Skepticism for Sanity's Sake

December 16, 2016:

Zatanna Zatara and Jessica Jones manage to track down Steve "Captain America" Rogers at his neighborhood gym to inform him about Bucky Barnes' most recent activities and whereabouts.

Gold's Gym - Brooklyn - New York City

A neighborhood gym deep in the heart of the Brooklyn.

Characters

NPCs: SHIELD Agent 1, SHIELD Agent 2, Front Desk Brunette, Front Desk Redhead

Mentions: Winter Soldier, Peggy Carter

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The local GOLD'S GYM establishment has enjoyed a significant resurgence of popularity in the last few days. It still remains very much a neighborhood gym in Steve Rogers' old Brooklyn neighborhood, a rock in a sea of constant change; it still smells of old wood and stagnant sweat, old punching bags swinging freely from clunky chains from the ceiling. The boxing ring's ropes are worn and frayed with age and while there were some more modern amenities included within the last few months, it still retains the same shape and layout it had since the 1930's. It isn't because the renovations are so stellar that makes it so well known these days, however, and its current prestige isn't because of them, but rather its illustrious clientele.

Or rather, a specific client.

There isn't a gym owner more thrilled than Miles Abernathy when he realized that Steven G. Rogers had become a regular in his humble fitness establishment and while he is a rough and tumble transplanted Irishman he has tried to accommodate for his friend's privacy. People in front are instructed never to point out where Steve is in the building, though the fear of stalkers is certainly nonexistent; Captain America always had SHIELD agents keeping an eye on him, though the infamous spy outfit only really includes just one or two bodies to his detail. It wasn't as if Rogers couldn't take care of himself.

But this is precisely what happens.

"No, you don't understand, I need to talk to Steve Rogers."

The voice comes from a young woman at the front accosting the two relatively attractive ladies managing memberships and sign-ins. Tall, young and attractive with pale skin and darker-than-midnight hair, she is accompanied by another in a black leather jacket.

"This is important, urgent even!"

"Miss you're not the first fan of his to pull that line on us," the Front Desk Brunette sniffs, glancing at Front Desk Redhead next to her. "I mean, I know, he's /totally gorge/, but he comes here to get some additional training and we can't just have random people— "

Zatanna leans forward, her palm slamming on the desk, causing the two other girls to jump. This has to be a conspiracy, she thinks. /One guy. I had an affair with one guy older than me and suddenly everyone thinks that's all I'm after!!/

There was no choice. It was time to take some very drastic measures.

"I'M HERE TO TALK TO HIM ABOUT HIS DEAD BEST FRIEND JAMES BUCHANAN BARNES!" the teenaged magician exclaims.

There's a sharp click, the unmistakeable sound of a gun's safety disengaging from the left of her. Another from somewhere behind Jessica's periphery. The spooks shadowing Captain America emerge from the woodwork, and with a relieved sigh, she slowly lifts up her hands. Her head tilts back, expelling an exasperated breath.

"FINALLY!"

***

When Steve Rogers finally meets the acquaintance of the two ladies who are looking for him, they are being held at Abernathy's office, forced to sit on metal chairs with SHIELD Agent 1 and SHIELD Agent 2 taking up the room in a tactical formation. Agent 1 nods to America's most famous hero, leaning towards him to whisper in his ear.

"Sorry Cap. But the younger one claims she has information about Barnes."

Zatanna lifts her hand from where she sits, flashing him a smile over the agent's shoulder. She even gives him a little wave.

Wow. He's so much cuter in person.

—-

Jessica Jones decides now is a good time to flash her PI's license, sliding it right across the table. "She does have information," she says flatly, "and she would have been able to deliver it quietly and without making a big scene had you all not been quite so…vigilant." She had been relatively quiet during all of this, aware that the cred, such as it was, had to come in at just the right moment. She leans back, looking unimpressed by the tactical formation.

Actually she looks unimpressed by pretty much everything going on here. Contrary to most people, there's no hero worship on her face as she looks at Steve Rogers. There's barely recognition, like it's kind of a celebrity she may have heard of once, only she's a person who neither follows them nor cares about them. She doesn't react to his charming good looks nor this entire set-up.

"You want her to spill it all in front of these guys?"

The detective is feeling cranky again, behind the 8-ball. She's bundled up in a dark half-trench coat and scarf, gloves, jeans (clean ones), boots, her dark hair somewhat discombobulated by the wind outside. She crosses her arms and arches her eyebrow at Steve, a sort of 'your choice' expression, her mouth falling into a thin, flat, humorless line.

—-

The footwork. Never forget about the footwork. Your foe will look you in the eyes, you fight with your fists, but never, ever, forget the footwork.

While Captain America was trained in many different styles of combat to make him the formidable foe that he is, there is one that he uses to relax. Not tai chi, aikido, or many styles that stress the importance of inner peace. No, that just really isn't his style. Instead, he boxes. Good old American boxing. When working the old bag, most would just give it everything they got, but Steve doesn't. Instead, he works on the swift love taps. They improve his speed and muscle memory for attack combinations and they don't run the risk of him getting a little too uppity and ruining yet another of Miles' really nice-

"I'M HERE TO TALK TO HIM ABOUT HIS DEAD BEST FRIEND JAMES BUCHANAN BARNES!"

There is a loud thud with a second crash a half second later. The silence is broken by the sound of spilling sound. After a couple of seconds, Steve pulls back his hand from his kneejerk reaction, taking a deep breath to regain himself once more as his eyes refocus on the wall in front of him. Or more accurately, the sizable dent in the dry wall.

Soon, the two women find that they have the First Avenger joining them, who takes in the words of the SHIELD agent and nods. Currently, he's clad in what he was boxing in, a white tank top that is dripping with sweat and grey sweat pants that seemed to be made just like they did way back when. SHIELD takes care of Steve Rogers, doing everything they can to keep the creature comforts feeling like home to 'ease him in' to this modern era. Or at least when he is willing to take it. Simple converse shoes adorn his feet, the black shoes moving across the hardwood floor as Cap moves to take seat. The shield that he was holding casually by the rim is set down beside him, as if a sleeping dog ready to defend its own if needed. While his smile that greets the two arrives is warm, it's clear that he's cautious. After all, strangers bringing a rather personal name up gets a reaction, even from Rogers. The caution and warmth melt into an awkwardness that seems to lend even more to the boy next door persona that he seems to give off in waves.

"Hello, I don't think we've met," Cap offers, leaning over to offer his hand to each of the women to give a handshake. "Steve Rogers."

—-

"You're /huge/."

Alright, perhaps those aren't really the words that Zatanna should open with when coming face to face with the First Avenger. Her grin taking a turn for the nervous, and the sheepish, her hand extends cautiously forward to give his hand a quick shake from across the table. "Zee," she offers. "Zatanna Zatara. Wow….you're real. I mean, you know how the super famous heroes are, you read about them and hear them all the time, but you never really /think/ that you'd ever get to meet them and…"

Jessica slides her PI badge across the table; she can practically see the other woman give her a look. Right.

"This is my friend, Jessica Jones, a private investigator based here in New York," she introduces. "She was helping me on some completely separate thing, which I won't get into right now. And really, I wouldn't be here at all if it wasn't important, but I think your friend is in trouble. And I know, I /know/, if anything he's really good at causing trouble and he's doing /precisely that/ in my hometown, but I've had a couple of conversations with him and I really think…..there's something not right with him. He's not all there."

Unconsciously, her fingers tighten over Captain America's, her starstruck expression gradually growing more concerned.

"But he remembers you," she continues. "It's /really hard/ for him to be anything but cold, the kind of demeanor you'd expect from a trained killer. But whenever I mention you, something comes out of him….something more recognizably human. I don't know what's wrong with him but I thought….maybe if you knew where he was, you'd be able to help him."

—-

"I don't think it's separate at all," Jessica replies. "I just don't understand how it connects yet. I had a conversation with him too, but it mostly ended with broken windows and walls. But he didn't shoot me in the head, so that was a plus." Her tone is just so dry compared to Zatanna's, all business as Zatanna gushes.

She collects her license and says, "The symptoms he shows are similar to something I've seen before," she says, unwillingly. She'll shake his hand though, when Zatanna finally lets go. "Not precisely the same. He could just have multiple personality disorder. But Zatanna's descriptions match the behaviors of someone who is under some sort of mental control."

Her face is utterly still and expressionless as she says this. She would rather neither of the two in this room understand that she would know.

But she /would/ know.

—-

As Zatanna gushes, the smile becomes somewhat more sincere. The conversation slides away from the initial topic, the ache lessening as she talks of meeting him. He's been here, this he can handle.

"There's a lot of great people making a difference, just glad I get to be one of them. A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Zatara." His blue eyes float toward the seemingly more professional investigator. "And you as well, Ms. Jones."

Then the talk changes back and it as if the smile never existed, vanishing into a thin line. The blue irises contract as the information comes, as even being braced for it seems to do little. It's like hearing of the Hindenburg when it went down a terrible chain of events that one cannot stop, just witness. At least that's it felt when felt when a young Rogers heard of the airship going down on the radio from a heartbroken Morrison. Now, he is told of another tragic tale; two women believe they have found his friend, who has been forced against his will somehow into becoming a murderer.

The hand tightens for a brief moment before Steve remembers his strength, working to avoid hurting someone who just seems to be trying to help. He pulls back, settling into the chair before him. "Not sure what to say here," he admits with a soft tone, seemingly shell shocked by their claims. "I had been told by one of our own that there was someone resembling Buck-Er, Sgt. Barnes involved with questionable activities and presenting a danger with targeted attacks." He give a sniff while he tries to sit up, maintaining his professionalism as best he can. "While it's true that it could be him, there is a chance it could be something else." This is said to Jessica, who seems to have her own theory that she puts forward. Cap seems to be against the idea of a brainwashed Bucky, but there is a lot of bias as to why that would be. If it was Bucky and being forced into becoming a monster… Then to some degree, Cap would be responsible for having his friend suffer for over 75 years: a hard truth to handle. "I've heard of a lot of different things it could be… But, either way, I'll do what I can to ensure whatever has happened, it's made right." The last sentence is a firm declaration. Even when shaken to the core, it's easy to see Steve's moral center.

The SHIELD people are not told to leave and they have their reasons for being here. After all, Bucky was one of theirs, is rumored to have attacked one of their current agents, and clearly is going to be involved with Rogers, who is one of their most effective allies (or one of their best operatives, depending on who you ask). Rogers doesn't dismiss them, struggling with too many other things at the moment to worry or care about who is privy to the information.

—-

His returned squeeze gets tight, and starts to hurt. Zatanna winces as he nearly crushes her digits between his fingers, but she manages to bear it all without even so much as a squeak. But she does look relieved when Steve leans back on his seat, her hand dropping on her lap where she proceeds to surreptitiously rub her fingers against her other set, listening to his quiet skepticism. It is expected - the young woman is used to this, which is why she never usually explains her methods outside of those who belong to her unique little community, unless she is assured that they are either open minded or ready to believe her, like Jessica was when they first met.

"I wish that were true, Captain Rogers," Zatanna says after a long, considering pause. "But old blood doesn't lie. I believe he /is/ your friend, back from the dead. A friend of mine has an ability and when Mister Barnes attacked her, she saw inside his head. That's how she managed to get your name - Steve. When I found him again and pressed him about it, he supplied your last name - Rogers. He was…he was struggling to give me that much before whatever it is that's got him took ahold of him again."

There's a glance towards Jessica at the corner of her eye, as a piece of her personal history is dropped upon their proverbial laps. The caustic investigator was never one to talk about herself, but if she was familiar with the symptoms of mind control, there are only two possibilities that would put her on intimate contact with such a thing. Still, the woman was the first to offer her aid in the search for her father, they've been through a significant amount already in the last couple of weeks. She may not know Jessica's background, where she comes from and why she drinks, but she trusts her - the sort of camaraderie borne from skulking the city at night, digging into unknowable and dangerous things.

"He's been attacking members of the Gotham Antiquities Commission," she says. "We believe that this is all connected to something happening in the GAC's centennial auction and gala on New Year's Eve. He's looking for someone, he has to be. Items aren't exactly his forte, are they? Lives are….specifically the act of taking them. I think whatever is about to happen, it's going to happen there. I think he's going to be there."

—-

Jessica Jones does not wince upon that handshake. Indeed, she seems to be attempting to avoid squeezing the life out of /Steve's/ hand, adjusting her pressure a little like she's not even used to taking it. Normally she'd probably scowl and just look at it, but there's something about this man that's just a little too kind to treat like shit. Much like Zatanna.

She also doesn't maintain the contact for very long. Withdrawn quickly. A woman who does /not/ like to be touched if she can help it.

As for Steve not wanting to believe about the mind control? No surprise.

They never, ever want to believe about the mind control. What else is new?

She saw Zatanna's glance, but she couldn't bring herself to look in the woman's direction. She shoved her hands into her pockets and curled them into fists, keeping her eyes on Steve's wholesome face to keep something else at bay. Sometimes flashbacks were full on things. Sometimes they were just feelings. The creepy feeling of someone right behind you, even when the only thing right behind you is an up-tight suit.

Then again, that was the feeling that drove her to insist on coming here with Zatanna in the first place. She hardly thought Zee needed protection from Captain-freaking-America. She just had this general feeling that something bad might happen.

She starts to ask some questions, one in particularthe investigator's urgebut decides to wait for Steve's reaction to the news about the auction instead, adding, "Best way to verify is for you to be there too."

—-

Old blood? Mental powers? Cap doesn't understand what the first means but accepts the second. Still, the furring of his brow suggests that 'my friend told me so' is not going to convince him entirely of every detail the woman in front of him suggests. Even if the idea of Bucky being alive and only needing his presence or mention of Captain America's true name to 'free' an old friend seems nice.

Still, a nod is given toward Jones in light of Zatanna's information. It seems there is common ground to be had, even if Steve is playing the skeptic for the cause of his mental well-being. "Then I'll be sure to be there with a person or two I trust. There's a woman I'll likely have contact you soon and we can try and see about making sure we have enough there in case it's something big, but not too many to tip our hand." Peggy Carter might still have personal ties to this, but she see Bucky as a trusted comrade more than a close friend. And being the pragmatic woman and talented agent that she is, she'll likely have much more to offer in the way of coordinating efforts and coming up with a firm game plan. She knows how SHIELD works a lot better than he does, with Cap's experience much more in the field and 'when things go wrong'.

After a second's pause, Steve lowers his tone, as if talking to himself just as much as the company around him. "Last thing I want is for Sgt. Barnes' reputation to be tarnished by actions outside of himself or by someone wishing to masquerade as him." It seems Steve is willing entertain the possibility that his friend is still alive, as long as it is for short periods. Hard truths take time to process sometimes.

As he continues to mull over things in his mind, the blond haired man reminds himself of something else of great import. Rogers shifts his gaze once more, seeking his eyes to look into theirs. With the transparency expected from a man known for his character, he gives them an expression of gratitude. "While I know I might not look or sound like it, I'm thankful of the time and consideration you both have put into this. It seems as if you both have worked very hard on this already."

—-

There's a small smile - it doesn't matter that Steve is skeptical about the news, what matters is that he intends to be there, and if Captain America makes a promise, he will move Heaven and Hell to keep it. At least, that is how she knows of him by reputation and his sheer street cred in that respect has reached even the Spanish cities in which she had been traveling for the last few months. She stands up at that, shouldering her bag. She doesn't see the need to go any further than what she has just said, or the finer nuances of what has happened in the last two weeks. All he needs to know, in the end, is that Bucky Barnes or a very convincing doppleganger has been spotted in Gotham, and before he can hurt anyone else, his best friend or boyfriend Steve Rogers will be there.

"I was just trying to find my dad, Captain Rogers," Zatanna tells him honestly. "I just found other things along the way."

With Jessica in tow, she starts heading for the door…..and then pauses, before she doubles back towards Steve. "Um, in exchange for this information, could I ask you for one favor?"

Because it's very likely that she will never have a chance like this again.

She whips out her smartphone and flashes Captain America her stage-worthy, megawatt smile; it lights up her features like the birth of a star, enhancing the natural luminescence of those ice-blue eyes.

"Can I take a selfie with you to put on my Twitter account?"

She can practically /feel/ Jessica roll her eyes somewhere behind her, but it has to be done. She's still a budding entertainer after all, her own sun has yet to fully rise. She /needs/ those likes, tags and shares, god damn it.

—-

Somewhere behind her, Jessica Jones rolls her eyes.

She had gotten up to follow Zatanna's lead. She turns around and scowls a little, crossing her arms. She doesn't offer to snap the photo herself, and she certainly doesn't ask to get in on /this/ foolishness. But…she doesn't apply any of her normal caustic wit to a situation that is surely somewhat deserving of it. That scowl and eyeroll is her only real response.

Instead she simply remarks, "She's a good kid." The words come grudgingly, and yet she means them. As if knowing that might sway him to give Zatanna what she wants. And really, doesn't Zatanna /deserve/ a moment of /just being a fan girl kid?/ Jessica rather thinks she does, especially after all she's been through.

—-

"If you want." Thankfully for Zatanna, Cap has encountered the bizarre concept known as the selfie, so he won't answer the question like he did the first time it came up. No 'Aren't you a little young to be doing stuff like that?' for the magic user! Cap rises as well, he takes his shield awkwardly since most people want it in the shot when they're getting a shot with Captain America. In the wake of the young woman preparing for her free publicity, Steve offers a simple but sincere, "I hope you find him."

While Jones offers her thoughts on Zatara, Steve chuckle and nods. "Glad to hear," he states, seemingly not needing the character vouch to allow the photo.

After the picture is taken, Rogers nods to the two ladies as he prepares to open the door for them as is appropriate. "I wish you both the best of luck in your work. I'm sure we'll be running into each other soon."

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