Losing The Leash

May 20, 2017:

Bucky invites John over to discuss his evolving plan for deconditioning himself, and putting The Winter Soldier behind him once and for all.

Jane's Apartment

(And Bucky's, too.)


NPCs: Chas Chandler

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, Jane Foster, Captain America, Agent Peggy Carter, Agent Coulson


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Sometime after the return from Germany, a text came in to John's phone from Bucky. This in itself is notable, because the former Winter Soldier is not really the sociable young man he once was, and rarely reaches out any longer unless for a very good reason.

The text of it was not elaborate. Could John come over to Jane's place? There's a favor he would like to ask.

There is little, on John's arrival, to indicate what's going on or why this particular locale was chosen, though reasons can certainly be guessed — Jane's apartment is likely one of the most fortified locations in Brooklyn by now. Bucky himself is waiting with a bottle and some glasses out on the coffee table.

It is rather a surprising bottle, not really what one would expect a guy like Bucky to have. Namely, it's labeled entirely in what looks like Nordic runes, with nary a hint of English anywhere to be seen.


It's about a week after everyone save John and Zatanna returned to Brooklyn. Word gets around to the rest of Team Getting Shit Done, through the grapevine as it does, that John and Zatanna didn't head straight back to New York, but instead opted to take a short vacation — after what was originally intended to be something like a vacation. No mystery as to why, but at least their intention to travel together suggests that they've managed to mend at least some part of whatever it was that had broken them so viciously apart during that last, tense week in Germany.

The text finds John one or two days into his attempt to adjust to New York's timezone. His phone beeps cheerfully and jostles itself around on his side table, making a noise not unlike a tiny jackhammer. Bleary and unshaven, he gropes around blindly for it and then drags it over, props it in front of one squinting eye on the mattress.

The display light is cold and stark. It punches him in the retinas with bad news: PANTENE PRO-V-NECK has sent him a text. Can he come over? He wants to ask for a favor.

His groan acknowledges that this is probably a request he should not delay.

k. 45m.

He's late, actually, though that may be somewhat ameliorated as an offense when the door opens to reveal that Chas is with him, and Chas is carrying a stack of tupperware containers. The minute he walks through the door, though—


(That is the sound of a ridiculously high-necked vampire cape springing into existence around the big man's neck. The collar itself is so high that it looks as though he has a very upscale black satin cone of shame on, lined in a fetching royal purple.)

Mayhem ensues. Threats are made. There is flailing, enhanced dramatically by billowing, cloak-like satin. John collapses into the interior wall because he's laughing so hard he can barely breathe.


"It's /New York/, mate. You barely rate a six."

Eventually, Chas is forced to settle for winding the cape around the collar, around his neck, and trying to make the whole affair look like a scarf in spite of the temperate weather. The food is dropped off and John — who looks as though he's acquired, shockingly enough, a little bit of color — drops into one of the chairs in the living room and wipes a knuckle under his eyes to deal with any remaining tears.

"Pretty sure he knows I could just have taken it off him as well. Ah, god."


Bucky looks up as he hears people approach the door, which has been left open for their entry. He's thinking so hard about the topic he's going to broach that he doesn't remember the inconvenient side effect of John's wards in time to do anything but say, " — oh shit — " as someone starts to walk through.

…And it's Chas. Chas, who rolls poorly to resist The Cape.

"Jeez," Bucky says, bemused. "You just sacrificed your own best friend. That's fucking cold."

He is apologetic with Chas as the food is squared away — and he discreetly pours the man a little bit of whatever's in the bottle to take back with him as a consolation. His expression, as all this transpires, wars between disapproval and relief. At the least John's making jokes, and not acting like he's still got seventeen pointy sticks up his ass which are all keeping him awake at night.

Eventually he returns to sit across from John. It's Bucky's turn to look a little more tired and drawn than usual, though he still musters half a smirk at John's remark. "You could have," he says. "But I'm sure he knows you wouldn't have, so why bother."

He cants his head. "You look better."


The number of pointy sticks has been decidedly reduced to whatever its mystery default number is. More than one, at least.

The Englishman shrugs himself down into his seat, posture lazy, and a fleeting grin that would shame a Puck answers Bucky's surmise about whether or not he'd have come to Chas' aid if asked. He shrugs. Admits to nothing.

The last observation, though, sobers the sizzling good humor he's been wearing since the uproar at the threshold began. Not completely, but enough to underpin it with a trace of rue that tips a hat to the elephant in the room. He brings one of his hands up and rubs behind the hinge of his jaw, tightening sky blue eyes into a squint. "Yeah."

Witness: the sum total of John's desire to talk about what happened with Zatanna in Germany.

It does prompt him to more thoughtfully study the man he's here to see, though, and what he finds there puts a little crease between his brows. "Wish I could say the same for you, mate. You looked more rested after Brandenburg than you do now." Brandenburg, where James Barnes and the tiny scientist he is grooming into a pocket Rambo had mown down who-even-knows-how-many Cultists of the Cold Flame.


Yeah, John says. That's about all he wants to say about the entire mess, and that's about as far as Bucky will press on it. As usual, their conversations are more conducted in the realm of what is unspoken than spoken, the only thing said aloud being plain and simple acknowledgements of what is readily obvious. You're better. I am.

What more needs to be discussed?

Bucky himself, though, doesn't look quite as copacetic. There's shadows under his eyes like he's had a couple late nights since they got back from Germany. You looked more rested after mass murder than you do know, John all but says, and Bucky's expression wavers halfway between a smirk and a grimace. "Home is where my problems are," he says, succinctly.

He inhales deeply, exhales, bracing himself. "Stuff's getting more tense in Washington, apparently. Lot of people want me dead, or at least tried in a court of law. This… safeguard we got in my head, it's been good for its purpose. But I think both you and I would prefer to be able to get rid of it. Especially if I get hauled up in court. Be inconvenient if I get triggered in the middle of defense testimony."

He glances up at John. "Might have found a way."


Different reactions at different points in this narrative. Sympathetic humor, very dry, because what problems are ever more problematic than those at home? The Germany debacle was case in point for John.

Displeasure, restrained but real, over the thought of James Barnes being executed or put on the stand, made to defend himself against the actions of what might as well for all intents and purposes have been some other man entirely.

…Guarded skepticism and reluctance when the initial reason that Barnes suggests removing it has to do with a trial. As though John might push back against that as being sufficient reason — because he would.

The lingering uncertainty doesn't last long. News that there may be some more permanent option sends both of John's brows toward his hairline, and after a moment of calculating study, prying who-knows-what out of the tired elements of his friend's face, he uses his feet to push himself back into a more upright posture in his chair. "That right?" He has questions other than that one and they are plainly visible in his eyes, but he holds them for now.


The succession of reactions is noted but not commented on by Bucky. He just speaks on, evenly and tiredly and wryly, of the purpose for which he asked John to stop by.

"Yeah," he summarizes, when John makes that understated initial comment. "Anyway… I phrased it poorly. I'm not gonna ask you to take it off without fixing the root problem. That's what I asked you here about."

He leans forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. "Jane and I found the conditioning machine they used to keep wiping my mind, over the years," he says bluntly. "We figure she'd be able to reverse engineer it to remove any possible conditioning left in my head, any last triggers. Gotta get our hands on it first, though. It's in a HYDRA base in Siberia."

He glances sidelong at John. "Could use a hand," he says. "Then you wouldn't have to be my shutdown system anymore."


It doesn't seem as though John's brows are going to get the opportunity to descend to where they belong any time soon. If anything they loft that little bit more at the word—

"Siberia!" The sidelong look he gives the former assassin is an obvious moment of speculation: does John want to know how Bucky and Jane found out that the machine was in a HYDRA base in Siberia? Five seconds are enough time to settle that: no, John does not.

Surprise gives way gradually, and then his eyebrows finally have the opportunity to change direction, this time slowly sliding into a knit for a taste of the other extreme. "My arse is cold just thinking about it," is what he chooses to mutter, which is definitely not a 'no.'

Bloody Hydra. Bloody mind control machines. Bloody snow.

Bucky is still probably looking at him, so after only a moment it's inevitable that he'll speak up again as though he'd believed this a foregone conclusion: "If there's a way to get it done mate, I'll do what I can. I'm assuming you've got a better plan than just you and Foster and I charging about in skiis and that? Skiis are for people with lungs. Though I'll take that over letting Foster drive us about. I know it's Russia and everyone drives like a pillock but I've got things to live for these days."


"Siberia was where they created me," Bucky says, his voice bleak and his gaze a thousand miles away. "It's just as shitty and frozen as it sounds. Though I figured you'd have some magic that could keep you warm or some shit. I keep waiting for some limit on what it can do, and the limit seems to be 'nah, actually, there is no limit, so long as you're willing to die 5 years earlier than otherwise.'"

He's learning already.

John's agreement, as if it were a foregone conclusion, makes some of the tension in Bucky's chest unknot. That much is visible in his eyes, a wordless thanks even as John shrewdly follows up with questioning about the actual plan going in. "No skiis," he says, amused. "And not just Jane and you. I've got Steve and Peggy in this. I'll see what I can get out of SHIELD without, you know, selling my soul too much. I know a man there who covered for me once before. Gonna talk to him."

He shakes his head. "Not planning on anything explosive. Get in, get the thing out, get out. Discreet is the word. S'why I got Peggy and that SHIELD agent in mind. Peggy and I have drafted plenty of clandestine infiltations together before." Steve is tactically omitted from discussion of 'discretion.' "I thought, magic might come in handy…"

He pushes over a sheet of paper. It's a rendering of the machine itself, in Bucky's precise hand, a technical sketch of the thing in all its sadistic glory. The electromagnetic restraints in the chair, the overarching scorpion-tail apparatus with all its needle-lined clamps and electric-current carrying arrays —

"It's a pretty heavy machine. Magic might be the easiest way to convey it out." His voice is forcedly calm as he looks at the instrument of seventy years of torment.


"It's…complicated," John says, of magic and the boundaries of what can be done with it. He hoists his shoulders and momentarily splays his hands, a signal that he's leaving things vague not because he minds discussing the details but because he's leaving them aside for now in order to focus on the thrust of the conversation instead.
R Shockingly, John actually notices that Steve doesn't appear on the list of persons expected to maintain a low, stealthy profile, and he finds it amusing: he's been involved in two total expeditions with Steve Rogers and already he knows better than to expect from him the subtle approach. His lips quirk.

It's an expression swift to die.

Leaning forward to brace his elbows on his knees he has his second glimpse of the machine used to turn James 'Bucky' Barnes into The Winter Soldier. The first was in grainy black and white, projected in the room in which Golubev took his own life upon being confronted by the remnant of the thing he'd made. It had been horrible to look at then, and it's horrible to look at now.

"Bloody hell," he murmurs. Deep in his chest, faint stirrings of the anarchist he once nearly was: see what is wrought by government and patriot.

Eventually, he nods. "Yeah, mate. No question there. But I expect we're going to have to do this in a hurry…? The difficulty of moving things hinges on how much of it there is to move. Density, volume, size, what have you."


It's complicated, John says. Bucky tilts his head like he's curious, but ultimately John keeps the conversation on its proper rails, and — recognizing the sense in that — the former Winter Soldier lets it drop.

Instead, he just pushes forward a sketch of the machine he's going to be leaning on John to potentially help 'port' out. He studies John more than he does the picture — he's seen it enough, the representation was rendered by his own hand — though he doesn't comment on the disgust, the quiet 'bloody hell' that escapes the mage.

He just nods and pulls back the sketch when John starts to talk logistics. "We'll try to structure it so you got enough time to do what you gotta do. It's… not insignificant in size, so that'll probably be a factor. I'm gonna draft something with Peggy in the coming days. Got enough intel to have an idea on how to get in. I'll let you know how that shakes out."

He sighs. "…Thanks."

And then, he picks up the bottle. "And now. This is something you should try."


The details of the plan are sufficient for rough consent; more can come later. The odd man out for a mission like this, and surrounded by people who have spent an extended span of years doing this very thing, John assumes it'll be his role to stay out of the way as much as possible until the time comes for him to do what he does — the vast bulk of minutiae are no doubt irrelevant to him anyway.

"No problem, mate."

Besides, there are more interesting things to focus on, suddenly.

It's a bottle with runes on it. Not something John paid much heed to when he came in, even though that would typically trigger his interest, because he'd seen Thor speaking with Jane in the Hydra base and it's not a leap of logic to assume that it's just some token of something-or-other between friends. The revelation that it has something in it to be consumed and that Barnes is suggesting they ought to consume it rates much higher on his list of noteworthy phenomena. Brows skewed and gaze curious, he reaches out with one hand in silent request to be given a closer look.

"What's this, then?"


John might or might not be expected to stay out of the way until it's time for the magical consult. WHO KNOWS. Life might get interesting for John Constantine, international spy, soon.

In the meantime, there's the bottle.

Bucky clearly doesn't think a 'thanks' and 'no problem' a sufficient exchange for a favor like this, so he's brought out what is presumably some token Thor gave to them. The runes are certainly a good hint. Bucky hands it over when John asks to see it. The runes on the label seem to indicate year and place of bottling, and there's a larger set that seem to be the name. There's a stylized drawing of a rather unclothed goddess reaching for golden apples from a tree, which probably gives a hint as to the name.

"Asgardian mead," he says. "Thor brought this over. Idunn's Harvest, or something heathenish." He doesn't sound like he's saying 'heathenish' as an insult. He reaches back in mute request to have it returned so he can pour. "You can only safely drink maybe… half a finger at a time. A quarter? So I'm going to need to start to let more people drinking it if I ever want to see this finished someday."


John turns the bottle carefully over in his hands, examining every rune with undisguised interest. 'Heathenish' wins another twitch of his lips as he glances up from the bottle to pass it back across.

"Half a finger," he repeats, the words enunciated with unnecessarily clear amounts of diction. "Until I saw that great big hammer-toting wanker myself, I had no idea Asgard was actually real. Pantheons tend to be, you know — people believe in things, things start believing in themselves, but I gather this is different. Aliens, is what I was told."

He sits back comfortably in his seat and 'tchs.' "After a certain degree of weird, you start to suffer from taxonomy fatigue."

While Bucky goes through the motions involved in whatever poor decision they are — or as is more likely the case, John is — about to make, John watches with a curious eye, as though half expecting the liquor that comes out of that bottle to sizzle the moment it hits open air. "So is this the length you have to go to to get pissed, mate? Pillaging the liquor cabinets of the gods?"


Honestly, Bucky sounds more delighted at the idea of 'heathenish alcohol' than he does disapproving. This is all still rather novel for a boy who grew up in the 1930s. "Yeah, I had some issues wrapping my head around it myself," he says. "Even after I saw Thor. Way I was raised, there was God, and the rest was nonsense."

He shrugs. "Now… not so sure. I mean, I've been to Hell, and the Norse gods are running around talking about hearing prayers. Though then again — I did hear the alien thing also. Honestly, at this point — " Bucky reclaims the bottle, pulls over the glasses, and starts pouring, " — I don't really care what they are s'long as they don't bother me." Unfortunately, they do seem to bother him, and on the regular.

He pours John, optimistically, something just shy of half a finger. The liquor does not sizzle, disappointingly enough, but it pours smooth and looks nice in the glass even though there's so little. It's as smooth as it looks, too, honey-sweet in the way good mead should be, and just as deceptively strong as advertised. He pauses in the middle of pouring for himself, however, on John's musings about just how far he has to go now just to get blasted.

"I do think the gift was motivated by me complaining," he admits. "Having to reach for this stuff to get a buzz is probably the biggest downside of me being what I am. Other than… well…" Everything else that sucked about how he got to be the way he is. " He pours himself half a finger also. "It's good shit though. Worth trying at least once."


Something in John's expression takes on an edge of amusement as he listens to Bucky describe the often contrary symptoms of whatever it means to be More Than Human. Celestial? Alien? Holy? Merely Supernatural?

"See, this is how you know you've stumbled over some of the secret bones of everything," he says. "You take a shufti and realize none of it makes any sodding sense. That's how you know you're looking at the truth, mate."

This minor thesis ends with a short note of actual laughter. "You figure out how to have them let you be and you let me know. I'd pay a lot to learn that trick." His gaze glitters, and he seems in earnest, but would he, really? It could be well-argued that John Constantine could no more walk away from the insanity of the world than it seems to be willing to walk away from him.

He takes the glass when it's handed to him and holds it up to the light, head tilted. Curious eyes angle down into the surface of it before he brings it to his nose for a cautious sniff. John has excellent survival instincts, contrary to some of the available evidence. He appears to be taking the warning he's been given seriously.

Other than…well…

Only John's eyes lift, angled at Barnes from underneath his brows. "…Right," he says.

A beat.

"Well…cheers," he offers, because what else does one say? He hoists the glass, tips it back, and for a moment looks disappointed as the glass comes down. It doesn't strip the inside of his mouth or throat like paint thinner. Maybe Barnes was having him on…?

And then it catches up with him and he feels a bit like an object moving at the speed of sound that suddenly stopped, only to have all of the racket it had been making catch up with it in a sudden shockwave.

He drops back against the back of his chair and stares at the glass. His expression shifts, growing very serious. It begins to crumple. HE'S GOING TO THROW U—

No, just kidding. He brings up his fist in front of his mouth and covers for a burp that he manages to keep in his chest.

"This stuff," he says, philosophically, "is where the regular stuff goes on holiday."


John speaks about the secret truths of the world, and that moment of realization and complete mental readjustment that hits when it becomes clear that nothing about the world makes sense. "I'm slowly realizing that," he says wryly. "I'm still waiting for some of the shit I've seen around you and Zatanna to make sense, but I guess making sense is not what that stuff is all about."

He seems to be taking this impromptu thesis to heart, however. If nothing else, James Barnes was always eminently adaptable. Not just as a function of his basic nature, but as 'one of the major traits associated with his job for the last seventy years.' He's good at blending in. Give him just a little longer with John and Zatanna, and it's likely he'll have chameleoned to be able to move around in their odd circles with some semblance of credibility.

Still, John says — you figure out how to be left alone, you tell me. Bucky laughs as he pours. "That, I haven't figured out at all."

But now — it's the moment of truth. Bucky tips his own glass as John offers that brief toast, waiting for the other man to drink first before he takes his own.

He studies John, a bit closely, in the aftermath. Did he give too much? Holy fuck, he might have given too much. He might have to get a bag —

And then he doesn't. John makes the only comment he can, in the wake of such an experience, and Bucky flashes a grin.

"Told you it was amazing," he says. A wicked look gleams in his eyes. "I sent some back with Chas. You might wanna supervise him when he tries it out."

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