CPR For the Soul

December 29, 2016:

Reeling from her devastating encounter with John Constantine, Zatanna Zatara deliberately seeks out the Winter Soldier, but what starts out as an ill-advised foray into self-destruction yields some very surprising outcomes.

Random Partk - New York City

It's a park. It looks like every other.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Dr. Jane Foster, John Constantine, Steve Rogers

Mood Music: You're Not Alone (Final Fantasy IX)

Fade In…

Find out who's putting a knee in my friend's back, John Constantine had said. Then I'll owe you a favor.

It was a tall order under these circumstances. The Winter Soldier had only as many resources as HYDRA would allocate him. There was an argument to be made— which he did make— that attaching a favor owed to the Soldier, for future cash-in, could be useful, but the trouble was that after the conclusion of this mission, no one could ever say when the Winter Soldier might next be released. It could be next year… or it could be after John Constantine was dead and gone to dust.

Hard to say.

Yet even without explicit HYDRA backing, the Winter Soldier has some skills of his own. Skills like breaking into telecom companies and holding people who CAN comb phone records at gunpoint. The thing about regular check-in calls is, they're regular. If there's a pattern of Muller's number making calls to another certain number, it'll jump out fast. Then it's just a matter of locating that second number…

It's stuff the Winter Soldier should be working on. Is planning to get working on this very day, in fact. But he hasn't quite left Brooklyn yet. Even internationally-feared assassins have needs, and coffee is one vice the Winter Soldier never gave up. These few, precious times he is let off the leash for a long job are the only times he ever has the autonomy to enjoy what others take for granted.

He's indistinguishable from the many other civilians out and about. Eight in the morning, and New York's streets are already buzzing with the activity of people going to work. Dressed down in civvies, clutching a small paper cup of coffee in his hands, he sits quietly on a bench, looking down the street at a very familiar apartment building and otherwise not doing very much at all.


Last night's explosive fight with John only made leaving the bunker today a necessary task. It isn't just so she could breathe, as she had found the walls even more suffocating now, but so she could avoid the expression on Chas' face.

It wasn't disappointment; Zatanna doesn't know him as well as John, but she /does/ know him, and ever sensitive as usual, she knew that he was wasn't just concerned, he was worried, and she could taste the self-blame in the air. He had left them alone in the flat - it stands to reason that if he had stayed, maybe their confrontation wouldn't have been as bad.

She tries not to think about it, she can't afford to when she is juggling a few very important things at once. Peter and the rest were still on their 'away' mission to retrieve Jessica, and she needs to be on the ball to pull them back - but time works differently in the labyrinth, and if there was still any hope of retrieving her, it might take days in their world, even if it only feels like a few hours in there.

But it is difficult to think about anything else. The wound lies open, bleeds, festers; like a fatal, cancerous growth, it mushrooms in the back of her mind, sitting there like dead weight, but the dull throb is nothing compared to the sharp, stabbing ache somewhere within her bones, where she had taken the protrusion of John's knife and carved the rest of it out of her body with her own fingers. It sure as hell feels that way.

Most of the exhaustion is in her eyes when she finally manifests near him - he'd feel the brush, the tickle at the back of his neck, overlaid by the distinct sense that /someone/ is there for him. Dressed in her signature black, a designer winter jacket, black jeans, black Valentino boots, every single thing she usually wears is on her person save for the colors with which she normally streaks her hair; today, it is in its full midnight, light-consuming glory that only makes her pallor seem ill….inhuman, even, and devoid of the usual warm spark that makes her entire aesthetic more striking than unsettling.

She slowly takes a seat on the bench and withdraws a small envelope from her pocket. She offers it to him.

"It's late," she tells him. "But Merry Christmas."


The Winter Soldier's senses are artificially enhanced, it's true. That's the nice thing about super-soldier serums: they cover just about everything, improving all there is to improve about a man to something beyond human.

But even then, it's not just enhanced senses the Soldier has at his disposal to detect that someone has arrived. It's also a combat sixth sense, a situational awareness arising from a lifetime lived in mortal danger: a deep and broad experience that has given him the ability to just know when he's being watched. When someone in the area is there because they're looking for him.

She appears behind him. He doesn't at first turn. But when she comes around the bench to sit beside him, she would find his blue eyes already looking her way, angled at just the right height to meet her eyes once she sits.

His gaze is wary, watchful, as one might expect of a man who lives life as he does. It takes in her dress and change in demeanor in a glance, visibly cataloguing information about her within a second. He regards her with caution…

…which is why the last thing he expects is for her to hand him an envelope and tell him Merry Christmas.

His thought processes suffer a visible stutter. He hesitates, looks down at the envelope, and then slowly— as if still expecting some trap— takes it.

"Figured you'd have a lot of better people to be giving this stuff to," he grumps, turning it over in one hand as if he has no idea what to do with it. It's impossible to say whether he clearly remembers the details of their last encounter.


She has her own coffee, though she hasn't touched it much. Steam rises from the flue built into the cover she has placed on the crimson-and-snowflakes Starbucks cup she is toting with her, but she seems to have forgotten that its purpose is to be consumed and not to be fiddled with. Which is what she does, those long, slender, restless fingers turning the cardboard receptacle round and around her palms, feeling the heat seep through her gloves. It's a comfort, though winters in New York isn't as bitter as Gotham, where the change to the darker seasons siphons out all of its already lacking color and vitality.

Zatanna has always wondered what it was about the city that earned her father's warmth and the Waynes' stalwart loyalty, but it is an absent thought, one that leaks around the growing tumor at the base of her brain. Anyone would be holing up in a room, stress-eating viciously, but she remembers not fitting in her clothes the last time she had done that and the last thing she needs is for that to happen on top of everything.

So she sits next to him, her eyes on her cup, leaning forward until her elbows drape on her knees as she watches the distant figures of others going about their day.

'Figured you'd have a lot of better people to be giving this stuff to.'

"Funny thing about that…" Zatanna replies, angling her head at him and her mouth quirking faintly in a half-smile. For all of her visible exhaustion, it still manages to reach her eyes.

Taking up a sideways lean, she nudges her shoulder with his and nods to the envelope. "Go ahead."

It's flat, but it has some density, though it isn't much. A perceptive man, he'd know right away that it's something akin to cardboard. A Christmas card?


His eyes notice the untouched state of her coffee, the restless fidget of her fingers on the cup, the slump of her posture as she sits. He also takes note of her exhaustion, the way she smiles when he asks if she doesn't have better people to be giving things to than an assassin who has not made much of a secret of his dangerousness.

That response she makes, that smile… both clearly say, 'no, not really.' And the Soldier isn't really sure how or why, but that loneliness hits something in him.

He glances away. Yeah, almost definitely John's 'friend.' If the monumental reaction Constantine had to the Soldier even mentioning her wasn't already enough hint, well…

He glances down at the envelope. He doesn't see her lean-in coming. The physical contact, her shoulder against his, makes him tense up— predictably— but he doesn't pull away. That resonance, loneliness to loneliness, is still lingering in his mind, lurking around the fractures that his long thaw has already made in the conditioning that keeps him… well… the Winter Soldier.

His fingertips, sensitive and experienced, travel the envelope, detecting nothing outwardly untoward. Still, that doesn't rule out everything that could be threatening about it. He pauses, but at her prompting he—

—reaches for a small penknife on his person, using it as a letter opener to slit the envelope neatly. You can take the man out of 1940, but you can't take the 1940 out of the man, and he's not a mannerless heathen.


Knowing his name, who he is now, correlates directly to what she sees in him now when he takes his penknife and slits the envelope carefully, in a manner reminiscent of a time when men were expected to do every little thing in their lives the proper way. Somewhere from underneath the throbbing, hollow ache, she still manages to find room for a spark of blossoming warmth, rippling over the sea of sludge and debris left there by John Constantine's departure. Zatanna's eyes return to the cup rolling between her hands, perhaps because she can't look at anyone in the face at the moment for long…or maybe to give him some privacy as to what's to come.

It is difficult to tell.

Within the envelope are two photographs, their cream and sepia tones indicative of their age, carrying with them a certain musty smell that reflects the same. The very first is faded and worn on the edges; for someone like her, it was easy to quickly travel to Washington and hunt through its public archives, and just as easy to smuggle out a couple of originals. People expect sorcerors to be wizened and old, and with better things to do than spend their days rifling through old World War II memorabilia. There is still some dust, when the Winter Soldier handles these, motes smudging on his fingertips or whatever gloves he is wearing.

It's a man with his face; his hair is shorter, his uniform dated, and he has a smile, an expression that would look alien on the man now but he is unmistakeably Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes. And the man sitting next to him, half-illuminated by the low light of one of those old style European pubs is Steven G. Rogers. Both men have turned their faces over their shoulders to face the camera lens, postures bleeding a degree of camaraderie that reflects a long, comfortable acquaintance.

The other picture has Barnes and Rogers flanked by other people, clearly a wartime photograph taken in the field, the left side dominated by a tall man with the most impressive muttonchops to ever grace photographic paper, as well as a muscular black man and a smaller asian man crouched on the hard ground. They, too, have uniforms, and rifles: the Howling Commandos.

"There's a whole exhibit about you in the Smithsonian," she tells him without looking at him, her voice low and quiet. "Pictures, videos….interviews. Black and white footage. I watched some on the Internet, but there's this one…." She gestures vaguely with one hand. "Wall made of glass, talking about what you did back then. I was pretty relieved to see it because I thought that maybe I was crazy, feeling this way whenever I look at you."

She looks over at him, that melancholy tug in her mouth returning. "You're a good guy," she says. "They say that you gave your life to save all of us. Save the world. I'd like to go out like that, one day."


The first photograph slides out easily, dust smudging on his fingertips as he handles it with the delicate care of someone used to manipulating small moving parts: oiling the fine mechanisms of the weapons that have been his livelihood. The Winter Soldier looks down at his past life blankly, no initial recognition on his features, even when the tip of his thumb brushes to clear further dust from the faded image.

It takes a while, but eventually he recognizes his own face. It's him, beside that man who cornered him not long ago. That man with the shield, who said— things. He can't really remember too clearly what he said. The Winter Soldier has trouble remembering things from day to day, never mind events from a week or more ago.

He looks at it pensively. Then he slowly puts it down, with the delicate care typically associated with old men who do not trust their shaking hands. He removes the second picture, turning it in his hand. Himself, again, with others. Dated uniforms. Dated weapons. He recognizes the weapons more than he recognizes the men. M1 Garands. M1911 pistols. Combat knives that were retired decades ago. He focuses on that instead of the faces, because the faces—

Zatanna says there's a whole exhibit in the Smithsonian. Videos all over the Internet. A slight line forms between the Winter Soldier's brows. He has a vague idea of where the Smithsonian is. Washington D.C. The very capital of America. The one place he can never, in all his years of service, recall being sent, despite how much impact he could potentially have there.

She says he's a good man. That he gave his life to save the world.

"Then this man is dead," he says simply, his fingertip smoothing over the image of his own features. "I cannot remember him." His shoulders drop. "This is an interesting… story. You… that other girl." He tries to bring himself to speak of Jane. Some protective instinct, buried deep, keeps him from it. "Remarkable consistency between all of you."


There is another.

Some part of her is half-worried and half-relieved, wondering who this other person is and whether she was alright. While she is extremely confident that the person she is sitting next to is Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, Zatanna has seen his volatility, how he sleeps like a dragon only to lash out and breathe fire onto anyone who dares approach him when she pulls at the wrong string, says the wrong thing, or makes the wrong move. She remembers, unable to help herself from looking at his sleeve where she knows the metal arm resides; the cold grip of steel encapsulating her fragile wrist, the very real certainty that he could squeeze and break bone without a single change in the look in his eyes, or how he breathes, barely a twitch in the corded muscles underneath his attire. She knows, she knows, she knows.

And some part of her wants…

Some part of her is counting on…

"I don't know," she says, a conscious effort levied there to keep her tone light. "You look pretty alive to me."

She doesn't tell him that Steve Rogers had trouble believing it, also, this 'interesting story.' She has heard many interesting stories lately, and watched the people around her dismiss them not because they are incapable of accepting that they are true, but because they are afraid of their implications if they do. Self-preservation, to marshal the broken pieces of themselves into something whole and functional, seems to be the theme of the week. She's seen it in the Winter Soldier, Steve G. Rogers, Jessica and that brief passing mention of mind control.


Her, in a bad way, just the night before, backed to a corner and lashing out the only way she knows how. And now, now, she knows what it's like. To refuse to accept the truth that's in front of her. To know that she absolutely /can't/, because if she does…if she does…

She shifts closer to him, reaches out to curl her fingers on his arm, though she forgets which is his metal limb and which isn't. It hardly matters, he doesn't like to be touched, but she does it anyway because she can't help herself when it comes to those who are troubled and lost, those kindred lonely spirits. She reaches out without a care if she's bitten, or burned, or thrown to the ground and eviscerated. If she manages to connect, it would be good. It would be great.

If it goes south…

It would be what she deserves.

And some part of her wishes for it, and as she attempts to touch him, she feels the mad desire grow until it encompasses the hole in her chest. In a split-second, that is all she wants, the savage, brutal dispensation of pain from someone so capable of giving it without blinking, to drown out the rest of what's inside her. A punch, a kick, a backhand….an actual knife sliding between her ribs. Anything to stave off the numbness that she /knows/ will fall on her eventually. She has been here before.

She lowers her head at that, her temple moving to rest against his shoulder.


Volatile is certainly an apt word to describe the man beside Zatanna now. Out of freeze long enough to start disassociating from his Winter Soldier personality, but not out long enough to fully remember his life as James Barnes, he hangs— at current— in the most dangerous possible state.

A state of confusion. A state where the emotion, pain, and passion of the man James Barnes, combines explosively with the power and cold lethality of the Winter Soldier.

And Zatanna Zatara decides what she really needs to do, right here, right now… is prod this raw bundle of tangled nerves. Poke this man who is already still and tense as a steel wire pulled to its breaking point, ready to snap and leave a violent gash on anyone unfortunate enough— foolish enough— masochistic enough— to be standing too close.

Beneath his sleeve, his arm says nothing. It is silent— for now. But she knows how quickly it can strike. She has felt it before, manacling her wrist, warning her not to overstep.

She says he looks pretty alive to her.

He makes no response. Slowly, the street around them empties as people make their way out to work; outside stimuli reduced, he's able to just focus on what's before him. His blue eyes just stare down at the pictures, trying to reconcile this story with the one he has been implanted with for decades: the one he had, until now, never really questioned. Not within his recollection, anyway. He stares until his eyes water. A slight tremor starts in his flesh hand, and his eyes eventually unfocus, staring past the images, turning inward to try to find within his own shattered mind the memories that will reveal to him once and for all whether this story is real, or just a horrible lie manufactured to make him uncertain— make him fail his mission—

And even worse, make him come to terms with the fact that he once was this— something great— and now has fallen so far to become…

She leans in and touches him. He does not react. His mind has finally dredged up a few faraway images. Snow as far as the eye can see, blank white, so bright it's painful. Then darkness, the blackness of underground labs, broken up only by the glare of surgical lights and the silver shine of painful implements poised over his body, like mantis claws ready to descend.

The images are, of a sudden, replaced by other kinds of memories. The physical memory of agonizing pain. An arm removed with only the most rudimentary of anesthesia and his own semi-consciousness to dull the agony. A body reconfigured, every last cell altered, by something that burns its way like fire through his veins.

It hurts. And it changes him. Not just in his body, but…

Zatanna's hand tightens on his arm. Her head rests lightly against his shoulder. The touch is so much like the touch the techs use, a tap on the shoulder to trigger his docility. Make him lie back. Except when he lays back, every single time, immediately afterwards—

There is no warning. No pause or hesitation in between his tense, deadly immobility, and the moment where he lashes out. Only the scream of metal as his arm snaps around. Only the way it moves to lock around Zatanna's throat, with full intent to put her down on the bench, flat on her back, with the Winter Soldier bent over her, a mantled eagle with something soft pinned under its talons.

His eyes are fixed and glaring, fury and affront and pain and absolute lost confusion combining to form a tempest in those blue eyes. For a few precious moments, the dead eyes of the Winter Soldier regain all their natural expressiveness, and they speak plainly of a man not necessarily attacking, not necessarily out to hurt—

—but lashing out, like a hurt animal, in reflexive self-defense, having found itself lost in the midst of a world that has become far too confusing to bear.

His other hand has not let go of the pictures.


It happens, and every nerve inside her screams with horror, relief and some sick semblance of triumph. Zatanna wants this, provoked it the only way she knows how, by fearlessly, and some would say idiotically, bumbling into these sweltering pits and letting whatever terrors are there to rise and ensnare her, uncaring as to how badly it damages her physically in the end. One would almost expect it, really, from someone so young and emotional, but the truth of it is that these forays in self destruction are extremely rare, as far as the young woman is concerned, somehow wrought from the same near-impenetrable, hardy stuff as her legendary father.

But when she does decide, she doesn't do it in halves. She approaches him directly in a straight line, runs her fingers through those exposed nerve endings, tickles them and aggravates them until the other has no choice but to react, and whether this outcome is favorable or dangerous, she doesn't care, she learns either way.

As quick as she is in learning for her mistakes, however, there is always a specific set that she makes over and over. She knows this, accepts this about herself, lets it happen when it does instead of fighting the tide.

Much like this moment.

He moves lightning fast, a cobra striking from its pile of tortured coils, but before her eyes the world tilts with an aching slowness, feeling the grip of metal close around her throat, biting into it with all the give and temperature as his new, ominous moniker. The young magician feels her back slam onto the bench, expelling breath from her lungs; the shock and the impact send a jolt through her, and she almost weeps feeling it, not out of grief, but from something else entirely - Fear does its work, shuddering through the empty, aching space within her, splintering and webbing out through each and every cell, triggering a white-hot dump of chemicals into her system. Endorphins, adrenaline, the rush of it pumps her out of her zombified state, exhaustion leaving those wide, expressive eyes and he can see himself reflected inside them, take in the lost expression in his.

She can barely breathe, suffocating under his grip, his weight. It wars with the sparks of life that have been ignited by the danger he poses on her person. One hand closes over his wrist, the other waving in the air, forming a symbol, just in case, just in case.

"Bu…cky…" she chokes, black and red creeping into the edges of her vision. Her fingers squeeze over his metal wrist, but it isn't to shove him away.


The Winter Soldier looks down at her. But so does Bucky Barnes.

And it's the latter that keeps that unforgiving metal from closing off her windpipe, pinching her arteries, or simply shutting and splintering her spine into so many pieces. The latter that keeps her safe from the instincts of the former. His grip still isn't comfortable by any means— the harsh steel is freezing cold, the arm never designed to emulate life so much as simply to be a weapon, and it sticks to her skin as it tightens just short of causing real damage.

And stops.

The Soldier lapses into the other aspect of his nom de guerre, his howling-blizzard ferocity gone in an instant into the frozen emptiness of a waste in dead winter. He holds steady over her, breathing hard, shoulders shuddering periodically, leaned down so close she can see the hidden grey veined into the blue of his eyes. It would almost be intimate, if not for the titanium-and-steel reminder collared around her throat. If not for the mingled fury and confusion stamped in his eyes.

She chokes out his name. His real name.

Between blinks, a flicker of emotion crosses his irises. It is there and gone so fast it is impossible to tell what it might be. A slow reorientation follows it… a re-centering as he remembers where and when he is. He's not in the chair. He's not about to be shocked. He's outside, and he's….

He leans back up and lets her go with a soft whir of his arm. He slides the photos back into the envelope, and the envelope into an inner pocket of his jacket.

"I am… keeping this," he says, his voice toneless. There is no apology. He seems far beyond the functional point where he can make apologies. "There's too much… too many people have said…"


He lets her go and she can breathe again. The release and the sudden rush of air expands her lungs and dovetails into the exorcism of a few of last night's ghosts - not all of them, most certainly not the worst ones, but some of them. It gives her the room she needs to fill that empty space with other things, things that enable her to be as she always is, to reclaim some of the youthful vitality that she had lost in the last few weeks and especially the last night. She doesn't know if she can explain this to anyone, she can almost hear Chas berate her for what she has done; she was already in enough risk, but she knows herself and despite opinions to the contrary, she has a fairly good idea as to what she can and can't handle. She can handle pain. Can handle it so well that it has a hard time consuming her for very long.

What she can't handle is…

She slowly sits up, her hand on her throat, already feeling the bruises form. She looks more alive than she did when he first approached her, her eyes bright from the adrenaline rush, her body thrumming with the shakes - the spectres of her earlier fear and clashing flight-or-fight responses wrestling with her body's other instincts. It's probably something extremely rare for the Winter Soldier, who has spent two lifetimes making himself infamous with his ability to kill, to find himself in the position of resuscitating someone who felt like she was dying, moments ago, and as per usual, did something reckless to save her own life even as she was attempting to push him to get in touch with his.

But he decides to keep the photographs. Zatanna, through tears of pain, blurring the look of his storm-chased blues as he looks at her, flashes him a broad little grin. The lack of apology doesn't matter, the acceptance and the paddles he applied directly into her failing soul means everything.

"I brought that for you," she tells him. "Of course you should keep them."

With that, she rises from the bench.


He looks at her, and she looks more alive, more vital, than she did before he put his hands on her.

It gives him pause, his programming not equipped to understand this. No, more than his programming— his entire life not equipped to understand this. The only time James Barnes was allowed to live a life not centered around killing was his youth before his enlistment into military service. Killing is all he knows. Killing is all he has ever seen. He had not meant it to become his whole life— if he had his way, he would have come home from the war, found a wife, had children…

But he never did come home. And so the killing never ended. It eclipsed everything he was until he was nothing but a monster bred for the hunt, the chase, and the kill.

Yet here, now, is a young moman who his hands seem to have brought back to life. A young woman who does not look at him as if he were monstrous. A young woman who does not stare glassily up at him, because she's dead, he's killed again, his mission is finished, and the next mission will be waiting—

He pockets the photographs. They may be lies, but when too many people lie in the same way, what does that mean?

She rises to leave. He looks up at her, his eyes exhausted, his whole demeanor reflecting that emptiness she's just purged from her own body. He is tired, so tired, and some part of him thinks, some part of him is programmed to think: truth is too hard. Would it not be simpler to just finish the mission, and go home, and sleep until the next winter must come?

"Why are you doing this?" he asks. Why try so hard to help him remember? Why look so deeply into his life?


Why are you doing this?

Her hands stop from where she has been fussing over herself, fingers drawing to a halt over her collar. This wouldn't be the first time she was asked this and in that pregnant pause, her mind wanders back to the center of her universe. Giovanni Zatara, fearless, devoted, whose every step causes ripples over the mystical world; for all that he was larger than life, she knows better than anyone else there was a flawed human man under his cool, unflappable sophistication and sonorous voice. He is a man who is used to performing miraculous feats, great and small, but only because he has put in the work to be great. While his daughter has no such aspirations - not right now, anyway, other than to be a better stage performer than he ever was - she isn't immune to the inherent desire to do good, to feed her ever-present hunger for human connections.


"I don't know," Zatanna confesses softly. "Especially these days, I don't know. I guess…I don't like it when people get lost, so when I find one, I try to help them find their way, because I know what it's like to be the same. Homeless, in another way but also one that matters. I'm not a genius, you know. Not like some people I know, and I'm not the greatest at anything….I'm really only good at very, very, very few things, but out of all of them, I really want to be good at this one. And I fail, too, sometimes. I could even say especially when it matters."

She takes a deep breath, slipping her hands in her pockets, turning sideways so she could meet those confused, tired eyes. There is something akin to apology writ in her expression, but much like him, she doesn't say the words for this either.

"But I keep trying because if I can help guide someone home, that's a good thing right? And maybe I'll figure out some other things about myself also. Maybe it's useless in the end, or maybe I'll grow out of it. I'll get older and maybe some much needed cynicism will hit me at last. For now, though, this is the way I am, and I don't really see any need to pull away from that just yet."

She takes a few steps back, already turning to head for the street. A hand lifts to wave over her shoulder.

"You take care of yourself now, okay?"


She doesn't know.

The Winter Soldier's head bows at yet another question with no answer. But Zatanna isn't quite finished speaking. She goes on, exploring what she thinks it might be. It might be that she doesn't like seeing lost people. She doesn't like seeing people adrift. She doesn't like seeing people with no home— not really a physical home, but with no grounding, no safe place to which to return.

It reminds her too much of herself. And if there's one thing she'd like to be really good at, it's helping people out of that place.

He says nothing as she finishes out her remarks. He just stares at the pavement as she speaks of how she keeps trying, even though she fails sometimes. Because if she can help even just one person… that's worth it. That's good. Even if in the end it's useless… for now, she has faith in her own attempts to make some small things right in the world.

The words sink in.

She turns to leave. Tells him to take care of himself.

And she'll find herself stopped. A hand on her shoulder, not steel, not metal— but warm flesh and blood.

"You remind me of someone," is all he says, before his touch slips away and he turns his back in turn, heading away up the street towards that distant apartment at the end of the street.

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