Who: Black Panther & White Wolf What: a meal and an offer to help Wakanda. When: this week Rating/Warning: Green
Bucky walked into PJ Clarke's and took a look around. It was his first time being inside the place. There'd only been sneak peeks in through the windows before a bartender came out and chased them away. It was low key classy, and it smelled like he always imagined a bar like this should. Old wood and alcohol. It smelled like memories, of people either celebrating or drowning their sorrows.
Bucky wasn't sure which he was doing. Over there, the losses went hand in hand with the wins. He never got to make amends with Stark, and even thinking about it over here didn't seem right. How did you say sorry for killing someone's mom? Even if both hands weren't on the wheel, it was his hand that did it.
If he let that weigh him down right now, this meeting wouldn't happen. And he owed everything to T'Challa for keeping him hidden and safe, and to Shuri for freeing him from the HYDRA mind control. He missed that place too. The kids in the village, their wide smiles, how quiet it was. If war hadn't shown up on Wakanda's doorstep, he could have lived there for the rest of his day.
He took stock of the clientele and the exits as he moved through, sitting down at a table that would allow him a clear view of everyone coming and going. It wasn't in a corner, and would allow ample room to maneuver in case there were any problems with hitmen or sharpshooters. Leaving his baseball cap on but looking out from under the brim, he silently waited for T'Challa to arrive.
Out of all the broken white boys Shuri had fixed, the White Wolf was obviously her favorite - and T’Challa’s too. The girl with the crimson wisps weaving about her fingers had stopped him from clawing Bucky’s throat out once upon a time, and he was glad for it now - because it wasn’t Bucky who had killed T’Chaka and, with that knowledge, T’Challa had wanted to do the right thing. It was not his fault that HYDRA had used him - and he knew whole-heartedly that there was a good man beneath the nearly-impenetrable (but not for someone like Shuri) layers of programming.
Wakanda was where he would come back to himself, where he would rehabilitate on a piece of farmland just for him - there was something about tending to animals, digging in the dirt and seeing the fruits of your labor. It was honest work, maybe that was the crux of it.
T’Challa arrived at PJ Clarke’s - from his research, he’d noted it was a New York staple, with good burgers, frosty drinks, and a saloon that had recently been renovated because it was a little - what was the phrase? Long in the tooth? He was quite curious about it, actually, given that it had been around when Bucky was younger. “I continue to be fascinated by the places to eat in this city,” he greeted, settling at the table across from the Wolf. “It is my hope I will not weigh three-hundred pounds the next time I see home.”
PJ Clarke's had one thing more that survived an overhaul, the two crossed femurs wedged in against the ceiling. It was the Irish version of good luck. Hell only knew where they got those, but it was another glaringly obvious reason not to tangle with the Irish, on top of their notorious stubborn streak.
But what did Bucky know? His family was supposedly from somewhere in England or Wales. He couldn't even remember what his grandma used to say about it anymore. Half the time when he was younger, he didn't think she remembered it clearly.
What he knew for sure, was that it was a huge relief to see T'Challa there. A smile came easily to him at the joke, and he nodded once in agreement.
"New York's got a lot of good food," Bucky said, sitting perfectly still. "Too much downtime, and I think we're all going to have a problem with our waistlines."
They were handed a couple of menus and Bucky ordered a beer upfront, afterward waiting quietly for T'Challa to choose what he wanted.
“Luckily, it seems as if the downtime will end. I recently spoke with Director Fury and - well, there is a bit of trouble those of us here will have to handle. I consider it a fine welcome gift,” T’Challa smiled wryly, opening the menu to peruse. He asked for a glass of wine, just that, a Chardonnay that was aged with oak and fruity, reminiscent of vanilla. Something that wouldn’t be too heavy, but wasn’t like drinking something watery that came from an amateur’s keg.
He touched the tips of his fingers together, forming a pyramid shape. This was either the plotting or thinking pose - in this case, probably the latter, given the way he considered Bucky. “And how are you doing here, back in New York? It is quite different from the home you’ve come to know and love, isn’t it?” T’Challa knew he personally would feel the effects of homesickness soon enough, and he wondered if it was similar for Bucky.
There was a lot more going on in this universe that was both expected and unexpected. He was diligent enough to go back through the network and read what he could about events. Stark's posts were very informative, since Stark didn't know when to stop talking. At least it was on a private network. It seemed like he was taunting the government on the radio, and after the Accords were overturned. But that seemed typical of him. Tony was like Steve in that you could warn them not to do something, but they didn't seem to take the advice when trying to do the right thing, even if it put them in danger.
Between SHIELD reforming without the HYDRA risk, with the Avengers reforming, with T'Challa here now, he was feeling optimistic that things wouldn't end up falling apart at the seams like they did over there.
Bucky was mulling over all this and more as he drank his beer. It was nothing fancy, a simple lager, clear and crisp right out of the bottle. If only things were that simple and clear, instead of being muddled with the past at every turn.
"Noisy," Bucky finally replied. "Brooklyn was full of kids laughing, grandmas yelling out windows, cabbies honking and yelling out windows. But I don't think...I'm connected to it anymore.
He wasn't the same Bucky from Brooklyn with the easy smile, trying to talk dames into going dancing, ready to march off to fight the good fight. He missed it. But what he was missing didn't exist anymore.
"It's got to feel weird ending up here, compared to Wakanda. It makes New York look like hicksville."
T’Challa understood. No one could expect Bucky to be the same, after all he had been through. For lunch, he ordered a lobster cobb salad and handed the menu back to the waiter as he considered - a burger was tempting but he just had one with Sam and he should try to watch the caloric intake a little. The heart-shaped herb enhancement and its relationship with clogged arteries was still unclear. “Some things you just cannot get back to,” he sighed. Time marched forward, no matter what, it did not stop for anyone - as much as some wished they could control such a powerful force. “Living in the past - it never does anyone any good.”
And you had to accept that things changed - that was a lesson his own father had learned a little too late. Or perhaps T’Chaka was even afraid of change, of what would happen once Wakanda revealed itself to the world. Based on T’Challa’s conversations with Fury, there were some who reacted with hatred and just as the King expected they would - but it was not enough to deter him from embracing chance and seeing the possibilities it could bring.
The mention of ‘hicksville’ made him chuckle. “I don’t think people here realize how primitive their technology truly is,” he grinned. “But...it is interesting, I suppose. As long as my people are safe, that is most important.” And speaking of that...
“I also heard you were joining SHIELD,” he added. “I think that would be a good fit.” It was the opposite of HYDRA, after all (or meant to be).
Bucky ordered a classic Clarke burger and fries. He didn't overeat much and that supersoldier knock-off kept him fit as a fiddle. Even if it wasn't the real thing like what Steve had done to him. Sometimes he still wasn't used to Steve being so tall. His brain still did a double take, like stumbling unexpectedly on a sidewalk that's been walked on many times before.
Time really did march forward and it waited for no one. Even if there was a time machine, Bucky knew there was no going back. There was nothing back there for him to go back to. There was nothing but trouble in the here and now. It was a weird place to be stuck in.
"No, it sure doesn't," agreed Bucky, taking another drink of the beer and rolling the bottle around in both hands, the metal fingers as dexterous as those made of flesh and bone. "And I want to make some stuff right again. If I can. SHIELD seemed the place to do that. I know it's not what Steve wanted...."
His voice trailed off and all he could do was shrug, as though that was that. Steve understood, but Bucky could see that it hurt him. One day he'd join the Avengers, or help them, but with Stark there? Too uncomfortable.
"What're you going to do," he asked the king sitting across the table from him. "Heading back to Wakanda or staying put?"
“Ah, well - “ T’Challa shrugged as well, hands lifted slightly in a physical expression of c’est la vie. “If it is what you want, that’s what matters. Ultimately, he will understand.” He also thought that Steve and Bucky wanted the same things in the end - and that was for Bucky to do what he felt was best for himself, after so much turmoil and abuse. If working for SHIELD was a way for him to internally assuage some of the guilt he felt, then he should absolutely do that. For so long, he had been taking someone else’s orders - his body was not even his, to do as he pleased. It was about time he made some of his own decisions.
“As for me I will be staying put for now, I think,” he added. “There is still much I can do from here, regarding Wakanda’s international outreach efforts. There is much I can do at the center too. Though given recent events - “ The manufacturing of fake Wakandan weapons, meaning. Thomas Green would not have a swift or painless end, that T’Challa could promise. “I have considered establishing more of an international security force as well. Different from the Dora Milaje.”
Steve did understand, luckily, and Bucky was glad to hear that same sentiment expressed by T'Challa. To have both hands on the steering wheel was still taking some getting used to, after existing as a puppet where someone else was pulling the strings for so long. He was better now, truly, but there was still a long ways to go before he was stable and not semi-stable. It was a deep hole to try to crawl out of.
He listened to T'Challa and nodded after the mention of recent events and about that security force. It seemed a wise idea to keep tabs on things, when someone was running around trying to make Wakanda look bad with weapons meant to look Wakandan. The irony was they had a style, but didn't look like the actual weapons. A lot of the world didn't know that though, but T'Challa and Bucky did. It didn't sit well that the good people living in that country didn't deserve that sort of scapegoating tactic, after all they did for him.
"It sounds like a good idea," agreed Bucky, the bottle now still in his hands. He didn't often offer suggestions, it wasn't his place to, but one thing did spring to mind. "Fury seems like he wants to do the right thing. Could probably coordinate with him. If you want to."
He had to tack that last bit on, since he wasn't sure what T'Challa was thinking of. In Bucky's opinion, the Dora Milaje were elite soldiers. It couldn't get much better than that.
Yes, he could coordinate with Fury, and T’Challa planned to. But there was something else too. The Dora Milage, these women, were the best and strongest warriors of each of the Wakandan tribes - tasked to protect the royal palace, and the royal family. He was thinking a lot more international with this new idea.
“I was hoping you might be interested in lending your expertise, my wolf?” he said, with a hint of a question on the tail end of his sentence. Bucky did not have to, of course - but T’Challa recognized his skill as a warrior as well. His skill with languages, with strategy and military tactics. “With this new security force, it would focus on dealing with more...international enemies, so to speak. Not simply domestic.”
He just had a feeling this would be necessary - perhaps not because of Thanos, but other rumblings. Other entities, who wished to make an enemy of Wakanda - an unwise course of action, but too much ambition and pride blinded many at times.
It took a lot to catch Bucky off guard. He had seen too much over his lifetime. From Steve the super soldier to a giant man on a tarmac, or from a girl who could move things with her mind to an alien invasion.
This caught him off guard enough that he blinked twice in quick succession, and then it began to sink in slowly what this entailed. It would mean a lot more work, more than he might be able to handle, and he did owe a lot to try to fix everything he'd done. He owed a lot to those SHIELD agents he wronged when HYDRA infiltrated their ranks long ago. He owed a lot to Wakanda, for freeing him from HYDRA's influence.
With the weapon running going on, with the way they were made to look like Wakandan weapons...T'Challa had a good point about needing some outside help.
"I'd like to help if I can," Bucky said slowly, proceeding carefully. "And I will, as long as I can stick to helping SHIELD too. And Steve or Sam, if they need me."
There were still promises to keep. And Bucky believed if he worked hard, then maybe he could finally get a decent night's sleep. With some luck, maybe there wouldn't be any bad dreams involved, either.
“I would love if you did,” T’Challa said, picking up the wine glass to take a sip. “Simply because - you are one of us now. Wakanda is your home, for as long as you wish for it to remain as such. And in turn, we will always be there to help you too.”
On a personal level, the King certainly would be - he still was sorry that he took his anger over T’Chaka’s death out on Bucky. It had not been his fault, not when he was simply trying to live his life. So whatever T’Challa could do to help, he would - they would make a good team.
The food was delivered then, and he was eager to try out the fare here - it had been around for so long, sure it had stood the test of time. “We can develop the idea more later,” he added, dark eyes crinkling at the corners when he smiled. “But first eat this. It’s about time you finally got to try the food at this restaurant. Since it’s older than even you are.”
Bucky smiled. It was rare for him to do so easily, without it initially coming across as shy or hesitant. In this case, he nodded once to T'Challa, grateful for his generosity.
Having a home to go to? That was priceless to him. He loved everything about that place. Once upon a time he liked going to science expos, and machinery, and inventions. The Thirties and Forties were full of all sorts of wacky things. But Wakanda? That was a dream come true, that would have made his teenage mind explode.
"Thank you," Bucky replied, laughing a little at the joke but his gratitude was for everything, from the offer to help Wakanda, of a safe place to live, to T'Challa's friendship.
"If I can protect you or your people, I'll do it," he told the Wakandan King like it was a solemn vow. He did as told, too. He reached out to slide the plate in front of him while saying, "At least I don't pre-date the existence of hamburgers."