going to keep looking over your shoulder like that for a long time. I’m going to be honest, for some, that feeling never fully goes away. <leans forward, takes his hand, speaking slowly, emphasising each word> But. You. ARE. Free.
Bucky: <scoffing, but not pulling his hand back> You make it sound like you’ve dealt with people like me before.
Ael: Your exact situation may be unique, but at the same time, you have a lot in common with other survivors I’ve helped. Domestic violence, rape, child abuse. All of them had their control taken away, their minds and bodies twisted, their confidence and self worth shattered, their lives destroyed, left feeling trapped by what was done to them.
Bucky: <despondent> But the things I’ve done … <trails off>
Ael: <tender, yet firm> Show me.
Bucky: Show you?
Ael: <still holding his hand in one of her own, the other weaving a mystical sigil in an orange glow> I can create a link between us that will give me a window into your mind. I won’t do anything but observe, I swear to you.
Bucky: <mesmerized by the glow> I, I can’t, you wouldn’t, you’ll see why everyone is right to be afraid of me.
Ael: <her thumb gently rubbing the palm of his hand reassuringly> I’ve seen plenty of darkness in my time. Some of it true evil, some of it created by impossible situations. I promise you, I’m not afraid. Will you trust me?
Bucky: <still hesitant, nods> I, I guess so. Ok.
Ael: Thank you.
<the sigil gently floats from her hand, rising to his forehead, hovering a moment before disappearing beneath the skin, images flood her mind, the physical and mental torment, the conditioning and training, the cold hard killer facing down his victims, as well as brief glimpses of happiness from his distant past, she feels the overwhelming guilt and agony that surrounds him>
<the images and memories Ael sees, bring her own deeply buried memories to the surface, the link unintentionally giving Bucky a peek into her own past traumas>
Bucky: <snaps back, dropping her hand> Who is Lady Ice?
Ael: <startled> You weren’t meant to see any of that.
Bucky: <insistent, repeats the question> Who Is Lady Ice?
Ael: <composes herself> The mystical version of a Winter Soldier. A woman raised in torment, broken down, trained and molded into a thing, a tool, an assassin.
Bucky: <shocked, but understanding, whispers> She’s you.
Ael: <nods, biting her lip> She’s what I was. <feeling a tightness in her chest> When my parents, <swallows hard, looking away> when I <pauses> When they died, my grandmother took me. She trained me in my gifts and to be loyal to her. She sent me to other realms, used me as a weapon, <pauses again> gave me up to others, other creatures who used me for their whims. Stripped me of my emotions and my humanity. She unmade me.
Bucky: <shudders> How did you, how did you escape? How did you go from that, to now? <eyes watering, as the forgotten feeling of hope begins to rise within him> From a murderer to a healer?
Ael: <takes his hand again> It’s been a long road. I found friends, I built a family from them. People I could trust, people who cared about me. Not my gifts or how they could use them, me. The Royals of Wakanda are just a few of them. They care about you too, and so does your friend Steve. They are here, you just have to let them in.
Bucky: <a tear escapes, slipping down his cheek> I, I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to forgive me, much less be there for me. I thought I was alone.
Ael: You’re not alone. <she smiles softly, squeezing his hand, her own eyes wet> It sounds contrite, but you first have to be able to forgive yourself. As long as you hang onto the anger and guilt, you won’t have room for anyone or anything else. Your past will always be with you, who you were defines who you move forward to become. Once you see yourself as more than what they did, or what they made you do, you’ll be able to let go of the anchor holding you in that same place, and reach out with both hands to embrace who you want to become.
Bucky: <grins slightly, a bit of weight already lifting from his spirit> Both hands?
Ael: <turns, looking at a long, metal box on a table in the corner> Hands can be used to kill and destroy, but they can also be used to build and nurture. <pulls him gently to her> And comfort a friend. <hugging him tightly, the link still open between them, she feels his burgeoning hope and wraps it in a protective warm energy, like a soothing blanket> When you feel you’re ready, the arm will be there, but only when you’re ready. <she continues to hold him, gently rocking, her own tears silently soaking into his shoulder, his breakthrough worth the nightmares of her own she knows will visit her that night>
<an unseasonably warm March morning, Tony and Pepper taking a break during a jog through Central Park>
Tony: <takes a sip of water> Meeting Aunt Peg got me thinking.
Pepper: <smiles softly, hand on his shoulder> I know how weird that has to have been for you.
Tony: Well, yeah. I mean she’s not the same, but in a sense, she is. Seeing her though, it brought back all the happy memories from my childhood with her, Ana& Jarvis, mom, even some with my dad. He wasn’t always an asshole. So, it got me thinking.
<long pause> We should have a kid.
Pepper: <shocked> WHAT? NO!
Tony: <taken aback, confused> What? I thought you’d like the idea. We’ve been building a life together and I thought a kid would be the next logical step.
Pepper: <shakes her head> It has to be something we’re both ready for. I’m certainly not ready. And you? You can’t even remember your social security number. Having a child changes everything, Tony.
Tony: <takes her hand in both of his, bringing it to his lips> I know, and those are changes I’m willing to make.
Pepper: <stretches an arm out> Take a look at the world around us. We’ve done a lot to help with the environment, with my charity work, with your Avengers but is this a world you want to bring a child into? What if we can’t protect them?
Tony: <only half joking> I’ll build them a suit.
Pepper: That’s not all I’m talking about. What if we have a girl? Do you want her growing up in a world that looks down on her and makes her work twice as hard and still doesn’t see her equal to a man?
Tony: <not understanding> You grew up in that world, and you’re the smartest, strongest woman I know. You’re the CEO of one of the world’s most powerful companies.
Pepper: And I busted my ass to get there. But do you realize, that long before we started dating, people questioned how I rose up the corporate ladder as far as I had? I had to prove my worth over and over while gossip and whispers followed me. Do you remember our first dance? <Tony nods, smiling at the memory of how nervous she was> I never told you, but that dance almost lost us the Worthington deal. <Tony’s eyes widen> You were busy working on your first suit, so I had to attend the negotiations in your place. Warren Jr said ‘he’d rather deal with a drunken playboy than his sober playtoy.’
Tony: <fists clenching> What did you do?
Pepper: I thought about ignoring it. Instead I called him out on it. I told him the only reason he’d rather deal with you than me, is because he thought he’d get a better price on his microprocessors. I pointed out that ours were the only ones that could handle the processing power his tech needed, but if he really wanted to bargain with a man instead of a woman, he could try Hammer’s UltraX at half the price, and a quarter of the quality. He also wanted another shot at trying to recruit you into his <rolls her eyes> ‘highly exclusive men’s club’.
Tony: Helfyre? Pssht. No chance. They tried to recruit dad more than once over the years. Them and the Arena Club and the local bowling league. He wasn’t much of a joiner. Neither am I. Warren’s lucky I wasn’t there. He’s always been an ass. I was glad when his son took over the company.
Pepper: Yes, it’s been a much better business relationship since then. But that’s just one incident, one asshole who couldn’t see past the fact that I was a woman who dared to rise up in the corporate world. I could tell you dozens more. Remember Aldrich Killian? <Tony shudders> You think I want to raise a daughter in a world where men like him think women are trophies?
Tony: <places his hands on her shoulders, looking at her in a new light> Ok, you’re right, but how are we going to fix things? We can’t change the whole world, babe.
Pepper: We can keep trying though. We have to. If we’re going to bring a kid into it someday, I want to know we’ve done everything we can to help not only our child, but every child.
Tony: Ok, so your saying you want to do more philanthropy and fundraising?
Pepper: I want US to work together. We’re getting married. We’re supposed to be a team. Equal partners. In everything. The company, charity work, the resistance, parenting, avenging. All of it.
Tony: <shocked> Wait, go back, what did you say?
Pepper: You heard me. You come back to the company and charity organizations and take some of the workload, while I start helping with the Resistance and the Avengers.
Tony: <purses his lips, knowing full well what she means, sidestepping> You mean you’ll be helping around the Avengers Facility, organizing and running the operations, right?
Tony: No. NO! Absolutely not. Out of the question.
Pepper: And why is that? <folds her arms, glaring at him> Tony, I’ve worn a suit before. I need my own!
Tony: No! Avenging is dangerous work!
Pepper: You don’t think I can handle it!
Tony: <backpedaling> No! It’s not that, it’s
Happy: Hey! Lovebirds! You two wanna maybe take this inside? The paparazzi are having a field day. Who’s gotta deal with that? Me. YOU put me in charge of security and wedding planning. Do you want to be on the next cover of the National Inquirer? Go smooch and make up for the cameras, while I go chase off Burt from TMZ. I’ll bring the car around and you can do <waves his hand in a circle> whatever this is, in privacy.
Tony: <trying to calm him down> It’s fine Happy. Pepper’s just being a stick in the mud about tradition. She doesn’t think I should wear a white dress, since I’m not a virgin. <Pepper, stifles a laugh>
Happy: <far from amused> Right now, I don’t care if you dress up like the Easter Bunny and hop down the aisle. <pleading> Just go work this out at home instead of the middle of Central Park. Please? <drives off shouting at a photographer hiding in nearby bushes> BURT! I SEE YOU!!
[20 minutes later at Avenger Tower]
Tony: <trying to put the discussion behind them> How about I go make us lunch, and then you can tell me all about the latest brilliant business moves you’ve made as CEO of the largest tech company in the world.
Pepper: <seeing right through him, moves in close, smiling seductively, hand on his cheek> I’ve got a better idea.
Tony: <eyes perking up> Oh really?
Pepper: <grins> Why don’t I make lunch, while you go down in the workshop and start the design specs for my suit.
Tony: <turns away from her, scowling> I can’t make you a suit, Pepper.
Pepper: <hands on her hips> Why the hell not?
Tony: <spins back around, yelling> Because if I build you a suit, you’re going to want to use it! <points out the window> You’re gonna want to go out there, and you’re gonna want to help people, and be amazing and brilliant and fierce. <grabs both her hands in his> Which is one of the many reasons I love you! But I CAN NOT put you in danger! How many times have you seen me come home, battered and bruised and half dead? How many times have you thought I wasn’t going to make it back? HOW MANY?
Pepper: <shouting back at him> Too goddamn many! So you just expect me to keep living like that? Sitting at home, the dutiful wife, waiting, hoping for your return? Fuck that!
Tony: <lowers his voice> Pepper, you are the one person in this world I can’t live without. You are the reason I go out there and do what I do.
Pepper: <softens, squeezing his hand> Why do you think I want to go out there? To protect YOU, you idiot. To fight by your side, and make sure you come home. <Tony sighs, resting his head on her chest, before looking back up at her again>
Tony: <eyes watering> I forget sometimes that being equal partners means letting you look after me too.
Pepper: <smiling tenderly> I know. But you have to remember that I’m here to stand beside you, not hide behind you. And I’m going to keep standing beside you for the rest of our life.
Tony: <sniffles, nodding, smiles sheepishly at her> Good, because I can’t build you a suit without you beside me to go over the specs. <tries to lighten the mood> What do you think of bubblegum pink?
Pepper: <grins> For your next suit? Adorable. Mine, I was thinking electric blue, maybe throw a little silver in there.
Tony: Always my classy gal. <pulls her toward the workshop> You’re the boss, let’s get to work. <pauses, turning> But, when you do get, I mean, when WE decide that WE are ready for a kid, you’re on the bench. I’m not building a baby bump into your suit.
Pepper: <laughs, kissing him> Ok, fair. I can live with that.
Notes From Peg’s Desk
New Feature fans! At the end of some episodes, I’ll be posting a little bit of info or insights related to the night’s story.
We all saw Bucky go into cryo at the end of Civil War, reappear at the end of Black Panther, and join the fray for Infinity War seemingly fully healed and restored. But while the mental conditioning was an easy fix(for the smartest woman in Wakanda) facing the mental and emotional trauma couldn’t have been as easy. Obviously the films didn’t have time to follow Bucky’s recovery, so I thought it important to walk a little bit through him coming to terms with his time as the Winter Soldier. We’ll visit him again down the line and check on his progress. Lucky for him, he has the insightful and empathic healer Ael Xander(Aka the White Owl/Lady Ice). I was absolutely thrilled to be allowed to include her as a guest star courtesy of my dear friend and co-author on another (secret) project, the skilled and wonderful CynnaAel You can follow Ael’s adventures (where she crosses paths with that weirdo doctor from Bleeker St) on her tumblr here: The Darkening & The Lightening
As for Tony, we’ve seen through the years his struggles with being a team player. He’s had to learn over and over again that he doesn’t have to do things alone. He and Pepper are taking a big step in their life together with the whole marriage thing, but until now, he hasn’t quite gotten the whole ‘marriage is a partnership’ idea. He’s always wanted to protect the people he loves, forgetting that they’re there to protect and care about him in return. Will he still need reminders now& then? Probably. It’s not an easy thing for someone like him. But Pepper will be there by his side.
I really hope you’ve all enjoyed tonight’s episode, it was a true joy to write. One of those episodes where the characters come through and kick me off the keyboard and write themselves. Next episode we’ll be back to the Resistance work, as Peg prepares for her first field mission. Until next time, keep reading, keep Resisting. Peggy