You Could Also Try, "Friend."

March 18, 2017:

Takes place the day before The Most Beautiful Place and Blowing up the Rabbit Hole. Bucky Barnes gives Jessica Jones another lesson. The PI takes the opportunity to ask about Juno Hart. The conversation brings her a sense of great purpose, and an even greater gift.

Brooklyn, NY

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Steve Rogers, Juno Hart, T'challa, Grymalkin

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Jessica has been practicing the exercises Bucky set for her every day it was feasible to do so. He'd also said work on flexibility, which is why the woman ventured into a yoga studio. Twice, in fact. It was an uncomfortable and strange experience she's not sure she's going to repeat, because it hasn't done much to change her perception that yoga is lame. Then again she might. She's hungry to get better, hungry to learn. Jogging isn't fun either, nor is running, but she's been running and leaping over buildings, pushing herself in that manner as well.

Which led to at least one humiliating incident where she basically slammed into a building that was out of her range, much like a bug, and sort of slid down the side of the thing with her face throbbing. There are still a few bruises from the Battle of the Building dotting her face, not yet healed, because said battle was in fact just this morning.

She had texted Bucky this morning to see if he might have a little time for her today; she'd also mentioned she had something she wanted to ask him about in regards to a case she caught.

Now she sticks her head into this empty building that Bucky and Jane managed to find and run electricity to. She looks left and right, curious, then enters, taking off her jacket much as she had before. Beneath, she's wearing a battered old holey pair of jeans, and an older tank top, now understanding that having Bucky teach her might mean a lot of time spent slammed into the floor. She's got her hair pulled back and out of the way.

—-

Bucky texted back rather promptly that he would be around, and sent an address to meet him at. He's there already when Jessica arrives, pacing slowly back and forth in the open space, transparently limbering up. He's not dressed any more formally than Jessica, is, in jeans and an old t-shirt.

He glances over unerringly as she enters, blue eyes finding her even in the semi-dark of the half-lit space. "Hey," he says, turning to face her. "Saw you've been working on some of those lessons."

He rolls his left shoulder with a muted whir of metal, looking amused. The low light gleams up and down the exposed steel of the arm. "You were putting it to work in Hell."

—-

His amusement catches her off guard a little bit; Jessica gives a self-conscious half smile, not sure what's behind it, exactly. "Well…of course I worked on them. Every day." she says. "I wouldn't waste your time. I appreciate your help too much for that." She rolls her neck around a few times, mostly because he's limbering up and that seems like a good thing to do. They did it in yoga. That was one of the easier things. Just…roll your neck around. Before suddenly she was supposed to imitate dogs or snakes or cranes or whatever it was she was supposed to imitate.

Shit, does he know about the yoga? Is that why he's amused?

"So what are we working on today?" she asks, when she finally finishes rolling her neck around, not really sure what else to do towards limbering up but game to awkwardly keep making the attempt to imitate him. It's probably a little bit goofy to watch, but…it seems like in most things, she throws herself into whatever she chooses to do pretty much 100% once she decides to do it. Whether it's a case or trying to put his lessons to good use, she sinks her teeth in and doesn't let go.

—-

His amusement only seems to grow with her assertion she worked on them every day, because of course she wouldn't waste his precious time. There's a vague self-deprecating air to the amusement, as if he were puzzled about her eagerness to look up to him— and maybe felt himself a little undeserving. "Well, I appreciate the diligence," he says. "Especially from a student working hard because they want to."

There is a brief, bleak moment where much that is probably very ugly is left unsaid.

What are we working on today? Jessica asks. "I saw you've been working on the basic stuff I set you," he says. Stuff like how to stand, how to breathe, how to move, how to carry your own body in a fight. Things that one doesn't think about when one thinks about combat, because they're busy thinking about the flashy punching and backflips instead. "So we don't have to go over that again."

He gestures her closer, into the empty center of the room. "I liked how Systema did its training," he says. He doesn't talk about the context in which he learned Systema. "Sparring. Lots and lots of sparring. Slow, so your body memorizes the movements— blocking, redirecting, controlling the basic levers of the body." He nods at her. "Attack me and I'll show you."

—-

She hears the darkness. A sympathetic grimace takes over her face and it reminds her of what she's come to talk about, but…after. Instead she says, "Are you kidding? I want to learn like crazy."

At first, explanation of this thing he likes just leaves her blank faced. She's never even heard of Systema. For a moment she thinks it's a giant robot anime, before she decides that's ridiculous. Or maybe some strange cartoon about a guy who meditates in a cave and has an astral baby or something. Something like that. Then she realizes from context it must be a combat style, and the clouds clear.

She shakes off her confusion, nods her head once, centers herself with a deep breath, and comes at him. She's still relying on haymaker shaped punches, but she's tightened them in a bit, making them less telegraphy.

She still doesn't entirely understand how else to punch. She comes in with her right arm and her left, launching herself at him. He said slow, so she hesitates, trying to find the right speed. There are other sources of hesitation as well, like still not being super sure how to really launch an attack that isn't just a tackle, or a grab and sling into a wall, an attack on someone who is ready for her. Even with the demons she'd just sort of thrown herself at people from behind, dirty fighting as her go-to strategy.

She throws a kick for good measure, one of those street-stomper front kicks that's actually a bit hyper-extended and really clumsy. She's looking at him for clues and cues, not wanting to screw up.

—-

He notices the blank expression. Ah, right. "It's a Russian martial art," he says, with a bit of a wince, the reason for which she can probably guess. "Pretty practical one, as you would expect. Emphasis on a calm state of mind and control of your opponent. Keeping them corralled. Seems to go well with your strength… though admittedly, usually these things focus on a weaker person against a stronger one, and teaching them leverage, pressure points, joint locks, to get control anyway."

A pause. "So I'll teach you some striking arts also. Pure straightforward utilization of your strength."

He beckons her in afterwards, and she comes in with some more haymakers— "Yeah, put boxing top of the list," he mumbles. He doesn't even really let her get farther than the first one, because as her right fist comes in, he lifts his left arm in a block, elbow pointing forward and up, hand at his shoulder. Her strike glances off his metal limb, he steps up directly into her face, driving his blocking elbow forward until it stops an inch from her face.

The entire maneuver was executed with exaggerated slowness, yet enough fluidity for her to see how one motion leads to the next. "If we were actually fighting," he says, "I'd elbow you in the face. Then—" His left arm suddenly loops around the back of her neck, catching her in a very loose guillotine hold. " — this. Then maybe even knee you in the face, again."

He lets her go. "It's about connecting one movement to the next. Not being wasteful with your motions. Redirecting instead of just standing there and taking it." He sinks back into a combat stance. "I'm gonna throw something at you. find a way to deflect it so you can move in and open me for a counter."

As it turns out, even 'throw' is a bit of a generous word. The right cross he makes is slow and deliberate, and he can be seen almost palpably waiting for her to catch it.

"This is a cross, by the way," he says dryly. "I'm gonna teach you to throw one. You can't be any worse a student than Steve was."

—-

"Got it," she says, when he explains. She also adopts a rather rueful expression. She's been practicing the shit out of the void.

It eludes her. Every time. Calm state of mind is something she hasn't even begun to get the hang out of.

But she doesn't waste a lot of time on worrying about that, because now he's showing her what he's doing. She absorbs it, noting the block, which is a novel enough concept for her now that she's actually studying. The elbow strike is something that is familiar to her; just something she's picked up naturally, something she's even used before, though never that elegantly, never as part of a block. Then he gets her arm around the back of her neck, and she nods thoughtfully…of course, she'd have been reeling, it would have been easy to do that…

"Redirect, no waste, make them flow together," she repeats, to seal the instructions into her own memory. He says he's going to throw something and tells her to find a way to deflect.

Right cross. What can she do? It's slow, so she has a moment to…she steps back, because her instinct is to move back, and tentatively raises her fist to sort of gently bump his cross aside in what has the shape of a thought of a forearm block, outside-to-inside, even though the angle isn't great, the strike point isn't ideal and her left arm is just kind of all over the place instead of actually serving to increase the power of the blow or set her up to, say, deliver another hit.

She frowns, thinking, and goes to try to drop her blocking arm to attempt to grab his wrist, then to perhaps pull him forward into her mimed headbutt, which…for her, at least, isn't quite as terrible a move as it is for an average Joe (or Jill, as the case may be), though still maybe not great against other people in her weight and strength class. "Like…that?" None of it is particularly clean and of course it's all ridiculously slow, even slower than the cross he threw in the first place.

She also chuffs a little bit to hear that Steve was a terrible student. Steve's pretty damned phenomenal now, so there truly must be some hope for her.

—-

He watches her carefully to see how she handles the straight strike. It's not a bad idea, overall— perhaps the natural first response of someone without much training in such a situation— and he lets her carry it through to completion before he says anything.

"'Step back' is a natural reaction," he says, "but not helpful if you want to close distance and counter. You just created more space between yourself and me that you'll have to retread later when you actually attack. Hold stance and let people come to you. Hold your arm steadier when you're blocking."

He disengages from her. "Rest was fine," he says, "though obviously you wanna gauge your opponent's toughness before you go mashing your head against them."

He circles around to her side. "As for how to throw a proper punch…" He positions her with an expert eye, drilling her through the right cross first, showing her how to stand, how to fire her strike: not just from her arm or her shoulder, but up from her feet and through her hips, twisting her torso counter-clockwise to turn her arm into a piston. He shows her the left hook after, how the arm is bent more, the strike more slicingly horizontal.

"This takes me back," he murmurs, midway through. "I used to box as a kid, in school. Never thought I'd wind up still using it now, or in some of the ways I did."

—-

He can watch her commit the advice to memory, the determination on her face. Step in, not back. Maybe an elbow strike like he did rather than a headbutt, whoops. The arm…tighter. Harder.

As he positions her for the punch she follows his lead. It's an unfamilair motion, it's unfamiliar in her feet, but suddenly the light comes on and she sees the difference; sees how this is giving her more strength. As he does, she gets more confident in mimicking the movements. "So when you tried to teach Steve this, you two were still in school?"

She tightens her fists a little, frowning with focus. She definitely has more of a vicious instinct, at least, than perhaps young Steve Rogers did. Or even maybe does, really. It translates, and while it doesn't make her motions any cleaner it does take the hesitance right out.

Right cross, left hook. Right cross, left hook. Like any student with a new technique to learn, she often makes these wilder than they should be, and sometimes the stance just kind of falls away, or she forgets to twist her torso or use her arm, but she keeps at it with gusto, frowning when she becomes aware she's screwed up somehow, even if she's not entirely adept at figuring out what she's borked when she borks it.

—-

"…No," Bucky admits, as he guides her through the motions. His voice gets distant, though his actual focus on ensuring her posture and form are good never falters. Super-soldiers probably multitask way better than regular people. "Well— I was outta school by then. Steve was a year into art school."

He steps back eventually, lets her work on the muscle memory of the moves herself. She's a quick study, he can see that, though the difference in vicious instinct between her and Steve isn't actually too great. A lifetime of being physically outmatched made Steve fight like a hellcat. Steve being a good, compassionate man didn't mean he wasn't a hard man, in his way, and while Bucky wouldn't use 'vicious' as a word for him, certainly… he wouldn't use 'gentle,' either.

Bucky only steps back in periodically, to adjust her mistakes when she doesn't catch them herself. "I started teaching him cause he wanted to enlist," he said. "Idiot said he would try anything, so I tried teaching him even though I knew it probably wouldn't work."

He slants a gaze at her. "Though they probably have that written up in all the history books by now. Still can't get used to that."

—-

"The whole thing about trying to enlist a zillion times, yeah. I didn't remember the stuff about art school, or you trying to teach him. Doesn't mean it's not there," Jessica admits. "I wasn't really systematic about anything I picked up to read, but war history was never a big thing for me. Just didn't seem relevant till recently, and I've got you here to tell me war stories directly."

In grumpy old man fashion, a thought which causes a bit of a smile to quirk at her lips. "And to do a better job of it, too." She gains confidence as he corrects her mistakes, if only because he is doing that; it means she can feel free to think less and do more. Being a quick study is sort of part and parcel of what has allowed her to muddle through all the various things that have been going on, what allowed her to build a really decent firm on the strength of a 2-day PI course and some independent reading. She's not close to perfect; she's not even close to good yet, but the next time they spar what she'll be throwing are right crosses and left hooks, abandoning the old way. She can already see how they're faster, smarter punches.

Since the exercise leaves room for talking, and since they both multi-task well, she says, "Listen, while we're at this…I gotta ask you something delicate that's come up in a case. I figure if anyone knows it's you. But…last time we worked out you mentioned teenage girl assassins that were coming out of Russia. There's maybe one operating right here in New York. I figured that might not have escaped your notice, but if it had, you'd know how to find her if anyone did."

—-

"Course they didn't emphasize the art school, I guess," Bucky sighs. "Not a lot of people ever really saw that part of him. Wasn't useful to war." But a rusty chuckle leaves him when she says that she doesn't really need dry history books now she's got him here to tell her stories directly, though it's the kind of amusement that could very possibly skew bleak and dark without warning, if the wrong thing is said. Grumpy old grandpa telling grumpy old man war stories is endearing up until you get to the content of the actual stories.

Bucky, being Bucky, has stories with content darker than most.

He puts her quietly through the paces of these two basic moves until she seems to have them down; afterwards he teaches her their mirrored counterparts for completion's sake, left cross and right hook. Despite her attempt to multitask that with talking, however, his instruction hits a definite lull when she brings up teenage girl assassins from out of Russia. One of them is here.

"I'm aware of her," he says, obvious weight in his voice. "She's not one of mine, but her owner was. Her owner claims she's done with killing and that she now rehabs young killers like that girl to have normal lives." His expression is blank. "We'll see if she's lying. I have an eye on it."

—-

Jessica reverses as instructed, and gives him a quick, uncomfortable look. "I'm sorry," she says. For asking. For treading in painful waters.

"It's not really her, directly, that I need to monitor or anything. She's not even the case. I just want to find her and tell her that this cat she's been chasing…I found him. He didn't mean to scare her, and he has given his word he'll leave her alone from now on. I believe him. So she can stop breaking into hotels and stuff."

She gives a rueful half-smile. "I guess that sounds really stupid, but…I mean…if she was scared and causing all sorts of weird trouble it just made sense to try to tell her. I mean…my client did get concerned about her, wanted to know more of what's going on. Which…I guess you pretty much just told me what's going on, and that ought to basically put his mind at ease too. Though…"

Jessica frowns. "If this old student of yours is rehabbing these girls shouldn't she maybe not refer to herself as their owner?" The term offends her on deep levels, enough to make her pause in her left crosses and right hooks. She starts up again a moment later, with far more ferocity…punching at whatever injustice exists in the world that allows people, any people, anywhere, to have owners, ever.

—-

Jessica says she's sorry for bringing it up. "Don't apologize," he shrugs. "No sense disavowing what happened in my life." He disengages from her, letting her go and stepping away to observe her work on the moves from a distance, folding his arms as he paws through his own fragmented memories.

He lifts his brows as Jessica mentions that she found the cat which Juno has been chasing so assiduously, and that she just wants to find the girl to tell her to stop breaking into things in pursuit of it. "I'll tell her if I find her first. Which, can't say if that will happen. I don't exactly have a GPS on her or anything. Though she will listen if I say something to her." He does not sound entirely happy with how certain he can be about that assertion.

"Actually, if you find her first, if she won't listen to you, then tell her Winter Soldier instructs her to stop." A pause. "Unless he breaks his word."

He does turn a semi-sharp glance on her when she speaks of telling the client to set his mind at ease. "Whether you should do that depends on the client," he says. "These are former and current Soviet killers we're talking about. No matter how nice the overall intentions here, if they feel threatened… let's just say I'm taking her at her word for now, but I'm not gonna vouch or anything."

He frowns as a thought occurs to him. "Come to that, you shouldn't be looking for her if you can help it. Whatever she looks like and whatever her owner's doing with her, she's an assassin. Use the Winter Soldier line on her if she comes after you. Should cause enough doubt you can get away."

He pauses as Jessica gets rather righteously indignant about the whole 'owner' thing, however. His expression says quite clearly that the word doesn't really have the impact it does on him that it does on her, his features locked in a sort of tired old world-weariness in which such terms are just par for the course. "A lot of things 'shouldn't' happen, but they do anyway," he says. "This girl was born with a serial number for a name, and raised since birth as an object. You can't just take them off leash suddenly one day and start giving them hugs. They need to be weaned gradually off the structure they've known all their lives."

His eyes close. "We can stop referring to her owner when she can better understand the concept of not being owned."

—-

She listens carefully to all of this, but…all of her left hooks and right crosses seem to be slamming into invisible faces. Sometimes in a way that leaves her hyper-extended, in fact. She still hasn't really caught on to the role her feet should maybe be playing in this exercise, not intuitively. Often her waist work is about 30 seconds too late; twisted awkwardly after instead of during the punch. But the sentiment is there.

She can't solve all of the injustices in the world. She can't do anything about the life Bucky was forced to live. She can't make life better for tiny girl assassins. So she beats up on the imaginary sources of these problems.

Bucky says he doesn't want her anywhere near this girl; Jessica takes it at face value. What Bucky says when it comes to this stuff goes. "I can't see why she'd have any reason to even know I exist, especially if you're going to talk to her instead," she tells him.

"But I'll remember to use your name if I have to. I just want her to know, is all." A name that she can use to put an end to violence with someone she knows even now she'd never want to hurt is a valuable thing indeed, even though she can understand for herself why it would make Bucky unhappy to know that the name would carry such weight with this person.

He gives her that sharp gaze at her client, and she frowns faintly. There is such a thing as client confidentiality; but there's also such a thing as respecting Bucky's wishes on matters that clearly touch on him. "I would like to tell you who he is and where she went to gain his attention," she says slowly, "to gain your insight onto how I can best handle what he's asked of me. My read on him is that he's concerned about her, because when he came to me he wanted to exact justice from Grymalkin— the cat— on her behalf. He knows she's a child assassin already. He knew that before he stepped into my office. I don't think given what you've told me that he'd see her as a threat at all, but… I also don't know him personally. I think he's an honorable person, for whatever that's worth. I'm hesitating because I don't want to create a mess here. Normally client confidentiality issues are easy; you keep your yap shut. But you have stakes in this too."

His response to that might tell her what her own most honorable course of action is here.

He tells her why he himself uses the word owner, and for a moment her strikes falter in the air. She looks at him, her eyes once again softening with real empathy on his behalf, and on hers. She swallows and takes a breath, then strikes hard at the air again. "You know best," she says, sincerely. He's the one that has walked that specific road. Not her. Not for the first time she finds herself wanting to offer some sort of support without knowing what support to offer.

—-

"Don't extend so far," his voice cuts across her movements, calm and steady. Even in the midst of this conversation, it seems, he's still multitasking keeping an eye on her. "It benefits nothing and it'll just make it harder to recover. And watch your hips."

He offers some directions on the management of one Juno Hart afterwards, to which Jessica readily agrees— though she doesn't think Juno has any reason to know she exists. "I'd rather keep it that way, if I can help it," he says grimly, "but anything can happen, I guess. You just remember to use my name." Even if it sucks that his name only has all this currency with Soviet killers, because of his awesome record in being an even worse killer than any of them ever were.

He shakes away that thought. Jessica's conflict about telling him much about her client is obvious, and that is something he understands. "Well, I didn't tell you to tell me all about him," he says brusquely. "Use your judgment on how much you should bring him in on and whether you think he'd be endangered."

Clearly he has no clue it's the King of Wakanda. If he did, he'd probably laugh and tell her the bloody King of Wakanda can know whatever he damn well likes.

He explains, subsequently, the reasons behind the continued use of the word owner. The sympathetic look she turns on him afterwards makes him a little uncomfortable, the man glancing to one side and pulling at the links of the ID bracelet on his wrist. "When I was under Soviet control," he eventually says, "I had a name and some semblance of a backstory. I had some personality. I commanded in the field. I undertook long missions. It made it easier for me to be used in the way they wanted to use me. Once I was sold back to Hydra… they had little use for that kind of thing. They gave me no personality but to serve and to kill. Fresh out of freeze, I would kill anything in sight up until I was properly conditioned to only kill the things I was supposed to kill." A macabre sort of smile flickers over his face. "They lost a lot of handlers they way."

He lets go of the bracelet. "These girls are more in the latter category. They are just dolls. They need to be built from the ground up before they can even understand what you mean by the word 'humanity.'"

—-

"Shit," Jessica says, when she realizes she's messing up the punches. She stops, adjusts her stance, frowns in concentration, and begins again. That look of determination that he's seen on her face before briefly crosses it, tightens her eyes and focuses her concentration; there's improvement when she goes smashing into the faces of her invisible foes once more.

Use your judgment, he says, and her expressive face shifts into a wince. Her judgement turns her life and the lives of everyone around her into a series of dumpster fires. She can't even think of a good decision she's ever made right at this particular moment.

But she supposes it's not about her judgment. It's about T'challa's. She thinks his is pretty alright. Bucky's judgment is that her judgment can be trusted. Bucky might not realize just how many stupid ass mistakes she makes on a regular basis, and not just with her left cross, but she says, "Okay," and pretty much leaves it at that, because if her ability to trust herself clouds everything Bucky has at least clarified the matter of her responsibility, releasing her from responsibility to his interests and leaving her to pay attention to the responsibility to her client's.

She listens to him talk about the difference between the Soviets and Hydra and how he was treated. Her face twists in a fierce rage. He's calm, matter-of-fact about it, at least to her own ears. She sees how he shies away from her softer reaction. She can't not-react. So she has a harder one, staring ahead. Some Hydra guy in her head just flew through the building if the strength of the latest punch is any indication. She has no need to pull her strength, really, while beating at the air.

He has justifiable pride at killing those handlers, she thinks.

"Where's she at, in that process? My client tells me she didn't kill anyone when he encountered her. Is there…"

She trails off, then, exhaling in frustration. At herself, at the futility of her question to come.

She finally asks it anyway though. "Bucky, is there anything I can do to help this kid? Not because I don't think you don't have it under control. And I'm not talking about trying to meet with her. Just…I feel like I can't hear about this and not respond somehow."

—-

Bucky casts a bit of a sharp look at Jessica when she winces at 'use your judgment.' His perceptive eyes read the reason for the wince in a heartbeat. "It's my judgment your judgment is fine," he says. "You can argue with me about that if you want, but I'm not going to listen."

Despite that brief sharpness, his features are still a relative mask of calm when compared to the ferocity and anger that cross Jessica's face at hearing of his ill use over the years, though the expressions of sympathy do seem to induce a little unease. He is not a man accustomed to wearing the pity of others well, and though those others may insist to the end of time there's a difference between sympathy and pity, there's never going to be any way that they don't feel kind of the same.

He just isn't well-used to letting others— especially women— view him weak.

Where's she at in the process? Jessica asks. Bucky lifts his shoulders in a short shrug. "I don't know," he replies honestly. "I've only encountered her directly twice. She seems to have some basic conception of right or wrong, but not much more. Though actually, I don't know if you could call it a conception of right versus wrong. More like a conception of what she doesn't like versus what she does like, which she's only starting to be able to project onto other people."

He grimaces. "She still tries to solve problems 'by killing them,' though."

He falls silent when she asks what the hell she can do to help. The natural urge to protect Jessica, keep her far from such a potentially dangerous element, wars with the frustration he can hear in her voice. "Maybe so," he eventually says, cautious. "If you can establish a rapport with her using my name. You might be able to talk to her. But you can't forget what she is."

—-

He sternly tells her that her judgment is fine, and for a moment she swallows against a lump in her throat, touched. "No. I won't argue," she says quietly. There's almost an unspoken 'sir' in there again, but this time she leaves it unsaid. It had produced a bit of a reaction last time, after all, and in some ways it's maybe a weird thing to do or say.

But where Steve had inspired hero-worship in her up until the moment she watched Bucky wipe salad dressing off his mouth like he was a small child, Bucky Barnes inspires not just friendship, but a deep and abiding respect. There are others she respects, but…she can't think of anyone she's come to respect more. It matters.

He had at first told her to stay away. Now he considers a different tactic. Jessica contemplates whether she can establish a rapport. Surface rapport is easy to establish; when the target is over and done in five minutes, pretexted into helping and then released, much like a fisherman releases a bass too small to keep. Longer rapport? She's not sure.

Her face settles into a mask of true contemplation, of a consideration of her own strengths and weaknesses. "At the very least," she says at last, "I have a great escape strategy in nearly every situation. Just…leap onto the nearest building and run away. Unless she can also leap four to five stories, then I guess I could be pretty screwed. I suppose if she decided it was time to kill me and wanted to put two rounds in the back of my head from her own high vantage point I'd never know. My situational awareness isn't quite up to that challenge. But if I tell her I'm an associate of yours, and imply…"

She punches good and hard, swift and fast, cleaning up her form a little as she notices it slipping yet again. "If I imply that I answer to you," she says slowly, "she might…take that to mean that she'd have to answer to you if she ended me. That might afford more protection than a simple name drop."

—-

Even if she doesn't verbalize the 'sir' at the end of her acknowledgement, he still seems able to hear it, judging from the slight cock of his head and the brief brightness of his eyes. He does react when she says it, but it's not a negative reaction. It's grounding, in a way, bringing him back to the last time he heard it regularly… a time in his life when he fought beside Steve for a cause which was not evil, and when he knew unambiguously that even if he was not necessarily a good man, what he was doing was ultimately for something good.

It makes him feel able to merit respect again, and in turn he does not want to disrespect her through excessive coddling or protecting— much as it is his natural urge to try to keep those around him from harm. He wavers visibly on his earlier refusal to have her go near Juno, as a result, though he is still adamant on her caution in so doing.

"I don't think she can jump that high," he considers. "But she most assuredly CAN shoot that far. So you're better off using my name."

She thinks about that a bit, ruminating that establishing a relationship between them— more than just a name drop— might be more protective. "Yeah. That's what I had in mind. Make sure she understands I sent you. I doubt she would risk making me mad, killing something of 'mine.'" His expression is wry, reflecting the ridiculousness of it all.

—-

Jessica finally reads the reaction it has, and relaxes. Especially here, when he trains her, she feels the need to issue that respect. It was the same respect that had her calling him 'Sargent Barnes' until he'd teased her for being so formal. Of course, she's often as likely to turn impish and call him Grandad, or just Bucky. She can be mercurial like that. But…not here.

Oddly she didn't feel coddled in particular. There are good things about having people in one's life who have an urge to protect her; and, in addition, it's not as though he's ever kept her from trying to fight by his side. Rather, if he pauses at letting her handle something, she figures it's out of an honest assessment of her abilities. And if he reconsiders those things, she figures it's the same.

"Handler? Is that the appropriate term, the one that she'd understand and respect?" He had used it earlier, after all. She's not about to say 'owner', and 'associate' sounds too weak to achieve the desired effect. Handler has a fairly neutral connotation though. It feels, momentarily, surreal to be speaking like that. To be talking about Russian assassins, to be using spy lingo (despite her silliness/gift with the dead drop practice and the all-you-can-eat BBQ, despite working with Peggy on a case, too) like she's someone who has a clue.

But…she doesn't shy from it either.

She seems relieved, to have something she can do to help. In a way, after all, this girl sounds like another Shitty Club member. Serial numbers and having to be gently given the gift of knowing they are not a thing to be owned and used like a slave. No. There is no in a way. This girl is another member, for all that she doesn't even know it yet. She punches good and hard, an actual neat, clean cross and counter-cross, as if snapping to with her own resolve in this matter, brown eyes dead serious, grateful that she's going to be able to help.

Being a hero is an ideal…

Helping those who have been abused and bound to another's will, however, is her purpose. She hadn't even realized it until this moment. She looks up at Bucky suddenly, her eyes full of it.

"Thanks," she says. "For letting me chip in on this."

—-

Jessica asks an important question, here: what term might someone like Juno understand and respect? Bucky is pensive at that, turning over thoughts in his mind, admitting to himself that 'associate' might not have quite the impact.

"You could try handler," he says. "You could also try friend. She may understand the concept."

He falls silent as Jessica glances at him, and as he sees in her eyes that new rush of purpose. That conviction of what she's meant to do in her life: to help those who have been leashed to the will of others. He can understand it because he's had a purpose for most of his life, as well, similar but not quite the same: to defend and to protect, while at the same time not smothering his charges away from learning to cope on their own.

That latter part is important. It's audible Jessica understands it when she thanks him for letting her help.

He clears his throat, but his eyes are gentle. "Well, just be careful when you do."

—-

"Friend is better," Jessica says with warmth. It's the first time she's ever heard Bucky call her a friend. She tries to tone it down because she doesn't want to overwhelm him with emotion, but there's happiness there as she snaps her fists hard into the air once more.

It's another thing she's going to cherish, one simple word to put into that little mental box of hers, the one that she is trying to build, the one that she dives into, full of words to use as a shield against her inner demons when they attack. Words to drive the bottle back, words to build herself back up again when she crumbles.

He does with a single word what it has taken others whole paragraphs to accomplish, though some have managed in a sentence or two.

What used to be an inner desert isn't so desert-like anymore. It's still a dry landscape, but it's one that is in bloom.

She meets his gentle eyes, and the woman that's looking out, for just a moment, is a person who for just a moment feels…whole. Not someone who can never get upset again. Not someone incapable of getting hurt. And she's not even sure how long the feeling will last. She's not even someone who won't feel the burn of a panic attack again, who will never feel overwhelmed or anxious. But some member of her cadre of inner demons feels like it's just been given two shots in the head, assassinated, but not by the Winter Soldier. By her friend.

But given all that, her next words are still simple. He tells her to be careful.

She drops her eyes away from his, puts them back on her imaginary target, and smiles a little.

"Yes, sir."

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