December 14, 2016:

Dr. Jane Foster learns that much more about the odd soldier who has walked into her life.

Brooklyn, New York


NPCs: None.


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

A week and a half passed without word from the strange man who so violently entered the life of Dr. Jane Foster. No direct word, at least. But the phantom trail of the Winter Soldier is traceable through the news coming out of Gotham, each new person methodically attacked or ransacked for information just another violent step he takes through whatever job he has in the area.

It is perhaps a mercy that no news story can offer any identifying information that would conclusively connect this brutal perpetrator with the man who introduced himself to Jane as 'Orlov.'

But the Winter Soldier has met with his share of adversity in the course of his operations in Gotham, and because of one of them in particular, he has been forced to return to New York temporarily to resupply and seek repair. The train ride back is not trivial, but not long either. Just a few hours. For the duration of it, the Soldier temporarily becomes Bucky Barnes again: a nondescript young man with a faint military mien, dressed in casual clothes with his mask put away, his bared face framed by long hair neatened back up for polite society.

Not that his ID actually says James Barnes. James 'Bucky' Barnes was a WWII war hero. When the Winter Soldier needs a name he's Ruslan Orlov, a nobody.

He's looking at that ID now, his fingers opening and folding it back shut compulsively, his blue eyes looking at his own face and assumed name with lack of recognition. He loses track of time doing this, as he often does; the next time it occurs to him to look up, the train is already pulling into Penn Station. He blinks through the disorientation, by now used to zoning out and waking up and realizing that vast stretches of time have passed, and grabbing his things he leaves the train and heads straight onto public transit.

There's a stop point he can visit, out in southeast Brooklyn, where a handler can rendezvous with him within twenty-four hours of him putting in a call. He intends to go there, fully intends to, but he gets distracted again watching the stations flick past. He gets off a little early. He starts walking, and he gets distracted again by something about the sights and sounds around him. They're different, but somehow they're exactly the same.

He's been out of freeze too long. This always starts to happen when he's out of freeze too long.

Eventually he comes out of his reverie to find himself standing in front of a door. It looks familiar, though not because he's used it before. When he last visited this place, he didn't come in through the front.

This isn't… quite right, he thinks. But something buried in the back of his mind nudges him hard enough to make him ring the bell.


Winter's here, Jane Foster was warned one week ago. How right it was.

Standing up on the roof of her brownstone, a small, flat, enclosed little escape from the bustle of Brooklyn, Jane gazes up and watches the first snow fall down. She misses so much of Puente Artiguo, its dry, New Mexico heat, its clear starfield-night skies, and the space and quiet spreading in all directions —

— but she sure missed the snow. Three years of the same heat, and she smiles crookedly to herself as she blows out a breath that mists visibly into the air. She glances back down at the telescope she's set up — old and battered and well-loved — with an appraising bite down on her bottom lip. Not the conditions she was hoping for stargazing, not with the falling snow and bruise-purpling of the low ceiling sky, but maybe in a little while. She checks the cap on the lens, and bends down to begin dismantling the frame.

That's when she hears the bell, distant and soft, call from the inside of her apartment.

At this time of night? Might be SHIELD.

"One minute!" Jane calls, leaving her telescope temporarily behind, clamboring off the roof down the ladder of the fire escape. It rattles old hinges from her use. She opens her unlocked window and clambers in, awkward and just a bit clumsy, her haste making her nearly lose her footing on some slippery ice. She tumbles down onto her floor with a hard thump of tailbone on hardwood. She groans.

Righting herself up with an indignant rub, then shrugging off her coat, she makes her way through her lit apartment to the front door. Her soft, light, quick footsteps are audible, catching every bounce and creak of the old building. So desperate not to miss an inopportune caller, trained by so many years of normal phone calls, normal house visits, Jane grabs one hand on her door handle —

— and then pauses. Paranoia twinges nearly a moment too late, as at the back of her mind, asks: if not SHIELD, who could it be? Someone bad?

It's been a good almost two weeks since — since /that/. Since that night that upset everything. It's strange how, after it ended, how quickly and seamlessly her life returned to how it's always been — how it's supposed to be. She had the window replaced. She logged a report to SHIELD. She continued on with her work. She checked over her shoulder some nights, in the lab or outside, but was never followed, and always alone.

"Who is it?" she calls through the door. Jane frowns to herself. Her life has always been hinged on a simple, recurring choice: prudent caution or reckless action?

She opens the door before she is even answered. It reveals Jane, small as always, dressed simply in jeans and a tee, with melting snow in her dark hair. She looks up. And she stares.


She opens the door. Someone familiar and yet not familiar stands on her threshold, looking down at her.

The last time she saw him, he was armored and weighed down in weapons, hard-eyed and on a mission, his face obscured by a half-mask. The man she sees standing before her now is so different as to be nearly unrecognizable, and different only because of his shift in dress, grooming, and manner. He's made up like a member of society now. He could be someone's brother, home for Christmas.

It definitely helps that the jacket and gloves he's wearing obscure his metal left arm completely.

His head is bare, small flakes of snow caught in his brown hair. He looks so normal that it's hard to remember his true nature… so normal that it's not hard to imagine how easily he flies under the radar when not explicitly on the job, traveling silently among unsuspecting regular humanity in between kills.

One thing does stand out, though. His eyes are still more disaffected than they should be, and that familiar vague confusion comes and goes in them as she watches. He was heading in for a check-in with his handler. How did he end up here instead? Well, he supposes one place is as good as another. He can get repaired here, and it'll not be as painful as it usually is. That seems like a win-win to him.

"I thought I'd use the front door this time," he eventually remarks.


"Orlov?" blurts the first, shocked word off Dr. Foster's lips. Jane remembers his name.

She looks up at the Winter Soldier like she's seeing a ghost, or at least the last human being alive she'd ever expect standing patiently on her door step. With her hand still on her door handle, half her body still braced against the edge of her door as if courting the possibility of finding armed killers waiting for her, and needing to slam it hurriedly closed — instead she seems to take vivid, transparent relief to find instead the most dangerous, armed killer of all. The one who once kept her safe.

The one who has returned, as no one else ever has, and has come bearing clever little quips.

"Gesture noted and appreciated," Jane replies reflexively, eyebrows raised, her eyes never blinking, never looking away.

Wearing normal clothes. Making a normal house call. She closes her mouth, which had been left halfway-open, gaping, and with a slow swallow, finally averts her blinking brown eyes. In one long appraising scan, she takes him in looking this way, taking particular interest in his left arm — and appearing both surprised and relieved to see how normal even a metal limb appears, secreted away under clothing and a glove.

Courtesy reminds her that she should invite him in. Jane's mouth twitches at the corner against the thought. The last time he was here, he /broke/ in. He held her at gunpoint.

"Did you need anything?" Jane asks, peeling awkwardly off her own door to open it wider, exposing her threshold into her walk-up. Warm air drafts invitingly outwards. "Um, did you — did you want to come in?"


Orlov?! she exclaims. His features flicker a little, a minute wince that comes and goes. The name and its obvious fabrication never really used to bother him. He doesn't remember his real one, after all, so it seemed to make sense to use one made up.

It bothers him a bit now, though.

He lets it go. His familiar blue eyes study the cautious way she holds herself— as if she expected to find someone on her doorstep she'd need to defend herself against. He thinks about this a moment, digging through his faulty memory, before he recalls something. "You don't need to worry about that," he points out, obviously meaning her caution. "I cut off the head. They have bigger problems."

His casual talk of assassination is even stranger coming from this prosaic-looking exterior.

Gesture noted and appreciated, she says, before she immediately arrows interest down on his left arm. He's holding it a bit stiffly, but is that just because it's a metal arm, or because it's damaged in some way? Impossible to say now, especially with him hiding it under all those clothes.

She eventually remembers she's supposed to invite him in. At least, that's the etiquette with normal people. What's the etiquette with someone whose first visit to her house was to break in and hold her at gunpoint? The question keeps her frozen a few moments longer than is polite, before she finally stammers the important question: does he need anything?

"Repair," he says briefly, as if giving a sitrep. He pauses. "Tune-up, more like. Improvement, maybe? Not a lot of significant damage this time."

He does seem to want to come in, judging by the fact that he invites himself in once she asks— once the door opens a little wider in tacit invitation. He takes off his gloves as he does, first the one on his left hand— baring familiar metal— and then the one on his right. As he removes his right glove, his sleeve rides up a little, exposing fading bruises up his wrist and forearm.


The returned assassin winces against her use of his name.

Jane has a question for that. She just adds it to the growing mental pile.

For now, those keen blue eyes of his seem to pick up on her paranoia, spilling residually over the nervous way she holds herself — forgotten now in all of her shock and surprise. Jane was apparently expecting any kind of caller at her doorstep, just transparently not this one. Not this one who looks so disarmingly normal, average, and human… while he tells her he's cut off a head.

The woman stares back up at him, silent, dumbfounded. Then her eyes widen. Oh. "Oh," Jane answers, because that's all she can really say to acknowledge the Winter Soldier probably, definitely, absolutely murdering some more on her behalf. She still doesn't know how to feel about it. Relief? Guilt? Both?

She's still trying to work up how she feels seeing him in civvies. She wouldn't look twice if she saw him in a crowd. Maybe lingeringly, because of that face of his — even then. She needs a moment to catch up.

Thankfully, protocol dictates, and Jane Foster remembers her manners, even if the people she has left to use them may well be strange, possible assassins. He tells her he needs repair. Tune-up. Maybe more. Her eyebrows jump up, intrigued, far more comfortable to fall back into a familiar role. This time he does not even need to break into her place to get it; Jane, with lingering awkwardness, asks him in.

She glances out on the darkened street after the Soldier's entrance. Just in case SHIELD or someone might be watching her late-night callers, Jane doesn't know. She can at least try to pretend she's part of the spy movie that's become her life.

Locking the door behind them, she steps back, a smile on her face for lack of anything else to do with her mouth. Dressed down, jeans and a battered, thousand-times washed tee that reads 'Stargate Command', Jane looks a perfect, dishevelled fit for her apartment inside: warm, welcoming, a little scattered with her things — charts here, notes there, a laptop left open in the main room, and a tiny, two-foot Christmas tree occupying the sill of the back window, but all of it containing its own bit of purpose, every little thing as deliberate as her.

Right now, Jane deliberately looks up at Orlov as he speaks. "Damage?" she echoes. "/This time/?"

She frowns. Her eyes track him, and some of that reticence leaves her, not so much awkward as she scans him from revealed metal left hand to the right — and catching bruises.

Jane does impulsive things, especially when it comes to a territory advance, and even more especially when she seems to feel comfortable with someone. Whoever the Soldier is, she seems perfectly comfortable to step forward, lightly but firmly take him by the right hand, and if allowed, pull back on that sleeve. "What happened?!"


The worst part of it all is that it's impossible to tell whether he's speaking figuratively or literally about the head he's supposedly cut off.

The Winter Soldier does not clarify in the least. He just stands there, looking remarkably passive and absent for someone of his lethality, glancing periodically around in a trained tic to scan for information and possible threats. That cagey wariness is one of the few things that distinguishes him from a normal person, but even then it's explainable by reasons more mundane than 'being an internationally-known super assassin.'

A lot of veterans look that way when they return from war. They still look like the boy next door, but there's something subtly shifted about their stance, the way they hold themselves, the way they gauge the world around them. They leave still believing there are places of safety in the world, and they return so changed they can no longer see anything around them but threats.

For the time being, however, it's quiet enough to assuage even the Soldier, and his attention returns to Jane fully as she asks what he needs. Repair. Tune-up. Maybe improvement. He knows that last part makes Jane light up reliably— her inner need to upgrade and tinker unable to ever say no to a chance to dig into his arm— and as expected, she brightens and invites him in.

He takes a last look around before he crosses the threshold.

He doesn't go that far into the apartment. Standing only a few steps into the foyer, he starts to scan the interior now, apparently unable to go anywhere without assessing for danger. To be frank, however, the only thing in the apartment that looks even halfway dangerous is him; he is a dreadfully out-of-place presence in her home, making all her familiar sights recede, small and mundane, into the background against his austere presence.

He strips his gloves as he looks around, for the moment not meeting Jane's questioning eyes. He doesn't take note of her, in fact, up until he suddenly feels her grab at his wrist.

His arm twists in hers like a snake, and his hand snatches her wrist in turn before she can blink. It happens without him turning his head to look, without hesitation, so fast it seems more a defensive reflex than anything volitional. Then, a moment later, the rest of him catches up. He is watching her now, his blue eyes stern and wary; then he seems to recognize her.

He lets her go, and his wrist goes tame in her hands. There is no resistance to her pulling up the sleeve, exposing the bruise of an impact on the top of his wrist— as if someone slammed his arm into something, hard. The marks are fading and healing away, but on a man like the Winter Soldier that could still mean they were inflicted only a day ago.

What happened?! Jane asks.

"I was working," the Soldier says, with typical brevity. A brow drifts upward on an apparent waft of sudden, rare humor. "Things tend to get rough in my profession."


Jane Foster has a habit of acting without thinking. It's a habit she's never been able to quite break, no matter the consequences that seem to come and come.

Consequences like that strong hand manacled around hers, twisted as quick and sharp as a snakebite to arrest her forward reach on the Soldier's sleeve. Startled, wrist caught, Jane looks up, her brown eyes mirroring guiltily the mistake she just made. Her lips part as if to speak — but for moments she finds herself unable to, searching the man's blue eyes. He looks at her like he doesn't even recognize her, doesn't even know her — what gets done to a man to make him this way?

He holds her securely, but his grasp never becomes painful — even though she knows it easily could. He could snap off her hand, but he isn't. Jane lets that embolden her forward. "Hey, it's all right. I'm not going to hurt you."

And she sounds so sincere promising that too. The woman who stands hairs over five feet tall and looks about a hundred pounds soaking wet.

He lets go. She cannot deny a substantial part of her wants to take the hint, back off, and relegate her role back to repairs without the small-talk, but instead Jane finds herself reaching out again, far more slowly and far more carefully, giving due opportunity for the Soldier to track her motions with his eyes. Her hands, cowed but still determined, take his right back into her light grasp.

She lays her thumb over his knuckles, and with her other hand, reaches again to pry back his sleeve. And, there, the same purple as the snow-heavy skies outside, Jane finds darkening his wrist. She exhales noisily, sympathy and chiding both, glancing up briefly into his eyes before she moves to touch.

Gently, carefully, her fingertips brush over that bruising, taking care not to aggravate what already must hurt like hell, which she feels for the possibility of broken bones. "This hurt?" she asks through her delicate ministrations, trying to recall old anatomy classes. "You can move it OK?"

Jane asks what caused it. She always needs to know. Even the answers that sound particularly /dumb./ "One of these days," she warns, "I'm going to ask you what your profession actually /is/. In the meantime, you should consider a career change. Someone seriously did this to you? Are you hurt anywhere else?"

She frowns at him for a full heartbeat, for the expression only to hitch and slowly fall apart, settling in the dust ruins of fatigue and one, long, drawn-out sigh. Jane Foster seems like a strange sort, affecting all sort of expressions and body language that she's agitated, even annoyed, possibly angry with him for reasons no one may be able to comprehend. But she does not send him out. She does not demand he leave. "I'll put on some coffee," Jane declares instead. "You're probably hungry too, because my night isn't weird enough. Take a load off. I'll look at your arm."


Physical contact seems to be some kind of trigger for the Winter Soldier. In the wrong situations, in the wrong kind of environment, any brush of contact— especially skin-to-skin— seems to temporarily throw his mind free of his body and reduce it to a raw bundle of nerves, acting on nervous defensive instinct.

Her fingers curl around his wrist, and within half a second his hand is shackled around hers. He captures her expertly into a restraining hold, a mere few hairs away from a twist that could disable her, break her fragile bones… and then he stops.

He turns to look at her once he's first ensured she's neutralized and cannot hurt him. For a moment it's as if he doesn't even know who she is, the man little more than an animal assessing threat.

Hey, it's all right. I'm not going to hurt you.

He stares down at her. All the way down; she's a foot shorter than him, less than half his weight. And she acts like she's the one who will hurt him. The utter nonsensicality of her statement, in context, snaps him back to reality. He slowly lets go of her, blinking away the adrenaline of his reaction.

But Jane isn't done with him yet. She reaches out again, insistently— this time keeping her hands right where he can see them, as if she's trying to handle a wolf— and takes his wrist again, more gently. He watches her intently the entire time. She smoothes back the sleeve and has a look at the purpling bruise; then, tentatively, she starts to touch, feeling at the mild injury. He does not react to any of her prodding. In fact, he is confused why she seems to take this so seriously. It is possibly the least impactful injury he has received in decades. No more than a scratch.

She asks if he can move it OK. He shrugs one shoulder, indifferent. "It will be gone by tomorrow," he says, dead serious.

He pulls his wrist away after that. His eyes stare blandly through her threat to ask what his profession really is. "No," he opts to answer her other question, instead. The one asking if he's hurt anywhere else. With that, he puts down his duffel bag— it lands with a clank and a definite air of weight— and starts to remove his jacket. Then his button-down. Mercifully there's something under it— a sleeveless shirt— that gives access to his arm without forcing him to rip his outer clothing, or make everything intensely uncomfortable for Jane.

He shows it to her. There's what looks like the marks of a direct-impact explosive blast across it, seared into the metal. "It does not seem to have impeded the function," he says. "But best to check."

Then Jane offers him coffee— and food. Food that isn't the processed Soylent crap he would get if he went back to his handlers, presumably. He watches her expectantly for these offerings, though he says nothing aloud. He can want things, but he is not allowed to show interest or ask for anything. He can only take what is directly given to him.


All touches on him end one way — with pain.

Except for this one, it seems, elicited strangely from a just-as-strange young woman, with tiny, breakable hands that in turn handle the Winter Soldier as if he were made of glass. Even properly warned by his hand on her wrist, it does not deter her; perhaps Jane finally believes herself safe within the storm of the Winter Soldier, occupying its brief, transient eye.

Or perhaps Jane doesn't enjoy the thought of anyone in pain, not even possibly-definitely-assassins in her life, and her one failed semester of medical school haunts her like an old ghost never exorcised, compelling her to take his wrist and assess past its contusions for deeper injury. She does not catch the look on his face angled down on her — that confusion — and handles him carefully, turning her left hand inward into his palm as the other feels for breaks in his bones. It's as if she's giving him her own self as a hand-hold, something to grip down on, in case it hurts.

But Jane cannot seem to find any fractures. She glances up, afraid he's being stoic — because that's basically what he is — but appears to believe the man no more than bruised. Her hands on him are warm, and light, and the pain never comes. Not here.

"Not likely," she says to his incorrect heal time, "but I'll leave that to you." The Soldier takes back his wrist, and Jane lets him go.

Instead, she steps back, and to her own surprise, offers the man her home while she sees to his other arm — the more plates-and-circuits one. Jane offers up food and drink while she's at it — might as well! She's already well past the definition of sensible, so she may as well go whole hog, be a good host because it's pitifully not often she finds herself with guests.

With that, in his odd way, the Winter Soldier decidedly makes himself home. Or whatever home passes for someone like him. He shoulders off his duffel, and Jane cranes her head to give it a look, blinking against the noisy weight of it on her hardwood. It rattles in a way that makes her both curious and pessimistic. He had guns on him. It can't mean that —

"Please tell me you're not br —" Jane starts to mumble, glancing up — and absolutely forgetting what in the hell she even wanted to say.

She understand him shrugging off his coat, down to another layer of those strange civvies that don't seem /right/ in how normal they look on him. But then the Soldier begins to unbutton his shirt, and Jane goes as red as a Martian sunset, pulling in her lips to chomp anxiously down on the flesh. Her brown eyes beg for something she won't say. He's not stripping. He is stripping. He's stripping in her home. He's STRIPPING in her HOME. "You really don't have to —"

Frowning, Jane glances sternly away. Her heart knocks against her ribs. Why can't her life be normal?!

But she can't pretend propriety forever, not for someone so terminally curious — and she dares a peek. And Jane double-takes, all to find instead of her worst fears, Orlov instead dressed down to an unsleeved shirt. She exhales through her nose. She can work with this. Please don't make the apartment awkward.

"Impeded the function?" she asks instead, and Jane catches her first good look at his metal arm. Scorched like someone took a flamethrower do it. Jane pales. "Oh for the love of!" she snaps, and there she goes, all grabby again, reaching for his left arm to force the same examination she gave the right. Only this time, there is anger. "What the hell happened to my work!"


Pain has been the one constant of James Barnes' life for seventy years now. People have lived entire lifetimes that were shorter than the period of time he has lived in pain. And all that pain, every single time, began, very simply, with someone touching him. Someone put their hands on him, and pain would always follow.

He expects it again when Jane reaches for him. He stiffens up, taut, tense as violin strings. His brain reasons that there are no stimuli of laboratories and handlers around him at the moment, so he must be out in the wild and this must be a fight for his life; so he reacts defensively instead, his hand twisting to clamp on the wrist of the offender.

It takes him a moment, and a look down into Jane's face, to recalibrate. He slowly lets her go, understanding that this is one source from which pain will not flow. Passively, he subsides, allowing her to examine that small injury. There is nothing broken. The Soldier insists, dismissively, that by tomorrow it will be healed.

She looks at him like he's wrong. Not likely, she says, lecturing someone who's just said something painfully incorrect. The Winter Soldier looks steadily at her, saying nothing, his lifted brows saying all that needs to be said for him. Do I really seem like a person who gets things wrong?

He lets it go, just as she lets him go, and attends to settling in. He puts down his bag with a weighty rattle, and starts to expose his arm so that it can be worked on. He has to leave again with his nondescript image intact, so he carefully removes his disguising outer layers, setting them aside carefully.

He's half-listening to her prattling, so he notices when it suddenly cuts off. He looks up, alert, searching for some danger. He sees nothing. He turns a puzzled gaze on her, failing to understand why she's red as a beet. "Your heartrate tripled," he observes. "Did you see something?" He turns himself, looking around, but he really can't detect anything out of the ordinary in the area. Shrugging, ready to chalk it up to the vagaries of woman, he gets back to important things. Like his arm. His arm that isn't really /broken/, but maybe best to check, because it looks like—

Jane flips. She grabs his arm despite his expected flinch, lamenting the state of 'her work.' The Winter Soldier frowns at that, but elects to just answer the question. What happened to it?

"The Batman," he says, with typical brevity. "It was fine though."


Her heartrate's tripled, comments the Winter Soldier.

It is someone possible — the hue seems to exist on the colour wheel — that Jane goes even redder. She claps a hand over her chest, as if to muffle out her own heartbeat, and jaw tightening, rolls an agonized look up at the ceiling. As if Jane were bargaining with God just to strike her down already.

"No," she replies airily, "no, I didn't see anything."

In the end, and not without scaring her half to death, the assassin doesn't quite strip right down in the closed safety of her home. Jane has never looked so relieved for clothes in her life. She blows out her anxiety in a deep, long breath, flexing out her hands, exorcising her nerves — just in time to catch her first, good look of the state of the Soldier's left arm.

The metal wears /scorch marks./

All vows of patience long forgotten, Jane reaches before she thinks, feeling far entitled enough to grab her hands around the arm that's twice received her skill — and twice wears her work. She stares at it in incredulous horror, something maternal in the way she rubs vainly, desperately, at the burnt alloy, trying to feel with her fingers alone the depth of the damage to the plates. Her eyes pinch searchingly. Her face begs a single entreaty: what kind of monster would DO this to such a beautiful feat of engineering? Who would DO this to her work?!

Her palm pressed over the metal is like a damning stamp of ownership. It seems Dr. Foster, with all the time she's already put into the limb — it would be likely she would stake her spiritual claim in its parentage —

"The /What/man?!" she snaps back, aiming a furious glare up and up into the Winter Soldier's blue eyes. It's hard to reconcile this woman to that little thing he cornered and corralled the last time he was here: Jane was terrified then. She wouldn't look at his masked face. Now her eyes burn up, brave, fierce, indignant. "The same Batman that's in Gotham? The same /Batman/ that's so famous even /I've/ heard of him? The /Batman/ did this to your arm?! Are you seriously crazy! Are you — it was /fine/?! You fought the Batman!!"


Something tickles the back of the Winter Soldier's mind at Jane's stammering and furious blushing. Something that says he's seen this behavior before, used to frequently and purposefully elicit it, and that he should feel so much more at home teasing it out than he actually, currently does. He frowns a little, in discomfort at the two disparate personalities warring temporarily in his head.

One wins. The discomfort passes, and he just shrugs off her blushing and all her airy excuses.

Instead he gets down to business: the business of stripping down so he can show her the arm and get her to take a look. He doesn't feel like it's damaged, but there's some cosmetic issues, and it might be traumatized in ways he's not equipped to see or detect. Mercifully for Jane, he doesn't strip ALL the way down, but sleeveless is probably already bad enough.

Of course, she forgets about all of THAT once she sees the arm.

He startles as she lunges forward to grab it, offended and angry as a mother bird seeing a raven tormenting her chicks. Her small fingers rub in horror at the burns and scorch marks along the plates, the slight deformation of their beautiful regularity a telltale sign that they recently suffered some concussive blast. What monster would DO this to such a work of art?

The Winter Soldier blandly tells her.

ThE WHATMAN? she replies. The Soldier looks nonplussed at the strength and ferocity of her outrage. She used to be terrified of him. When did she get so bold? It must be the outraged science welling up in her. The Batman of GOTHAM? He fought the BATMAN? And he thinks that's FINE?

The Soldier shrugs impatiently. He seems to be sensing, from this reaction, a certain lack of faith in him on Jane's part. He should probably just be glad that Jane hasn't quite realized yet what fighting the Batman says about the side Orlov is on. The wrong one. "He's not really that aggressive if you handle the situation correctly," he remarks, completely unhelpfully. By that, he means, 'if you keep the Batman on the defensive trying to protect a civilian/civilians from being MURDERED by you.' But he's not saying that.


"Not really that aggressive?!" Jane is repeating quite a lot of the Winter Soldier's words.

She glares at him like one of them has most certainly gone mad. "It's the Batman. Don't they call him the Man Without Fear? I doubt it's because the guy drives without a seatbelt or goes on transfat binges. He's seriously, seriously, scary violent. Scary unhinged violent. You know what handling the situation correctly is? Not making it a situation at all!"

Jane blurts word after word, punctuating the need for breath with sad little wipes of her fingers along his metal arm, indulging its plates with sad little apologies. She's sorry she wasn't there. Wasn't there to protect you. It should be occurring to her, something lurking in all this that hasn't yet come to the forefront — reasons why this mysterious Orlov would be engaging Gotham City's self-declared protector. Perhaps she's too distracted with her fussy worry. Perhaps she knows better to delve too deeply into questions like that — dangerous questions.

Perhaps she doesn't quite want to believe them, not of the same Soldier who saved her life. Who stands here right now, tolerating her with his deep well of patience. He whom she's witnessed murdering with her own eyes, violently, but needfully — one Jane swears was only to protect. She told him after all. He has a knack for it.

She's had ample opportunity to think the worst of him. Damn him as a monster, or worse — a living machine. And she can't seem to.

Still half-cradling his arm, the one too heavy for Jane to even singularly carry, she lets herself think a few moments as she frowns up into his face. Her brown eyes crease with something he's not witnessed too much among his handlers. Generally they only look at his arm this way; generally they only look this way when they open it up to find damage far beyond even their prowess. She wears it as she gazes up into the Soldier's face: worry.

"Come on," she says, voice wrung out into a weary sigh, like all the anger's been exorcised out of her like some banished ghost. Quickly as her temper burns, it snuffs back out, tempered down to dying embers. Jane Foster is not one to nurse theatrics for long, not when she can act — do things, fix things, make solutions. She lets his metal arm go, stepping back and beckoning with a tilt of her head. "I need coffee. /You/ need coffee. It's going to be a long night. Let's get you fed."

With that, she turns her back and strides off, transparently affording the Soldier some freedom in her home without her hovering escort — freedom to follow her or freedom to linger elsewhere. It's not like he hasn't seen everything already, is Jane's justification, struggling to normalize the idea of a man stalking her and waiting weeks ago in her darkened home for her to return. It's all as he's left it, give or take the tide of her scientist's passion, pulling in new notes and charts, pulling back out bits of tools and stray homemade equipment.

While her home is a lesson in entropy, controlled chaos falling into predictable disarray, it is somewhat tidy — owing that only to a Spartan sparseness of clutter. In the main room fits only a couch, a table, and for lack of a television flares the lit screen of her open laptop. The only personal touch is the slightly-crooked, left-leaning Christmas tree standing sentry, decorated with tinsel and studded with baubles that look old and well-loved. Especially one shaped like a star, glued together, sitting centerpiece.

Heading into her galley kitchen, Jane searches for food, hunting through her empty cabinets and then scouring her open fridge. She finds little — save for a two-days' made pot of chili. She forgot she even made that. One of her crockpot creations, definitely.

"You," she grunts as she hefts it out to sit onto the stove, turning an element on, "have no idea how lucky you are. I actually have food."


The Soldier looks more and more impatient with Jane as she goes on about the Batman. One would almost think he was jealous of the unwarrantedly high regard she's giving this guy, except brainwashed assassins do not feel jealousy. "He didn't seem scarily violent or crazy to me," he mumbles. "Pretty protective, in fact."

Protective of WHAT? That raises a whole lot of questions about just what went on between the Batman and the Winter Soldier.

Not that he's going to tell her what business, exactly, he had with the Batman and why the Batman would have need to be /protective/ of something related to that business. She's more distracted with the actual condition of his arm, anyway. The Winter Soldier cannily angles his arm slightly to keep its damage in her line of sight, keeping her agitated and occupied with it.

Yes. Better to think about the arm than to question too deeply why her mysterious assassin would cross the Dark Knight of Gotham. Than to do the critical thinking that would link those things together with the frightening news coming out of Gotham as of late.

Besides, it's just… hard to think of him that way. Hard, when she has seen more facets of him now than merely the moments he was violent… the moments he killed. Even harder when the times she's seen him kill, it was to protect her. The motives for protecting her were suspect, of course, but emotion is not a rational thing, and people grow scarily attached over much less than having their life saved. It is hard for her to have any emotion about him that is not complicated, twisted up by conflicting impulses of fear at his deadliness, and vague trust in the strength of an arm that has thus far defended her.

He isn't having much better luck deciphering her, or how to feel about her. She stares up at him, and on her face is a look that he never sees aimed at him. Worry. Concern. He isn't even used to being stared at in the first place, regarded as a human, much less… cared about. It makes him uncomfortable. He shifts slightly, then explicitly pulls away.

Jane takes he hint. It's time for coffee… coffee and food. Intrigued, he lingers after her, drifting through her apartment and vaguely following the sounds of her retreat. He looks around as he goes, unaccustomed to such homey, messy settings.

He lingers by the Christmas tree. It bothers him. He leans down and sets it properly upright. Satisfied, he moves on.

He drifts into the kitchen just about the time Jane hefts up her crockpot of chili. He looks a little wary, but dares closer.


"Protective?" Jane questions, paused enough by the Soldier's words to turn a momentary glance over her shoulder. "Really?"

That's surely not what the news says. But goes to show how much anyone should trust the media, she supposes. She weighs this factoid over in her head, her dark eyes still slanted the man's way, searching him with an expression equal parts pensive as it is unreadable. Perhaps it's Jane wondering what it is the Batman even deigned to protect, and what this so-called Winter Soldier did to even incite that. For a moment, she looks troubled. Then she boxes that emotion up and buries it into the back of her cerebral closet. Do not open until Christmas 2017.

She distracts herself by serving what little good she can do in the moment: namely, assisting someone injured, tired, lost, and, well — alone.

He has to be alone, doesn't he? To end up on her doorstep?

Something aches in Jane's chest, deep and twisting. Something that mirrors out from her brown eyes; something that crystallizes in the way she determinedly looks at him — will always look at him. With worry. With concern. With empathy.

Busying herself in the kitchen, she arches a quick glance back as Orlov acquaints himself better with her apartment, moving through it like some explorer taking his first, wary steps in the New World. She looks after, fascinated, but makes no move to herd or follow — allowing him the freedom to explore her home. Jane has little to hide, after all. Little that he doesn't aotherwise know. Even knows her /phone number/.

She takes her eyes off him and gives him his space, distracting herself instead with her hunt for food. Jane never notices the Winter Soldier's pit stop at her tiny, well-worn, crooked Christmas tree. She misses entirely the momentary pains he takes to straighten it.

In the meantime, she struggles with an oversized pot, hefting it from a fridge tray and up onto her stove. It speaks tomes to her disorganization, or perhaps just her domestic brand of laziness, that she hasn't even attempted to portion out or freeze such a strangely-large batch of food. Just threw it in the fridge, pot and all, to perhaps remember, perhaps forget forever.

She turns on the burner to get it quickly reheated. Stepping back, catching movement off her periphery, Jane catches the Soldier's lingering presence, curious or hungry enough to approach her kitchen like some feral cat. She doesn't miss the wariness in his face, though she misinterprets it well enough to bite her lip with momentary embarassment. "Yeah, I always end up cooking way more food than I should. Bad habit I've never been able to break. But, I suppose, it's also a bad habit that's now to your benefit. Hope you like chili. Turkey chili. Less saturated fat."

She lingers there for a moment. There is zero formal protocol in being a gracious hostess to a deadly assassin with a metal arm. "Coffee. Right," Jane appends, moving gratefully for her machine. "Was it fine the last way you took it? You can sit too, if you like."

The woman makes fidgeting, beckoning motions. There isn't a lot of seating, not for an apartment dedicated solely to Jane's work, but she shrugs between the couch, or the stool she's perched next to a kitchen counter as a do-it-yourself breakfast nook. Only one stool too. Solitary, single-serving Jane.


Jane seems surprised by his report of the Batman's protective nature. The Soldier considers telling her how exactly it is he knows this about the Batman.

Slowly, he elects to not tell her.

Instead he lets the entire matter go. Jane seems content to let it go, too. Way above her pay grade to wonder too much about the affairs of men who run around with ridiculous monikers and codenames like 'Batman' or 'Winter Soldier.' What is it with men and needing dramatic titles on top of their names, anyway?

Jane, ever the pragmatist, elects to focus on things she can do or fix immediately. Namely, helping someone so apparently desolate that he has nowhere else to be, nowhere to stop at, but the home of someone who was previously a target of his.

There's something just plain sad about a predator who is so alone he has nowhere to go but to his prey.

At least he picks one who has more empathy than is good for her. An empathy easily triggered by those moments where the conditioning weakens, and he seems confused and pensive rather than hard-edged and violent. She sneaks looks at him periodically, looks of worry and sympathy, and after he notices the first few, he starts trying to avoid her gaze. It bothers him being pitied, possibly because there is some part of him— deeply buried— that knows there is absolutely something about him that should be. Something wrong.

As wrong as this crooked Christmas tree. The Soldier gets stuck on the image. After a moment, he determinedly straightens the tree out, and moves on.

Eventually he makes his way to the kitchen, and just in time to see Jane struggle to two-hand a pot of something onto her stove. Vague interest appears in his eyes, and he dares closer, tentative as the first wolf edging closer to early man's campfires.

There is an awkward silence as Jane tries to figure out the correct etiquette for a murderous assassin. She defaults back to coffee.

"That's fine. No sugar," he replies her question, gingerly edging himself onto the stool. It's a piece of furniture definitely more sized with Jane in mind than him, and it creaks in complaint. He looks completely out of place on it, and more than a little uncomfortable— especially when it creaks again.

After a moment, he vacates it and tries the couch instead.

"Do you have sufficient equipment here for this?" he eventually asks, looking at his arm. "I was… I meant to go farther than this and meet with— but I thought it would be more efficient to stop here if the work could be done here."


Jane Foster has hand-fed more than one wild animals in her life. She remembers her childhood encounters vividly, little colourful asides when stargazer weekends took her father and herself far into the Blue Ridge mountains. Her father could make birds land in his hand to peck seed. She struggled to copy him, but she couldn't quite succeed. Too impatient. Too fidgety and always moving. She wanted to look closer, reach, and touch —

The same instinct is here now, even though it disturbs her a little to be reminded of summer sparrows by a man hovering around in her home with a lethal metal arm. But rather than give into all the impatient questions she wants to ask, Jane takes a page from her father's book. She turns her back, leaves the Soldier to his exploration, and tends to her own promise of food.

When she's settled the pot to the stove, turning on one element and giving the chili inside an exploratory stir, Jane turns — and finds her efforts have paid off. Even from the grave, her father is still giving her lessons.

This sparrow now lingers closer, curious, encouraged by the promise of food. Jane's dark eyes mollify at the corners, and she bites down on her lower lip, obviously thinking about him — and for once, lacking the right words to say. What does a good hostess say to the strangest guest of her life?

"No sugar?" she repeats. That new fact makes Jane's mouth twitch with a brief, irrepressible smile. "I got it right then." Her coffee-dar remains infallible.

That seems to loosen her up, just enough to vacate the awkwardness that holds her stiffly to place, and the woman strides across her small, cramped kitchen to fuss with her just-as-small coffee machine. "The food will take a few minutes to warm. Not long. No one likes cold chili."

Jane hears a creak. She turns her head. Then she stands there, stock-still, with paused hands and blinking eyes, as she is treated to the absolutely incongruous, perhaps even ridiculous, sight of a metal-armed probably-definitely-assassin trying to get comfortable on her self-sized stool.

She purses her mouth and quickly turns her head back down, just in time to hide a smile.

Eventually, the unmatched and deadly Winter Soldier concedes defeat to Jane's IKEA bar stool. His conditions of tactical surrender involve a treatise of retreat to the living room couch. The woman catches his departure with a quick glance, but otherwise comments nothing, probably appreciative of him taking pains to find comfort in her apartment. The last thing she needs is him all the more… tense.

The couch yields under his weight, the material soft enough, though the cushions retain the firmness of newly-purchased furniture — about as new as the one back in her lab. The rest of the room is a feng shui of Jane's eclectic science, the coffee table lain with her scattered tools and print-outs of data — all geographical coordinates, dates, and times of day — and centerpieced with her laptop. The screen flares with the last window left open.

Apparently Jane doesn't believe in screen-savers, because her last activity is right there: not work, not auroral sightings, not rudimentary code, but a simple Google search page. She's page nine into hits for a search "Winter Soldier."

"I think so?" she answers from the kitchen. "I can't say until I have a look inside your arm. I should have enough — and you know, the more I think about it, the more I'm finding standard tools insufficient for you. You're much more modular. I might have to design some things." A moment later, Jane appears, her walk a little slowed, stilted by the way she carries a very-full mug of coffee in hand, taking extreme pains not to spill. She seems comfortable enough to even take brief humour in his dry choice of words. "Efficient, huh? Is that all I am to you?"

She bends to hand him his drink. "Careful, hot. Who were you even meeting w—"

Something catches Jane's periphery. Something she notices just NOW and not ten minutes ago. Something very damning and, at the very least, very, very embarrassing. Face heating, she reaches to palm her laptop shut.


Perhaps sparrow isn't quite the right analogy. One of the wolf precursors of the first dog, maybe, might be more apt. The Winter Soldier slinks around in silence, wild and deadly but with some suggestion that domestication has some hand in his genetic makeup. He is behind her, in the kitchen, long before she becomes aware he is there at all.

He's looking, with some interest, at the pot.

The only thing that can distract him from that is the promise of coffee. Jane smiles to hear she got his preferences right. As she makes up a pot, her odd houseguest takes the opportunity to quietly find somewhere to install himself. The stool seems a likely candidate— up until he actually tries it out.

It creaks dangerously. He frowns. What the hell are they making furniture out of these days? The indignant thought comes and goes in his mind before he can even register that it's an odd thought to think.

Defeated by modern-day flimsiness, he surreptitiously retreats to the couch. Jane's laptop perches on the table in front of it, along with a disorganized mound of Jane's scientific paraphernalia. The Winter Soldier studies it all with mild interest— especially the laptop— even as he asks the only question that should be relevant right now: does she have the tools to fix him here?

She replies in tentative affirmative. But she's quickly finding standardized tools insufficient to handle him; he's much too modular. Normal people might object to being talked about like a piece of equipment. The Winter Soldier, on the other hand, doesn't even blink. He just takes the very full mug of hot coffee— by reaching past the handle and grasping the body of the cup directly in his left hand, with a soft clink of metal against ceramic. Its heat seems to bother him approximately 'not at all.'

Is efficient all she is to him? He cocks an eye up at her. "Do you want to be more?" he asks, completely oblivious to other interpretations of the reply. "'Efficient' is the safest for you to be."

He looks down into his coffee just about when Jane notices her laptop. A blush suffuses her features and she reaches to try to fold it closed— only for his right hand to stop her, his fingertips flicking up to her screen edge to hold it open.

"I wasn't done reading," he says, and there is a definite laugh hidden deep down under the dourness of his voice. "Some of these are pretty entertaining."


Whatever the analogy, one thing is certain — Jane Foster has never fed a wolf before.

She's making this up as she goes. Her only hope is she doesn't lose a hand in the process.

The good doctor comes bearing gifts, emerging from the kitchen with an oversized mug of coffee in hand. She takes considerable effort not to touch it, the ceramic far too searing-hot on her hands. Jane even warns same, holding out outstretched with deliberate care, because literally the last thing she ever wants to do in her entire life is spill scalding-hot liquid on a man who can kill a person with one gesture of his metal arm.

That same arm takes the mug without any grief, with ease that steals Jane's eye with obvious fascination — even appreciation. She's engrossed in the delicacy of his finer control. It could be offensive, just as it was for the woman to comment so cavalier about the tools needed for his arm — but it does not bother him. It escapes her, just as well, with a guileless sincerity that would be shocked if he even were affronted.

It all goes back to that argument they had, back in her lab: it's all the same to Jane, flesh and blood, metal and circuitry.

She leans in with a strange ease of manner, lacking much — if not all — of that caution his handlers do, when their work forces them to get perilously close. Perhaps she is disarmed by just how normal he looks, wearing street clothes, perched at one end of her own couch, looking to most — sans that visible metal arm — just an average houseguest. A visiting acquaintance. A gentleman caller. Or perhaps she trusts him enough not to fear. Or perhaps Jane is just acclimating to her new normal.

If anything seems to give her dramatic pause or pick up her heartrate, it's the things that come out of his mouth. The Winter Soldier replies her strange tease with seriousness. Do you want to be more?

Jane goes briefly still like she's having a mental hard drive crash of her own. "I, uh— um," she replies eloquently, reddening in the face, before her averted eyes flicker, catch her laptop, catch the words on its screen, and she graduates into full, paralyzed horror.

She tries to palm down the laptop lid. His hand stops her.

Jane peeks up, gazing so beggingly into the Winter Soldier's eyes. Deer look this way in headlights. Oh god, don't —

He does. He speaks, and she can hear the laugh welling up through his words, and she reddens right to the tips of her ears. Some part of her can only think incredulously: is he making /fun/ of her?!

"I'm going to check on the food," she just says bleakly, conceding the laptop to him and all its spoils, retreating in total cowardice back to the kitchen. Out of sight, Jane presses her entire face against the fridge.


She has seen that metal arm— that metal hand— kill with trivial ease. Its weight alone would ensure that a single strike would be more than enough to do for someone as light and fragile as her. Yet now, he reaches it out and exercises impressive fine motor control, sufficient to grasp her ceramic mug without breaking or dropping it.

It's interesting to think about the mechanics of how such dexterity was designed. Probably less thrilling to think about what kinds of applications such dexterity might be needed for. Sufficient fine motor control, perhaps, to operate a gun? Wire a bomb?

Best not thought about.

She leans in abruptly, and that seems to bother him more than the heat does. He's not used to anyone wanting to get close to him— most, afraid of him, keep as much distance as they reasonably can while still doing their work— and her trust makes him uneasy. He shifts an inch or two to the left, and tilts his gaze up at her as she makes some throwaway joke about efficiency considerations being all she is to him.

He replies it with mismatched seriousness. He meant it as an insinuation she could be a mark instead; she seems to take it as something else. She averts her eyes, stammering— and that's when she sees what she left her laptop on.

Mortified, she tries to close it. But the Soldier isn't having any of that. He isn't done reading.

Defeated, Jane turns completely red, rotates about, and just drifts away, destroyed by humiliation. The Winter Soldier, faceless killer, Cold War legend, and remorseless assassin… actually chuckles, a rusty sound from the back of his throat. "What are you hiding about? You did the practical thing. Learn about your enemy. I am surprised you even found my name. How did you find it?"

She might or might not answer. Either way, after a pause of a few mortifying seconds, she'll hear him remark distantly from the other room, "I killed Diana? Cute, but no. Nobody cares that much about the royals anymore."


"I'm not hiding," retorts Jane indignantly from her hiding spot. Her voice sounds a little muffled.

Exhaling, she unpeels her face off the fridge, rubbing blearily at the bridge of her nose before she pours herself a coffee. Jane drinks it down with quiet determination, closing her eyes against the humiliation. She hates embarrassment, hates it as much as a control freak like her hates anything, and she knows exactly what so-named Orlov will be reading off the screen of her laptop.

The sites she found were some of the most ridiculous things she's ever read. One even had sourced "evidence" for North Korean unicorn breeders.

But, from the other room, her metal-armed guest does ask a good question. Jane sighs to herself. knowing she will answer it honestly. "Those two men," she replies, the three words off her lips all loaded chambers. She doesn't want to say 'that were trying to kill me', or 'that you then killed yourself."

So she continues instead, "You know. They were talking to each other. They called you the Winter Soldier. Not the sort of name one easily forgets, so… yeah, that's me trying to dig."

He mentions Princess Diana. Jane leans out of her kitchen, still red-faced around the edges, her narrowed eyes indignant. "Yeah, laugh it up. It's not like you're telling me anything. And I have questions." She pauses, and her eyes lose some of their superficial ire. "And you're not my enemy. I don't serve turkey chili to enemies. You'd get… stale bread. Or something."

Speaking of which, the grumpy Dr. Foster disappears once more, retreating to tell-tale sounds of fussing, and the hollow scrapes of a wooden utensil against a steel pot. Food reheated. She hunts a pair of bowls, and scoops a heaping amount in one, and a far more conservative portion in the other. Jane doesn't even have an appetite; it's a conciliatory thought on her behalf. He might want to see her eat first to ensure it's not poison.

"I know some people who'll be heartbroken if the Elvis thing is real," she jokes as she returns, food in tow, and though Jane's still frowning — affecting frowning disapproval — she seems to have softened enough to poke fun at herself. Jane didn't miss the way the man leaned away from her last time; it doesn't stop her from doing it again, brown eyes gentle, as she proffers him a bowl of chili, spoon stuck into its thick stew. "Here you go. I promise it's not too terrible. Might have a kick."

She glances around herself, wondering visibly for her own place to sit — awkwardly lingering with a confused propriety whether she is allowed to join him on the couch. Then Jane's gaze flattens. It's her damn couch. Of course she is. Decision made, she eases herself down on its other end, with generous space between them, practically curled against its arm. She pokes at her food, somewhat transparently, giving a show if he needs one to trust her — trust what's been giving to him. She takes a quick, brisk bite.

Though it's hard to consider Jane Foster's cooking as poison. Poison doesn't smell this good.


I'm not hiding, Jane insists. The Soldier eyerolls a bit, a rare flicker of a smile crossing his features. He makes no comment. None is needed.

He just scrolls down, interested, on her screen, reading pensively about himself. This is not something it ever occurred to him to do personally; the legend of the Winter Soldier is usually curated, for him, by other individuals. Shadowy Hydra operatives whose jobs are to seed the world with fearmongering, rumor, and deceit… and to clean up and tighten the narrative around him as he moves through the annals of history.

If they do their jobs properly, then in time they will erase these interactions with Jane Foster from all record, along with his memories, keeping the myth of the Winter Soldier locked in its inhuman, machine implacability.

For now, he reads… and he asks Jane how she even discovered his name. Those two men, she admits, though she can't bring herself to say what they were doing, or what happened to them. They called him by the name.

He blinks. Then shrugs. That's about all the mind he pays to the two lives he ended. "Huh. Should have guessed. Turned out they had some contacts in American intelligence. Probably found out through there." That utterly baffling comment made, with no explanation as to what or who 'they' refers to— and certainly no clarification about the implication he's just made that portions of American intelligence are in bed with some kind of terrorist group— he resumes reading.

She has questions too, she points out in pique. And for his information, he's not her enemy. She doesn't feed her enemy.

This gets him to look up, away from a fascinating article about how he supposedly made Elvis Presley vanish. He's transparently puzzled… then oddly pensive. "Guess you're not," he says, and looks back down.

He doesn't say anything further up until Jane returns with food and a quip. "Elvis wasn't me," he says, a little crankily. He predictably shies a little when she leans close, but that doesn't stop him from taking the food when offered. He looks down into it, and therefore thankfully misses her moment of indecision on where the hell to sit.

Eventually he looks back up— to carefully watch her. With typical paranoia, he waits for her to eat before he does. But once he gets started… he shows no signs of stopping. He never gets normal food!


A little haltingly, Jane spills the beans on how 'the Winter Soldier' became a search term in her laptop window.

She remains deliberately quiet in the few, wordless moments the assassin mulls it over. Then he dismisses it all with a shrug. Even despite her faith he has no reason or, perhaps, desire to kill her, she deflates a little in relief. Jane cannot deny some worry was there — worrying that perhaps she knew a little too much.

But it's obvious why his reaction is so undeterred; the internet offers her no information. Nothing save for ghost stories told around conspiracy campfires, with most of what she read either too irritating or too laughable for Jane to even linger long on the page. Her internet search history feels dirtied.

Of course, then to her quiet surprise, the Soldier himself expounds some information of his own — though information all his style. Descriptive enough to pain her, but vague enough to leave Jane feeling weighted under a hundred more questions. He talks of the people who tried to kill her — tried to shoot her, and they would have — keeping contacts with American intelligence. It's how they knew of him. Recognized him, she supposes, with that more-than-likely metal arm.

She fidgets a bit uselessly to herself, lingering in the kitchen. Jane finds herself needing to summon strength she didn't realize she was lacking, in order to collect her two heated bowls of chili and return to the living room.

Food handed over, she lingers, gets annoyed at herself for feeling momentarily like an unwanted guest in her own home, and determinedly settles to the other end of her couch, her smaller-portioned bowl balanced on her lap. Jane looks down at the food, still steaming with heat, and takes a pre-emptive bite. She can feel the Soldier's eyes on her, unable to trust as much as she is unable to stop thinking, and for his benefit spoons a bite.

Jane Foster does not immediately drop dead. And so her guest digs voraciously into his own bowl.

She picks at hers. Never a big eater — and it shows — she's always been the person never to push a fickle appetite. Jane is a consummate grazer, taking the odd bite of whatever now and then, usually forgetting to finish her sporadic meals when taken by some potential breakthrough in her work. For someone who cannot seem to polish more than five bites in a single sitting, she truly does cook far more than she probably ever uses — ever eats.

So it is a genuine look of surprise on her face, right here, right now, for Jane to witness a meal of hers being properly finished for the first time since… for the first time in years. Her expression opens up with quiet amazement, surprise, and — a bit of sadness. He must be starving. When was the last he ate?

Jane forgets her own bowl, clasped forgotten in her hands. She knows it's rude to watch someone eat — not to mention weird and awkward — so she turns glances between her untouched chili and the Soldier beside her. "Now that it's established we're not enemies… are you ever going to tell me about the people who tried to kill me? Who they are? And why?"


Perhaps the better question is this one: when was the last time he got to eat real food that wasn't Hydra feed? The answer might well be decades. The Winter Soldier is rarely deployed for long enough periods of time that this ever becomes an issue. Most missions are short, on the order of hours only. On the few where he is given the autonomy to free-roam for a day or more, he is usually compelled to return regularly, via strict mission parameters, to some nearby handler to be fed, groomed, and checked over like a coursing hound.

This is the first mission in three decades where the timeline has stretched out over the course of multiple weeks. He was harshly conditioned to pass all the most stringent compliance tests prior to release. Even then, on the ground, many more handlers than usual circulate, ready to intervene should it seem the Winter Soldier is about to slip his leash.

Yet the thing about a supersoldier assassin with decades of experience is that… he is a supersoldier assassin with decades of experience. He was designed to his bones to operate in secrecy. When he starts to feel uneasy, confused and cagey and uncertain, his ability to hide that and continue operating as his handlers expect, up until he can assess what is going on, is without peer.

He's kept checking in with them just enough to pass muster. But in between, he does things like find himself on Jane's doorstep. In between, he tries to satisfy that innate yearning for comfort and home, without knowing that is even what he wants.

In between, he does things like report in his discovery of an anti-SHIELD terrorist cell whose operations might compromise Hydra plants in the organization.

To that end, Jane asks the big question. Is he ever going to tell her about the people who wanted to kill her? The Soldier stares down into his bowl, rueful at its emptiness, contemplating how and if to answer. "They," he finally starts with a sigh, "are nothing much. They are a small terrorist cell. Anti-SHIELD, anti-science, anti-education, anti-America. Fundamentalist. I assume you were meant to be an example. I have killed both their leaders, and now they are too busy engaged in an internal power struggle to think too much about continuing with their actual purpose. They may not survive it at all."

He falls silent. There is still much he has not explained— like why he would do something that would seem to facially assist SHIELD— but that seems to be all he is willing to say. Especially while his bowl is still empty. He keeps staring at it.

It's not just because he wants more food, either. Something about it is nagging at the back of his mind, like this— home, food, comfort— is reminding him strongly of something that should be, and yet is not.


Some part of Jane does not anticipate an answer. But she still tries. But she still hopes.

She is aware there are some things in the world she is not allowed to know — though she is prepared too, though she is stubborn enough to fight that current and take knowledge entitled to her — this Jane feels is her right. It's her life. It's her safety. It's her peace of mind.

It still rankles her how someone, someone she does not even know, could want her dead. How someone could want her work halted, if not completely destroyed. Do they not understand what it is she wants to do? Do they not understand that with her success, everyone benefits? Civilization would be advanced beyond all human comprehension? That in a lifetime people would see, discover, experience things so far distant — so far past, so far ahead — that it would take millions of years to seek, travel, and claim.

There's an entire universe out there, and humanity must join its theatre. Too isolated. Too lonely. Too…

She breaks from her thoughts, eyes blinking, her blunted fingernails drawn along the ceramic of her bowl with the slow curl of her fingers. Jane looks up, listening to the Soldier describe the men who would take that all away. Anti-science. Anti-education. Anti, anti, anti, rolls through her head. She tries to hate them, but in the end, she can only feel pity, annoyance, and resolve.

What she feels does not matter, she thinks, as he explains just what he did to them. Dispatched them — killed their leaders. That earns Jane's brown eyes, no longer surprised to hear the Winter Soldier has murdered for her, but feeling some grounding sense to acknowledge her role in this. Even if she did not ask him to, she carries a role, and some sort of responsibility. She must at least be aware of it, and not deny. "Thank you," she answers, but doesn't specify for what.

There is more he has not said. More she wants to ask. Why all this? Why all this for her? Why all this for someone who is only 'efficient'? Why, when he mentions he has others, and yet appears like some lost soul at her door —

Her eyes search. She sees it, taking in the Soldier, watching him as he watches his empty bowl. An unexpected emotion twists her insides.

Home is what surrounds him, holding him on all sides — from door to window to scattered star charts to her tiny little Christmas tree: which is starting to lean left again. And it is not simply home that he can witness and watch from afar, safely detached where it is cold and simple and grey — but a home Jane reaches out for the Soldier to take. To share for as long as he is here.

"If you're still hungry," she invites softly, "go help yourself to more." Seriously, a grown man gazing down into an empty bowl is breaking Jane's heart. "Take as much as you want, seriously."


Thank you, Jane says. There's more she could say, and a hell of a lot more she could ask, but she doesn't, and he doesn't volunteer the information himself. The biggest elephant in the room is, of course, 'why?' Why would he do all of this for someone who is only 'expedient to have around?' Why would he take such pains to preserve her?

The Winter Soldier holds his silence on that, staring off into the middle distance. Of course, he is not telling the full truth. It is not just that she is 'efficient,' or 'expedient.' There is a growing awareness in his mind of what she really is— the real reason he is keeping close to her— and it is making him feel something unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

His programming disallows, above all else, the experience of guilt. Guilt is the one thing the Winter Soldier must never feel.

He snaps out of his reverie when she invites him to take more food. That weird, heart-twisting feeling struggling to find expression in him worsens as he looks at the homey settings around him. He sets his jaw, looking back down, and focuses on a point of nothingness in his mind's eye until the feeling goes away. A little trick his handlers taught him to clear his mind of distractions.

"Your tree won't stay upright," he says, in lieu of saying anything that might actually matter— might actually be dangerous— as he gets up and heads into the kitchen.

And does not come back for some considerable time.

Entering the kitchen in pursuit of him would treat Jane to a distinctly odd sight. He has pulled the stool over near the stove, apparently having figured out a way to perch on it without destroying it.

But he's not currently sitting on it. He's not currently sitting on it because he's busy with the pot, and the combined weight of him and his arm and the pot would probably overcome the stool completely. That heavy steel thing, which took her two hands to manhandle onto the burner, is currently being held aloft in his right, not-even-metal hand, tipped over so he can— with obvious focus— pour the last bit of chili out of it and into his bowl.

It's hard having a supersoldier metabolism.


Unaware of the sort of storm tossing and scattering the fractured bits of the Winter Soldier's mind, Jane patiently looks on. She is perceptive enough to know well enough something is amiss about him — the same something that has drawn her to him, brought her to invest some kind of faith in a man who otherwise looks and acts the cold machine.

It is this storm that undresses it all down that keeps bringing Jane back, unable to dismiss him — unable to completely damn him as some coercer or monster wanting only her compliance and obedience. These moments of confusion make him look more of a man than any feature of his face, any piece of his sheep's civvies. He looks as if he's fighting a war not of his own making, and one far beyond his own control — but against what, she has no answer.

But Jane is clever, and she knows what seems to incite that hot war in his head, and cannily she provides her preferred side with more and more of her ammunition. Normal seems to hurt him, so she gives it up. He looks down at his empty bowl like some well-trained animal beaten never to want, beg, or take, and so she offers him the rest of her kitchen.

Her dark eyes watch as the Soldier accepts her invitation without hesitation. She follows with that searching, learning gaze of hers his exit back to where more food awaits, until one corner takes him out of sight. As if in some parting gesture of appreciation, the man tells her that her Christmas tree is crooked.

Jane gives the thing a glance. It tilts dangerously, malleable with age, weighed with old baubles meant for bigger trees. The sight softens her eyes, and she crooks up a smile that overflows with affection. "Yeah. It's why I named him En-tree-py. Get it—?"

Oh right, she's the only one sitting here on the couch. Well, Jane thinks she's absolutely hilarious.

She sits back, still unable to exorcise her quiet smiling. Hearing rustling from the kitchen, and happy to wait, Jane fidgets by spooning through her still-untouched food, before finally conceding defeat and relocating the bowl to her coffee table. She glances again at her tree. At its baubles and tinsel. At that glued-together, one point-missing star.

A beat later, Jane peeks into her own kitchen, her step slow and movements telegraphed enough as not to startle him — startle the man who can probably hear her by her own heartbeat. Thankfully, this time it does not hammer in triple-time. Leaning up against the corner of her fridge, she tilts her head, taking in as he one-handedly holds aloft and tilts a pot that was giving her trouble. Strong beyond human measure, she supposes. And far more voracious too.

"You're the first person I've cooked for in some time," she says, voice soft — almost tender.


She might be the only one left sitting on the couch, in the room, assuming he can't hear her… but he can. Supersoldier means super everything, and he can hear extremely well. Has probably heard many more things than he ever WANTED to hear, over the course of his long life.

Things like Jane's ridiculous joke.

"No, I don't," he replies distantly. He sounds vaguely confused. "Why does your tree have a name?"

Whatever her answer, he doesn't talk much. He seems quite preoccupied with something in her kitchen, and she finds out just what it is when she finally gets up and has a peek in. The stray soldier she's picked up has cleaned through all her food in record time, and now with infinite concentration has upended the pot in search of the last few bits of it.

He even jumps slightly when she makes that gentle comment. Half because he wasn't expecting it, and half because it is tender in a way he has not heard in decades. The last time he heard a woman speak to him like that, it was 1944.

Putting down the pot, he glances down into the bowl. Not really enough left worth bothering with. Turning around instead, he glances at Jane, looking oddly vulnerable for a moment at her tone. Then his head lowers, he blinks, and shakes his head. No. Focus. "Technically you didn't cook for me," he points out, folding his arms as if to defend himself from her. Her, a slip half his size. "It was here already before you had any idea I would be here."

He nods to himself, agreeing with his own logic, and starts to move to exit the kitchen. "We should get to work." We?


"You don't?" calls Jane from the living room, voice brightening with something close to delight. How she loves to educate. "Entropy is the point of my amazing joke — it's the second law of thermodynamics. That everything inside a system tends toward disorder. Moves from order to chaos, no matter how hard you try to stop it. Like the state of my apartment, really, when I let it go too long. And En-tree-py over here."

Why does her tree have a name?

Makes her feel less lonely. "I don't know," Jane says instead, out loud. "Everything deserves a name, I suppose."

Eventually, entropy takes her from her ordered little seat on her couch to the lingering, curious way she slouches against her own refrigerator, lingering halfway-in, halfway-out of her tiny kitchen. Jane balances on the fine line of not wanting Orlov to feel caged or cornered in what little room she has, but at the same time — she wants to watch him. And it seems, at the moment, it's him eating. And eating. And… eating.

Jane tries to gentle her first words when this much closer, but she still manages to make the Soldier jump. Ducking her head, she apologizes with a small, wordless cringe. Sorry. Biting down on her bottom lip, she awkwardly crams her hands into her jeans' pockets, pre-emptively killing the potential of future fidgets. He recovers quickly, if just to argue her in a strange way — remind that technically she did not cook for him.

He crosses his arms, one of them metal.

He's got her there. The woman turns a rueful look down at her feet, smiling a little hollowly to herself. "Yeah, I guess."

They should get to work, him and her. It might be the first time Jane's heard the Winter Soldier use "we." She shifts aside to allow him room to move past her, looking after his turned back before pushing off to follow.

An idea comes to mind. With that, Jane answers, "You know, we should." And to punctuate that, veers off into a different direction in the main room, bypassing the Soldier entirely to reclaim her winter coat, left draped-over a side table. Without explanation, she begins shrugging it back on.


Silence meets Jane's babbling about entropy as it relates to her apartment and her tree. In the kitchen, the Soldier pauses over the stove, his troubled gaze downcast as his too-quick mind easily processes the concept she presents. Everything inside a system tends towards disorder. Everything falls apart, no matter how hard you try to stop it.

From order, chaos. Time breaks apart all orderly structures and reveals what lies beneath.

There is a fleeting sense of having lived this, over and over.

Then it passes. Jane speaks again, and his mind moves on to that new stimulus. He forgets that stray thought, dropping it back into the abyss of his ravaged mind. Everything deserves a name, she says. "Eh," he replies eloquently. "Not everything." Me, for example. I don't get one.

Eventually, Jane's curiosity overcomes her, and she ventures to look in on her stray soldier despite not wanting to crowd him. He seems focused on throwing wood on the endless fire of his overclocked metabolism, so it is a candid few moments she gets to watch him move. There is something animal about it: deliberate and instinctive and strong, without the particular restraints and refinements introduced by the higher thought processes of man. It's that animal nature that makes her moderate her voice when she speaks, so not to spook him.

She spooks him anyway. He frowns through her apology.

A vague, uncomfortable awareness rises in him that he is getting too comfortable. It makes him uneasy… prods him to get moving on his purpose and be gone. But Jane has another idea. She walks right past him and gets her coat, shrugging it back on without a single word as to what she's doing. Baffled, he watches her, waiting for an explanation or new directive.

Despite his apparent willingness to follow, the Soldier does not move to put his own clothing back on. He probably doesn't even need it, even in these temperatures. He is the Winter Soldier. He has lived an entire lifetime in the cold. He can no longer feel it.


The Winter Soldier moves in a way she's never witnessed in a man — a person. And Jane Foster finds herself easily engrossed to watch him, far more than is polite. Far more than is probably good for her.

She tries to look at other things, at least pretend to, but not even she can lie to herself for long.

It helps, however, that his strange comfort makes her feel all the more comfortable with him; even unsaid, Jane picks up unconsciously on his slow ease of behaviour. It encourages her to linger ever closer. It emboldens her to say the strange, uninhibited words she chooses. It softens her voice into something he has not heard in decades, if even he can think to remember at all —

The Soldier locks back down. Everything gets a name, but not him. And he proposes a return to work: her designated, partially-coerved role in his life as handler and repairwoman.

Jane looks after him, feeling his shift in bearing like a sea change. Not everything deserves names? Like what? She supposes she could concede and let him control her, and comply into what is more comfortable for him —

Or she can switch tracks, walk away, and start shouldering into her coat without a word. Jane pulls it on, a short-cropped bomber, tiny like she is and fitted to her body, save for an oversized hood that momentarily halos her in faux-fur. She pushes it down and frees her trapped hair, getting comfortable and zipping it up. She moves to reopen her main room window, pushing it up with an icy draft of winter air, to peek out and look up at the sky. The snow has stopped falling and the stars peek through the chasing clouds. Perfect.

"I was actually working before you came here," she finally clarifies. "I'm going to go back to it. Not everything I do is patching you up from Batmen. You're not in any pain, right? The damage can wait a bit. Wait until I'm done." With that, she pulls herself over the window sill, carefully easing through, and stepping down onto the iron fire escape. Her flats slip a little on the fresh snow, but she recovers. Jane peeks out, something mysterious in the way she's smiling. "But you're welcome to come join me if you want. It's up on the roof. Wear a coat."

Her turn to disappear without further explanation, the woman turns, beginning to climb the ladder up with old-bolt creaks, eventually disappearing from sight.


Gradually, slowly, so insidiously that he does not even notice, the Winter Soldier rediscovers what it is to feel comfort.

It is an incremental series of things, coming one after the other until they add up into a disturbing whole. He is never warm, but now he is warm. He is never fed real food, but now he has both that /and/ coffee. He does not have a home, but now he is temporarily able to share someone else's. He has not heard a woman speak softly to him in seventy years…

He trembles a little. But there is one thing he still doesn't have and cannot have. A name.

That shuts him back down. He shakes his head, angry with himself, and insists on a return to work. Jane has other ideas, though. Grabbing her coat, she starts shouldering into it matter-of-factly, informing him that in fact she does have other priorities other than him, and she was in the middle of work before he showed up, and he can KINDLY wait his turn. The Winter Soldier stares at her, nonplussed.

It's a risk she takes. Who knows how he might respond to her denying him? Tame as he now seems, it must not be forgotten that he is a deadly assassin who introduced himself to her by the muzzle of his gun.

He starts frowning, ominously— but something about the impish way she smiles back in at him through the window stops him.

It's not long before he follows her up. Some part of him is wondering if she's trying to escape, actually, and is following her to stop her if so. It would be the practical thing for her to do.

He didn't wear a coat, though. He put his shirt back on, but that's the sole concession.


Gradually, slowly, so insidiously that he does not even notice, the Winter Soldier rediscovers what it is to feel comfort.

It is an incremental series of things, coming one after the other until they add up into a disturbing whole. He is never warm, but now he is warm. He is never fed real food, but now he has both that /and/ coffee. He does not have a home, but now he is temporarily able to share someone else's. He has not heard a woman speak softly to him in seventy years…

He trembles a little. But there is one thing he still doesn't have and cannot have. A name.

That shuts him back down. He shakes his head, angry with himself, and insists on a return to work. Jane has other ideas, though. Grabbing her coat, she starts shouldering into it matter-of-factly, informing him that in fact she does have other priorities other than him, and she was in the middle of work before he showed up, and he can KINDLY wait his turn. The Winter Soldier stares at her, nonplussed.

It's a risk she takes. Who knows how he might respond to her denying him? Tame as he now seems, it must not be forgotten that he is a deadly assassin who introduced himself to her by the muzzle of his gun.

He starts frowning, ominously— but something about the impish way she smiles back in at him through the window stops him.

It's not long before he follows her up. Some part of him is wondering if she's trying to escape, actually, and is following her to stop her if so. It would be the practical thing for her to do.

He didn't wear a coat, though. He put his shirt back on, but that's the sole concession.


Risks are a part of Jane Foster's life. The scientific process is conducive on the testing of variables, and same is impeded, even corrupted, with one moment's of hesitation, prudence, or inhibition. Or so she tells herself, probably as a way to justify how impulsively she acts sometimes.

It helps her to treat this as an experiment of its own, not that she wants to equate a living, breathing man in her home as a hamster in a wheel — but rather the source of her fascination. And the reason she asks herself if it's possible to induce some more humanity into him. It's there, Jane realizes the more she sees. But he's fighting it. Why would someone fight that?

So, perhaps for the first time since he forced himself into her life, held a gun to her head — she denies him. It's a nice no, almost a playful no, but it's a no, and Jane dances out of that safe return to mechanical austerity by pulling herself through the window and retreating. Some part of him wonders if she's escaping. Perhaps the woman is, in a way. Only she's giving him an invitation to come with.

That strange smile on her face briefly touches her eyes. Then, just like that, Jane grabs the rungs of the fire ladder and begins walking herself up. The iron is freezing cold on her hands — forgot mittens — and she uses the cuffs of her coat to barrier them. Her shoes slip a little on the freshly-iced metal, but with a strong enough of a grip, Jane balances herself up and disappears onto the roof of the building.

The Winter Soldier follows.

He will find, up there, so far up from the ground, a small, level escape from the rest of Brooklyn, frosted with fresh snow, and carrying only one set of footprints — small, light-footed ones, leading to where Jane stoops over an assembled telescope. She lovingly brushes from it the dusting of snow, assuring the strong stance of the tripod on foot-brushed, snow-cleared cement, and after one glance up into the clearing sky, begins to fuss with measurements.

She barely hears her guest's arrival, half-a-minute later, only turning up her head when movement eventually dares into her periphery. Jane glances up, heralded under moonlight, her face undone with pleasure to realize he came — and then twisting when she realizes what he's wearing.

"I didn't realize 'wear a coat' were difficult words in the English language," Jane grumbles, reaching back to pull from, where it's left trapped under the heavy hood of her coat, a long, woollen scarf. Stepping forward, she dares to reach in enough to try to loop it over the Soldier's head. By God's grace it doesn't have a girly pattern on it, neutrally plaid. "Here."


Perhaps it's not really that the man is fighting his own humanity. Perhaps it's that there's something else in the man, caging him away from rediscovering it.

There are hints that this is the case. Occasionally he seems to struggle against something within himself, and minor hints of a person beneath the faceless assassin surface before they are submerged again. They have happened with greater and greater frequency the longer she spends with him, to a point where she can even dare to tell him— for the first time since she met him— a coy no.

His features darken. But he seems to decide to play along, for the time being. Besides, he has no choice but to follow. She might be trying to flee.

Jane has some minor difficulty, getting up the iced fire escape. The Soldier has none; he scales up after her rapidly, as at-home in the frozen environment as his nom de guerre would suggest. There is a sense, from the way he ignores the ice and chill, that he has felt far worse, and that this is probably a vacation for him compared to what he is used to.

He gains the rooftop easily, to find Jane up there beside her assembled telescope. Shoving his hands in his pockets— more for something to do than because they're strictly cold— he walks slowly over, assuring himself that she's not running away. Not going to alert SHIELD. Good, he thinks. Don't have to kill her after all.

The thought clashes awfully with the look of pleasure that lights her face when she sees him. He stops, confused, not accustomed to seeing happiness on the face of someone he might still need to execute.

Then she sees what he's wearing, and a much more familiar expression claims her features. She didn't realize 'wear a coat' was a difficult phrase to understand in the English language.

Something tickles the back of his mind: an irrepressible dry wit so ingrained into his personality that— even as a reprogrammed assassin— it still shines through. "Eigo ga yoku wakarimasu," he replies, perfectly deadpan. He understands English perfectly fine.

That brief flash of playfulness disappears when she suddenly reaches for his neck with something— he tenses and pulls back slightly, an animal resisting being leashed— but eventually he registers that the scarf is not a threat. His features go flat again as she winds the scarf around his neck. "It's really not that cold here," he grumbles.


Oblivious to all those machine-cold, conditioned thoughts in his head, the woman glances up and meets the sight of the Winter Soldier with transparent delight. He's assured to not have a reason to kill her. She is just happy he's here, has followed her up — she was feared he would just wait passively on the couch for her, counting down the seconds with placid heartbeats.

Not running away whatsoever, Jane disengages from her telescope to approach the man, when seeing him without a coat changes her face from raw pleasure to long-suffering disapproval — though the affection does not leave her dark eyes.

She chides and pulls free her scarf to administer punishment: if he won't listen, then he's going to wear her things. Aside from the fact that this would probably be the only article of anything in Jane's closet that would actually fit him.

Extending it out, she goes up to her tip-toes to put it on him — only for the soldier to tense and balk. Jane waits patiently, neither forcing her closeness nor retreating, quashing down her own reticence to hold strong. Let him decide if she's a threat, or perhaps something that can be trusted — even tolerated.

With time, he relaxes, assured that Dr. Jane Foster cannot weaponize a wool scarf. He even has something to say, a retort for her grumbling rebuke — as his voice changes to flawlessly speak words she can recognize but not understand. Her eyes crease with surprise and awe. Was that Japanese?

"No one likes a show-off," Jane advises, poker-faced around the humour in her eyes. She ties the scarf on him. "It's freezing. I suppose being a jerk helps keep someone warm."

With one last glance, she steps back, turning shoulder again to return her attention on the reason she's up here — that telescope of hers. It's a strange thing, a Frankensteined mixture of old and new, as if Jane had received a treasured gift a good fifteen years ago and decided to add her own modifications as time passed and skill advanced. Much of its pieces are out-of-place and homemade, and she's apparently still old school where the equipment is involved — no computerized direction like telescopes of today. She adjusts it by hand.

"I don't think you've ever asked me about what I actually do," she says into the cold air, speaking frankly as she leans over the eyepiece, taking constant, surreptitious glances up at the sky. Jane is so obsessed she can measure the stars by eye.


Perhaps a Winter Soldier that had not been out of freeze so long would have done just that: stayed patiently sitting in one place until collected, his brain not thawed enough to remember things like autonomy and basic curiosity. This one, however, recalls that there are such things as questioning, exploration, and independent thought. This one remembers that he can do things because he wants to do them.

This was always the point, in the past, when HYDRA would recondition him. Once the Winter Soldier began asking questions, it was time to re-up the programming.

HYDRA is not here now, though. Only Jane is, with that odd incongruous affection in her dark eyes, an affection that does not go away even when she sees him approach. That always has an impact on the Soldier… seeing someone's features fail to change to fear and horror as he walks towards them. It is so novel that it draws his eyes, every time.

Of course, it doesn't last long, but not because she's afraid of him. Her displeasure expresses itself in the form of her reaching to loop a scarf around his neck. He balks, as she expects, and she waits patiently through his wild-animal suspicion. Eventually he relaxes— enough to even essay a sarcastic remark as she loops the scarf around his neck. Though not a remark in English.

No one likes a show-off and a jerk, she retorts. His eyes glitter briefly with the kind of mischievousness that not even seventy years of brainwashing can quash. "Ich stimme zu," he agrees cordially.

With her scarf around his neck, though, he becomes visually a lot less threatening. Especially when he turns to her telescope, and his demeanor changes to something reverent and thoughtful. He reaches and gently touches it with his right hand, fingertips trailing along the knobs and levers of its modifications. His eyes flicker as if he is struggling to remember something long since lost.

She doesn't think he ever asked her what she actually does. "Don't need to," he remarks absently, absorbed in the telescope. Oh, it's time for him to be creepy again. "You're an astrophysicist. You have a contract with SHIELD. You don't like it but you tolerate it. You don't have many options because others think you have a 'crackpot' theory." Full dossier, right there.


The Winter Soldier replies Jane Foster's sass with some sass of his own. This round is in German.

She cuts him back a sharp look. She struggles not to let the smile surface on her mouth. That would mean he's won.

Instead, with a pointed huff of breath as her eloquent rejoinder, Jane instead retreats to far more engaging pursuits: that is, adjusting the dozen finicky dials of her old-as-balls Celestron telescope. It's the first real telescope of her life, bought by her father on her thirteenth birthday. She loved it at first sight. She still loves it now.

Enough that her protective instinct rises dangerously when, out of the corners of her eyes, she catches the Winter Soldier reaching to touch one of her dearest possessions. Jane pauses, but ultimately relaxes, making a gut decision to trust him. Whoever the Soldier is, he seems to pay a particular respect, even reverence, for the stars. There are few she would allow to touch her things, but he has earned that rare right.

She wants him to be curious. Curious is a /good/ thing. It's the best thing, really.

Patient, Jane just goes back to her calibrations, working along as the assassin beside her indulges impulses even lost on him. Eager to encourage it, to keep him talking to her, she makes her remark — for someone who seems to enjoy the stars, does he even know what she does? Aside from someone who can conveniently be held at gunpoint and made to repair unseen technology?

Apparently, yes, he does.

Jane glances away from the stars, attention effectively wrangled and tied-down, looking up into his face as he speaks the last year or so of her life back to her, detail after damning detail. At first she looks surprised, then amused, then a bit sharply wry at mention of SHIELD —

— and others think she has a crackpot theory. Not even she can disguise her flinch, to hear all of her life's word reduced to just one, cavalier word, and Jane seems to take it like a punch to the gut. She averts her eyes, breathing through the hurt. If even he knows that, must mean everyone else does.

Jane steels and composes herself back to normal, glancing back up. "It's not crackpot," she promises, and looks back up at the stars for them to ground her. "I wasn't asking that. You haven't asked me what I do — your feelings on it. If whether you believe it or not."


Perceptive as he is, he notices when his reach to touch her telescope makes Jane tense up.

He pauses, watching her out of the corner of his eye, up until she relaxes. He's not sure why he does, but something about it seems right. Only when she looks away again does he continue, his fingertips smoothing over the cold metal and lingering on the dials. As he touches them, brief thoughts occur to him… muscle memories of how they should be turned and adjusted.

Engrossed in this one object that can evoke so much that is unfamiliar in his mind, he almost doesn't hear her at first. The question reaches him eventually, however, and absently he answers her with a full recitation of the dossier he compiled on her. He glances over at her near the end of it, in time to catch her reaction to his mention of her crackpot theory.

It hits her like a punch to the gut. Her eyes shine a little and she averts her gaze. The Soldier frowns a little at this, finding it uncomfortable and objectionable to him to make her unhappy— and not sure why that is.

He shakes his head and talks through the unfamiliar sensation of guilt. Mercifully, it disappears as soon as it reared its unaccustomed head. She wants to know his feelings— whether he believes in it. "It's not my job to believe in things," he says. "Nor to have feelings about them. That's the opposite of my job."

But he can't help mirroring her when she looks up at the stars. They're nothing more than wan pinpricks here in Brooklyn, but they're just barely visible.

"Your theory is… interesting," he finally says. "But far above and beyond my business or anything I concern myself with. I do very simple things."


Jane knows well that the Foster Theory has, is, and will, struggle for acceptance among her profession — among her peers. She struggled with those consequences, denied grant extensions, denied academic funding — having her very resume treated as if the last three years were a veritable hole, one she figures where she was supposed to die in, with all her crackbrained ideas. Even after Puente Antiguo, no one wanted to take a chance on her. No one save SHIELD, and probably for no more reason than a glorified leash.

Someone insignificant to watch in case another alien god falls from the sky and into her truck, and tries to establish contact. Establishes contact then disappears completely.

She knows well what they think of her, and yet… this is the first time Jane hears it aloud. She thinks herself inurred, iron-skinned, tough, but it hits harder than it expects. She hates to admit it, but it breaks her heart a little. All it takes is a little faith — why must people be so close-minded?

Fortunately, Jane's little hitch does not last long. She remembers there are better things to feel than sadness, like anger, or passion, or the imagined triumph of being able to tell an entire world she told them so — being able to /show/ them what she can do. That the price of their skepticism was a fare she would pay easily, again and again, to see her ideas take shape.

In the end, she finds herself strangely caring what he thinks — the Winter Soldier. A man with whom she has no connections save for his arm and a love for the stars.

He dodges it. That's what it feels to Jane, with his dismissive responses that give her neither yes nor no. She watches him through it all, not with any sort of derision or impatience — but a sharpness to her eyes not unlike a surgical scalpel, turning to carefully open the husk of his reasoning and reach the heart of it.

She looks back down at her telescope, making some last adjustments, sure he has nothing more to say — until the Soldier admits her theory is interesting. That draws Jane's eyes, wide, watchful, wondering. Interesting, but beyond the place he is in. He does simple things. She thinks about that.

Jane makes a few final calibrations on her telescope, and then, satisfied, steps back from the eyepiece. "Look," she invites. "I want you to see something."


It feels like a dodge. It is a dodge. Talking too deeply about things hurts, makes his head buzz with too many thoughts and stimuli. Like an animal he shies instinctively from the painful things and hides in what is simple and easy.

His conditioning makes questioning thought, independence, and the exploration of emotion a painful ordeal. It makes following orders, hunting, and killing easy and pleasurable. Like a plant he turns towards one set of behaviors instinctively, and eschews the other. For the sixty-odd years he has been active operation, this simple formula has worked.

But it's not without its flaws. Simple cages can only hold complex things for so long, and beneath all the programming and mental implantation, Bucky Barnes remains: complex, human, and unerased.

That suppressed part of him emerges, just slightly, when he imitates her to look up at the stars. Something about the act hearkens back to his childhood, far back enough that the conditioning thins enough for odd words and thoughts to slip through. It's an interesting theory, the idea that humankind is not alone, and could build bridges to erase its isolation. Something about that idea appeals to him too, on a visceral level. It is hard to be alone.

Yet… no. His eyes lower. He's not meant to think about things like that. He is a simple tool meant for simple work.

Jane has something to say about that. She finishes her calibrations, steps back, and beckons him to look through the adjusted telescope. He watches her a few moments in plain consideration, head tilted a little like a bird, before he takes a few slow steps over and obeys, stooping down to look through an eyepiece adjusting to her diminutive height.


It takes seconds for the eye to adjust.

And then, right there, like a secret in the sky pulled down from some distant altar and captured close for him to behold, for him to claim — spreads the churning, celestial body of the Andromeda Galaxy. It is so endless that its great body fills the lens and swells far past, so far away and yet still so impossibly vast. Circulating around a heart of fierce, searing light, dust avenues colour as blue as beating veins, bearing a billion records of possibility in each limb. It looks alive, endless, eternal. Always there in the sky. Always there, looking down from so far away, and still never seen.

"That's Andromeda Galaxy," Jane reveals, voice light and low, just barely carrying over the night. The galaxy lurking deep in the same constellation he gravitated to, could not stop tracing with his eyes, that night ago in her lab. She hasn't forgotten. She chooses this specifically for him.

Her soft voice pauses, then continues, just above a whisper. She does not want to take him away from this moment. She remembers how it feels. "Our neighbour. You're seeing billions among billions of suns like ours, and the systems they keep — some different from ours, some the same. That light you're seeing now is two and a half million years old. You're seeing a photograph, an image suspended in time. We're kept separate by vast distance, but I believe it won't be forever. How do you feel about, just in one lifetime, being able to visit all that? Being able to discover every point of light in the sky?"

He looks through the telescope. Jane looks through the Winter Soldier, on her face that same deep dwelve of exploration, as if long enough exposure by her brown eyes will open him to her, past a pinpoint of light and into what remains hidden so far away. "Do you believe we can?"


He goes still as the stars spread before his eyes.

The last time he looked through a telescope at the stars was nearly eighty years ago. Eighty. Nearly a century has gone by since then, a millennium turned. The telescopes have gotten a lot better since the last time James Barnes stargazed, and what he now sees outshines his fragmented, distant memories a thousandfold.

It is enough to weaken his limbs and send a shudder down his spine.

He is silent as Jane explains what he is looking at. He is silent as she tells him he's looking at light two and a half million years old: a snapshot, a photograph, an image of things long dead, transmitted down across the ages unchanged and pristine.

She asks him how he feels about being able to visit all that— being able to walk into the stars and travel the emptiness between those pinpricks of light. She asks him if he believes it. But what he is thinking about is not that question. What he is thinking about is not those possibilities. What he answers is, ultimately, not that query.

What he is thinking about, in these frozen moments, is the fact that for the first time in many years, his mind is suddenly so clear he can see back through the decades of his life. Can understand that they were decades. Knows for a brief, shattering moment that he too is light from a hundred years past, and that what people in the present day see when they look at him is no more than preserved images, thrown forward across the chasm of time.

"An image. That is me," he murmurs. The burden of a century weighs in his voice.

The window closes, leaving him with only a vast sense of disorientation. He takes a step back and abruptly sits down. His head goes down into his hands, and he refuses to move or speak.


An image. That image. It is him.

They are not the words Jane is hoping to hear — not the ones she is so gently, but fiercely encouraging free. She wants him to make a decision all on his own. She wants to hear a conviction — some hidden leyline of humanity that rebels against his work, his job, his oath of simplicity.

Instead she receives — something so very different. Something even in the moment she cannot possibly quantify.

Jane looks on desperately, her eyes averting only to turn one helpless glance up at the stars of Andromeda, perchance something has appeared suddenly that he sees and she cannot. The image is him. She understands immediately what he says, because the concept is what she just explained — he's rhyming himself to the distant light of a faraway galaxy — but she cannot seem to make that last connection. It's a strange thing to say. How is he like deep space light? What is she missing?

"Tell me," she begs. "How are you an image?"

He sounds so — tired. He moves with a fatigue Jane has never seen, the exhaustion of water-eroded mountains, receiving the final rain to crumble them down into dust. He steps backward. She urges forward, that same, matching step, one hand outstretched — and yet paused within indecision. Jane doesn't know what to do.

The Winter Soldier's body does. It does only what it can. And it shuts down, forcing him to sit, right here, right now, brokenly in the snow, his flesh-and-metal hands grasping down onto his head. Jane looks pleadingly after. She can't see his face. She can't see his eyes. It's like he's retreating, going somewhere she cannot even see to follow, and it might all be her fault —

She panics. No longer arrested by thought, by hesitation, by indecision, the woman steps forward, leaving behind her telescope, the stars, the night around them, and dropping to a beseeching kneebend at his side. He will be able to hear her heart again, hammering in that urgent triple-time.

And then there is a touch. He may feel it. He may not. But Jane's small, winter-chilled hands lay over his, light and nervous, before they curl, trying carefully but earnestly to want to peel his away, so she can see him.

"Hey," urges her voice, thin and taut and absolutely terrified. "Are you OK?! Please come back to me."


Tell me, she pleads. How is he an image? What does he mean?

The Winter Soldier is in no condition to explain. Neither he nor James Barnes truly, confidently occupy this body at the moment; a sort of half-conglomeration of them does, two fragmented personalities swirling confusedly in one shattered head. He grasps that head as if the pressure of his own fingers can work those pieces together into some coherent whole.

All it does is hurt. But he keeps digging his fingertips in anyway.

He steps back, folds, and sinks to sit in the snow. All of a sudden, he moves like an old man, weighed down by the years, eroded by the march of time until he has nothing left in him to withstand the oppression of continued life. His head bows, face shrouding behind his hair, and he stops moving. He does not speak.

She panics. Sinking down beside him, she struggles a moment in indecision before she reaches out to touch him, laying her small hands over his arms, his wrists, then his own hands, pulling in a gentle attempt to peel them free. He does not actively resist her, but nonetheless he does not budge, and there is no amount of strength in her small hands that will change that.

"I saw it," he mumbles. "For a second. I had it. I saw what was wrong." His fingers curl, and he pleads suddenly, "What year is it?"


His hands do not shift, do not move. Even the right one of flesh and bone has the inexorability of iron. Jane's mind spins, trying to comprehend how someone can be so strong. She'd only witnessed it once in her life, and so briefly —

But even as weak as she is, she is nothing but determined, unstoppable in the same way light travels that infinite reach of space to light the stars in the sky. Refusing to relent, Jane simply curls her fingers around his immovable ones, holding lightly on. If she cannot move them, then at least she'll keep them warm — try to ground him in place with human touch. She can't imagine not reaching out to him — can't imagine leaving alone someone who looks so heartbreakingly lost and alone.

What did she do? What did she do to him?

Jane trembles with relief when the Soldier speaks. More than speaks — answers her. He can hear. He's still with her. She hasn't broken him — however even a man like him /can/ be broken.

He tells her he saw what was wrong. Jane tilts her head, eyes pinching with the squeeze of a thousand questions. Her lips part to speak — and he asks her a single question of his own. Not a question she's ever heard before in her entire life.

She pauses significantly, lost for thought. Barely able to believe. But Jane replies, soft, "Twenty sixteen."


His strength is completely immovable. It is, frankly, beyond the strength any man should have— should be capable of wielding. Even in his flesh arm. Whatever the Winter Soldier is, it is not entirely human anymore.

Yet he is still human enough, clearly, to suffer. Still human enough that he seems, in some distant way, to appreciate the touch of her hands on his, trying feebly to keep him warm in the cold despite such not being necessary at all. He sits in the snow without feeling it at all, his attention wholly wrapped in trying to unravel the mess in his head.

It was just there. He could see it all. And then it faded away. He can already feel the cold creeping back into his head as the Winter Soldier identity prowls around the edges of his thoughts, reasserting himself in the neurons of his broken mind.

He can feel an absence of time chewing at his heels, an urgency to speak while he can. He uses the window to ask the first question to come to mind: what year is it?

It is the last question she expected to hear. It gives her significant pause, a thousand questions circulating in a mind that can barely believe what it just heard— what the implications of what she just heard are. But she answers.

The answer finally drops his hands from his head. His face lifts, revealing itself again, and his eyes are staring and horrified. "It can't— I can't have—"

He suddenly starts struggling to his feet. "Steve… is Steve gone?"


Jane feels a deepening chill.

But it's not from the December night, it's not from her kneeling down in fresh-lain snow — but something else, a coldness that escapes definition. There is a charge to the air she can neither measure nor comprehend, but she can feel it — taste the thickening ozone oiling down her palate. He is a man who, not even a month ago, pressed a gun against her head, but Jane cannot even think of that. It feels like another lifetime, and she just cannot reconcile that cold, dead-eyed man with this broken thing before her, slumped into the snow, clenching his head with pushing fingers — as if he could press them past his skull and rend the brainmatter within. Silence the storm forever.

She doesn't know what to say. She cannot think of a thing to do. She cannot even move a single finger of him. Jane just tries to keep the Winter Soldier's deadly hands warm, flesh and metal both.

Her eyes flick back-and-forth, searching what little she can see, wishing she could get a look at his face. She hovers and she waits, anxious and soothing all at once — hoping that if anything she can be some sort of touchstone as his mind speaks in a different voice — a life he should but cannot know.

Inevitably, what rises from all that tortured silence is no great display, no demonstration of emotion — but a single question. Jane, even distressed to hear such a strange request, can only answer it honestly.

The year seems to get through when all those beseeching pushes of her hands could not, breaking through wall by wall, as slowly the man relents, lets go, and stares up. The look on his face wrecks her. She doesn't understand, she doesn't — but she wants to.

He stammers more strange words, a response like he cannot believe the present is now, like he's been suspended in time truly like the phantom light of the stars. Another ghost. He spoke of decades before this. He spoke of feeling old —

Jane startles out of her thoughts as the Soldier abruptly moves, glancing up in shock and taking her hands away. She levers one down to push up to her own feet, hesitating before reaching out to touch one of his arms, as if she were attempting to steady a man near twice her size. She's afraid he might slip and fall. "Please," she begs, "you should —"

He asks for a Steve. Jane wears equal parts shock and confusion. Her lips move at first like she's not sure how to answer. She remembers. "I don't — who is Steve?"


That man who held a gun to her head— who held her down by the throat— seems like a faraway memory. It was only weeks ago, but in the intervening time she has seen so much else to him— so many contradictory pieces of his shattered personality— that it is so hard to remember the way he was when she first met him.

How can one reconcile that cold-eyed killer with this pitiable creature, folded over in the snow, trying to tear his own head apart so he can put it back together in some way that makes sense?

Helpless and confused, she kneels in the snow beside him and does the only thing she can do. She tries to warm his hands with her own, fitting her tiny fingers against his. If he were in his right mind, he would push her away; those two hands are covered with so much blood that just to touch them would probably transfer the taint of him to her.

He isn't. So she gets to stay.

Eventually, he struggles through the mental storm enough to manage to grasp onto something. Some urgent question that needs to be asked. What year is it? Everything is so strange. Nothing is how he remembers it to be. Nowhere looks like it should look. What year is it?

She answers.

He looks up. His eyes stare off into the distance, locked in the harrowed gaze of a man who has seen far too much. He cannot get that year to gel with anything else in his mutilated mind. Suddenly desperate, he struggles to his feet, heedless of Jane's attempts to steady or brake him. Another question comes to mind, the first question that always comes to mind when he manages to break through. Steve. Steve is important.

Who is Steve? Jane begs. He looks at her like she's taken leave of her senses. "Everyone knows," he stammers, confused. "Everyone knows Cap…"

His head goes back into his hands. He mutters to himself, shaking, but it looks like he's slowly pulling himself together. Which personality he's pulling himself together into, however… is a good question.


Whatever taint may scour those hands, Jane Foster neither seems to notice nor care. She curls her fingers determinedly over his. She knows, logically, that she does not need to warm fingers made of metal — metal that bites like ice in the cold — but if he can feel, that's all what matters.

Otherwise, the woman lingers close, obliquely helpless. No neurologist, no psychiatrist, the goings-on of the mind are far beyond Jane's paygrade, and even then she has a feeling the Soldier's mind in particular would be an unworkable knot of its own. She only hovers and watches, trying to answer the questions he asks, tense and prepared in case he does something to harm himself —

— if even then she'll be able to stop that.

Her heart breaks for him. Whatever he's done to her, whatever fear he's past put in her heart — she cannot remember it all, all incidental, all /symptomatic/ of someone who seems so fundamentally broken. Broken in a way beyond any sort of control. Broken like something has been done to him.

He speaks of a Steve and Jane snaps onto the word like a vice. She has no idea what it means, who it is, but it's /something/. It's SOMETHING. It's like all hope crustallized into one word, evidence that the Winter Soldier is indeed the man she believes — someone who knows someone else. Someone with ties, with bonds, with roots. Someone who — is lost.

A good scientist knows to ask questions, and she does immediately, even as he begins to pick himself off the ground. Jane scrambles up after, distraught at the shaky way the man uprights himself, worried at the idea of him hurting himself. She hangs uselessly onto one of his arms, the tiny woman who thinks herself some effective crutch. And she listens.

He looks at her like she's crazy. Jane's eyes crease like she still doesn't understand, but she's more than willing to try. Doesn't she know Steve? She hasn't known a Steve since college. Everyone knows Cap—

Her mouth purses. She doesn't understand, but she feels like she should. Like there's something familiar, but the synapses haven't yet met in her brain, and she's —

Freaking out, pretty effectively, when the Soldier closes back in on himself and begins to demonstrate all the classic symptoms of shock. Jane flutters in close with her still-triple-time, hammering heart. She needs to get him out of the cold. And she needs to, needs to — "What about you?" she pleads him. "Please tell me your real name."


It is frankly painful to hold his metal hand in this cold. The titanium and steel are freezing cold, and her skin sticks to the unforgiving dead surface at the slightest provocation. But she holds on anyway. The Winter Soldier seems to need it, in these moments… that is, if what she confronts in this moment is truly the Winter Soldier.

It might be it is someone else. The someone else that he was before he ever took on that mantle.

That someone else is someone deeply confused. He asks what year it is. He expresses shock and confusion when she gives the answer. The one thing that really draws Jane's attention, though, is when he starts asking for a Steve. Here it is! The proof that he isn't just a cold automaton, isn't just a faceless assassin with nothing to him but the hunt and kill. He was a man once. He had people.

Which begs the question… what happened to him that this is all he is now?

He cannot seem to answer that. Instead he struggles to his feet. Even disoriented, the grace in his movements is obvious, his strength still great enough that he doesn't appear to notice the way she hangs onto his right arm. She begs a question of him, and it's such a ridiculous question to him that he stares askance. How can she not know Steve? What kind of world is 2016 that people don't immediately know Steve? Why doesn't HE know Steve? He's so sure Steve is important, yet when he grasps for the knowledge, all he can get is that one single syllable. Cap.

Even that is supremely painful. It's like digging a screwdriver right into the back of his skull. He sways, dazed from the effort, and instinctively starts to head back inside. Jane is toted along, now pleading with him to tell her his name. His real name.

He does not look at her. His gaze is fixed forward, staring, haunted. He scales back down the fire escape mechanically, beelining back for the window. "I don't know," he says, in the tone men use to beg an interrogation to stop. "I don't know it."


It is painful. And her skin adheres to the too-cold metal in spots that may leave her too sore tomorrow to do fine-control movement, but Jane doesn't seem to care. Concern has a way of pinpointing all the world down to one single, focal point — and right now it is on a man broken, lost, confused, and in search for someone important to him — someone named Steve.

He does not even seem to notice her there. His eyes seem to burn through her, and Jane is incidental, a ghost of an age he's not yet joined — not a man trapped permanently seventy years in the past, in the hell made of the wasteland of his mind. But that does not deter her, does not stop the woman, trying so desperately to help however she can. She wouldn't forgive herself to simply stand by. She's never seen someone so helpless.

Helpless, and yet at the same time, so physiologically resolute he does not even seem to notice her supporting hands clasping his right arm. The man sways, and she startles, sidestepping to press a wary hand on his shoulder, ready to take his weight with her laughable, little self, and simply resigning to hold on out of fear of him collapsing. Jane goes rigid in terror against that thought. If he gets concussed, gets hurt, she won't be able to get him down. He could get concussed. Or worse. Much worse. Who'd she call to help? What would she do?

Thankfully, he does not fall.

On the contrary, as if commanded by some internal script running through the hardware of his reprogrammed mind, the Winter Soldier turns and begins to walk, ushing himself back to the fire escape, back down to her apartment below. Jane, with her hands still stolen around his arm, one stinging-sore in a way she still hasn't noticed, finds herself dragged along for the ride. Her flats cut skidding tracks through the shining layer of snow, and she gazes in disbelief, met again with frank evidence to the strength of him. He doesn't even notice her. She's a breath of wind on him.

Letting go, Jane stops moving, standing there uselessly, watching with her eyes as he mechanically levers himself down the ladder. She's relieved he's at least getting out of the cold — though even she's not sure where the Winter Soldier is going. It feels like a window is closing, closing on her, with only scant few, precious moments to ask the question she needs to —

He answers. No staring silence like before. No implacable refusals, no flat "no." He says he doesn't know, and it sounds honest. It sounds pained.

Jane frowns and says nothing more. She stands there for a moment, lost for what to do, glancing back at her telescope, looking briefly up at the stars. For the first time in her life, they give her no answers.

Then she follows him down, descending the ladder and following the man back in through the window. Interrogation mercifully over, all she does is seek to follow him with her eyes.


For these few critical moments, it is as if Jane is not there. It is as if the world is not there. For these few moments, he exists only in his mind, his gaze turned inward in desperate search for what he feels to be missing.

It is a uniquely pitiable, helpless aspect he wears right now— a man so lost he has temporarily lost even the ability to interact with the outer world— and yet standing in sharp contrast to that psychological frailty is the fine-tuned, honed power that still inheres in his physical form. His body works perfectly even if his mind does not, raising him to a stand and turning him to walk back across the roof with lupine strength and assurance even on the ice. He totes Jane along, not even noticing her, for several paces up until she lets go.

Whoever did this to him required perfect operation only of the body. The mind is a shattered wasteland. He is engineered to be nothing but a physical weapon, that much is transparent… like a knife whose blade has been meticulously honed and honed and honed over the years, even as its handle was left to fall into crumbling disrepair.

At the least, it gets him down the fire escape and back into her apartment safely, his body moving with sureness even if his stare is a thousand miles away. The only time he seems to acknowledge her is when he answers that one question.

He doesn't know. Whatever his real name was, it is lost to him.

She frowns, but cannot find anything else to say. He doesn't seem to have anything else either, his body moving on autopilot almost as if some routine had been triggered in his head. As if some function in his programming was just called to make right everything that is going wrong in his source.

"I need to sleep," he says unhelpfully, before he simply slumps onto the too-small couch, back turned outwards towards her, and seems to completely shut down.


Jane shuts the window after to close off the chill. Stepped back into the warmth and familarity of her own apartment, surrounded in a hundred familiar things, old and new, but all safe —

— she still feels like the floor's been dropped out from under her feet, turning shoulder, and looking skeptically after the strangest new intruder in her life walk away like a broken machine… and slump his body into her couch.

It creaks under his weight, is not long enough to provide for his full height, but holds. It holds him with well enough support, even comfort, that he goes immediately still.

She stares at his turned back, still so confused, lips parted with a hundred questions she wants to ask. All of them breathe out her mouth, let go and never spoken. She finds herself wishing she could see his face. She doesn't even know if he's all right.

Slowly, Jane strips out of her coat, finding herself taking pains to bundle it lightly without too much noise. She crosses the room, eyes on that man curled on the couch, and begins turning off or dimming lights to help provide him darkness to rest. She looks back at him, contorted there — like he means to sleep here. She supposes he will. He's not moving, not speaking to her — not appearing willing to do anything but sleep away that strange, and definitely painful, stress that took his mind. Stress she inadvertantly caused.

She leaves the room without a word. After a minute, she returns, heralded in the sounds of footsteps he may not hear, and lingering with sensation of her too-close presence he may not feel, and with a flutter of unfolded fabric, leans down to pull a blanket over his body. Jane hovers for half a minute more, even with no need to, and so close it's obvious she's watching him, trying to search for something he cannot tell her. How does a man not even know his name?

Her hand touches his shoulder briefly, then disappears.

Jane's presence pulls back, but it does not entirely recede. With a decision made on a light sigh, and knowing it's going to rain horrible consequences on her back, the woman sinks down to take a place on her living room floor, propped up on the front of the couch, her back to his back. Lit only in the tiny white lights of her Christmas tree, blinking in and out like a starfield of their own, she bunks down for the long haul, having decided she is going to keep an eye on him. On whatever has happened to him.

He can sleep, and she'll watch the Winter Soldier for a change.


The Winter Soldier retreats from his namesake.

His mind may not be working, but that doesn't shut off the perfect balance and agility of his honed body. He seems to have reverted to that blank-slate state he was in when he was first pulled from the snow, bloody and broken and with his left arm dangling by shreds: a state where he knew nothing, had nothing in his mind, except the muscle memory of fighting and killing.

He is coded to do one thing and one only when his conditioning reaches such a strained state: stop moving, shut off, and let the programming reassert itself. So he does just that.

He slumps down. His turned back goes still so quickly that he might as well have hit an off switch on himself. And his mind gets to work, the conditioning slowly repairing the cracks in his sense of self by repeating to him the false stories that he has been fed.

It is hours before he rouses. Something odd and unaccustomed helps in disturbing him awake. Some sensation he's emphatically not used to feeling.

It feels warm.

He sits up, confused, and the blanket falls away from him. He looks down at it in confusion. He has not slept with a blanket over him in longer than he can remember. His left arm moves to pull it aside and away, the metal humming its familiar synthetic tune, and the sound calms him. Now that is familiar.

Turning to sit more properly on the couch, he drops his face into his right hand, smearing his palm across his features in an attempt to regain his bearings. It is still dark, and his disorientation is so great that at first he does not notice if he is alone or not.


He reawakens.

The room opens up to him in the early hours as a hundred hushed greys, no lights on, and morning still out of reach. His eyes adjust quick, quicker than most, but for one sweet second, all comes out of focus, blurred as if this were all a painting and some careless hand had swathed a smear over the colours, the world presents itself to the Winter Soldier in the form of darkness, dim and wan, and the warmth.

Warmer than he's known. Warmer than he's used to. He pushes aside a blanket — why is there one there, why on him — and sits up against the soft creak of sofa springs. He rubs his face and the home around him waits in patience, the seconds rolling slow. As if the universe has allowed him one corner, an eternal night, to give him all the time he needs to sit up, clear his mind, and think.

The world around him is not the one that usually meets him. Heat rolls from a rumbling radiator. A laptop, screen closed but left on, hums its quiet fans. Little pinpricks of light, flutteringly on-and-off, starfield a familiar-looking Christmas tree, leaning perilously left like a person craning their head comically to look at him. Rise and shine.

It feels at first like he is alone, the place so membranically silent —

And then, quiet but there, easily picked up by his too-keen senses, come the sounds of someone's slowly-beating heart. Someone's light, shallow breathing.

Jane Foster is only just a couple feet away. Away, and down, sitting on the ground, with only her back propped lightly up on her couch. Head bowed forward, empty hands loose in her lap — the right hand wearing fresh bandaids on three of its fingers — she looks like someone on voluntary sentry, and somewhere among the long hours and her exhausting thoughts, drifted accidentally to sleep. Eyes shut, eyebrows strangely furrowed in her dreaming, she does not yet stir.


It's the early grey hours when he awakens. The dead hours between three and five in the morning have always been kind to the Soldier and his work, and he naturally gravitates towards that time period to rouse and begin to operate.

Normally he comes awake to full alertness instantly, no delay between sleep and combat readiness, but the darkness and unaccustomed warmth encourage a certain laxness. He boots up slow, confused at the lack of cold and pain and brutal hands on his body, and not quite wanting this unexpected reprieve to end. For many moments, he does not even open his eyes, out of a certain childlike fear that doing so will make all this vanish— will make the world revert back to the brutish, frozen existence to which he is accustomed.

Eventually he has to, though. His lashes flicker a little as he peeks cautiously into the dark. This must be a dream, because he sees nothing but homey darkness and the soft glow of domestic lights. Lights that are not lab lights. He lets his eyes drift open a little more, and they adjust with hyperefficient swiftness, showing him a clearer vision of that comforting wan dark. One that does not dissipate.

Confused, he sits up. A blanket falls off him, and he paws it aside with a bewildered look. He scrubs his right hand across his face as if that will help things make sense, but all that happens is that he wakes up even more thoroughly to process the sight of a darkened home— a home, not a lab— around him, centerpieced by a tiny Christmas tree.

Which is leaning left again.

He blinks slowly, and then pauses as slight, soft sounds remind him he is not alone. In the dark, the blue eyes of the Soldier turn and lock on, unerringly finding the source of that sleeping heartbeat— that regular, shallow breathing.

He watches Jane for many long moments, completely still, appraising her vulnerability with a hunter's cool gaze. The conditioning is back in place. He remembers nothing of anything that happened subsequent to her showing him the stars.

The blanket slides soundlessly away as he rises. No sound escapes him as he closes the distance with her, one foot precisely following the other in a panther's trackless, silent steps. He stands over her, gazing down at her, wordless and thoughtful, slowly becoming aware of the weight of the pistol he yet wears.

Then he glances at the door. He turns, transparently deciding it is high time he take his leave—

—and his eye is caught by the bandages on her fingers.

His conditioning urges him to complete his decision to leave. Something else makes him turn back to crouch fluidly beside her. His head tilts a little, curious, as the Winter Soldier studies those band-aids, distantly aware— somewhere in the ravaged back of his mind— that he ought to know why those are there.


There are no lab lights. There are no cruel hands touching his body. There is no sensation of the familiar, perennial cold that breathes the reborn life back into the Winter Soldier.

Just darkness. Just warmth. Just comfort. Just all the sounds and smells of someone's darkened home, like a too-sweet first taste of all the rights afforded to men.

There should be dissonance. All bodies detect and reject foreign pathogens, and destroy it dead in the blood. He is a pathogen, different and incongruous, that has no place here. No part of the Winter Soldier rhymes with warmth and safety. He does not get a home. Men claim; ghosts haunt.

That is the script running through his mind.

So it worries worse that this home seems not to reject him. It seems not to notice any difference. It suspends him within its walls warmth and the lingering smell of cooked chili, it breathes with the fans of sparse electronics, and it yields beneath him the friendly comfort of a couch. It holds the Soldier within not like a cage, but something entirely else — like a promise kept between friends. No lights, no pain, no hands on him: for these rare moments, he is safe. There is not a soul that would know to find him.

But his tightest chain pulls taut. Even if no one could find him, not his handlers, not his keepers, they could hold no leash as effective as the Soldier's own mind.

He realizes he's not alone. He sees her here, Jane Foster, here with him and fast asleep on her own living room floor, and his mind yokes only to weigh her as nothing but a thousand many vulnerabilities. Weak while asleep. Weak while unarmed. Weak while outside physical access to weapons or communications devices. Weak to have her guard down to rest so close to a predator.

He approaches her without sound. Weak senses — unable to hear. Weak form — lean and small. Weak throat — breakable. Weak legs — sever at the knee. Weak hands — delicate, snap both wrists, dislocate all fingers.

Too weak. Too weak to provide him sufficient risk. He looks back on her front door.

But his mind still spools, catalogues, processes. Fingerprints could be picked up on her bandaids, remove and burn —

Something about that makes him stop and look on her once more. Dogged sentry as she tries to be, still sitting up, head lolled forward, Jane breathes, slow, shallow, in dreams.

Compelled for reasons even beyond him, he alights down at her side, crouched, watchful. He is so quiet that the woman does not stir. His presence hovers in perilously close, but that seems not to worry her. Jane dozes peacefully on.

He gets a closer look at her right hand. Fresh bandaids loop the tips of her fingers with the fading, alkaline smell of analgesic cream, hiding some same, shared injury under their layers. The question, however, finds its answer with one close look at her palm. Red and raw, her torn skin shines painfully with cold burns. The look of flesh after touching frozen metal.

Not touching. A hand pressing down. A hand clasping down —


These surroundings touch a part of the Winter Soldier's mind that has not been touched in nearly eight decades. Even by the time he was lost, declared MIA, he had already been away from home for years, fighting in Europe far from everything he knew.

He has not been back to any setting that could be called home since 1941.

Waking up to such a homey setting is, as a result, almost too much for him. He sways slightly in place, confused, pushing away the blanket with frank lack of understanding: a dog unaccustomed to comfort, and now almost afraid to have it because it might not be allowed— or worse, might just be a dream. Just an illusion sparked in a failing brain, in between searing jolts of electrocuting agony—

The blanket falls away. His surroundings remain unchanged. He gets up, and the chains of his conditioning pull taut. As friendly as this is, as wonderful, it is not for him. Safety is not for him. Home and other humans are not for him. He has to go.

But first…

He walks softly over towards the loose end seated in sleep on the floor, not far away. He regards her mechanically, racking up her weaknesses, first among them the horrible, critical weakness— a sign of complete naive inexperience— that is daring to sleep beside a deadly predator. He gauges her in instants and dismisses her as something it would require less than no effort to break in every conceivable way. There is nothing in this frail, small figure that could possibly follow or threaten him. He looks towards the door.

Something stops him, though. The sight of her hands…

He crouches over her, an eagle stooping down over a rabbit. His head cants as he examines her cold-burned hand. The fingers are bandaged, but the palm…

There's something to remember about that. He frowns, trying to figure out what it is. His mind fixates on that question, chewing it over, mulling on it, and something trapped at the back of it finds some small way to take enough control to nudge his hand into something inadvisable.

It reaches forward and brushes, lightly, against her knuckles.


He comes so silently, intimately, fatally close. Close enough to count Jane Foster's lowered lashes. Close enough to follow every errant lock of hair that's escaped her ear and fallen over her sleeping face. Close enough to feel the warmth of her breath, soft and faint, drafting through a part in her lips.

The assassin is so good at what he does that she does not stir, does not wake, does not know. She sleeps on in perfect comfort and perfect trust.

It is only that ephermal thing in him to bring her out of it, a fission of life at the back of his mind, to entice his hand forward, toward a human being and not to disarm, disable, disassemble, or destroy —

— but to impart a single touch, as brief and light as dreaming, along the little bones of her knuckles.

Jane remains silent and unmoving. All what he handles are only corpses, so why not her? Perhaps she's dead already, and his mind is catching up to the actions of his hands, and he's already tied a too-long loose end, eradicated it forever even despite its skills that it could never trouble him again…

And then her fingers move, opening from where they are curled, the movement rasping her fingernails up the nerves of his palm. She's felt a touch like this before, years ago, and she slips back to that, to unconscious reflex that encourages her to touch back. If he does not draw back his hand quickly, hers shifts lazily against his, fingers slowly straightening before they push to twine loosely through his. A good-morning handhold.

Her eyes wing open, her gaze hazy, pupils unfocused, and Jane inhales far more deeply, coming back to life with a drowsy, unintelligible murmur that is all vowels and little else. She moves her head, and immediately regrets it, neck pulled painfully from the cruel angle she's been sleeping. Blinking her eyes, trying desperately to make sense of the dark, and the strange way she's sitting up — where is she, what was she doing —

She turns her head and sees him. Jane gazes peacefully at the Winter Soldier, so close to her, awake, and here. She looks at him, her dark eyes mapping his face with indulgent fascination, until memory compiles, and realization hits.

"You're awake," she mumbles, voice thick, yet wrung with relief. "I was worried about you."


The Winter Soldier wants to pull back. But something else keeps him still. Her fingers twine his in her sleep, her slim and infinitely breakable digits small in his hand.

His lashes flicker, a confused light coming and going in them. He lets this happen a few moments… and then the Soldier asserts himself powerfully enough that he pulls pointedly away. Whatever this is, it's not right, and he's not allowed it— shouldn't have it—

That awakens her fully— for given values of awakening fully. He watches her mutely as she rouses out of sleep, his head tilting a little at how /slow/ she is to do it. Were it him, he would be awake within half a second. Was he ever that slow? It's like the difference between the latest operating system on a solid state disk, versus one several versions old on spinning disks. There's just no comparison.

Eventually, however, she looks up through eyes blurry with sleep. Her gaze rests on his face for many long moments, dreamy and dazed, and recognition fills it slowly like water pooling in sand. You're awake, she realizes. She was worried about him…

The Soldier grunts a little, discomfited at this sentiment. He rises: this close to her, he seems to go on up forever, a tall dark shape standing over her with no sense of social propriety as to appropriate distances to keep. "No need to worry," he says, his voice cool. "Always get everything back on straight in the end."

His head turns again, inevitably, to the door. But something stops him. He looks down at his own left arm, moving it slightly, listening to its quiet whir. "Still haven't gotten to this yet," he muses, still standing before her.


Her fingers tangle with his and go pliant, loose and sleep-clumsy, like she would rouse only to ground him with a touch and drift off that way. Like some human beings are perfectly at ease, even wanting, to sleep while in physical contact with other.

They are a set of behaviours that run incongruous to how the Soldier operates, works, survives.

He lets her go, and her hand drops back to her lap. Jane rouses back to life.

It is a slow, lazy return for her, back to the world, like the patient drip of thawing ice. What makes it stranger is that her eyes open, and this close the brown of her eyes veins with amber, and the first thing Jane sees is the Soldier. His presence is startling, animating, and as it should be — people jump when they see ghosts. But she just looks at him placidly, almost like a grounding, as if he were the very reason she is taking so slow and long to wake.

Almost as if he is her transition from sleep to waking, an island breaking two differently-moving waters. It would mean one thing: Jane was dreaming about him, and she thinks she is still in dreams.

Realization eventually warms her face like a sunrise. Jane remembers, and even in her lingering drowse, she's relieved.

Her words draw him up to his feet. She looks up after him, head tilted back against the side of her couch, a fluffed-up tress of her hair spread over the cushion. Jane peeks through her sleepy blear. Her eyes blink slowly, guilelessly, and she seems content to look the man over, as if to make certain he really is as fine as he says. No injuries. No hurts. She remembers the way he drew up on himself. How he pushed his fingers into his scalp.

It looks almost comical, the way he towers over her, so close he has to look straight down to where Jane curls insensibly beside his feet. She's too busy watching him, thinking about him, to notice how strange it's all, and she in particular, must look.

He says he always gets everything back on straight. Jane's forehead furrows with a question she does not immediately say.

But she doesn't quite get it, that he seems to be expecting something of her — something that, at this moment, is strangely not the first thing on her mind. Jane is not thinking about the metal arm. She's thinking about the man around it.

He gives her a hint. And she makes a murmur, realizing her own mistake. "Oh," Jane mumbles, still sleep-numb enough to be passively compliant, cowed like someone who's slept past her alarm and is late to work. "Right, right. I can do that."

She tries to wrench herself up. Oh, it's a mistake, a big mistake, and Jane winces, stooping forward as every muscle in her back and neck tie themselves into a Celtic knot. She's almost too old for this, too old for floor and chair and desk-sleeping, and her body punishes her for it. Trying to straighten up, rubbing blearily at one brown eye, trying to shake her mind back into work, Jane —

— stops, and turns an achy, but far clearly, surrepititious look up on the Soldier. "Wait," she interjects, her voice still thick from disuse. "I think we should talk first a bit."


People usually do jump when they see him. Same as they would for a ghost. Same as they would, waking to see a tiger in their face. But Jane? Jane just looks up at him, dreamy and trusting, as if thinking he is a dream and wanting the dream to last just a little bit longer. Eventually she rouses enough to realize he is real— that he is /there/— and he waits for the expected horror to finally show in her face. The fear. The pleading—

She juts smiles at him with her eyes, softly relieved to see him.

It makes him uncomfortable.

He stands out of that discomfort, abrupt and nervous, without backing up the requisite steps to give her some much-needed space. The net result is that he stands over her awkwardly, staring straight down, forming an odd tableau of man regarding a mess of a woman at his feet. Jane does not quite realize how it looks— how she looks— and she is slow to get up, to get back to work.

He prompts her. And when she doesn't get up fast enough, he reaches down and takes her under her arms, hefting her back up to her feet and unkinking her cramped body with effortless strength. He sets her back on her feet dispassionately, looking down at her with familiar patience. A machine waiting for repairs on its machine arm.

Waiting. And waiting. Only to be told, ultimately, that they should TALK a bit first—

The Winter Soldier stares down at her. "I do not want to talk," he says, his voice flat.


Her last dream dances briefly, enticingly, within reach; for a perfect moment, Jane can recall it in crystal clarity, her eidetic memory mirroring in perfect reflection a thousand details.

It is a replay of the last few hours, with her up on the roof, though not in the city — up on the roof of her childhood home back in Virginia, a flat track among the shingles that she could climb from her bedroom window. After debating her father an entire summer she'd never fall, failing that, and sneaking up there anyway with her telescope clunking in her backpack, she'd wait for him to go to sleep and go up every clear night. And there she would set up and look at the stars.

The last time she ever went up there was after dad died. It wasn't to look at the stars, but to get drunk off her ass and yell at them a bit. And cry at them even more.

But she's back, not to cry and yell, but to look, and this time Jane is not alone. She's never brought anyone here ever in her life, not her secret spot, not her /safe/ place, a sacred altar to her passion, but now she has. It is him, and she talks to her soldier as he looks at the stars. She's explaining them to him, name for name, constellation for constellation, and teaches him how to find them. She cannot see his face, but she can his hands, reaching to adjust the dials of her telescope. His right hand, flesh. His left hand, flesh too.

The dream comes so close she captures it — and like an Icarus flight, it burns away. She awakens. She looks at him. She remembers.

Her first instinct seems to be to help — Jane distilled down to her very kind core — and she does not even fully wipe away the cobwebs of sleep before she's attempting to push herself upright, second-nature for her to assist, to build, to work. Her body refuses to cooperate so easily as her mind, however, every skeletal muscle down her back an extra knot for the noose that's become her body, tightening fatally the more she struggles. It hurts.

So the Soldier, just like that, reaches down to assist. His hands touch her, and that is unexpected enough to pause Jane, bringing upon her the sort of stillness of witnessing a fawn wander too close. Move and it may go away. Unable to know that one touch he let brush the bones of her knuckles, she considers this the first time he's ever tried to touch her.

Save when that metal hand had — she doesn't count that.

He lifts her as if she weighs nothing, plucking her up off her feet, letting them dangle down with her little mass until her kinked-up back stretches straight. Her vertebrae loosen, and were Jane not holding her breath, not busy staring wonderingly into the Soldier's eyes, she would sigh with relief.

He sets her down. Her weight shifts back-and-forth on her feet, and she rubs awkwardly at her neck. Jane's cheeks have more colour in them now than before. But officially up, she determines work is the best way to make things feel normal, until — it stops her quickly that, actually, things should not. Normal shouldn't be on the table now, or whatever passes for normal when it comes to this strange man in her life. Something happened last night. Something huge. She thought she /broke/ him. He shut right down on her. He said things. Said a name. And now he's acting like nothing happened.

He doesn't want to talk.

For a moment, Jane looks taken aback, maybe even rendered speechless. Then she remembers she's actually lived a few decades and had more than one arguments in them, and she finds herself trusting something about him that she can argue this too. Letting it go, letting him boss her around… feels like she's giving up on something. Letting him down. She exists only, and not of her own voluntary control, to repair his arm, something tells Jane.

She ignores it. "Well, I do. What even happened before? Up there? You're not OK. I know you don't have anyone. I know you don't talk to people. But you can."


There is an odd duality that briefly hangs in the air when the Winter Soldier touches her. There is a distinct sense of a shy animal finally come in close, one that a single stray breath from her could balk and frighten away… but there are also the distinct memories, lurking at the back of her mind, of all the other things he has done with his hands.

There are memories of the first time he put his hands on her. Violent hands, hands that held her down by her throat— held guns to her head. There are memories of what happened the last time she saw him lift a human body. It broke in half a moment later, swung like a rag doll by unfathomable strength.

Now he lifts hers. But this story ends differently. Nothing happens to her save for the relieving, glorious stretch of her spine straightening out.

He sets her down gently afterwards, and waits expectantly for her to get to work. She is upright now. There should be no further barrier to her looking at his arm. There is no need to talk about anything else. Yet apparently there continues to be some problem. She challenges his dominance over it, actually, refusing to let him boss her around, because if she complies then… she has an odd feeling she'll be letting him down. Letting something go by that should not be allowed to go by.

He said a name. Steve. Cap-something.

So Jane gets obstinate. She starts asking all the many questions she has. The Winter Soldier's frown grows more and more with each one, an ominous sort of displeasure that has been the last sight of far too many people. "Nothing happened," he says, visibly irritated. He rubs fitfully at his temples, right where the electrodes usually go, a reflexive gesture he doesn't seem to notice. "I have… moments, sometimes. I am told there are times I am not… myself. I do have people who help with that, though. When the fits get unmanageable. They put me back together."

Of a sudden, he looks distracted. "I should check in."


Jane Foster does not forget the latent danger of those hands. She does not miss the warning imbued in the Winter Soldier's frown.

She cannot ignore the real threat he is to people like her, and the reality that if it were his will, he could probably kill her right now too quickly for her to fight him off or escape it. Perhaps too quickly for her to even notice. A crack-thrust of that arm and clean snap of her neck mid-sentence.

It's not that she believes he cannot, but that, strangely, he will not. For how little she knows of this man, broken as he is in both body, and, as she's coming to believe, mind as well, Jane has a single meter to measure him on his past behaviour. He has had ample opportunity to harm her, and has not. He has had countless chances to kill her, and has not.

She could believe it would purely be for the service she provides and the role she plays for him, agreed somewhat against her will, but she's been playing many small games of risk. Jane is a scientist, and she must test variables — and her decision of hours ago to defy him and climb up onto her building's roof was a test of utmost significance.

If she was purely his repairperson, he would have stopped her. She believes this. He's — humouring her. He's tolerating her. And this emboldens Jane ever closer.

For the second time, he directs she do as she is supposed to. Directs she return to what is safe and manageable in his life, a variable he can define and control. And for a second time, Jane stubbornly dances free of her leash.

Coming to from sleep, set up on her feet — he touched her, and never hurt her, does not hurt her, and she needs to know why — Jane's dark eyes search with dawning clarity. Her mouth is pursed stubbornly, but the rest of her is intent, focused on him, begging to listen. "Something happened," she disagrees, voice soft but firm. He speaks when he does not need to, does not have to for someone like her, and the woman absorbs it like a quiet revelation. Her eyes crease. He is told… "Who tells you?" she asks. "What kind of people? They put you back together into what?"

Her hands itch, and she acts. Jane has to. She reaches out, slowly enough he can see, both her hands reaching for his left, that metal arm. It may seem like he's won, and she's complied, and wants to fix as ordered: instead her little fingers curl around his, trying to capture his plated hand in her insistent grip. He should check in, he says. "No, you don't," she argues. "Look at me. You don't have to do anything. You can stay here."


He could kill her before she could even finish speaking. It's clear in his eyes, the calm appraising way he watches her, the silent at-rest way he stands that nevertheless bespeaks an eternal readiness. It's clear in the slight, subtle whir of his arm as it moves, a murmur of discontent machinery that is— in flavor— not like the grumble of a big cat awakening to find it is hungry.

Yet, ultimately, as has been true since the first moment she met this odd soldier… he does not. Will not— or so she believes. Of all his ample opportunities to kill her, he has taken absolutely none of them.

He does not take this one, even as she prods and tests him— dares his limits and adjusts the variables of their interaction. He didn't do anything when she defied him before, even though her defiance constituted a refusal to perform the one task which comprises— so she believes— her entire worth to him. He probably won't do anything now.

Probably. But it's not science without some risk, right?

He watches her a few more moments as she dares closer, his head tilted slightly, eyes considering her through half-shuttered lashes. She asks questions, questions she should not ask. Who tells him? What kind of people are these that put him back together? What is he put back into, exactly?

She reaches for his left arm. His eyes turn to obviously follow the movement, a wolf observing carefully as its paw is taken. Look at her, she urges. He doesn't have to do anything. He doesn't have to go anywhere.

His mouth thins a little. It is a fleeting, here-and-gone expression. It is a deeply resigned look.

Then he is dour again. "Back into the Winter Soldier," he answers, heavily, his eyes closing.

They reopen, and he pulls free of her grasp. "I have to do this," he corrects her, his eyes downcast, as he grabs his jacket, shrugs it back on, and turns to leave.


What do they put him back together into? Into the Winter Soldier, he tells her, the nameless man with the metal arm, whose plated fingers hang passively from Jane's clutching hands.

Her lips slowly part, an opening between them as if she would speak — but no words come. There is absolutely nothing she can say, can think to say, as in that moment, a hundred disparate ends suddenly come together. Jane feels like nearly every one of her questions has, in so vague a statement, have been answered. It's why he has, since the start, felt like two people to her.

It grants her so much understanding. And, with that, so much dread. Her stomach knots, and her hands tighten on his, as if her handhold were something to save him from drowning. If she has a vested interest in cultivating this part of him, the one that isn't those cold machine eyes and toneless voice and refusal to see her as anything but an asset, then it means Jane officially has an enemy now — a person or persons who want him to return him that way. Persons he says he needs to go back to.

"You don't," she insists, urgency twisting up into her voice. "Whoever these people are, they're not putting anything back together. Who are they? What do they do to you?"

He pulls free, and at first, Jane's grip vices down, refusing to give up that easily. "Listen, I know I don't know much about you. But if it means giving you a choice, I want to do that for you. You don't have to do anything. No one does. I can help you. If you stay here, I can keep you safe." She sounds so adamant promising him that, too, tiny thing that she is. She believes her own words.

He only needs to apply a bit of patient strength to pull free, Jane unable to hold on. She pauses, looking after the Soldier, watching him grab his coat and head for her door, her insides twisting painfully. She could just let him go, let him go passively, but she can't. She has to try. It's who she is.

Despite even her lingering sleep, she pushes forward, crossing around to try to cut him off, hundred pounds of her barriering man and door. Jane looks up with such pleading in her eyes. "Please. Just talk to me."


She insists he doesn't have to go. She insists they're not helping him, whatever it is they're doing. What ARE they doing to him?

He does not answer. His gaze remains locked listlessly, obstinately, on the floor. His hand is limp in hers, unresisting but at the same time unresponsive to her efforts to offer him a choice. A choice to do nothing, for once. A choice to make his own decisions, and remain here with her— safe. Safe from whatever and whoever demands him back, to become that faceless killer again.

"I am needed as the Winter Soldier," he finally says tonelessly, as if reciting some great truth graven deep into his mind.

He pulls out of her grasp.

She pushes after him urgently. He pauses as she steps in front of him, trying to cut him off, her tiny body placed between him and the way back out of her home. Her life. She looks up and her eyes plead. Just talk to her.

He looks down at her. That look she's seen before comes and goes in his eyes again: the look of a man eroded by long decades. The look of someone aged and exhausted after generations of war. It is a look that belongs to a man far older than his youthful appearance suggests.

His metal arm lifts and brushes her aside. It is an obviously gentle movement on his part, his gesture slow and calculated not to hurt, but trying to fight back against it— trying to resist being shuffled away— is as hard as trying to resist a glacier.

"I have work to do," is all he says, as he steps out the door and shuts it behind him.

It will take her a few moments to get the door open and run out after him. But a few moments is all it takes for him to already be gone without a trace.


There have been many a roadblock attempting to barrier the forward, killing momentum of the Winter Soldier, all of them eventually broken, all of them ultimately in vain — but Jane Foster may well be the tiniest of all of them.

With absolute faith she will not be harmed, and absolute belief that, even if she were, it may hurt worse to live with the regret of not trying, Jane holds herself in the Soldier's path. He doesn't seem to understand he has a choice, and if she has to stand there and /be/ that reminder, so be it. For all his life being nothing more than a long list of orders to abide, missions to complete, and punishments to take, she comes bearing an option. One single, safe place in all the world where he does not need to be the Winter Soldier.

She begs him to stay if just to talk. She wants to know. She wants to know why he doesn't want to see something is missing in him, the thing she sees, gutted-open and empty and wanting —

He reaches out his metal arm and brushes her out of his path. It doesn't hurt her, but Jane cannot even dig her heels to hold on. The unstoppable force trumps the immovable object.

Dismayed, the woman turns just in time to watch her door shut. Huffing out in agitation, she grabs the handle and tears it open after, dashing into the cold, winter night. The chill air stings her bare arms, and ambling down the steps to her walk-up, she shudders when snow touches her bare feet. Breath misting into the air, Jane nonetheless lingers, staring either way down the street. A few blocks down, cars pass on the main road, but otherwise it is silent. She wouldn't even know which footprints are his. He's gone. Gone like he vanished on the spot.

Her feet burn with cold. Jane lifts one to press freezingly against her opposite pant leg. She lingers like she doesn't want to leave, just in case she sees him, just in case he changes his mind, just in case —

She sighs to herelf and steps numbly back into her apartment. Closing the door behind her, Jane stares into her darkened home. Small and cramped and quiet, just as before, and just her. She frowns at the main room, at the couch, before something comes to mind.

Jane's mind races. Her antsy soul needles at her, restless with answers, and she eyes her sleeping laptop, forgotten still on her coffee table. She collects and opens it, settling its weight to warm her chilly legs. It opens to the last visited page — all those stupid sites that turned up trying to search for the Winter Soldier. Her eyes scan the hits.

She frowns to herself, and backspaces to try a new search:

[ "Steve cap" ]

She hits enter. Google immediately offers a suggestion:

[ Did you mean: Steve Captain America? ]

Jane stares wide-eyed at the screen. "I guess I do."

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License