December 22, 2016:

Having found a tracker hidden in his metal arm, the Winter Soldier beelines to interrogate the one woman he knows has been working on it all this time— but finds it harder to put her to the question than he expects.

Brooklyn, New York


NPCs: None.


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

A tracker.

/A tracker/.

The Winter Soldier has not stopped moving since leaving his cowed handlers behind. With the singleminded, animal focus of a predator on the hunt, he walked across Brooklyn and straight to his first stop.

He had questions that needed answers.


It's been another week since Jane Foster last saw her errant soldier. Perhaps this time, he never will return. Perhaps she was getting too close, prying up too many of those dusty old floorboards in his psyche— seeing too much of what lay underneath. Perhaps the work he spoke of has taken him far away, never to show up on her doorstep again.

The nights are all the same now. She comes home to a quiet apartment, lets herself in, goes through her evening routine, sleeps. Life has returned to what it was before the Soldier came into it.

Tonight, however, when she gets home, there is an instant sense she is not alone. The darkness breathes with tension within the walls of her home, and once her eyes adjust to the lack of light she'll see the reason why.

Her soldier is back. It seems he's once again forgotten how to knock on front doors. He sits at her kitchen table, patiently waiting, dressed fully in a black that blends in with the night.

He is not masked— but he is not smiling. There is a feral, wary look to his watchful blue eyes.


A deep freeze haunts New York City this week, bitterly-icy wind that needles the skin and clears the usually-busy streets of its wandering traffic. The cold has made time drag on in that painful way, the days melting into each other, suspended by long nights stretched too-long by some turning rack.

Tonight stretches so agonizingly long that even Jane finds herself restless in her lab. Restless, lonely, and to be honest with herself, a little spooked.

She can barely concentrate for every time to building creaks from the sea wind or settles on its concrete foundation. Every noise and hollow echo batters her. She drops the sensitive circuitboard she's trying to solder and ruins four hours of work, because a window crackles, and Jane's heart is pounding, and all she can think is that demon — demon, demon, demon, demons are now real.

She has been alone for almost the last ten years of her life. Lived alone, worked alone, preferred alone. She handled it fine before. She thrived in it. /Wanted/ it. She is already so far behind in what she wants to do, and she needs to focus, apply herself, and —

Her stack of CDs inexplicably falls off a table. Jane somehow pries her heart from the back of her throat and gets her coat.

She hightails it home, quick-footed by the cold and her bad nerves both, stopping only on a pit-stop at a nearby twenty-four hour grocery to grab a few essentials. Jane had to simper to SHIELD for an advance, which they gave to her gladly — with sufficient patronization. It gets her both the bag of food in hand and her brand new phone, which she has no pressed to her ear, balanced as she walks.

Jane needs to talk to someone, anyone, with the street so empty and the night so dark. It's not that she's afraid, or certain she's being followed, but just — it's a bad week, she's so tired of the grind, she's so spooked by the change in her world, it's two days until Christmas, and she's so suddenly desperate to hear someone's voice.

Erik Selvig's voicemail message never sounded so good. She's just so happy to hear his voice.

"…so, yeah, just calling, 'cause it's, what, December 24th in Oslo right now? You're still there, aren't you? And I wanted to call and say — Merry Christmas!"

It's Jane's voice, slowly coming closer, bleeding in soft and muffled through her front door. There's a tightness to her voice, every word strained — and trying to pretend it's not. "And ask how you are, and, you're probably asleep right now. Ha ha ha, PhD and I still can't do time zones. But, you know, I just want to see how you're doing. And how your work is."

Her key slips into the deadbolt lock and clicks it open. "And… Merry Christmas, Erik."

Jane fumbles through her things and thumbs her phone off. With a light sound, a sigh of someone believing she's alone, she lets herself in, shoulders the door shut behind her, steps in — and feels it.

She stops for a full five seconds, her hands tightening on her bag of groceries. Her heart is hammering. /Hard/. Harder than it should. Her step slows, goes careful, and finally Jane comes into sight. Dressed still in her winter coat, arms full of groceries and her bag, she's almost hugging all of them as her eyes watch — the walls. She's only looking at the walls, tense, suspicious, fearful, that at first she misses what's obvious.

And then Jane sees him. She jumps, back startled straight. Her eyes blink. She looks. Then she breaks into the most heartbreaking smile.


Jane smiles. The Winter Soldier does not. He sits right where he is, still as death, but not quite immobile— there isn't that certain quality of rigidity that such a word would imply.

He is simply at rest, poised in motionlessness… but ready at any moment to slide into perilous movement.

Eventually something about him moves. It's his right hand, on the table, which heretofore had lain inert across its surface. It turns, and a glint of light catches the stainless steel slide of a sidearm. He lets the gun spin idly in his fingers once in a slow rotation, before with a sigh he shifts just enough to holster it back at his side.

His motions tell a story. He does not want to have to use it, but it is there should necessity arise.

His head turns so his gaze can meet hers dead-on. He watches her, tired, with a careful wariness. A sigh escapes him, his blue eyes briefly averting, before they inevitably return to her. His body language reflects a sort of calm disappointment, the wistful sad attitude of someone with a sick dog they might soon have to put down.

"There was a tracker in my arm," he finally says. Never let it be said the Winter Soldier did not get straight to the point.


The Winter Soldier is the last person Jane expects to see at her kitchen table. But she is just so, so happy to see him.

Surprise and delight and relief just break her face apart, her carefully-tailored expression fissioned in a hundred places into something far more raw, fragile, and dangerously bright-eyed. It feels like a Christmas present, just for her, because she almost thought she'd never see him again, especially after last time — that decision he made to move her aside and walk out of her life and safely back into her own.

Because she feels so afraid tonight, far more than usual, her universe changed forever into something else with even less a sense of control, and she's lonely, so god damned lonely, but now it's fine, tonight it's fine, because Jane has someone here with her that, strange as it is, she actually trusts. Someone with whom she feels safe.

She desposits all her things hurriedly down to her kitchen counter, needing to free her arms, because she knows she has to gesture all the excited words bubbling up in her throat. So much she wants to tell him. So much she needs to ask. He came back!

Smiling fiercely, Jane opens her mouth — and slips when she hears something rattle hollowly. Something that spins and catches light. She sees his gun, recognizes it, and at first, doesn't quite seem to understand. Or doesn't want to. Something walks up her back, a cold prickling, and slowly her smile falters and disappears. The woman looks on, confused, questioning.

Then he speaks. The sentence is brief, curt, and so incongruous to everything in the last week of her life that Jane struggles to keep up. A tracker in his arm? Why would there be a tracker in his arm? Where did it come from?

Her expression flinches. Oh.

"You think I did it," Jane answers.


The Winter Soldier's disappointment, resignation, and suspicion stand in stark contrast to all Jane's happiness and guileless relief. She is so delighted to see him she actually sets down her things and takes a step forward. There's so much to say, so much to ask. So much to talk about. She knows who he is! She finally found out only for him to vanish for a week. She thought she would never have the chance to confirm her discovery…

The glint of light off the slide of a weapon stops her cold.

The Soldier looks up at her. Kinder men would feel their hearts falter to see such effusive joy so quickly replaced with uncertain, guileless confusion. It's all too much like preparing a pet lamb for slaughter. The Winter Soldier, however, feels nothing. He is cold and empty as the season for which he is named: relentless as the winter which has been the greatest weapon of Russia for as long as the country has existed.

Something twists dully, deep in his chest, anyway. He ignores it.

He finally speaks. Talks about the tracker. It takes her a moment to catch on, but she does. He thinks she did it…

"Did you?" he asks, his voice remote and flat.

The Soldier rises from his seat. It is a slow movement, unhurried, like the unfolding of a razor. He walks towards her, hands in his pockets, not yet overtly hostile— but full of potential threat. His eyes hold nothing except the deadly appraisal of a surgeon's knife, deciding where and how to cut. He does not touch her, but his presence oppresses her backwards until she must find herself backed into a corner.

"Did you?" he repeats, softer.


His name is James Barnes, Jane thinks, as she stares into the face of the man at her kitchen table.

That same face she's spent hours this week watching, hours since the first time she accidentally set eye — a stray black-and-white photo of the dead men in Captain America's past. It shouldn't be possible, and she struggled to believe it at first… not that his familiar face existed so long ago.

But that there was so much life in it.

It stares at her coldly now, bleak and hollow, with mirrors in his blue eyes that reflect every bit of Jane Foster back. Like every thought and feeling in her head is a wavelength of light he cannot absorb.

That voice in her head tells her how stupid she is, how utterly stupid, to think herself safe with someone so dangerous. To be so weak, or so lonely, that she confused kindship, or patience, or just tolerance, with someone who just… doesn't… care. Jane ignores that voice. She doesn't want to listen to it.

Did you? he asks.

She shakes her head no, the movement minute, no more than a twitch, too frozen to find words. He rises and she steps back, uncertain, telling herself she shouldn't, that it only makes her look guilty. Guilty even though she's innocent. She doesn't know what he's talking about. She doesn't know how it happened.

Jane strains to breathe through the doubling of her heartrate. It feels like the panic attack she's been waiting to have the last two days finally wants to come, here, now, at the worst time, and she struggles to hold it back, her hands coming together, fidgeting with too much too fast. There is a begging in her eyes like someone desperately reaching to hang onto something, even as when he advances, she backsteps, afraid of the Winter Soldier coming close.

She does not realize she's cornered until her back stops against her own wall.

Somehow, her eyes look up and meet his. Did you? asks the Soldier again.

"No," Jane whispers.


There are plenty of records out there of Captain America and all the dead men and women in his past. That no one has identified the Winter Soldier as one of those dead men, much earlier than this, is testament to how good he is at what he does.

Whether that means he never gives himself away, or whether that means he simply kills anyone who discovers the truth about him… well, hard to say. Could be both.

Now Jane has found the truth. It wasn't even that hard. The recent explosion of the Internet helped, certainly, reproducing images for all to see in their living rooms where once people would have had to make pilgrimages to D.C. — making it easy for her to simply click through the site dedicated to that memorial exhibit and all its preserved photographs.

The man before her, here and now, was recorded in many of those faded images. He has not changed in seventy years, except for where his features are now dead and haggard, carved out by decades of murder. The James Barnes in those photos was young and vital, a handsome man who laughed often, smiled even more, and always stood beside Steve Rogers with an obvious, quiet dedication.

The automaton before her does not look as if he could ever have owned a name so prosaic as James. He advances, backing her patiently and inexorably into a corner, and leans in to ask her a very simple question. Did she?

She shakes her head, a tiny, frightened gesture. It does not seem convincing to him, because he draws closer, head canting to look down at her, examining her with pitiless closeness. His eyes capture hers, his every sense attuning to the rate of her heart, the dilation of her pupils, the tremble of her hands and the sheen of sweat that starts to stand out on her brow.

He does not blink. And he asks her again.

She denies it.

He remains right where he is, watching her and her physiological responses, for some time. Then he leans back up, blinks, and turns away. The tension breaks as he walks to a window instead, resting a hand on the sill as he looks out.

"You should be sure of your answer," he finally says, his voice distant. "Oslo is not so far out of my reach. If I should find that you've lied."


He advances. She recedes. And he traps her, cornered, like the prey animal she is.

Jane Foster's own apartment wall feels like needling cold up through the bones of her back. It's as if the Winter Soldier's presence has become a metastasis in her own home, spreading and chilling over everything that is suppoed to be familiar, everything that is supposed to be safe. Her own apartment corners her in unfamiliar shapes. The darkness eats away her hope.

All she has left, in a moment like this, is herself. Nothing to ground her, nothing to root her — nothing in this world to provide any protection or tie by her own self. And Jane tries to draw on that only source of strength she has. It feels like a well run dry, when all she can feel is fear, and all she can see are those too-close, watchful blue eyes, but she draws down and down, deeper and deeper through her own layers — and taps something.

She breathes in slowly and somehow bravely meets the Soldier's eyes. Jane looks at him even as he can see — can feel her — gently trembling. The truth will set her free, she promises herself, but still the words ring hollow, because her heart is breaking. Doesn't he trust her? Why would he, though?

Jane has no excuses to give. No alibis to offer. She cannot think the words; she cannot find the breath. It is hard to exist past that presence closing her on all sides, one that right now seems to promise death if she gives him the answer he does not like.

No, is all she says.

He does not speak. He does not move. He stays there and watches her — absorbs her. He takes in every bit of the life in her, collecting data, making analysis, while the entire time she looks without blinking back into his eyes. Jane lets him take.

Then he leans back. He walks away.

Jane follows with her eyes the way the Winter Soldier walks to her window. The same window she opened once to encourage him up onto the roof. She shared her telescope with him. She shared that part of her life.

He tells her in so few words that her lies will kill Erik Selvig.

Jane Foster holds so strong. Until that.

She breaks. The sob hitches out of her, rough and hoarse and full of surprised pain. Her shaking right hand curls over her eyes, and head bowed, hair hiding her, Jane begins to softly, brokenly weep. She curls, not wanting him to see her cry.


Death waits for Jane to give the wrong answer.

She doesn't.

Still, the Winter Soldier examines her with somber closeness for many long moments, his invasive senses recording every detail of her involuntary physiological response to his questioning. Those blue eyes are almost unrecognizable in their watchful, appraising coldness, their machine cruelty a brutal thing to see— especially when she can so clearly remember those same eyes briefly seeming so human, so wistful, so melancholy as they pensively regarded the stars.

Now, in these moments, those rare glimpses of the man beneath the machine seem far away and false… silly, petty little distractions from the grim truth. The truth that he has infected her home, that it was never the same safe place it used to be since the moment he stepped into it, and that now there is a likelihood she may die in it now. Tonight.

It comes down to his decision. And ultimately, it seems his decision is to walk away.

Any hope that this will be the end of it, however, dies fast when he calmly informs her that if she lies, she will not be the one to pay for it.

It is an extreme measure. He likely would not have bothered were he not interested in making absolutely sure. Despite his bluffing, he is not actually possessed of so much time that he can simply fly off to kill someone across the Atlantic. But Jane takes it seriously. She cannot afford but to take it seriously. And she shows it.

The Winter Soldier's back stiffens when she breaks and starts to cry.

His head turns a little, a glance edged over his shoulder at her. This is not a new occurrence for him. He has broken men to incoherent tears before by forcing them to listen to their children suffer in his hands. He starts to look away again, already bored of this rote old measure—

—and something stops him from it.

That crying. Something about it just gets at him. His jaw grits, eyes narrowing. He starts to realize his discomfort is not annoyance, but some… strange, mysterious inability to simply endure the sound of her suffering. Some voice in his head that is crying right alongside her. She did nothing but help me, the voice whispers. She did nothing but care. The Winter Soldier struggles against the voice, this frantic attempt by the buried man beneath the machine to break free and make right this grievous wound he has inflicted.

Temporarily, the Winter Soldier loses to the base personality beneath.

He turns, his expression stricken and abruptly eloquent with regret. "That was not…"

Bucky trails off. "That was not called for," he says softly. "I don't even think you're lying. Especially not after that."


Every person has that point where they must break. And Jane Foster, keeping strong for so long, finally crumbles.

The woman bows her head and low, breathy, heartwrenching sounds escape her, strained like she's struggling to hide them, but in the end, cannot. She covers her eyes and turns her head, weeping into the curve of her own palm, her shaking fingers trembling as they curl, as if she were just desperate to hang on — hold onto something, if even that is just her own face.

And Jane just breaks down. She hates it, hates that he gets to hear her like this, hear how he's broken her, but at the same time, knows now she cannot stop. Turned away where he's left her, cornered by the ghost of his presence against her own living room wall, she holds herself and quietly, breathily, cries. Her entire body trembles. Her shoulders pull in as if to brace, already prepared for the next hit.

In the end, it does not come.

She does not see the stiffening of his back. She does not witness the slow, tide-pull sea change within the assassin in her home, as the still, cold waters of his mind current with something warmer, something stronger, something alive. Jane keeps her face turned away, her eyes covered, her tears leeching wet between her fingers.

She knows not what has happened, what is happening, until the Winter Soldier speaks. His voice halts and lingers like a ghost into silence. It tries again, speaking so softly — not as it did before, not in that low, hypothermic sigh of winter's chill, but something else. There is no cold now.

Slowly, Jane loosens her hand from over her eyes, numbly letting go. Her head still bows forward, her long, dark hair shrouding any look of her by its dangling wing, but the Soldier — but Bucky — can hear her, breathing lightly, shallowly, engaged in a long battle to get herself back under control.

Finally, her head lifts and turns to look at him. Jane wears every bit of her pain, her expressive face unable to mask it, her eyes red-raw, her skin shining-wet from tears. She looks right into him, listening.

At first her eyes are closed-off, like some door has been slammed shut, walling off — for her protection — a piece of her, lips tightening like she's deliberating locking that door forever. Something in the man's face, however, stops that. Something there, something what she seems to be, gentles her eyes to search his. Jane does not speak, lost for her voice, lost for any words to say. Fresh tears roll from her eyes as she looks on and on.


She braces for the next blow: whether physical or mental or emotional. None comes.

None comes because the Winter Soldier is suffering some strange shutdown of his own. Two personalities war in one body, one coldly indifferent to her crying, her suffering, her fear… and the other unable to bear what he has just done. The other, finally crumpling after decades of hearing too many women and children sob just like this, because of him.

That part of him struggles hard enough that it reasserts some brief control. It lasts long enough for him to turn to her, features subduedly stricken, the guilt of seven decades condensed into one representative form: this young woman, broken and crying because of him.

Because he threatened to kill her second father figure, after she already lost her first.

He speaks, and the chill is gone from his voice. She looks up, wearing all her fear and pain on her face, and he can see her metaphorical hand on the lock that is moments from turning— shutting her off from him forever. The idea of it— the idea of losing this one place he can come to seek repair and a bit of reprieve— upsets him in a way he cannot quantify, cannot explain, and he licks his lips nervously as he tries to gauge what to say.

He knows what his script should be. It should be to say nothing— or at best, to remind her coldly of the price of lying to him. Just so she's absolutely clear.

Instead he turns towards her, and slowly approaches. It is different this time— oblique, hesitant, every step conscious of whether she will tolerate him any closer— wholly lacking in the threat of earlier. And if she lets him get close enough, he will reach forward awkwardly, touching her shoulder with his right hand.

"You have— been helpful to me. So I won't," he takes it back, his eyes somber. "But tell me that it was not you."

He makes to pull back, unaccustomed to and disliking the contact— even contact initiated by him. As he does, light plays along his right hand, exposing the unmistakable patterns of savage electrical burns tracked across his skin, printed in the back of his hand and snaking like they continue all the way up his arm.


He can witness on her bared, brokenhearted face the effect of his words: Jane Foster's shaken faith.

Faith is all what she is. Faith in the universe, faith in its rules and laws, faith in its facts, faith in its answers. Faith in people. And a strange faith in this killer of men: faith that what she sees is not the monster he attests to be.

He forces on her to imagine, for Jane, the worst thing that could ever happen to her — that she could make someone a victim of her faith. Someone who was there for her. Someone who saved her, when, for a time, all she could feel was the cold and all she could see was grey.

There is nothing left for her to do but to let that faith go. Let its exile hollow her out of everything she is, everything that makes Jane want to feel alive, but at the same time — keep others safe. Safe against the obvious mistakes she's made.

That indecision crosses clear across her face as she watches him, brokenly, through her still-falling tears, say something, do something, to close that last door forever. For the Winter Soldier to teach Jane her final, painful lesson what it means to trust, hope, and keep faith. Let her resign him first as the monster he is made to be, and let the rest follow.

He doesn't give her any cold reminder. He does not even dismiss her as the compliant object she is.

Something has changed in him, in his face and far deeper, and Jane sees it too, sees something enough to stay her. Her voice too frayed to speak, and with no words even in mind to say, she only watches him, guardedly and suspiciously at first, and then, with time, into something else he knows better. That searching way she always looks at him, as if his features were another starfield, and she has vowed to map its constellations.

He begins to move toward her. It is not that predatory advance as before, but something far more halting and hesitant, as if he were the one afraid of her. Jane tenses at the edges, that instictive, reflex of a woman well aware she is all alone in a very dangerous situation, but, even more strangely, does not back away. Perhaps aware that it's useless. Perhaps wishing to save what's left of her pride. Or perhaps willing to leave one more thing to faith.

The Soldier stands tall over her. So tall Jane must look up to meet his eyes, her head tilted back to let the light show close her face. The way the tears still hang on her cheeks. She looks up on him and sees it, and has in that moment her quiet revelation: a realization of the sacrifice she had to make to witness this breakthrough. He looks like those old photos. He is James Barnes.

His hand touches her shoulder. Jane holds still for just a moment, deliberating whether to trust, and then does. His hand feels heavy, even made of flesh and bone, and warm even through the thick layer of her winter coat. It lingers a moment, to bridge the words he speaks to her. His clemency for Erik Selvig. She just has to make him her promise.

"It wasn't me," Jane tells him, her voice soft, raw, and honest.

His hand pulls back —

— and something stops it. Jane stops it, her little fingers curled around his, firm and fierce and final, as she blinks away the rest of her tears to look down on the skin over his callused knuckles, where the burns spread up past his wrist in ugly veins. "You tell me I can trust what you say. Tell me… who did this to you."


For a few precious, brief, and honest moments, Jane looks up at the Winter Soldier, and instead of that monster sees… James Barnes. James as he used to be. James as he still is, somewhere buried beneath seven decades of torture, deprivation, dehumanization, and murder.

All it took was for her to nearly lose her faith.

Even clearly recognizable, he is still changed from the young man she saw in those photographs. He was already weary and lined in those pictures, even those many years ago, a boy already made old by too much war; that shell-shocked war exhaustion has been amplified a thousandfold, stretched out over too many decades, ripening that veteran's weariness into something worn and ruinous that weighs down every inch of his demeanor.

He is James Barnes, but with eyes seventy years older, and an apparent murderous alter ego superimposed over what he is supposed to be.

He touches her lightly. Even his gentlest of touches is still heavy, a palpable weight on the delicate bone of her shoulder. But he is warmer than his code name suggests, warmer than his behavior would suggest: his body a veritable furnace due to the enhanced metabolism burning quadruple-time through his blood.

He maintains that contact for as long as it takes for him to ask her to vow it was not her. If she will make that promise, he will have mercy, and the consequences if she lies will fall on no head but her own.

She does, and his hand pulls back. Or tries to. Jane notices something at the last moment, and snatches at his wrist. He tenses palpably, more than before, his edginess around her rewound back to an earlier point in the timeline of their odd relationship. She was not the only one to suffer a small crack in her faith and trust.

He only relaxes— by an increment— when moments pass and she does nothing but look at the ugly scarring spidered over his skin. It hasn't fully healed yet. She can still see clearly the paths the electricity took as it seared up into his body via the conduit of his arm. Tell me who did this to you, she demands.

Bucky is silent. The Winter Soldier circles at the edges of his gaze, watchful. "…My handlers," he finally says, very quietly. "It does not mean anything. It is the expected price of failure. I have not been compromised in… years…"


His captured hand tenses. Tenses tactily. Tenses dangerously. Tenses with malingering distrust. Jane sees it well enough; she just doesn't seem to care. Anger has its rare way in making her absolutely fearless.

She takes the hand of a man whom, minutes ago, threatened to murder the only person resembling family in her lonely little life. Her small, purposeful fingers curl his, well-aware of how strong he is and yet unimpeded in the way Jane turns the Soldier's hand to expose to her eyes his knuckles and up past the wrist.

Her eyes, their lashes still clumped wet from her drying tears, track the paths of his burns like a scanning machine. She's worked in enough laboratories with enough eletrical engineers to know the burns of electrocution. It was a consequence of the profession; she burned enough bits of herself over the years. But nothing Jane has ever witnessed has come close to this.

Her other hand lifts, and she traces two fingertips over his skin. Their wandering path avoids his burns, careful not to aggravate them, meandering around in careful, light strokes. There is nothing necessary about these touches. Nothing that they do to give her information she does not already know. Jane only seems to be trying to soothe the parts of him not in pain.

She cannot imagine how much it must hurt. How much it /had/ to have hurt when —

Her voice changes. It still keeps its softness, its patience, its kindness — but now there is steel. And flint striking on every fierce syllable. This does not happen on its own. Who did this to him?

Jane does not expect him to answer. Her fingers tighten around his, a quiet pronouncement of refusal to let go, warning without words that she needs to know.

He speaks. She looks back up into his eyes, the Soldier — no, James, who looks at her from far away, speaking words she struggles to comprehend. Handlers. Failure. Compromised. Definitely to do with that tracker, she thinks.

For a moment, Jane cannot see. Her eyes lose focus, because of the rage, because of her tears, because she can't comprehend a fucking world that would do this to a human being. Her jaw trembles dangerously like she just may cry again, but this time she catches it and draws her mouth tightly together, jaw gritting until the anger and horror and visceral sickness passes. And then she can breathe again.

"It means… everything," she whispers, her voice like smoke.

Jane looks up at him. "Do you trust that I'll never hurt you that way?"


No human man can suffer electrocution that would leave burns like this without dying. That he is standing before her now, healing over those scars, strong and still very much in working order enough to /threaten/ her and her loved ones, says quite clearly that he must not be a human man any longer.

Yet when she looks up at him, it is James Barnes she sees, and James Barnes was very much a human man, by all accounts.

What has been done to him?

Whatever it was, it was something that conditioned him into what he is now: a creature so passive that— after his initial cagey tense is met with her insistence— ultimately just stands and lets her touch him without resistance, watching without objection as she runs her fingertips along the parts of him that are not burnt and scarred.

He shrugs it off. A soldier fails; a soldier takes the consequence of failure.

She does not see it that way at all.

The sudden rage in her eyes takes him aback. He watches her askance, unsure how to take her anger, as she collects herself enough to tell him that it means everything. He does not answer, though his expression is eloquent with a sort of polite humoring: a wordless 'think that if you want, but reality is reality.'

Then she asks if he trusts that she will never hurt him that way.

He does not answer. His gaze averts. He balks visibly from the question, but not necessarily because he has an answer in the negative. He balks like someone who has forgotten what trust is— cannot remember it at all. Does he trust? That isn't even the right question. The question is /can/ he trust, after a lifetime lived in lies and pain?

"I," he eventually says, his voice soft and toneless, "do not think that you would, based on evidence." His hand pulls a little in hers, like he wants to reclaim it.


It is telling how his eyes leave hers. How something, something Jane cannot parse or possibly source, compels the Soldier to look away when she asks whether he trusts her.

It is the wrong question, she does realize. The man acts as if he's never been taught the word, never been allowed the sensation. As though he's lived a long and painful life never trusting another human being.

Her dark eyes too turn down, if only to look at his right hand captured between both of hers, her fingers curled around his. But he has, she thinks, because she's read the records. Because she's seen the photographs. Steve Rogers and his Howling Commandos. James Barnes was his second-in-command. They must have trusted each other. They had to. Squadmates. Friends. Brothers.

She frowns down at his knuckles. If all is true, those fingers of his are far older than her. Older than her parents would be. Older than her grandparents. A man thought lost for decades and yet — here. Here in her living room. Here in her hands.

Yet only for so long.

His hand pulls, as if on cue, as if sensing the dangerous thoughts Jane keeps private in her mind. That, or just reaching the limit that the Winter Soldier can tolerate human contact that is not his hands on another, snuffing away their rights to life. He pulls to let go, but hers tighten.

Jane turns up her eyes. Her hands are firm, but not painful — even if she could hurt him — and her face reflects the knowledge that she knows she cannot physically restrain him, cannot barrier him in any way if he does not wish. But she hopes he will oblige her for just one moment more. Her fingers feel cool on skin as hot as his.

Her brows knit, and breathing in, she switches tactics. She changes one word and asks again.

"Can you trust that I'll never hurt you that way?" Jane implores. Her eyes watch him, her shaken faith returned and all the more strong.


Trust. The word itself seems alien to him. He balks from it like a wolf shying from an outstretched hand, not yet domesticated enough to understand the good things that can come from such a thing.

Yet it seems odd that he would behave this way; as if he's lived an entire lifetime not understanding the concept of trust, not able to have it for anyone, not able to ever experience what it is like to feel kinship with other humans around him. Not able to even feel like a human himself. Odd because there is photographic evidence he once lived a life where trust was everything. Where your life rode entirely on your faith that the brothers-in-arms around you would watch your back.

From all appearances, Steve Rogers and his Howling Commandos had that kind of trust and faith. The photographs, the stories— they were all clear on that. As 2IC, James Barnes would have known it more than most: serving both as Steve's trusted right hand and second, while also capable of maintaining a closeness to the squad members that Steve— as commanding officer— would never be able to quite replicate.

And tellingly, the first thing James asked for, when he was able to remember anything through the noise in his mind, was Steve.

So he must know trust. He has known the deepest kind of trust: the trust of brothers, the trust of soldiers dying together in bloody ditches. Yet something changed, along the way. Something happened, and made it so that those years of his life might well have never happened…

It's not hard to guess what.

He regards her pensively as she looks down and contemplates his hands. Hands belonging to a man who, if he truly is James Barnes… is orders of magnitude older than he appears. Older than her, her parents, her grandparents. What was it the exhibit said? Date of birth, 1917? A hundred years past. No wonder he grew distressed at the idea of ghost images of dead starlight, flung through time and space to be registered by human eyes thousands of years later.

Eventually the contact grows too discomfiting for him, and he tries to reclaim his hand. She tightens her own grasp down. He could simply keep pulling and break her grip, but something stops him.

She tries again. She changes just one word. Can he?

He stares down at his hand, captive in hers.

"There are a lot of things I no longer can do," he finally says. But he does not pull his hand free from hers.


Something definitely changed along the way. Something turned that laughing, wry-eyed soldier with the impeccable service record recorded those faded photographs into —

— something quite else, this man standing here in her room, this man with his machine-replaced left arm, with scars and wounds, with eyes that have forgotten all fluency of their laugh lines, with an inability to stand touch or trust in another, with a brokenness to him that begs him to seek out Jane Foster's eccentric, lonely, and frankly pathetic, existence as some kind of rest stop.

Jane thinks she's just come to a decision. She isn't going to repair him. She's going to save him.

She struggles, even in her light-touched care, to hold onto his hand. She asks the Soldier the million-dollar question.

He answers neutrally. But he does not reject her touch.

Jane is going to take this as a potential yes.

"There's a lot of things you still can," she argues, then pauses, perhaps realizing too late her strange choice of words, and finding in them an accidental mistake. Jane swallows, and uses her own shoulder to rub clumsily against her cheek, smearing the last of her old tears away. She looks back up, in her brown eyes a compromise. "How about you just believe what I tell you. And I'll believe what you tell me. That can be a start."

With that, she carefully releases his hand, as if to show that he does not have to fight her, does not have to force her, to feel free.

Realizing she's still in her winter coat, still propped up against the same wall he once backed her into, Jane stirs, already desperate to try to strip that old memory off her shoulders, put it behind her and leave it there forever. "In the meantime," she offers, "I'd like you to stay tonight. I want to look at your arm."

She pauses. "The right arm. At least first. I can do something for the pain." Her eyes linger a moment more at his, searching his face, before Jane, whether awkward or timid or demure, turns her face away. She lingers off, backstepping two paces before she turns, unzipping off her coat in the process. "I just need to get some things."

Jane glances back once through her direction toward her bathroom. "Take a seat, maybe?"


The Winter Soldier seems to have nothing further to say after his evasive answer to her rephrased question. Yet he does not pull his hand free, and for Jane actions speak louder than words.

So she comes to a decision. A dangerous, potentially impossible decision. She will save him.

Unaware he has been adopted as a project, the Soldier remains silent, his hand slack in both of hers. That fleeting glimpse of the man he once was— a man who struggled back to the surface, if only for a few minutes, just to refuse to harm this woman as he has harmed so many others in the past— seems to have finally vanished again, subdued and submerged back into the tangled machine workings of his conditioning. His last parting words a sad admission that there are many things he can longer do.

She insists there's still a lot of things he can do. Like believe what she tells him, just as she'll believe him.

The Soldier is silent. He does not agree, but neither does he reject, and his hand still does not pull away.

"It really was nothing," he repeats eventually, his eyes bleak with resignation to the nature of his existence and all its harsh, painful rules. "It was expected."

She releases his hand shortly afer. His eyes flicker a bit in surprise, but he takes the opportunity to step back a little restlessly, cagey and unsettled for reasons he cannot define. She wants him to stay, she says. She wants to look at his arm. "It could use calibration—" he starts, before she clarifies. She means his right arm. The pain. The injuries.

He lapses into confused silence. "That's not necessary," he eventually essays, but Jane is already heading off towards the bathroom. Take a seat, she says.

The Winter Soldier stands uncertainly, aware that something has shifted significantly between them, but unsure exactly what.


It really was nothing. It was expected. That's not necessary.

Jane doesn't listen to a lick of it. The words roll off her like rain off duck down. She essays a quick look back at the man she leaves behind in her living room, her eyes tomed with all the words her lips are not speaking — an entire dialogue she both seems to want to yet will not say. Her gaze softens at the last moment. Make yourself at home.

Shrugging off her coat, she turns a corner and disappears out of sight. Out of sight but still tracked, especially with senses like his, and he can keep a trace on Jane Foster even as she busies herself one room away.

She flicks on the bathroom light and flinches at the sight of her own face. Jesus Christ, enough with that, Jane thinks aghast, turning on the sink taps to quickly wash her face. She can't do anything about the lingering rawness of her eyes, or the stray twitch-tremble of adrenaline leaving her hands, but deems it good enough, and with a light sniff, kneebends down for where she keeps her first aid.

Her apartment stands in stillness around him. Even as he noticed upon his first arrival, hours ago, little has changed in Jane's small home this last week. Her occasional clutter is all the same, her work tools scattered about, and her coffee table framed in the usual centerpiece of her laptop, star charts… and two new additions. The first is that she's begun drawing, over and over and over, geometic antiprisms, drawings encircled with overflowing lines of calculations — much of it scratched out, circled and notationed with angry NO or WRONG or DON'T.

The second is the strange new pile of books collecting at one corner of the table, buried under notes, but with their spines easily read. One is on GREEK MYTHOLOGY. Another is COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE. Two more on DEMONOLOGY: VOL 1, VOL 2.

A few minutes later, Jane returns, carting along… a monster half the size of herself. It's not a first aid kit. It's a first aidzilla, something someone buys in military surplus stores, catered only to hunters and campers, to neo-militant survivalists, to concrete-dugout crazies. It looks to weigh a good twenty pounds, rattling with each step, and winds her enough to have to set it down on the floor.

If all of this so far isn't mind-breaking enough, Jane Foster bends back up, attentive eyes homed in on the Soldier — on James. Stripped of her coat, wearing only a short-sleeved button-down, she has black-and-purple bruises running up the lines of both her thin arms — healing trauma of her own that wasn't there a week ago.


Jane isn't listening. The Soldier's eyes flicker briefly with aggravation, but he doesn't attempt to force her anymore. He lets her turn the corner and leave his line of sight.

He keeps an ear on her, but doesn't follow. Neither does he make himself at home, as she invites him to. Not like he did last time. He just folds his arms— a gesture as much to defend himself as anything else— and turns to lean back against the wall, waiting for her to return as he listens to the water run. To the sound of shuffling as she pulls out her first aid kit.

He doesn't explore her apartment as he did before, but his eyes do scan the area, eternally watchful in the way any good assassin must be. His eyes fall on the new pile of books at the corner of the table, drawn there because they weren't there last time.

The word DEMONOLOGY brings him to frown in brief, portentous suspicion.

Presently a rustling brings him to turn his head, moments before Jane reappears. He's already looking at her even before she comes out of line of sight, his senses perfectly honed to tell him who's where at any given time. The gigantic first aid kit raises so many questions, but the Soldier asks just one: "What the hell do you need something that big for?"

Partially because he also has another one, and two questions is a lot of talking for a man like him. "And why demonology?" he asks, tilting his head at the book in question.

His eyes track back to her afterwards, and catch their first glimpse of her bare arms now the first aidzilla is out of the way. A slight frown flickers in his eyes, and a moment later he is in front of her. His hand has taken one of her wrists, lifting it to look at the bruising running up and down the arm.

One question more. "What is this?"


Hefting along the high king of all first aid kits, Jane turns a quick look first toward her couch, as if certain the Soldier will be there as directed, sitting there, maybe helping himself to her laptop a second time.

Her furniture sits empty. Her eyes avert, and she peeks up, surprised, to find the man instead where she left him, still leaning against the wall. Jane frowns questioningly.

But she's not given too much time to think. Instead, Jane finds herself on the receiving end of another question, one spoken surprisingly from the Winter Soldier's lips. He doesn't ask too many of those, not of her, save for that some minutes ago —

She glances down at the first aid monster in question, the answer there in her face. "Oh," Jane answers, her voice still lingerngly soft from before. She pauses, hesitating clearly, not eager to talk about it, and considering saying something dismissive altogether. But she did just pledge honest to him. "I got it for my dad years ago," she reveals. "He got sick, and I didn't want him to go to hospice. I tried to do everything myself, and that didn't work out, but I still bought every supply I could think of."

She bites down briefly on the inside of her cheek. Jane, for a moment, seems apt to smile at some old memory. She doesn't, though her eyes soften with old humour. "I went a bit overboard. When he saw this, he laughed at me."

Exhaling, finding all that incredibly hard to say out loud, and more than desperate to change the subject, she begins, "Why don't we —"

He asks about her new books.

Jane double-takes, at this point just trying to keep up with how quickly he NOTICES things. This one makes her stop, visibly cringing. She isn't even sure where to start with that one. "It's, uh, light. Light reading." She swallows. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

With that, she sets down the first aid, straightening back up in time to — find the Soldier has come entirely too close, suddenly right there, in her space, looking down on her with his blue eyes. Jane freezes on the spot, surprised and unsure, her first thought to wonder if she's said something wrong. If he's going to interrogate her, or worse —

He takes her wrist — and it's so small in his hand, able to be swallowed in his fist — and pulls her bare arm straight. Jane pulls back, confused, before realizing the man's intent. She'd forgotten about those. Her mind's been pulled about ten ways tonight.

It's two days' healing. It looks like she feel, or was dropped, from a good height of seven, eight feet or so, and landed hard — and took her weight entirely on her forearms. Her pale skin shines with mean bruising. Jane peeks up at him, effectively trapped, effectively lost for what to say. "I… fell."


He is not on her couch. He is not on her IKEA stool. He is not anywhere that would indicate he has any intention to make himself comfortable or at home.

He's right where she left him. The only thing that has changed is that he has turned to lean against the wall, and he has folded his arms. His head is already turned towards her, his gaze aimed on where her eyes will be, before she even turns the corner. She'll come back into the room to find him already watching her, perfectly and precisely aware of where she is at all times.

His eyes lower briefly and take in the first aid kit, before lifting again as he inquires just what she needs such a big one for.

Her answer is not sonething he expects. The Winter Soldier's jaw tightens a little at the unexpectedly personal anecdote. His gaze averts, the man looking down at the floor in silence. "Ah," he says. "Well. You would not be the first person to fight down to the very last scrap against death." He has seen it, his tone implies, but he says nothing more aloud.

He just moves on to other queries. Like her new books. With all her apartment contains— all those scattered notes, books, calculations— it would be hard to impossible for any layperson to quickly pick out new additions or anything changed to that chaotic, sprawling landscape. The Winter Soldier, however, isolates and identifies the new material near-immediately, his eye for detail honed to a razor edge over the years.

Light reading. He wouldn't believe her if she told him. "You'd be surprised," he says dryly, already thinking of some extremely English asshole he just met.

Her stoop to put down the first aid kit rides up her sleeves, however, revealing something that he instantly perceives— and which puts him in her personal space, of a sudden, his blue eyes intent as he takes her by the wrist. Her first reaction is fear, but that does not surprise him; he ignores it, eyeballing the bruising and the pattern of it as it purples up the underside of her forearms.

She fell, she claims.

"Fucking hard fall," he says. His eyes lift, their blue gaze questioning and sharp, brooking none of the insult of her feeble, obvious evasions. "You think I'm an idiot?"


It is an unexpected personal anecdote. One that hurts Jane to say, hurts and, at the same time, vaguely frees her less the weight of one imagined chain. She never told anyone that. Not even Erik.

And here she is, spilling the vulnerable parts of her life to a man whom minutes ago backed her against a wall and… broke her, in a way. Broke himself on her, Jane thinks, armed with full breadth of her complicated feelings toward the Winter Soldier — toward James Barnes. Just as easily as he frightens her, he feels like some ground wire she can touch to stand in a single point of safety in a world of danger.

He shuts himself down when he acts too… human. He wears the signs of torture. Maybe he needs his own ground wire too. If her honesty, her moments of vulnerability can help provide that to James, lost somewhere in the man before her —

Jane gives it to him.

His answer surprises her a little. Surprises and fascinates and gives her hope, as Jane watches the Soldier who watches her living room floor. "Yeah," she replies, the brief word belied by the say she says it — soft and tired and yet not bearing a trace of regret. He's seen it before; she wonders as whom.

Her demeanour changes the instant the Soldier notes and brings up Jane's interesting new reading material. She pauses transparently, her expressive face unable to lie, but at the same time, not even sure how to begin to be honest. That demon — it frightens her enough she doesn't want to talk about it, and errant thoughts of it spooked her all the way home from the lab. It still sounds ridiculous in her head to even call it a demon, and worse to say out loud.

She downplays it. You'd be surprised, he says. Jane frowns up at him. She already is hates imagining the life he must lead — the life she's resolved to save him from — that it hurts her to imagine opening it further to this. To the possibility that even the realistic nightmares are joined by the imagined.

She just wants to guide him to the couch and begin helping his burns. Her dark eyes keep straying looks at his right hand, itchy with sympathy, barely able to bide the thought of him hurting while she can do something to help it.

Jane almost wonders if she may need to take him by the wrist to lead him. So count her surprised when the Soldier does it first, and to her, invading her space and touching her with such familial boldness that even she fears the worst. Maybe she crossed some invisible boundary, because he doesn't reach out and touch her — not like this, so decisively, so firmly, so assertively.

He holds her arm and asks of her bruises. Jane's eyes widen. She forgot to better cover them. She had not even given it thought. She stammers something. He cuts it down with his knife-edge eyes.

You think I'm an idiot?

"No!" Jane blurts back, like that is the gravest insult she could think anyone. She cowers a little beneath this interrogation, even if it is nothing like the one before, something so different about it it bears no reminder to her, no trigger for when he backed her against the wall. She has never been thrust into such a piercing level of attention, and certainly not by an assassin with a working metal arm, and it shows. "No. You're not going to believe me." Her moving eyes search his. "There was a demon. Like in those books, only real." The words bleed out of her, low and wan, and the more she speaks, the more he — can feel it. Her wrist, so very softly, trembles in his grip. It is not with fear of him. "And I think it's still out there."


Part of the reason those feelings are so complicated is, assuredly, because Jane is getting to know two men at once. Two men, trapped in one body, one the true personality… and the other a warped shadow.

One backs her into a corner and threatens to kill her— threatens to kill the last family she has. The other, appalled, takes it back, in schizophrenic dismay.

And it seems, somehow, that Jane— her presence, her patience, her gentle hands— helps coax that gentler native personality forth. That personality that she now knows must belong to James Barnes, still buried there somewhere. Beneath all the apparent torture and conditioning that have built up the Winter Soldier over top of him.

And it is the Soldier who answers her anecdote about her father. The Soldier who speaks of having seen many struggle to the last against death. Death was him, and their struggles were to survive his execution.

Of course, none of them ever did.

The transition between those two sides of this man is so seamless that she does not notice up until he starts to behave with that familiar machine harshness again. His sharp eyes instantly pick out the discrepancies that have appeared in her apartment since he was last here, and in an instant he in back in her space, interrogating her about her new interest in demonology. About the bruises smashed up and down her forearms.

She tries to pull free. His grasp shackles her as surely as iron. She tries a lie, and his eyes narrow. Does she think he's stupid?

That stings her. Enough that she finally gives him the truth. It was a demon, and it's still out there, and— she doesn't say it, but he can feel it in the tremble of her wrist— she is afraid of it. Afraid of it still being out there, hurting people.

His lashes flicker a little. "…was there an annoying Englishman involved?" A frown starts on his features. "Blond."

His head lifts, his gaze turning to look out the window as if wondering if the demon might be out there right this minute. He doesn't scoff, doesn't look on her in disbelief, doesn't do anything in fact but apparently… take her very seriously. Sounds like he's had some kind of experience with this too. "Where was it?"


Her brown eyes widen and her pupils shrink to needlepoints. Jane Foster does not have to say anything to answer the Winter Soldier's hundred-dollar question. The shocked, slapped, searching look across her face speaks tomes.

"How… did you know?" Jane babbles, so incredulous that she forgets her nervousness, and her captured wrist gentles inside his hand. Did he see it? Was he there? How did he find out? He followed her before. He learned practically everything about her life already. When that thing, that Empusa, looked down on her, she only thought of him. She wished he were there. She would have seen him if he was, she knows. He must have found out. One thing is for certain: he knows of John Constantine.

The bruise shines painfully down the bones of her forearm. Probably any more height, any more force, and they would have shattered in her tiny body — a body not designed for violence, for hunting otherworldly nightmares. Nature itself would never have Jane step foot upon something occurrence like that — right? It must have been something else. Someone else.

She looks up on his face, the same one from all those old photos, as it does not smile, as it does not look on loyally to the men around him, but rather, with a machine scrutiny, scans outside her living room window. His alertness makes Jane alert, and she half-steps closer, trusting he would hear something far before she would. Nothing comes, however, nothing save for placid silence, and she wills herelf back to enough calmness to think. She has questions.

The foremost: why is he taking her seriously? Has he seen it? Does he know? Of the demon? Of demons? Of that world?

"Here. In the city, I think," Jane bleats. Then, just like that, the words begin to fall out of her. Maybe it's because he still has her trapped, captured in place. Maybe it's because she's just so desperate to tell someone, anyone, who seems likely to believe her. Maybe she just can't help but give the most dangerous man in her life her undisguised honesty. Trusting him with it to keep. "We quantum tunnelled — through a wall. He gave me a bracelet to wear, and I quantum tunnelled. I thought he was conning me. And then — a warehouse. And a demon. Empusa. It was on fire. It didn't like audio from pulsar B0329. It almost killed him. I, I think it almost killed me. I insulted it. It ran. I'm pretty sure he fused atoms with his hands. I have his card. It was a very strange night."


The Winter Soldier does not seem concerned about Jane's shock. He looks like he's accustomed to knowing way more than everyone around him— and unnerving people with that knowledge. He just stands there, still holding her wrist, frowning to himself as he goes over this new information in his head.

So Jane had a run-in with John Constantine. And it sounds like John sent her into danger.

How did he know? "We've met before," he says, the dryness of his voice speaking volumes about how that probably went. "You say 'demons' and there's a pretty short list of names I'm gonna run down as being involved." Something sparks in his brain— a lingering hint of the humor James Barnes had in spades. A dry look comes and goes in his irises. "He held my hands. I knew he was crazy the minute he did that."

He looks down, turning her wrist in his hand. He seems to suddenly realize he's still holding it; his fingers loosen and let go, letting her arm free.

Mercifully, he backs up afterwards, turning away into a restless pace as she answers his questions about the demon itself. It's in the city. They found it by quantum tunneling through a wall. It almost killed them. He gave her a bracelet to wear, and—

The Soldier turns a sharp glance back on her. "He gave you a bracelet? He SENT you in there with it? Why?"


At first, Jane just looks appreciative that the Soldier answers her questions. She knows well enough he doesn't have to. He doesn't have to say, or do, or comply with anything she asks of him. And yet, at times, he does. Sometimes with that strange passivity, which she correlates only when working on his left arm, and sometimes… not.

In the end, however, she does not wonder of that fact for long. Because something he says ends up sticking in her mind, peanut butter clinging messily to the sides of her associative cortex and, no matter how many times she tries to smear it away, it… just… won't… go.

"He… held your hands." Jane repeats. Her eyebrows flatten and make a minute twitch. Her eyes stare dead forward. Her mouth thins, and even more strangely, begins to frown. "Wait, what?"

That mental image — she can't do it. She is an abstract thinker, a spatial thinker, a forward thinker, a GENIUS really, god damnit, whose mind is blessed to comprehend thing people are not even ready to understand and — yet — she — cannot —

John Constantine and the Winter Soldier, holding hands.

Jane thinks she loses about fifty IQ points trying to render that picture. "Why — do I want to know?"

Not even she realizes that he still is touching her, still is holding her, not at least until the gentle movement of him turning Jane's wrist to appraise it pulls back her focus. Aware of it now, very aware, she says nothing, but goes still. Her heartbeat amps up, but there is no fear to be smelled off her.

He lets go, and she awkwardly takes her arm back, following the way the Soldier — no, James, she thinks, call him James now — wanders some safe steps away. Back to work, she grabs up her giant first aid kit and lugs it toward the couch, closing her laptop and depositing it elsewhere, and setting the behemoth down in its place. She glances up only at questions aimed at her, frozen under the regard of those blue eyes.

"If you sit down, I'll tell you," Jane tries to bargain, a hitch of pleading in her voice. She holds for a beat, and either way, exhalingly complies. "I don't know if he sent…" she mutters, not wanting to lie, but at the same time, not wanting to admit she… sort've ran in. "I asked him why. He said it would only work for, uh, a woman. Don't ask me why, I'm still trying to figure out that part."

Jane fidgets a moment. She isn't sure how to parse his restlessness. She's never seen it before. "It's OK now. It doesn't matter. Will you let me take a look at you? I'm worried. I want to see how bad it is." She pauses. "Why did he hold your hands?"


The humor is as fleeting as it is mind-boggling. That hint of James comes and goes, leaving the Winter Soldier frowning at her as she fixates on that absurd mental image. And asks: wait, what? He… what? /Why/?

He doesn't answer. His mind has moved on to the particulars of this demon and her encounter with it, his mouth thinned as he contemplates it grabbing her, throwing her, injuring her— almost killing her.

His jaw grits a little. He doesn't understand why that imagery bothers him so much. He lets her wrist go— continuing to touch her doesn't help with that itchy confusion running laps of the neurons in his brain— and backs off, circling away to pace her apartment like a wolf penned in a cage.

He keeps half an ear on her moving behind him: the sound of her shifting her laptop aside and plunking down that first aid monstrosity in its place. Even in thought, he is so attuned to her that he turns only once she's set the kit down and gotten settled, aiming questions on her derived from his few moments of consideration.

If he sits down, she bargains, she'll tell him.

He watches her askance a few moments, considering that, before he slowly edges towards her, his heavy steps drawing him closer until he reluctantly sits down on the couch. By instinct he starts to offer his left arm, the machinery whirring quietly in preparation to open— then he remembers, and confusion flickers in his gaze. He puts his arm down, bemused, and waits for actual instruction.

She doesn't know if he /sent/, she starts, and then she never finishes. Of course that clarifies nothing for him, and so he continues to assume John Constantine enjoys sending women into mortal peril. An assumption which only gets worse when she specifies that John needed her specifically because she was a woman.

Disgust flickers briefly in his gaze: a lingering flicker of the 1930s man at his core. Sending a lady to danger, huh.

He glances up at her when she says it's OK now— doesn't matter. "Suppose not," he says. She asks for his arm; that hits a bit of conditioning, and he offers his arm without even thinking, his mind still distant on other topics. "So long as you stay away from him in the future."

He never answers the actual important question here.


To watch him is to witness the caged, anxious circling of a wild animal rather than a man. Taken somewhat aback, and struggling not to let his restlessness make her feel restless, Jane wrestles desperately for patience, calmness, or yielding — anything to soothe him.

The gears turn in her head as her brown eyes track him pacing a hole through her old hardwood. Is it the demon? Is it John Constantine, and any particular bad blood she's otherwise not aware? Is there some connection she's missing? Or is it her?

Jane isn't certain. Instead, she busies herself in creating some makeshift medical station out of her living room, her coffee table creaking under the weight of all her medical supplies — near to most of its cache largely untouched.

She tries to negotiate him over, dark eyes begging. At the moment, her greatest fear is him upsetting himself right out of her apartment, lost back into the night where she cannot follow. He considers her, and she holds her breath.

It comes out, exorcised in relief, and Jane chooses to believe it's James Barnes that draws closer, coming within reach and alighting himself back down onto her couch. He moves as if to proffer his left arm on a conditioned reflex probably — probably older than she is. He stops himself and corrects it. She says nothing, instead moving aside more of her coffee table clutter to drag it a half-foot closer. She sits down on top of it, tiny and compact enough to have her weight supported, sitting opposite that allows her full access to both arms.

Jane pushes a lock of her dark hair behind her ear, better to see, already gearing for a long haul. This close, there's no ignoring the agitation that emanates palpably off the man before her, incited by talk of demons, of John Constantine — talk she seems just as enthused to set aside, and insist he not worry. Is it even that, though? Would he even worry? And if so, about her?

Does she worry about him? She can't help but ask again about the holding hands.

Seems so.

He doesn't answer. Jane notices that aversion, frowning through it, making a mental not not to let that go — as he defers, himself, not to worry. So long as she stays away from John Constantine.

She swallows and averts her eyes. Now it's her turn to refuse to respond. She can't make promises she knows she won't keep, and the man, strange as he seems, has so many answers to questions she hasn't even begun to ask —

"Would you be able to roll up your sleeve?" Jane asks instead, voice soft. "Unless that hurts too much. I want to see how bad it is. Would it be easier to take off your shirt?"


The Winter Soldier offers no clarification as to how he knows John Constantine, or why the man seems to aggravate him so much. Though, really, having met him— does Jane really need to wonder how John Constantine might be an aggravating human being just in general?

Especially to a man like the Soldier, who exists at the exact opposite end of the spectrum as John does in terms of 'the type of world they inhabit?'

Either way, she's intent to fix him up. She tries to coax him closer, with the same air as she would use to try to entice a wounded animal. He regards her in silence a few moments as if he truly were one, his head tilted slightly, before he decides to obey, drawing close silently to settle on the couch.

A routine, definitely older than Jane herself, runs quietly in his mind and prompts him to offer his left arm. Then he hits a mental snarl, and withdraws it again, confused. No, that's not the one that needs repair. He looks down, prepared to present his right instead, but there's still a problem.

Would you be able to roll up your sleeve? Or remove your shirt?

"You need access?" the Soldier surmises, before— with no hesitation at all, and no indication that he views this as any different than the unlocking mechanism he engages to allow techs access to the innards of his left arm— he sits back, sheds his jacket, and strips the shirt beneath it off over his head.

This time he isn't actually wearing anything underneath. He wasn't expecting any kind of maintenance session.

Completely unperturbed— as if he has spent a great deal of time exposed like this under clinical, uncaring hands— he presents his right arm. The electrical burns continue off his hand and up it, as if the current had been run from his fingertips up into his body. They stop short of the shoulder, at least, as if his body were denser than that of ordinary men: much more resistant to damage and capable of dampening down the effect of even this.


You need access? are not the words Jane Foster expects to precede a man stripping on her living room couch.

She does not think her request anything beyond platonic, perhaps even medically sterile, genuinely not thinking past a desire to help. And Jane wants to help. Help the man whose eyes she's now seen, mirrored in countless digital scans of old, fraying photos. Even if she so wanted, and could somehow turn and shelve her heart, she cannot ignore here sits James Barnes, a man finally given name, back from the dead and wearing all the signs of torture by electrocution.

She is prepared to feel no more than her complicated empathy and heartbreak for him.

And yet — there is an incongruity. He says that strange, strange, question, inflected within it so much dissonance that Jane tilts her head… and then stiffens straight when he reaches reflexively for his own clothes. He strips his coat and shirt with such bold impetus that something twists low in her belly, her widening eyes taking in the lines of his body. It's just the way he moves, so effortlessly masculine —

— and broken the instant Jane's slightly too-wide eyes take in the passivity cooling of his face, the lethal electrical burns searing his right arm. The moment breaks, chilled over, rent by the way Jane's travelling eyes walk the way trauma carves past the wrist, through the elbow, up and up, just short of his shoulder. Her stomach turns, and her eyes burn hot, the anger sticking her like a hot knife and twisting.

She is not a trained physician, but even she knows he should be dead. Dead or dying or debilitated on some hospital stretcher, suffering major organ damage, even the onset of shock. Not sitting upright, holding towards her his wounded arm with undisturbed patience, and wearing on his face no outward sign of pain. A man could not do this.

Who is he? James Barnes, and yet more —

"I'm…" she begins, her voice low and heavy, a hanging ceiling ready to fall, but cannot finish the sentence. I'm sorry, Jane thinks, but she knows if she says it aloud, she's going to cry again, she's going to break on the word, and start tearing up — for him — and she'll get nothing done.

Instead, she reaches to take his proffered arm by its hand, pulling gently to try to encourage it to rest down atop her knee, a position that frees both her hands and extends his arm fully to her attention. With that, Jane sorts through her kit, snaps on gloves, leans closer to eye the trauma.

"I remember you saying you heal, heal quickly," Jane murmurs after a moment. "You're… you're right. In just a week, no one could… how can you do this?"


Clearly, the Winter Soldier does not find it anything more than a sterile medical request either, because without preamble he starts shedding his clothes: dictated by a conditioning that is doubtless so strong in large part because of what gets done to him. Hinted at by the horrible burns spreading up his arm.

He asked her if she needed access, as if he were nothing but some electronic panel. Perhaps he really does see himself as nothing more than that.

The jacket comes off. So does the shirt, pulled over his head. Despite the obvious violence of his life, however, there is little to no scarring on his body. That in itself is another mystery… especially when her eyes finally fall on the burns forked up his arm, and register how severe they are.

It looks like someone electrocuted him with the kind of voltage sufficient to power a building. The kind of voltage that should outright kill a man. And yet it stops short of his shoulder, as if even that kind of electrical power could not make it too far through the resistant toughness of his flesh.

He watches her patiently as she assesses the damage— as anger, dismay, disbelief flicker in their turn through her eyes. This is damage that should be lethal. How is he sitting here, copacetic with the fact this was /done/ to him— and unaffected enough to move, operate, show no outward signs of pain?

It even looks like the burns are midway through the process of /healing over/.

Surely the exhibits would have mentioned it if James Barnes were as 'special' as his friend Steve Rogers.

She starts to say something. His head tilts, waiting for instruction. None comes, and he looks away again. His hand is slack when she takes it, no resistance in it or in his arm. She handles it lightly, like manipulating a piston or a gun, conscious of its potential strength and lethality. Closer inspection reveals that the burns are in fact halfway healed already, not much that she or her first aid kit could do that wouldn't just be assisting along the natural processes of his body.

His eyes flicker a little at her question. How can he heal this quickly in a week? "I am calibrated for the necessities of my work," he replies, toneless.


The exhibits would have mentioned something — and yet did not.

Still, Jane Foster finds herself confronted with indeniable evidence. He can move like a ghost, not even she was aware he was, or has ever been, following her, is soundless on his feet, and… agile. He can disappear without a trace. He can support that metal arm of his, and while she believes she can lessen the weight with upgrades and time, the fact he can operate it like a flesh-and-blood limb is close to impossible.

She isn't sure how he survived the process of surgically installing it. Her brown eyes flicker, taking in quick and memorized glances of his left shoulder, where metal seams to skin, serrated by scar tissue — perhaps the only scar tissue she can see…

Whatever marvel of medicine and engineering his arm is, it had to have hurt to graft onto him. Metal on bone. Sensory tissue fed to circuitry. It had to have been agony. It had to have been /hell/. Was he a volunteer for the process?

Was he an experiment?

He survived it, obviously. He healed it. He is healing this, burns from electrocution that would have killed a man… killed men. Killed her, at least, a few times over. He didn't have this trauma a week ago, so even with her most conservative element of a week's healing, it still should not be possible. The rate she is witnessing gives her an estimate that it may not be a problem for him in a day.

It's a relief. But it's also — a question. Questions upon questions.

He lets her hold his hand, his arm, with the passivity of a wild animal trained and whipped and beaten and broken of its instinct to bite. A machine never fed programming to know how to be afraid, how to protect itself. It breaks her god damned heart. It makes Jane Foster feel… so… angry.

If she ever meets these people — these people who did this to him —

Calibrated, he says. Her teeth grit to the sound of it, a ferocity in her eyes that doesn't translate into the careful touch of her hands. "Being tortured isn't a necessity of your work," Jane can't stop herself from spitting out, venom darkening her words.

Instead, she fishes through her kit, finding some antibiotic cream to begin gently, very very gently, swabbing onto his burns. The least Jane can do is help his body do — what it does. Keep out the infection and soothe the pain. Her touches are light, with an aching sort of care. "Nobody should do this to you."


The evidence is undeniable. Though the exhibits never said anything about James Barnes being anything more than a man, somehow he seems— in the intervening many years between 1945 and now— to have become something not unlike his erstwhile brother-in-arms. A super-soldier.

Balanced enough to move without sound. Strong enough to move his metal arm as if it were nothing. Agile enough to leap inhuman distances and easily scale straight up the sides of buildings. And these are just the feats that she has seen.

More than that, not everything about him is even simply attributable to superhuman enhancements. His abilities in surveillance, in tracking, in acrobatic movement, infiltration, stealth… these things cannot be injected. They can only be taught. They can only be refined through experience. And he operates as if— well, as if he had decades of that.

It seems Jane has figured out that he literally does.

Her eyes always inevitably, however, draw back to that arm. The gleaming, polished metal of it. The way it seams so flawlessly to his body, grafted right where the connection would be strongest. Straight into the shoulder socket. There is scar tissue there, but it looks clean, organized, purposeful. As if his shoulder was purposefully cut and shaped to receive the prosthetic. As if his original arm was just severed in order to make way for this superhuman replacement.

It must have hurt. Hurt like the electroshock he has clearly suffered hurt. Some hint of that is visible in his eyes, in the glassy faraway stare of them when the Winter Soldier is idle, at rest… not up to much. His brain spins emptily when not occupied with details of the mission, the hunt, the kill— not stimulated by external factors around him. IN those moments, he is a translucent shell, and some glimmering of the trauma beneath shows through, unbuffered by more active displays.

She takes his hand, and that stimulus brings him back. He blinks once and the empty, directionless look of vague suffering is gone, disappeared under the conditioned calmness of a machine receiving expected servicing. How did he survive this, she wonders. And not only that, but heal most of it so quickly within a week?

He tells her.

It makes her transparently angry. His blue eyes turn to her, indifferent to her comments that being tortured is most certainly not a necessity— that NOBODY should do this to him. "The work I do is important," he says as she tends his arm, as if repeating back something that has been told to him repeatedly. Over and over and over. "There is no room for failure."


He's been hurt. Alive for decades longer than he should — than should be possible, natural, human — and Jane Foster wonders. How long was that spent in pain? How much pain is needed, necessary to turn that smiling man from the black-and-white photographs into this?

She read about his life. A Brooklyn kid, who grew up not far from where SHIELD has her set up. Enough of one that he remembers where to go to see the stars. He must have eaten hot dogs, had part-time jobs, went to dances… went to war. Went to war with Steve Rogers, the /hero/ of America. Was his best friend. Was his person — his person to trust. He was James Barnes, and Jane knows she's seen him too. Tonight even, looking down at her, after threatening the worst act he could do to her — the act that would break her —

He had regret. He had /remorse/. It is difficult for Jane to forgive those words said, a promise to target the only person left in her life to be considered family… perhaps impossible for her to forgive. But it's her belief — her faith — that it was not him who said it.

It was /them/. That phantom strings tied to his body, that emptiness in his eyes, that patience in his held right hand, those lethal burns running a highway up his arm. It's them, and that, and pain begets pain, she knows, a vicious cycle with no beginning and no ending, and left to run on its own will never break free.

He answers her thin, venom-tight words. Jane's eyes glance up, not even expecting that, sure she would only be met with silence. What he says makes her dark eyes pinch and her lips flinch at one corner. Her face tightens with brief, visible pain, and she averts her eyes, saying nothing. There are no words Jane can think to say — save those that would make her even more furious.

She unravels a long, spooling roll of gauze, her matter of first aid riding on the faith of his supernatural level of healing, knowing there is little she can do than to treat the pain of now — and essentially soothe and cover those burns, keep them bound, keep them from being worried worse by his clothes and movement. Jane begins an old-practised winding of the soft, white bandaging around his wrist, following the musculature in many different, concentric loops — a way not to stabilize the joint but offer flexibility and a way for his burns to breathe —

She stops. She looks down at the work before her, in her hands, the way the bandages layer. Layer in and through and among each other. Her fingers turn, and she gently turns his hand, manipulating the joint.

Son of a. She knows what to do.

Something flickers in Jane's eyes. A twitch comes to her lips. She exhales noisily, a brief, humoured huff out her nose, and resumes rolling the bandaging up his arm, weaving a light layer of protection over all those treated burns.

"What if there was room for failure?" she finally implores, her words softening as her work brings her closer, leaning in nearer to his shoulder. "And that was a part of your life. When you made a mistake, no one would hurt you."


Decades of pain. Decades of it were necessary. Decades of rewriting him every time he started to remember who he was. Decades of inflicting awful punishment whenever he failed.

After all, it takes extreme measures to turn an average young man into the creature before her now.

The incongruity is all the more stark and sad for seeing the contrasting path taken by his best friend. For knowing what Captain America is. Steve Rogers is an icon, a shining beacon to America. A perfect specimen of a man with a wonderful personality to match. He is beloved. He is charmed. He is without flaw. And his best friend? His all-but-brother? His trusted right hand and confidante in the midst of global war?

He is this. A broken man. A thing half-machine, ground down until he is an animal programmed with rote behaviors. A blank slate with only the most basic personality template of a killer filled with hatred.

Yet that template didn't replace, did it? It only overlaid. And she saw some hint of what is still buried beneath, tonight. James Barnes isn't dead, and he spoke to her mere moments ago. He struggled to the surface long enough to express that one thing the Winter Soldier must never express. Regret.

But his appearance was brief. He is gone again, and she is left only with the Winter Soldier: with this empty shell that sits and tolerates her ministrations with mechanical patience.

He does not appear to notice her anger, nor her pain, nor the sudden thought that flickers in her eyes as she winds the thoroughly unnecessary bandages about his arm. Her question answered, he lapses back into silence, idling on her couch with mindless patience as she wraps— pauses— then resumes wrapping again.

Eventually, she asks some other questions.

The Soldier tenses palpably under her hands. These are dangerous questions she is asking, questions with the potential to activate deeply-written subroutines in his programming. He goes very still in that tautness that proceeds fight-or-flight. "There's not much point to hypotheticals," he replies, after a moment of silence. "Things are what they are."

His gaze slants right, settling on her. "There is no room for failure," he repeats, his programming looping insistently on this one point. "I am not 'hurt for mistakes.' I am error-corrected to remove inefficiencies, so the work will be completed."


In a life measured only as a function of pain, metered out in its various degrees — torture, the routine alignments, the designated upgrades, the requisite wipes, and the cold, the cold that must evitably come, when they inject the ice that runs his every vein, the freezing mist that becomes his last breath, and the vacant, empty chill that comes — comes with the final memory of feeling his eyes freeze, his lungs frost, his heart stop —

— there is incongruency. There is right here and right now, an instant in space and time that yields no new hurts. There is only the care of Jane's hands and the attention of Jane's eyes, in work to try to soothe pain than create new. She finishes wrapping his right arm, spooling the bandages up over his shoulder to secure its binds, and carefully taping its edges down. She looks up and down her work, aid that will not do for him any of the healing his unnatural body shall: perhaps, in the end, only existing to provide evidence that at least one person in this world does not see the Winter Soldier as a machine, a tool, or a weapon.

There is someone who cares. And Jane knows there will be one other. As soon as she finds him, and tells him all she knows.

Her hand lingers in the air like it wants to touch, to lay down on his shoulder that she just finished binding, but instead she recedes, leaning back and turning away her eyes, patiently pulling off her latex gloves and depositing them aside.

For a moment, Jane looks resigned, tired, almost accepting, perhaps wondering if there is more argument in her, and if it can do any good. Last time he fled her apartment when she pushed, and came back tonight trusting her even less.

But he speaks, speaks to her, and she looks up, and finds acceptance the furthest thing from her mind. To give up would be the condemn him as those monsters who keep him. He says he's /error-corrected/.

"Life is hypotheticals," she argues. "What if you made a mistake, like saying something cruel to me — promising something cruel to me. Do you remember what you said after? That is not called for. It was a mistake. I don't want to hurt you for it. I don't want to error-correct you." She looks up. "I believe you. I believe you won't hurt me that way."

Jane knows she has moments to do this, before he registers her work finished, and retreats, gives her less opportunity to corner him close. She has to do this now. She knows it's right. She just has to be brave. She'll cross a line, one he may not want, one he may not like, but she has to trust the man in him that he won't hurt her. She knows she saw James Barnes, perhaps has been seeing him from the very start —

She leans forward again, invading his space, and coming in so close. Jane's gaze fix on the Soldier's, searching, always searching, looking for something within. She lingers but a breath away, so close he can see all the colours in her eyes. She reaches in, slowly, so slowly he can see, and if he does not stop her, tries to lay her hand on his cheek. Her touch is warm. No chill. No ice in his blood. No frost in his lungs. No cold —

And she speaks quickly, urgently, a fight against time, against the threat of him rejecting her, dismissing her, stopping her: "What they're doing is wrong. It doesn't have to be like this. I told you, you're safe here. I know how to advance your arm. I know what I need to do. But I just don't want to do that anymore. You can let me protect the rest of you too." Jane's voice catches under her own promises. The plea hitches out of her, low, begging, "Please. Ja—"


Each re-freezing is a death, as the Winter Soldier is rendered down from living man to revivable corpse. Since 1945, James Barnes has died several hundred times.

His eyes certainly look like the eyes of a man who has died hundreds of times.

They are tense now, taut around the edges, but not because there is pain. It's because there is no pain now, only warmth and gentle hands and a pleasant assurance that no ice or agony awaits on the horizon, and that now is what the Winter Soldier finds alien and unnatural and strange. He holds himself guarded because he does not trust that— cannot trust safety after the life he has had.

He waits. But still, nothing happens except the last tightening wind of a soothing bandage around his arm.

Blue eyes look blankly down on it. He has bandaged himself before, has been bandaged by his handlers and techs and mechanics, but none of those bandagings ever felt like this one. His own were messy, utilitarian, often done in dirt and sweat to choke off the gushing of blood. His techs— well, almost everything they did hurt in some way or another, even the things meant to repair his body.

This, though… this is the careful job of someone aware they are handling a human life. The gentle work of someone who cares. And it ends, Jane sitting back and removing her gloves, without a single bit of pain inflicted.

The Soldier's eyes flicker in lack of understanding, but tentative acceptance. This is, after all, the reason his subconscious keeps guiding him back here for repairs instead of calling in to his handlers. A weapon controlled entirely by programming and conditioning, he is malleable now… predisposed to respond to the different conditioning of Jane Foster: a woman who repeatedly offers him stimuli that are so much more pleasant than the ones he would receive if he chose to return to his true masters.

Yet even that has its limits. The conditioning that controls the Winter Soldier is orders of magnitude older even than she is.

She argues back. Doesn't he remember, just now, making a mistake? Saying something cruel, that he later retracted? His eyes avert away without looking at her, a clear gesture of refusal. Either he does not remember, or he is trying to forget it. The point is, she continues, she won't hurt him for having made that mistake. She will believe him. She will have faith in his remorse— the remorse she is sure was one of her few, fleeting glimpses of the man at this machine's core.

He remains silent. Not an inch of him moves even as she comes in, pleading, urgent, telling him that it doesn't have to be like this— she can protect him from what is done to him— because it's wrong, so wrong, and she can keep him safe. She starts to say his name—

Metal whirs softly in the dark.

"You can't," he says. His steel hand is viced around her wrist, though not painfully. Not in the least. There is a long pause, and he speaks again as if with great effort— as if his voice was trying to reach her from some far distance. "You should be careful… what you think you can take on…"

He almost looks pleading, for half a second.

The moment passes. He shuffles her gently aside, rising. "This will be enough for now," he says, his voice returned to its cool tonelessness. Grabbing his shirt and jacket, he shrugs them both back on, zipping up rapidly and gathering his things to leave.


It is a risk she takes, reaching for him. A risk Jane well knows; there is a man there, before her, but one buried within layers of lethality. But some things weigh far worse than risk: like regret.

She reaches out, slowly, purposefully, to touch his face. Her fingers are warm and light, soft where they do not keep the calluses of an engineer, roughened little patches of skin from years of crafting, creating, repairing — now just insisting to repair him, brushing an exploratory stroke from the bone of his eye to his temple. Jane has seen the Soldier — seen James — clutch his head before, fingers curled with wretched tension and burrowing pressure right… there. There, where it must hurt, she touches, her fingertips pressing lightly down as if she could salve a phantom ache.

And Jane speaks. Softly, lowly, but urgently, as if aware she could, would, will be stopped, and even if she hopes this time something may change, and he will listen, agree, and stay — she too wants to prepare for the worst. A pause inserts between her hushed, imploring words, indecision colouring her dark, searching eyes — a choice of whether she should say it.

It is not fearlessness that compels her. It is not callous disregard. In Jane, it is simply her unstoppable forward momentum. She must keep going. She must not stop. She must reach, and reach, and reach, for answers, for the stars, for the man she sees trapped inside those blue eyes —

She summons everything she has and tries to speak his name. And that metal hand manacles her wrist.

He does not hurt her. The touch comes without pain, just like any he has imparted her, when Jane has crossed a boundary or pushed too far. She's pushed too far now, and he takes her hand away, capturing it in a cage of steel. It holds her in detached, clinical coldness, those moving plates like ice on her too-warm skin, and in its grasp she goes slack, her fingers curling loosely. Jane is too busy meeting James Barnes's pleading eyes. He is back, she knows, can hear it, speaking to her a warning up through the darkness and fog. To be careful.

Her eyes tighten with wordless question. Her lips draw together, considering, worrying… and rejecting. Her expression locks down, stubborn. Jane is so tired of being careful.

He pulls her gently out of his path, where her perch has trapped him on the couch, and though he is careful with her, his strength brooks no argument. It slides Jane to the same couch in his place, where he stands and steps free, pulling on his clothing, losing both bandaged and metal arms both under his layers.

Well-aware of this dance, and how it expects to end, Jane nonetheless stands back up, unwilling to take rejection and tactical loss sitting down. Unlike last time, she does not again try to insert herself into his path to stop him, though she lingers after, trailing him, crossing her arms over her chest.

She doesn't want him to leave. She really doesn't want to be alone tonight, though for her own reasons she does not speak this aloud. The Winter Soldier has far worse going on than her, and is he even the type of person she should reach out to? Would Jane even consider him a friend? Part of her already does. Life is so confusing.

"I'm going to begin work," she calls after his turned back. "On your arm." Jane gazes after him, her expression helpless yet hopeful. "So… don't be a stranger."


Jane reaches out. It is a dangerous move, not unlike fishing through a school of piranha to try to find something buried in the silt of a river, but Jane knows— the regret of not trying would be worse still.

Besides, she trusts him now, in some strange way; for some strange reason. She trusts that he will not harm her. He may lay hands on her, may move her, may push her aside, but he has not hurt her yet. She believes that he will not.

Her faith is rewarded when her touch is allowed without protest, recoil, or violent reprisal. But it's still not quite what she imagined it would be. He is passive under her hands, watching her with permissive indifference. Her fingertips skim unhindered around his eyes, feeling out how they are framed by the sharp angles and soft curves of bone; they are eyes that look like they could be expressive, unendingly fluent, but right now they say nothing. Speak nothing from those irises blue as ice crusted over clear oligotrophic lakes.

He does not respond until her fingertips press his temples. Then he twitches, infinitesimally but perceptibly, under her touch. As if it hurt— or as if he anticipated that it would hurt. And there is a slight roughness there, under her fingertips…

He balks slightly, wanting to pull his head from her grasp. It tries to turn away in mute refusal as she speaks to him, trying to reach him, trying so hard that in the end she starts to say his name—

His metal hand closes around her wrist. And for a brief moment, James is back, and those blue eyes turn momentarily fluent with many things he does not have the time to say. Only one thing is ultimately chosen— for her to be very careful what she tries to oppose.

He is gone within moments. Gently, but extremely insistently, the Winter Soldier pulls her away from him. His grasp ushers her out of his way with unrefusable strength, ultimately brushing her aside so he can reclaim his clothing, his things, and make his exit. There are things that will immediately trigger his programming to cause him to leave a situation. Jane has hit far too many of them.

She says she's going to start work on his arm, so… he shouldn't be a stranger. The remark pauses him briefly on the threshold. His head turns slightly as if he's going to look back; it doesn't make it all the way. She never gets a look at his eyes.

"I… appreciate this," he says haltingly, his right hand turning over a bit. Then he steps swiftly down to the street and walks away.

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