When Tony Stark met Sam Wilson for the first time, he offered his hand, shook firmly, and said, “So that was you.”
"On the carriers? Yeah man, kind of hard to miss," Sam replied.
"Not what I meant," Tony said, beaming wide and pleased. Sam had heard about his infamous charisma; people said politicians and guys like Stark could just switch it on. He’d have been more awed by it if he hadn’t spent the last few days with Steve Rogers, but it was still impressive. Having Stark focused on him was a little disconcerting.
"You know him?" Steve asked from the bed. Tony, who was ostensibly there to see Steve given the get-well-soon bouquet and balloons in his hand, nodded.
"Rhodey — " and he turned back to Sam, "Colonel Rhodes showed me the test footage. Have you seen his test footage?" he asked Steve, like Steve routinely reviewed military archival reels of top-secret weapons projects.
"Test footage? You mean of the wings?" Steve asked Sam, who saw where this was going, and covered his face with one hand.
"The design is actually Wakandan military, but some of the parts were Stark," Tony said. "We had a contract to provide the parts and assembly here in the states in return for mineral first-refusal rights in Wakan — you know what, that is boring," he finished. "Anyway, I wasn’t on the project directly, but Rhodey brought me the test footage. He’s all excited, first footage, and he pops it in and there’s fifteen fresh-faced soldiers ready to do their best for God and country — "
"Nooo," Sam moaned softly.
" — and they’ve all got the beta versions of the Falcon Project wings," Tony continued with glee. "And they’ve got parachutes set to deploy in case the wings fail. All fifteen of them go over some cliff in the Grand Canyon or something, and fourteen parachutes pop because fourteen of them freaked out. And one of them goes screaming up in the air yelling HELL YEAH."
Steve looked at Sam. Sam shrugged.
"You know they based the second wave of Falcon Project candidates on your psychological model," Tony said. Sam blinked at him. "Sure. The reason all your buddies in the project were so awesome is because they were all basically variations on you."
"Well, they couldn’t do better," Steve said, and Sam felt his face heat.
"So, you, I want to get to know you better, especially since SI is trying to buy the patent for the wings from Wakanda and either way we’ll be rebuilding yours," Tony continued. "Hey, Capsicle, you good?" he asked, pointing to the balloons.
Steve gave Tony a tolerant smile, and then gave Sam a knowing look. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
"Great," Tony said, slung his arm around Sam, and began edging him towards the door. "We have things to discuss."
Sam resisted; he wasn’t happy about leaving Steve alone, but Steve waved him off.
"Go with Tony. At this point surrender is your only option," Steve told him.
"Now," Tony said, as Sam let himself be led out of the hospital room and down the hallway, "How would you like to help me buy your wings and also meet the king of Wakanda? He’s kind of terrifying until you work out what a giant nerd he is. You’ll have fun."
"You get that I’m just the wingman, right?" Sam asked, because for several days he had felt a little like the groupie who got pulled up onstage with the rock star.
"Oh, baby," Tony said, giving him a sympathetic look. "Natasha vouched for your character and Rhodey says you’re kind of a badass, so you are a real grade-A Avengers superhero now. It’s okay, Bruce made a briefing packet for this situation and I have an alcohol budget if you’re really freaking out."
"Briefing packet level. Not blackout drunk level," Sam said. "Yet."
"Well, that’s no fun. Anyway, welcome to the team. Come on, King T’Challa is waiting," Tony said.
Sam had the feeling he’d just been suckered into something, but on the other hand, being the rock star wouldn’t be half bad.
Then the limo appeared.
He hadn’t been in a limo since prom, and that had been a cheap-ass limo his uncle had gotten cut-rate for him and four of his pals, so it hadn’t exactly been the Stark Deluxe experience. He had barely gotten over Tony Stark ushering him out of Steve’s hospital room and straight into a really nice limo when it pulled up in front of an elegant brownstone.
Stark hustled him out of the car and up the steps, through a door opened by a man in livery, and into a quiet, book-lined study.
Oh, he thought to himself. This is the embassy.
There was a man in the study, wearing a severe black suit; he was darker-skinned than Sam, but not by much. He had a heavy ring on one hand, dullish silver, and Sam realized it was probably vibranium. A chunk of vibranium that size could buy a lot of attention in America. He wondered what would happen if someone wearing a vibranium ring punched you in the face.
"Good afternoon," the man said, his voice deep and grave, and Sam’s eyes snapped away from the ring.
"Sam Wilson," Tony said, "King T’Challa of Wakanda, head of the clan of the Black Panther."
"Your highness," Sam said. He wasn’t sure if he should shake hands or what, but before he could fuck anything up, the king’s face split in a wide grin.
"Mr. Wilson. I am so pleased to meet you," King T’Challa said, grasping Sam’s elbow lightly and pulling him towards one end of the study, where a long table was covered in diagrams and sketches. "Our first success. It truly delights me that you were the first of the Falcons. It saddens me that you are the last. I was very angry with the United States when the program was cancelled."
"I never felt it got a fair shake," Sam said before he'd thought about it. The program had been in many ways his baby too, and it seemed like when he left the service, nobody stepped up for the Falcons.
"No. Well, you and I know what that’s like in this world, don’t we," King T’Challa said, settling into one of the seats and waving him into another one. Sam looked around for Tony, but he’d disappeared.
"Did you seriously just send Tony Stark to get me like an errand boy?" he asked.
"I wanted to impress you."
"Yeah, consider me impressed."
"It wasn’t difficult to convince him to help, in all honesty. Tony likes to introduce people. He takes a deep and abiding joy in networking. Besides, I brought my cousins, and he enjoys their company. They talk engineering," he added, in a voice that made it clear he was letting the children entertain themselves.
"I don’t think networking is why I’m here," Sam said.
The king smiled. “Indeed, Mr. Wilson. We have a lot to discuss. A lot in common, you and I. And Tony wishes you to charm me into selling the Falcon patent to him, which at this point is more trouble than it’s worth, and given the military’s disinterest in it, may continue to be so. I’m inclined to sell, on the condition that you remain the sole operator of the remaining equipment. How does that strike you?”
Sam settled forward. “The military doesn’t want it back?”
"Now that you’ve fully and dramatically demonstrated its uses? I had thought they would, but I think they find it...showy. And there’s no doubt it takes an exceptional man to pilot it. No..." he sifted through the drawings on the table. "Perhaps it is best in the hands of...a symbol. A representative."
Sam nodded. “I thought a little about that on the way over, while Tony was giving me the Avengers pitch.”
"I’m not American," T’Challa said. "But I know what a man who looks like you or me puts up with. Here, or in Europe, or indeed — well, I’m a king in Wakanda, but that doesn’t always seem to get me quite as far as it ought, even on my own continent."
"I don’t want to be a figurehead."
"Believe me, Mr. Wilson, by the time I’m done reworking your wings, and with your natural talents, you won’t be. A man who can pace Captain America is not only a symbol. But he can be a symbol too."
Sam narrowed his eyes. He thought he saw where this was going, now. King T’Challa was clever, but Sam wasn’t any slouch when it came to politics. “You sell the rig patent to Stark and you give me the rights to pilot it — “
"But I keep the merchandising rights," T’Challa said with a grin. "Falcon costumes. Falcon action figures. A cartoon, perhaps. Controlled by Wakandans and Wakandan-Americans, with your input. Posters of the Falcon. Posters of the Falcon and Captain America."
"Unisex marketing," Sam said. "Little girl wants to be Falcon, we’re selling her a costume."
"Who gets the profits?"
"The Wakandan state. But we can negotiate a percentage for under-served youth in America." The king smiled. "Wakanda has traditionally been an isolationist country. Self-sufficient and wealthy, capable of holding our unique mineral products and technology over the heads of larger countries, and capable of withstanding their colonialist assaults."
"I’m hearing a ‘but’," Sam said.
"But my father sent me abroad to study. Travel widens the mind. I want Wakanda to join the global community and to take its place on the international stage," T’Challa said. "I want the Falcon’s wings to be our gateway. I’m not asking you to propagandize a country you’ve never visited, although certainly if you wish to, you have only to say. I want simply for you to...remind people that you are a man of African descent, using a tool of African design."
"That’s a lot to put on one person."
"We all have weights to bear. Surely Steve Rogers has discussed with you the burdens of being a nation in a single man."
"He hasn’t, but I can get where you’re coming from. And he probably will," Sam allowed, fidgeting.
"Sam Wilson," T’Challa said, and Sam settled under his calm gaze. "I have watched all the Falcons with great interest, none as closely as you. I know you lost a friend. I know you may have lost some of your faith. I like to believe this is a chance for you to restore it, and with it, the faith of others. I wish for you to fly, and I will do what is necessary as king to make that happen. All you have to do is put your wings back on. Something which, I may point out, you have already done for Captain America."
Sam ran a hand over his face. “You make a hell of a pitch.”
"Thank you. Are you ready to be the first African-American superhero?"
"Not quite," Sam said, and tapped the diagrams on the table. "I wanna hear what you’re doing to my baby first."
T’Challa laughed. “Fair enough. I thought we’d start with the alloys — there are lighter, more durable alternatives to be used if we’re not mass-producing...”
Four months after the meeting at the Wakandan Embassy, which had gone on the rest of the day and well into the night as they discussed the wings, Sam opened his sister’s front door in Harlem and looked down.
"TRICK OR TREAT," two little kids chorused.
One of them was wearing a Captain America costume, the other a Falcon costume. Captain America had his hair in cornrows, visible bumps under the hood; Falcon had hers done up in twists, a couple strands escaping from under her goggles.
Sam adjusted his own Captain America hood, reached past the bowl of snack-sized chocolate bars and dum-dum suckers, and picked up the bag next to them.
"Y’all want the full-sized Twix or the full-sized Three Musketeers?" he asked.