March 04, 2017:

With the assistance of one Agent Darcy Lewis, Jane and Bucky visit the Triskelion to speak to Agent Melinda May about all that has transpired… and how to move forward in relation to SHIELD.

The Triskelion, New York


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Steve Rogers, Peggy Carter


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

This was something James Buchanan Barnes was extremely nervous about doing, but which he could recognize the impending necessity of. He had a pretty solid alibi as far as 'being horribly brainwashed for decades,' with the proof to go along with it sitting in SHIELD evidence rooms under Steve and Peggy's careful supervision, but the fact remains that the wider world still thinks he's 'Captain America's very dead best friend, and a WWII hero who definitely has not committed six decades' worth of heinous crimes which break countless international laws and flout numberless treaties.'

Sooo, that's awkward, and probably best taken care of with SHIELD before the wider international community gets wind.

For Jane's part? She's still technically a consultant with SHIELD, and also a recent Hydra kidnapping subject, so she's got to go in too. She's been to the Triskelion before, unlike Bucky, so she's at least more familiar with the environs and can guide him a little as he awkwardly gets signed in. As promised, Darcy pulled a couple strings for them and got them both an appointment to speak with an agent— well, not even just an agent, a departmental head— and the necessary paperwork so that Bucky can walk in without getting tackled to the floor by agents.

If it's not exactly quite his real name on the paperwork yet, well, that bit of obfuscation is certainly something to be expected. His status is still in limbo, and the protections of Captain America and Agent Carter go quite a long way.

"Can't believe Peggy built all this," he tells Jane, sticking a bit close to her side tellingly as they head up to their meeting. "Well— I can believe it, actually, but it's still a lot to take in."

May left it to Lewis to meet the arriving pair and escort them to the conference room that's been set aside for this meeting. She very pointedly made sure they are nowhere near any detention or interrogation levels — in fact, they're just down the hall from the door leading to the R&D areas that Foster would be most familiar with.

Having put Barnes' image in the 'person of interest, do NOT confront' and classified anything that might link him to the Winter Soldier to her security level or higher, she's done her best to make sure he could come to this meeting without so much as a taser brandished in his presence. Foster, of course, wouldn't automatically garner that sort of reaction being listed as a consultant already.

In the conference room, she waits across the room from the door, standing in the relaxed stance that would appear completely casual to anyone not sufficiently combat trained, but relaxed and ready to anyone who is.

Even with her burgeoning friendship with Peggy Carter, and now the recent discovery that Darcy Lewis is an agent, Jane Foster still can't let go of all her reservations within these walls. Deeply mitigating factors as they are, she just cannot let go of that perpetual knot in her gut. She'd like to blame it on her bad blood, on those few crazy days back in New Mexico where she believed — believed — she would have to start her work all over from the beginning, but her dislike of SHIELD seems to stem from much more.

It's not the fact that they /took/ her work as much as they /could/. As easily as they did, and with the ease of someone who could do it a hundred times again. It was pure desperation and zero sources of funding for her to come crawling back to them — and it was crawling, crawling on her part, pathetically — but Jane knows in her heart if she had more choices she would not pick this.

She just rankles against the thought of big government. Rankles at the idea, and even now more than ever, of /anyone/ having too much control.

Jane feels Bucky's too-close presence mantling her side; his nervousness is palpable. They may be in SHIELD's walls, but she doesn't care. She slips her hand into his wordlessly. He can rationalize it as her benefit, to be there for her, but in her heart she wants to be strong for him. Because whatever /her/ reservations, his would be… something entirely else.

"It really is," she replies, all the while thinking: so this is what Peggy Carter does without Steve in the picture. Doubles down and never stops working. Those two seriously need all the more help. "But not so much we can't handle. Ready for it?" Jane peeks up, her sleepless eyes hopeful.

When they come to the conference room, she's the one of the two prepared to be the more outwardly engaging. Jane's dark eyes find May and she offers a polite, if somewhat forced, smile. "Hi," she says, "I'm Dr. Foster. Jane Foster. This is James Barnes." As if they don't already know in a mile-wide radius.

Darcy was so good with the paperwork. And the setting up of meetings that front desk didn't even flinch when Jane and Bucky showed up. She was in her work attire. Not the pant-suit thing from last time, but a pencil skirt that just barely hit her knees. It was tight fitting, like the white blouse that was tucked into it. Like the black blazer that was over it. Her badge clearly visible, Agent Lewis very calmly and very professionally leads Barnes and Foster in past security and toward the conference room. Bright red lips smile. Green eyes look over at May with one wordless request: Take care of MY Jane.

The mischievous smirk that kicks up just after adds: I licked her.

Wordless, and with only a nod, Lewis moves about to get drinks for everyone, then sees herself out. Because this was not her meeting. This was Jane's and May's and James's. Darcy has some more paperwork with getting that blood drive going smoothly to finish.

Bucky glances sidelong down at Jane as she slips her hand into his. His eyes gentle, both at the gesture and at the way she makes it— tactfully hiding that it's her offering him comfort, and not the other way around. Is he ready for it? she asks. "I fought a war." He grimaces. "…multiple wars. This should be easy, compared." Yet he doesn't quite let her hand go up until they're escorted over to the conference room set aside for them, courtesy of one super-professional Agent Lewis.

Bucky gives Darcy an answering nod as she leaves them to their meeting, turning his attention immediately afterwards to the formidable-looking woman awaiting them.

Jane steps forward to tank being the more engaging of the two: Bucky hangs back a step as she does. He looks identical to all those old photos and newsreels of him alongside Steve, a rather surreal sight to have plopped down right in the middle of the 21st century— but then, he's not even the first, is he? More like the third.

He studies May a moment, recognizing her. He remembers her, and the tea, and a cold afternoon in January when he was trying to get a look at Steve Rogers passing by. "Agent May," he greets, after the introductions are made. "Peggy— Agent Carter spoke well about you. Steve, too." He grimaces a bit. "The circumstances of this meeting are better than our last, though probably not a lot less awkward."

"Dr. Foster, Sargeant Barnes. I'm Agent May." She moves to sit at the table with a nod to Darcy acknowledging the look and wordless request and gesturing for the pair to join her. But she won't fuss if they don't. She can tell Barnes at least is as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, and she'll do what she can to reassure him.

"Probably. Though if you have any problems with the quality of the coffee, I'll make sure to tell Lewis." Not pausing to let anyone acknowledge that possible joke, she continues. "I'm going to start this by telling you both that you are not and will never be prisoners here. If you choose at any time to walk out of this building, no one will chase you down and try to stop you." She might personally check up on them, but that's different. "With that out in the open, I wanted to officially offer you both any assistance SHIELD resources have available, either medically, mechanically, or psychologically."

For Jane's part, she offers a quiet, strained sort of smile towards Darcy Lewis. Her familiar face is a ray of sunshine among so many bleak, bureaucratic walls, but even now, the scientist is definitely without her usual presence or lightness of spirit. She's tense, subdued, and more than a little distracted — namely due to the significant presence of James Barnes at her side. Her hand tightens reassuringly around his.

Let into the room and taking a seat — surreptitiously checking to see if Bucky is still with her, partially to keep check on him, partially for her own sanity — Jane settles as far as her tension allows. Anything but a spy, the woman is an open book, no poker face, no manner of artifice in her to hide anything. Her heart is on her sleeve, and she shows everything: her body language is knotted tightly, nervous, not yet trusting, sure nether of them are in any sort of /danger/ but still afraid in a way what this meeting will /involved/. If it's going to involve things like 'explaining what happened.'

Things like that, she doesn't even feel close to ready to do.

Listening to Agent May, the woman's assurances do earn a pinch of appreciation on the corners of Jane's eyes. Not prisoners is basically the best foot to start on. "Thank you," she says, trying to sound gracious, even if she's hesitant to accept any of those said services. A SHIELD headshrink, trying to nice-talk her while she lies on a couch? She mentally cringes. "We — I'm all right." Catching herself about to speak for James, she offers him a brief look. "I'm sure you're aware of what's happened. Officially we're in Captain Rogers' custody. And it's been… I've been all right with that. Will that be continuing?"

Aforementioned Sergeant Barnes is, in fact, nervous as hell, though something about being called Sergeant does seem calming: a callback to the familiar that grounds him in the now. That gets even less surprising when he pulls his hands from his pockets, and the glint of a soldier's ID bracelet is briefly visible under the cuff of his right sleeve, on his wrist.

His hands are both gloved, for reasons that are probably obvious.

A slight hint of a smile appears at the quip about the coffee, further serving to relax him enough that he sits when bidden beside Jane. The preamble that they are not prisoners is definitely appreciated— out loud by Jane, in the form of a thanks— though he has no illusions that if they left, that would be the end of it. He's played the spy game.

He is a little surprised at the offer of assistance, though perhaps not as surprised as he could be given Steve and Peggy's pull in the organization. It makes him feel a bit guilty, and that shows obviously in his eyes for half a moment before it's gone. Jane speaks of how they're officially in Steve's custody, wants to know if that'll continue; Bucky seems invested in hearing that answer to that also, though he adds, "It's inevitable there's going to be… problems down the line, once the international community works out that I'm not dead and works out who I … who I was."

He glances up at May. "SHIELD holds a lot of the evidence of what I was and how I was made that way. Keeping it safe and on hand to be used is necessary seems like the best assistance I could ask for. I would… not be averse to working with SHIELD if necessary on occasion, in return." It's the cause Steve seems to have dedicated himself to in the modern era, after all.

May listens to Jane's words and then James' without interrupting, though she is clearly paying attention. At the question about staying in Rogers' custody, she nods briefly. "So long as that arrangement is working for you both, I have no plans to change it and I'll make sure no one else does either. But, if either of you feel that your safety and well-being are uncertain for any reason, don't hesitate to contact me. If I'm in the area, I'll personally do what I can to help."

She then addresses Bucky's concern about his identity becoming public knowledge. "Given enough time, SHIELD can use the complete truth to officially bring you home as the longest-held surviving prisoner of war. And if we present your existence to the public in that manner, only complete morons would dare try to do anything against you." She's undoubtedly got Darcy working on that angle. The young woman is … unconventional, but she's a marvel at that kind of stuff. Probably why she's so busy all the time.

"As to working with SHIELD on occasion, I don't see anyone here refusing you that opportunity." She personally can think of many occasions that having a truly good sniper on her side would have changed the outcome of a mission. And really, even when Barton is actively working for SHIELD he's still only one man.

"Foster, I'm sure you've noticed that your status as a contractor has been restored, but don't consider that an obligation to come in and work if you're not ready." R&D can go sit on a tack if they're unhappy about it.

At mention of Bucky returning under an official declaration of a POW, Jane casts him a quiet, wordless look. Obviously her wanting to know his opinion on this, because hers — she isn't even sure how to think of hers.

She knows definitely what her thoughts would be on his 'working with SHIELD' if she did not know for sure Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter as the two mitigating influences they are in the organization. Still, Jane's distrust comes out in the slight fidgetting of her hands.

Her silence holds politely until May speaks to her, offering up the option that Jane can return to her contracted work. She can't hide the gratefulness that reflects against her eyes. "Thank you," she says, and finds herself actually meaning it too. Not just trying to make nice with the g-men. "I think… it's a —" She struggles briefly for words, and stops herself before any rambling can begin. She tries again. "I think I'm ready. Or I'm going to be ready really soon. Work is something I can't let go for too long."

She pauses momentarily, something unsaid across her mouth, along her face, pinpricked in her eyes. The question Jane feels too awkward to say: you really do trust me back with all my freedoms? Is there —

Jane changes her mind. She does need to say that. "Is — I'm sorry. Is there a catch to all of this? Anything I need to do?"

James' expression does close slightly at being brought home as the longest-held surviving prisoner of war. Not because it's not a true way to refer to him— he's been a POW seventy-two years, most people don't even live that long— but because being referred to as what he is brings back the memories. Memories of being strapped to a table, experimented on, cut apart and cut open. Memories of everything he did while a prisoner, and the thick blood heavy on his killing hands.

He glances at Jane briefly. She's watching him, he realizes, waiting for him to have some opinion about it. He finds he can't really muster anything but exhaustion. "It makes sense," he finally says. "I was a prisoner, and I was made to work, as POWs are. It is probably the best way to present it. Once all the material on the Winter Soldier is processed." The nature of the work, though… yeah, not quite as conventional as the typical idea of a POW put to work in labor camps or in factories.

His other offer— an occasional offer of his skills— draws a fidget from Jane that he can't help but notice. His right hand moves under the table, resting in mute reassurance on her knee. There's twofold motivations behind his offer: one, that being useful makes him valuable, and that's always worthwhile when the organization in question holds not just a majority of your exculpatory evidence, but the power to resist pressure from nations in your defense; two, because Steve and Peggy fight for SHIELD, and he wants the opportunity to back them on occasion if they must go into the field. Perhaps he's just longing to feel as he did years ago when it was them against Nazi Germany.

Still, he can't deny that it's smart for Jane to be wary, which is why he listens closely for the answer when Jane asks if there's any catch to … any of this.

"Don't become a super villain." Even though the reply is offered as flatly as everything else May has said thus far, it's pretty obvious she meant it as a joke. Whether or not is falls flat remains to be seen. "I'm not going to lie, your work is going to be scrutinized very closely for the forseeable future. But you aren't to learn to start trusting yourself again if someone else doesn't offer you that same trust first." That May is the one offering the olive branch and not Steve or Peggy or even Fury, might be noteworthy considering she usually represents the most militant part of SHIELD. Well, and the weirdest, but that's not the capacity she's operating under at the moment.

"Look, I know this all sounds too good to be true, but I've been working to make every bit of it true since Rogers reported to me about what happened. You've both been left without safety nets for too long. And regardless of what the World Council has to say on the matter, I plan to make sure you both know that you can rely on SHIELD as much or as little as you feel you need to. And if you want no part of this place, that you're free to walk away, no strings and no questions." That might be a bit of a hard sell to the World Council, but May has every intention of making it stick, for both of them. Personally and off the books if necessary.

Jane's turned, watchful eyes search Bucky's face throughout the brief glance he gives her. Her eyes speak volumes, questions and concerns and worries — all of which he can parse fluently in that moment. She sees his body language lapse briefly and close, and when his hand settles on her knee, she covers it with hers.

In her own mind, she thinks her long-standing mixed feelings may be a perpetual weight on her shoulders. Weighing the benefits of having him work in close proximity with Steve and Peggy against the idea of having some /other/ agency — even if it's the farthest thing from HYDRA, and it is — is something she'll be doing for some time. Though, even she concedes, this decision remains his own. And she wants to support it whichever way it goes.

As for her own decision, Jane feels herself ready to return to her own life in regard to SHIELD. She really is just a piece of herself without her work. But the fact that it seems to come returned to her so easily, just like this, makes her head spin. She was half-convinced that the conversation would spin into 'how they need to take her research away, for good, to allow her time to rest, don't worry it will be in good hands'.

"Thank you, Agent May," Jane answers. "I mean it. This is… this is a lot. I know it's a lot, what you're doing. What you're offering me. What you're offering James here too," she adds, with a glance his way, as much as she tries to speak for him. "Thank you for being so… understanding."

It's not a concern that hasn't occurred to Bucky as well— potentially placing himself in a position to be used again, to have his lethal skills aimed by governing hands once more— but he thinks the fact SHIELD stands for opposing Hydra in every possible way goes a long way towards countering those concerns. And then… there's Steve. As long as Steve is there, James will be there with him.

After the life he's lived, though? He will also be watchful.

He is quiet through Jane's expressed gratitude, his eyes reflecting the fact he shares much of the sentiment. "I gotta echo her thanks," he eventually says aloud. "I definitely… the backing is appreciated." Soldiers do not always come home to such kind receptions. "Dr. Foster, more than anyone, deserves this, after what she's been through."

He says little about himself, but then it's very hard for him to shake feeling… complicit in all the things he did, whereas he views Jane purely as a victim. All he says is, "Me, well… if it gets to be more trouble than it's worth…" He transparently does not think he himself is worth taking any bloody and costly last stands to protect.

"At any rate, Agent," he says, "don't want to take up too much of your time. We appreciate all the time you've already put in."

May nods to both Jane and James. "It's not nearly as much as you both deserve, but it's the best we can do for now." She stands then and reaches into a pocket, making each motion very deliberate so as to avoid making Barnes go on the defensive. She brandishes a business card and slides it across the table to them. It has only a phone number printed on it, no other information. "You can reach me directly there, day or night. Do you have any other questions while we're here? I'll do my best to answer honestly and plainly."

Glancing away, down at her lap, Jane's eyebrows knit slightly but she says nothing as Bucky speaks of her being 'deserving'. She picks a little at her fingernails. Her attention only rivets back on Bucky, catching loud and clear that hesitation he has to think of himself a victim — his memories of all his actions turned on him to make him feel HYDRA's machinations were his own impetus.

She frowns around the corners, expressed strained, disagreeing though she does not voice it aloud in their current company. More trouble than it's worth, he says, and her jaw briefly tenses.

"Thank you again," she says again, to Agent May, gazing up with eyes that wear all the signs of chronic insomnia. She tries a smile that, while tired, is genuine. More genuine that Jane ever thinks she'd give within the walls of SHIELD. Whatever her paranoia, she does relent, relaxed far more now than she was minutes ago.

At the business card, she looks curiously, but defers to let Bucky be the one to take it. He's usually the more decisive one in that way. Also because Jane is a little distracted too, ruminating over May's request for any last questions. She hesitates noticeably, a question burning the back of her tongue. "I… actually have one," she offers, sounding almost shy.

"I was told there was video evidence of me," Jane says, lowly, awkwardly, unable to look May or anyone in the eye as she says, "while I was in… while I was with them." With HYDRA. "I'm wondering if — if someday I ever requested, would I be allowed to see it."

The care taken to not startle or upset him is not something that escapes Bucky's notice. He has several disparate feelings about it, really: he's a little embarrassed and a lot sad about needing to be handled like a volatile and highly-dangerous weapon, but also fully understanding of why he is being handled that way, and even a little appreciative that the fact he has a great deal to be nervous and jumpy about is being acknowledged.

He takes the card as it's passed over, glancing at it before stowing it. He looks over at Jane, too, noticing her displeasure at his bout of self-loathing. At his insinuation he's really not sure if he's worth considerable trouble. His expression gets a little strained, but he too says nothing, preferring not to get into this in front of company.

Instead he just expresses his gratitude, transparently a little at the end of his capability for human interaction at the moment. Yet Jane has a final question to ask, one that brings him to glance again at her unreadably.

"When you're ready, you have more right to know what went on there than anyone else. I'll access the data to show to you myself." Again, the fact that she's offering to do something for Jane personally might perhaps imply that the answer wouldn't be the same from someoen else.

May hasn't openly acknowledged Bucky's audible and visible bouts of self-loathing — she knows from personal experience that having someone make too big a deal of things like that only makes them feel WORSE instead of better. She's by no means a psychologist, but she hopes that not overtly reacting will help. It can't hurt at least. Right? Maybe?

This glance from Bucky is one Jane does not return, though the set of her shoulders is that of someone aware his eyes are on her. It is probably all of her effort and focus just to have spoken that request out loud, and she focuses her brown eyes down on her own lap, something safe and neutral, to keep her courage.

It surprises her visibly to be offered the option, perhaps certain her request would be shot down on the spot — deemed unnecessary and frankly unwise of someone to watch their own interrogation and torture. But May offers it to her, and Jane seems to understand — it sounds something more in the realm of a personal favour than perhaps standard SHIELD protocol.

In the end, however, she does not say whether or not she wants to. She frankly does not know. She isn't sure if she is ready, or if she frankly /should/ ever be ready for something like that. But the fact the option /exists/ to her means something, and it's something to consider in the future. Letting out a deep breath, Jane finally turns her eyes on Bucky, her own wan, searching, before her gaze settles on May.

"Thank you again," she replies. "For everything today."

May's own personal experience with having people excessively focus on those of your deeds you loathe the most gives her a good context for dealing with James Barnes: to not call too much attention to him unnecessarily. It seems like the right context, because he seems to be remaining relaxed.

He only tenses when Jane makes her request… to which May agrees, though it sounds more like something the woman would personally do rather than official SHIELD protocol. He doesn't seem to think it's a good idea for Jane to see it, but he says nothing, perhaps understanding why having the option to see it is important.

"Cross that bridge when we come to it," is all he eventually says about the matter. "Thank you, Agent. We'll keep in touch."

May nods to Jane again. She's having to fight the urge to offer Jane something to help her sleep, the exhaustion on the scientist's face is THAT obvious. But she knows that it likely won't be taken well. She looks at James to see if he has any remaining questions, and when it's clear he doesn't, she gestures toward the door.

"Let me walk you both back out, to make sure no one tries to fangirl on either of you on the way through the lobby." It's entirely possible that Jane has seen or experienced that in the past. And May's pretty sure that it would NOT go over well now.

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