An Interlude

August 27, 2017:

Sizani pays a visit to the Winter Soldier in his solitary confinement.

Prison of the Winter Soldier, Wakanda


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jane Foster, T'Challa, Jessica Jones

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Where is the soldier now? Mired in shadow. It is not dark. Dark would bring an even keel to his circumstance. The lights outside and inside shed luminosity in a cascade, flickers that shift when someone comes and goes in the hall beyond. Perhaps it is meant to bring madness. In reality, it is meant to bring isolation, so that the world beyond is a veil of half-formed motions. And is it even truly darkness? In the infinite pit that is Wakanda's technological might, this may be a display of holographic shadow, forcing the issue on those who might think themselves resilient. But no matter the case, it is likely all of their arrangements are made for lesser guests, with lesser senses.

The cell is metal, with one whole wall missing, facing a hallway. The hum of the energy barrier would be imperceptible to most, but the Soldier can hear it humming away in a low rumble. From beyond, one of the shadows grows eyes. Green and lively, and perhaps unusual in a sea of warm brown, but they strike out across the distance as the shadow slowly forms into the shape of the Dora Milaje. Tall and fierce, she holds the regal bearing of someone who is used to commanding respect, but nothing about her expression commands it here. Instead, she has a gaze most would not send Bucky's way, the very same a cat might hold if it were watching a bird.

As more light finds her, the black body suit she wears will tell the prisoner she is not here for ceremony, the deep, violet circuitry that runs across the form fitting garb shifting ever so slightly as she closes to the opposite side of the energy field and looks on, lips parting ever so slightly as she absorbs every inch of him in a devouring gaze.

Neither time, darkness, cold, nor incarceration mean much to a man who has already endured decades of all these things. His life as the Winter Soldier taught him to bear treatment as a prisoner, an object — to withstand stares of disgust and indifference.

It taught him, above all, to bear treatment as an object and a weapon. This has not been in short supply, during his time in Wakanda.

If you asked him, James Barnes would say that the most onerous thing that has happened to him so far is that he can't smoke. It's a hard life when you're under threat of execution and you can't even light up for a little stress relief. Not that the nicotine works on him like it used to, but it's more the ritual of it that's calming.

Even that, ultimately, does not bother him. He is practiced in sitting silently and saying little. That is precisely what he is doing, when Sizani comes to call. He seems perhaps… less impressive than one might expect after all the stories, especially stripped of everything save a prisoner's crude pants. He was not given a shirt. His left arm is left on full display, to make quite known who he is and why he is here as captive.

His blue eyes lift as he perceives he has a visitor. The Winter Soldier regards the woman with vague interest, looking her up and down.

"I didn't order any service," he quips.

It is everything she has wanted for so very long, everything she has nibbled around the edges at. Like a cat that only caught feathers in it's mouth, waiting for the next time her prey were so very close. She stands still though, proving economy of motion is something of a cultural trait, the cold countenance changing only ever so slightly as she hears his voice up close for the first time. It is an experience she savors from head to toe, a slow exhale her only immediate response, but soon enough she does engage his quip.

"Perhaps you should try, now that you have an audience."

Her accent is slightly different from her King's, softer, perhaps, and owed to tribe's relative seclusion away from The Golden City. Her head tilts ever so slightly, and she looks two parts pensive, one part detached. "I was there the night you were taken. Not with my King. At the home you made with her."

Vague and assertive, the statement hangs like a guillotine, and perhaps that is it's purpose. Her head inclines ever so slightly, watching not for human tension, or expression. Instead, her gaze is on the metal limb that is laid so very bare.

A vague half-smile haunts his features in the wake of his quip. It doesn't leave his face when she quips back. She doesn't stop at just one quip, though. She has something else to say, as well.

I was there at the home you made with her.

His expression does not change. Only his eyes, which empty of warmth or human engagement. The Winter Soldier looks at Sizani, the curious slant to his smile belied by the hypothermic stare he levels even from the heart of Wakanda's confinement.

"You sure you wanna tell me that?" he asks.

Her breath comes and goes, quicker now, perhaps because of that stare alone. Perhaps because she brings a bare truth to this, a table made of shadows and confinement. "I am sure I want to tell you more. Detail that would make the unflinching man flinch. A knife to a spirit to unbalance him in the trials to come. It is not what my King would want, but I exist to guard him. I would have to tell you lies, to strike such a blow."

It is clear that this is in her purview, that her purpose and station might require it of her, but that here and now a lie would be an affront.

She was there at the home he made with her, but has no truth to tell him that would pull at his cold fury.

"When I looked for you there, I could almost feel your wake on the street outside. Two times in my past have I been so close to you. A man I have known as one of the few mysteries Wakanda shared with the rest of the world. It has been difficult for me to understand what I have seen in the time leading to your trial. It has been difficult for me to come to terms with the word of Jessica Jones on your behalf."

And yet, she must. That is not the stare of a man who had been using Jane Foster as a cover or a ploy. Her pupils dilate, the most subtle form of shock a person can manage, and yet it is there, as violent as a sharp gasp on any other person met with such an unexpected revelation.

The Winter Soldier considers Sizani a few cold moments more, up until she admits that she would be lying if she were to say anything that would confirm the necessity and legitimacy of his implicit threat. Then, between blinks, he recedes and relinquishes the reins back to James Barnes. Winter slips back beneath his skin, and James looks away.

He listens in silence to the rest of what Sizani has to say.

"Plenty of people seem to have trouble with how Jessica sees me," is his brief response. "Then they meet me, and form their own ideas." He snorts. "Seems a backwards way to do it, to me."

He studies Sizani. "What stake have you got, that the difficulty of coming to terms with it all really matters?"

In his assessment of how Sizani has come to know him, James Barnes is not wrong. She may have known some better truth of him if she had only seen it earlier, for herself. If not for her oath to her King, would she have sought such an audience, to test a man who was a legend in her circle, face to face?

Even she, one who is so certain of every action and reaction, cannot know.

His question interrupts her consideration, head inclined just so to watch his eyes as they sweep over her. "I am Sizani, Daughter of the Kupaa. Adored One to my King, one of the Dora Milaje. Never before could I have thought I would know an outsider so much as to consider them a friend. Never before would I have thought I would see one bleed for the rite to a representative of my country's interests. But this woman who calls you brother, who calls you teacher, has done these things and now calls me sister. My stake is in her, my stake is in the trust she has in you, and in my King, who will judge you soon enough."

Unspoken is what she sees before her, that what cannot happen easily can still be truth. Does she look completely convinced? Does she have sudden realization that James should be set free? No. But she sees a man where she thought she would only find a monster. It unsettles her, and to a scrutinizing gaze, it is clear as day. This, akin to challenging someone's religion, to knowing one thing, and finding that certainty in peril, brings her teeth together with some small amount of tension.

James' head lifts, canting to a curious tilt, as Sizani answers plainly what her stake in this is. Her stake is not directly Bucky Barnes himself, but the woman who would call him teacher, brother, and friend. Jessica Jones. Jessica, who, it seems, has made a sister of this Dora Milaje.

His mouth quirks with brief wryness. Strange bedfellows.

"She's determined… and loyal," he says, the brief statement encapsulating so much about Jessica Jones in four words — handily explaining exactly why an outsider would go to such lengths and immerse so deeply in the rights of Wakanda.

He meets her eyes frankly, afterwards. His own are sharp and discerning, the gaze of a man with an inherent talent for observation that has been honed on the whetstone of decades of experience. "So, you made friends with her, and what she said bothered you compared to what you believed, so you came to see for yourself."

He slants a blue-eyed gaze at her. "Might have been kinder on yourself if you just stayed away until your king does his judgment thing. People are happier with a sense of conviction."

Used to doing the dissecting, it is an interesting sensation as James pulls her apart and pieces her back together again. Her breath leaves her as she regards him, unsure where her mind might run to as his words bring summary to her actions. His commentary on conviction returns a sharp focus, and her gaze drops to the floor.

"My conviction is in the truth, no matter how unkind. And truth must be earned. Pried from muscle and blood and bone. When my King sees you again, he will find the truth. Just as I will wak the path to another truth, when Jessica arrives to seek it."

Perhaps she should not have told him. Perhaps news of whatever Jessica means to do in this country is another ploy, a different kind of dagger, meant to foster hope where there should be none. Maybe she seeks to draw a different emotion with news that his friend will be in this dangerous place, and all for him, braving unknown danger and all for James Barnes.

Or maybe it is repayment, for this audience with him, which has helped illuminate a path forward.

It is often a surprise to people when the Winter Soldier, after moments of observation, makes a single surgical cut to the heart of a matter. Yet at the same time, it shouldn't be surprising at all. He is a man whose entire livelihood as a sniper and a killer, for better or worse, built itself upon the ability to make a thorough, silent study of something — and then strike incisively to its weakest point. It is a skill that often works on people's minds as well as it works on their bodies.

That, and frankly — he listens. That's something his profession demands as well. There is nothing Sizani says that he tunes out, and everything she relates is heard and parsed.

He sure hears it when Sizani mentions that Jessica will arrive soon to 'seek the truth.' His mouth thins, the line of his jaw standing out briefly, but he says nothing of the matter.

"The truth is being collected for the perusal of your king as we speak, I've got no doubt," he says. "Will he listen, I wonder." His gaze goes distant. "Or has he already decided there's only one way in which to find the truth from a man?"

"He will listen to you, James Barnes."

It comes as a crisp reply, her expression shifting back to the neutrality she is known for, and she takes a step backwards. The shadows in the room reach for her, sinking into skin and cutting the light from painted lips.

Something else roils in that darkness, something made of metal that absorbs vibration and lends a deeper stealth to it's motions. Violet energy lights it's eyes, and it moves with the fluid motions of a panther. Sizani does not seem to mind the contact it brings to her leg, alerting her, as instructed, of a friend's arrival.

"But not to your words. Words do not hold the truth he seeks. Goodbye, Soldier. When the time is right, I will give Jessica Jones your regards."

She will remove herself from line of sight, and the creature, her companion, moves with her, leaving Bucky to his solitude.

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