A Day Late and a Dollar Short

May 12, 2017:

Bucky Barnes, Jane Foster, and Jessica Jones head to one of Berlin's hottest swing dancing clubs in the hopes of intercepting Wilhelm Kreuz, the contact who was suspiciously scarce when it was time for a rendezvous with Reiner Steinschneider. The three team members get to enjoy a few precious moments of fun and laughter before learning that here in Germany, nothing is as it seems. Kreuz proves to be frightened friend, not foe, and he arrives with a warning that comes a day late and a dollar short.

Oranienburger Tor, Berlin, Germany

Sing sing sing, sing, everybody start to sing like dee dee dee, bah bah bah dah
Now you're singin' with a swing.

When the music goes around,
Everybody's goes go to town.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine, Red Robin

Mood Music: Sing, Sing, Sing


Fade In…

The dance club where Wilhelm Kreuz, the contact who ditched on Reiner Steinschneider, is said to hang out at a swing club called Oranienburger Tor. It's got a huge stage with a traditional big band, live. The musicians are framed beneath a showering scatter of muted blue and white lights that cascade behind them. The floors are the polished hardwood of the best dance halls, and while there's a little bar at the back it's hardly the focus of the place. Happy people zip back and forth across the dance floor, dressed in their vintage best, all happy to lose themselves in wild rhythms and snappy beats.

There's no sign of the guy just yet; he's been a bit curiously difficult to pin down. Then again he's supposed to be a clarivoyant, which might account for it. Finding him here might be the best possible place to find him, here, in a crowd, where picking out a specific set of faces or actions might be a bit harder on his particular power set.

There was some back and forth over who should go and why. Zatanna is off pursuing her own lead. Constantine talked about coming, but ultimately got drawn away by some magical disturbance he felt best suited to check out. Someone had to stay at the penthouse to look after Reiner and Adelaide; Red elected to take that duty. Jessica was a little at a loss as to whether or not she should go, saying something about how she might not really fit in at a dance club, but put up a curiously token level of resistance when told that she ought to. Also curiously, she wandered out a few hours before to find a tasteful vintage dress in a beautiful sky blue color, something with fluttering cap sleeves, a high waistline, swingy skirts to her knees and a V-neck that shows off zero cleavage. She'd put on a little make up. She had left her boots under the thing, which isn't exactly what one is supposed to wear with them, but that was something practical.

It is almost as if the private investigator would maybe like to try having a little fun, like she might want to just go hang out with friends and get dressed up and feel pretty for a change, like she may even be hoping shit doesn't even hit the fan.

—-

There was really no question as to one person who should definitely be going to investigate the swing club. There's really not going to be anyone better at looking like he fits in there than Bucky Barnes — an actual relic from the time period being reproduced — and given that it's a place that enforces that vintage feel… well, showing up inappropriately dressed, or without any apparent clue of what was going on, would stand out.

Their target's already clairvoyant. Best not to stand out even more.

Bucky saw through Jessica's token resistance immediately, and packed her off to get a dress with very specific instructions on how it should look. He took Jane out a little later to personally dress her — and himself — in period-appropriate clothing, all the while complaining about the fact all the styles he's used to are now old enough to even be called period-appropriate.

"You know what we talked about when we talked about 'period-appropriate?'" he asks, in answer to a question no one actually asked, as he shuttles Jane and Jessica into the hall with practiced familiarity. "The goddamn Civil War. Veterans from THAT were, to us, what I guess my generation is to you kids now —"

This will probably continue unless stopped.

—-

"It must have been a humbling experience for you, growing up with stories from that time," Jane inserts, solemn, respectful, into Bucky Barnes's considerable segue about Back In His Day. "Did they ever tell you about pushing tea into the harbour? No, wait, didn't you get to see that one yourself?"

Her straight face is ready for professional poker halls. That's what he gets when he breaks out the old man stories.

But tonight's plan, mainly facilitated by Bucky's insistence, brings Jane out here to the dance hall, looking more than a little intimidated by all the fanfare and brass band noise of it all. All thanks to Barnes's discerning eye, she's cleaned up marvelously well, and looks a moment in time frozen straight from the Fourties: dressed in some little red number, tailored with old, vintage lines, her dark hair curled into a delicate chignon.

The only anachronism breaking up the look is her handbag, and though it took some cunning, she's stashed in it her laptop to bring along. Because Jane has been telling Bucky this all night, again and again, since he brought up the idea at all: she doesn't dance in public. She does not dance where other people can and will see her, and will probably, maybe, definitely, absolutely laugh. She can just watch. And work. And keep a look-out.

"Were these things always so loud?" she asks, or tries to, over the clamour of the band.

—-

Jessica Jones might thin her lips enough to bring them fully inside her mouth in her effort not to laugh both at the back-in-my-day rawr-rawr grumbles and the rejoinder about the tea parties. She doesn't jump into the middle of it. It's worth noting she tried to do the thing with the pins and the curlers but mostly it just fell into its straight as an arrow messy waterfall seconds after. She threw a brush hard enough to break it trying to do it right and finally just gave it the Hell up.

The 5-minute lecture she got from Bucky about how women did not leave the house with their hair undressed had produced, "Look, Grandpa, you know how to fix my hair? Cause I can't figure it out and if it's left to me this is a lost cause."

It was to her infinite surprise that he not only did, but consented to do her hair as well as Jane's. She decided not to ask. She in fact might have had a moment of pure feminine enjoyment at the effect his handiwork produced.

Everything she owns is in her phone, which is tucked into a little carrying case that she has tucked into a garter which is under the skirt, because handbags are not her favorite thing in the whole wide world. She does pause to look for Wilhelm; all of them will know what he looks like due to the fact that she'd been able to call up his driver's license photograph from the database. She does this mostly because it's their job and she's trying to do it, but where Jane looks overwhelmed, Jess looks like she's trying not to look rather fascinated by the smooth, controlled, and skillful motions of the dancers. "Damn— I mean— darn," cause 40s or something, "they really had to work at learning how to do all that didn't they?"

Just a touch of envy at their ability to move across the floor as if they were all but flying with their partners, as if the very essence of fun had been installed into their feet.

—-

Bucky turns the most withering look in existence on Jane. "Haven't you made that joke before? You REALLY just love that one."

He might still be grumpy about the 'grandpa' dig he got from Jessica earlier, though the fact that he'd afterwards not only consented to do both their hairstyles in appropriate period fashion, but done it deftly and well, was probably revenge enough for the jibe. Any questions as to how exactly he knew how to dress a woman's hair drew a cough, a smirk, and a "How do you think?"

Jane got her chignon. Jessica got classic victory rolls, curled about her face.

Were these things always so loud? Jane tries to ask, as they make their way in. He glances down at her, and both women are treated to the rare sight of him bright-eyed and jaunty, wearing half a smile, careless and fully in his element. This is probably the closest they'll ever get to seeing James Barnes as he was in his youth: pre-war, pre-Winter Soldier, pre the weight of a century that now sits heavily on his shoulders. "It was the point for them to be loud," he answers, and plucks up her handbag to plop it on a table. "And it's really not that much work at all. It's a very easy dance—"

He tugs on Jane's hand, mischievous. "C'mon. Give me this. It's been seventy-five years since the last time I got to take two girls out." A pause. "Steve didn't want his." More like Steve's didn't want HIM.

And unless she puts up a giant fight, Jane is getting dragged out. But somehow, despite his playfulness, Bucky still does manage to keep one eye peeled.

—-

That withering look earns Jane's most cavalier shrug. "What? It's very unpatriotic of you to think of an essential piece of American history as a joke, James. Maybe you shouldn't've put the tea in the harbour. You know people are going to bring it up."

Answer enough. Yes, yes she really does love that one. Never letting that running gag go.

But Bucky gets his ample revenge, especially in the way he takes and dismisses his handbag to a table. Jane cries out plaintively, because no matter how careful he is, it's never careful enough with her precious technology. "Hey, hey, watch the laptop! I need it to get some work done! And you really don't want to see me dance. Because it's going to be awful and you're going to dump me on the spot, and —"

But he's already grasping her hand, and she looks a little deer-in-headlights, and —

— really, there's no real fight in Jane, not really, could never be, not when she glimpses James Barnes under the lights of the dance hall and sees a glimpse of him lost and decades ago. It's like a telescope's shot back to the gestation of the universe, and for these precious moments she can witness the dawning galaxies and pulsars of the man before he was twisted by years of blood and darkness.

Give me this, he implores, and her heart unravels to the playful look in his eye. There's no way she can ever tell him no.

Flashing a 'please avenge, and/or remember me, live long to tell my tale' look Jessica's way, Jane grumbles instead at talk of two women, "Please, tell me again how you got half of Williamsburg pregnant —" as she's dragged out into the dance floor.

—-

Jessica Jones simply laughs as Jane shoots her that look. She cocks her hand in a wave, figuring to let them have it, tucking the memory of Bucky looking so happy away, and really, the memory of Jane looking so flustered but consenting to have a little fun too is one she'll cherish as well. It leaves her at a bit of a loose end, but she sort of wanders over to the little table, saying to Jane, "It's okay, I'll keep an eye on it." She seems relaxed enough, though set to basically watch the ins and outs of the people coming into the club from her vantage point, one they'd basically have to pass. As good a place as any for a stakeout that she hopes ultimately comes to no sort of conclusion at all, a thought she relentlessly refuses to feel guilty about. Yes, they all need to go home— she's got reasons aplenty to do so, but for whatever reason, tonight, she just can't summon the urgency. It's as if she's come to the end of her rope, as if all her worry and stress and concern has finally revealed itself to be a burden too heavy to carry all at once; she's going to have to chunk it down, divide it into pieces, and deal with it as it comes.

Meanwhile, the band changes out.

The new band is clad in white and black suits, they bring out instruments so well-cared for they all but gleam beneath the varied lights of the club. They settle themselves on the stage in short order, giving Bucky and Jane plenty of time to get out on the floor, and then they launch into a high-energy, fast little number that seems to impact almost everyone in the room. The laughter grows brighter. The energy of the dancers seems to pick up. Feet lift off the floor just a little more. People whirl and wheel, giving it their all even if they're starting to tire.

—-

She's just not going to let it go. Ever. Bucky rolls his eyes, but the gesture is more good-humored than anything else. It's hard for him to be in a bad mood in a setting like this. "I did not get anyone pregnant," he assures.

Jane protests when he grabs her. He flicks a glance at her, but his expression says plainly he's not listening to a word she's saying. He just grins at her in a way he hasn't in decades, in a way even Jane hasn't seen him grin before. The smile wears decades of rust, but it's a smile without burden or bitterness. There's no way she can tell that no, so she lets him pull her out to the floor.

Despite his demeanor, he is watching out for their mark as they move, but he doesn't skimp on the actual dance. He takes the lead immediately, showing her the few simple steps that form the basis of the dance, then guiding her into gradually more and more complex moves. He ramps it up until she's spinning every other step, subtly using his strength to make his lifts and throws of her smooth and easy as possible.

He's good. Very good. Despite the years, he hasn't forgotten a thing. He's unrepentantly using up a good portion of the floor with his showing-off, though people don't seem to mind so much as they just want to either continue dancing — or gawk.

The song eventually draws to an end, and — not even breathing hard — Bucky flashes another grin and gives Jane a reckless peck on the forehead. "Go play with your computer," he says, his eyes plainly saying he hasn't totally forgotten why they're here. "I think I ought to teach the wallflower a thing or two." And unless Jane puts a stop to him, he turns and starts towards Jessica with dire purpose.

—-

Little by little, the dance and her partner both coax Jane out of her reticence, and it can be witnessed from afar the way she slowly warms to the dance floor. Her attention slowly melts from self-consciousness and turns straight up on Bucky Barnes himself, and Jane rhymes with his patient guide. Her steps are impractised, not actually having participated in a swing dance before, but she's danced with him — and she seems to have a deep and intimate familarity with his lead.

Though she hitches her steps, not too sure at first how it goes, surprisingly the little scientist moves with a trained grace. Jane possesses a smoothless to suggest she may have danced before, long ago, and never to away transparent mention. She did insinuate to John Constantine that perhaps she has secrets of her own.

In the end, though, the steps do not seem to matter as the beat picks up and so does James Barne, possessing enough power and talent that the throws of his arms and seamless twist of his body that Jane's feet barely touch the ground. He handles her like she weighs nothing, and amidst those many lifts and twirls, she lets a loud, unbidden laugh go. Jane never laughs that loudly, and never in public.

When it ends, she's breathing hard, and her careful hair is already a disaster, its curls in a wild disarray. Jane sways, visibly dizzy, flushed in the cheeks and punch-drunk. Crazy man. She feels like she just stepped off a tilt-a-whirl.

"By all means, go nuts," she bleats, with another soft laugh, and staggers her way back. Jane just hopes she won't get an impaired ticket on the way back to the table.

—-

Bucky stalks towards her with dire purpose, and Jessica Jones…

Grins, tosses Jane a wave and goes to meet him, to get this entirely new kind of lesson from Bucky Barnes. She doesn't even bother putting up a token resistence this time. Play it cool all she wants, but she wanted to have fun tonight, and she's not going to have too much fun standing by the table watching the purse and the door. "Alright, show me how to avoid embarrassing myself," she says, a sparkle in her own brown eyes that is just as rare as the one that had shown up in his.

Ironic, really, given all her griping about the vacation vibe, that after a few weeks here she's more than ready to do just that.

As Jane fires up the computer she will find one of her newer programs is giving her an alert. Meanwhile, a side door opens. A man sidles in, a hat pulled low over his face. He looks around, bites his lip, and then heads for the little table; perhaps his lady friend forgot her own purse, and he'd better go get it before they leave for the night.

The band starts another wild number, this one even more high-energy than before; it's a tough one to teach clod-footed private investigators how to be light on their feet, but no doubt Bucky is up to the challenge.

—-

There is a fluency to the way he leads and she follows that suggests they have danced before. It doesn't suggest what kind of dance, however. Certainly doesn't reveal that some of those dances were not for fun, and in fact could only metaphorically be called dances.

It does not take long for him to teach a new pattern for her to follow, especially since he seems aware of the fact she was trained formally to some degree long ago: whether because she told him, or because he simply felt that in the movements of her slight body. Something wry does come and go in his eyes as he guides her limbs with her previous training in mind, as if for one brief moment he were looking at something old and familiar.

Her sudden laughter in the midst of the dance is his reward for the exertion taken in giving her that wild, free-wheeling dance. Well — that and the way she looks aftewards, flushed and breathless and visibly reeling from the wild pace he set.

He's smiling, but in his eyes flickers a brief hint of purpose. He glances at Jane's bag, and knows he's got to let her go to do her thing. Ushering her off the floor, he trades her for Jessica — who seems much less reluctant to answer his approach than he expected. He greets her with lifted brows and half a smile, and when the music starts his body language wordlessly demands the lead with the automatic assurance of a man accustomed to dancing his gender-declared role.

Show me how to avoid embarrassing myself, she says. "I'll do you a little better than that," he answers.

He takes a slightly different tack with Jessica, leading her aggressively in moves keyed to the fact she's even stronger than he is. There are even times he flips around her rather than the other way around, displaying his agility and her strength in a reversal of the usual norms. He guides them into a whirling pace that's frankly a little nuts, though still believably within the realms of human performance.

And the whole time, he's still watching. He catches sight of that man sidling around, looking a little nervous. His blue gaze drifts towards Jane.

—-

James Buchanan Barnes is a man in his element. A man, for a brief, bittersweet window, is back embracing a life lost in ice over seventy years ago.

Jane does not miss that cavalier way he dismisses her back to her work, no doubt some artifact back from the forties: definitely something to catch her /old world sexism/ radar. Perhaps any other night, she'd respond to it with an arched look and dwindling patience —

— but, this time, she lets it go. She laughs it away, too intoxicated on James the way he is, and the last thing in the world taking him away from this precious mood. Jane's never seen him so free, temporarily unshackled of the great weight he shall always carry, and she sees him off with a brief touch of her hand to his jaw, her thumb stroking the bone of his chin. Go on and dance, sweetheart.

Seeing off Jess with a wink, she slumps down into her chair, assuming sentry of their things and, somewhat discreetly, angling herself to take up watch on the door. Or glances, really, as Jane opens her laptop and runs her initializing scripts.

She lets them execute as she elans her head to her hand, blinking the lingering dizziness away from her eyes, looking on at the dance floor as — wow. It is a treat to watch James and Jessica dance, and Jane looks on with equal parts awe and envy. Super-strength looks like a giant game, sometimes, and one she sure wishes she could play. It astounds her bodies can even move like that —

Her computer beeps. Jane's eyes track back to the screen, and she sorts through it to realize — magic. Holy shit. First off, breakthrough — her detection script works. Second, it's working, and right now, which means something —

Her eyes check the door and catch the arrival. The arrival that's headed his way to her very table.

With Bucky and Jessica both immediately occupied on the dance floor, Jane realizes immediacy is all on her. She can only do one thing. She closes her laptop, and, letting out a deep breath, crosses her legs and leans her jaw into both hands. When he comes closer, she double-takes as if genuinely surprised, and smiles with all the innocent joy of some pretty and bubbly and left-alone American tourist. "Hi!" she greets. "Are you looking to dance?"

—-

Jessica is first surprised, and then delighted by Bucky Barnes' dazzling dancing. He makes it look easy, makes it seem easy, and if she's offended by the idea that she should let him take lead it shows nowhere in her face or demeanor. Not now, not tonight, when she seems to have stepped into a place enchanted by bright magic for a change, a place where she feels wild and free and safe all at once, a place where she herself feels unshackled.

She discovers she absolutely loves to dance. This isn't really like the grinding, disgusting press of bodies in clubs where she's been forced to carry out investigations. This is something else again. It probably helps that it's Bucky introducing her to it, a person who is for her one of the absolute safest people in her life, but she's noticed the lack of predator vibe among the other dancers as well. It ignites something in her, and if she occasionally missteps, well, he's covering for her. She gives one of those rare, full laughs when he flips around her, her deep alto not at all hard-edged or flinty now. For one moment, she's the woman she could have been had various tragic events and dark figures not made their way into her orbit, still sassy, of course, but free from the mental barbed wires that both protect her and cut into her at every turn.

Meanwhile, Jane comes face to face with the nervous figure of Wilhelm Kreuz. He swallows, then offers her a hand. "Yes, of course, that would be lovely."

He is a good dancer; he hangs out here all the time. It's not Bucky-level dancing, but he falls into step with ease, though everything about him is twitchy. He winces against something— perhaps the magic Jane detected, perhaps something else. And says: "You should get out of here, Dr. Foster. You and your friends. They're gathering power tonight, power they intend to use to terrible purpose. It may be okay, if you don't let Reiner touch that journal. They put on a great show, but they want you to give it to him. They locked it so only Armand's blood descendent could read it, and when he does the trap will be sprung. Please, you must hurry, and put a stop to their plans…"

—-

Clarivoyants are good at seeing the future, but pinpointing timing?

That's harder.

And tonight, the warning comes, but it comes…just a little too late.

Cut to…Good Intentions

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