March 01, 2017:

After Juno interrupts Steve and Peggy's date, Bucky wants to know just what the hell she thinks she's doing. Takes place after Datecrashers. http://cmbeta.wikidot.com/log:5474

New York City



Mentions: Grymalkin, Peggy Carter, Steve Rogers


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

His grasp tightens on Juno's scruff, and he gives her a deeply unimpressed look as she chirps up at him. Oh is he ever going to tell her. "<We're going to have a conversation about this,>" he vows grimly.

It has been five minutes or so since Juno Hart was pulled off of a table in the middle of a fairly nice restaurant that specializes in swing dancing and anachronistic entertainment. She'd fallen through the ceiling in the midst of trying to escape the notice of the owner of the cat she'd been inspecting for signs of 'being THAT cat'.

Apparently she did something wrong? Because the cat had hurt her, and she'd frowned, and had been in the middle of neutralizing the annoyance when a hand had come out of nowhere and scooped her up off of the table by the scruff of her neck. It turned out to be okay though, because it was just the Winter Soldier! Juno isn't completely certain why he seems to be upset with her. Maybe it's because she sort of froze when confronted with the sights and sounds of a nightclub, though he did say that he knew the people whose table she'd landed on. He'd spoken with the table-owners, and carried her right out the door into the night.

Ah! He'd known those people, and she must have bothered them. That must be it! Juno continues to dangle from his hand for now, arms bleeding slowly into the soft fabric of her hoodie, and resolves to learn her lesson well no matter how he teaches it, no matter what it is. Her hoodie is already ruined, it won't matter if more blood gets on it~

It's not until they're in an alleyway several streets away that he finally puts her down.

Bucky doesn't look liable to actually hurt her as part of the lesson he seems about to teach, though he certainly doesn't look in good humor either. He turns to her with a scowl, his arms folding, looking just as she might have imagined he would if he had wound up overseeing her training all those years ago.

"So it seems evident you weren't sent to break that up on purpose," he begins. "But what were you there for? You fu— you messed up something I have been waiting for for a very long time for those two people."

His scowl deepens. "You said something about a cat? Which, by the way, you don't just go around KILLING cats, no matter how big of an as— how mean they are to you."

Truthfully, Juno has no idea what to expect from him. He may beat her, he may scold her, he may be disappointed, he may do none of these things after all. She's only somewhat certain that he'll care to teach her anything at all, and only that much because he seems highly invested in whatever had happened back there. He lets her down, her feet finding the pavement as easily as a non-killed cat's, and Juno stands up straight, hands at her sides, and does not look away from him.

She had, in the back of her mind, wanted for him to be happy with her. To impress him. Maybe even one day be near to his equal. But the Winter Soldier isn't happy with her, not at all, and Juno runs over the course of action she took, looking for the errors she made.

1. She did not keep accurate track of which floor she was on.
2. She did not correct for landing on the table, despite the unexpected loud noise and people - she should have immediately left.
3. She did not release or neutralize the cat before it could try to hurt her.
3b. She tried to kill the animal, which is apparently a bad thing to do?

Inwardly, Juno frowns. That's three and a half mistakes, at least! No wonder he's displeased. Outwardly, her face is that bubblegum-neutral again: vaguely interested, vaguely cheerful, and completely doll-like.

"I was there to search for a specific cat. It tricked me into letting it sit in my lap and then when I was petting it, it turned into a man!" Juno's one saving grace may be her honesty; she isn't good at lying. "I ran away to regroup and plan my next move, but I lost it, and now it's out there tricking more people into letting it close and scaring them!"

So, is that her way of saying that it scared her?

Three and a half mistakes. The Winter Soldier, by reputation, accepted zero mistakes, and he would mercilessly beat his trainees into the floor until zero was the number they made. Or, alternately, until they did not get back up again.

For whatever reason, though, Bucky doesn't seem to be beating her into the floor. What he is doing might actually be worse: he's looking at her with disappointment, his arms folded. He looks a little tired too, and a lot let down… like he was ramping up to get excited about something and had it suddenly deflate.

He lifts his brows when Juno explains more about the cat-that-became-a-man. It matches what she was babbling earlier, so she's probably telling the truth, though it's a strange story, all told. "If all it's doing is scaring people, that doesn't seem like much of a priority," he muses.

He glances at her, his eyes lidded with the knowledge that she was scared too. "Did it say anything to you once it was a man?"

Despite his displeasure, there isn't a sinking feeling in her stomach, or tension to her limbs, or hesitation in her voice. She doesn't look away from him, and there's the sense that if he did raise a hand to her, she would accept it and firmly believe she deserves it.

Juno is the kind of dog that does not need to be beaten, but might thank her master for doing it anyway.

"He said…" She stops to remember correctly. "'For a ghost you're remarkably lively. And skilled. What is your secret.'" Juno replays the not-really-a-conversation in her head, eyes going unfocused. "'Did you hang for your murdering ways and now prey on the innocent.'" Yes, that's how it had gone - if not word for word, that's the spirit of it. She'd been too spooked to commit everything to memory! "He was a black cat with one blue eye and one gold eye. And he said his name was 'Grymalkin'."

"…Should I have left it alone?" she asks him after a moment, dark eyebrows furrowing a bit. True, it wasn't a 'priority' target - it hadn't even been assigned to her! - but it had seemed like something that shouldn't be allowed to roam… After a moment's pause, Juno finally does break eye contact to look down. "…"

Bucky knows, bone deep, that if he did strike her she would probably thank him for it. The thought brings a sick look to his face, an expression that comes and goes briefly, because he can remember having struck girls her age before. And he was thanked then, for his lesson…

He shakes off the memories in favor of listening as she answers. "Grymalkin, huh," he muses. He laughs a little. "Joke of a name for a cat-man. Man-cat. Whatever." He shrugs. There's no clear motive to be gleaned from such an exchange, and Bucky's not entirely keen on seeking out trouble if he doesn't have to.

Though trouble tends to find him anyway.

He thinks a moment. Should she have left it alone? "What does your handler have you doing?" He tilts his head. "—Wait, you went after it because it was scaring people?"

Bucky regards her as she looks down at the floor. That's an interesting motive for a girl raised to kill.

Gry mal kin. She'd thought already that it was a strange name, but not that it had a meaning. "?" It's not a word, just a noise, but it comes with raised eyebrows and an actual expression, even if it is just one of confusion. If there's a joke, she should look it up, right? She can't ask the Winter Soldier, when she's already failed badly tonight.

"Miss Elena and Uncle assigned me to force back incursions into Gotham City's shipping districts. Mainly Japanese and Russian nationals operating out of that area's Little Tokyo and Chinatown districts, smuggling weapons and human cargo." If Juno feels any kinship or responsibility to that human cargo… but it seems she's as divorced from that issue as she is the knowledge of how someone her age should behave. "In addition to that, I'm supposed to 'go out and learn'." But Juno doesn't entirely understand what she should be learning.

She looks back up when he asks that question though - it's not one that she expected, and her hands migrate towards each other in front of her hoodie. "Isn't that wrong?" she asks, frowning. "I…" Why had she done that? It had seemed important to her, but when Juno looks back at it she can't find a logical reason to stop the cat.

She blinks twice, and looks up at him like he has the answer to that unformed question.

Bucky notices the unspoken question even if Juno doesn't voice it. His eyes soften a little, an expression one would never expect on the vaunted Winter Soldier. It doesn't look like the expression one would make if one were disappointed in failure. "Grymalkin is an old word," he explains. "An old word for a grey cat."

But he lapses into silence, with a pensive look, as Juno starts to explain her actual formal assignment. She's assigned to stop smugglers transporting weapons and engaging in human trafficking, a task which brings his brows to furrow in thought. Seems like 'Miss Elena' is at least halfway sincere about her reformation, if this is what she's putting Juno to work to do, but it's plain from one look at the girl's eyes that she doesn't understand that what she is doing is good work, necessarily. Good and bad do not exist to her.

That, and she's probably still using murder as her tool to actually get things done.

The second task, that she go out and 'learn,' is more open-ended and more interesting. "Well," he eventually says, "that is one thing you've 'gone out and learned,' isn't it? That scaring people is wrong?" He tilts his head. "Because you're right about that."

She doesn't really know what to make of his softer expression - she has seen it so rarely throughout her life, but now people seem to make it more often. The Winter Soldier twice now, and Miss Elena has a few times as well. It doesn't seem to be a bad thing. It seems like it might sometimes be a precursor to a smile.

She has a hazy half-concept of good and bad, but none of it is applied to acts without context. Things her owner likes are good. Things her owner dislikes are bad. Juno doesn't examine these 'bad' things too closely, not on their own merits. There's something about self-determination that makes her want to shy away.

Because she hasn't touched upon it yet, but if 'human trafficking' is wrong… then something very wrong was done to Juno. She isn't anywhere close to ready to confront that kind of knowledge.

Her fingers finally meet, tangling together for lack of anything else to clutch at. She thinks it would be very nice to have Mimikyu here, because holding it is pleasant and makes her feel good. Juno remains silent as the Winter Soldier finally answers part of an unasked question. "I am…?" She brightens a little bit, mouth curving into a small smile. "Is that… what I was supposed to be doing? I thought it might be books…" Not that Juno dislikes those. But she just… didn't know. But she got it partially right after all?

Bucky seems aware that there are many things Juno simply isn't ready to think about. He would know that even if Elena had not said so explicitly. There were many things his own mind was not ready for, in the last moments of his captivity when he was coming slowly out of the brainwashing. It made it so hard to emerge from the conditioning, a lot of the time, because if he accepted that these strange and frightening new thoughts in his head were real and true…

…it meant that the narrative of his 'supposed' life, in all its simplicity and straightforwardness, was wrong. And it meant that some very, very wrong thing had been done to him too.

So he doesn't push her. He doesn't try to give her a lecture about her mission in the context of right or wrong, or attempt to relate it to her own situation. She is not even equipped to understand her own situation. He just says quietly, "You are," he confirms, when she asks if she's right. "Books can help with you learning things— about the world and other people— but it seems to me you learn fine by going out and experiencing things. Meeting people." A pause. "Without killing them."

He looks thoughtful. "I learned a lot of things myself, recently, Juno," he says. "You wanna be like me, don't you? I could teach you those same things. But it'll take time." He looks away. "And some of those things you really do have to learn for yourself. The way you learned this one."

It's a little bit like the sun peeking out from behind grey clouds. He tells her that she was right, and Juno breaks into a real smile - not the hard, pleased grin from when he called her zaika, but something softer… something deeper.

Her fingers don't wring against themselves so hard now. Her posture was never tense, but it had edged toward 'unsure'; now her head raises that half-inch higher, the curve of her back becoming just a little prouder. The bubblegum-neutral expression is gone, even if it's certainly ready to mold her face again at a moment's notice.

There are things that even he didn't know? Maybe it's true then, that nobody ever really stops learning. Still, it's a little hard to believe. "You, really?" Juno finally gives up and tucks her hands into the empty kangaroo pocket of her hoodie. Even like this, even now, he's offering her his help? "I… Yes, Winter Soldier. I do. Would… if you have the time. I would be very, very grateful." eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

That smile seems to indicate there's some hope yet for Juno Hart. Bucky can easily see why Elena chose her for her next 'project' to rescue and reform.

It will be a long road, however, and tricky to navigate. He can see why Elena is maintaining the girl in familiar ways— even though they are not moral ways— solely in order to keep the girl's mind stable and steady as she introduces new ideas. Bucky finds himself doing some of the same, using the girl's hero-worship of the Winter Soldier to introduce new concepts as things he would endorse, and which must therefore be very desirable indeed.

It feels manipulative, but on the other hand it also feels like there is no better choice.

Her awe that there could possibly be things he didn't already know just cements how effective of a tactic leaning on her admiration could be. "Well," he muses, "I'm not teaching anyone else right now. Not in the way I used to teach your sisters, at least, and not in the way I would have taught you years ago. Leaves me plenty of time just for you." He quirks half a smile that is more sad than anything else, though it would be impossible for her with her limited emotional breadth to understand why. "You can have private lessons.

"For now, I think you should keep looking for that cat," he muses. "And try to find out if he's out to hurt people or scare them. Then we can decide what to do about him." He glances back in the direction from which they came, transparently thinking of the people who Juno interrupted. "I should probably go make sure those two aren't doing something stupid."

One day, Juno may yet manage to fulfill Elena's hopes for her. Maybe she could even meet Bucky's.

It may be manipulative to coax her this way. But until another method reveals itself, what choice does he have if he wants to make a difference here - to use Juno to begin to right the countless wrongs his hands did under the Soviets and HYDRA?

He offers to teach her. She'd thought that the opportunity had been lost years ago and now— her eyes light up at the idea of private lessons, whatever that might mean. They sound special! "Thank you! I won't make you regret it," she vows, beaming up at him.

And she even gets to keep on with her self-appointed 'correct' mission. For an evening that started out so poorly, it's absolutely turned around. "I will. I'll find out everything I can." She follows his gaze in the direction of the club. "—Oh. Yes, the man seemed like he needed help." Juno looks up at him, determination etching itself across her face and nesting behind her eyes. She takes a step backward as if to release him. "Good luck! … And watch out for the cat."

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