The Tundra and the Savannah

September 22, 2017:

Part I. As the investigation team fights to find a way to exonerate James Buchanan Barnes, the execution proceeds apace. The erstwhile Winter Soldier fights a battle of his own against the claws of the Black Panther.

Warrior Falls, Wakanda

Warrior Falls is a euphemism for a particular place amongst the many waterfalls of the mountain ranges lodged deep in the jungles of northern Wakanda. Fed by rivers pouring vast amounts of water south and down into the jungle lands below, the headlands and peaks of the mountain range here forms the tip of a vast wall of stone bordered by fiercer falls.

Segments and plunges of water cut across the dangerously narrow pathways cutting across the falls, making for a precarious journey to the mountaintops and headlands. The plunge pool shelves multiple times across Warrior Falls, giving the strong horsetail flows places to gather. The grounds there are hard and irregular, owing to the vast amount of rock thrown across the shelves by the stronger cataract falls that feed the pools.

While Warrior Falls is considered a ceremonial place in Wakanda, there are no features that would distinguish it as anything less than cut wholly by nature. Part of this is by intent and the honor of men; many great warriors have settled their differences at the falls, and the blood of the dishonorable is washed away entirely by the country's will. The final drop off the shelves is precipitious; extending far out into the jungle and past where men can see, where sight is blinded by the cloud of cataract mists that girds the mountain's beltline.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

A mere single hovering machine in the sky is a peculiarity worth mentioning in newspapers in America. In Russia. In a hundred countries over the world and more, seeing a wingless machine churn through the air silently would be considered a marvel. In the country of Wakanda, it is not so.

The trip is not overtly rough, under the watchful eye of the king. He is brought back to great accolades and fanfare, as a returning knight from a long crusade may be, hero to an entire country. However, he is a sober king, and though he may tilt his head lightly in the barest of recognition to the public who raise their spears in anticipation of the thing itself, he levers not their lust for the blood of the invaders.

King T'Challa does not need to.

He is brought in a different way. The moments in which the fugitive Barnes passes from T'Challa's hands to another's is not pleasant. While he enjoys the protection of the king in most affairs, the trust that T'Challa has in the word of a soldier is not shared broadly in his culture. It is a bit like the persecution of the Eastern blocs, to be held so in contempt on the basis of one's origin. Bucky is not handled favorably.
Where he is commanded, he must go. If he does not understand the languages spoken, he will be told in the way a dog is told. If he does not give up what he has, it will be taken. If he does not eat, he will be forced. If he does not wear what he is given, he will be stripped. Wakanda does not abide invaders and ill bred men, and harsh is their treatment, even of the foreigner who is under the protection of the king. A line of tall, broad women with shaven heads, sharp swords and angry glares are there to force compliance.

It is not the compliance of HYDRA, sly and sinuous, manipulative and invasive.
It is the compliance of nature, the one that will bite the throat if not heeded.

It is a brisk day at the falls, uncommonly cold for the humid and oppressing summers. But then, in the highlands of Wakanda, this is to be expected. They will bring the interloper out, wearing a stiff collar with at least two stout men at his sides, wielding long metal poles with chains leading to the links on either side of that collar. The collar is made of some kind of a metal, but weaved so it compresses tightly against the neck.

This is how they will drag him out, stripped down and given nothing.
Hundreds stand overhead in the stands built out from the falls.
When they see him, the jeer of a thousand angry men ripples across the falls, outstanding the rush of water, and heard even miles away, in the villages at the feet of the falls. It is as they say of them from the outside. In Wakanda, there can be no forgiveness in the people's hearts.

The treatment is familiar enough, so the soldier endures. They speak to him as a dog, and they handle him as such, but he spent decades bearing such use. It is sobering how quickly he reassumes the blank mask he used to wear as the Winter Soldier.

The spy is fluent in dozens of languages. Those used in Wakanda are not among them. He has only the most basic grasp of Swahili, and little beyond. He is no longer accustomed to hearing foreign tongues he does not understand, after decades of careful implantation in expected locations after a thorough education in the expected languages and local ways of being. He makes mistakes, often, and he is chastised for them, immediately and harshly. The entire time, he does not say a word himself, merely course-correcting until he expresses whatever behavior it is they have demanded in words he does not comprehend.

What he has is taken from him. What he is given, he eats; someone of his constitution cannot afford to ignore caloric requirement. He is stripped and forced into prisoner's garments. What they give him to wear exposes his left arm, as if to parade who he is and to say: here now is the Winter Soldier, an evil man, to be brought to quick justice.

These interactions, such as they are, are simple and forthright. They are elemental interactions, brutal cause-and-effect transactions not too far removed from natural law. They are the fangs of an alpha in the side of an omega when it fails to comply.

James Buchanan Barnes learns very early how much he can test his boundaries: not at all.

Yet when he is finally led out to the falls, pulled in the wake of two men bearing poles yoked to his collar, he does not seem broken or defeated. Only empty and calm, expressionless as the rock face before him, all of his mind shut off save for the part which coldly observes and assesses. Perhaps purposefully, it is not fully James Barnes in the driver's seat of this body at the moment, and the Winter Soldier sharing charge lifts eyes to take in his surroundings. The natural shelves graven from the side of the mountain. The falls that pool down these natural steps. The hundreds of men who have gathered along these natural stands, hating him, calling for his blood.

It is a sobering sound and sight, yet not entirely dissimilar from how his own heart sometimes shouts at his remnant of a soul.

He says nothing and makes no reply to the cries. He only lifts his head, his blue eyes staring off into the middle distance with the patience of a soldier between battles.

Even the method is alien.

The harsh shouting and curses of the blood carry no matter what the language. That much is not it. A foreigner with any merit to his manhood has been in a bar before, been on the losing side of a fight, known what it is like for a crowd to protest a villain. That much is not the distant and harsh line of things. Even the stones that land at the feet, smooth river rocks bouncing effectlessly off of an arm cut not from flesh but from metal, these cannot be the spirit of the thing itself. It is not the strike of it.

Here, there is a rhythm to hate.
The steady drum of flesh on stone is felt, feet striking the earth in unison. For every man throwing a stone, there are ten more clapping, building a slow and steady chant that is not heard in the ears, but felt in the bones.

As Barnes is led out into the stepped plunge pool shelf by his guards, the sound reaches a feverish heat, deeper and lower than the rumble of the panther god herself. Women stand guard at the cliffside of the pool, curtains of water causing them to almost disappear in the mists. He can feel the smooth rocks beneath the grass sandals he was given, tumbled smooth by centuries of water. Slowly, the chains tense as they are turned, bunching up until the latches unsnap, screw style hooks snapping free from his neck. Freedom is a strange thing.

Then, the chant dies to a hush.

When the king arrives, the crowd calms. He strides from the opposite end of the plunge pool, the water parting past him. He is stripped to the waist, not wearing the vibranium habit of the panther, but his mantle of Wakandan. The chain around his neck. The beads at his wrist. The lines drawn on his arms, blessings from the shamans for the battle ahead. He spreads his arms wide, his span as vast as he is silent. The crowd reaches their quietest, all to hear him.

"As I have promised," the young king begins. "I have brought the desecrator to our lands. It is here that he will be judged for his soul's inequities. No other land will bear rightful claim. The moment a man crosses our borders, he is Wakanda's, forever. It is here we will toil. Justice will be augured on our soil, with our hands!"

The air splits with electric cheers.

Only then, when his people have been addressed properly, does the king come to stare evenly at Barnes, free and on the other side of this cliff. The man who is called soldier. The one who is two. The only appellations they share.

"It is here… that our grudge will end."

As recently as two weeks ago, James Barnes knew what it was to stand before a world openly railing him for a villain: a killer of men, women, and children, a feller of nations, an instigator of war, a spectre of hate. He is numb already to the clamor of voices that want him dead, voice which call him evil, profane, morally bankrupt, spiritually corrupt.

This is similar, but not quite the same. What he faced before, in and from his home countries (he has two now), was a chaos of anger and a riot of rage. This, however… this is a ritual of formalized hatred.

He acclimates to it slowly. His expression is taut against it up until the pulse of it settles in his blood, becomes part of him, and once he has added it to the hatred already seeped into his bones, he slowly relaxes. His head lifts, his blue eyes taking in his surroundings. He can feel the poles turning, their attached chains tensing, pressure building as metal grinds against metal. If there is pain, he does not show it. There is only the slightest grunt to betray that he feels the strain suddenly releasing, as the latches snap loose.

Newly freed — as much as a man can be free ringed by enemies all around — he appraises this new courtroom, his second jury, with the wordless sweep of his gaze.

This tableau only awaits its judge.

James does not have long to wait before the arrival of the king. He watches T'Challa in silence as the Black Panther makes his address. Such a young man, is all he finds himself thinking. A young king, needing to do what is best for his country. Or what he feels to be the best for his country.

The thought does not change anything about what they are about to do. Not the substance of it. Not how James feels about it.

This is where our grudge will end, T'Challa says.

"Your grudge," is James Barnes' light correction. "For the last time, I'll say I have no more to do with Hydra than do you."

Then the Winter Soldier smiles, sharp and cold. "So… it's to the death, isn't it?"

The crowd has since lost its trance to the young king.

He is not, by nature, a man who thrives on the accolades of his people. They bring him no solace in what he must do, and there is no pleasure in their exultation. He is a warrior first and foremost, and it shows when his gaze goes from the sky and the citizens to the battle at hand on the ground. He holds the soldier — for there are no illusions about the young king to whom he speaks — in his attention wholly.

The crowd ripples in anticipation, the noise of distant tongue filling the sky. But he pays it no heed.

The mist sticks to his dark skin, giving him the shine of a man already exerting himself. And perhaps this much is true. The young king thinks on what Barnes the man says, is seen to think on it perhaps for the first time since this affair has begun. He considers the words of the man, as he carefully checks the strength of the cordage on his wrist, beads strung along each. He seems to be evaluating more than the cordage. It would make sense. T'Challa is not by nature a nervous man who does not know what to do with his hands.

"I am told by wiser men that evil is something that is in the blood. Once born, a man is conspired to greatness or infamy not by circumstance and influence alone, but by the fortitude of his own heart. A strong heart emboldens the blood, compels it to acts of greatness. A thin heart weakens it, and leaves the blood defenseless against whatever mind of the day would undermine the man. No matter how much you scoff at your circumstance, you cannot change your nature, Barnes. If you are a murderer, you will murder. If you are a runner, you will run. But because of what you have done, I will cut to your heart. And I will find which blood you bleed."

To that end, T'Challa lifts his chin, regarding Barnes the soldier.
"And it is to your death," the king corrects, grimly.
"Let us begin."
He advances.

The Soldier's clear blue eyes soon leave the crowds and their surroundings, in turn, to focus in on the young king, as T'Challa seems to finally give his words some thought. James does not have any illusion that it will change his mind, here at the eleventh hour, but he finds himself vaguely interested to hear what reasoning the Black Panther will employ.

He makes no answer to the ruminations of T'Challa on the hearts of men, and how their inner natures and inherent fortitude chart the course of their lives. He seems to consider the king's words, in his turn, giving them some due thought. There is all the time in the world, after all; soon, he may die.

"I know a man for whom that's absolutely true," he eventually says. "But I haven't known what is true of my own nature for seventy-five years." His head tilts. "Maybe we'll both find out today."

It is, in some way, a challenge. That much is clear in the thin, sharp way he smiles.

It is to your death, the king corrects.

The Winter Soldier's left arm makes reply for him, in a response meant as an obvious display. It hums audibly enough for the silent onlookers to hear it in the stands, singing to itself in an inhuman electronic whir that has been the very last sound too many people heard on earth. The shining metal plates of it lift, ruffling like hackles, flaring in a brief stretch before slide-clicking into a locked position.

T'Challa advances. The Soldier does not wait. He is an aggressive combatant, that much would already be abundantly known to T'Challa from analysis and from their few prior engagements; he closes the distance, an exploratory strike of his left arm snaking out towards the young king's center mass to gauge his speed outside of the habit.

Even exploratory as it is, it is not pulled. Should it connect full-force, it will kill.

The waters rush around his bare ankles, agitated by the falls.

The young king has eschewed the habit that is the symbol of his country. He has eschewed the woven grass sandals of his country's villages. He has cast everything aside, just as everything was stripped from the man who would fight for his life today. He eschews everything, because he is a warrior, and the people will be satisfied with nothing more. He has stripped him so that his people would know the man whom they have come to despise. He has stripped himself because it is his wish to be known.

T'Challa has made the promise that he would kill the Winter Soldier with his bare hands.
It is a promise he intends to keep.

The rills of the lethal electronic arm rise at him in a rhythmic hiss, the sort of wordless threat that entrances before it kills, a trait it shares with the hood of a cobra. Even as he strides towards the soldier, the aggression of the killer forces him forward, drives him to find the way to kill him. In many similar scenarios, men have died in single blows, left bleeding on the filthy floor of some fight club or another, it occurs to T'Challa. It is a split second revelation.

Taking such a blow would not be an instant death for him.
To the contrary, it could take hours for his ruined organs to catch up to death.

The young man who knows what to do with his hands steps into the blow, rolling his torso to the side and bending at the waist until he can feel the waste heat from the soldier's limb as it cracks past him, coming very close to caving in his ribcage. He moves quickly, bonelessly, until his arm levers at his side, fist folding as it sways from his shoulder, like a battering ram. He moves to spear the soldier in the side with one fist, just under the outstretched arm. The blow is not lethal, but the nerves there are stronger than others, less susceptible to random damages. It will hurt. Beyond anything else, the strike from the man who would be panther will hurt. Unless there is something else there.

Barnes will know immediately. The man he faces is a warrior king, but he is also an educated man. The young king strikes not to cripple his opponent, but to see just how far the metal has wormed its way into his body. He could have had the Soldier scanned — likely he has already — could have spent days studying him and all of his weakest points. Perhaps he is not that type of man. Perhaps he has a sense of honor, one that will get him killed one day.

Or perhaps he knows that he will learn more in one strike than days of study.

It has been a long time since James Barnes had to fight with nothing to his name. He has usually always been prepared in some way, ready with some contingency, geared and armed specifically towards the completion of his mission.

Today, he has nothing but the weapons of his bare hands, and the armor of his exposed skin.

His arm has been left to him, however. He idly wonders why it has not been disabled, shut off… why he can still flare it, with a serpentine rustle of its steel plates, and an electronic hiss of its intricate internals. Part of him assumes it is the honor the Wakandans keep, that may well find it shameful to need to cripple a man to kill him. Part of him assumes it is because they have some contingency themselves, to disable it at the worst possible moment for him. To shut off its power source once he has fully committed it to some act.

He could be wrong on both counts. But whether he is right or wrong ultimately means little. It can change nothing. There is only one thing that can be done, here and now.

He attacks. His strength couples with the unnatural power source of his arm to create a strike that would crumple everything vital in T'Challa's chest in one blow. The king redirects with his expected fluidity, the man boneless and feline even out of his habit. He makes an exploratory retaliation of his own, a hit that should strike sensitive nerve clusters and cause great pain in a man.

The Winter Soldier just looks left at the Black Panther, his face a controlled mask. The line of his jaw leaps out into sharp relief, but he makes no sound. Beneath the skin, beneath the thin layer of flesh that plays facsimile at the side of a man, T'Challa will feel an inhuman solidity. The solidity of metal seated deeply in the Soldier's body, jointed invisibly straight into the man's skeletal structure, grafted into his spine. As expected, it is not just the arm, nor just the shoulder or its socket. Entire pieces of James Barnes' left side have been knitted together with the prosthetic, significant sections of the pectoral and trapezius interwoven with something tensile, flexible, strong.

Those blue eyes narrow, as if James guesses at what he is doing.

Then the Winter Soldier moves with the direction of T'Challa's strike, swinging around in a sharp twist of his torso counter-clockwise. He leans on boxing experience older than the man he fights. He drops his left arm out of the way and brings his right around, driving it in a snake-strike hook for the Wakandan king's head.

He is a man connected to nature. T'Challa knows nothing but what his own senses provide him. The feel of the river rock beneath the skin of his bare feet, the scent of the barbel who on occasion find their way down the waterfall from the higher reservoirs of Wakanda, these are all details to him as salient as the oil, metal and sweat scent of the Winter Soldier, who interleaves with the young king as he brings his boxing experience to the forefront.

Watch the metal. Keep the Soviet clear.

Hitting T'Challa is not like one would expect, to see him in a fight. The predator is graceful, with the mist movements of a ghost when trying to be hit. It is the reason why so many poachers never returned from Wakanda. Striking at him, landing purchase is hard, a mountain climb in the icy tundra. However, to hit him is the same as hitting that mountain.

The young king dips his head at the last moment, channelling the energy of the soldier's right hand across the dome of his skull instead of the more vulnerable flat of his temple. The soldier in the man prefers the head, he realizes, a soldier through and through. The shock of it brings a constellation to T'Challa, stars spraying across his view, and forcing a hiss of air to escape the king's chest, fast, hot and low.

But to strike him is not to hit a pillow.

Striking T'Challa is to find not metal, but a bone hardened by years of harsh battle. Comparitively young, he is the warrior born of a warrior, of the stripe that absorbs a strike like obsidian. He loses something in the exchange, as all reasoned men would when hit by a blow augured to perfection over the course of a century.

But like the obsidian, what is left behind is limitless, dark, and inimitably sharp.
A thin thread of blood finds its way across the man's brow.

To a boxer, it would have been a gamble, to risk a cut brow. But the young king knows what to do with his hands. As Barnes levers the blow across his bowed head, the staccato beat of the exchange crests over a brief, harsh pause as his hands open. The speared fist opens, then he presses further into the counterrotation of the hook, slipping one leg between the two of Barnes' stance and moving. The king moves quickly and with authority that has known nothing else, moving to put his thigh against the inside of Barnes'. He is to force him along the line of his hook, to gain control over his counterblow, and place the deadly left arm of the Winter Soldier on the outside and away from him. Just as he moves so, he moves to grip onto Barnes' right arm, one on wrist, one on bicep.

If he does, the next insant will see the skilled assassin slamming face-first into the smooth rock and waters of Wakanda, as T'Challa drops his weight, leaning across Buchanan's centerline and driving him headfirst into the churning pool by his arm and driving a knee into the muscle of his pinned thigh as an anchor.

Men have been twisted apart with less effort.

The Winter Soldier has fought thousands of fights, and in the vast majority of them all his opponents have done the same thing: they've tried, desperately, to stay off his strong side. Away from his lethal left arm.

The fact it's the Soldier who's the one still standing, in the present day, suggests that very few have been successful in that endeavor.

T'Challa might yet be one, though. James is already reading the young king's movements, discerning the slight differences between how he fights now and how he did when he was suited up fully in the habit of the Panther. He is more fluid here, his grace even greater if possible, and he moves around and among the Soldier's coarser, more violent strikes like the wisps off the trail of a ghost.

James' strike grazes along the top of the young king's skull, merely jarring the other man instead of scoring the intended killing blow against the vulnerable temple. The Soldier assesses this, already shifting to try to recover, but T'Challa is eeled into his open stance before he can react. One leg slides between both of his, T'Challa locking his stance and then levering him over that pivot point via the insistent pull of two hands shackled down on his right wrist and upper arm.

The Winter Soldier hits rock with a resounding crack, biting his lip and tasting blood.

The trouble is, though T'Challa has captured his right arm, keeping the other man's body between him and that deadly left arm… that arm is still entirely free, and the Soldier's strength is still wildly beyond that of any normal man. With a sharp whirring scream of metal, that arm braces beneath his body, clawing metal fingers into the bare rock, and shoves, rolling the Soldier's entire mass to the right — and bodily into T'Challa. At the same time he yanks hard with his caught right arm, pulling T'Challa inward to try to increase the force with which he rams the young king.

The young king rolls.

Water courses along his shoulders as he slams hard into the river rock, his body jarring with the weight and force of a man whose bones are caged in a constellation of metal connectors and pivots. His first exploratory blows tell him that the substructures of the man are held together with the same metal that replaces his arm entirely. The weight of the impact that rolls his fulcrum onto its back confirms it.

His blood tumbles then stills in its veins, the centripetal force levied by the soldier centrifuging it with his arm's nightmare press. The young king draws tighter to his enemy now, his hands burying themselves in the crooks of the man's caught arm in midair as he tucks himself against the soldier. The spin goes faster, faster than even the ruthless soldier may have anticipated, for T'Challa is entirely too willing and eased a subject to the impact that jars every vertebrae in his spine, the price for his indiscretions.

The crowd cheered for their king before. But now they jeer the soldier, as he seems to quickly have his way with the Wakandan king.

Then, T'Challa can be seen briefly to close his eyes.
There is no time for anything else.

Keeping tightly against Barnes, his hands are still dry despite nearly being underwater beneath the Winter Soldier. It is an unenviable position. But his hands are still dry because he still holds the killer's right arm tightly. He stays close to him because his leg is still in fulcrum, still slipped between the Soldier's thighs. With the harsh bark of the warrior giving sledgehammer force to the breath forced from his lungs by the battering ram, T'Challa brings his bleeding skull into harsh, sharp focus when he brings together his trap muscles, his core exploding as he uses the landing of Barnes and the outpress of breath in total to drive his skull at, into and potentially through the face of the Winter Soldier.

It is just a distraction.

T'Challa is the younger of the two by ages, by decades, by passages measured in the shadows of the pyramid. There is a long road ahead of him. He has trained his entire life to face men of inequity, apex predators such as these. And he will train more. But as a man, even half submerged in the bloody surf with nothing to protect him from that lethal arm, T'Challa takes the time to teach.

With Barnes' arm still trapped by him, T'Challa will begin to lever with calculating force, pressing the elbow inward, and hyperextending the wrist until he hears the tendons whine. This is even as he moves, to slip the back of his knee behind the Soldier's and draw him tighter to his core. It is an attempt to lock thighs, king with killer, and bind his escape. His stomach muscles twist and wrench against the dominating body over him, pulling ever tighter, until the Winter Soldier can feel it in his waist. With a second hammerblow, T'Challa's skull will break fingers and wrists, left unaddressed. Brutal and systematic, T'Challa is trapping Barnes for the explicit purpose of twisting him until bones and tendons begin to snap with the same sound.

Being on top of the man who became Wakanda's Black Panther is as dangerous a feat as any man has ever managed.

There's no resistance to the young king, nothing but a boneless pliability that is not in the least what the Soldier expects. The full force of his left arm is overkill under such situation. Their ultimate momentum is so great that James doesn't just slam into T'Challa — he flips the both of them into an uncontrolled roll, bodies locked together. The world blurs by as they tumble across the rock.

Eventually the young king slams to his back in the shallows, the Soldier weighing down over him, water displacing in protest as they trade places. But throughout the entire ordeal, he has kept hold of the Winter Soldier's right arm — kept his leg locked between the Soldier's own. Though he is pinned, he still has that leverage.

Blue eyes narrow. This will be a problem.

Jeers rise from the crowd. The Winter Soldier isn't listening. He's not distracted by the way T'Challa tries to slam his skull straight into his face, because he can already feel the pressure beginning on his right arm — can already feel where his focus should absolutely be if he does not want to lose a limb.

He is not distracted. And his left arm is free. He cannot dodge with the way T'Challa has locked him close, securing him by his grip on his arm and his knee hooked behind the Soldier's own. So he blocks — by interposing his left hand in front of his face, in a plain attempt to force the young king to stun himself on the steel. The metal arm has strength enough not to be driven back by the force of the blow.

It moves again immediately afterwards, stabbing downwards to target the one arm of T'Challa's which enacts that brutal grip on his right wrist. With unerring precision he strikes straight for the cluster of nerves high at the neck and shoulder, aiming to numb the limb and force it to release — or at the least cause a shock of debilitating pain sufficient to achieve the same effect.

One leg is captured — the other is not. He shifts his weight simultaneous to all this, bending to try to drive his knee violently against T'Challa's thigh to fracture the bone.

Steel drums like the peal of lightning over the summer sky.

The alloys that knit together Buchanan's Damocles arm are not unknown to the country of mystic metal. In Wakanda, it is schoolwork to know how titanium is used to buttress aluminums and other metals to modulate size, density, resistances. To know the forms of steel and the irons that compose it. But the metallurgics of a hammer is nothing when one has smashed one's finger on it.

The king, young as he is, has no weft to his blow, the area to maneuver less than none by design. The warrior's bone skull cracks off of the soldier's steel palm, the sound a gunshot so crisp, clear and pure that had it been a creature of any other stripe, it may have been a mortal blow. Staving in a skull has a particular cadence, snapping a neck has a particular sound —

But the king is young. And he is strong.

Stars pour across the black behind T'Challa's eyes, and the man glazes for only a moment, hyperacute senses dialating by seconds, by centimeters. The arm, a knife where none was given, slams into the nerve cluster just above the tattooed mantle over T'Challa's bared chest, the muscle flexing with the blow, as if a great mouth spitting out a disfavored taste. His grip loosens on James, the viselike pressure he practices on him giving the sharp siren pain in the soldier's arm a shot of respite. The moment itself ends, and the arm closest to James' wrist slacks.

T'Challa grimaces. On his face it seems more a frown.

In counter, the knee cannon slams into T'Challa's own curled knee, the panther curling his body into a cutting buck underneath his assailant. His hips raise, his other leg breaks the hold and braces against the ground, his back bridges, core twisting as he lifts Buchanan's upper weight on his chest, driving the man's torso away in one exposive motion. Bone meets bone as kneecaps strike off of one another. He worms under James in the heartbeat James uses to strike at him with his knee, and T'Challa still has one hand on him.

T'Challa's shoulderblades brace against the river rock beneath him.
And then, from the knee that met with James, T'Challa continues onward, firing off a full dagger kick that might as well be a spear to the gut.

The blow would have been more than sufficient to throw a fully grown man into the air by a factor of at least ten feet. T'Challa fires off the kick as if it came straight from the earth itself. He strikes to throw the killer into the air wildly. But not to release him.
The young king will still have a hold of James' arm with his one free and functioning hand. He will use the momentum he shoots James into the air with to twist, rolling with the force of his strike. The momentum of the blow is such that if James does not break free from T'Challa, he will either twist his arm off, or spin the soldier in the air by an arm and pull, slamming him bodily back into the ground somewhere near the edge of the fall.

It is a brutal thing they do.

Regardless of what may be, T'Challa is using the space that Barnes interjected between them to roll to his feet in a crouching position. The water he takes with him in the explosion of motion pours off of his back and navigates his dark skin in rushing streams, rinsing the blood from his skull and teeth. The degree of his body heat dulls the chill of the water, great and measured breaths sucked into the man's chest. The electric sensation of his nerves shiver his perceptions of his arm, a dark mass of flesh and bone hanging from his body, clouded from his mind's eye in the storm and the heat.

It could have been a killing blow. It would have been, on a lesser man. James knows that on the king of Wakanda, it will not be. He does not waste time in foolish assumptions that he doesn't need to follow up.

T'Challa is stunned only a moment. The Winter Soldier moves in that moment, his hand switching from shield to blade. It knifes down with precision into the vital nerve cluster of the shoulder, striking the arm numb, loosening the panther's deathgrip on the soldier's wrist. James slides his wrist free the first instant he can, a muted grimace to match T'Challa's own to feel the sudden blessed relief in his right arm from that unthinkable pressure.

Even then, he still doesn't let up, nor think himself possessed of something so luxurious as an actual respite.

He is moving again already, trying to break the panther's leg under the sharp strike of his knee. It forces T'Challa to release his lock on his other leg, at the least, but the Wakandan king's counter comes swiftly. First a block, his targeted leg curling to glance that strike away kneecap to kneecap. Then a retaliation.

The Winter Soldier realizes his danger a moment before that kick hammers into his midsection.

The breath escapes him in one explosive moment of dizzying pain. The world twists as T'Challa uses the momentum of his blow to fling him bodily to his left, the Soldier's right. He hits rock with a crack of impact and an uprush of disturbed water, rolling a full ten uncontrolled feet before coming to a stop. Dazed, it is a moment before he shakes off the disorientation, though he is quick to recover once he does, twisting back upright and regaining his senses. His unnatural, serum-granted constitution makes such recoveries a thing of seconds, not minutes.

Likely the only thing saving him from a reprisal in those few vulnerable moments is the fact T'Challa wants to open some space between them.

The Winter Soldier seems content with space, himself. He remains motionless where he is, close to the ground himself in a wary four-footed animal's stance, both feet planted firmly and both hands curled into the rock. His breathing comes deep and steady, his right arm trembling a little from its abuse. There is little about him of T'Challa's big-cat grace and fluidity. He holds his ground with the rangy guardedness of a wolf, stiff-legged in readiness for a fight.

Blue eyes appraise the Black Panther with lupine watchfulness. They flick to the hanging arm, consider briefly, but then maintain their watch. The Winter Soldier seems to have chosen a glacial patience, for now.

Even with an arm plagued by icy needles, T'Challa still rolls to his feet easily and quickly, his knees gathering underneath him and letting the warrior lift himself up, his weight settling martially, like a fine cloak. The two of them are similar in that way, their recoveries bloody whirling things, the matter and affair of a breath in motion.

The king rises to a stop, but his weight fulcrums low on his knees, the young man ratcheting another slow, calculated breath. He never fully straightens, the length of his frame kept lower to the ground to tie his center of gravity closely to the earth. It is a warrior's stance, hands opening slowly to threaten with the knives of a devastating blow.

The opportunity closes quickly. T'Challa approaches through the plunge pool methodically, the movement cutting the paces between them by half. The spray from above pounds across his shoulders as he moves, temporarily concealing part of his body behind a rush of water. He waits there until he can feel the ice receding from his arm, until he can hear the soldier's heartbeat over the water in his ear again. T'Challa waits until the moment rings true.

"Some of the Americans," T'Challa remarks, "like to think of this thing we do as another trial. They think that we fight to ritualize your justice. They think in American ways, and couch things in American terms. I wonder how you imagine this thing we do yourself," T'Challa mulls.

"Here, you are free, here there is nothing to prove. There is no contest of strength or honor. No lawyers waving sheafs of paper like flags. The justice of this thing is already decided. Your crimes have already been committed, and a child can see them. Where your soul ultimately goes when it is wrung from your body is the business of our gods. I do this thing now because you are the ransom I will pay for my country's future. I am a warrior, and it is the thing that only warriors are uniquely suited to."

"Any cost for the future of my country, I will pay."

T'Challa explodes from the fall's curtain. He doesn't punch, or kick, not like one would expect from a moment ago. His surge of attack does not originate from Japan. Neither from Kenya, Uganda or Egypt. It originates from Wakanda, a surging panther blow from his weakened arm straight from the middle and right down the middle. It is not a knifehand or fist he throws. It is an open handed claw, fingers curled like the oncoming of a great bird. Wearing the claws of the Panther, even steel is not a match for it. Bare-handed like this, a lesser man would shatter his hands on another man this way.

But T'Challa is the claw of the Panther God.
His hands are spun of rock.

Though he leads with the hand that does not feel, not truly, T'Challa's means are as clear as ever: With his bare hand, he will punch right through the Winter Soldier's chest and crush his heart where it beats. Without hesitation, he bears down on the wolf, striking like the first ray of the morning sun itself.

The Winter Soldier is a shadowed image, flickering and wavering through the curtain of the waterfall's spray. It is only the illusion of movement; he himself has not twitched so much as a lash since he recovered from their violent clash.

He only waits, with the sort of frozen snowfall patience one might expect of a man forged for decades to embody the killing Russian winter.

His eyes are the only thing that moves, once he does break that stillness. They turn to regard T'Challa as the king begins to speak. I wonder, the Black Panther muses, how you imagine this thing we do, yourself?

"Sometimes," James answers, "a thing is exactly what it seems like. Does it matter what the meaning's supposed to be, to other people? To the men fighting, a fight to the death's a fight to the death."

His eyes are calm, for a man declared already guilty. "In the moment, that's what matters. Meaning comes later."

T'Challa pounces.

It is a straight shot of a hit, fired directly for the Winter Soldier's center mass. James watches it scream in, his blue eyes noting the choice of arm and the clawed aspect to the other man's hand. He waits. And then, in the last few moments before impact, he dodges. As T'Challa likely expects him to.

Except, he dodges up instead of left or right. He swivels, back briefly to the Wakandan king, and lunges into a low backflip clear over the king and his trajectory, banking on the fact that the force behind forward momentum translates easily left-or-right — but not so easily straight up. It lands him in a position to lunge forward and go straight for the king's back with his metal arm in a crippling, impaling straight punch of a blow…

Which he does, because James Barnes long ago lost any romance for the idea that men should always face one another to fight with honor.

T'Challa's hand snaps through the air, the violent motion causing a whipcrack as he hits nothing, the snap of bone sublimated into the snap of wind under his hands. As he kneels into the blow, his hand raises. Quickly, he grasps his shoulder, as if to stay the momentum of his straight-lined attack. In a typical situation, he would have countered by taking the soldier's eyes, if on his left, and his throat, if on his right. But this is not a typical situation by far, not even in the slightest.

If the killer is a reflection of the frigid winters of the Siberian wilderness, the snows and ice of that land, T'Challa is the sun and moon of the savannah, the harsh judgment and heat of the Wakandan sky. With a savage bark of surprise, T'Challa takes the blow in the back, impaling force of steel levering into him with full authority. However, T'Challa's bones do not shift in the same way a person's does. They do not offer the same resistance that one expects, the same resistance that would have killed another. Instead of hitting a tree, to strike T'Challa in that moment is more like hitting a reed.

The young king drops like a stone at the spear-like impact, the force in his bones carrying him forward. In the end the king rolls only once forward, head tucking underneath him as he goes to knees and shoulders, stirring foam as he splashes through it. In the affair of a moment, the young man rolls once, bleeding off the gained momentum by tucking it away into the ground, as easily as a man may open a pocket and tuck away a kerchief. When T'Challa recovers, he brings himself up on the balls of his feet, crossing one ankle in front of another to whirl on Barnes, his hands low in the ground and suspended in the bubbling plunge up to his wrists.

He stares at Barnes, as if a cautious predator.

The next attack does not come quickly, for whatever reason. The young king watching closely to see where Barnes will solidify his position. Attempting to attack him quickly while he is still in the air may seem tempting, but the judgment of the panther is wise to know more than presuming weakness where none exists.

"The only thing that matters," T'Challa repeats, calmly.
"Except for the people."

Again, hitting the Black Panther is like hitting water. He does not even need to be wearing vibranium to move with hits in such a way that minimizes the impact and damage.

In fact, there is so little resistance compared to what the erstwhile Winter Soldier is used to, that he pitches forward slightly and almost overbalances. He recovers at the last moment, and once he has his balance back he retreats instead of trying to capitalize on the Wakandan king's forward roll, not trusting that T'Challa will stay disoriented long enough for him to get in a good killing hit.

No. T'Challa was too prepared to tank the force of the blow. His tumble away is a recovery, nothing uncontrolled or wild about it.

True to his prediction, the king spins back to a balanced crouch within seconds, holding his ground for the time being. His eyes, when he returns them to his opponent, will find James Barnes standing about twenty feet distant, motionless, ankle-deep in the rushing water. The former Winter Soldier makes no move to attack, betrays no hint of what he might intend. One grapple, it seems, was enough to teach him caution about getting close. He just stands fast, his gaze taking in their surroundings as if he has only just noticed their natural beauty.

The only thing that matters — except for the people, T'Challa says.

"Yeah," James says. His eyes are briefly distant. "Sure. I know about them. Spent both my previous lives in service of them."

His tone is as distant and noncommittal as his gaze.

The legacy killer watches him like the solemn winter.

The young king remains low in the water, the cool plunge sluicing past his wrists and leaving turbulent froth across his forearms, cool and cleansing, even as the water bites into the myriad scrapes and sore spots where the killing fist of the Soldier impacted. Fighting here, against the Winter Soldier, the water seems colder than it should.

The boneless quality of the panther was intended to be a secret, left for later times when he could use it to surprise and break Barnes once and for all. The truth is something hard to discern about T'Challa, who chose the terms of their battle personally. He is a man who elected to fight a trained killer with a massacre arm with nothing more than his bare hands, simply because it was what his people expected, and it was what he had said aloud to the self-named friends of the man he faces.
Respect, honor, perhaps something else entirely.

"Servitude is a tree of many branches," T'Challa observes, coldly.

"If you serve the people, then you would know that committing atrocity for them stains them with the same blood you wear. But then, it is convenient to claim the acts of one's hands as not one's own. To have men stand for you and to declare your acts the acts of another man from another time, who served a peoples unwillingly. And throughout all of this, you stand by and watch. You do not argue, you do not claim what is yours, nor do you disclaim. Is that going to be the story of you, the story of your nature? A man who waited."
As he reasons, T'Challa does not move from his low and uncomfortable-looking posture, settling into it as easily as a man does a favored chair, content to match the Soldier's glacial patience for as long as it serves the king's need.
"The sun and savannah of Wakanda will not abide your complacency, nor your vanity," T'Challa accuses, his voice cutting low. "This is not Siberia. If your throat is not filled fully with the voice of who you are, then we will fold it like a child's papercraft."

"Seventy five years ago, you spoke as a man who took the price of things onto your hands willingly. You have the opportunity to do so again. Watch, wait, and be crumpled under the weight of a country's ten thousand years!!"

T'Challa explodes from the water, the fervency of his motion causing a waterspout, an eruption of water that ripples in front of him like a wave curtaining in front of a great storm. It is this which comes ahead of the panther, to pick up the Winter Soldier's feet from the ground at his ankles and from above slam into him like a hammer. The wave is a thing that would knock a man who just waits onto his back, and against the Black Panther, it would be the end of them then and there. But T'Challa has no intention of assumption.

An open hand cuts through the hammer wave ahead of him, bare fingertips destined towards Barnes' throat. Darkness cuts through the water even before it hits the soldier, and T'Challa's bodily force bullets forward, into and through the wave, following the hammer blow with another, folding another edge of the paper to meet itself.

With his bare hand and spear force, he tries to latch onto Barnes with the singular motion.
Then he folds the paper again.

T'Challa only means to get ahold of Barnes. If any part of his hand touches the soldier, it will become the focal point of his whirling motion, as he moves to slam his knee into the man's chest, a third strike of the hammer at just the point where the man's subdermal implantation ends, to pin the bones and tendons in place with his body weight. The intent is not to kick away Barnes' arm, but to hit him quickly enough to play on his instincts. The king is interfering with the arm where it anchors with the rest of his body. If the instinct is too strong to avoid even after what T'Challa has said, Barnes may just tear his own skeleton out on the end of his arm.
And then T'Challa folds the paper again.

If Barnes can choke back his impulse, as T'Challa fully expects him to, he is still in danger. In danger of being hit with a sledgehammer thrice over, and being thrown bodily from the plunge pool shelf, and off the waterfall itself. T'Challa hits him hard enough to break skin, a sledgehammer thrown with bullet force. With the king's impaling knee buried in his chest up to his thigh, T'Challa will battleship cannon him bodily off of the waterfall and over it, to have Winter Soldier swallowed by the spray of the falls beneath a panther's weight.
With a king's hands wrapped around his throat the whole way down.

There are a long few moments in which James Barnes does not seem to be watching the King of Wakanda at all. His blue eyes are abstracted, his stance alert but relaxed, his hands open, his gaze shot out to a distant point beyond T'Challa and the small arena in which the Black Panther means him to die.

He seems to be looking at a small, twisted tree growing doggedly out of a crack in the cliff face, far overhead. Heedless of the pouring waterfalls, it wends out sidewise into empty space, flowering in midair, wreathed by hanging vines and heavy leaves which shine with the spray off the falls.

He has done many things over the course of his life, but very few of them were beautiful. Over the decades, the only constant in his life was that that the only beauty he ever saw was in the natural or man-made loveliness of the lands in which he was sent to kill.

The northern lights glowing over the snow-cloaked slopes of Siberia.
Mountains, blue with distance, spearing up over the vivid scrub deserts of Afghanistan.
The intricate, architectural diversity of Prague, spired and domed and weathered with age.
Lotus flowers, ringed in human blood, dotting the deep ponds of Vietnam.

There are countless other places he has been. Countless other sights he has seen. He did not need to be himself, nor in his own sound mind, to see these things, remember them, and find them beautiful. He took note of them, every place in which he killed.

He takes a mental snapshot of this image of Wakanda, now.

"Let's say America and Russia are countries with a bloodstained people, then," he finally says wryly, after a long silence. His eyes leave the sight of that tree. "I doubt anyone will dispute you. You think Wakanda is that much purer?"

James blinks slowly. "Maybe it is. It doesn't really matter. Just like it doesn't matter if I claim or disclaim the acts my hands have done. If I claim them as mine… that's wrong. If I disclaim them as mine… that's also wrong. I let my people make the final judgment, and so they did." His features quirk briefly with a brief and joyless humor. "That's not the kind of ambiguity Wakandans do, I assume."

There is a brief silence — inasmuch as men standing beneath the roar of waterfalls can stand in silence.

"Who I am," he concludes, "is not someone I feel obligated to share with you nor your people. But if you insist, there is one thing I've been pretty consistent on, between both those men…"

T'Challa lunges for him. The force of it sends a torrent of water slashing towards him, a torrent the Winter Soldier braces through by shouldering his metal arm forward into the flow to slice it in half. It's a metal arm he interposes to catch that outthrust hand as it claws towards his throat. Better his forearm than his neck.

The king capitalizes immediately. The metal arm proves a remarkably steady fulcrum for the swing of his knee straight up into the Winter Soldier's chest. He aims for that point where he now knows that subdermal metal ends, and as such aims far more towards the center of the other man's chest than one might expect. Most of the Soldier's left half is now steel and titanium and grinding, powerful mechanisms.

Hitting that point where it seams against flesh is agonizing.

The pain is obvious, but after an initial shudder and stagger, the Winter Soldier makes no further reaction. He makes no noise. He was created on a table, no anesthetic, cut and sawn apart and stitched back together. He was developed and built and trained to make no noise and endure pain. He does not shy from or shirk the blow. He does not try to dodge or avoid.

T'Challa demanded he be who he is. He is two men. He has picked one.

That man pushes back. His stance solidifies, his left arm shrieking as he bears back against the king's explosive forward momentum, his face as he stares back into the Black Panther's eyes completely void of emotion, pain, or strain.

"Actually… for the sake of your country…" he grates, and his voice is different: more precise, the English syllables chosen as if by a foreign tongue. "I hope that I do not die here. Someone will get upset."

The Panther's last blow comes screaming in. The Winter Soldier finally moves — and bends straight backwards, dropping directly to the harsh rock of the plunge pool on his back. He tries to roll the Panther's prodigious forward momentum over his prone figure, assisted by a sharp knee driven upwards towards the king's center mass, and by the violent yank of the metal arm if T'Challa should still have it ensnared.

The land makes him bleed for it. The rock slices his back apart in a dozen places, and the rushing water beneath him starts to tint bloody red. But such is preferable to taking a plunge from the cliff — though the Winter Soldier's cold blue eyes consider the tactic, visibly wondering.

The Soldier has made his choice.
So be it.

T'Challa is a man with feet in two pools as well. As a warrior, he is the one who is destined to put a swift and merciless end to all enemies of his mother lands, an apex predator that does not hear anything but the heartbeat of the narrow-minded, the ill-handed and the long-tongued. Yet, as a king, he is father to the nation, responsible for assuring the happiness and prosperity of its peoples with a wise and just hand.
The difference between them is that panther and king are of a very, very like mind.

The threefold blow drills against the guard of the man with the cold, dead eyes. T'Challa gains purchase not on James' throat as he'd wished, but that arm, as he'd expected. The soldier responds quickly and easily with his left, checking a grip that would have crumpled bone were it any other man. And though T'Challa moves immediately to follow the drill with the hammer, in attempts to counterweight the cybernetic rogue in half at the very moorings of his spirit, the man responds like the Siberian wastes — implacable, icy, and silent. For T'Challa, it seems as if he has struck a tree of a man, Barnes only dropping to the rock when he is in danger of being thrown off of the mountain, the young king's momentum bleeding off into the castle defense of the soldier as he sags there, moments of a blink transmitted between them.

Then the world inverts.

A knee slams into T'Challa's middle, knocking him up and further off of his course, the blow daggering so hard into him that his eyes ache from the pressure. For a moment, T'Challa's trajectory spins and orients chaotically, the king's dark brow furrowing in the second he has cut in half to breathe. The air around him, the mist in the sky, the people above, and the people below. At these Warrior Falls, he can see the expanse of his entire country. Even as he slowly drifts over the abyss in the apogee of a fatal freefall, his body hanging out over the void, he is still acutely aware. Aware of the words and the manner in which the winter soldier speaks them, a matter of fact more than expression.

The paper slowly bells as one end touches another, the rustle of the fibers whispering under absent and idle fingertips. The panther has only slivers of time to consider a fathomable response.
"…I don't care."

One hand mates to the other on Barnes' left wrist, an underhand grip this time instead of an overhand grip. T'Challa twists his entire body, bringing his biceps in as he rotates at the waist and curls his thighs, tucking his body into a brutal axle spin. Before the stressed metal even has a chance to cool, T'Challa puts all of his body weight across it and in opposition to Barnes. Even in the process of averting his own fall from the mountaintop, T'Challa is moving to flip Barnes onto his stomach.

He will break his overhand grip, and flex into the smooth scythe-like motion of his recovery, one thigh whipping up like the long leg of a gymnast.

James might notice that it is almost impossible to avoid getting locked into the Black Panther's grappling, even if he gets a single hand latched on. If Bucky lets the scent of his own blood and the water distract him even for a moment, the panther will be on his back, clamped onto his middle with his knees. If T'Challa's legs are hammers, his fist is a spear, and Barnes will be hard pressed in that position to avoid a sense-deadening blow to the back of his skull. The soldier, a man cut from a cloth of pain and death on a steel operating table, would not die from the strike. But it is the sort of punch that will fracture the stone underneath Barnes' chin with momentum and force, regardless of whether his head is still there to absorb any of it or not.

There is no time for any other words. T'Challa's fist carries the message clearly enough.
He will be the fate for every person who crosses into Wakanda with ill in their minds.
So it has been for 10,000 years.

The Panther attacks. The Winter Soldier holds firm with unwanted strength and unasked-for durability, a man cut apart and put back together on a steel slab for exactly this purpose: to be able to endure even the strikes of a man chosen by a god.

T'Challa doesn't just have his blunt strikes, however.

The Wakandan king has the Soldier in a predicament. He does not want to get caught in grapples, yet in order to avoid the man's killing blows, he has no choice but to block — T'Challa's speed is comparable to his own if not greater — and all that the Panther really needs is one hold in order to draw the noose tight.

Such it is that though the Soldier attempts furiously to dislodge T'Challa, to send him tumbling alone over the edge of the cliff, he is not ultimately able to rip the other man's grip loose. The Panther hangs on with the tenacity of his namesake, twisting midair and anchoring his other hand along the Soldier's arm as thought it were a balance beam.

I don't care, the Panther intones.

"You don't?" the Soldier wonders. The same thought that spurred his final remark earlier brings James to peek through the veil of the Winter Soldier, for a fleeting moment. "You should."

Then T'Challa executes his master stroke. The king twists about with such force he flips the Winter Soldier over as a part of his pivot, coming to stop in a solid perch about the other man's waist.

His fist makes harsh contact with the back of the Soldier's head a moment later, driving him into the rock from the force. Blood flies, the running water threading with bright, visceral red. The winter can bleed, after all, it seems.

Yet still, he remains silent.

Silent save for his arm, still clutched in the claws of the Panther. It screams its affront as the Soldier, half-blinded by blood, wrenches it violently forward with every inch of his unnatural strength. The plain intent is to present T'Challa with only a very few choices, all of which force him to release some component of his hold on the Winter Soldier.

"In the end, outsiders try their hardest, but they all assume the same thing."

A finger holds the stiff paper in place while the margins are minded. Soot, fresh soot, is drawn across the paper, blackening the edges in trails of worry across them, accenting the ancient dialect scrawled across it in fresh ink.

One aggression seamlessly floats to another. The panther slips from one motion to the next in an endless chain befitting his mantle, pursuing the soldier as tirelessly as the soldier withstands the attacks. One blow after another folds and twists the metal of that arm, but not above the skin, where it is strongest. Metal heats with stress, and it only has precious seconds to cool. With each block, the Winter Soldier relies on what has seldom failed him, the thing that has been the end for so many men prior.

Moments later, water spurts from the plunge, spraying jets of crimson foam up across the young king's skin. It clings, longer than usual.

It is the space that many men have died before in, on their bellies with a panther over their neck. But the Winter Soldier is legend more than man, and his arm flares dangerously as he tractors it hard against the king's grip. The mechanical whine of internal motors grind and twist against one another as James reclaims it, inch by inch, from T'Challa's grip. The king grimaces noticeably, his eyes lidding in concern and annoyance as James brutally begins to rip his arm out of the disabling hold. The dark skin of the king's arm stands at attention in comparison to the metal limb, his muscles standing, tendons and fibers bunching together like the singing cordage of a precarious bridge.

"They assume that they have something that we do not. They assume that they have some secret, some power that outstrips ours. Some people, some weapon, some resource that will allow them to seize our borders and plunder our lands…"

T'Challa's voice wavers as he struggles with James, iron bands threading through his voice with the effort. But as the Winter Soldier's limb labors, the horrifying notion is this: Just because one is flesh and one is metal does not mean that metal will always win.

"But when your weapons fail you, your science outmodes you, your power betrays you, and your resources abandon you, when you have nothing left but your bravery and the fibers you were woven with as a child, that is when Wakanda will determine what it should and should not be afraid of."

He will wait until the motors are laboring at their hardest, at the moment at which every connective part of the Winter Soldier is red hot with effort. This is the reason they did not take his arm from the beginning.
T'Challa raises his free hand.

"That is when children discover what it is like."

In the end, all it will take is one stroke. If the Winter Soldier does not comprehend, even for a moment, what T'Challa is talking about, the Black Panther will cut into his arm with his bare hands. Even if it draws T'Challa's own blood, even when the heated metal burns him, even when the sharpened blades of scales and fins and sinks cut into his wrists, welling blood around metal up to the elbow, T'Challa will axe-hand down and ..

The paper finally folds one last time, the whip of a crease shot through like lightning under his fingers.
"What it is like to finally be men."

In the end, T'Challa will move to cut into the Winter Soldier's mechanical arm at the moment of its greatest strength and greatest weakness. The only option James leaves him, truthfully: Cutting into, and ripping the soldier's arm off of its moorings with nothing more than his bare hands. Then, and only then, will the young king stand, and give James room to think on what he has said. And it is true, if Barnes succumbs, the king will give the trained killer only a moment to stand on his own.

Then he will throw James' arm over the edge of the waterfall.
"You are going to die here, Barnes. Make your peace with the Panther God."

Not many men are capable of withstanding the left arm of the Winter Soldier when it labors at its full strength. It is an arm that has torn apart nations. It is an arm built of the best material that Soviet and Hydra engineering could buy, designed by the best engineers those two powers could provide.

It should have torn T'Challa's arms from their roots long ago, just for the affront of trying to hold it in place. Yet the Panther has one thing which keeps the screaming metal at bay. He has leverage granted by significant postural advantage.

The king speaks. The soldier does not reply. Soldiers do not speak on the field. He only applies all his considerable strength —

— and T'Challa applies all his, precision-aimed at a weakness of the jointed steel, just below the shoulder. Metal shears, and its torn edges tear the Panther's hands apart, but the Wakandan king is implacable in his desire and dauntless in his aim. To see the other man disarmed of this most deadly weapon. Quite literally.

The white star slashes clean in half. The Soldier staggers and unbalances into the water as half his body weight, on his left side, leaves him in one shriek of parting steel.

For a few moments, there is only shock — the stillness of a man suddenly and brutally dismembered. The trauma is almost as great as if it were a natural limb that had just been severed — James Barnes has not lived a moment of his life as a true amputee. He fell a whole man, and woke with his missing limb already replaced by a hellish construction of titanium and steel. His movements as he tries to rise are imbalanced, lacking in the grace he previously possessed. He slips once before he detects his own new center of gravity, and sways slowly to an uncertain stand.

Only the chill mantle of the Winter Soldier, still raggedly worn, keeps his composure frozen still and cold as ice, even as he considers the ragged, knife-sharp mess of jagged edges where his left arm once was.

The king speaks presently, drawing the Soldier's eyes up and away from his atrocious wound. He listens with that same incurious blue gaze as T'Challa makes his points. As he discards the remnant of that which marked the Winter Soldier's strength — and slavery.

"If you think all I am was in that arm," he says. "That it was my one secret weapon I had to bring… you're mistaken."

You are going to die here, T'Challa promises. One-armed, bleeding blood and coolant alike from his flesh and mechanical wounds, the Winter Soldier does the only thing he can do in so dire a situation. He laughs.

"We'll see," James says lightly. "Let's begin."

Then he lunges, all his momentum and force dedicated to clashing head-on with the Wakandan king, to tangling with him, to ripping him open on the razor-sharp edges of his torn-off limb… and then, to twisting sharply to the right, to pitch them both over that precipitous drop off the waterfall's edge.

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