Pieces To Reclaim

February 03, 2017:

Not the sort to leave things unresolved for too long, Zatanna Zatara seeks out the Winter Soldier after deciding on a course of action. And when she decides, there is nothing in the universe that can stop her.

Prospect Park - New York City

A park. It's still full of melting snow.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Dr. Jane Foster, John Constantine, Red Robin, Spider-Man

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It has been nearly a week since that awful descent into the Hydra base, and in all that time there has been little word from one of the very objectives of that rescue. James Buchanan Barnes vanished like the wraith he was afterwards, and since then has spoken to very few people. Primarily only to those who have purposefully sought him out… and, of course, to Jane.

It is not because of a lack of interest in ever speaking to others, though he had briefly considered that course of action before Jane convinced him otherwise. It is because he is simply having difficulty… existing. After seventy years of mindlessness, becoming a man again— in full possession of seven decades of lost memories— is overwhelming.

Too much at once. Too much to easily sift.

He spends most of his time with Jane, but on occasion— when he is sure she is safe, when she sleeps— he quietly leaves the apartment and takes long, solitary walks through a city he both does and does not recognize. His path today takes him winding through the heart of Brooklyn, a path past the Gowanus Canal (as putrid as he remembers) and through Park Slope.

He watches families push their children in strollers. A fear rises in him, a fear of his own mind— his own hands— and he hurriedly leaves the crowded area, heading east.

He comes eventually to Prospect Park, walking through it in silence until he comes to the shore of its lake. There he pauses, lost in thought. The night ensures there are few others around: something he finds comforting.

—-

One would expect the likes of Zatanna Zatara to just return immediately to Gotham City in light of everything that has happened to her and her own in New York; to put a considerable distance between herself and a place that has taken so much from the people she cares most about in the world without looking back. But she was never one to simply let things lie. In truth, while the rest of their party have managed to leave Ozone Park with more scars than even they anticipated, the reclamation of her soul and the progress she has made in her life with John Constantine have done wonders to balance out those considerable hurts. Not to say that the entire ordeal hasn't affected her considerably as the entire misadventure has forced her to discover more of her secrets that have terrified her since, and she was considerably worried about everyone else in her circle, burdened by her own apprehensions about Bucky Barnes. Thoughts of him dredge up that familiar, but uncomfortable sensation of conflict, what she knows about what the man has suffered warring with what she has seen him do. To her. To the people around her.

Were she more prone to cold logic and reason, the answer would be clear. Black and white. No room for second-guesses. But her heart often overrides her head, as usual prone to being emotionally reckless.

Sitting on it, musing over it, isn't her way either. People would argue that she has absolutely no reason to do the approaching first. That if anything, the Winter Soldier should be coming to her to make amends if that's what he wants. She has never operated along the clearly delineated rules of social equity, however. As usual, the heart wants what it wants, and her heart wants, in the end, to look him in the eye and resolve this once and for all.

Now that she knows his name, it isn't difficult for her to scour the city with her mystic eyes to find him. Given her growing familiarity with New York, it doesn't take much for her to use her implements and open a doorway. It opens somewhere behind Bucky, a whisper of wind before a long leg steps out from a space several miles away from their current location. She emerges, clad in her signature blacks, her hair twisted up behind her and pinned haphazardly by a pair of chopsticks. Her hands are tucked into her pockets.

Upon arrival, whatever words she has prepared dies upon seeing his back. Her pulse throbs at the side of her neck, races from underneath her skin, ghost-traces of that old fear slowly climbing down her spine. It was in a park like this, when he caught her in her drug-addled collapse, her lips parted to beg him, /beg/ him not to do this to John…

Her fingers tighten into the lining of her pockets.

"Have you seen Jane since?" she asks instead. "How is she?"

—-

He does not expect her to approach him first for those same reasons. But at the same time, it would not surprise him if she did. He has known her just long enough to get an idea of the shape of her behavior, and she was never one to just let something lie.

Caught in a memory, he does not at first notice the whisper-quiet opening of the doorway, but his head lifts once the breath of wind accompanying the aperture sighs through the air. The Winter Soldier would have looked around instantly, immediately on high-alert, a blade ready for the fight— for the kill.

James Barnes does not look around. He seems predisposed to simply accept whatever comes to him.

He can tell she is afraid. That is one thing that— through vast and miserable experience— he has become razor-honed to detect, over the course of the many kills he has made in his career. His back tautens as she watches him, his shoulders tightening with the guilt and sudden, sharp sense of loss. It stings to lose her trust.

How is Jane? she asks.

"Recovering," he says. "I am with her." He says it like he does not think he deserves to be, but does so as a favor to her desire for him to be nearby.

He holds his silence. The water laps, faintly, at the shore.

"You're welcome to restrain me, if it would make you feel more comfortable," he finally says. His voice labors under the weight of exhaustion, of guilt, of shame. "You are welcome to anything. I betrayed you. And John… both."

—-

Unseen, as he keeps his back towards her, he would miss the faint ripple of relief there, to hear that Jane is recovering and that he hasn't abandoned her like she was afraid he was going to, with how he exited Ozone Park - away from where she had left the diminutive physicist.

Under other circumstances, such an offer would be subsequently countered by something utterly outrageous, culled from the depths of the young woman's overactive and some would say occasionally downright ridiculous imagination. Something like asking him to put on a tutu and dance the Can-Can if he meant what he said about being welcome to anything. But there's no urge to joke about much of anything, and her ice-blue eyes fall on the tops of her boots, chewing on her bottom lip and giving the offer due consideration. Not because there is anything about his demeanor that suggests he would harm her, but to weigh the words and what it actually means - the exhaustion, the guilt, the open acknowledgment of his betrayal.

Cold metal bites at her from within her pockets, feeling the chain within, the pad of her thumb pressed on the flat plate and the symbols etched within.

Taking a deep breath, Zatanna moves; melting snow crunches under her expensive boots as she makes her way to the side of him - not too close, but not too far, a distance that was almost companionable were it not for the palpable tension thickening in the spaces between them. She observes the lake for a moment - it has thawed. She remembers it being frozen, the last time she was here.

"I'm glad she's not alone, I put in a request to come see her, but that's up to SHIELD now." The last thing she wants is to attract the unwanted attention of an international superspy organization, and her run-in with HYDRA elements have soured her plenty on large, shadowy international elements such as that.

"As for…everything else." She pauses. "Yeah. You did. I know…I know in my head that wasn't you. Not really. They really fucked you up, Bucky. I know a lot of people think I'm just a kid but I know that a person can get to a point where he really isn't responsible for his actions. I know it. But when I close my eyes sometimes, I see your face and I remember me begging you not to do this to John and…I'm trying. To forgive it. Because John's been through a lot also. His entire life's been…"

She falls silent before she can say anymore, as ever the hyperaware custodian of whatever secrets the British magus chooses to confide in her.

"If it had just been me, it would be easier." John had to see her like that - on the chair, on his couch, wasting away before his very eyes.

Turning finally to look at the man directly, she slowly pulls her hand from her pocket, to extend it palm up towards him.

"You said I was welcome to anything. Could you give me your hand?"

—-

He is clearly aware of her coming up beside him, her steps drawing her to his side to a distance that could have been companionable, if not for all that has gone between them in the past few weeks. It is the same distance she stood from him when she last met him as a friend, but now the silence between them yawns deep and awkward and painful.

He does not break it. He allows her to dictate the flow of the conversation, to choose the pace of her actions, entirely as she wishes.

Of her wish to see Jane, Bucky says, "I have no doubt they will allow it. She's in Steve's custody, officially. He will allow anything he thinks will help her recover. A visit from you will do her good."

Of everything else? He lapses back into silence, letting her speak. He does not argue or interrupt as she agrees that he betrayed her. As she says that worse, to her— he betrayed John.

"No," he eventually says. "No, it was not me. But when you remember it, it will be my hands you feel on you. It will be my face you see. It was my body, doing those acts, and I was not— strong enough to resist it. I was not strong enough to stop it."

He does not pry into whatever she was going to say of John. "If ultimately you don't forgive," he says, gentle permission in his voice. "I know that it'll be for those reasons."

If it had just been me, it would be easier. "John is also welcome," he says, "to whatever he may want."

She finally turns to look at him. He does not turn to look back. His haunted eyes stare out across the water, sunk deeply in a haggard face from lack of sleep, unable or unwilling to meet hers. Up until she makes her request of him.

There is no hesitation. He turns to her, letting her have his right hand without complaint, a weary look seated on his face.

—-

The news that Jane is in the custody of Captain America has more of that relief seeping through her expression. Tension bleeds out of her shoulders and underneath her jacket, she can't help but sag. "At least it's Cap and not anyone else." She can at least trust him to be soothing, to be what everyone expects him to be. A hundred years after his birth and he has managed to maintain the kind of credibility that gets everyone to listen to him when he says something. No other man could make such a boast.

His words afterwards has her pursing her lips, falling silent. Bracing a hand on her hip, she turns her eyes back to the lake, suddenly reminded of another conversation. The words coming out of his mouth are an indavertent mirror to what she had said to John immediately after he retrieved her from the clutches of HYDRA. A rueful smile tilts upwards on the corners of her mouth, exasperated, yes, but affectionate also.

"I said the same thing when John took me back," she tells him, as always honest with her feelings, open about her own personal experiences. "That I wasn't strong enough to prevent what happened. That I should've fought harder, because I made promises of my own. And he said." She takes a breath, and launches into the most /ridiculous/ impression of John - an accent that is more cockney than his signature Liverpudlian: " 'Wot in the bloody 'ell are you /apologizin'/ for, you think this wos /your fault/? Thot's fuckin' ridiculous. You were /abused/. You think I believe you wanted this to 'appen?' "

Words, from someone ten years older than her, and about a hundred years more experience with the kind of shit life throws at someone, considering how John has been, literally, to Heaven and Hell and back at this point in his life. "So whenever you try to talk to him, don't say anything like that. He might get mad at you the way he did me."

It's half a quip, at least, but she is largely serious also. "He was talking about me at the time, but all of that's applicable to you also, I think."

With his hand laid on hers, she curls her other hand on top of those worn knuckles. Before long, he would feel it - cold metal against his inner wrist, the unmistakeable feel of a chain, the flat underside of a slightly-curved cuff. Maybe she was taking him up on his offer after all, to restrain him. Maybe it's a magic shackle, to prevent him from doing her any harm, because she doesn't trust him not to harm her. Maybe she'll never trust him ever again.

But when he looks down at it, he'll find a very familiar object - a World War II ID bracelet, the silver thing that was distributed to all of America's sons, marking them as part of the august company of the Greatest Generation. Many of these have been lost; in the beaches of Normandy, in the trenches of Foy. She doesn't know where Bucky had lost his, whether from the devastating fall that claimed his life and his arm in the process, lost in the snowdrifts of the Alps forever, or sooner than that. But the one that she fastens on his wrist is /his/, as close as she can make it, pulled out from one of those archived photographs and returned to reality. She has been using the method lately, storing objects in photographs so she doesn't have to keep carrying a bag, or reversing the effect and pulling an object out of an existing one in turn.

"Like I said, I'm trying," she says softly. "Because I know rationally that what they did to you wasn't fair either. That you didn't really want this to happen. And while I'm trying, I know for sure that I can't forgive /them/ for doing this to everyone else I know. You and Jane were…I know the two of you were trying, too. Make it. From what I've seen of the two of you in the apartment. Just like how John and I are trying. And they tried to take that way, also. They took…they took so many pieces of you already, Bucky. You owe it to yourself to make sure they don't take any more."

She finishes clasping the band around his wrist, and covers his knuckles with her own. She gives him a small smile.

"And maybe find the ones you can get back."

—-

Bucky seems to share Zatanna's relief about Steve having charge of Jane, if his quiet assurance when he speaks of his oldest friend is any indication. It shows, too, in the way he seems content to leave her to go on his long walks… assured that she will be safe watched over by his brother.

That brief expression of comfort at the thought of Steve is fleeting, quick to disappear back into the generalized unhappiness that haunts his features. Zatanna, too, is silent in the wake of his quiet responses to her words, her mind thrown back across time to a recollection of a recent conversation she herself had with John.

She said the same thing, when John took her back. She should have fought harder. And she tells Bucky— with a rather terrible impression of John— exactly what the man had to say about those words when they were coming out of Zatanna's mouth.

You were abused. You think this is your fault? You think I believe you wanted this to happen?

His right hand tightens. The knuckles whiten. His gaze drops to the ground. "I don't know what I will say to him," he confesses. "Though I don't expect he needs to be made angry." He sounds like he expects John already is. "I did not want it to happen. But it still did. I still almost killed you. It wasn't my will. But it was my hands."

She eventually asks for his hand. Not sure what he is expecting, but prepared at the least for some sort of indication she still does not trust him, still fears his hands… he is shocked to look down and find something familiar has been left on his wrist. His identity before the Winter Soldier. His identity as a war hero, an American of the so-named Greatest Generation, as the best friend of Steve Rogers: a man who encapsulates everything good about the human condition. He stares at it, not comprehending it at first, not understanding the receipt of a great gift in lieu of the censure, the hate, the distrust, and the fear which he had honestly been expecting.

She's trying, she says. Because she knows he really didn't want this to happen. Because they've already taken so much of him, and now it is time for him to reclaim.

She's trying. "You don't—" he struggles to say, his voice hoarse. "You don't have…"

It is the smile she gives him that breaks him.

His expression shatters. Confusion, self-loathing, and unimaginable pain flash across his features like the fork of lightning across the sky, before he hurriedly untangles from her to turn and walk away. He does not go far, however— just to the nearest tree. There he leans both hands against its trunk, head bowed between his shoulders, clearly needing to regain his composure.

—-

"John's more sympathetic than anyone gives him credit for," Zatanna says, speaking as one of the scant handful of individuals on the planet who knows, to some degree, what someone can find in John Constantine's emotional labyrinth. She is still navigating her way through it, even as they speak, having not had the sheer breadth of experience of traversing those darkened passages like one Francis 'Chas' Chandler. "He can't not, when he's been put through the ringer himself so many times. But I'm…happy that you intend to reach out to him. John doesn't have a lot of friends either. In fact if you'd ask around, there aren't many who'd be genuinely happy to see him."

It makes for a lonely existence, something that she knows Bucky Barnes can relate to. Especially these days. Especially now.

She retracts her fingers away from him, when she senses that outbreak of emotion that he tries to quell - quickly, even now she is ever sensitive about being too much for someone to handle. Someone to take. What she has done shows in the way that his voice breaks when he tries to tell her to stop, when it gets too difficult to try. And the look on her face only grows resolute, because he had been there when he was holding her down on the chair. When she fought despite it being too difficult to succeed. How she still kept on fighting. It could be childish idealism, or naivete. It could be because, much like every other young person in this world, she has an overinflated sense of her own mortality. But to say that she should give up when she feels something is too insurmountable is like telling her to stop running when the finish line is just around the corner. It will never happen.

Because she could never, ever resist the long shot. She is incapable of resisting the urge to beat the odds.

The young woman says very little else when she observes him lean on the tree, brace himself there, head bowed under a considerable weight - the very picture of a man wrestling with the gravity of a century's worth of sins, visibly struggling with the idea that forgiveness, despite that, is not beyond him to grasp. Or whether he should be forgiven, after everything he has done. She doesn't know. She cannot read minds.

For a moment, she is at a loss. She doesn't know what to do, now. Or what to say.

As usual, she latches onto her first instinct, and this often manifests outside of herself within the realm of the physical. A few steps take her somewhere behind him. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she remembers how he didn't like to be touched. She remembers the last time she tried, and it brought those fingers to her throat, resuscitating her dying spirit when he reminded her that despite all the heartbreak, she wanted to live.

Her own arms come up; they cross over him, banding tightly around his torso. Her cheek presses somewhere between his shoulderblades and she closes her eyes - it's all she can do to refrain from crying. Because she is still scared. Because she remembers how everything had scared John. Enough for him to say the words he did, just in case.

"…I said I was trying," she says quietly, stubbornly. "So I'm trying. I'm a talker, yeah, but I'd like to think I'm a doer, too. And I…when I make a promise, I try to keep it. Nothing in the universe could stop me, once I decide. And I decided, Bucky."

She takes a breath.

"I decided to believe that you're a good man. I decided to believe that no matter how much they tried to take that they didn't take the most important part of you. The part of you that gave your life to save the world. The part of you that can still /feel/ this. The part of you that destroys yourself when you think about what you've been made to do. The part of you that cares about Jane."

She swallows. It is not an easy thing, to say this to a man who has betrayed her.

"I believe in you, James Barnes."

—-

"I could do no less," James replies tiredly, when Zatanna says she's glad that he plans to reach out to John. In these moments, it is obvious he and Steve are brothers: their cadence, their word choices, are so similar. "After what I've done to him."

It's transparent he isn't really expecting Zatanna's other reasons that she's happy Bucky is going to reach out to John eventually. That John doesn't have many friends to speak of— that most people, in fact, aren't happy to see him much at all. "Yeah," he says. "I can relate."

Perhaps he was already relating, in some odd instinctual way, ever since he first met John: two kindred spirits— of a sort— sensing one another and their similar struggles. Perhaps that's why John Constantine, of all people, wound up being the first man, since the 1950s, who James Barnes could call a friend.

And he nearly tore away the most important thing in his friend's life—

Zatanna has something for him which handily distracts him from that bleak train of thought. He stares at it, disbelieving, not having expected to ever see this ID tag again— much less feel worthy to wear it. Unable to speak, to trust his composure not to break and betray him, he retreats instead. He turns to brace against the nearest tree in desperation to try to regain some grounding, some centering, before he breaks down before her.

She does not know what to do. So she goes with her first impulse, despite the natural fear that rises in her as she approaches his turned, broad back. She does not have … a good track record with touching him, her previous attempts usually always ending in his spasmodic defensive reactions— like a cagey dog trained to dislike touch, and to snap at unwary hands. But this is her nature. To reach out, to touch… to embrace.

Her arms go around him. He doesn't do anything. He is taut and tense as coiled steel, rigid against her. When she lays her cheek to his back, she can hear his heart driving on in his chest— much faster than the heart of a normal man. An engine to feed a machine tuned to the peak of perfection. Tuned in a way he never asked for…

She is still scared. He can feel it in her featherlight presence against his back; she can hear it in the threadiness of her voice when she tells him she's decided. Decided to believe that he is a good man. That the most important part of him was never taken away: the part which lived and served and sacrificed to save others. The part that keeps him unable to look anyone in the eye, weighed by the guilt of all he has done. The part of him that is still, deep down, a protector… a man who practically exists to safeguard those weaker than himself.

She believes in him, she says.

He turns slowly, straightening up. His body moves against hers, all corded strength and flawless coordination, a perfectly-oiled machine that turned on her, not too long ago. It would be only natural for her to feel fear at this physical closeness, given what happened the last time he was this close to her— especially when his right arm curls gently around her body in a grasp that draws her close. But there is nothing violent or carnal about it. It is the paternal embrace of a father proud of a child.

There is nothing carnal, either, about the way he mantles over her to place a very light kiss— little more than a brush of contact— against her forehead.

He lets her go quickly after, clearly reticent to trust his own arms, his hands. He already pointedly refused to use his left arm throughout that entire transaction.

"I don't know how I deserve that," he says, his gaze staring off at some distant point over the lake. "I will try not to waste it."

—-

Usually, her success rate in being the kind of person that she is was around fifty-fifty. Zatanna has always been cavalier with her heart, the way she just hastily runs across this most perilous of human battlefields in hopes of getting to the other side alive. It is no truer now than this present situation, staring at a man whose eyes she remembers looking down at her as she begged him to spare the first love of her life from another fresh wave of destructive pain. She was never prone to worry much about herself, what wounds like these could do to her, because she is well-practiced in being able to handle them, though it has less to do with whatever experience she has accumulated in the four months she spent on her own, and more to do with what is already inside her. It is, as Bucky Barnes has observed, her nature - to never be ruled by tragedy, no matter how hard it tries to become horrendously intimate with her.

When he shifts, and moves, she lowers her arms, expecting him to pull away like he normally does. Maybe he had only given her leeway here because he meant what he said; that she was welcome to whatever, a small recompense for whatever damage she has suffered in his hands. Surprise wreathes that pale mien when his solid, human arm suddenly reaches for her, to draw her close until the side of her cheek rests against at the crook where his neck meets his shoulder instead. She is over half a foot taller than his Jane Foster, the boots only make her even more.

Even more astonishingly, he bestows that paternal token, suddenly reminded of the way her own father does it - quiet instances behind closed doors when the near-mythical sorceror feels free to indulge in his role as a father, to make up for the demands that the world places on his elderly shoulders. The remembrance brings with it the hot, wet blurring of the corners of her vision, but she manages to keep the downpour at bay. She does return the embrace, squeezing once until he lets go of her and she is forced to do the same. Her hands return to her pockets.

She follows his line of sight towards the lake, and some part of her fears that with the way he's staring at it that he is thinking of drowning himself in it. It is hard to parse with what he said about talking to John, though.

But she has decided, as she said earlier. To try. To believe.

And so she does.

"I know you won't," she tells him with all the confidence he would expect from someone so young, who has yet to grow calluses to a world rife with cynicism. The corners of her mouth lift in a smile. "I'll leave you to it though, in the meantime, when you go back…could you tell Jane I'm coming to see her soon? What kind of flowers does she like? Do you know?"

Traditional gifts, for someone who is recovering.

—-

This is why, even despite the vast amount of extenuating circumstances surrounding the situation of James Buchanan Barnes, he still cannot quite forgive himself for what he has done.

He was there— he was present— for every atrocity he has ever committed. The tactile memory of them is burned into his mind, his body, his hands. He can clearly recall faces turned up to his in fear and pleading. He can remember the feeling of his own expression, locked in implacable and pitiless indifference.

The mind may know it was not truly at fault, but it is difficult to stay convinced of that when the body records the memories of having committed the act.

Worse, when his victims think back on what was done to him, it will never be those truly at fault they remember. It will be him: his face, his eyes, his hands. It will be his image they associate with the horror, forever. Because of that, he seems resigned to a distinct change in his interactions with Zatanna— if not an outright rejection.

Instead she gives him a great gift: a reminder he was a man before he ever became a monster. She gives him a charge: to remember that man, and become him again.

She gives him an embrace.

It is only a few moments before he shifts in her arms. Thinking he wants to be released— he has not liked contact before— she is quick to let go, but soon enough she finds that isn't what he is going for. He draws closer instead, his body language hesitant and gentle and ready to stop at any moment she expresses discomfort or disavowal.

She does not. So his arm loops about her waist, drawing her briefly close for the paternal kiss he places on her forehead. A small blessing bestowed on a girl to whom he is now forever indebted.

He is swift to pull back afterwards. She wasn't wrong, ultimately, that he is still wary of human contact: though mostly due to distrust of himself rather than dislike of others. He looks off into the distance, slipped back into melancholy. He promises, at the least, to try not to waste her faith and willingness to forgive. To obey her injunction to remember who he was.

She knows he won't. She speaks with the full conviction of youthful idealism, and his tired, bloody old soul responds in some small degree: his cynicism not having the heart to dampen it. Her tone, in fact, reminds him of something, something that brings him to frown… though in politeness, he replies her first before he speaks of it. "I will tell her. I'm afraid I don't know about flowers… we never— " His eyes close. "Never got time to talk much about anything that normal."

He is silent a moment. "Before you go. There was a kid with you. Young kid, like you. Wore some kinda red and blue outfit, was throwing out those lines everywhere." That's the most tactful way Bucky can say, 'that kid in spandex who was shooting sticky white crap everywhere.' "And there was another kid… voice modulator, masked."

He looks troubled. "I was… rough with them, a few times. Are they all right?"

—-

"You should try," Zatanna encourages gently, her hands leaving her pockets to hook into the beltloops of her jeans instead. "Normal is good, take it from someone who's never really had a lot of opportunities to engage in that sort of thing often. I mean, gotta be prepared, right? For when you want to surprise her or…if you guys argue." She is fully expecting Bucky to just ask, but her imagination runs away from her, indulging in images of the man stalking the petite brunette as she runs her errands, taking rapt interest in what she buys, sneaking through vents and tailing her across parks during the Spring to see which of the blooms capture her attention the most. It's adorable, in the superspy-black-ops-agent sort of way.

She takes a side step away, exhaling a deep enough breath that her life manifests in a puff of mist, to be dissipated by chill and wind. February finds New York on the cusp of another season; ice is melting, drenching the city with last month's tears, but she can see green in patches and the first signs of life on the gnarled branches stretched out above their heads - a new beginning, for people who are brave enough to seize it. There is some poetry in it, she thinks, that the Winter Soldier managed to reclaim some of the old bits of himself in a time when the world is starting to thaw.

She can appreciate it, because she can't not. She was naturally artistic, and prone to theatrics. Though she keeps these observations to herself.

He stops her before she could leave, though, and she looks over her shoulder. Hesitation ripples over the delicate, fine-boned face and those ice-blue eyes draw inward. To remember more of those tears - what Tim had to force himself to remember to break out of the spell cast on them by HYDRA's perfectly imperfect world, and the look on Peter's face when he divulged to her just why the events in Ozone Park were so unacceptable to him. Two of her closest friends, both young, dedicated in their way to the Work, resigned to sacrificing pieces of themselves already for the sake of the Greater Good. Just as her father had done at their age. Just as Bucky, a little older than they were, when he decided to offer his life up to the altar of Freedom.

"Physically, they are." She could spare him, God knows he has suffered enough, but that would be a lie and for all of her talents in deception on stage, she tries her best to keep that away from when things truly matter. "But mentally, emotionally, they are struggling also. Red - the one with the voice modulator - is recovering, at least, and Spidey is going to take a break soon, but he's been pushing himself for days because of what happened. But they'll find a way to recalibrate, because they have to. They're strong, and they're smart…they know what they signed up for, when they decided to dedicate their lives to this."

That doesn't mean that she won't worry, but she would never dream of holding them back, either.

Her fingers lift in a wave. "I'll see you and Jane soon, yeah? Maybe John and I can stop by after you talk to him."

She lingers for last words, but after, she will turn, to start heading up the path. Amidst the lingering cold, she smells hints of the encroaching green. She feels lighter than she did before her arrival; she always does when she decides.

Winter is over.

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