Being Human

April 01, 2017:

Jessica Jones wraps up her case with T'challa only to be given a new assignment, one which sparks an intense philosophical discussion on the nature of honor, morality, and humanity.

A fancy hotel in NYC.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Juno Hart, Grymalkin, Zatanna Zatara, Bucky Barnes

Plot:

Mood Music: Doctor, My Eyes


Fade In…

The dark of the night finds a figure on the roof of the competing hotel across the street from the swanky hotel where the delegation from Wakanda makes its home. Jessica Jones lays flat with her arms under her head, laying at an angle so nobody freaks out and shoots her. Also, because it's comfortable, and because it's a nice night if one doesn't mind a chill. Some twist of fate or fortune makes this one of the rooftops in the city where light pollution and smog aren't chasing every star out of the clear, cold sky; one or two of the brightest and most persistent ones are visible overhead.

The P.I. is admiring said stars, but she's also watching the patterns of the staff, and the security. While some rooftop watchers would be doing this out of malicious intent, she is not. The security patterns, she postulates, will change whenever the King of Wakanda is perhaps free to have a conversation. Maybe because he's finally retired for the night, maybe because he's out being a panther in the ways that being a panther seem good to him.

The changes will, she thinks, be subtle; but they'll be present. There will either be more nervous watchfulness, or less. It's all guess work, if an interesting exercise in situational awareness. Still, her guess work is generally good guesswork. The moment she sees the shift she shifts position so that a tree will block the view of her as she sits up. She pulls out her phone and dials 9 for Panthers. It won't do to wait too long…she doesn't want to catch the man just as he's finally flopping into bed for the night after a long, boring day of listening to people drone on about the price of vibranium exports or the tarrifs that ought to be levied on iPods coming into his nation.

She did not dress up for the meeting. She wears the same leather jacket and jeans she wore when he first met her.

—-

It's worth noting that the majority of the king's security delegation seems to be female. It's something of a very specific observation to make, and one that requires a certain measure of deductive reasoning to spot the women hanging around the periphery of the embassy, keeping watchful eye. Most of the rest of the Wakandan delegation is male, of course: Men regularly exit and enter the hotel. Some wear coats and work attire cut for the laboratory, or service fatigues meant to attend to the technological substructure beneath the hotel's elegant veneer. Other men are traditionalist and wear little more than the fur and bones of the beasts they've caught, any contemporary outfitting worn only in the most grudging deferral to the country's customs and laws. Wakanda is a nation of tribes, and each has its own culture in turn, no matter how much media portrayal of foreign countries would prefer to paint it any other way.

But all tribes must bow to the panther.

The instructions were to attach the phone to the civilian networks for a reason. While Wakandan technology is formidable in terms of technological intrusion, it wouldn't be proper to antagonize Stark Industries in such a manner. Or at least, such could be the assumed reason.
One does not want to reveal their hands frivolously, after all.

Though Stark's networks remain secure, it was no large feat to circumvent several of the local carriers to specify the card in Jessica's phone, and provide a direct link to the embassy's communications network. It was technically a form of wiretapping, mind.. but oftentimes these kinds of solutions are necessary to address the communications concerns between Wakanda's technology and the rest of the world's. In the end, for all of it, it takes just one number to place the call.

The response is immediate. Several of the guards tilt their heads, listening to a voice only they can hear.

And then, a voice. It is unmistakable.

"Is my attention required?"

—-

"It is." Jessica replies, without wasting any time on preamble. She figures he either only gave the number to her or will recognize her voice. Or her number. Really, it doesn't matter—she credits him with knowing exactly who is calling.

"I've got information for you, and it's not the type of stuff you stick in a note. It's delicate. But. I tried to make it convenient for you. I'm across the street and am happy to meet however you like."

A pause, a beat, and then an admission. "And, if you do find you have a little extra time…perhaps there's something of a bit more of a person-to-person nature that I wanna ask you too."

She suddenly gives a snort, filled with dry humor. "Jesus. That's just way too many words to say 'hey, you got a moment?'"

This royalty thing really has Jessica a little off her game.

She had, in fact, sat and watched all the people, noting the differences in clothing and function, trying to fit all that she saw into the greater puzzle piece of understanding Wakanda, and by extension the man that hired her, that showed up in her office that day just like he was any regular Joe off the street. Which of course. He wasn't. To no particular purpose, really, other than her own driving, obsessive need to understand things, to understand people. She could read about it, but then everything she'd get might well be wrong. What conclusions has she drawn?

Wakanda seems to have some sense of gender roles, but the roles assigned to women are not oppressive ones. Unless T'challa himself is some sort of progressive, or wanted a guard of beautiful women because he liked looking at beautiful women, or thought nobody would expect his guards to be women. But…then there might have been some resentful glances from the men, and she didn't think she spotted those. No, she thinks warrior women is probably a thing in that nation, at least among some tribes. Even if that doesn't exactly rule out T'challa wanting a legitimate excuse to surround himself with pretty women. She supposes they're not mutually exclusive. But what would the cultural value be that sends women into warrior professions while keeping them out of the scientific or maintenance or diplomatic ones? Could it tie into the way panthers do things, given their worship of the panther? Maybe she should read up on panthers if she wants to understand the nation a little better.

—-

There is a pause on the other side of the line, bald enough to almost be audible. It is as if T'Challa were rolling a thought around in his mind. The chances that T'Challa didn't notice Jessica's convenient timing are less than none, but for whatever reason, he elects not to mention it. The decision made, T'Challa makes a faint sound, something like metal on glass, before speaking again. Though he had remained politely quiet until Jessica finished her thought, his words trail off the end of her spate of self-consciousness.

"It is not a problem," T'Challa responds mildly, "I will come alone."

He chooses his words carefully, and he does not chide her, nor does he offer placations. Much of what the young king says is in what he doesn't say, leaving what is left to be knife sharp.

"Please, stay where you are."

The line flanges, a long and distant sound being the only sign the call has been disconnected.

Jessica will not have to wait long. There is a certain seamlessness to things, where the passage of time is easily lost. In the transition, moments become difficult to keep track of, and the edge to which they become minutes.

This is because T'Challa is already here.

Surely, he had not been here the whole time—the difference of time between T'Challa's termination of the call and the slow, burgeoning realization that he is watching Jessica is not long, but not short enough to be inconceivable. The most important thing, or rather the most plain point to make that the seasoned investigator may pick up on is that he is not wearing civilian attire right now.

And the difference is as night and day.

Swathed in nothing but black, T'Challa makes as much noise as the dead might—no heartbeat, no sound comes from him, not even the incidental sound of foot on earth, or from the limbs shifting against his torso. The serpentine weave of black stretches with every movement, fitting closely to his body, and building the basis of the gold ornamentation and full weaponry that forms the vestments of the Panther Cult. T'Challa is a thing dressed for war.

However, he does not wear his helm today in the meeting he holds with the PI, his nominally severe look still quite affected, even in the dark with no other between them. "My apologies," T'Challa remarks, "You have found me in an indisposed moment, and I do not wish to keep you waiting."

Jessica might note that his gloves are currently looking rather weathered for what seems to be normally excellent repair, white bits of drywall and other grime flecking the edges of his hands. If there is blood-and there may very well be-it's hard to make out against the darkness of the rest of his armor. He himself physically looks none the worse for wear, however.

—-

Jessica observes the man in his very different garb than that which she originally met him in, and tilts her head. "You know? That suits you," she says, offering casual comment on such things like…well. Like any American, really. It might seem a little inane, that comment, given his god-given right to wear the vestments, but it's not as inane as it seems.

Sometimes, when a person wears certain clothes, they seem more fully themselves. There's something about seeing T'challa in his panther's skin that achieves that effect for one Jessica Jones. And if she hardly knows him well, sometimes the effect is just obvious. It's like the difference between seeing Jessica herself in a business suit or, God help her, a dress, and seeing her dressed exactly as she's dressed now.

He warned her that he'd be there; so his appearance doesn't startle her, even when he appears more or less behind her. She simply turns to face him fully.

Then, she is struck by a thought. She tilts her head, though, then says slowly, "I hope you aren't all dressed up because you were coming up here to beat the ass of someone mistaken for an assassin about 30 seconds before I called, T'challa, because. Wow. That would be damned awkward."

When he made it clear he preferred her to just be herself he basically got her out of the mode of calling him 'Your Majesty' for much longer than this. She'll be respectful of his time, she'll still treat him like a valued client, giving him all the functions of real respect, without necessarily clinging, for very long, to the forms of the thing. She can treat someone like a person or she can treat someone like a Personage; she can't do both at once. As for her sudden concerned conjecture? It's the explanation she can most easily think of for his sudden appearance, though…

She notes his gloves are all messed up. Surely that wasn't climbing the wall of this hotel was it? What was he about this night? There's nothing which necessarily says it had a thing to do with her. Maybe it was just coincidence. That would be a Hell of a coincidence, though. "Tried not to alarm anyone," she adds, a little apologetically.

Still, she stands up since he's standing up, sliding her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket, grey scarf with all of its worn glory wrapped firmly around her neck. Unarmed as she ever is. Though while she had been uber-careful to make sure a certain child-assassin knew she presented no threat, she doesn't bother with T'challa; she assumes he knows damn well she means no harm and acts accordingly.

"Anyway, I'm here to tell you what I've learned about the child assassin. About Juno."

—-

For his part, T'Challa seems less officious in the panther habit. It is not to say that he seems more relaxed-hardly so. The young king is never quite at ease, the weight of authority burdening him ever constantly. But it remains to say that in the darkness, swathed in black and fully armed and armored, the young man breathes more easily, with less contemplation and no inhibition to interfere with his thinking. It is an important distinction to make. He is more comfortable on the hunt.

The warrior is his skin.

"The habit of the panther has been the symbol of strength and sovereignity in Wakanda for generations," T'Challa points out, a grave undertone chilling his voice. It is as the passage of a cloud's shadow in the city-a brief thing, quickly passed. He bears not the malaise of a man vexed by her nature, ultimately. The investigator has an earnest mind, and speaks true. It is his only interest, truthfully. Even the slightest hint of ill intent or guiled aims is enough for any true Wakandan to respond with force. "Despite our surveillance, you are nondescript enough that only I noticed you," T'Challa finally settles on pointing out. His patience for needless explanation is thin, and for him, "it is as I said. I was indisposed," is enough.

Drywall and other fragments suggest that very recently he has had his hands buried at least up to the wrists in a wall. Climbing up the building may explain the speed at which he arrived, but certainly he didn't go through a wall to do so. Or at least, such is the hope.

"Ah. I received your messages," T'Challa finally acknowledges, his tone darkened but ultimately eager to return to the matter at hand. Certainly, the idea that a person is displaced in time is not new to him. "I am familiar with beings that are out of place with modern times. But, even for all of its abuses and inequities, the world was not always as kind as it is today. Do you imagine that this matter of the cat may become an ongoing problem?" The trouble recognized anew, the panther then finally settles on the matter at hand.

The young assassin.

"Tell me what you have found."

—-

"The cat? No. I think he's settled for now. I'm continuing to do a bit of digging into him though." She says no more on that matter. A shadow passes across her own face, contemplating Grymalkin— (an old word, Juno had said, meaning grey cat) but she isn't here to talk about him. What she knows, T'challa now knows, and what she needs to know Zatanna Zatara will tell her in time.

She spends a moment more studying his hands (through a wall? that is interesting) but ultimately raises her gaze to his face. It's not her business what walls he was off burying his paws in, and while curiosity may be one of her driving traits she at least knows how to temper it with knowing when it's not necessary to know.

"Juno Hart was part of a Russian program to steal children from either birth or a very young age and train them up. If that were the end of it, all we'd have is a killing machine, not a woman-child chasing cats. But that's not the end of it. Someone who is familiar with the program has scooped her up, taken her under her sheltering wing, and is seeking to reform her. To help her shake off her conditioning, to help her shake off the assassin's lifestyle, to give her back her free will. It's a slow process. The child has been so abused during the course of her 'training' that she still thinks it's right and natural for her to have an 'owner.'"

Abruptly, Jessica Jones is stalking over the rooftops herself, pacing back and forth, though she never lets herself get so far that she might freak out anyone at the hotel across the street. The seething anger that boils out of her is nothing she even bothers to hide. That a child would be treated this way— really, that anyone would be treated this way— infuriates her. "You wanna go full-on Chewie on someone, the assholes who run that program are a good damned bet. I'm fucking tempted myself."

She drags herself back on track.

"It seems her benefactor is having some success. She is thrilled to have a room of her own. She likes Pokemon and McDonalds, cartoons about talking horses, her colorful backpack, plushies, and the firey love poetry of Pablo Neruda." Her mercurial emotions shift again, this time to warmth and sadness alike, deep sadness. "Mentally I'd say she's all of 12, even if she's older physically. I also think she's going to pull through. I think it's going to be successful, this attempt to help her. I'm going to try to make sure of it."

—-

"Hrmh. The Russians," T'Challa echoes, grudgingly. He and the Americans hardly see eye to eye on many issues, but the Soviet Union was won, however briefly, through methods and reasoning that many in Africa have tried in the past. The ongoing threat of Soviet ghosts and Russian intelligence concerns Wakanda even today.

T'Challa is not entirely ignorant of where Jessica's attention is focused, even for scant moments. For men who count heartbeats, it is not difficult to notice curiosity where it may lie. But for all of the subtext in the details, the young king is perfectly content to keep to matters of the moment, no matter which tales his vestments ultimately tell.

Jessica's response is much more expressive than T'Challa's. The panther watches her as she paces, trailing her with his eyes with only the slightest inclination of his head to follow. An eyebrow is arched imperceptibly when she reaches the height of her deep rooted anger, but his face may as well be a mask, stone expression hardening his words even as he speaks them.

"It is as I've said. In my country, we had to face many dictators who presumed to perform similar crimes. To indoctrinate a child and remove their agency and freedom is an unforgivable transgression.. I am glad that at least one is making a recovery. Some are past that point. The greatest care these children can receive is to be killed." To this end, there is a weary cut to his voice. A certain weather and gravity, colder than the snow.

"You've done well to bring me this information," T'Challa concludes. "Your thuroughness is a credit to your country. It pleases me to observe that the faith of my intelligence services was not misplaced. I will concede it to you to assure that this child abandons the ways she was forced to. I cannot abide any more innocents bearing the cost any further down the chain." There is a dark, dark undercurrent to his words, but it is not one he takes lightly.

"In the meantime," the Wakandan king continues, "it will be our goal to find and dismantle the program which produced this child… to that end, take the time necessary to find who is responsible, or bring me one who knows. Tell me what you require."

The young king's hands flex, subconsciously, as he turns away.

"The justice of the panther god will deal out the rest…"

—-

Jessica flinches visibly as he suggests that killing those who are too far gone might be a kindness. Her expressive face twists into something mule-stubborn. If it were up to this woman, this mere private investigator with no authority and no political power whatsoever, she would simply somehow sweep all of these people into her slim arms and find a way to give them back what had been stolen from them.

But then moments later it twists into something else, something that isn't as easy to read. It's a look of some deep understanding though, of someone who very much not only can accept that death might be the kinder option in some cases, but who has tasted for herself the times and reasons such things might be true.

Ultimately, she turns her gaze away with a troubled frown, closing her eyes for a moment, her head tilted just slightly to the left, the wind stirring her ebony locks while she grapples with these warring factions in her very nature.

It takes her a moment to regain her composure, to focus again on the present, on the young king's grave words. When she does, she looks up, and studies his face intently. What would she require, he asks, to set herself to finding the people responsible for these programs so that he may bring them to justice? She contemplates that, contemplates someone else she knows who might want to bring them to justice. Someone besides herself.

She sits down on the roof again, then, her dark gaze full of dark thoughts. It's as if everything she's considering is heavy. Heavy enough to register as heavy to someone for whom a Prius isn't even burdensome. And, indeed, it is. It's thoughts of life and death, of what it means to aim men at targets when she knows what the likely result of aiming those men is going to be. Though the King would not know it, she's had cause to think through this puzzle many times in the past several days, for she has another target on her lips, ready to be handed over to another man.

Is it slaying monsters? Or bloodying hands?

"I can tell you what I require…in a moment," she says at last, her mind tripping to this, this other thing she wished to ask the King of Wakanda. Because she finds she needs, very much, to have this question answered before she can begin to speak to his demand.

"Before I can, though, I want to know— I need to know. About honor."

She tilts her head up, staring at the stars, shadows casting half her face in darkness, leaving the other half cast in the light of the street lamps shining up from below. "In my office. You said I did honorable work. But I'm hungry for more than honorable work. I'm hungry to be an honorable person. It's not a thing we talk about much here in America, you know. I think we have a concept of honor, but it's just not something people sit around the dinner table talking about. We talk about being 'good people', that's what we try to teach our kids, that's what we mostly aspire to. But that's not the same thing at all. And I don't feel like it's not nearly enough for me, to become merely good. So. I want to know. In Wakanda. What does it mean for a person to be honorable?"

—-

There are rumors often told of Wakanda. Of invaders being beheaded and mounted at the country's borders on pikes, to warn away other invaders. The Wakandan brutality is legend, and those who enter its borders uninvited rarely return in one piece. It's easy to write the narrative; why a warlord would see fit to send child soldiers into the jungles of Wakanda in attempts to take it over. And what may happen as a result. How much is fanciful thinking, and how much is fact is something left mercifully unstated. Jessica flinches, and that is enough for T'Challa to set the topic aside. American sensibilities are often different than their own. A fact made all too clear in the following.

For a moment, the panther-as no other word truly describes him fully-seems somewhat put off by Jessica's hesitation. The word itself is probably overstrong to describe T'Challa's reaction, as unreactive as he typically tends to be in circumstances such as this. Denying him in this instance would be disappointing, but not devastating. Even so.

The young king thinks on it, back still facing Jessica, the hilts of his knives plain to see. She asks a hard question, one that preoccupies him daily. The difference between the minds of Wakanda and the minds of the other countries are vast. A long sigh rakes from the panther, and he steps away, walking to the side roofline, setting one of his boots on the parapet. The cityline consumes him and his attentions for long moments.

He laughs briefly, bitterly, at the thought that occurs.

"You have done something you regret," T'Challa guesses, finally, though it seems unrelated to his thought. ".. Long ago, my father liked to say that you cannot commit honorable acts, you can only let honor commit action."

His right hand flexes, giving T'Challa grounds to examine the glove he wears closely, before folding it over his raised knee. His eye searches the far horizon. Centering himself, as if he could see home from here. "In my country, atonement comes hard to men, as justice and forgiveness is in the realm of the panther god. She who weighs your sins with one stare… even the slightest dereliction of intent is enough to have your soul ripped into shreds to line her bed."

T'Challa breathes slowly, as he looks dead ahead, and as far away from here as possible.
"I like to think that you can never atone for your mistakes, only balance them. Forgiveness is something someone seeks for their own good. Justice is something someone seeks for the right of the world. But…"

For the slightest of moments, T'Challa seems confused. It is the only time his iron-clad authority ever wanes.
"..my father always believed differently."

—-

He's put out; but Jessica has caused people every reaction from put out all the way to pissed off; the more positive reactions that she's gotten from what has become her inner circle are the novelties. His reaction does not dissuade her from her path. She merely firms her jaw and returns her gaze from the stars to the King. Perhaps he's used to being answered immediately and without fail, but king though he may be…he is not her ruler. And these are decisions that speak to the core of who she is, and who she'll choose to be in the future.

He speaks of the vengeful panther god, and the faintest of dark smiles touches her lips. It is a smile that already knows that she herself would be rendered into the sacred kitty's rather messy bedsheets. What is she, really, if not a walking definition of a dereliction of intent? If that is the standard, it is one she might never live up to. But to examine a set of values is not necessarily to adopt them. Rather, it is to use the examination in the hopes of finding the right star for she herself to follow, to find a path forward in these things she must grapple with.

Then he cuts to the heart of it. She's done something she regrets.

She gives a rough laugh, tinged with her own sudden bitterness. Really? He thinks it's just one thing? It's a litany of things, but then…she knows in her heart there is, indeed, one big stinking pile of a mess of a thing that overshadows all of them. It's a sharp, short thing, that laugh, without a hint of mirth in it, complete before he begins speaking of his father.

"What did he believe? About atonement, and forgiveness?" For he had shared what his father said about honor, but not what he said about these things. Her voice is quiet, steady, neutral, as if her rough, quick outburst of emotion had never happened at all. She drapes one elbow over her knee and leans forward a little, her own posture contemplative and tinged with sorrow in a marked contrast to his stronger one.

He speaks with such obvious loss, and her eyes soften with the kind of empathy that people often miss beneath her general stompy and sardonic demeanor.

—-

With time, the panther king lowers himself down as well—over the edge of the parapet, settling at the edge of the roofline. Mention of King T'Chaka brings a sobering thought to him, and though his perch makes him seem as some great dark gargoyle, his brow furrows tightly in concern all too human in nature. There is no impenetrable ferocity about T'Challa when he thinks of his father, only something dark, and smouldering, like the falling star that hit Wakanda ages ago.

To wit, Jessica's own mirthless bark falls deep into something pitch black of the young king, and he only clasps together his hands to mull over the investigator's mind. "There is always a spear to kill the lion, and the pride only ever has one leader," he mentions, absently. The thought seems less for Jessica's sake and more to order his own thoughts. Ultimately, his mood is temporal at best. The weight of the times settle on his shoulders, and he does not move.

"My father… hm. He thought like a king, it is enough to say," T'Challa supposes, levering strong euphenism to the term. "He thought a man could strive to do good things, and as long as his bucket was filled more with good than bad, then he was a good man. If one bucket became filled with bad, he would advise that you add another bucket. And if those buckets became too full or too many, then that man should strive to build relationships with others, so that their buckets could be his, and his, theirs. Between them, there is enough hands to carry them all. That is the way he thought."

At this point, T'Challa doesn't even pay attention to how deeply his frown cuts. "This is not the way I think things can be," he explains. "But you have asked me about honor… forgive me, but it is hard to explain to an American without offending. It is enough to say… that for all of the things he was not and all of the things that I am not… when I think of honor, I still think of my father, and his buckets."

T'Challa waves off the subject, having clearly had his fill of it, for his own reasons. "Enough of this. Honor in itself holds hands with justice in equal due… it is my charge to carry out the latter, and perhaps the former will find me. Perhaps it will find you."

—-

Jessica Jones thinks about those buckets as well. She thinks of many hands carrying buckets, a thought that makes her smile just a little. It's an idealistic view, one that doesn't quite take into account the men and women who just never get around to really picking up the good bucket at all. The people who take the bucket of the bad, and drink it down, and ask for more. Who…transform themselves into monsters. She can see why T'challa may feel like he can't get behind that thought process

She's silent, sitting next to him, for a long time, only softly adding, "Perhaps so," to his comment about honor finding her, while she herself tries to order her thoughts.

Then: "My aim isn't really atonement. Actually. It's transformation. To become better than I've been, which is different. To pick up those good buckets, I guess, but not because I'm trying to make up for my personal bad bucket. It's because…I want to be a person that carries around good buckets, regardless of all the shit I'm hauling around."

She exhales, uncoiling her posture. "I guess transformation really only happens in the moments of decision, doesn't it? And the decision I have to make right now is not whether I'll find these people. Of course, I will. That was never in question— though I think perhaps you thought it was. You asked what I'd require to find them and bring that information to you. That's an entirely different question."

She gazes off over the city, over the stars. "I require time, because I am hard on the heels of two to six other murdering assholes right now, and I gotta deal with those. And…"

Who is she, really? Who are these people who try to twist children into people as monstrous as they? They are monsters. And yet even the slaying of monsters…has weight. There is always the danger that she'll mistake a man for a monster, that she'll become a murderer in that moment, a murderer in truth.

"I require this. I accompany you when you go to act on my information. Because doing anything less than accompanying you would be the actions of a coward. And that's not who I feel like transforming myself into. And I require that if we find murderbot children in some dank hole that you stay your hand when contemplating their fate, because there may yet be hope for them, and they deserve a chance to find that out, especially since we know of the existance of someone who understands how to help them."

Justice or vengeance. Monster slaying or man slaying. If she's going to point someone at a target, whether it's T'challa, King of Wakanda or James Buchanan Barnes, and if she's going to do so knowing damn well that target is going to be hit, then it's as good as pulling a gun and blowing that person away herself. Standing silent and talking to Bucky about chopping wood and hauling water while smelling the smoke of a Hydra agent's funeral pyre puts the blood of those monsters on her hands as well. Morally she is an accessory to these acts even if nobody could make her one legally, and will be an accessory, she knows, to future acts. Burying her head in the sand, pretending that it's just her job to get the information and it makes no difference what others do with it, is the cynical, mercenary act of the type of human garbage she's trying desperately to escape being. It makes a difference. It makes a big difference.

"If I'm going to take these kinds of actions in the hopes of helping others, protecting others, then I'm going to do it with my eyes open. Understanding what every damned thing I do puts into both my buckets, I guess. Understanding that sometimes you can add stones to both of them, at the same time, with the same act. Acknowledging it instead of hiding from it. Making sure I don't let myself get complacent, self-righteous. Making sure I examine and re-examine whether I'm about to cross the line and become what I'm trying to fight every single time I do it."

She exhales sharply. "Those requirements sound like something you can work with?"

—-

There is much about his father's words that once made him smile.

T'Challa listens to his audience quietly. She speaks of transformations, of becoming something more. He doesn't look at Jessica, his attention inclined instead on the far distance and the far-flung worlds of which they speak. It is an enchanting idea, being a carrier of good burdens. He is a being of focus, and there is the impression that he measures the length and strength of every one of her words for her convictions. As to whether the young king can speak to those convictions, a long time passes between the two.

"You have pretty ideas," the king decides.
"But if you do not recognize that moment when it appears to you, it will be nothing but dust in your hands, not water."

The panther begins to stir, as he leans forward. His own nature drives him. Though he may understand her sentiments, he is far from welcoming in mind, and it shows in his words. "Some will not understand the nature of Wakandan justice, nor its honor. If you need time, you will have it. If you wish to accompany me.. in recognition of your strength, I will grant you passage, and safety to the children that can be saved. But in turn, I will impose my own requirements."

In this, T'Challa's words roll with the familiar, calm authority to which he is accustomed. There is no egotism in it, but T'Challa knows nothing else other than to state his will in the strongest possible form. "You have the scent about you of a woman who struggles with morality. But you must ask yourself… when the time comes, will you be able to stand aside? Because.. you must."

The panther's weight shifts. There is the sense that T'Challa may already have stood and left, were the subject matter not keeping him in place. His is a soul that is not bidden to remain in one place for long. The idea of it infuriates his leading councils at home. "The panther god makes demands of all of us. But it is I she commands explicitly. She commands me to be king. She commands me to be the black panther. And if she calls for the blood of the impure, then I must feast. There will come a time when we do not see with the same set of eyes. If you wish to follow this path to its conclusion, then you also accept that there will come a day when you must stand aside. If that day comes and you cannot…"
His voice grows steel, as is his mind.

".. then I will come for you as well."

—-

She gives a thin, tight smile when he says that she has pretty ideas. That is nothing that she'd have said about herself. But she doesn't fight the notion, either.

She had a feeling he'd have some conditions of his own, and that's okay. As it stands, she supposes depending on how all of this is laid out and set up, whether or not some things are active or inactive, who ends up being chased and what ends up being done about it, Bucky himself might have a host of misgivings about letting her along. There's no way he wouldn't be in on anything to do with this either, though Jessica hardly finds it germane to get into that now.

It's ironic. 'Grandpa' hadn't blinked at her striding into Limbo, but had really hesitated at letting her get anywhere near Juno. Probably because he knew she wasn't going to hesitate with a demon, but she would hesitate all day long at the idea of hurting a kid. And she does.

She watches his restless energy, meets his steely gaze as he tells her that he'd have no qualms about killing her if she decides to stand between him and the will of his god. Which…she very well might, though she's not about to kill him back over it. He, at least, would still be a man, she's certain, and if she'd have to give him one good thump on the head and then carry him back to wherever to try again another day, well…that would be her aim. He probably has the skill to fuck her up but good in the meantime, maybe even to kill her. But…her lifestyle doesn't precisely lend itself to dying alone in bed with a head full of grey hair anyway. So there's really only the faintest flicker of a dry-as-dust smile when he finishes telling her this.

"Struggling with morality has a smell? Man. I sure hope it doesn't smell like bullshit. That would suck, especially with your senses."

Sass duly delivered, she sobers visibly, and adds after a moment, "Morality is something everyone needs to struggle with, T'challa. When you stop struggling, stop weighing, stop questioning…I guess that's the moment you start becoming one of the monsters. People who think they have righteousness on lockdown can be as bad as the ones who embrace wickedness with all their hearts. Guilt's no fun, shame's no fun, but I sure as fuck hope I never get too comfortable with my choices. I hope I never stop struggling, because that struggle will mean I'm still a human being. I hope you'll struggle too. Gods can make demands, but humans, now. Humans are responsible for their own choices."

Those are words which might sound like they carry a warning for him as well, but…the bald, bare, and matter-of-fact statement carries a tinge of something else. Of calling him on what she sees as some bullshit on his part, and doing so without flinching, King or no King. She does so in a friendly fashion. But she does so, nonetheless.

She stands, then, brushing rooftop granules off her butt as she walks towards the side of the hotel facing the alleyway. "Anyway, I'm off. Unless of course," a ghost of a tired smile touches her lips, "I've already pissed you off enough that you feel the need to big cat rake-leap at me right now, in which case I guess we'd better get to it since if you stalk me when I've finally settled in for bed, I'm going to be real put out." Attack her, sure, but for the love of god don't do it when she's gone and gotten nice and comfortable.

—-

He glances after her, his mood a thin and rough cut thing. Of course, based on his wording, T'Challa's concerns are less for Jessica's safety, really. His interests lay purely for her well-being, for a man whose personal guard is nigh completely composed of women should have none. There is only the gravity of absolute expectation, a weight that T'Challa radiates as he finally stands, his movement slow and methodical as he gives in to his own will.

Of course, T'Challa might not always be cognizant of some of the aspects of American humor, he certainly knows much more than enough to know when his bluff is being called. She wonders if morality has a smell. And for what feels like what may be the first time this month, the king displays the faintest of smiles.
"It does."

Content to leave his comment vague enough to be interpreted multiple ways, T'Challa's expression hardens, a moment of wry levity evaporating where it lay. He returns his attentions to the matters at hand, and the ideas of struggle. "Everyone has their own strife to attend in their lives. But a question cannot be asked forever. Eventually, someone will answer."

T'Challa straightens, the motion smooth. There is a hyper-real quality to his moves while in that suit, as if he were poured from an inkwell. The young king does not rile at the thought of their battle. There is no other, better way to settle a disagreement, in his mind, though he does not cast any particular thought as to the potential victor. At least, not yet.

It occurs that it is frequently quiet enough around him that his slow breath outward is inevitably audible. She tires, but the panther seems as if his night is just beginning. She suggests in semi humor that she might have angered him, angered him enough to attack her now. From his expression-it rarely changes-It's hard to tell if he takes the idea seriously.

"Go home, Jessica," he replies. "Rest your body. You know where I will be."

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