Too Many Words

April 25, 2017:

Bucky Barnes falls back on his old habits as an NCO to try to pull Jessica Jones out of her funk. But Jessica is no Private. The two friends struggle to help each other through their personal emotional minefields. But when one walks in a minefield, the results are often messy, brutal, and painful.

Berlin, Germany

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Azalea Kingston, Steve Rogers, Darcy Lewis, Tony Stark, Trish Walker, Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine, Jane Foster, Matt Murdock, Red Robin,

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Jessica Jones had taken the smallest, most simple room she could find at the penthouse. Granted, there might not be any such animal, but there were couples there, and the man who actually paid for the thing.

It was still big enough for her to pull her punching bag out of her 'STUFF' app. That thing is great, she will say. It's great for evidence, it's great for her drone, it's great for her wardrobe, it's great for all kinds of crazy crap.

She'd closed her door and had basically beaten on said punching bag until dinner.

At dinner, she'd poked at her food, eaten about a quarter of it (not great with her own enhanced physiology, the number of times she just skips meals or undereats) and then had pushed her plate at Bucky, offering the leftovers to 'Grandpa' like any family member. She'd quietly excused herself, saying she wanted to see if the Berlin libraries were still open, that she had an idea but the work would be tedious. She'd left them to enjoy their meal and had gone to the genealogy section of the biggest library in Berlin she could find, using Dunce and her phone translator app to quickly scan the journals and personal diaries that sometimes end up in places like this. She didn't have any luck turning up the right one, a fact she'd reported before retiring for the night.

'Retiring for the night' should have been pretty great, because she hasn't been in a real bed by herself in months. She's slept on her own couch, on Jane and Bucky's couch, on Trish's couch, in Trish's bed with Trish on the other side of it, and on a couch in an executive suite at Stark Industries. She'd even taken a few framed photographs out of her STUFF app and stuck them next to the bed— one of her Mom, Dad, herself, and Phillip taken when she herself was about 12, and one of Trish.

She'd gotten a few fitful hours. Then she'd woken up from a nightmare, turning into her pillow to weep uncontrollably in terror and grief alike, weeping for the man who died in front of her in that dream, shaking from what happened to her next, an extrapolation of what could have happened if events on the night of April 17th had gone worse than they did.

She couldn't sleep after that.

One thing that's really amazing about Jane's bulletproof suit (Jane had gotten profuse and shy thanks for this gear) is that unlike the bulletproof gear Tony already gave her, she can slip it under striped exercise pants and a tank top and be both protected and comfortable. She slides into a newly bought pair of sneakers. She hates jogging, but she's been doing it anyway, because someday someone's life might depend on her running faster than she can now. She ties her hair up into a tail and then sneaks out with what she thinks is admirable stealth into the German pre-dawn. It probably would be admirable stealth if certain individuals weren't staying in that penthouse. She really only intends to run a mile, taking out a stopwatch to time it, charging down the street.

She manages it in 3 minutes and 39 seconds, exactly 1 second shorter than her last attempt.

She has found her way to a tiny park. She flops down against a tree. For a moment she just rests her elbows on her knees, letting her head hang between them. She's not panting; the despondency has just taken back over. The rush of endorphins is no match for it right now.

—-

Bucky had, indeed, finished his own food, and then half of Jane's, and then the three-quarters that Jessica had pushed at him. He had not said anything untoward to Jessica at the time. Nor had he said anything in the penthouse, while they were settling in. Nor had he said anything on the way from the plane, or on the plane itself. So it would be pretty easy to assume, that he has noticed nothing, nothing is up, and he has no issues with her that he wishes to bring up.

Unfortunately for her, this is not the case. He does. He is just quite good at not betraying anything he's thinking and pretending everything is normal. This is a crucial skill for a spy.

He's been turning over and over in his mind the right time to broach with her the topic he wishes to broach. He's starting to consider the next day for it, when everyone's had time to settle down and Jessica might be a little more even keel, and so he retired to bed with Jane.

He's a very light sleeper. He's prone to waking every few hours, in that way animals have. It's a self-defense skill, really, against being attacked while vulnerable… a habit he got into during the war that continued to be important throughout his career as the Winter Soldier. He also has extremely good hearing, preternatural really, sharpened by the serum far beyond the norm.

He hears something, vaguely and distantly, he thinks he can identify.

Such it is that after Jessica finishes her breakneck run, a few moments later, a familiar voice unfolds out of the dark behind her where she's flopped against that tree. "Can't sleep?"

—-

It's not a little jump. It's not a 'whew you startled me jump.'

It's a jump to her feet, where she whirls around, hands coming up in a defensive stance, she-recognized-someone-was-there-before-she-recognized-who jump, complete with all the blood draining out of her face. The jump of someone whose first reaction to being startled is that she's about to have to fight for her life, instead of someone who quickly and correctly identifies the voice of a friend.

Still, she realizes who it is before she starts throwing any punches, a fool move which would have no doubt ended regrettably for her. She drops her hands, relaxes the set of her shoulder, lets out a relieved breath. A little color returns to her face.

She can't even summon up the grace to look embarrassed that he's managed to sneak up on her— really, she doesn't even expect to get her own abilities up to catching him if he wants to sneak up on her for years, if she ever does.

She can't summon up the grace to look embarrassed for over-reacting either. Like a trigger-happy, wild-eyed soldier, she is. She's not drinking, though, still, so that's a plus. Not that there are a lot of liquor stores open at this hour even in Germany.

She flops back against the tree and leans her head back, shaking her head in answer to the question. No, she can't sleep. The pre-dawn birdsong provides a weirdly cheerful counterpoint to her general demeanor, some waking up and going about their business before the sun ever rises.

It takes her a moment more to actually think this situation through just a little more, and wince. "I woke you. I'm sorry. I tried really hard not to."

The tone is subdued, though it's also pass-the-salt polite, save for the tinges of actual chagrin that dance along the lilt of her voice. "I'll try to be quieter next time."

—-

Bucky doesn't react to her leaping to her feet, nor to her readiness to fight. He is ready to stop her if she does lash out… but he won't bother up until there's actually anything to stop.

There isn't. She recognizes him presently, and relaxes from her panic snap-reaction. "Your form is better," is all he says, at first.

He lapses back into silence, letting her choose the first thing to say. It's an apology, which narrows his eyes slightly. "I don't think me being woken is the issue," he says. "I always wake up periodically, through the night."

He leans against the tree, folding his arms, his head lowering so he can regard her. "The issue is why there's going to be a next time."

His blue eyes are calm and even. "Are you good for this?"

—-

His compliments for her form produce a ghost of a smile. "Good. I hate disappointing my teacher."

She drops her head again though, like she doesn't have the energy to push it up again. It takes her a bit to answer. In part because she has a feeling he is the last person that will get impatient while she grapples in silence, in part because all her words seem to be pent up somewhere inside of her, hiding behind a tight, rock-like wall of pain and stress.

He asks if she's good for this; she tries to give him an honest assessment.

"I gave my word that I'd do this. It needs to be done."

That's not exactly an answer to his question, and she knows it.

"I want it done as quickly as fucking possible though. All this fucking talk of— how it's a great fucking vacation, all this lack of fucking urgency. Getting under my skin. Let's just do this shit and go home."

Anger rises in her tone, and there's a crunch. She lets out a disgusted noise and opens her hand.

The shattered pieces of the stopwatch hit the ground one by one.

She shakes her head hard. "I don't— I'm not angry at you." He doesn't deserve her anger, and she does have the grace to be embarrassed that she's let some of it fall in his vicinity, for all that he's more than strong enough to take it from her. He doesn't deserve it, so she clamps down on it.

She is trying, in her way, to be as stoic as he, continuing her quest to try to emulate Bucky Barnes in almost every way. In the past she has said what's on her mind, what's upsetting her. Both he and Jane have heard it in spades from her. But Bucky Barnes does not whine, Bucky does not spill, Bucky sucks it up and gets it done.

It's something she's held on to as she's tried to push down her emotions. Of course, Bucky Barnes probably doesn't cry into his pillow either, so she's already screwing that up.

"Just got a lot of shit to do both places I guess. But I mean I was there getting to work, I wasn't fucking around at the library. I checked the genealogical archives, the donated books, the rare books, the scrap pile. There are a couple of other branches. I asked the librarians if anyone came looking for that specific one before me; they said no."

It's kind of changing the subject, maybe, or perhaps just trying to offer proof that she is, indeed, 'good for this.'

—-

None of what she says is exactly an answer to his question.

He says nothing for a few moments after she finishes. His silence makes no secret of his dissatisfaction. She tries to change the subject with a rundown of the work she went and did, presumably trying to prove to him that she's all fine and good and there's been no disruption in her work. He stares right through her attempt to squirm around his question.

He eventually straightens up from his lean, walking around in front of her and crouching down so he can directly meet her eyes. His own are strict, unsympathetic, demanding. The eyes of an NCO about to set someone real straight.

"I don't care if you are angry at me or not," he starts— not unkindly, but not gently. "I care that you are angry, and you're going to let it affect your performance. It's already affected the mood. It was disruptive on the plane. It's disruptive now. If you have a problem with Zatanna not taking this seriously enough, have it out with her, or else get over it. We have a mission to do here, and being pissed at her is not gonna be anything but a distraction when we can't afford it."

He sighs, his first concession to the fact he does not enjoy doing this. "That you went and did work doesn't answer my question if you're good for this or not. If you'd rather be home focusing on shit and your mind is going to be half on that, then go home. You need all of your focus here. There's other lives resting on you having shit together."

—-

Jessica shakes her head in mute, impatient denial at the idea that she's mad at Zatanna, though maybe she is, and just doesn't want to be. It's a tiny modicum of what's going on with her anyway, and probably a reaction, and probably unfair. She's never cared about being unfair before, but she does now. Zatanna is a kid, anyway. No sense getting mad because people don't see things the way she does, especially young witches with entirely different perspectives on the world.

Bucky gets right in her face, tells her that if she can't focus she needs to go home. She bristles defensively; it's visible, though she keeps her mouth shut.

And for a moment she's sorely tempted. Nobody would understand, not really, not unless she gave them the full run down of everything. She'd look like a total bitch, look like she was bailing on them when they— ostensibly— needed her. But she could.

She considers the reasons why she even should. The murder case, now on bodies six and seven. Well, eight if you count one of the murderers, but Jessica doesn't. Three of those bodies in the ground because Jessica Jones can't solve it fast enough, and it's not getting solved any faster while she sits here in Germany.

Azalea, sitting in a prison now, though Jessica sure can't do jack shit about that without Zatanna and Constantine, so really, being here is helping Azalea. It doesn't feel entirely like that, but it is, and certainly if Jessica herself fucks something up because she's not focused, and gets one of them killed, that won't help matters either. She wouldn't want any of the team's death on her conscience either.

And of course the rising darkness, but…hey, that shit's everywhere. Germany or New York, it doesn't matter.

It's also clear Bucky's dressing down makes her feel about three feet high. She flushes, her mouth tightens, she hunches in on herself a bit after that initial bristle, and can't meet his gaze for more than a moment. It's not pleasant, it's not fun, to be so thoroughly called on her bullshit. Especially when she can't find any counter-argument, any defense to give him. She starts beating herself up under the surface when he says she was disruptive on the plane, that she's screwing with everyone else's vibe, and that crosses her face too.

She'll feel like a damned mess no matter where she goes anyway. The murder case can wait a few days, or even a week. Someone else might die over there, but that might happen anyway.

Her shoulders slump in defeat. She sighs. Her eyes lift to meet his. She's still weary, still in the grip of some serious depression— sadly, being told to 'snap out of it' doesn't help much with that— but she's determined, too.

"I gave my word," she says stubbornly. "So. I'm good for this."

Oddly though she finds when she says that some of those problems do neatly settle to the back of her mind, things she just can't do jack shit about because there are, in fact, problems here to deal with. It does lift a little of the weight-of-the-world burden from her shoulders, visibly, as if she's just putting several things down at once and kicking them into a mental corner to deal with them later.

—-

While Bucky's talking a big game about Jessica hashing out her problems with Zatanna directly or else just getting over them, he's also making a mental note to consider having a brief word with Zatanna herself to cut some of the more lighthearted chatter around Jessica. While the one is sulking, the other is being a little tone deaf, and neither is behavior he feels quite appropriate given the mission, this mix-up of personalities, and the circumstances going on in the background. Especially at home.

Not that he knows the all of it. But he's astute enough, from long experience, to know that plenty is going on with Jessica back home.

She bristles, at first. He can see her hackling defensively against his words. But then she hits a despondent point and just deflates in on herself. He waits a few moments, but she has no counter-arguments to make, no defenses to raise to excuse her behavior. Instead, she just starts beating herself up.

That's not productive either.

He says nothing when she repeats, again, that she gave her word, so she's good. He just sighs heavily and sits down in front of her, knees up and elbows folded over them. He gives her a searching look. "OK," he says, on another sigh. "What's the actual problem? You talked a big game about me being able to come to you about whatever. That not go both ways?"

—-

"You don't," Jessica points out, but some of the wall chips away when he asks 'that not go both ways?' It releases some of the tension of feeling rather mortified that he's had to come to her like this at all. There's a shift in her body language; she relaxes, settling more into the dynamic that usually happens between them. "Bucky. You never have come to me about whatever, ever, though the offer's still wide open. You deal with your shit by yourself. I should probably be living up to the same standard, shouldn't I?"

She reaches behind her, rips some bark off the tree, then decides the poor tree doesn't need to be assaulted. She tosses it down. Her tone drops again. "I admire the Hell out of you, you know? The world kicks you in the face, you shrug, you just sort of take it and then you kick the shit out of it right back. I mean maybe you talk to Jane, and that's cool, but you don't fucking spill it everywhere. I mean not that— not that I'd think less of you if you did, obviously, because if I did that would have been a stupid offer but you just don't, and I guess if I've picked anyone to try to live up to as I try to figure out how to stop being such a…walking…Fucktastrophe, I've picked you."

She picks up a twig and starts digging restlessly at the ground. "And you know what? I'm so fucking sick of myself it makes my teeth hurt. I go whole fucking weeks where I feel like I have my shit together, and then boom. I fuck shit up all over the fucking place and end up whining to all of my friends about…whatever the fuck. I never even used to do that, but I don't feel like drinking and being pissy is the right way to go about it either, cause fuck, if what I did on the plane was disruptive, well, I'd have been a real god damn peach six fucking months ago, believe me."

She digs harder, growling at the ground, "And I know maybe you think you're nobody to look up to, because despite you not opening up I have an inkling you maybe you don't think as much of yourself as other people think of you. But I do, for all sorts of reasons. More than I ever looked up to Steve, in fact, even though yeah, I had a serious case of hero-worship for awhile. Steve was this…shining ideal that made me want to do better, sure, at a point when I needed that. But you, god damn it, you show me the real-people way, and you've been in it with me every step of the way, do you understand the difference? Steve is all…untouched and off shining on his hill. You're not. You're down here with the rest of us. And since I'm definitely not untouched, you are the person that shows me that way forward, except I've already fucked it up because you never would have shown that you were upset in the first place; nobody would have had a god damn clue."

None of this is what's eating her, but he's at least inspired her to tell him why she's reluctant to just start giving him the run down. Her voice is pained by the end of it. She finally hurls the stick away, though off to the side where it can't possibly hit him.

—-

You don't, Jessica says.

Bucky actually leans back on his heels and blinks, as if he's not used to getting talked back at when he's in this mode. He probably isn't: when you talked back in the Army, your life just got leaps and bounds worse, so nobody really did it. He looks at her like it never occurred to him that the give-and-take he's referencing right now is not one he's engaging in himself. That he's never engaged in, in fact. It was just a foregone conclusion for him that he would share as he pleased (never) and she would share when necessary (when he would require it of her).

Like now. Except she's arguing back instead of complying. He's never come to her once, has he? He's dealt with everything himself, and so that's the example she's going to follow, because she hero-worships him. ADMIRES the shit out of him! She's picked him to live up to, out of everyone, even Steve, because Steve was the shining ideal but Bucky's real, in the trenches. Not untouched like Steve.

"First things first," he says, gently but firmly. "Steve ain't untouched. He went through twenty-odd years of shit to get to where he is now. He's been down in the shit with the rest of us."

He chuckles a little, a soft rueful sound. "Back then, Steve was even angrier and more volatile than you are." He is silent, a beat. "Than I am, now."

He lapses into a longer silence afterwards. "No," he eventually admits. "I haven't come to you about anything. I didn't tell you I was a model to emulate, though." He rubs at the back of his neck, looking upwards at the close of the gesture, as if searching the sky for patience— or the right words to say.

"Being like me isn't going to make you any less sick of being in your own skin," he finally says. "I want out of my own, most of the time."

—-

Steve was angrier and more difficult to deal with than she was? Jessica Jones looks shocked. "Now he says Great Googly Moogly and needs you to wipe salad dressing off his face," she says wryly. "He just comes across as completely innocent. How did that transformation take place?"

She's not really asking; she's just making the joke. Later she might actually want to know, but right now it's just something to break the tension. She can't imagine herself ever making that transformation though.

"As to that, nobody tells me who to admire," Jessica says, frowning at him. "You earned that. Because of how you carry yourself, how you keep right on defending the defenseless in spite of everything, how you're just— I mean 70 years, Bucky. I go through 8 measely months and just— " She opens her hand, and mimes an explosion, and points to herself.

Volatile. Like he said.

But he confides that last bit, and she shuts up for a moment, brown eyes steady and serious. "I'd offer to trade," she says at last, maybe bad at this, but maybe knowing humor isn't always the worst place to go when things turn dark. "But I'd be a little afraid that you'd do like most guys would, and just stand around groping at your newfound boobs. Course. I'd be getting to learn the joys of peeing while standing up, so there's that."

It really says a lot about the level of trust she has for him that she can make a joke like that, especially after having some very specific wounds ripped open yet again just a few scant days ago, without flinching or even getting particularly embarrassed. In some ways— all the taking orders and not backtalking— she'd have done very poorly in the military. In others— the fighting spirit and the ability to make vulgar jokes? She'd have fit right in.

But after delivering that, she turns a bit more serious. She goes silent, really considering what he's said. He admits that he's angry all the time too.

"I guess you are," she agrees softly. "Angry, I mean. I did see the fires." Her moral compass still teeters a little on this one, not sure where she, personally, is going to let that land, but she really doesn't feel much sympathy for the monsters Bucky punished, so it ultimately finds a spot and sticks; she feels no guilt for just ignoring that.

Her tone softens. "I don't want you to mistake this for me trying to push you into talking to me, Bucky, if that's not something you want. I told you whatever you needed, that I wasn't going to push. If all you need from me is sandwiches, cigarettes, booze, and my presence, well, I can do that. I've been trying to be a buddy, trying to— I dunno, be a man back at you when you seem to need a good man to hang around with, someone who also maybe kind of gets it and who also cares?"

She makes a sort of a rueful gesture at that, her hand waving up and down in a sort of shapeless motion. "Because I figured…that's what would help you the most. That was the vibe I got. Ultimately I feel like you do way more for me than I do for you, and I'm grateful for every single way you've helped me. But it also sometimes feels awfully unfair to you. I mean Jesus, you had to come out here and tell me to stop acting like a child in the wee hours of the morning, which is kind of the definition of unfair to you."

—-

"Anger isn't always represented by how vigorously you cuss," Bucky says grimly. "With him it was the number of fights he picked, where I had to scrape him off the ground after." A sigh. "Every damn time."

He cocks an eye at her. "And the dressing thing isn't really a fair representation," he points out. "He was really distracted by Peggy at the time." And who wouldn't be?

It's worth noting he doesn't actually fully answer her question about how the transformation happened, though. Bucky knows, of course, but he also knows the story of that particular journey is Steve's own to tell, if he should so wish.

There is a brief moment of 'levity,' where Jessica offers to trade, but she's afraid he'd just do like most men and stand around touching his new breasts. Bucky shrugs with the air of a man who isn't seeing anything real novel. "Touched enough tits already, in my time, that I'm not gonna go crazy just having some on my own chest," he says frankly.

He grows a little uncomfortable, though, when Jessica emphasizes that she's not being told who to admire— she's choosing. Choosing because of his carriage and strength and continued dedication to defending the defenseless.

"It's not really in spite of," he says. His eyes lower, and his expression visibly skirts around the 'seventy years.' Doesn't want to think about it. "It's because of. I got debts to pay. I defend the defenseless because of how many I've killed."

She doesn't want to push him into talking. She just… feels he does way more for her than she for him, and that it's a bit unfair.

"Unfair is 'ten children dying, because they were frequent visitors at the home of a woman who housed me during an extended mission,'" he says, voice flat. "I killed them based on the minute chance that they might have described me to someone I thought might be a tail. I made it a fire, so it would seem natural."

He stares at a point past her. "There is nothing 'unfair' when it comes to me."

—-

She makes a soft 'huh' sound at that. Jessica cusses, but she actually doesn't start many fights. For all she's learning, she often avoids them, preferring, as it happens, to talk or intimidate her way out of situations rather than to trade blows. Of course, there are plenty of times when that doesn't work, but…her survival instinct means she doesn't pick them. As does, on some level, the actual aversion she has to harming others. She takes no joy in it whatsoever when she has to do it, though it sometimes does serve as an outlet for her anger. It's more like getting pus out of an ingrown toenail and feeling relief when that happens than it is something she takes any pride or pleasure in.

Interesting, that, how things can look one way on the surface, and be another way entirely. Like Steve. Like herself. Like Bucky, for that matter.

He makes his comments about the boobs and she snorts a laugh. Sure, she'd gotten grossed out when Darcy had gone on and on about Jane and Bucky having sex, but…there really are just different ways that some things can come across. She doesn't want to go there any further, but…it's good to laugh for just a second, and he's so— just— not gross about it really.

He says it's not in spite of but because of, and she shuts up again, because…this is it. Him talking to her. It's time to listen.

So she's still, she's quiet, when he tells his story.

She doesn't even answer right away. She really thinks about that for a long time, and is visibly doing so.

She does not go to 'it wasn't you'. She only had one victim, to his many, many victims, but she knows all the ways those lines of responsibility get blurred, how one can sit up nights wondering where culpability begins and ends. Wondering whether it happened because deep down, the person in the mirror is a monster who wanted to do those horrible things.

She is somber, but her face reflects nothing else. When she speaks, it's slowly, carefully. She has a knack, after all, for saying all the wrong things in all the wrong places. It's nothing she wants to do now.

"I might not seem the type," she says at last. "But… I've been thinking a lot lately. About God. I know you believe in Him. And I actually do too. And when you tell me something like that, I have to think back to my Sunday school days."

It wasn't all her surly mood that had kept her from joking about Jesus Juice.

In fact, her recent experiences have really gotten her reacquainted with all of these thoughts.

"Somewhere around all the little paper sheep and Easter baskets, I remember that there was a lot of talk about repenting, right? And the thing about it was, repentance, true repentance… if you were doing it? God took you back instantly. Right? Prodigal son, and all that. He didn't wait for you to erase or pay for all your mistakes, though of course paying your debts is part of repenting at all, so He certainly expected you. Expects us to, I guess. You and me both, all of us."

She looks up at the sky, just starting to lighten. "You repent, He forgives, that's the deal. And that's what you've done. It's easy to forgive you if you're like me, and God, and all your friends, on the outside-in, cause we know that your mind was warped, twisted, bent to the will of another, and that you never really wanted that. You were tresspassed against. We all forgive you. That's why you tell that, and you're still clean as snow in our eyes. But that's why the prayer does it both ways. Why you forgive your tresspass and your tresspassers."

"I know you can't be clean as snow in your own eyes, but maybe it's supposed to work that way, because if you were, you wouldn't remember to keep repenting. It's a neverending process. But… the thing is… there's still room for you to start forgiving yourself, just a little. Because you're not a monster. You're a person who cares, truly cares. You've got a big heart, a lot of compassion, a lot of honor. You give, and give, and give of yourself, and I think that's basically just who you are, regardless of any debts you have to pay. It's certainly who you've chosen to be, and since we're the sum of our choices, I think that maybe it would be okay, that it wouldn't undermine the debts you're trying to pay, if, just a little, you shifted some of that guilt, and blame, and shame back onto the real monsters, and cut yourself just a bit of a break."

—-

She knows he believes in God. He laughs a little, voicelessly, his head lowering. His gaze fixes on the ground.

"I used to," he says. "I don't anymore. After seventy years, I keep thinking to myself— how would He allow it?" He does not necessarily mean what was done to him.

He is silent as she speaks on about repentance, and how that does not require the payment of debt first— just a true desire to atone for sin. Repent and be forgiven, instantly. That's the deal. And especially so when it's a case like his, when it wasn't really him— when it was someone else forcing his hands. When he was the one who was the victim, and not the victimizer.

He does not say anything for some considerable time. His eyes are faraway, his mind replaying some distant thought.

"I know where the blame lies," he eventually says. "I know who the real monsters are. I know who it was pulling the trigger. Forgiving and putting the blame where it belongs and cutting myself breaks doesn't make me stop remembering what they sounded like, screaming. What they smelled like, burning. Those things are mine to keep."

He sighs out a breath.

"What's your problem, Jessica?" he repeats, presently. He sounds exhausted. "If you don't want to say, we can stop this conversation here. You've given your word."

—-

"I know," Jessica says quietly, when he says he still has the memories.

And she leaves it at that, for now, especially when he wearily turns the question back on her.

It works both ways, and so she tells him.

"One bad night that criss-crossed almost everything I've been dealing with into a total clusterfuck," she says quietly. "Thanks to a goddess really taking exception to the idea of helping Azalea. She unleashed the monster inside of Az, and it all just went to shit. Raw power spilling everywhere, hurting people, killing them probably, flattening a parking garage certainly. The Devil of Hell's Kitchen fighting her with everything he had. I'm glad he had some new bad-ass gear from somewhere, cause it saved his life for sure. She got strong as Thor by the end there."

She shifts, closing her eyes. "I was pretty useless for most of it. I tried to talk her down, she flipped over my head, dislocates my fricking skull, suddenly I can't move. Starts making threats, Xihunel does. She— he— is going to kill my buddy DHK in front of my eyes and rape me for awhile."

With anyone else, she can't even say the word, but Bucky has seen so much that with him, she just… lets it go. "Pretty much took me right back to that eight months, truth be told. I managed to get up, do a few useful things. The world didn't end, New York's still there, DHK and I are both still alive, those are all plusses. But that's not what I'm seeing when I close my eyes really."

A pause. "You wanna know why I guess I got angry at Zee? She did show up at the end. Bound Xihunel again. Saved both our lives, saved the day in fact, and good for her. Healed us up. Then left on some other emergency— or just to go placate John, maybe. Just this big princess wand twirl then off to do something else but I feel like how? How could she know, how could she see all that, how could she just do that and then chirp away about vacations over here? She hasn't even asked what happened. She doesn't know what triggered it, she doesn't know what the conversation I had with the Obsidian Butterfly was, she doesn't know why, she doesn't even know what happened next. For all she knew, I took this kid back to my apartment and let her sleep it off, right?"

Jessica scrubs her fingers through her hair. "She doesn't even know about the fucking 18 month old from my murder case who witnessed the three murders I've let happen cause I can't solve it fast enough, how Itzpapalotl brought her to me, dumped her with me before the shit hit the fan. She doesn't know that I left Azalea Kingston in a box at Stark Towers, in a little prison with a little bed, because her binding was gone within hours. It's back to where it all started…a college student with a fucked up rapist in her head who is trying to take control of her mind. Another member of the Shitty Club. I left her there with Trish trying to care for her and keep her human, and with Tony's god damn promise that he'd freeze her in carbonite or whatever the real life equivalent is if she started getting completely and totally out of control. And I'm relieved to be gone for her for awhile because sometimes I see this kid that I love, and sometimes I see the creature that put me down, nearly killed me and my friend, and would have done a lot more if he'd had the chance. And I hate myself for seeing it."

She exhales sharply. "And I get it. I get that Az is a hard kid to love, to care about. I get that the way that she deals with what's inside her turns her into a real mess to deal with. I get that she's uncomfortable, I get that she's in-your-face, I get that she's weird. But she still deserves care and attention."

She clenches her fist. "And it makes me really pissed off at myself, because what the hell did I think would happen? Did I think I could just feed her tacos and give her hugs and try to give her a family, meet her needs so she wouldn't be homeless, and just magically that would make it all okay, give her the strength to put him to sleep forever or something? In the end, maybe I even made it worse."

She shakes her head sharply. There's more, a little more, but not a lot more, and whatever the more is, that she's keeping really tight to her chest indeed; that won't come out. But the more is perhaps 1% of it, really, in the face of the rest of it. "Maybe things would have been different if I'd just let her be. If I hadn't tried to interfere."

—-

Bucky remains expressionless throughout Jessica's story. Primarily because far too much of it resonates too close to his own issues— being two people, one good and one breathtakingly evil— and he doesn't trust himself to respond appropriately. Cannot respond appropriately

He does hear her reference to the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, about his mysterious new gear, how it saved his life— he resolves to tell Jane about that later, privately, and to also reveal this sudden link that circles them all back— but he does not admit his and Jane's part in the creation of that armor. Not yet. Not necessarily because he doesn't trust Jessica with the information, but because habits die hard and a spy lives and dies by knowing more and revealing less than anyone else does.

Instead, he just scrubs a hand over his face, processing this in silence. His everpresent ID bracelet catches the light and gleams briefly on his wrist. "That's a question Zatanna will have to answer for you. All I can do is ask: how can I be here, after seventy years of what I've seen?" He drops his hand from his face again. "How can I look forward to seeing Germany, in a time of peace, after the life I've led? Some people put their life in compartments. It's how they… survive."

But he gives Jessica another searching, uncomfortably-direct look at 'sometimes I see someone I love, and sometimes I see a monster.' After a moment he seems to just let go the idea of saying anything, however, too tired to really grasp or articulate the vague hurt about the obvious applicability to himself. Too tired to defend himself well against the doubt that starts to pile up in his own heart to hear someone wonder aloud if it's folly to pretend that giving someone hugs, reassurances, a normal life could magically purge the monster waiting within them—

How long has he been pretending normalcy to run away from a hard, frank confrontation of his own monstrosity?

"I would still be the Winter Soldier without interference," he finally says. It is all he can offer, and then he stands up and turns away. He wants to be a source of strength, but tonight finds himself failing in that arena. It is all too— close.

"You ought to catch sleep while you can," he says, as he makes to head back.

—-

She hadn't really recognized the parallels at all, not until he said the very last bit. On the searching look it's clear that she hasn't even really connected a dot that puts him in the same class or category at all. She may see Az as a member of "the Shitty Club," but she didn't see the situation as the same.

But when he says those final words the way he says them, it's driven home, and she winces hard.

God. Damn. It. Thoughtless. She really should have kept a lid on it.

She stands up quickly, comes beside him. She can't just leave it like this. She's already chosen the wrong words once tonight, already failed to offer any sort of balm or comfort at all, and now she's gone and made it worse than ever before, simply in the act of just…telling him what it all felt like in the aftermath of this very recent event. If she opens her mouth again she could make it even worse, and that thought scares her even more.

She ought to go home, not because she can't focus, but because she is a force of entropy herself. She's going to ruin everything just by being herself. It's inevitable.

She finally just…spins around in front of him and puts her hand out for a moment, trying to get in his way. She sort of shakes it at him. Stop. Just…stop. A moment. Mutely, because she's still scared to speak, but trying to buy herself a moment to get him off that train.

She has to say something though.

"It all went so horribly wrong," she says grimly. "So I blamed myself. It wasn't…the idea that someone did something. It was the idea that I did it. Because if I had done it right, if I'd done it better, it would not have gone to shit."

Like it's busy going to shit right now in fact.

"And I'm seeing it that way, not because it's the right way to see it. It's the wrong way to see it, don't you understand? And I know that's the wrong way to see it, and I'm only seeing it because he hit me at one of my weakest points. In here." She stabs at her heart. "It's not something I think is right, okay?"

She wants to be a source of strength for him as well…if only she knew how.

"I'm talking about a specific magical ancient god clusterfuck, with a specific, separate being, with a specific situation that's way out of my league and I don't know how to fix, not about— it's— damn it. Don't— fucking listen to what I say, listen to what I feel, and if you did that you'd— you'd just see! And you'd just— you'd just know! What I'm not saying, what I don't mean, what's true, what's not true, just…!"

If he keeps walking she'll walk backwards. She'll do whatever it takes to keep up. The last is an expulsion of frustration, but maybe, just maybe, he'll understand.

She scrubs her fingers through her hair. "Just…don't go back to bed holding onto it like that, thinking— "

—-

"Too many words, Jessica," Bucky says, gently but with a certain finality. Because it is too many, right now— too much. "Too many." He takes her wrists, pulling her hands from their clutch in her own hair with a quiet sound of metal articulating. He pulls her hands down, his touch lingering a moment before he nudges to get her to move aside.

"I am not as… resilient… as you may think," he slowly feels through a thought.

He starts to walk past her. "I'm not holding onto anything. I know what you meant. It's not what you said. It's how I… what I… think…"

He trails into silence. So much for mood and making Jessica more focused and less freaked out. He's fucking up, but he honestly cannot seem to just… do this. Bull through it and say the platitudes, the nice hopeful words he does not even think he himself believes. Not right now.

"Don't blame yourself," he finally decides encapsulates it, before he continues walking. "Talk another time. I don't want to compromise things more than I have."

—-

Too many words.

He's so gentle with her, removing her hands from her hair like she's a child. He says he's not as resilient as she thinks, and that was her mistake…ultimately seeing the man's stoic facade…instead of the man himself. She never meant to hurt him, but she definitely has, because she didn't see him. Maybe all that admiration was a mistake, because it didn't let her see her friend. Stepping right in his hurts, because he had it so together that she couldn't see where all the pitfalls might be. In retrospect they seem obvious, but hindsight? Ever 20/20.

And he still stops to try to straighten her out. But she does him the courtesy of stemming the tide of those damnable, useless words.

She lets him walk past, tears welling up in her eyes, though she walks behind him, because she's still trying to listen, listening to him falter. She has never heard him struggle to say anything at all. She thinks she can fill in the blanks maybe.

It's not what you said. It's how I feel about myself.

If he liked being touched by anyone other than Jane, she might have offered him one of those hugs, or a touch to the wrist, or a squeeze on the shoulder, or anything to try to silence the demons in his head, anything that wasn't another word out of her god damned mouth. But he does not, and right now that would be an incredible violation.

She opens her mouth to say he's compromised nothing. But even that is three words too many.

In the end she just stops walking and lets him go, hanging her head, cursing herself for a fool. The sun rises while she stands there, brilliant gold and pink and purple, all against a bright blue foreign sky. Wiser heads than her might enjoy that sunrise this morning, might give themselves a moment of respite before they have to go plunge feet-first into horrible shit.

Compartmentalizing.

Jessica Jones misses it entirely, her gaze fixed on the street below until she finally turns away. She can't face him, whom she has harmed all unmeaning, she can't face Jane, who will surely be furious, she can't face Zatanna, who she was so unfairly angry at, she can't face Constantine and Red either, though the reasons for that are more unspecified, something to do with being bitchy to them on the plane, but also them eventually, inevitably also knowing how thoroughly she's messed up other things.

Whether she'll go to another library branch to quietly work so she can try to contribute something useful, or whether she'll end up some place that sells liquor even in the mornings, not even she knows, but she knows she can't go back to home base right now.

Home base will be full. Full of so many words.

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