Destroying Dross

March 05, 2017:

The Winter Soldier prepares to get answers from Kalfu's servant. Jessica Jones asks Bucky Barnes for training, and gets exactly what she asked for.

Abandoned Subway Tunnels Deep Beneath NYC


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Red Robin, John Constantine, Zatanna Zatara, Steve Rogers, Jane Foster

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The Winter Soldier had insisted on taking the captive. After all, some asshole in the back of a Chinese restaurant had said he should… but more than that, he was personally pissed the fuck off at her. Controlling Jessica. Trying to force her to attack her own allies. Forcing him to nearly kill his own by flinging Tim Drake into the path of his bullet…

Fearsome enough, huh? he had thought. He'd lifted his brows about that at first, but now he thinks he sees why the soothsayer put it that way. He has ample motive now to be the worst thing that ever happens in this woman's life.

He hasn't yet gotten started. He's a professional and he doesn't dive into this sort of work without the necessary preparation to make it effective. With her particular powerset, just keeping her locked somewhere high up isn't going to cut it and might actually be counterproductive, given she can clearly levitate herself. So Bucky's gone in the opposite direction, dragging her unconscious body down into the subway tunnels, where there's plenty of unfinished corners and forgotten places where not even the MTA workers ever go.

Especially when they're not assisted by a metal arm that can move doors which have been rusted shut for decades.

He'd sent Jessica a message not to his actual location, but to the location of a rudimentary dead drop spike he's left for her, shoved between some bricks in a wall a couple streets down from her apartment. It contains a bit of paper detailing how to actually get to where he's keeping the woman: which station to go to, which tracks to walk down, which twists and turns to take. It might seem like overkill, but it's how he learned to operate and habits die hard.

Besides, who knows what John and Zatanna got themselves mixed up in? The precautions are probably very necessary after all.

Still, all this takes time, and the question of how Bucky kept his prisoner imprisoned is still up for debate… up until Jessica gets to the place in question, that is. Pushing open the door (not a problem for her given her strength), it won't be long before she catches sight of the Winter Soldier with a rudimentary drip set up, along with a box of shit that looks like it was deftly relieved from some hospital or another.

The woman is completely out. Crouched by her side, Bucky is dispassionately adjusting the IV in her arm and eyeballing the drip rate, though there is a hint either of strain or vague distaste around his eyes.


It's not overkill.

It's fascinating. Plus they're both seriously breaking the law right now, so there's that. Jessica has never had cause to use a dead drop before. She now understands what one is, what it's good for. She soaks up the information like the sponge that she is. She has questions about those actually. She'll ask them today or another day, but she's got them.

She comes to a stop as she watches the set-up. "Jesus Christ, the mouthpiece of midnight was the fucking psychic. Well. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving piece of shit." She's not sure how much appetite Bucky will have after this but…she's brought Starbucks. Just coffee-flavored-coffee in a catering keg with two cups and a bunch of sides of cream and sugar, since she's not sure how he feels about all of the mochachino, frappachino, eggachino (what the fuck?!?) that they serve. She was not about to dis Sal by buying Starbucks sandwiches though, so she stopped by the little deli and picked up basically another catering tray. She has a pretty good appetite herself, more than an unmodified woman by far, but she's got nothing on Bucky or Steve. Maybe because they're men, maybe because they actually exercise on a regular basis, maybe both. Either way, a good 90% of the bag is for him. Unless, of course, this business has him off his appetite.

She finds her own is just fine though, in all actuality. This woman is a monster.

No mercy for monsters.


Bucky's been breaking not just law, but probably international treaties, for decades. A little kidnapping and battery are nothing on top of all that he's already done. It's not that it doesn't bother him, now he's in his right mind and all— he is fundamentally a good man, somewhere underneath all the blood on his hands— but stronger than his guilt about the things he's doing is the anger at what this woman did… and the knowledge that she's getting exactly what she deserves in recompense for it.

He glances up and around as Jessica speaks. It's certain that he heard her long before this actual acknowledgement, but he was busy and he knew it was her from the sound of her steps. His gaze flickers with appreciation at the Starbucks and the food— its incongruity in this setting doesn't seem to bring him to flick a lash in the least.

"Ah, good," he says, putting the finishing touches on the drip and straightening up to a stand. "Relief." This business doesn't seem to have put him off so badly as to overcome the imperative needs of his enhanced body, but as he turns and starts to approach, the strain around his eyes and the tiredness of his features gets a little clearer.

He seems to relax once he's not looking at the woman anymore. "Let's get out of the room. She's not going anywhere."


"Sounds like a plan," Jessica says, falling into step beside him as she follows him out of the bunker. She sees the strain, and a flicker of worry passes across her features but…well. She brought what she can bring for that. Food and coffee. And a little more. "So…you've gotta go home and sleep sometime, and I imagine you don't want to leave her unattended even with the precautions you took. I can take shifts if you want."

He shouldn't have to do this bullshit alone.

There's a wide spectrum of morality between even fundamentally good people. Bucky inhabits one end of the spectrum; someone like, say, Spider-Man, another one. Jessica's dead center on that spectrum. She has known this since Switzerland, has had some time to take stock of where she really stands on this; it's what allowed her to be perfectly happy knowing what he's doing to this woman and where she is, versus some in their number who'd really rather not know. This means she has something to offer him, and that thing, to her mind, is, well…not just knowing, but helping to make Bucky's task as easy as possible, doing what she can to lighten his load, give him breaks, bring him food. She imagines Jane might inhabit a similar place, so it's not like she's the only one who can, but…she has a sneaking suspicion he might not necessarily want to involve her. And if he does, well, three shifts still make a lighter load than one.

"I offer this of course understanding I'm out here swimming in waters I don't know shit about." Because for all she knows, this is a really dumb-shit offer that she's making. And she's not even sure she should even acknowledge the situation given how much he relaxes when he no longer has to look, but that seems silly…it's not like either one of them are going to forget she's there, either.


The strain fades a bit as he grinds the door shut behind them. His eyes close briefly, Bucky breathing out a long breath. "I don't like needles," he makes excuse, as he opens his eyes again and heads on down the corridor a ways. It's not hard to extrapolate why.

Jessica chides him a bit about needing to sleep and eat sometime, and that she's willing to take shifts to enable him to do that. "Appreciate it," he says. "Jane's already gonna take a couple, but the extra hand would be nice." He glances at her, as if sensing a hole where an explanation should go. "I told her what happened and, well, you know. She feels the way we do about people that like to fuck with others' heads."

That squared away, he finds a bit of an alcove where a jutting area of concrete forms a rudimentary seat, and proceeds to take a load off and gesture for one of the coffees she's got. That same matter-of-fact demeanor she's come to associate with him is squarely settled on his shoulders, that 'get it done' attitude, though there are hints that it's just the cloak it is in the tired slump of his shoulders.

He laughs a little, but humorlessly, when she speaks about swimming in waters she doesn't know shit about. "Aren't we all. This Heaven and Hell shit…" He cocks an eye at her. "Unless you meant this stuff and the little runaround I put you through getting down here."


'I don't like needles?'

"Who the fuck does?"

In the man code which she is sort of trying to learn to speak so she can interface with Bucky in a way that is comfortable for him, this probably means 'no judgment here bro.'

She nods as he says Jane is taking shifts, unsurprised even as she slightly revises her understanding of the dynamic the two of them share. Then again Jane totally was like, 'oh he's off committing arson, head to this street to see the show' so…how surprised should she be, really?

'Well, you know. She feels the same way we do about people that like to fuck with other's heads.'

"I do know," she agrees.

She doesn't know about them, but for her, knowing there are two other people in the world who get every part of how she's been forced to see life is an endless source of strength. She feels a burst of it now. "Jane rocks."

The thought of Jane got her up on her feet this morning just as much as the thought of Bucky did.

She hops up next to him and pours his coffee into one of the cups, sets the little cardbord coffee keg down, and hands it over. She unconsciously adopts his body language, having drawn strength from wanting to adopt the same sort of strength, the same sort of grace.

"Well…it applies to both," she says sheepishly. "You've now given me all sorts of questions to ask about dead drops, that's for sure. Like— what makes a good one? How do you know some child isn't going to accidentally find whatever you leave there? Do you want a sandwich?"

Obviously the third question? Not about dead drops.

She hesitates and says, "Before that woman started pushing in where she wasn't wanted I thought I heard you say something…"

She hesitates again.


"More than usual," Bucky says wryly, though he drops the subject quite quickly afterwards.

He smiles, though, with genuine affection, as Jessica talks about how Jane rocks. "She does," he agrees placidly. It perhaps revises Jessica's view of their relationship, and particularly how Jane engages it, but then again it probably takes a rather fierce woman to willingly be with a man like James Buchanan Barnes. Fierce, and dark, and maybe even grading into ruthless.

Especially against those who fuck with other people and their heads.

He watches Jessica as she gets up and moves around to pour him coffee. His practiced eye does pick out how she's imitating his body language, which probably informs his ready understanding of what her last question is without her even having to state it explicitly.

He addresses her others first however, in order of ease of answering: "Yes," he wants a sandwich, and in fact he starts rooting for one right then and there. "As for the dead drop, well, you don't put it somewhere a kid can reach. If you have the luxury to, you plant it only a short period of time before you know there'll be retrieval. You hide it well, but accessibly. And you don't use a container that looks interesting or like anything people'd wanna pick up, if they don't know what it is."

He turns to regard her. As for her unasked last question… "I asked you if you always fight like that. As I recall."


She comes back to sit beside him with her own coffee. She listens to him tell her about dead drops, eyes narrowed faintly. He can bet that she's sucked all that away, and she actually asks, "Can I set up a practice one for you when we're not in this shit so you can tell me if I got it right?"

She's eager to learn all sorts of things it seems. It never occurs to her that a PI rarely needs to know how to set up a dead drop. She just used one, didn't she? Just this morning? So it's not that far fetched she might need to set one up.

But there's the other issue. She rubs the back of her neck and says, "I thought I heard you say that we could work on that. Did you…did you mean what I think you meant?" She's ultra shy suddenly, almost like she was at the party.

"Did you mean that you might…be willing to help me learn how to improve?" She focuses on her coffee cup while she asks him, cheeks flushing a little bit. She sounds hopeful, but also like she's a little afraid that she shouldn't be asking this question for…well, all kinds of reasons, really, some of which she couldn't even articulate if pinned down on it. Though 'afraid she's being a big bother to him' is probably in there somewhere, given what he knows about Jessica, how she thinks, and the issues he knows she struggles with, along with his spy's ability to read people.


Bucky looks amused at Jessica's eagerness to set up a practice drop for him to evaluate and judge. "Sure, though I can't imagine how often you're gonna use the skill." He pauses. "Though granted I just had you use it this morning. All right, we'll go over it when this is over."

He gets quiet, though, as she really hesitantly starts to approach the real question she wants to ask. He cocks an eye at her as she works through her extremely roundabout query about whether he really meant to say that he'd help improve her fighting capabilities. "Spit it out," he says, though not unkindly. More just as a chide that there's really no reason to be beating around the bush this much, nor to be shy with him.

She gets to the point eventually. He smiles a little, a voiceless huff escaping his throat that could have been a laugh in better, more expressive days. "Well, you're gonna get killed if I don't," he quips, temporarily abandoning his search for a sandwich.

He leans forward, elbows on his knees, gaze faraway. "Yeah, I meant it. I've done plenty of it before. I taught a lot of people over the years. I was training Soviet killers, granted, but still… those were the easiest times of my life as the Winter Soldier. Probably the only positive times. I was teaching instead of killing. It felt familiar. More like who I used to be."

He thinks about it in silence a few long moments, before he puts aside his coffee and stretches to a stand. "Up on your feet," he says, walking out into the middle of the abandoned tunnel. "Come over here."


'Spit it out.'

This mostly causes Jessica to fluster and laugh at the same time as she puts her coffee aside; she's trying, she finally does. Eventually she might get over her tentativeness with the people closest to her when she's not on the familiar ground of 'let's go do work together that I know how to do,' of overthinking whether or not she's asking too much, pushing too hard, being too intense, becoming obnoxious, being a burden…breathing too much air in another person's space.

Asking for help, in particular, is hard; it leaves her feeling unworthy and vulnerable, as life taught her the lessons of self-reliance to the umpteenth degree but neglected all of the lessons about reaching out to others until so very recently. She's always happy to help, feels most worthwhile when she does, but asking for it? That's steep and strange ground for her.

Nevertheless, she does get the question out of her mouth.

She gets over it briefly enough when he says he meant it, when he says he'll do it she actually spontaneously flings her arms around his neck, hugging him in a show of expressiveness that she's really only mostly developed around Zee or Jane…other women. But something shifted last night it seems. She withdraws quickly, giving a sheepish, "Sorry;" she hadn't asked, he might find it inappropriate, she knows how they both feel about unwanted and unsolicited touch.

But she's so grateful to him that it had slammed into her as hard as anger or sadness or anxiety slam into her. Without the luxury of self-medicating her emotions into little more than dull cynicism and endless snark, the person left behind feels and feels intensely. "Just…thank you."

When he talks about the only true happy times he got in all of 7 decades her eyes turn somber, sad on his behalf, falling silent, addressing it no more than that— by giving him her respectful attention.

He says to get on her feet. She does, springing up to follow him after pulling her jacket off and draping it in her spot in the little alcove; there's a bunch of stuff in the pockets and she feels like it's probably best to just spare those the rigors of whatever Bucky intends.


Jessica isn't the only one more comfortable with giving than receiving help. Once she finally gets the question out, Bucky agrees without really even needing to think about it that long, for reasons he soon elucidates: teaching was always part of him, and it was the only time he ever felt vaguely happy, vaguely in tune with his real self, in all his years as the Winter Soldier.

Now her response is a little unexpected; his eyes widen and his body tenses a little as she flings her arms about him in a hug, especially since it's his neck, but soon enough he forces himself to relax again. Her apology afterwards is waved off, though he doesn't speak of what just happened in a typically-masculine refusal to acknowledge more touchy-feely bullshit.

Instead, he just gets to his feet and paces off into the middle of the tunnel, inspecting the area, turning only long enough to drill sergeant Jessica up to her feet to follow him out. He watches her as she springs up and does so, dropping off her coat before coming out to meet him, half-lidded blue eyes reading her movements.

He turns to fully face her once she's ready, stance loose and to all appearances completely relaxed. "All right. Beat the shit out of me," he instructs simply. "Come on."


Whatever she expected, the instruction to beat the shit out of him was not really it. Surprise flickers and ripples across her face. She has no stance. She looks like she's standing around a bar, which…is where she cut her teeth and learned some shape of fighting in the first place. She certainly had ghosted around enough of them and plenty had broken out and she'd been happy to dive right in.

She hesitates for only a moment though; if this is what she's to do she'll give it her best. She actually is not often the aggressor ever, the time when she leapt through a window and leap-tackled him not withstanding, nor the time in the alley with John where she basically leapt forward and grabbed a gunman's gun. She comes at him with a haymaker punch aimed towards his face.

It has two major problems.

Problem number one: a haymaker of course telegraphs like nothing else; it's a stupid way to punch because it leaves one wide open to begin with, it's how people with no training punch things and only works if you're stupid strong. Which of course she is, but.

The second is that when she actually gets anywhere near him a sudden, old, bone-deep fear hits her to her bones; he'll see the moment when she pulls her strength at the last minute. To be fair, when she pulls her strength she's pulling it back to a level that would be appropriate for…Mike Tyson, say, not for the 120 pound woman she is. Reading her face is easy; it's the reason she never sought training before. She has good control, great control, but part of her has no trust in herself and her own strength, she's afraid she'll eventually hurt someone by mistake in general and Bucky himself, right now, in specific. She's got no idea how much of what she carries inside her he can actually take.

It's not calculated. It's visceral, sudden, knee-jerk.


Bucky has no outward reaction to her surprise at the command. He only waits to be obeyed, his stance loose and ostensibly relaxed, his features calm, his blue eyes reading her movements as they transition from uncertainty to resolution to action.

She comes in hot and uncoordinated, with a punch so telegraphed it's practically written in Morse Code. He just stands there and watches it come in, perhaps to hammer in the point to her how long she's giving him to react with that particular choice of strike. It's so long that even before it gets close to hitting him, he can see the point where all its momentum dies and her form falls apart into fear and self-doubt.

His mouth thins. And she'll feel her fist caught in a vise of metal.

"You should be able to power through even my left arm," he says. A split second later his left arm powers through her. It pulls hard on its unforgiving grip on her hand, bringing her stumbling forwards towards him in a yank, at which point he bulls his right shoulder into her and deftly flips her straight over that fulcrum point, sending her crashing to the floor on her back. His left hand lets her go, even as his right snakes in to plant against her chest and assist her unceremonious descent to the ground. He winds up crouched over her, frowning, right hand still pinning her in place.

"But you're not doing it," he observes. "Not gonna win too many fights if you're going in with the mindset to throw 'em before you've even begun."

His eyes narrow. "I told you to beat the shit out of me, not patronize me. I've killed plenty of people stronger than you are. Keep this up, I'm gonna kick the shit out of you."


Her eyes widen as suddenly she's just…right on her back. It hurts, hitting that floor, and that's rare for her; to actually be hurt. It's a concrete floor, and he's really strong. She's pinned down. Her lips part to protest that patronizing him had been the farthest thing from her mind, but…that's not what comes out of her mouth.

She swallows, heart beating hard and fast. It really is a stark reminder of how easily he could have murdered her in that house, without even worrying about the gun. This was a guy she chose to blindly tackle with her bullshit skills.

She'd best learn. Fate has catapulted her way above her paygrade. She'd better get up to speed quick.

The words that come out of her mouth are unbidden and instinctive, responding to his tone and demeanor and the fact that her bones are actually ringing inside of her body, the fact that bruises are actually breaking out on her skin beneath her shirt. It's an almost meek, somber, "Yes, sir."

And then she decides he probably might not let her up unless she fights to get up.

She takes a breath, centers herself, and imagines she's in a fight for her life.

Human arm is the weak arm, she's gotta get him off of her. Her hands are still free at least, so she grits her teeth and reaches up to try to grip him by the shoulder and fling him off of her with all of her might. He's killed stronger than her. She won't hurt him. She can learn, and he will be fine. Wasn't that what kept her from training in the first place? The fear she'd hurt someone in the attempt to learn? She can stop being afraid.

If she sends him sailing off her like she wants she'll take the opportunity to spring back up to her feet, at least, and this time she puts some sort of guard up. It looks like something she puts up because she saw it on television once. It's not a good guard; but…at least she thinks to do it?

Faster than she can perceive, with a strength she has never felt him use against her before now— even on the one previous occasion they fought during his time as the Winter Soldier— Bucky Barnes takes her momentum, turns it against her, and slams her to the floor on her back. For all the strength that went into it, however, it's still a move more about finesse than about raw power. A clear display to Jessica that just leaning on her monstrous strength and resilience won't mean much against an opponent who can move faster than she can, and leverage her own strikes against her with pure skill.

He isn't even breathing hard. He isn't even phased. If he had done this when they first met, she would not be here now.

She opens her mouth to argue, but 'Yes, sir' is what comes out instead. It's a phrase so familiar to him as to gloss his eyes with memory, a phrase he has both heard said to him, and said to others, many times over the course of his life. It is a brief moment of distraction, one she capitalizes on once she realizes he's not just going to let her get up.

He snaps back to the present once her hand clamps on his shoulder, a moment too late to do anything about it when she flings him full-force. It gets him off her right quick, the man torn free and sent tumbling. He twists in the air with the agility of a cat, getting his feet under him to impact in a crouch against the wall, instead of slamming into it haphazardly with his back, or his side.

She'd better recover quick, because he certainly does; he springs back into movement the instant he touches the wall, actually running a few paces along it before leaping off it to launch into a violent snapped kick straight at her guard. He seems intent on forcing her to actually figure out what she plans to DO with the guard she's got up.


As he just…bounces off the wall her mouth drops open and she stands there staring for a few stupid seconds. That's one his foot plows right into her guard. The other is of course that the guard is terrible. There's a sharp intake of breath as she staggers back, stumbles back, falls right on her ass, her arms purpling in an instant mess of bruised bones. She definitely has the message she did it wrong, even if she's not sure what to really do with her clumsy imitations of real fighters.

There's a soft, "Shit!"

Shit, now what?

Uh, uh, uh…she has no idea what to do with a guard, she's here on the floor, she stays here he's going to shitkick her for sure…she rolls away from him at an angle, the good instincts that have been a saving grace for her showing up now, at least for the space it takes to recover.

Feet, under her, okay good, okay now what? Shit!

She goes for an old standby tactic. She leaps, aiming to move past him and land behind him, not sure what the hell she can even do from the front. She tries to get a couple of hard punches at the small of his back. Not haymakers this time by simple virtue of where they're aimed, neither are they the tight, controlled punches of a trained hand-to-hand combatant. She lashes out with a hard kick to the back of his knee for good measure.

It's dirty. But at the very least, she doesn't get the impression that dirty fighting will be on his list of critiques for her.


"Don't waste time being surprised by what your enemy can do," Bucky snaps, even as he drives a kick straight into her guard and shows her unequivocally that it wasn't going to do her much good. He pushes off her and lands lightly, before coming straight back after her even while she's on the ground. This time she just acts on pure instinct and rolls instantly away, a move that brings her out of his easy follow-up range and brings a moment of approval to his blue eyes.

She's trying to think what to do, which wastes time, time in which he's pressing the attack again, keeping her from ever getting a moment to really recover. It's plain he wants her to feel what it's really like to fight someone relentless, someone not a garden-variety thug but a supersoldier whose fighting style is a master class in efficient, agile aggression… and to know quite intimately how fast and brutal that kind of combat can get.

How little time she has to just stand and try to think when the Winter Soldier is after her.

For all that, he's not expecting the leaps— he's never seen her do this before. She gets behind him handily enough, but takes the scenic route to get there, meaning he's already leaning to the side to duck away from her strikes at his back. What he doesn't expect is the dirty-pool kick at the back of his knee, which caves in his stance and actually crumples him slightly.

He glances up at her. "Good."

And then he rises back up, leading the motion with a sharp right uppercut.

She flushes in embarrassment when he snaps at her about wasting time, but she doesn't have time to do much more than that. He wants her to feel what it's like to fight someone who knows what he's doing and has the enhancements to back it up, and she feels it for sure.

Up until now it has indeed mostly been thugs. And she'd fought lazily. She'd relied on intimidation. Sometimes all it had taken was for her to yank someone off his feet and glower at them. She'd done surprisingly little fighting, almost nothing that had demanded much more than a casual punch here, a squeeze there, a tackle or a punch or just some show of strength that made everyone scatter.

This is wholly different.

She notes that if she wants to leap, she's going to need to find a more efficient way to do it. It filters into her brain. She has no time to examine it.

He says 'Good' and it's a coveted word already, her eyes light up a little for that simple compliment, the flush clears. Annnnd then he uppercuts her and she staggers back, seeing stars from the feeling of another person's fist for the first time in her life. She's dazed, her jaw turns red and then a livid shade, her neck snaps back hard enough to rattle her teeth; she bites her own tongue hard enough to draw a little blood, which stains her lips though doesn't fall past them. She stumbles back, puts her hands up instinctively like…like any civilian really, palms flat and out in a flailing motion that is almost laughable in its lack of effectiveness, an instinctive response to being suddenly overwhelmed.

Her body has no muscle memory to call upon, and every thought has been driven from her head, she's definitely got nothing, no clever attempt or lucky instinctive motion to fall back on here.


The hit staggers Jessica. Makes her bleed. It sends her reeling, too stunned to even react beyond the most instinctive lift of her hands to try to defend herself. The sloppy defense is not nearly good enough.

It's very obvious she's completely overwhelmed. Some people might have pity at this stage. But that was never the way the Winter Soldier trained anyone. He was a brutal teacher, unforgiving of error and indifferent to distress or pain, because students he went easy on would just get killed once sent to the field. He knew it, and they knew it.

He— the Winter Soldier— always used to say that the only way to make anything good of the dross he was sent was to destroy it and make it again.

And he seems intent on taking that same tack with Jessica.

She has nothing. No defense. No reprisal. So he punishes her for it. His left arm snaps forward and metal closes unforgivingly in the front of her clothes. There is a dizzying, weightless moment as she's lifted clean into the air, then a moment of vertigo as she's swung around like a kitten, and then the harsh jar of impact as she's planted against a wall.

Bucky finally takes a small break with her. If a break can be said to be 'dangling from his grasp, pinned against concrete.'

"I'll come up with some forms for you to go through," he ruminates, frowning up the length of his own unremitting steel arm at her. "We won't get far when you don't even have any foundation to build upon."


She gasps as he grabs her, eyes going wide. He slams her into the wall and every part of her back erupts into pain, causing her to cry out sharply. She instinctively snaps her head as forward as she can to avoid getting it slammed as well, but it still jars against the wall, driven forward by the weight of that unrelenting winter strength.

Her legs dangle and she grips his metal arm instinctively, fingers closing about his wrist while she pants for a moment, just sucking down breath after breath. She just grips it, just kind of stabilizing herself, perhaps thinking they're still at it, perhaps grasping for some gambit. But then he's talking.

She struggles to tune in. She'd thought she had some idea of what constituted physical pain, but she has now learned the little scrapes she's gotten into, the little cuts and grazes, are as laughable as the skinned knees kids get falling off her tricycle.

He's shaken her right up.

But there are no complaints. Brown eyes meet blue. He's talking. Forms. Exercises she needs to go through. Every day, over and over, until she gets them right. She sucks in a breath, forcing her feet to stop flailing, and her breath to come a little bit more slowly.

It hurts.

But there's no sign of a complaint, unless one counts that single, involuntary cry.

Instead, he'll watch nothing but determination enter her eyes, an inner fire he's seen a time or two before, something that firms her jaw. If there's one thing that can be said about her it's that she doesn't give up. It's easy make her give up when she has no direction, no vision, no place to go, for that is when she gives up, primarily, on herself. But once she has a target she's a bulldog who won't let go.

He's just given her a new target.

And a new addiction, one 1,000 times better and more productive than the ones she's trying to give up.

Maybe he'll learn to find a vision of herself she can hold onto through trying to pursue this one, one that won't waver, won't falter, won't leave her drowning alone with her demons in the dark.

So when she finally catches her breath, when she finally speaks again, she asks only this: "What do I work on while you're coming up with those?" Her voice shakes when she asks, but only with adrenaline.


Jessica, so accustomed to using her strength to overawe in lieu of actual technique, finds that tactic sneakily turned straight against her as she's manhandled like a rag doll. Maybe it's intentional. Maybe he's sending her a message: now she's fighting in a weight class where anyone can do this, and it's not going to work anymore— she needs to be more.

Or maybe he just wants to pin her still so he can lecture her a few moments on how she doesn't seem to have any form at all, and they're going to have to work on that before he can even start beating her into shape.

The pain in her eyes slowly melts into raw determination. He regards her a moment, blue eyes looking into brown, before he nods wordless approval and lets her down. His right hand lifts, thumb smudging a bit of blood from her cheek. "Awareness," he answers, when she asks what she should work on in the meantime. "And flexibility. You focus in too narrowly when you're fighting. You expect certain things and can't adapt when they don't happen. People who move fast or come in from unexpected angles, people who react unpredictably to you, they throw you off real quick. You don't see them because they're outside your scope of focus. You don't react fast enough because you overcommitted to responding to an expected action instead of what you actually got."

He walks back to the spot where they left their drinks, rolling his left shoulder absently with a whir of its mechanical internals. He picks up his coffee and takes a sip. It's still hot: their brief exercise, his swift deconstruction of her, took less than two minutes. "That's something you can practice without a spar, especially in a city like this. Keep your awareness open as you walk around. Know where everyone is at all times. Who's walking towards you, away from you, the angles they're coming from."

He ruminates. "There's mental exercises to keep you in the exact moment, too, rather than trying to think too far ahead. I tend to… blank my mind when fighting. No thoughts, no emotions. No distractions."

The message seems to be received, whatever the intention. But where it might have caused her shame or embarrassment before, it just causes her to drink down every word he says now. The corner that had to be turned in order for that to happen was turned this morning, not just now, but it was one he himself had guided her to.

She finds she likes being the person who turned that corner more than she liked being the person who would have gotten stuck on Suck Street.

He brushes blood from her cheek, gives her his approval; she warms to it, but it doesn't distract her. The critiques…are good ones. She can think of quite a few times, not just at the amusement park, where the consequences of these problems had played out. Narrow focus helps when looking for clues, but…not so much at other times. She'll have to learn to zoom in and out. She already knows she'll be doing that all the way home.

He talks about blanking his mind; she instantly contrasts this to her own, more emotional states. She tilts her head, following him back. She pulls out a sandwich, unwraps it, bites down. "Mental exercises— like meditation? Or something different?"


Bucky drinks his coffee slowly as Jessica asks her questions. He remains standing, leaned against a wall, thinking back on how he would put it to his pupils back in the Red Room. "A bit like meditation," he says. "Emotionality is distracting in combat. There's a romance about being driven by it, being energized by anger or whatever, but I've only ever found it makes me sloppy."

Not that he doesn't have plenty of anger rolling in his mind the rest of the time, though. And not like he himself hasn't occasionally succumbed to fury in the heat of battle. He's had plenty of his own fits of anger, rage, aggression, plenty of times when he leapt into combat and attacked for the wrong reasons. But everyone has their occasional failings, even the Winter Soldier.

He frowns a little. "Admittedly, part of that was probably encouraged by the circumstances of who I was teaching, and where. I was at the Red Room, for a while. I turned young girls into killers and spies. It was my job to strip them of their… natural tendencies to emotionality. I'd have them picture a void in their minds, and feed their emotions into that void."


"Wait. Wait. Russia…invested time and money into creating an army of tiny little deadly girls who could strangle a man in his sleep with their pigtails?" Jessica asks, startled as he just…relays this. She imagines them, stretching out, clutching teddy bears with guns hidden inside, marching in lockstep under a wan red light…the kind of thing only someone who watches too many movies could probably really come up with, but…it sticks with her.

"Man. What a weird fucking country."

Note to self, beware of tiny girl-things.

Still…she can see how it would be distracting. She imagines how things would have been different if she could have just stood there at the park, calmly reporting, 'I've been compromised, requesting neutralization.' She'd have sounded so much cooler…

Yeah, okay. 100% beside the point.

She puts her sandwich aside and tries it immediately. She closes her eyes. A void. Space. She sees a field of the stars Jane loves stretching out and out and out before her…but a void has to go past that. Darker and colder and…quieter. Dark isn't bad. Elinor wrapped her in the dark and helped to keep her safe.

She has so many emotions to put in. Even when all she'd just displayed was humor, even when she'd gotten them control before. Her heart is a mass and a mess of them, many of them highly counterproductive. Plenty Bucky is probably intimately familiar with himself. Shame. Self-loathing, feelings of worthlessness. Fear. Fury. Smaller things. Disappointments. Insecurities. Anxieties. Dark, heavy burdens. There are probably more positive ones that she could chuck into the void, but…the dark emotions are rocks. Her lighter ones are butterflies; present, but dipping and landing only briefly before flittering away again, cherished every time she comes into contact with them but hardly something that sticks around long enough for her to need to rid herself of them.

She imagines chunking them in, one by one. At first she doesn't feel any different. He can see it in the twist of her mouth, the slight, frustrated huff that passes her lips.

But she persists. He might get all the way through that coffee by the time she gets anywhere with it, but…soon there's this moment where her shoulders just relax, as if for a few brief, shining seconds she has dropped a load that had been making her shoulders ache.

The moment doesn't last very long. It all comes rushing back in almost as soon as she manages it. Her mouth twists, she opens her eyes. "I'll work on it when we're not standing here," she says. She decides not to ask how long it took them on average. If it takes her more time than it took some six-year-old murder machine she's going to be embarrassed.


Jessica expresses incredulity about the Black Widow program. Bucky gives her half a tired smile in answer, the expression rueful and humorless. "Well… they invested time and money in turning a one-armed American soldier into their best assassin," he says, "just as a sick joke against Captain America. Didn't they?" And, admittedly, to capture the serum in his veins, but he's pretty sure the joke on Captain America was another big part of it. "Why not breed killers out of young girls? Though of course, they weren't used while they were young girls. That was their training period. They were usually blooded around sixteen or so, and started working then."

Blooded. It's really not hard to figure out what that's a euphemism for.

"So yeah. Don't go to Russia. It's not a very happy place." He finishes his coffee, advice dispensed.

He falls quiet as she tries out the technique he mentioned. His blue eyes study her a few moments as she works through her emotions, before they turn away. He doesn't expect her to succeed the first time around. He didn't.

"It takes time," he says, as she expresses a degree of frustration. "Especially when you carry a lot to begin with."


She winces as he points out what else they invested time and money into; the comment she'd made registering as insensitive once he points that much out to her. The moment passes though, as he says yep, Russia sucks. Jessica, who has never actually left New York, is doing good to even contemplate going to Germany…she can't imagine heading to Russia any time soon.

She spends a moment polishing off the sandwich she took down to the very last crumb, then drinks down her coffee, noting absently to herself that maybe she should start drinking water, stop eating like a six year old herself. Her body might look like a super-model's but in this moment it hits her that she's flabby in all manner of ways: in her habits, in her mind, in her body. A two minutes well spent, to drive these things home.

He points out she carries a lot; she gives a rueful half-smile. She looks down. "I think what you and Jane have taught me is it's not so much how much you carry but how you carry it."

She looks up at him. "You guys just don't know all you've done for me. I mean, you're doing this," she waves her hand at the area where he just slammed her around for her own benefit, "but I'm talking more intangible stuff."

She's silent, then she admits, "If that thing with that bitch in there had gone down before I knew you two? I probably would have…had a binge, then drank more on top of the binge to stay as fucked up as possible even while taking dirty pictures or whatever, which was basically my business until November, been an asshole to as many people as possible, stayed in bed, maybe not showered for a day or three. And I'd have hated myself progressively more with every passing day. I didn't have any bounce-back. You guys gave me that. That's what I sat and thought about when I woke up. I thought about Jane, and I thought about you, and I thought about beaches in France a little bit. And…I mean it wasn't like it didn't still freak me out. It was still a rough load. But it's like both of you noticed I had this backpack, right? And you noticed it was way off balance, and you both just sort of walked up beside me and adjusted the straps on the thing, and suddenly it was still heavy but it wasn't too much anymore."

She pours another cup of coffee, wanting the warmth in her hands as well as her belly. She looks up at him with a slight smile. It feels like she takes far more than she gives from these two people, these people that naively thought she was going to help, but…maybe she can just throw out the balance sheet and do what she can and remember not to take them for granted. She knows this…if she can become a fraction of the person either one of them are she guesses she'll be doing very damned well indeed.

So instead of adding more she says, "I know, I know, I'm probably getting mushy…but…sometimes it's important to stay stuff sometimes, when you have the chance."


Bucky doesn't look like he's taking offense, at least. He speaks of what happened to him as an illustrative fact, not as an attempt to chide her.

He doesn't seem to object at all to moving on from that topic, however.

Not that her next topic of conversation is much more comfortable for him, albeit for different and much more mundane reasons of 'him not being great with emotions.' He pours himself another cup of coffee a bit awkwardly to have something to do with his hands as she speaks of all that he and Jane have done for her. Of the dark place she would have been, after this latest attempt at a violation of her mind, were it not for his and Jane's influence on her life.

"I've been in a place like that before," he admits. "After the prison camp. I found, after a while, that it didn't fix anything for me and just jeopardized the people around me who were relying on me. So… if I passed on what I've already learned the hard way to somebody else," he says, "then it was probably worth it."

He's looking at the floor, not her, but there's a gentle wryness to his features. "Always say shit when you have the chance," he says. "I've seen over and over that people can be gone in just a second."


It's comforting to know that Bucky has been on some part of her journey, though he might not enjoy sharing it. It reinforces that she's not a hopeless case, not a lost cause. If he fell flat on his face once and got up and became so much more, then so too can she if she keeps working at it.

She hops back up on the seat they'd made then, as he points out that 'always say shit when you have the chance.'

"Yeah. That lesson, at least, I already had."

Two years. How could she have avoided saying 'I love you' to any member of her family for two whole years? She feels a brief pang of grief, as she does now, from time to time, since visiting a strange fantasy world that upended her perspective on so many things. It's not even so much grief for her family, three people who were lost fifteen years ago. It's for a god damned baby that either is just fine in some other universe or who was fucking fictional in the first place, the baby that would have made Jessica Jones into an aunt.

She can think of some stuff she should have said to John. At least she'd told Zee a great deal of what was on her mind and heart. She'd like to think John already knew.

She'd like to think they'll get them both back, and she'll have another chance to rectify the problem.

But she lets the moment pass, lets it rattle around in her mental backpack, and settle.

"But," she says. "For now, I'm gonna say this: you've been here since what, the end of the thing at the amusement park, barring time to get your supplies down here? Eighteen hours or so? I'm here. If you wanna go home for awhile I'm happy to take that first shift I promised right now. Sit here and practice feeding my shit into voids so you can get a shower or a nap. Just tell me if I need to fiddle with anything in there from time to time and I'm good."


It's even more telling that he says 'after the prison camp.' It places this moment of darkness he's speaking of at a point in time prior to his career as Steve's 2IC of the Howling Commandos. It places his collapse before— and during— all the things he did that would leave him a war hero in American history.

It means he soldiered through the worst, and so can she.

He hesitates, however, when she says briefly that she's already had the lesson to always speak when you have the chance. There is history in her voice, in her answer, which he does not know, and he knows better than to pry. He holds his silence, letting the matter drop. If she knows, she knows.

He just drains his second cup of coffee, putting the cup aside, as she chides that he's been here for eighteen hours and should probably go home and get sleep, or at least a shower. "Eighteen hours isn't anything much to me," he says. He probably only starts to get drowsy around the 72-hour mark. "But I appreciate the offer. I should go check in with Jane, anyway."

Getting up, he checks around to make sure he's got everything. "I'll probably be back in a couple hours," he says. "Not enough time for you to need to change anything in there."

"Just cause you can doesn't mean you should have to," Jessica points out with a shrug. She can stay up for about as long, but she starts to get really crabby and impulsive right around that 72-hour mark, making some of her worst decisions and ramping up the asshole level to 9 even with people she really cares about. She therefore tries to sleep every night just like anyone else.

She looks relieved that she won't have to touch the monster's medical thingies though…she has no context and no skill and could easily foul it up. She'd offered, she'd been willing to learn, but there's some shit that she's just as glad to let him handle. That's right up there on the list.

"See you when you get back," she says.

Imagine a void, something beyond the endless field of stars. She does it with her eyes open, this time, not wanting to accidentally train herself into closing her eyes in the middle of a fight. That wouldn't end well. So while it's not visible, she gives off an air of focus as she remains there, keeping watch and working hard on the task of building a void behind open eyes.

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