We're All Soldiers Now

April 15, 2017:

Tim Drake decides that a suitable "sorry you spent your 100th birthday in Hell" gift for Bucky Barnes would be "a PS4, Overwatch, and a crash course in gaming and why he keeps calling Bucky '76." Jane is unimpressed with the proceedings.

Brooklyn, New York

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Steve Rogers, John Constantine, Zatanna Zatara, Batman

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's a quiet evening in Brooklyn, for once, and Bucky Barnes is home and gearing up for the impending overseas trip. Assured of John and Zatanna's ability to get them across the pond without having to do inconvenient things like 'check entire bags full of an arsenal sufficient to mow through a small army,' he's gotten together everything he has and is taking an accounting of what he's got and what he might have to do some shopping to replenish.

He's appropriated Jane's kitchen table for his current task, which is the meticulous examination and cleaning of an M2010 sniper rifle he recently got his paws on. It's an overhaul of the M24, a rifle which was— in turn— already a staggering leap up technically from the Springfields he remembered from the war, and so there is some definite academic interest to the way he gets familiar with the weapon, learning all of its advanced capabilities and quirks.

He's got one of Zatanna's gift records playing on the phonograph in the background, because he isn't used to sitting in a house without that background music, and the familiarity is comforting.

After a moment he finishes his work, reassembling the rifle and packing it away. "Jane?" he calls absently. "It's almost seven."

It is, in fact, almost exactly quarter to seven when there's a knock on the door.

This time, at least, the apartment isn't turned into some weird Faraday cage; whether SHIELD's surveillance simply isn't as stringent as it was the last time the caped and cowled vigilante visited the brownstone, or whether he's found other ways of keeping them distracted being a question that doesn't particularly matter right at this moment.

What does matter is that there's someone at the door, a figure in red and black, his eyes hidden behind the featureless white lenses built into his cowl to give him all the more impersonal, inhuman of mein, the only visible skin being the area around his mouth. It's an outfit the two occupants of Jane Foster's apartment have seen more than once, and it certainly seems like it's the same person in the costume, though in the end how would anyone even tell? Maybe there's more than one Red Robin, more than one person who chose to do that job for whatever reason.

Well… There is another Red Robin, as the young man himself has learned recently, but that one is nearly half a foot taller, and far more likely to set firebombs than he is to knock on the door.

But that's something to deal with later: In the Nest, his computer is feverishly searching, tracking, collating information. Here, and now, the purpose of his visit is rather more casual.

"Doctor Foster?" comes that electronically blurred voice, muffled only slightly by the door. "Sergant Barnes? It's Red Robin."

Inspection, through the peephole or by opening the door, would reveal that he's… Carrying something.

Back in the bedroom, which, over the past few weeks has been ungoing its own Kafkaesque metamorphosis from bedroom to something else entirely —

— something centerpieced with her workdesk and crowned with the gore and surgically-dissected remains of every conceivable electronic she's gotten her hands on. Right now, throned among it all, Jane asserts her queenly right over her domain, lounged back in a chair, one leg bent comfortably up, all of her dressed down into work mode — jeans and a plaid button-down, sleeves rolled to her elbows — and her dark hair slung in a loose, careless braid. Biting down on her lower lip, she hunkers over this evening's project, which has been upgraded to expedition with Germany now around the corner.

It's got her bent over a circuit board, her face backlit in blue light as she solders wire to a capacitor. At her side, she's dismantled one of her old necklaces, using tweezers to grab carefully at the steel links, as —

Jane's left eyebrow twitches as, distantly, Bucky calls her name. She hears him, but she isn't listening. "Mmn," she calls back, clearly tunnel-visioned.

She returns back to work.

And then there's a knock at the door.

Jane barely perceives that too. She wires together a switch. "Nrmn," she calls a second time, distant, from the bedroom.

Mmn, is Jane's only answer. Bucky frowns, his head turning towards the woman-cave. Mmn is not an answer. This is important, Jane! It's been a whole four hours since the last time he was fed. He will literally starve to death if nothing is done soon.

"Jane, I'm sure you can stop whatever you're doing long enough to say actual words—" Bucky replies, irritated, up until he's interrupted by a knock at the door.

His head turns, automatically cautious, though much of his suspicion relaxes when he hears a familiar voice through the door. Still a little cautious— because you don't get to Bucky's age, in his profession, without healthy paranoia— he checks the peephole, then opens the door.

"Hey, Robin," he says, his gaze automatically flicking down to the burden Tim's carrying. "Come in. —And the formalities aren't necessary. Not with me, anyway. Bucky will do. Or James, if you prefer." He's found that the former isn't so common a name anymore in the modern day, and has gotten used to giving options.

"Make yourself comfortable," he says, closing the door and heading towards the back with grim purpose. "Jane's being a shut-in in the back, I'll get her. Jane, it's company!"

It's a large bag, dangling from one hand. Red Robin doesn't seem particularly burdened by it, but then again he seems quite comfortable swinging across cities while dangling by one arm from a line, carrying another human being, even. He's probably pretty strong.

Not supersoldier strong, but that isn't here or there.

"Red," the young man interjects. "Robin's someone else. Yellow cape with a hood on it, real bad attitude." It used to be him, sure, but in time all things change. Nobody stays Robin forever; even if they didn't grow out of it - or get forcibly retired by means of a clown with a crowbar, for example - the sorts of people that end up working alongside the Dark Knight are seldom the types of personalities who could long be content staying his sidekicks.

Perhaps it's just a natural consequence of having the potential required to survive in that career.

"But, okay. 76 it is." Maybe he doesn't really want to be reminded of the career he used to have, before he ended up getting turned into a brainwashed killing machine. In his position, Red Robin is pretty sure he wouldn't. "Maybe G.I. Snow?" the cowled youth adds, his tone light despite the electronic fuzzing of the device at his throat, underneath the costume.

He watches, curiously, as Bucky heads towards the back, describing Jane as having gone all 'shut-in,' feeling a bit of curiousity at what the woman might be working on - a lot of her astrophysics work was still a bit beyond him, though he'd been reading her papers; but for an astrophycisist she seemed to be a brilliant engineer - and he sets the bag down in what amounts to the living room.

"I figured since the last time I visited, the gift I brought didn't go over so well, and you did end up having to spend your actual birthday in Hell, well… Anyway, Bucky," Jesus saying that sounds weird, "here's a belated birthday gift."

It's mostly a large box, in the bag; there's also a couple of smaller boxes. All of them are wrapped in Captain America wrapping paper, with adorable little cartoon shields and As and grinning Cap faces.

"Can't stop," mumbles Jane's voice from the bedroom. "Won't stop."

Her brows furrow, but even the scientist is far too disciplined to take her eyes off her work to shine a scathing glare out towards the hallway. She's on a very delicate timeframe! She's made an awful lot of promises to an awful lot of people, and they are all within her ability and expertise, and like hell Dr. Foster will have anyone believe something is beyond her —

There's a knock on the door, but she's already far gone, dragged into the river current of her thoughts so long to care. This is one of the definite upsides to sharing a home with someone after so many years alone; Jane can trust Bucky to get the door. To answer the phone. To stock the kitchen. Anything to just let her /work/.

She tweezes out a copper ring from her switch, then fumbles around her mess, knowing exactly where and what she'll use as replacement. Jane's already tuned out the distant conversation at the front door, all out of sight, out of mind. Bucky will handle it.

Not even she is sure how much time passes, be it seconds or minutes, because Jane's gone, so far gone, so entrenched in work that she startles when Bucky eventually invades her woman-cave.

There is Jane at her desk, hunched over the skeleton of one of her newest creations. Head turned, she's even too proud of her work to even be properly annoyed at being disturbed. "Look," she beams up at Bucky. "EMP bomb. Well, kinda. Targetting satellites shouldn't be particularly /difficult/ and —"

Oh, company?

A minute later, and Bucky returns with his errant parcel retrieved, that be the shut-in Jane Foster who tries to smooth some of the wrinkles out of her shirt, stopping to close her bedroom door to hide its mess. Down the hallway, she appears, double-taking a little less than the first time at renewed sight of that mask, but still greeting with an apologetic wave. "Hey," she says, cringing a bit. "Sorry about that — nice to see you! You hungry?"

Because, yes, Jane is going to go fix a starving Bucky Barnes his second dinner. The only thing that arrests her on the way to the kitchen is the sight of the box. She can't smother a laugh at the wrapping paper.

Red, the owner of said moniker corrects. Bucky's head tilts slightly, but he accepts the correction with seamless grace. "Makes sense. You got a lot of Robins over there," he observes. Batman really collects them, doesn't he?

He closes the door once Red comes in, a snort escaping him as Tim tries on a couple monikers for Bucky himself. 76? How about G.I. Snow? Both draw blank looks. Someone has yet to educate Bucky about G.I. Joe. "Sergeant was a real long time ago," he makes excuse. "Who knows if I still am one. I'm probably still 'presumed dead' status."

He excuses himself briefly to go boot Jane out of work mode, coming up on her apparently just as she finishes constructing some kind of EMP bomb. Bucky folds his arms through her nattering about targetting satellites. His eyes narrow, just slightly.

A minute later, he's ushered her back into the front room— there will be no hosting impolitenesses on Bucky's watch— where she makes her greetings and then shunts off into the kitchen. Bucky turns his attention, then, to the odd package just as Tim explains it's a belated birthday gift as a 'sorry' for 'that time you spent your 100th birthday in Hell.'

"Ah," he says. "Jeez. These things aren't really necessary. You kids and your gifting. But thank— is that Steve? He's on wrapping paper now? Jesus Christ. Steve every-goddamned-where I go. I've already been stuck for decades looking at his face."

Yet he's still infinitely careful in removing the wrapping paper without a single tear, once he's received confirmation from Tim that he's expected to open it now.

"Just one at a time," Red Robin replies, with a faint shrug of his shoulders. "Can't be a sidekick forever."

There were of course always those rumours around Gotham, among the people who didn't just dismiss the Batman as an urban legend: That there were whole networks of orphanages owned by the Caped Crusader, or perhaps whatever secret organisation he clearly represented, that trained up lost kids bootcamp-style to replace their predecessors whenever the natural consequences of a fourteen year old fighting armed gangs and various psychopaths and maniacs came home to roost. There were those who swore that the Dark Knight had gone through dozens if not hundreds of Robins in the past decade, a rather more impressive number than 'four.'

The Detective in the caped young man can't help but have his curiousity piqued when he catches bits of the conversation between Bucky and Jane, the mention of an EMP bomb and satellite targeting - the cowl does cover his ears after all, modifications that improve his hearing are necessary, as well as useful for eavesdropping - but rather than rudely asking about that stuff, he gives Jane a small smile when she greets him.

"I'm fine, thanks. I ate before I came over."

In fact, on the way over. There are fast food wrappers in his extremely expensive, and currently extremely hidden, car.

"I figured that you missed a lot of birthdays as it is," Red Robin answers with a shrug of his shoulders. "And the wrapping paper seemed appropriate." Of course, it was entirely on purpose. It's rare that he does things without some kind of measured intent behind them. Even normal, everyday social things that regular humans do. "So, open it."

He notices the care taken, of course, but he doesn't comment on it - that would be rude. What's inside the wrapping is, in fact, a brand new Playstation 4; the smaller packages have an extra controller, and a few games, including one whose box says 'Overwatch' on it.

"Bucky Barnes," he says, with great solemn gravity. "It's time for you to meet your spirit animal."

Pulled inevitably away from work, because it seems Jane Foster has some trappings left in the world that keep her from being lost as yet another mad scientist —

— and that being the care and feeding of one Bucky Barnes, and the lingering knot of guilt of being a semi-functional hostess. Even as Red Robin insists he ate on the way, Jane gives him a look like he's going to be fed anyway, and the woman who was just talking about the demolition of satellites engages the domesticity of fixing a meal. Taking a quick turn into the apartment's galley kitchen, she rummages briefly through the fridge — freakishly well-stocked, wholly in part to keep the resident super-soldier happy — and pulls out a handful of steaks and a stick of butter.

With the audible scraping of frying pan retrieval, Jane only detours to take a peek back at the goings-on, leaning her shoulder against the kitchen doorway as she looks on, amused, approving, as Bucky Barnes receives another late birthday present.

At the first, familiar sight of the Playstation, the woman lets go a brief, sincere laugh. The game, itself, she recognizes — Jane is a nerd, through and through — but has not had the recent time or inclination to play it to understand any deeper jokes. Not that she really needs to right now: the image of Bucky sitting down in front of a console is going to keep her giggling for the next day. "Oh, Red," she says, through her laughter. "I had such high hopes for you too. This is a PC Master Race household. That FPS. Shame."

Crooking a grin, she retreats back to the stove before any more of her strange devil's words hurt Bucky's old man brain.

Can't be a sidekick forever, Tim shrugs. "I hear that," Bucky says, though for half a moment he feels like there should be a little more there.

It passes, and he goes to retrieve the errant engineering trogg hidden away in the back of the apartment. Indulgent, Jane takes herself into the kitchen with the intent of feeding everyone whether they like it or not, keeping an eye out to watch as Bucky bemusedly— and carefully— unwraps the gift, taking care not to damage a single Steve image despite his affectionately-disparaging remarks.

What is revealed is… a box of some kind, as far as Bucky can ascertain. Frowning, he lifts it out, hefting it a little as if briefly uncertain whether it might be some kind of weapon, before setting it down on the coffee table and unpacking the controller and games as well.

It's only then that it clicks. "Oh," he says. "I've heard about this kinda thing. Jane" Said woman immediately launches into a finger-wagging about Tim bringing filthy consoles into a PC master race house. "has opinions about these things," he finishes. Many opinions.

It's time for you to meet your spirit animal, Tim says.

Bucky looks around apprehensively. "My what?"

"I've built a rig or two in my time," Red Robin replies to Jane's laughing remarks. Just because he won't game on his crimefighting supercomputer doesn't mean his gaming PCs aren't just as ridiculous. If you're going to live the life of a rich quasi-hermit who fights evil, you might as well have some nice toys. "Besides, this is his cherry," he continues. "It's better to go gentle the first time. I'll leave his future indoctrination into computer gaming to you."

Just talking about Bucky like he isn't even there. At least, for a moment or two.

So he delivers his pronouncement of Bucky's immediate fate, and of course given some of the other people they associate with it's not hard to imagine taking the topic of meeting one's spirit animal very seriously.

Red Robin, knowing very well the importance of theatricality, says nothing about what he means; he just gives Bucky a smile from beneath his cowl.

"C'mon, let's get this all set up," the young man says instead of actually answering the supersoldier's apprehensive question, already looking to assess the television and its wiring situation, with the same thorough efficiency he gives any crime scene. "Then all will be revealed."

Talk of cherries earns another bubble of laughter from Jane, her over-active mind unable to help the sorts of images that come to mind. "You have a point," she answers Red, then continues on in that strange language nerds of the modern age seem to speak. "He's going to have one hell of one with me too. Dark Souls or nothing here. So steer young grasshopper well."

Jane's smiling goes crooked as her dark eyes find Bucky. "Wax on; wax off," she advises happily, complete with gestures, all which make absolutely no sense. "We'll watch that move sometime."

She doesn't give any formal 'help yourself' of the boys to the living room — for all Jane figures at this point, all of her things are now Bucky's, to have or do with he will — leaving that to the soldier himself to get Red situated with their little set-up. It's about as much as one can fit into an apartment in Brooklyn: couch, armchair, coffee table, newly-purchased flat screen television, one that the scientist only purchased to better acquaint her displaced boyfriend with the media of the modern age.

Back in the kitchen, Jane sees to the high-heat sear of t-bone steaks in clarified butter, demonstrating quite possibly the sole reason Bucky Barnes has fared this far and well in New York. Blessed with the luck of a woman, despite her many oddities, knows how to cook. And seems either patient or enduring enough to keep up with the appetite of a super-soldier.

Proper steaks don't take longer than a few minutes, and by the time the guys are finished figuring out the connections, Jane returns with two plates: one steak for Red and three for Bucky Barnes. Serious serum metabolisms are serious.

About ninety percent of Tim and Jane's conversation goes right over Bucky's head. He looks politely interested, though most of his attention is on slowly opening the PS4 box and puzzling out how to get at the actual machine within.

He does listen enough, however, to look around in utmost scandal as talk turns to popping his cherry and going gentle the first time and et cetera. "How old are you again?" he asks Tim, agitated. He doesn't even say anything to Jane because she has absolutely no excuse.

Finally extracting the actual machine, he puts it down on the table and sets about unwrapping the controllers and the game itself. Tim refuses to answer his question in favor of just smiling ominously and deciding to set up the game system, so he just frowns and takes his hands off to let the boy genius do his thing.

Not that he couldn't hook it up himself if he wanted. He's a lot more up to date on modern technology than Steve for very unfortunate reasons. Perhaps it's the unfortunate-ness of those reasons that keeps him so content not to actually do any of the connections, instead just watching as Tim does it much faster than he probably could.

The other reason he wants to keep his hands free comes along soon enough with three plates. He accepts all of them, still watching Tim with deep suspicion about this spirit animal thing.

"I'm four years old," Red Robin answers without skipping a beat. "I was grown in a tube from the DNA of a legendary hero and his greatest enemy, as part of a secret project to harness their combined strengths, but I escaped to create my own life, free from the control of sinister organisations."

The cowl and all that makes it easier to say these sorts of things without any kind of tell that he might not be serious, which is probably at least part of the reason why he wears the whole getup: The distance, the anonymity, makes it easier for a normal human being to present himself as something else, something more.

And just as it's good for playing on the whole 'criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot' thing, it's also good for BSing people normally. It helps that what he says is true about someone… Just not himself.

"Nah, I'm nineteen," the vigilante assures the time-lost supersoldier, the plan of attack with cables and wires all plotted out, to set the gaming console up with maximum efficiency and a minimum of things getting tangled on each other. Tangled wires are the worst. HDMI, the power, all hooked up to get the machine ready to go. Once it's on, he even gets it on the wifi without much trouble.

His head tilts as he sees that Bucky has a trio of steaks, but it's not hard to assume that the whole supersoldier thing comes with an awkwardly increased dietary requirement. No wonder Jane's so skinny, he must be eating her out of house and home.

"Okay," he says, returning to the couch once the game has been put in the machine, sitting down cape and all as though this was the most normal thing in the world, queuing up the game which will soon enough introduce Bucky to another grizzled old supersoldier. "Normally you play this game online with other people, but when you do it's probably a good idea to turn off the voice chat…"

Handing off Bucky his three plates of steak — a light dinner course that should last him another four hours — and setting a plate with silverware down for Red Robin (complete with pointed look that he better eat, no one leaves her house without being properly fed, especially those thoughtful enough to bring birthday gifts), Jane considers her hostess duties finished and seeks an audience spot down because there is no missing any of this.

Leaving the boys to occupy the couch, she retreats for the adjacent armchair, grabbing up her laptop along the way. Because a good Jane Foster can multitask work into anything, even the popped cherry of her old soldier boyfriend. Folding into the chair's deep, cushioned seating, long legs thrown over one arm and laptop moved in to make perch on her stomach — goes to show just how comfortable she is in this mixed company — because, seriously, they all went to hell together. Over-formal manners no longer necessary.

Tim's super-serious reply to his age earns a sharp laugh and Jane's eyes. His delivery is so dry and deadpan that, for a moment, even she believes it. Not that anyone could think less of her for doing so: this city breeds STRANGE. But he's nineteen, and her smile hooks up as she returns eyes to her opened laptop screen. He's a baby. Or she's just old. He does act far beyond his years, though.

The crack about voice chat earns a harder laugh. Jane is not going to forget anything about tonight. She's going to take all of this, just box it into one, good memory, and pull it out for some dark, dark night that will truly need it. Kids in capes on her couch, real-talks about dealing with online player vs player games: it's beyond belief, hilarious, and now apparently her new normal. Probably as good as it gets. "It should be fine. Try being a /woman/ on one of those things. Neither of you sound particularly feminine, so at least you won't get any polite requests to pleae take your shirt off and snap some pictures."

Bucky turns his head and just looks at Red as he regales with a thrilling origin story of being a four year-old secret project created in a lab, who managed to escape captivity and the control of sinister organizations to forge his own life. His expression blends a number of things: the 'is he for real' uncertainty Red's going for, skepticism, and lastly the faint discomfort of someone recognizing something very familiar.

Nope, Red eventually reveals. He's just nineteen. There is a brief moment where Bucky could take it personally, or sink into a gloom at the parallel to his own life— intentional or not— or otherwise withdraw.

Then he snorts and turns away. "Nineteen. I see," he says. "But the rest is still all true, I assume."

Potential awkward crisis averted, he puts his plates down for the time being and installs himself on the couch, though not after a brief doubletake at Red sitting there in full costume as if absolutely nothing were amiss. "Play the game online with other people," he repeats skeptically. "Used to be you'd play with other people by meeting them face to face and going outside. Made it easy to handle if someone said something stupid to you. Hit 'em right in the face."

He picks up one of the controllers skeptically, turning it over before figuring out how it naturally wants him to position his hands. "So what's the point of this game?"

"I dunno if my parents were archnemeses… They did have some pretty good fights, though."

Red Robin assumes, anyway; it's a bit of misdirection, lying about his life having long since become second nature to him. He never saw his parents fight, because he barely saw his parents while his mother was alive. The Drakes were usually away on business, absent, until tragedy struck… The sad truth of the matter is that he spent more time with his father in the handful of years between Janet Drake being ritually sacrificed by the Obeah Man and Jack Drake's subsequent murder than he did in the fourteen years before they were kidnapped in Haiti.

But that's Tim Drake's cross to bear, not Red Robin's, and at times like these it's important to keep the two of them separate.

"But yeah, nineteen. Almost twenty. It's weird to think I've been doing this whole thing almost six years now. One minute life's all math tests and pimples and hair in new places, and then suddenly you're keeping Scarecrow from drowning Gotham in fear gas, or fighting some of the world's deadliest assassins in Paris… And still worrying about the math tests, and the pimples, and the hair in new places."

That's completely serious, at least.

"World's getting smaller, used to be if you wanted to play video games with someone else you had to sit in the same room with them, or set up a LAN party. Nowadays you could play with people from all around the world… Though yeah, what she said," Red Robin agrees with Jane's assessment, casting a wry look over towards the astrophysicist. He doesn't show it, of course, but he's glad to have provided her with amusement; he won't forget how she looked, after Ozone Park. She deserves to laugh instead.

As for Bucky's question…

"The point of the game is to help your team beat the other team. Different matches have different rules… Capture and hold a point, or push a payload to the target. And you are going to be Soldier 76. Pretty straightforward character, but I think you'll like him."

Listening passively on to the conversation, the scientist bypasses questions about fear gas and assassins and Scarecrows to comment on something truly terrifying.

"LAN parties," Jane echoes, with liberal amounts of cringe in her voice. "Now I officially feel old. Please, please don't make me remember those." It was high school. She liked games. She had zero cool kid friends. She went to one and there was so much Mountain Dew. Everywhere. Rivers of it.

For the time being, she taps away into her laptop, already being drawn past the familiar event horizon into another work singularity. Can't keep Jane away from it for too long, and especially lately, with so little time as there is. She uses the evening as a good way to begin reviewing the leagues upon leagues of data for Ritchie Simpson, her cheekbone leaned against her hand as her eyes drink in the data scrolling her screen.

Every now and then, Jane does glance at the television, amused, especially as the game loads up into action.

Bucky is silent as Tim ruminates on his six years of service in Gotham City. Six years of balancing the life of a teenager with the life of a night-time vigilante. He's shaking his head slowly by the time Tim finishes talking. "And you chose this?" he says, with a tone of voice somewhere between grudging respect and regret. "It's too young an age to be thrown into fighting. I was twenty-four when I enlisted. But they got younger and younger as the war went on. Plenty of fourteen, sixteen year-olds lying about their ages."

It was hard to watch them die, he wants to say. But he holds his tongue. It's not the right mood for such remarks.

Instead he just tries to put it from his mind, turning his attention back to the game as it loads up. The opening cinematic puts a wistful look on his face; it's always amazing to him what the modern age— already futuristic as hell to him— thinks their own future is going to be. It always seems to involve a lot of robots and airships.

"So you could load this thing and… instantly be playing with someone from Italy or France?" he asks, shaking his head. "Hard to picture. When they shipped us out to England, it was literally by ship. Across the Atlantic. That was how far Europe was, years ago."

His time as the Winter Soldier certainly made him aware that globalization had drastically shrunk the world, but there was a difference between knowing it as a brainwashed automaton, and… really realizing and feeling it for himself, with his own mind intact.

Tim speaks of how 'back in the day' you had to sit in the same room to play video games together, and wasn't that a hardship? "God forbid you be in physical proximity," he murmurs, amused. "And," he adds, turning severely to Jane, "you feel old? Really?"

The cinematic ends. Character select pops up. And Tim tells him he's going to be Soldier 76. "So that's what you keep calling me—" he says, only to cut off when the aforementioned character appears on screen. He frowns.

''And you chose this?''

"Yeah," Red Robin replies, though it is perhaps more complicated than that. He doesn't entirely buy into Zatanna's talk about fate and destiny, or the implication that he was somehow meant to make the choice he did. That some external force had pushed him in that direction, or maybe that his path to being the Boy Wonder had been sealed the moment he'd figured out the secret identity of the Batman at the tender age of nine. It was his choice, just like all the choices he's made since, good and bad.

Destiny has always seemed to him to be a way to shirk responsibility. But unlike the others, from Batman through to his predecessors as Robin, the Work didn't find him. It didn't creep into his life in the dead of night and make him an orphan. He sought it out.

"My great-grandfather was one of those guys. Ran away from home at fifteen, served in the Pacific. Maybe I take after him. The right thing to do was right in front of me, so I did it… Turns out I'm pretty good at it, so here I am." A lifer. However long that life ends up being.

"Honestly, if you met some of the guys who played a lot of games online, you'd be happier doing it as remotely as possible. There are some people who play MMOs so much they actually keep a bottle by their computer so they can—"

Fortunately, the cinematic ends before Bucky's sanity can be well and truly shattered by the sorts of things people do to maximise their uptime.

Like poopsocking.

When the supersoldier finally encounters Soldier 76, and unusual expression crosses the visible portion of Red Robin's face: He has perhaps the shit-eatingest grin anyone is likely to see on one of Gotham City's grim, stalwart protectors.

"It was the mask," he confides in Jane. "The first time I saw him, he was in the whole getup, and all I could think of was Soldier 76's visor."

As conversation inevitably sobers into something more serious, and given the company that's to be expected, Jane remains politely quiet. Good to let the boys bond. The stories they're swapping aren't so much something she can relate; boys going off to their own drafts, be it war overseas or one at home. She contributes to a comfortable white noise of her fingers on laptop keys.

She turns slant one dark eye over when she's called out for feeling old. Jane wears a hitch of stubbornness, perhaps proud of the weird wisdom she's gleaned in her three decades. "Hey, I'm old-ish. I'm thirty. That's like one-third of my life over. All downhill from here." And back to work she goes.

Jaw leaned to her knuckles, mouth upturned with lazy humour as Red dwelves into the dark territory of MMOs, Jane listens on peacefully. Finally, her turned eyes get their own good look at why Red Robin has been using that strange '76' nickname all this time. In just one glance, it all makes sense, and she turned her head to hide her smile against her leaning hand. Seriously, seriously way too funny. "Holy crap," she says against the likeness, voice broken with the hitch of a laugh.

Then Red says it's all the mask. Jane's smile is still on, but her levity falters a bit. The mask was there when she first saw Bucky too, and that sure comes with a lot of complicated memory. But she determines not to let that dampen her mood, especially now, and that smile reaches back into her eyes, softening them.

Bucky can't help but brighten a little when Tim references how his great-grandfather served in the Pacific Theater— though there's a bittersweet quality to his interest as well, given that it's a stark reminder that his peers are great-grandfathers now, having gone home and grown up families in the way he never got to.

"Oh yeah?" is all he says aloud, skipping his own melancholy. "Never did envy the boys who were sent to the Pacific. At least the climate in Europe tended to be more what we were used to."

He lapses into quiet as Red says that the right thing to do was in front of him, so he did it. "Yeah. I suppose you do take after him, then. That was the reason most of us went to war, in the end."

He frowns, however, as Jane starts to talk about being old. Old-ish. Thirty! Her life is a third over. "I'm a hundred and you don't see me complaining," he grumbles. "According to you I ought to have fallen apart ten years ago—"

He is interrupted by a grizzled voice declaring that OLD SOLDIERS NEVER DIE. He turns to find himself confronted with Soldier 76. Tim and Jane share a big old laugh about the resemblance. Especially in the mask.

There's a brief hitch as Bucky thinks about the many occasions on which he wore that mask. Then he relaxes, by a force of will. "Okay fine," he grumps good-naturedly. "Point made." Pause. "I want his rifle. Anyway, it looks like this thing wants multiple people playing it," he admonishes Jane, "so stop laughing at me and get over here."

About the same time as he says that, Soldier 76 angrily yells at people to GET OVER HERE AND HEAL UP.

Growing up in Gotham, he always knew exactly what sort of place the City of Yesterday was. A festering boil of corruption, a place where fear and suffering were the rule rather than the exception; he'd grown up safe from it, sure, the Drakes having been wealthy enough to own a mansion on a property that sat adjacent to Wayne Manor (and also, Shadowcrest… But given the curious nature of that place, Red Robin had never even noticed it until Zatanna had invited him over) but he'd still known.

And since he'd known, and had the ability to do something about it, wouldn't not acting have made him tacitly part of the problem?

That's definitely one of those areas on which he and Spider-Man are in agreement.

"If you like the rifle, you should try out his rockets. They're pretty fun." He might have a strict no-guns policy, but that doesn't apply in video games. In those you can shoot all sorts of things and blow them up completely guilt-free. Well, except maybe in The Line. That's definitely a game he wouldn't subject Bucky to.

With the old soldier expecting Jane to join in, in a suitably grizzled manner, the vigilante reaches for the other controller, offering it towards the astrophysicist.

"Mercy?" he muses out loud, watching Jane curiously. "Or… No, Torbjorn."

"You complain about everything else to make up for it," Jane natters back in smiling good-humour. "You still won't shut up about the Penn Station thing."

She tries to return to her work, just to prove that she's the older one by being that much more responsible, but then there's Bucky wrangling her to come join and Red Robin proffering a controller. Jane freezes, because this means her deepest, darkest secret may be uncovered, and put on embarrassing display: that she, in all of her enviable nerddom, is actually shit at console controllers. And this game is looking devastatingly to be some first person shooter. She's going to be terrible and then Bucky will make fun of her and Red Robin will be quietly disappointed!

"I should really be working," Jane drones on like the boring person she is. "And playing nearly isn't as fun as watching and telling you what you're doing wrong."

And then comes the question of the hour, and she squints, frowning, feeling in her gamer ESP that they're prescribing Jane Foster her own Overwatch likeness. And she doesn't like the sound of that last suggestion. "Torbjorn?" she asks dangerously.

Accused of complaining nonstop about Penn Station, Bucky bristles slightly. "You'd complain too if you saw what used to be there," he points out. "It was a beautiful way to come into or leave the city. Now it's just… tunnels." He shakes his head. "I hate underground tunnels…"

And just to give Jane an even harder time, he tries to entice her out of work and onto a controller. She freezes up for some reason

Torbjorn, Tim assesses of Jane. This makes no sense to Bucky, but he's a quick study and has already learned how to get into the hero gallery to browse all the available classes. He pulls up Torbjorn, and immediately starts laughing. "It's a perfect likeness," he says, rotating the model around to admire the beard and the shortness and the general 'angry dwarf' design. "Don't lie, you wish you had a pliers-arm like that."

People always underestimate the engineers! Torbjorn exclaims, when Bucky accidentally clicks into the voice lines. The grinning fades a little from Bucky's face.

If you build it, they will die, the character adds, more ominously. The grin disappears entirely.

"…OK, pretty accurate," Bucky says, as he cursors back to Soldier in order to discover his apparent 'spirit animal.' And upsettingly enough… once he gets the basic ideas behind 'video game logic,' he is actually pretty good.

Perhaps supersoldier reflexes just carry over perfectly into hand-eye coordination. Or perhaps it's just the strength of his identification with Soldier 76.

"Is this how people think we talk in the Army?" he ruminates, amused.

If you can't reveal your deepest, darkest secrets to an anonymous teenager in a cape and cowl, then who can you reveal them to?

"Think of it as a team-building exercise," Red Robin says, with the air of someone who has years of experience convincing adults to do or allow fun things by rephrasing them as boring things. No, Batman, we're just using the Bat-computer's enormous screen to play games to hone our reflexes. Of course it's a good idea for me to borrow this experimental souped up motorcycle for the weekend, Alfred, otherwise how am I going to know how to use it in a crisis?

Besides, it's clear that Bucky agrees with him on the subject of Jane Foster's deep spiritual connection to Torbjorn. So he continues holding out the controller towards her so she can join in.

"Well… It's all kind of exaggerated and cartoonish," the vigilante says, in response to Bucky's eventual musings. "Archetypes and fun over realism, you know." Like in those 'Captain America' movies they made, he wisely doesn't say; who knows what Bucky Barnes would think of the fictionalised adventures of the Star Spangled Man and his associates. "There's other games that try to be more realistic, I guess. For the people who want to imagine they're pooping in the trenches at Verdun. This is more… You know, people coming back from the dead, ninjas, angry robots."

Which is to say, more like Red Robin's everyday life.

Also no longer a particular fan of underground tunnels, though Jane does not expressly say out loud. It's kind of a mood-killer.

And speaking of mood-killers, all of /her/ laughing and teasing and taunting play goes right out the window when the game loads up the likeness of her spirit animal. Jane glances distractedly at the television, goes back to work, then does a transparent double-take. Horror transforms her face as she takes in Torbjorn in all his glorious, dwarven, blond Danny DeVito glory. "What the hell!" she sputters. "That is /not/ a perfect likeness! How in the hell is that anything like me! I don't want a stupid pliers-arm, that doesn't even make any sense! Why would you even do that!"

Pique colours her cheeks and Jane, able to dish it out much more than she can take it, broods with quiet gravitas as Bucky and Red play the voice lines. She hears them too, and catches on the hitch in Bucky's mirth.

"Not accurate and both of you are dead to me," Jane grumps, frowning in clear /betrayal/ as she engages her laptop once more.

The longer Bucky plays, the more silent he gets. This is a possible herald of the first beginnings of ADDICTION. A small furrow even starts to form in his brow as he rapidly learns the controls, the basic tenets of video gaming, and starts to go from 'wandering in old man circles being yelled at by the other players' to 'drilling headshots into people with absurd accuracy."

The 'being yelled at by other players' experience stays consistent throughout, though for different reasons. Bucky doesn't notice, because he hasn't noticed there's a text chat.

He's distracted enough that he at first doesn't clue in that Tim is answering him. "What? Oh, yeah. I guess it's not very realistic." He frowns. "Though they did put a burst mode in his gun." His tone suggests he kind of approves. He frowns at the idea of there being 'more realistic games,' however, especially when Tim insinuates those games are about the World Wars.

"…Yeah, I don't think those are for me." He's way too close to the trenches of Verdun to want to go back to that kind of thing even in pixel form.

Jane declares the both of them dead to her for the Torbjorn quips, turning her back forever on them both. Bucky grins, because he is clearly considering this revenge for all the teasing about how old he is. "Sure, sure, whatever," he says. "More time for me to play this game, then."

Since it seems that Jane really doesn't want to play, her secret shame of not actually being very good with a controller is safe for now; Red Robin sets it down for the interim, because there was still that steak to eat. Giving the astrophysicist a hard time is one thing, neglecting the food that she went out of her way to make would be the height of rudeness. His butler would be scandalised.

"Me neither," he agrees with Bucky on the subject of those sorts of 'realistic' war games, though his reasons are different. The more realistic a game gets, the closer it brushes up against his own issues with regard to human mortality. "Fortunately, there's all sorts of other games. Though, Jane is right… A lot of them are better on a computer than a console."

It's hard to beat the convenience, though. Especially for a time-lost centenarian.

With Jane declaring the pair of them dead to her, Red Robin exhales a slow breath between his teeth.

"Guess I should've suggested Reaper for her."

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