Counting Crows

March 20, 2017:

James Barnes decides to drop by John's flat in Brooklyn to check on him — and raid his fridge for Chas' cooking. Instead of finding the Englishman on bedrest, however, he catches him sneaking out (sloppily) to see Zatanna, and nearly gives John a heart attack in the process. The two catch up a bit about the usual roster of dire crises, someone is turned invisible just on a lark, and there's a lot of talk about crows.

Brooklyn

…It's in New York.

Characters

NPCs: Chas Chandler

Mentions: Papa Midnite, Zatanna Zatara, Jane Foster, Jessica Jones, Gottfried Muller, Chas Chandler, The Dark Devil

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's just another New York City evening, and the start of the work week means there are ever-so-slightly less people out and about on the streets, which suits John Constantine fine, because he has had it with being stuck in bed.

Technically, Jessica Jones' internal observation that nothing could actually keep him on bed rest if he didn't want to be is true, but John grasps that Chas is only enforcing that bed rest because he'd been sick to death with worry over John and Zee going missing, and John, for all of his characteristic assholery, doesn't want to upset the man who has been there for him through countless bad years by disregarding his advice.

So he'll do the next best thing: he'll disregard it behind Chas' back.

It's not difficult to set up the illusion: a perfect imitation of himself beneath the blankets, curled up and sleeping, changing position periodically for authenticity's sake. He uses pillows for the effect and casts the glamour on top of them, and unless Chas actually attempts to touch the illusory John, the effect ought to hold for as long as it needs to.

His usual attire for 'doing nothing' serves perfectly well for even a brisk evening's walk: the sweatpants with the shockingly fashion-forward cut, the low hems loosely bunched atop lean calves, laceless black converse, long-sleeved thermal t-shirt and grey hooded sweatshirt need only the addition of a lightweight jacket and slightly slouchy knitted hat to keep him insulated enough. Of course, with the hat on, the hood up, and a duffel bag slung over his back with the strap crossing his chest, he looks like he's about to break into someone's home and steal their shit, but needs must.

It's obvious immediately that he's up to something, because he props the manhole cover leading down into the flat's hatch entrance open and scans up and down the block for a full thirty seconds before he hauls himself through it, and he closes it quietly, as well. There's a kind of victorious swagger to the way he begins to stroll up the street, every inch like a kid playing hooky on a school day..right up until Chas turns the corner a block up from him.

Who knew John could move that quickly? Blue eyes barely have time to widen before he reverses gears, turns and ducks into a sidestreet at as inconspicuous a jog as possible, planting his back to the wall and throwing a put-upon look upward at the heavens. Really?

Bucky had been on his way to John's flat to see him after the whole Hell ordeal, when he had beheld a most unusual sight some considerable distance down the street, a sight he could pick out clearly— despite the low light and the distance — due to his enhanced vision: a manhole in the street sliding surreptitiously open, and what looks like the worst thief ever poking his head out. This singular hoodlum scans for a full thirty seconds before easing out into the street in a self-congratulatory manner.

Bucky's brows lift slightly in mute question.

Good as his eyes are, he still couldn't quite identify the man from this distance given the hoodie— up until the sight of Chas Chandler turning the corner up ahead caused the mysterious and rather stereotypically-dressed man to do a double-take and run for it. At that moment, sudden realization hits him. Oh. NOW he knows who that guy is.

Bucky contemplates this a moment, and then he too gets moving, swiftly and silently.

John Constantine manages to evade his erstwhile jailor without incident, it seems, getting back down the street and down the sidestreet at a very inconspicuous (not very inconspicuous) jog. Once safely down the street far enough that he won't be seen by casual passerby on the main street, he pauses, back to the wall, to throw a put-upon look to the heavens. Why does this always happen to him?

Of course, what he may not be expecting is for the heavens to be looking back: in the unlikely shape of James Buchanan Barnes, perched on a fire escape overhead in a crouch, elbows on his knees and head canted quizzically. "Sneaking's not so easy as it looks," he commiserates. "You want my official grade on that?"

What he most certainly does not expect is to see James 'The Motherfucking Winter Soldier' Barnes looking down at him from a fire escape, no. He visibly startles, to the extent that his knees bend and he duck-leans to the side, one of his hands lifted to splay atop his head protectively. His instinct for dodging has kept him alive more than once. John is not a gifted ninja, but he's a tremendously good run-away-er.

"JESUS CHR—" And then he bites that back because god only knows if Chas will overhear it, shooting a look upward full of thunderclouds under sharply knitted brows, straightening. "Oh, you cheeky…cunting…" The words are a fierce whisper, and he punctuates them with a point of the index finger that he jabs upward. "No I bloody well don't! An' I'll have you know, mate, I didn't expect to have to sneak on the street, so you just…put a pin in that judgey look!"

It's just not very often that anyone gets the drop on John, truth be told, and apparently, doing that makes him ridiculous.

With his tiny rant delivered, he stares up at Barnes, spreading his arms, palms up. "Are you comin' down from there or did you fancy doing this 'world's twattiest crow' impression for a bit longer? Because far be it from me to interrupt. I can always go an' have my 'eart attack in the next alley over."

It's a pretty good dodge reflex. Bucky is impressed by it, even if he wasn't impressed by the sneaking.

The judgey look, at the least, does wipe away under the torrent of John's indignation and his vehement pointing, though what replaces it— an amiable grinning— probably isn't that much better. Being called a 'cheeky cunting' something really takes him back. Like seventy-five years ago back. Once upon a time, Bucky spent a lot of time around British soldiers.

"No shame," he does say, because really, he is 'the motherfucking Winter Soldier.' It would be a bit like being ashamed to lose a chess match to Bobby Fischer. "I've been sneaking up on people for decades. It was my whole job."

His metal arm whines to life with an articulation of metal, clamping securely down on the rail of the fire escape so Bucky can swing over it and drop soundlessly to the ground in front of John. "Twattiest crow act is over," he grins, shoving his hands in his pockets. He spares John the knowledge of how he'd grade his sneaking. "I was on the way over to see you. I was under the impression from Jane that you were under house arrest."

John scowls at the grin, but it's a superficial scowl at best, much like the rest of his flailing agitation. Barnes has seen John genuinely angry before — as he leaned over Gottfried Muller's dying body, with his thumb jammed into the bullet hole in the man's groin — and by comparison, this is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Besides, he's not unhappy to see Bucky, really. There are few enough people in his life that he considers friends, with whom he does not also have some sort of working relationship — like his quasi-mentorship of Jane, or whatever understanding he has with Ritchie — and he's been starved for human interaction for months. The cranky look is quick to fade.

"I am," he tells Bucky, glancing at the mouth of the alley, and then tilting his head in the opposite direction, a wordless invitation for James to tag along. "But bollocks to that. If I spend another bleeding minute in bed I'm going to go barking. 'tanna's been trying to respect Chas' wishes and leave me be to rest, but bollocks to that as well. I think a trip to Gotham's in order."

He side-eyes Bucky. "You know, if I really wanted to make sure nobody saw me, I'd uranun caripe baglen ol gemeganza de-noan chiis gosaa, zamicmage oleol ag-sapah arphe oresa ethamz taa tabegisoroch." There's no change to the tone of his voice as he slips from English into a language that was most definitely not part of Bucky's Super Assassin Spy training package. He's conversational about it, inflecting the words that roll fluidly off of his tongue as though he expects Bucky understands what they mean, and in the end he cocks his brow, smiles a small smile, as if to say, 'how about that?' and reaches out to clap James Barnes on the back.

The moment his hand makes contact with Barnes, Barnes wholly disappears.

He's there. He still exists. He's just absolutely invisible to the naked eye, and John says nothing about it. He'll let Bucky figure that out for himself.

"Anyway, I was surprised you didn't turn up with Foster yesterday, honestly. S'pose that's because I'd not seen her since…everything." Two more steps, and another sidelong glance that is unerringly capable of picking out where James is — possibly because John cast the spell to begin with. "We 'ad a chat about Midnite," he says, leadingly.

Bucky told Jane what his life would look like right now if he hadn't had human connections to lean on in the wake of his emergence from the persona of the Winter Soldier. It would have been a solitary, cold life, a hard life centered entirely around the seeking of vengeance— a life drenched in the blood of those who had wronged him for decades. A life of continued killing. A life where he never really did fully take the mantle of the Winter Soldier from his shoulders.

It's people like John, with their friendship and their offered ties back to what it means to be human, which kept this path from happening.

Not that Bucky really says so much. It's not in his nature to really speak feelings aloud. It's implied through the ease of his grins, his light teasing, his tolerance of John's faux-crankiness. It's an odd friendship at first glance, to be sure — mage and assassin, time-lost soldier and irreverent occultist— but then again if you dig a little the similarities between John and James get a bit starkly clear.

Bucky does look a little disappointed when John says he's going to Gotham and NOT back to the flat, though. "Oh. I was hoping to steal more food from Chas. Next time. I guess we do still have a bunch of what he sent back with Jane last time."

He falls in willingly enough, however, except for the slight puzzled pause when John suddenly starts talking in magic-ese so he can one-up him with magic. The effect isn't immediately obvious to himself— he glances down and sees everything he's supposed to — though the next place he looks is in a window, and he certainly doesn't see everything he's supposed to there. "Am I invisible?" he says. "Shit, I'm invisible. …How long does it last?" Asked as if he's going to Get Up To Shit if John isn't careful.

Regardless of the answer, he seems quite copacetic about continuing to walk alongside John. He's already got a sleep trigger wired into him by the man: trust is not particularly an issue. "I was busy beating the shit out of Jessica, probably," he says. "She needs shaping up and I suppose I am qualified to do the shaping." He does miss a fraction of a step when John says he and Jane chatted about Midnite, however.

"…So I heard," he says. "I tried keeping it under control, but Jane Foster will be an idiot."

"Oh, I see how it is," John sniffs, sliding his thumb beneath the strap of the duffel bag on his back. "You're just using my debilitated condition — " Yes, clearly, he is utterly helpless, " — as an excuse to pillage my refrigerator." Two steps after that he quirks a wry, knowing look. "Chas is a kitchen magician, inne?"

When Barnes realizes what's been done to him, John barks a laugh, and it's a bright, sharp thing, entirely open. It causes a sizzling sort of smile to linger on his face, wide enough to cause those earliest suggestions of crow's feet at the corners of his eyes to appear. And then Barnes asks him 'how long,' and John gives an answer that may not be the most reassuring: "Ehhhhh, I don't know. It depends." He considers, then shrugs. "Couple of hours, maybe?"

Sky blue eyes tick sidelong at Bucky, scrutinizing features that he has caster's privilege of still being able to see. "You're taking that in stride awfully well for a man who looked deeply unsettled by magic the first time we met. Am I becoming old hat? Need to step up my game?"

His companionable demeanor shifts just enough to allow his brow to rise when Bucky says he was beating on Jessica, but he clarifies that remark quickly enough to avoid causing the Englishman concern. He thinks that over for a moment: Jessica Jones, under the combat tutelage of James Barnes. It inspires a feeling of approval, alongside gratitude that both of those individuals are theoretically on his side most of the time. "Well, that's only a little terrifying," he says lightly, with characteristic British dryness.

And then…

Then heavier things.

Not much changes in John's expression at first, even when Bucky calls Jane Foster an idiot. "The cleverer a person is, the dumber the mistakes they make," he intones sotto. He ought to know. He resembles that remark. "But it sounds like she was doing what she did to keep you out of it. What in the bloody hell did you offer him that was so bad she had to come back over the top with 'anything?'" He screws his brows in puzzlement, slants Barnes a look.

"I'm using it as an excuse to pillage Chas's refrigerator. You're lucky he puts up with you so you get access to that kitchen wizardry 24/7," James replies archly. "If it were just you, I wouldn't be by at all."

Probably because if it were just John, he'd be getting turned invisible all the time. Not that Bucky particularly minds, after an initial puzzled few looks around to try to figure out what the hell John just did. The moment of confusion is worth it just for that laugh John barks out— an actual, open laugh, one which James is keenly aware is as rare from the magician as it is from him himself, and for some of the same reasons: first and foremost all the blood on their hands.

The answer as to how long it lasts is sufficiently vague, however, that Bucky turns a rather unimpressed look on John. "Then you get to put up with my company until it wears off," he decides. "I'm not coming back out here in a couple days because I'm still invisible and scaring the piss out of Jane."

Speaking of things that scare the piss out of people: Bucky laughs when John observes it's rather terrifying he's teaching Jessica proper combat. "Stay on her good side, and you'll have no reason to fear," he nods.

John notes that Bucky's taking it rather well in stride, for a man who was deeply unsettled the first time around. The former assassin contemplates this, scratching at his jaw. "Not old hat. I just already let you do something a lot more impactful," he says, a moment of seriousness returning. "And I've been to Hell since then, which kind of blows everything else out of the water." He hesitates, before adding more slowly, "Besides, the first time we met… the Winter Soldier and I aren't really— the same person, I guess. What personality he had was different from mine. He wouldn't adapt to new ideas that weren't mission-related. He wasn't… built to."

It probably says something that he refers to himself in this split-personality way… two men in one body. Four men, actually, at this rate: Bucky Barnes from Brooklyn, Sergeant Barnes of WW2, the Winter Soldier… and whatever he is now.

The heavier tone persists when John prods him about the deal with Midnite. There's only one reason Jane would make such a desperate deal, and John intuits correctly that it was to keep James out of it. His expression closes a little when John asks the critical question. What exactly did he offer that was bad enough Jane had to say 'anything.'

"…Me," he eventually admits reluctantly. "One use of my skills." He makes a face. "One. I think one-upping with 'anything' was going a bit far."

"Ohhhh no," John says, both brows jumping upward as Bucky informs John that he's sticking around until the spell wears off. "Oh no you don't. I'm going to see 'tanna, Barnes." One of his brows remains arched, the other settling. It's a very pointed look. "You're a mate, don't get me wrong, but I'm not inviting you along to have it off with my bird an' I." After a beat, a crooked slash of a smile cuts its way across that arch look. "Even if I wanted to — and I don't — I'm a man much diminished, Barnes. I'm not fit for team sports yet." Turning his gaze back to the fore, he rolls his shoulder, hoists his duffel bag's weight by tucking a small upward hitch into one of his steps. "You'll just have to find some way to entertain yourself after I get to Shadowcrest. People dream of being invisible, you know. Like it's a sodding super-power. Enjoy it, that's my advice. Put a sheet on and and wander around the mall, I don't know."

Jokes must be set aside when the talk turns, though. The Winter Soldier is a delicate subject, though John has no difficulty accepting what Bucky says — that they aren't the same person. He's known both men, and that rings true for him. "I s'pose being turned invisible and winding up in some bloke's bizarre kink fantasy aren't exactly the same thing, either," he grudgingly admits, memory flicked backward down that path to their meeting — what, three months ago? Less? Christ. It seems like three lifetimes ago. For Barnes, that's almost actually true, John supposes.

'Me,' says Bucky, of the thing he promised Midnite. One 'use of his skills.' John can hear the reluctance, sense it in the pause that prefaces the admission, and he weighs that alongside the thing itself.

"Well, I'm not exactly surprised she intervened, am I? I don't think she wants you having to run about anymore, murdering prats on command. But you're not wrong about 'anything,' anyway."

There are things associated with this line of discussion that he wants to know, but he isn't sure how to broach the subject, or even that he ought to. The questions are intimate, extremely personal, and they are, after all, out on the street, not an especially good environment for posing questions that can only be answered with confidences. The debate over whether or not to ask is written openly in his face as he studies the profile of the man beside him. Tentatively, he begins: "…so…about that. How…" Hesitation. "How much of what you were do you still want to be?" Pause. "I mean — speaking off the record, Barnes, between you and I. The birds like to think we're good men top to bottom, but I know I'm not. Not that I mind that 'tanna thinks so," he admits, "But I know better. Can't be. That's not the point of me." Another pause. "What about you? You've got the chance to start over, right?" Silence for two, three steps. "Are you going to?"

Bucky lifts both hands in 'wow OK no' as John makes it perfectly clear what he's off to do. Or who. "Sneaking off from supervision and into her window at night, are you?" he grins. "You're making me feel my age." If he were Steve he might have been scandalized by the threesome implication; he's not, and people still had sex in the forties, so he's not particularly scandalized at all, if politely disinterested in the activity.

He lowers them again as John suggests other things he could do with his invisibility. "Can think of a lot of things this would have made a lot easier to do, had I had it earlier," he grumps. "None of them involved wearing a sheet."

The conversation turns inevitably to more serious matters, however, as most of their conversations must: like water, it's always going to swirl down the drain sooner or later. He grimaces a little as John points out he's not surprised Jane intervened, because there's 'having blood on his hands as the Winter Soldier' and 'having blood on his hands as James Barnes' and those two things are the furthest from being equivalent possible. The Winter Soldier could kill innocents, no problem. Bucky Barnes? It'd damage what's left of his soul.

He doesn't say anything in response, though, which gives John ample opening to work up the nerve for that more personal question. It makes James pensive, a little withdrawn; his hands reach on instinct for a pack of cigarettes. He taps one out, offers John one should the man want one, lights up.

"Well," he finally says, words carried out on a cloud of smoke, "that's not really the point of me either. You know? Being good from top to bottom. I think the last time I was that was, I dunno… 1942. When I was still in basic. Before they shipped me out to North Africa. Now… being good through and through, that's the point of Steve. He was— is— the good man. Me? Even before the Winter Soldier, I was already doing the stuff he couldn't be seen doing on the newsreels. I was the sniper and the spy, even then."

His eyes are distant. "That meant watching a lot of men up close and personal through a scope, going about their business, unaware I was half a mile off waiting to pull the trigger. Meant watching the death up close when I did decide to kill them. Meant penetrating behind enemy lines to kill people at their watchposts." He grimaces. "That was quiet work. Knife work. It was all necessary… but not good."

He shrugs. "I have the skills for it," he concludes, "the training for it, maybe the disposition. And the blood is already on my hands. I'd do a lot to keep it off the hands of others. I guess that's half of a start-over. New motive, same method."

It is very slightly disappointing that Bucky doesn't squirm with nineteen-forties American repression-induced discomfort, but as Bucky is about to remind him, the man was a soldier. It does somewhat change the parameters of what is and isn't worthy of pearl-clutching.

John does indeed want one, and takes one, though he's forced to expend just a little bit more of his personal store of magic in order to cast a little cantrip that ensures he won't get into trouble for turning up at Shadowcrest smelling like cigarettes. He was read the riot act about that seven months ago, and it occasioned his transition to cloves, which somehow, in spite of their tabacco content, manage to smell like something else entirely. Something that doesn't interfere with one of his other favorite vices.

The lighter he produces is the one Zatanna made for him. It winks, the reflection of light on its engraved silver complex in the dark, then snaps closed, disappears to wherever he pulled it from. The cigarette occupies him while he listens to Barnes talk.

And he does listen, attentively, not least because James Barnes is a fascinating oddity. Even setting aside the gallows interest of the traumatic reforging he endured, he's a person torn out of time, a link to a different past — and he played a pivotal role in that past, even before the birth of the Winter Soldier. It's a past that informs all of his thoughts about the present, inevitably. It is no great trial to listen to him speak.

An unhurried amount of silence follows that assessment. It all makes sense, but it leaves John feeling something shy of satisfied.

But is that what you WANT? he wants to ask, finding nothing in all of that pragmatism to suggest that Barnes has a personal drive toward that end. That it's desired.

And what, John? Does /your/ life look the way you want it to?

He chews on his own thoughts, squints at the glare of an overhead street lamp, and sends a cloud of smoke off to his left.

"Sounds familiar enough. There's a life in there, yeah. A hard one, but a life. You're gonna want to think about that one, though. It's not something you can walk back. People don't get the chance you've gotten, to reinvent everything. Not that that's easy to do, but still — people get to seeing you in one shape, and even if you tear your bloody hair out trying to become something else, even if you do become something else, most of them are going to go on seeing that shape. The world puts it on you. You have this very bizarre chance to fuck with that, mate, because nobody quite knows what kind of man's going to come out of it all. All what you've been through."

He contemplates for a moment. "Tell you the truth, I'm not sure if I'd change, if I landed in your shoes. I can't say. Don't know. I know I'd give it a hell of a lot of thought, though."

What he doesn't say is that he expects Barnes is going to run into some resistance on the part of the woman Barnes has thrown his lot in with, if he decides he's comfortable straddling the line between two different halves of his past. That borders on relationship advice, and like hell he's going there.

"You might need some of that when we get down to dealing with Midnite, anyway. That motive-and-method. Foster's put herself in a bad spot. I think we have time to figure it out, but it's not something I want to sleep on." He moderates his tone and his expression, but it isn't difficult for a former spy to prise out the subtle changes in John's body language that say he's worried.

In trolling Steve, John will be sure to get all the 1940s repression discomfort he could ever want— and likely even more. Bucky, on the other hand, seems more like 'what God put on Earth to balance out Steve.' In cursing alone he seems determined to more than doubly make up for Steve's deficiencies, and in 'getting around,' well, James was a soldier, and before that he liked a good dance, in every sense of the word.

In fact, given the fact he is objectively a centenarian and the fact most people honestly just know him from dry history books, it might be Bucky more liable to induce discomfort in the youth around him via implication of his activities than the other way around.

Fortunately, that part of the conversation is over. Less fortunately, the topic that replaces it is much more somber in nature. Nicotine doesn't work for James like it used to, but it's more the familiarity of the actions that he's looking for when he lights up, the small rituals of it keeping his hands busy as he thinks… and ultimately makes his reply.

It is, as John privately observes, an answer that is long on pragmatism and duty, and short on any indication of actual personal wants and desires.

He says as much, in a roundabout sort of way… keeping it a suggestion to 'think about it' rather than an injunction to do anything directly, per se. "It is something I've thought about," he admits. "But I don't know if I'd ever get away from the shadow of the Winter Soldier. He did so much, too much that it would… I couldn't disavow any of it without doing those I killed and hurt a disservice. No matter how I reinvent myself, the Winter Soldier will be in the foundations. Probably the best I can do is make that my own."

He falls silent as John mentions he might need some of that to help untangle this Jane situation, anyway. James glances to the side at John, reading the subtle markers of worry in the other man's stance and expression. It tempts him to worry as well, but he pushes down the urge beneath a cloak of calm assessment.

"Got any initial thoughts? He was explicit about considering the deal reneged upon, if you interfered," James says. "Not a threat I want to take lightly."

People they've passed on the sidewalk have been given John plenty of askance looks as he converses with a patch of what is, for them, empty air, but he doesn't even really seem to notice. He knows that they are, he's aware of it, but he's long since severed whatever pieces of the human psyche are vulnerable to public opinion. He would never be able to do what he does if that mattered to him.

He doesn't respond to Bucky's thoughts about how much of his history he's obligated to shoulder, because that isn't a thing that needs his opinion about it. That's a line that James Barnes must draw for himself so that he can go on living with himself; no amount of John's perspective on the issue matters, in the end — as is only right and proper, really. A man has to decide for himself which burdens he needs to shoulder.

So it's Jane's situation, then, and the traces of worry in him are handily ousted by the reminder that Midnite foresaw, and planned for, John's inevitable interjection of himself into the arrangement. Annoyance replaces worry in an instant. "So I hear. Christ, is that man a pain in my arse." Which speaks, on some level, to Midnite's capabilities. John isn't daunted by much, but Midnite is a minefield of complications.

"He's not someone we can just…" He gropes for the words, lifts one hand and gives a snap of the wrist, a dismissive gesture. "Roll over. Midnite essentially runs vast swaths of New York's occult scene. He's heavily involved in organized crime, as well. He's grown into the city like an invasive weed. And I didn't say this to Foster, but I'm pretty goddamn sure he knew 'tanna and I might get out, and that's why he decided to put on a show of being helpful." The thunderclouds Barnes saw earlier in the alley when he startled the bejeezus out of John come rolling back in, daggering his brows together. "So now, not only does he have a favor from Jane to hold onto — meaning first of all he's got a powerful favor in his pocket, and the additional side benefit, second, of my knowing that he's got it, to help keep me in line — he's also set things up so that he looks as though he's done us a favor by even considering helping you, favor or not. In my community, that's…" The words trail off. His tightens his jaw once. "It means if I do what I'd usually do, jerk him around, find a loophole and put my foot up it, I'm the one who's going to come out looking like a prat. It's not that I don't have a reputation for being the kind of man who'll put a shiv in your back as soon as look at you, because I bloody well do, but this is something on a different scale, mate. Everybody knows I'm dangerous when I'm working, because I do what I've got to do, but this is not work. This is a deal between two people who aren't me, and it was agreed to by everybody involved. Pissing about with that would burn bridges, and people who don't like each other and don't like me would be very suddenly more willing to work together to make my life difficult. I can't risk it at the moment. There's too much happening already."

Coming from John, that is an unusually extensive explanation of his interior train of thought, but this is Barnes' woman they're talking about. "Anyway, I'm not saying there's nothing to be done, just that it's going to have to be handled carefully, and we'll have to be very sure we can pull it off, whatever it is."

John doesn't push the topic of how much James Barnes should reinvent himself or try to shed the Winter Soldier, and James himself doesn't try to cling to the topic or discuss it at length. What he said earlier was already a long speech by his standards, especially given it was about things that Bucky is not used to verbalizing in the first place.

He was raised that what went on between a man's ears was his own business and his own problem to handle.

It seems John's words have had an impact, at the least, judging by the pensive look on James' features. Certainly he doesn't want to continue being the cold, machine murderer that he once was, but at the same time to completely shed that identity and pretend to be something wholly new… seems disingenuous to him, disingenuous and too pat and easy. Perhaps ultimately, that inability to not take responsibility for all the evil he has done is, ironically, what makes him still such a good man at his core.

However, one can be a good man, but not necessarily a good man, and nowhere is that more evident than the look in his blue eyes as John speaks more at length about the man who calls himself 'Papa Midnite.' He quickly grasps what John suspects— that this show of benevolence was not truly any favor done, but instead a way to secure an obligation from some of John's friends and increase his own social currency in occult circles— and that darkens his expression further.

"Essentially we have two choices," he eventually boils it down. "Two reasonable ones, anyway. Pull off whatever he winds up asking of her, or figure out a way to trick him in turn."

His features are completely expressionless. "If it comes to it, and he asks something completely unreasonable of her, I haven't ruled out handling him how I've always handled these things."

He takes the cigarette from his mouth, watches the smoke curl from its end without really seeing it, ashes it. "You're gonna tell me how much of a bad idea that is, or all the ways it wouldn't work. Short of him being immortal like your other 'friend,' though… I've pulled off some ridiculous shit before. When you have no care for or conception of personal consequences…"

John's nod says everything, really: the two choices as Barnes outlines them are more or less the choices they have, yes. He does glance over as Bucky continues onward, though, and while his expression doesn't radically change, it changes just enough to confirm what Bucky already knew, which is that John was going to tell him both of the things he expected to hear.

"It is a bad idea, and it probably wouldn't work," he agrees, tone casual. "But more to the point and likely more in the vein of what you're actually concerned about, it probably wouldn't protect Foster."

They draw up to a cross-street where the light isn't in their favor, and when the stop he half-turns to look at Barnes directly. "It comes to that, I won't be telling you not to try, but that's my best guess, knowing what I do. Like I told Foster, though…I think we've got some time. I don't think he's going to be keen to burn that favor straight-off. There are dangerous things happening in our world at the moment. Even leaving aside his desire to dick me over, it's a good time to have tricks up one's sleeve, and that favor's not small. He'll probably hang onto it for an emergency."

Probably.

Bucky sort of knew that John would not be keen on him handling things 'as he knows how,' though it's something he puts on the table anyway: a reflex to respond to a problem with the tools he knows. It would be tempting for most to take the reticence in response as an impugnment of their efficacy or their skills, but Bucky has been around more than long enough to figure out that some round problems can't be fixed with square solutions, so to speak. No matter how good the guy with those solutions is.

The world of magic opens countless variables and possibilities that defy natural laws, and ultimately so much of what James Barnes does is grounded in very elemental physics— so much so he sometimes dreams in parabolic motion, his mind a track graven deeply with thoughts on wind direction, wind speed, bullet drop, terminal ballistics— and in immutable biological facts, like how fast a man will die if his carotids are compressed, and how that will vary whether James uses a garrote or his bare hands.

There are laws in how James works, laws that afford him the ability to be very precise, and he is sure there are laws in how John works as well, but the laws over on John's side of the fence are foreign as hell, and he's not entirely sure they're as immutable as his own.

So he doesn't necessarily argue. Especially when John points out that just slashing off the serpent's head might not help the basic problem, anyway, though it would certainly be temporarily satisfying.

"It would be a last resort kind of thing," he sighs. "Yeah. Well, hope he hangs onto it to save his own ass, rather than use her to fuck over someone else— or the world," Bucky says, with the grim tones of a man who was used primarily for those latter two scenarios, and is adamant it not happen to Jane. "If he does the first bit of research into her and what she's capable of doing, he'd know her talents are best used that way."

He glances at the light. Still red. "This 'dangerous stuff.' It's tied to that asshole in Germany? Or more?" If Jane is going to be involved…

"He'll find out about her, if he doesn't know already. He's a major player. With Midnite the best policy is to assume the worst at the very least, and go from there."

The light at the crosswalk ticks over, and John joins the rest of the accumulated pedestrians in stepping off of the curb, giving the duffel slung on his back another hitching hike upward as he does so.

He isn't quick to answer the last question, though not for lack of having an answer. "More," he says, finally. "Everything, technically. It's everywhere. It's influencing everything. I don't want to get into it here, but I'll tell you more when we get ready to cross the pond." Three paces on, he tosses Barnes a knowing, rakish grin. "It's bad news, of course." Hence the grin: what other kind of news could John possibly have to give?

"Possible-apocalypse bad, actually, but why d'you think I'm in New York to begin with? I've not been sitting on my own thumb all this time, and Ritchie? The work Foster's doing with him? It's all connected. I'm still trying to put the pieces together, but…" He lapses into a momentary silence as they ascend the far curb and he turns them to the left. "The contact who put me onto it when I was in Louisiana seems to believe I can do something about it. I've no idea why he thinks that, because he's a cryptic wanker, but what am I going to do — sit this one out? Anyway, once we square Germany away, it'll be time to get down to brass tacks on it."

Assume the worst, John says. "I'm real good at that, at least," Bucky mutters, as they start to cross. Despite being invisible and thus constantly having to dodge pedestrians who have no idea he's there, he doesn't seem to be having actual trouble. That's probably to be expected, what with long years of practice in moving through crowds undetected; at John's side, he cuts through the oblivious traffic like a shark. His movements would like as not separate him from the people around him even without the benefit of invisibility.

He is patient as John thinks about his question. He can recognize the silence of 'the answer being complicated' rather than 'the answer being unknown,' and he affords John the time to compose his response. Of course, when it comes, it's 'more,' and 'everywhere,' and 'influencing everything,' words which bring James to frown pointedly. Bad news, of course, and there'll be more to tell later in a more secure area. But it's definitely apocalypse bad.

"You're a bit of a crow, aren't you," he observes, though not maliciously.

"Well," he eventually says, "I hadn't actually thought about why you were in New York, though I suppose your kind hops around working jobs same as my kind. Apocalypse sounds bad, though, so you know…" He lifts a shoulder. "You've got Jane on it, so count my help as well. Beyond whatever we do in Germany."

A pause, then a rueful, crooked grin. "I'll probably regret it, but, I dunno. I'll call it my penance work."

A body might learn a lot about moving through the world unseen by watching Barnes do something as simple as walking down the street. But that, much as John said earlier, isn't the point of him: he knows what he does well, and as much as the thought of being physically imposing has its masculine, pragmatic, and — yes — vain allure, he's also aware that he's not prepared to set aside what he does and take up trying to become something he's not.

Besides, he might have to give up smoking. Not everyone has the benefit of a serum working for them.

John blinks at that unexpected assessment — that he's a crow — but he speaks to the latter issues first. "I'm not going to sugar coat it: you'll definitely regret it, because it's not likely to be enjoyable or safe, even if I can promise you it won't be dull. But on the other hand…if it's really apocalypse material, it's already sort of your problem, innit? So you may as well throw your hat in the ring."

He finally draws to a halt outside of the mass transit station that will ferry him across the river, to Jersey…and Gotham. When he does, he aims an arch look at his companion. "Anyway, what is this, 'call your mate a crow' day? What d'you mean?"

It is equal parts long experience and the benefit of the serum that make James Barnes someone of note to watch even just walking down a street. The preternatural qualities of his physicality enhance what is already there, rather than providing it in whole. It is not that he walks like a cat, precisely— there is not so much delicacy about it— but morelike the loping, sure stride of a wolf, easy and calm and with a constant, faintly predatory air.

The latter bit might be attributable to the lingering influence of the Winter Soldier.

Bucky seems to have a thought on what kind of animal John reminds him of, a thought that seems to surprise John, though Constantine addresses business first. A wry half-smile crosses his face when John confirms he'll definitely regret it, though at the least it won't be dull and it sure as hell will be necessary. "I'm not keen on dying just yet, whatever people might think," he says, "so there's that."

He stops when John does, a blue eye canting towards the other man when he asks exactly what this crow business means. Bucky lifts a shoulder in a shrug. "Crows," he says, clarifying absolutely nothing. "They usually mean bad news, don't they?" He folds his arms pensively. "Is that no longer a thing? Am I dating myself?"

He considers this a moment. "Well, either way, my friendship with you doesn't extend so far as setting foot in Jersey if I don't have to, and I figure you'd sooner be rid of my company for obvious reasons. So until next time."

The puzzlement in John's expression clears instantly when Bucky explains his line of thinking. "Ah. That's because corvids are considered psychopomps. Entities that guide the dead to the afterlife. It was just a very small leap of logic to assume that having them 'round means someone's going to die." The corner of his mouth quirks. "There's a whole comic that plays on the concept, you know. Movie based on it and everything. The actor was killed on-set when they were filming it." Blue eyes widen theatrically, and he lifts one hand, trills agile fingers. "Ooooh, creepy."

The quirk turns into something less subtle, expanding into a wide flash of white as he drops his head and scuffs one sneaker, the trembling of shoulders and chest enough to signify the laugh that doesn't quite manage to find his voice. He sucks in a breath as he lifts his head. "Ah, don't put it that way. 'Rid of my company' sounds so bloody self-effacing. Think of it as…" He mulls. "…turning you loose on an unsuspecting city. An' I'm sorry, but I've been without her for two months, more or less. I'm only human. I've got needs, mate." He lifts one hand and delivers an affable punch to Bucky's shoulder as he passes, en route to the doors. "I'll be in touch. You owe me cupcakes."

As if he were just going to let that slide.

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