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February 22, 2017:

Juno meets her hero. One of the Winter Soldier's former students asks him for a favor.

New York City


NPCs: Elena Kuznetsova, Oliver Pearce



Mood Music: Bjork - Hunter (Gus Gus Remix)

Fade In…

So far, Juno really loves America. There are malls and Pokemon and Little Ponies and corn dogs and a game about stomping on arrows and…! Well basically it's just been amazing. Everything that a girl from a former Soviet assassin training facility could want!

Like work!

She's gotten past the point of the chase, which is fun, and is in the part where she actually fights, which is a different kind of fun. A poorly-aimed kick glances off the small of her back and Juno laughs, using the momentum to spin around into a handstand that becomes a chin lock when her thighs clutch tight around his neck. "<Loser!>"

The man makes an ugly sound and bashes at her hip and thigh with the grip of his empty pistol. Juno just laughs and squeezes harder, wrenching his neck with a particularly vicious twist of her hips and a lean of her body weight aaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way to one side. She falls off of him - through him, technically - rolling on the pavement right back into three-point crouch. Her other hand is busy, drawing a small black knife from a hidden place at her waistband.

He staggers. She flips the blade to a reverse grip and dashes past him like lightning.

Red spatters in an arc across the pavement and one wall, but not a drop is on her. Juno kicks him away, watching with bright eyes as he flails against the bricks, slowly drowning in his own blood.

The man is mortally injured. That much is obvious. His flailing has the fish-on-land quality of an animal aware it is, very shortly, going to die, and no amount of medical intervention can stop that now.

He's not going to die shortly enough, however. He has to suffocate on the blood frothing in his slit throat first. It's an agonizing way to go, the pain of the injury and the smell of his own blood mixing with the elemental terror of drowning. Juno Hart just watches, of course.

Someone else, who has seen just enough to intervene, does not.

A tall figure interposes into the tail end of this conflict, a blur moving faster than any man should. The interloper's left arm hisses forward with a distinct whir of metal, a precise mercy-kill hammerblow delivered that immediately puts an end to the dying man's suffering.

The body crumples, strings cut. The man stops, turning to face Juno, a frown forming on his features. He's dressed normally, but there's little normal about the way he moves or looks at her. "Krasnaya Komnata?" he asks— almost demands. The intensity in his gaze suggests some personal stake in the answer… and there's something else in his eyes too, something harder to define but which looks like fear. Fear of what? Hard to say. "<It is in the way you fight.>" His Russian is accented, but fluent.

It's not that Juno really likes watching people die, though sometime when she has been told that they are really really bad people she feels satisfaction and happiness.

It's just that she doesn't, or can't, follow that connection all the way to caring about it.

And Abnody Popov was a bad man.

She hears a whir - not even footsteps, not really. Sees a strike, sees the end of her target, for really-real, and when James Buchanan Barnes turns back to look at the girl she is sighting down a small pistol at him, eyes still bright and no frown in sight.

Juno is silent, unafraid. Her mission just became complicated, but that just makes things different. Not better, not worse.

And then he says a phrase that every Russian assassin of a certain pedigree understands, some all the way through their meat and blood and bones. Her fingers lifts, oh so fractionally, off of the trigger.

"Zimniy Soldat."

Perhaps he was not a man deserving of a mercy stroke. Nonetheless, the person that James Buchanan Barnes is feels obligated to deliver it anyway.

In the aftermath, he turns. He knows what he expects to see, and his left arm practically hums on the hair-trigger of its readiness to move and defend against the girl's response to his entry. But his real first line of defense? The words he says, in Russian. The Red Room. There is a way of fighting they have, a style Soviet Russia loved for its effectiveness and glamour— the woman-child assassin, as graceful as she is deadly— and he recognizes… aspects of it, if not the whole thing.

The girl's finger eases off the trigger. And she… recognizes him by name.

His expression closes at being addressed by the title he has tried to shed. "<…I was that. Yes.>"

He takes a step closer. She looks much too young for it, but then looks can be very deceiving as far as age. He should know. "<Were you one of mine?>"

Juno's first thought, upon actually seeing his face, 'He looks just like he did back then'.

She remembers her lessons. The Soldier is eternal winter. Endless, unchanging, a saint of killers for a country with no god.

It really is him.

"<Winter Soldier,>" the girl breathes, and it's in a voice James Barnes has likely become passing unfamiliar with in the long years since the thirties and forties. The 'highly impressionable teenage girl', and it's aimed at /him/.

Juno practically bounces on her heels. "<No! No, I almost was, I wanted to be, you came through our class when I was very small and they said you might teach us later but you were called for a mission and then you didn't come back!>"

This girl was content to watch a man die slowly, and seconds later she's ready to squeal like a cheerleader - except that squealing on a mission is Uncool and she must be on her /best behavior/ because eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee it's the Winter Soldier!!

Outwardly, Juno beams at him, completely unafraid even as he approaches her. Even though she knows who he is. What he has done.

She hasn't really cottoned on to the 'was' part of that yet.

"<Oh— I'm J-27, of Kindergarten! It's so great to meet you! I'm sorry, was he meant to be yours?>"

Considering it was more than ten years ago that the Winter Soldier was walked through the program of 'J-27,' with some insinuation he might be loaned to it as an instructor, the fact that he looks no different in the present day is notable enough. But then, it wouldn't peg as unusual to someone like Juno… someone brought up since birth to learn the letters of Russian propaganda, taught that Zimniy Soldat was as eternal as the harsh winter that was always the motherland's first and greatest defender.

Of course he would not have changed. An ideal does not age or die.

The way she breathes his title only further confirms what her Russian speech has already heavily implied. He tenses… only for his shoulders to relax, much— but not all— of their tension gone, when she clarifies that she is not one of /his/— not from the Red Room— but was nonetheless raised in one of the many similar programs that Russia has cultivated over the years.

He feels that still leaves him bearing some responsibility.

"<…I recall,>" he says. And he does. If he thinks about it, he can retrieve one small memory from the mix… a memory of standing alongside his handlers in a facility, bored, looking over a roomful of young girls it was said would become a promising little crop of saleable enhanced killers. "<I recall the mission, as well. After it was complete, my circumstances… changed. That is why I did not come back."

The substance of the change? Hydra had reacquired him from the Soviet Union after its collapse, and their needs necessarily came first before even those of old allies. He had missions to run, countries to destabilize, wars to drag out to the point of unpopularity, and— as always— men and women to kill. Ever since that day Juno, as a small child, saw him walk past her, she has never once seen him again.

Until now.

She's J-27, she introduces herself. He closes his eyes briefly to disguise his reaction. "Do you have a name?" he presses her, switching to English. He does not bother asking her if she speaks it: it's an essential part of any trained killer's toolkit.

To know that something is eternal is one thing. Many objects seem eternal, and double is the number of concepts, things like love and freedom and safety and childhood. Things that she has seen from outside. Things that she doesn't know enough to want.

And yet, to see something eternal, to witness it unchanged after what is, to her, most of her life - it's still amazing. Her teachers were right, again, as she knew they were.

Juno knows better than to ask about that mission. It is in the past. He is her superior, in every possible earthly way. It is not for her to ask. "<It's fine! It's fine!>"

This is the Winter Soldier, they had told her. You will never be as skilled as him.

And J-27 - Yuliya of the Jelen classroom - in all her childish innocence, had secretly decided that she /would try anyway/.

He wants her name. Which one? The one she was given, or the one that she chose? "Before, I was Yuliya. My name is Juno now," she tells him with shining eyes, pride suffusing her voice. Juno, the first thing she ever chose for herself.

But, she is working. "<Can you let me…?>" she asks him, because Russian feels safer, and gestures at the cooling corpse. "<I need to call the cleaner.>"

It seems, for whatever reason, to sadden him that she worries whether this kill was supposed to be his. "<No,>" he assures. "<He wasn't.>"

It seems to sadden him looking at the corpse, too. Saddens him visibly when she gives him multiple names, all obviously chosen names or pseudonyms, in response to his query. Those reactions are… rather inexplicable, but he is the Winter Soldier! Surely he can do as he pleases, even if it doesn't make very much sense.

"Juno," he decides, trying out the name transparently. The Jelen class. Yes— he remembers this now, distantly.

His eyes turn as she reverts back to Russian. That seems to make him sad too, though a certain resoluteness appears in his gaze as well. "<Of course>," he says, when she remarks on needing to call the cleaner. He turns and begins to clear the area, settling into that familiar old dance. "<I would like to speak to you, afterwards,>" he says, and he phrases it as a request— a /request/, from the Winter Soldier— that she may accept or deny. "<A few blocks from here. East 97th and First.>"

His mind races as he walks away.

She doesn't understand why he seems sad. But then, he is the Winter Soldier, and winter is a time of hardship. Juno can't begin to think that she might understand his reasoning. Despite his legendary stoicness, the Soldier's burden must be unfathomable… the stewardship of an entire continent, and its people too.

Still, Juno doesn't need to understand. She only has to obey, and the world will get a little better every time she does so.

It's sad that she only got to see him for a little while - but to see him again at all! In the flesh, on a job where /he finished the kill/!!! She got to see him work! Who else in her class could claim such good fortune? But the mission must come first, and he surely understands as he moves to leave the scene of the murder.

She's already pulling out her phone from a pocket of her hooded sweatshirt - a burner, to be dropped next to the corpse - when he speaks to her again. Juno turns her face toward him, eyes wide, like she can't believe it.

Speak… to /her/?

"<I… yes! Yes of course!>" she practically yelps, though she does have the discipline to do it /quietly/. "<As soon as it's done! Please wait for me.>"

Her hands shake as she dials with gloved hands, but her voice is steady when she speaks the rote words into the receiver. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE IT'S THE WINTER SOLDIER HE WANTS TO SPEAK TO HERRRRRRRRRR

Her utter enthusiasm to be spoken to, by /him/, troubles him. She could easily take that disquiet as his storied stoicism, though, because he lets little of it show beyond half a subdued frown.

"<There is no rush>," he assures. His voice is gentle, more gentle than anyone could ever imagine the voice of winter to be. "<I will wait.>"

He turns and leaves her to the denouement of her mission. His hands, shoved in his pockets, tighten into fists.

It is not a long walk to reach the meeting point he has designated, so he settles to wait on a bench. He knows that this may not necessarily be a quick process, despite it being protocol for the operative to vacate prior to the cleaner arriving to complete their part of the job. He uses the time to consider what he's just done, turning it over and over in his head.

An operative. Not of the Red Room, but close enough. What is he thinking, making any kind of contact? The Soviets stopped being his direct masters years and years ago, when he was sold back to Hydra, but he has no illusions that the Russia that rose up from the corpse of the USSR would not love to get their hands back on him if they get any idea he's free.

He did not even teach this girl. He bears no responsibility for her.

And yet, he sighs to himself, he does, doesn't he? He bears responsibility for every killer he ever trained, for every life they subsequently took, for his part— even unwilling— in perpetuating their unhappy lives as no more than weaponized tools of the state. If he could, perhaps, reach even one… try to recover them from their murderous lives, as he himself was recovered… is that not worth at least some effort?

Besides, he supposes, at the least it would be prudent to see what information he can glean on current Russian interests in the area, if only to better dodge them.

Just under thirty minutes later, she finds him. There was never any doubt that she would come to the place he spoke of.

Blocks away, the scene is as if nobody were ever there. The blood is gone, the wall and ground dry. And Juno Hart is ecstatic, because why wouldn't she be?

She told her handler she would be a little late getting home, and that she finished her homework at a friend's house, and she loves you too, Uncle Oliver.

Juno takes a winding route, as she always does - through walls, down hallways of shuttered buildings, right through a security system's datacenter just because she doesn't like where its cameras are pointed - and peeks carefully out of a space far too small to fit an entire girl before stepping out of the wall into shadow. There he is. He really waited for her!

What's she going to say to him? WHat will he say to her? …Oh no, what if it's because her technique is bad?! She should have finished the job more quickly, but the dossier was /very detailed/ about just what Abnody had his fingers in…

It can't be helped, Juno supposes. And anyway, wouldn't it be great to to receive /any/ kind of instruction from the master of their art?

Juno steps out of a dark corner, the hood of her sweatshirt lowered and not a trace of her weapons to be seen. If he hadn't witnessed that, would even the Soldier be able to spot her as a killer with no other sign?

Probably. She believes he knows everything.

"Zimniy Soldat," Juno smiles at him, hands out of her hoodie's kangaroo pocket despite the chill. Her gloves are gone. "You wanted to see me?" English. Because now it's safe.

He is there when she arrives, seated on a bench and looking quite indistinguishable from the civilians passing by. Of course he does, though— he was 'the American,'' selected for the Winter Soldier project not only because of the precious strains of serum running in his veins, but also for his ability to pass invisibly in the Western World.

Nonetheless, when he looks up to her appearance and address, it is Russian he replies in first, if only a single word. "Dochka," he begins, a form of address he sometimes used to use with the girls: both then and now a rather cruel joke on both sides of the conversational equation. "Yes." His eyes take in her impeccably-cleaned up figure in a glance. "Sit down."

He doesn't yet correct her on the way she addresses him, though he itches beneath his skin to be called by that title, each syllable bringing up a different bloody memory.

"I wasn't aware there were any of you operating in the area." He thinks back on what little he remembers of this 'Kindergarten.' It was different from the Red Room. Its product was sold to private interests. "Who handles you? Who is your owner now?"

The joke may be cruel, but it flies right past Juno's head. Many of them do.

In her hooded sweatshirt, dark jeans, and clean (pink) sneakers, with her hair braided and pulled back, the freckles splashed across her nose, Juno could be any girl about to leave high school. Maybe she's an artist, or a hippie. Maybe she makes wire jewelry to sell at craft fairs or carefully tends little terrariums.

She doesn't, of course. But she looks as if she could.

Juno sits down next to him immediately at the simple command, a comfortable space of two feet between them. Eeeee she's sitting on the same bench as the Winter Soldier, is he going to tell her something? Is he going to correct her? If she asks him nicely, will he cut a souvenir of their meeting into her skin? She would like one of her scars to be from the Winter Soldier, as if she would ever see another Kindergarten graduate to brag about it.

He doesn't, though. He asks her a question.

And Juno freezes, fingers still on the edge of the metal bench. She wants to tell him, of course, because when you are asked a question by the embodiment of everything you wish to be you /answer/. But she /can't/, because that could compromise her position. It would be a direct violation of mission protocol, handed down to her by her handler, from her owner. Her mouth opens slightly, but no words come forth; her eyes are still bright, but a sense of palpable dismay rings them.

She clearly wants to very badly.

Juno tries to make her mouth work. "I…"

*pypip pypip pypip*

Direction? Without hesitation, without excusing herself, Juno retrieves a different phone from inside her hoodie. "<Yes?>"

She listens. Doesn't look at him, just… staring off at nothing, watching their environment for eavesdroppers that aren't Bucky. "<Yes. I understand. Just a moment.>" She turns to him, and offers the phone. "<He wants to speak to you.>" As if it's normal. As if she were used to being surveiled every hour of every day and finds nothing wrong with it.

"Mister Barnes." The voice on the other end is a man's, so completely nondescript as to be instantly forgettable to anyone else. "If you have questions, you may ask me directly."

He studies her as she freezes up in the wake of his blunt question. It is… reckless as far as questions go— he has no idea how personally dangerous or not she and her owners and handlers may be to him. That is the hazard of dealing with an assassin who is bought by private interests. You never know if their owner might just be some corporate jackass… or if they might be Hydra.

Nonetheless, he asks it. He thinks he would feel worse just being aware that a Russian assassin is running around, with no context of why they were in the area and for whom they were working… and she is so obviously overawed by him that it's worth a shot to try to directly command answers.

He gets close. But in the end, conditioning is conditioning.

His eyes turn as the phone rings. There is brief surprise. "The Widows did not need bugs," he grumbles, but he accepts the phone. His features are as cool as his codename as he lifts it, and they get even colder when he's addressed by his given name.

"You," he says, "may call me Winter Soldier, since that appears to be the capacity in which we're operating." Even as he speaks on the phone, his eyes remain on Juno, a nascent and suppressed anger rising slowly in them. It does not appear directed at her. "To whom am I speaking?"

The Widows didn't need bugs. But then, Juno isn't a Widow. She's something different. Something lesser on a grand scale, perhaps, though certainly no less capable of violence.

Juno hands the phone over and goes back to watching nothing, her senses tuned for the presence of Others who do not need to be listening or watching them. Anybody taking too much of an interest. Of course, she looks just like any teenage girl spacing out while her friend talks on the phone.

The voice on the other end of the phone doesn't seem put off by his cold reception. "Very well then, Winter Soldier. My apologies. My name is Pearce. I am responsible for Juno's wellbeing."

Juno, herself, feels his eyes on her and glances over, expression bubblegum-neutral, that cheerful sort of not-ignoring-you-honest that means she is acknowledging him, but her mind is on-task. Pearce continues, in that toneless tone, "Making contact with you was not planned, but it might be fortuitous. My patron, and Juno's owner, would like to make a request of you. I am supposed to tell you one thing, and then give Juno an address to which you will be taken if you agree to hear me out."

He waits for a moment, before finishing with two words. "Elena Kuznetsova."


She is certainly not a Widow, he thinks as he regards her. Certainly not your traditional operative. She is fully-trained as far as he can gauge, and yet she's still wearing bugs and being tracked out in the wild. Something is amiss with Miss Juno, though he's damned if he knows what.

Taking the phone, Bucky lifts it to speak, his suspicion reflected in the cold tone of his voice and the light way he holds the device. His correction about the title they should be using draws an apology, though Bucky is far from callow enough to take that as any kind of true civility or hint to relax.

'Responsible for Juno's well-being.'

"So you're her handler," Bucky translates, unwilling to gloss it with pretty words.

He falls silent, however, as Pearce elaborates: Juno's owner would like to make a request. Their contact may be fortuitous after all. If you think I'll get back into the business, you've got another thing coming, he wants to say, but he does not. There is no need to advertise far and wide that the Winter Soldier is off-leash, in any explicit terms. Even if his use of Bucky's true name suggests he already knows.

And then he drops two words that bring James Barnes to a pause: Elena Kuznetsova.

Alyona, his brain supplies. It takes an additional few seconds to place the memory against the thousands that live in his mind.

The line clicks dead. Bucky slowly returns the phone to Juno. He pulls out his own, composes a text message, sends it.

"Very well," he says. "Let's see what this is about."

Juno takes the phone back from him, smiling when a text message pops up seconds later, followed by a point on a map. She hums a pleased note and tucks it away into her hoodie again, somewhere near her breastbone. "I don't think that's very far from here. We can walk it!" She would rather hurry, because of that insistent tug that's always at the back of her mind once she has direct orders. Her own clothes could be mistaken for a jogger's, one of the reasons she chooses to dress like this - sometimes Juno just wants to run.

But the Winter Soldier isn't dressed for it, really. People would look twice at him. So she'll go slower.

"<I'm excited! I've never met him before - my owner, that is. Pearce always goes-between.>" Juno leads the way, chattering occasionally at him - almost always in Russian, though she seems to have no problem with English, if he prefers her to use it. Russian is simply safer.

The address is a non-descript apartment building with a secured entry, and Juno uses the little call box to get the doors to open. Inside the halls are dimly lit, with runners lining the wood floors. The doors are wood as well, though electronic locks less than ten years old have been added to them. On the ninth floor, she stops in front of apartment 4, the corner unit. The doors are extremely far apart up here, and the carpet runner looks a little newer.

She knocks. The man who answers in a few moments' time is middle-aged, with a square jaw that's starting to sag a little. His black hair is peppered with a few flecks of silver, brushed back from his face. At a glance, he looks similar enough to Juno to possibly be some sort of relative. He eyes Bucky for a good half second longer than necessary before seeming to come to some conclusion. "Come inside," he tells them, and steps back to open the door wider.

The inside of the apartment is plush, if a little bit dusty - the styling is feminine without being frilly, the furniture all looks to be second-hand (or just plain old), and there are knick-knacks and a few straggly potted plants arranged at attractive intervals. The carpet is plush enough that toes sink into it, the color of congealing blood. "I'm Pearce," he introduces himself, as if it needed doing.

"<Don't just stand around out there,>" a woman's voice comes from the room beyond. "<And take your shoes off, you're going to get the carpet dirty.>"

Juno immediately toes out of her sneakers and spends the next several seconds digging her toes into the carpet with every sign of delight.

The room beyond is lit by table lamps. A woman in her forties sits at a small table made of dark wood, the matching chairs heavy and upholstered with fading red velvet. She has hair the color of straw and eyes like fine maple, and the absolute calm of a woman who knows she can make everybody else in the room disappear with a modicum of effort.

"<Winter Soldier,>" she greets him, without standing. "<It's been a very long time.>"

Text message sent, Bucky pockets his phone again and stands, following Juno as she leads them to the indicated destination. The weight of the concealed pistols beneath his jacket are a slight reassurance, though he knows if it comes to anything drastic, more than just that will be required. He might have to kill Juno, if it came down to it, and it would be the very opposite of what he wanted to do.

Mentally, he prepares.

She chatters along as they walk. She's never met her owner before. He glances down at her askance, thinking. "<How long have you been with this owner?>" he asks, though he does not necessarily expect an answer. His mind is on other things, anyway, thinking about the possible ramifications of this. Exit strategies. Jane.

He remains alert despite his thoughts, observing their surroundings as they arrive— and then, with equal scrutiny, taking in the face of the man who answers the door. Bucky holds himself with military stiffness as he's regarded, head up and eyes narrowed, saying nothing until asked within. Pearce introduces himself, unnecessarily: Bucky nods briefly, but does not seem to see the need to introduce himself in turn. He should need no introduction.

His eyes immediately travel in the direction of the voice when it speaks. Though he is expecting it, his eyes still tighten to hear it again.

She does not stand. He does not sit. Her greeting is answered with his frank look, his blue eyes studying her where she sits. He looks exactly the same. But she looks older than she was: that brings him to frown. The injections should have stopped that.

"Alyona," he says eventually. His use of the diminutive of her name is very deliberate, the way he carries himself and regards himself also deliberate. His body language broadcasts an assumed authority, carried forward even across the decades. His voice is wry. "<You were much younger the last time I did see you.>"

Juno told him that she's belonged to this owner for just under four months, and in that entire time she's never met them. It's her first one, too! She doesn't even know their gender (but assumes it's a man). She doesn't seem to have the same trepidation that Bucky does - she doesn't seem to be worried at all. Rather, she's elated.

Elena looks at Bucky evenly, sighing after a few moments. She leans forward to push the opposite chair out with her toes. "<Do sit down, this table was expensive and I like to see it used. You too, Yuliya.>" Juno, of course, obeys immediately, sitting at Elena's left side. The cushion's pretty springy, and she'd bounce a bit if she wasn't trying to be on her best behavior. Her owner's a woman! She's pretty!

Elena's mouth curves in something of a small smile when he uses the nickname, despite his intentions. Her hair has been drawn back into a bun and fastened with a pair of dark, slender sticks. Her sweater is black and looks very soft and fine. Her fingernails are painted a deep wine color that matches her lipstick. "<People don't expect a twenty-something young woman to be their eccentric landlady. You need a few fine lines for the act.>"

Pearce enters behind them, footsteps deliberate on the soft carpet, carrying a tray with a teapot and a set of three matching cups. He places the pot to warm on top of an antique samovar resting on the sideboard, and brings the try to the table. "<You, however, look exactly the same. Save for your eyes,>" she notes, placing a cup in front of Juno and taking one for herself. Pearce leaves the room, though he doesn't close the door. "<In that way, you've changed.>"

Bucky watches Juno as she obeys immediately when told to sit, so happy to be finally meeting her owner and taking tea. A pained look passes through his eyes, there and gone. Perhaps he's pitying her. Perhaps he's just reflecting back on the past seventy years and wondering if he looked that way too. Eager, compliant, and completely leashed.

Whatever it is, the look comes and goes. He glances at Elena again, before slowly seating himself at the table. He glances at the cup when it is placed before him, but he makes no move to take it up, nor to drink.

Elena's aplomb is unbroken by his display. She simply smiles instead, and speaks gently of how women in her position are expected to look. Bucky cants his head a little, before his own demeanor changes, becoming less peremptory and more calculating. "<You were a good student,>" he says eventually. "<The years have refined you.>"

He falls silent when she observes that he looks exactly the same— except his eyes. He's changed, in that way. "Vremya luchshiy doktor," he says dryly. "<Even the most grievous wrongs.>"

He toys with the cup. "<What business does the Red Room have here? And with this girl? I did not spend all that time teaching you for you to simply use a proxy.>"

Elena stirs in a single cube of sugar from a small porcelain bowl. She doesn't seem particularly troubled that Bucky isn't interested in actually drinking his tea - perhaps just getting him to sit down was enough. She passes the sugar bowl to Juno, who adds three before hopefully pushing it towards him.

"<I had good teachers, even after you.>" She holds the saucer in her left hand, the cup in her right. The china is white, with an overlay of bright green and gold leaf. The set is very old, though its value is questionable - almost every piece has a tiny chip or flaw, in the way of something that has been used for its entire lifespan. No matter how delicately it was treated, time marked the porcelain anyway. Elena takes a sip, sighing silently as the heat spreads through her, and looks at him through the fringe of her eyelashes.

Underneath the table, she crosses her legs, and leans back in her chair. "<This is why I would ask for your help. Either as the Winter Soldier, or James Barnes.>" She puts the teacup onto the saucer, and places both down on the tablecloth with a quiet click. "<The Red Room has no business here. I have no business with the Red Room. Not in the way we used to.>"

Elena reaches out and gently rests a hand on top of Juno's hair. The girl goes still, eyes lost in the depths of the tablecloth's rose pattern, teacup forgotten in front of her.

Taking her hand away doesn't bring Juno back out of whatever trance she's in. She just sits there, hands resting on her knees, quiet. "<You and I know that the Red Room wasn't the only facility turning out manufactured killers. However, the ones from the Red Room are more… adaptable.>" She gives Juno's shoulder a gentle push, and watches her slowly tilt to one side, movement only arrested by the arm of the chair. Elena looks grave… perhaps even sad. "<I have, over the years, selected candidates that I thought were ready for independence. Almost all of them were able to get out, though not all of them chose to remain that way. These children, though…>" Elena trails off. Juno doesn't move.

"<However, you have experiences that I do not, and that Pearce does not, but that might be helpful to Yuliya and others like her. That's why I am asking for your help.>"

Juno pushes over the sugar. He looks at her, and his eyes gentle a bit. He adds a cube to his tea just to placate her, though he still has no intention of actually drinking it. He merely stirs it in, watching it dissolve as Elena speaks. As she asks for his help: from either of his identities.

She claims to have no business with the Red Room anymore. Bucky pauses distinctly, and with a gentle clink of china he puts down his cup of tea. He looks up and studies Elena, blue eyes searching hers. He notes Juno going quiet at his periphery— the sight of her effectively shutting down sends a queasy feeling through him. It reminds him of himself— being put to sleep between kills, casually shut down when his consciousness and awareness were no longer wanted nor needed.

His focus returns to Elena when she says that she asks for his help on behalf of Juno, and girls like her.

Confusion flickers briefly in his gaze. It is not a confusion that lasts long as the woman elaborates, though what replaces it is still rife with suspicion. "<I suppose your appearance would be consistent with a departure from the Red Room,>" he allows, though he did not live to the age he did by being trusting.

He sits back in his chair and considers this revelation. His eyes remain on Juno, however. A pained look returns to his eyes as he watches her tilt over so unresponsively, and this time it doesn't leave again. As if in a test of the earnestness of this entire situation, he slips out his phone again, taps out another text.

"<You broke from your leash,>" he finally summarizes. "<Now you're rehabilitating others.>" He glances up at her. "<How many, Alyona? Are there any to whom I might speak? Whether I want to help with this is not in question. Other things are. You and I both know how easily lies come to people like us.>"

At his comment about her appearance, Elena gives a wry smile. "<Nothing is supposed to be eternal. While I sometimes miss my smooth skin, every little wrinkle makes me feel a bit more like I'm approaching where I belong. Time catches up with everyone eventually… even you and I will feel it.>" She seems to find some relief in the idea, her posture easing by just a hair. "<Though you certainly aren't showing your age.>"

Juno breathes slowly. Occasionally, her eyes close for a second or two - too slowly to be called blinking. She looks absolutely calm, harmless and docile… Blank and empty, like a doll.

It feels nice, in a way. There are people talking somewhere, but it doesn't matter who they are or what it's about. She's floating in sweet honey, the buzzing of bees distant to her ears as she dreams of nothing.

"<I did. As did you.>" Elena picks up her teacup again, looking into its depths. "<Yuliya, if she can, will be the ninth. I can give you the names of two others. If you can find them, you will have all the testimony they're willing to give.>"

Elena takes another sip of tea, mouth thinning as she watches Juno breathe. "<These children… they aren't like we were. They're not able to live off the leash. If I were to follow the same protocol that I did with the ones from the Red Room, it would be a disaster.>"

Time catches up with everyone, she says. James Barnes looks troubled at that. Thus far, it has not caught up with him. It may not catch up with him for some time. He does not know the full effect of the hacked-together serum flowing through his veins. He does not know how much it may have removed him from what is natural.

Most would call it a gift, to age more slowly: to have longevity beyond the average man. Bucky isn't so sure. He never asked to be removed from what was natural in the first place.

Even she observes it. He certainly isn't showing his age. "<No,>" he says, with a rueful half-smile that carries no real humor. "<I am waiting for it to happen now there is nothing to stop it.>"

His eyes turn back up to her as she reminds they have all slipped their leashes— that she has helped eight others before Juno, and can give him the names of two others. That is a step towards trust, her willingness to provide those names, though he remains wary: they may only be the names of killers laying in wait to put him back in chains and send him back to his masters.

Still, he thinks, looking at Juno sitting there blankly, can he help but try?

<Give me the names,>" he sighs. "<I will speak to them.>"

She speaks on, telling him how these children are even less capable of life off the leash than they are. "<I see that much,>" he says. "<I was a man before I was taken. I can fall back on the life that I had. These children have nothing.>"

He falls silent, ruminating. His blue eyes turn up to Elena one long minute later. "<What changed, Alyona? You were red through the last I ever saw of you.>"

She drinks her tea slowly, a sip at a time. Its bitterness is tempered only a little by sugar, and the taste of the leaf itself is altered further by water from the copper warming chamber of the samovar. It's a cumulative effect, Elena knows. Change one little thing, and you have something different.

"<Klara Rumanski and Lidiya Orlova. They were of the Red Room. I know that Lidiya went by Miranda Hope for a while. We cut contact two years ago for safety's sake. Klara I haven't spoken to in seven months. She may be dead, or compromised. I dug for her, but other issues forced me to put it to the side. My pockets are deep, but my resources in some areas are finite.>" Settling back in her chair, Elena rests her elbows on the arms of the chair and cradles her teacup in her hands.

She's silent for long moments. "<It wasn't any one thing. Things just kept… building. I watched my country do things that were wise and brave, and I watched it do things that were petty and stupid. I killed people, as we were created for. I watched others live. And eventually… it stopped fitting together right.>" It had been terrifying, that slow realization that this /wasn't right/. Her mouth tightens, then relaxes as she takes a breath. "<…And what of you? All I could find out was that you had very stubborn friends.>" It's something of a joke, because she smiles almost impishly.

Elena finishes the last drops of tea and sets the cup down, pushing it away with a fingertip, and leans over to place a hand on Juno's shoulder. "<Wake up. Your tea is getting cold.>" The girl blinks once, pupils contracting, and sits back up to test the heat of her beverage with a fingertip. "<Aah, that's no good! Was I asleep long?>" As always, Juno seems unbothered by what should be deeply unsettling.

Bucky's eyes are distant as Elena relates the asked-for names and backgrounds. "<I do not recall these names,>" he eventually admits. "<They must have been recent. I have not been to the Red Room in decades.>"

He does not ask for more information than he has been given, however. Elena does not offer any more. It is a subtle, voiceless interplay of respect between two spies. Her refusal to patronize her own teacher by insinuating he cannot find two people without more than she has already given; his refusal to heckle her for information that is unnecessary.

He lapses into listening silence as she elucidates what brought her to break from her past. It is not the most detailed answer, but its contours are enough for him to derive a general picture of a liberation process similar to his own. Day by day, the pieces just fit together less and less well.

And what of him?

"<There is not much more to it than that,>" he admits of her guess. "<Without their persistence I would be asleep again, waiting for the next mission.>"

He sets aside the tea, still undrunk, as Elena quietly rouses Juno. He regards her with sad eyes as she sits up, untroubled by her brief sleep. "<No, zaika,>" he says. "<Not long.>" He makes to rise. "<Nonetheless, I should be leaving.>"

His former student nods at his assumption that they must have been recent. "<Much more recent than I.>" She, too, hasn't been to the Red Room in many years - though for necessarily different reasons than his own. "<Here's to friendships, then,>" Elena says instead, folding her hands in her lap only to watch him watch Juno.

Pink spots bloom on Juno's cheeks, and she grins hard. Little rabbit! He called her a cute nickname! That's so cool! Even if he has to leave, and she slept through part of his visit, she still got to see him with her own eyes. "<I'm glad I got to meet you. I hope I'll see you again someday!>"

She willfully does not get up and try to hug him or something, because Juno has /some/ survival instincts and the Winter Soldier doesn't need girls squishing him with their hugs. She does wave, though, as he leaves, still beaming the entire time.

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