Snow Against the Mountain

August 10, 2017:

America may have acquitted the Winter Soldier, but Wakanda has not. The Black Panther arrives to deliver the Soldier back to his home country for judgment.

Brooklyn, New York


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Steve Rogers

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

It's been a few days since the verdict, and Bucky thinks he should feel markedly different for the acquittal, but he doesn't really. Especially not with what he did shortly afterwards, once everything was in the clear — that in particular was just a return to old habits. He has always been someone whose task was to rid the world of trash from the shadows, and he imagines by this point an old wolf cannot be taught new tricks.

Jane has been hovering around him constantly ever since, which was something he fully understood, though at times it could get slightly smothering. In deference to her worries he didn't object much, especially since there were certainly still outstanding issues hanging over both their heads. The acquittal was certainly not a cure-all — just a defeat of one single opponent trying its best to make James Barnes pay for the last unwilling seventy years of his life.

Unrest sits heavily on him as a result, the aimless paranoia of a man who has suddenly had a dangling Damocles sword removed from overhead, but does not fully trust the reprieve. The sense of oppression and unease all eventually gets a bit much, and he does something he knows Jane will yell at him for later; he brushes back her hair as she sleeps, leaves her a note ('Walked to the park'), and heads out.

It's a short walk to the park beside the bay, and given it's past one in the morning, there's no one around to recognize and hassle him. The silence and isolation are more calming than they should be, a reminder that he has become more used to his life as the Winter Soldier than he would like. Leaning against the railing, he stares out over the water, gaze unfocused.

"So the Americans have decided your innocence."

The lights from the nearby lamps flicker with the sound of his voice. That voice is clear, bereft of the metal distortion provided by his war helmet, the faintly more-than-human affliction of the thing. There was a moment when the panther, swathed in all black and voice sheathed in steel, seemed to be part of the deity of his country's worship. Now, it is different, and the weathered cut of the sword in his voice seems all too human.

Even so, the lights in the park — and surrounding areas — begin to shut down one by one.

The weight and force of something silent and massive overhead is palpable, a deep thrum that disturbs the grass on the ground in rills but emits no great thrust or wind to justify it. Looking up is to see the moon gone, swallowed up by the underbelly of a great beast in the dark. That belly is smooth, featured only in circuitous seams and lines, and marked only by the dark triangular patterns of some unidentifiable tribe. As the region experiences a power outage and dips everything in the weight of the night, it only grows warmer in the already balmy night.

A single light shines from the sky above, illuminating the king of Wakanda.

T'Challa stands in it, but even the reflected light doesn't fully illuminate the massive cruiser hovering overhead, nor does it show much of him. The young king and panther is not anonymous, hands folded behind back and eyes focused sharply on the soldier on the rail. He has not activated his helmet, but every other part of him is swathed in the black, his habit readied for whatever comes next. It is strange that he does not wear his helmet, nor his mask.

"The other united countries may elect to follow the Americans in their game, Barnes, but they are bound by an agreement that we do not acknowledge," the panther assures, his voice carrying the authority of an entire country.
"You still have much to answer for," he concludes, the only thing in the dark.

It speaks to the technology of Wakanda, that they designed a ship — or a man — that could sneak up on the Winter Soldier.

Not that he was unaware up until the very moment of T'Challa's speech. Just unaware for long enough that escape is already a thing of the past.

"Twelve men and women made their decision," is all he replies. His shoulders draw in lines of tension, both his hands grasped down on the rail. One of them grasps harder than the other, and the steel complains. "A lot of good men and women spoke to them to inform that decision on my behalf. They sacrificed a lot."

He finally turns, though one hand — the steel one — stays on the rail. Blue eyes look through the dark at T'Challa, meeting the young king's eyes.

In the traditions of some countries, only demons have blue eyes.

"I wondered if Wakanda was going to come and have its own say about things, after the fact," he admits. "You people do as you please. Part of why we never penetrated too far into it…"

You still have much to answer for, T'Challa says.

"Maybe," he says. His eyes flicker. "Certainly. But seeing as I did nothing in your country, you are the last person I'll allow to adjudicate that."

"— you speak as if you are an innocent man that respects law."

T'Challa's observation comes quick and sharp, bordering on interrupting the Winter Soldier. "I assure you Barnes," T'Challa begins, his chin tilting, "that despite what the Captain has said to burnish your soul with goodwill to the public, there is no point in adopting the airs in front of me. Twelve men and women spoke for you. Why do you imagine that is?"

There is a reason why Wakanda did not join the stand at trial.
"Twelve spoke for you, but none of them were my people."

There is a difference in the way that T'Challa compared to others, especially Americans. When he stands, he is near motionless, as if cut whole from the stone. There is no auxilary movement he exhibits, no nervous shift in weight or movement wasted. He holds his ground, mercilessly. "If you imagine that you have some control over whether justice will have its way with you, you are mistaken," T'Challa finally points out. "You do and say as you please as well. But in this, you have no liberty. You will not be able to endure the length of Wakanda's memory, which extends into the deepest parts of her lands. You will not be able to flee her wrath. To imagine in that context that you have any authority to grant me permission to do anything is a crime in itself."

"When you ran, your fate was already concluded. The only choice you have to make now is how many will come to harm in the process."

There are many ways T'Challa could capture the Winter Soldier, many weapons he has devised for the arduous process. But standing here, motionless under the sweeping searchlights of a gargantuan machine that is felt more than heard, he elects only to share his reasoning. Here, where it is too dark to see anything else.
"My native land manufactures what others perceive to be fantasy, miracle, wonder. I will do much to keep that legacy secret. But no matter what ability I have to avoid the inevitable collateral outcome, you stand on this soil by the grace of those who have been deceived as to your nature."

Searchlights sweep overhead, illuminating the field between them, as a light drops to the earth beside T'Challa. Edges cooling, a smooth black capsule the size of a coffin clamshells open, pressurized gas hissing from the seams. Despite the capsule landing no more than ten feet from his, T'Challa never moves. "I will bring you back to honor you debts," he mentions in certainty, his expression never changing.
"But it is common for a lying man that his costs are most paid by those who stand in front of him."

"I am a man that respects the sacrifices that have been made on my behalf," is his brief reply. "If you're hoping for a submission, you will not get it. I will not be the one to throw away what was done for me."

Winter is close beneath the surface, cold in his blue eyes and frost under his skin. He speaks just a little differently, the cadence of his words more precise, the easy slang of a native English speaker firming up into something more apt for a foreigner's tongue. There is no point in adopting airs, indeed. He is who he is, and that man is as much Winter Soldier as he is James Buchanan Barnes.

This dual creature listens as T'Challa condescends to offer his reasoning. There is a lupine stillness to him as he holds his position and his silence throughout the laconic king's remarks that were Wakanda present at the jury, they would assuredly not have spoken for him. Would not have been deceived by his lies.

T'Challa explains, magnanimous, that there is no escape from the inevitable justice of Wakanda. To imagine that he could have any authority to grant a KING permission to do anything —

The Winter Soldier smiles, in passing. It is an amiable expression despite its total lack of reflection in his eyes. "The kind of authority I had over kings wasn't in words, anyway," he says, and it isn't James Barnes talking.

He sobers, swiftly, pushing the Winter Soldier away. Those fangs shutter away as the capsule descends — as T'Challa makes his final few remarks. How many will come to harm in the process?

The man before T'Challa is a hard, immobile outline in the dark. "Touch 'those who stand in front of me,'" he says, "and I'll make my play in the Cold War look like a schoolyard scuffle."

Despite the words, he is aware of the truth to T'Challa's words. This is an inevitability which cannot be evaded, or brushed away, or laid to rest. It will dog him until it finds some dire resolution. It must be faced. Yet what can be done when one man, unarmed save a single sidearm, faces the Black Panther, and a hovercraft wrapped in the clouds? What is left for such a man?

The Winter Soldier turns his back on the Wakandan king, and starts to walk away.

Unmoved by the icy change between them, the young king's brown eyes only sharpen, harden as the soldier counters his intentions with the sort of determination that he would expect of an American, not the agent into which the soldier's cloth has been darned. That which he offers is spurned, and in it, the young king has breadth to make a determination.

One will always find what is most important to a man when offered a choice.

As winter burns behind the older man's word and threats, it folds against the countenance of the panther. T'Challa, inconsolable, imperturbable, does not move and is not moved. The snow peals against the mountain. There is much to be afraid of, to be concerned with. For the Winter Soldier to threaten Wakanda directly..
It only proves his point.

Finally, T'Challa speaks.
"The authority you had," he repeats succinctly, "over other kings."

It takes a single mnemonic, in the end. When the capsule responds to his Kimoyo's directive, the edges crackle with energy. The stasis device disgorges an entire field of coruscating energy, blanketing a broad angle in front of the king with distended and flickering lightning. The force of the energy is such that spiderwebs of light crawl along the rail between the bay and the park, energizing it almost as far as the eye can see. If Barnes is caught within its field of effect, he will be immobilized in agony.

"It is easy for the unjust to justify their cowardice, I find," the panther says, as filigree lines of circuits crawl around his temples, forming connective links of metal to oscillate and attract stray fibers of vibranium to knit around the framework. His helmet forms around his head as if conjured from nothing, and his eyes are hard in the seconds before the visceral mask of the panther consumes them. When T'Challa steps forward, branches of energy from the capsule crawl off the raised elements in his suit, but it does not stop his methodical stride, stalking after the soldier in the lightning jungle's harsh vines.

But then, if he was concerned for his well-being, why would the soldier so readily turn his back to him? The thought strikes the observant king, even as he goes on with full intent to capture the Winter Soldier by force. The blackout will last only minutes. There is time to ponder this, but only in its due place.

Snowstorm drives against the mountain. It parts around the rock, and its winds howl on.

The Winter Soldier, turning his back, refuses to be the first to strike. Refuses the Wakandan king's words. Refuses this entire interaction, all of it. He will not flee, not again. Neither will he leap forward to fight.

In the end, it seems, the only thing he can and will do is make a simple statement with his body language alone. He will not acknowledge.

It forces the king's hand.

The triggered field finally forces the Soldier to his knees. His jaw grits to bite down on the pain. His left arm, shorted, dangles heavily at his side, temporarily useless.

It is easy for the unjust to justify their cowardice, T'Challa makes conversation, as he advances untouched through the field. "I've found that same thing, myself," James says through grated teeth, wry even still through the agony. "It's easy for men of conviction to justify all kinds of things."

His blue eyes turn to T'Challa. As his preternatural constitution adapts slowly to the electrifying pain, he rises laboriously back to a stand. "Leave Jane Foster out of this," he says, "let me speak to her, and I will go without a fight."

He has calculated for the soldier's inhuman resistances, and the pain that wracks his body. The Wakandan king's habit, attuned to the energy output of the capsule, protects him from the ravishes of the energy and force as he strides into it, the vibranium weave crackling and dimming the energy, the power rebounding from his legs and into the ground with his brisk stride.

But it was never the panther's intention to leave Barnes to languish in the field. He has had his fill of these men and their assumptions of strength. Even as the field burns through Barnes' nerves, even as he endures it with strength and verve, even as he begins to rise, the panther stalks him.

T'Challa never actually means to give Barnes the opportunity to stand.

The black panther's blow comes quickly as the soldier struggles to come to his feet. While the young king is a creature of few words, he is a man who deals in reason. The moment Barnes turned his back, the mercy the young king was willing to show was replaced by the color of the Black Panther. And the panther is not merciful.

The panther's knee explodes forward as an echo of his last stride, meaning to catch the soldier as the steel bands of fortitude and will drag the killer to his feet. The knee the killer faces is a hammer, and the open-handed strike that follows shortly after is an axe. There is no immediate response, even as the panther moves to knock the soldier back to the ground, denying him pride. Even after, the shoulders of the panther rise and fall violently for some seconds.

"Cowardice has never cut a country from the land and sentried its people from harm," the panther breathes, violently.

Without warning, the branches of energy fall away, and the soldier is free.
"Make your words quick…"

The first blow sends the Soldier back to his knees. The second drives him down to his hands. He breathes hard there, motionless, and the blue eyes that stare up at T'Challa are momentarily rimed with frost.

Then the cold passes from his gaze. The Winter Soldier — James Barnes — looks tired, tired, tired. An old wolf who cannot yet stop to rest, if ever — driven on before various hunters, paws torn, until the moment he collapses and can run no farther.

Cowardice never cut a country from the land, T'Challa says, nor sentried its people from harm.

"No," is James' short answer, breathless. Blood rolls from the corner of his mouth. "Zealotry has, though."

True to his word, he does not run or attack when the energy dissipates. He rises, shaky but rapidly steadying. His phone still works, miracle enough, and the message he sends to Jane is brief.

V tikhom omute cherti vodyatsa. Remember what I told you.

His right hand lowers afterwards. The Soldier is silent, and no longer resists.

The patient chime of her phone awakens Jane.

Her eyes flicker open, and the first look she takes of the world is the emptied right side of her bed. The sheets are cool to the touch of her hand. "James?" she murmurs.

There is no answer.

She sits up, pushing the duvet aside, pulling up her legs and reaching through the darkness of her bedroom for the only, flickering source of light. The screen of her phone lights with its received message.

Jane reads it with her focusing eyes. Her heart quickens. Her stomach drops out. Clarity comes like a shock, sudden and painful, as she absorbs the message James Barnes sent her — knows its meaning.

Remember what I told you.

His phone begins to ring, abruptly, urgently, desperately.

"Zealots believe in their gods without seeing, Mister Barnes," T'Challa remarks as coldly, the reinforcing lines in his suit flaring. "You have not yet seen my god."

There will be no need for the coffin.

The panther had intentions of dragging the soldier, kicking and fighting if need be, into the capsule to be retrieved. As long as the soldier keeps his word not to fight, nothing would happen to him as yet. The ship, cut of rounds and swirls with no obvious wings or thrust, churns ever lower in the sky, and for all of that which it replaces, it seems forever like a second sky in itself. A dark and starless thing, a heaviness of night sagging low as if rains collected across the top of the sky itself in tarpaulin ways.

But oh, would he be roughly handled.

There is no love for killers of countrymen amongst the guard the panther delivers the traitor to. Women, with shorn heads, sharp blades and damning expressions, take the killer into their charge. It is a rough affair, but the soldier comes to no further harm, as he is protected by a king's perogative. Collecting the capsule and its cargo, the ship effortlessly glides into that heavy sky, heavier now than it was.

The phone remains on the ground close to where the man was taken.
Ringing, but never answered.

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