Never Call it A Front

June 03, 2017:

As Bucky Barnes sits in the Raft awaiting his bail hearing, Jessica Jones visits Captain America in an attempt to provide him with some distraction and comfort. In the end, she is able to provide the one only for a moment, and the other…not at all.

Gold's Gym, NYC

Now with more SHIELD agents.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Jane Foster, Peggy Carter

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The rhythm of a powerful physical fighting force against sticks is continuous. Plink-plink-thud. Plink-plink-plink-thud. Plink-thud. The lighter hits soon give way to a more solid impact at some point in the combination.

The Gold's Gym in New York is a popular place for Steve Rogers since he tried to find a place where he can train. Due to his fame and SHIELD desiring him to be protected, when he comes, it's like a presidential visit with agents clearing the place out and making sure there isn't any people that shouldn't be in the area coming in. Sometimes Rogers just does things his way and for the most part, SHIELD doesn't care. Of course, with the recent case impending, there has been a bit of heat to keep a closer eye on Rogers, as if the US government is just thinking it a matter of time before he snaps.

But the Star Spangled Man with the Plan is not the sort to snap, even when things get dire. Instead, he has retreated to pattern, but instead of drinking, sex, or other forms of pleasure seeking. Instead, he goes for discipline, seeking out the purpose that gave him form when he joined the SSR. This time, it's the martial art exercises, using a Muk Yan Jong or the Wing Chun wooden dummy to go through various hand to hand combat exercises.

Off to the side of the large training room he gets to himself, Steve isn't in the big boxing ring in the center, but off to the side, practicing various techniques to ensure that they are muscle memory. While his body was a gift, the fact that he's a skilled hand to hand fighter was something he earned from tireless days and nights such as this. Sweat has covered the neck region of his t-shirt which has a simple McDonald's Fitness Program logo on it (the irony not lost on Rogers) and some red, white, and blue, gym shorts that were likely a gift from someone.

Plink-plink-thud goes the dummy as the two pegs sticking out are hit before a solid impact is given on the center of the dummy, where the center of the ribcage would be on a person normally. As he has said for many things in life, it's clear he could do this all day.

—-

Jess, of course, knows this gym, and it's not hard, thanks to all the rigamarole, to figure out when Steve is there. In many ways, her first and only visit to the place was a life changer for her. It was the visit, conducted with Zatanna on a gut impulse, that first had her opening her mouth to say what she suspected about the Winter Soldier's status as a mind-controlled victim, not a villian. It brought Bucky onto her radar, and if she spent several weeks after that feeling like people who were More Important Than Her would handle it, she eventually felt she could not stand by any longer. It was her first meeting with Cap…with Steve…who would later sit by her bedside in an act of pure unselfishness, and, in so doing, build for her a vision of herself that was different than any vision she'd had of herself before.

Warrior. Leader. Defender. Hero.

He made it feel like those things could be applied, somehow, to her, and in so doing gave her more strength to stop drinking, strength to ask for help, strength to try to reach out and become better.

But today she is not here for herself. She is here for him. She can only hope that her fumbling efforts to be a friend are at all helpful to him today.

SHIELD people know her, a bit…she goes to Dr. Gardner once a month, and by now she's been a frequent visitor to Peggy's office. Some know she's at least been on a mission with Captain America, and her background has been thoroughly vetted and checked. And if some aren't exactly thrilled by the scrungy PI's presence, neither do they stop her. She arrives dressed in soft black sweat pants and a soft black tank top, along with black boxing sneakers. Her hair is pulled back from her face and tied tightly with a rubberband.

She comes to a stop behind him and says, "So…I had this inkling you might want to hit things, could maybe use a distraction. And I thought I might offer either someone to hold the pads or someone to spar with that could take it. If you go all out on that thing I think you're going to snap it."

The way she speaks is no way that she's ever spoken before. It's just…even. Quiet. Holding hints of care and compassion and friendship, but not overly so. All the sadness, all the anger…there can be no doubt, from the way she spoke on the phone yesterday, that she is feeling those things. But they're buried deep, now, contained.

She is determined to be there for these people. She is determined to follow the examples she has been taught, first by Steve, then by Bucky. Not to hero worship either of them any more, because she's learned she has to follow her own light too. But…to take into herself those things about them she respects, and, she hopes, to give them back, and in so doing, give back to them.

—-

Steve would never call it a front. To lie to someone is not who he is. Yet in the same breath, to be what he needs to be, a living representation of the ideals of America, he definitely has learned to have his own guard up. It's a nobler reason than many in the world, but some could argue it's still just a excuse to keep how he feels and how he presents himself as two different things. At Jessica's voice, there is a deep exhale. He takes in a breath and when he turns to her, he gives a mirthless chuckle. "Well, always up for a spar. You can't stay at your peak unless you're willing to take on all challengers. And as for that?"

Rogers looks at the scuffed but unbroken training dummy.

"I find it's good to practice restraint. Sure there are times I fight people that have to literally kick right in the nose with all I have to make them blink, but there are times you're up against a man with a gun. If I can't hold back in here no matter what, I certainly wouldn't be able to do that out there."

As Rogers continues, he moves toward his gym bag, wiping off the sweat with a towel and getting himself some water from a water bottle that has the Gatorade symbol emblazoned upon it. Jones might expect the words that come next, but they are there just the same. "So, how are you doing? I know things have been tough the last couple of weeks."

—-

Jessica follows his gaze to the scuffed training dummy and pat-pats it. "I'll keep it in mind," she says, quietly. There are plenty of reasons why she needs to practice more restraint, she knows. Some of them perhaps six feet under in Bradenburg. Granted, she does her own bag work and she doesn't exactly put her fist through it every time, but she doesn't consciously think of that as 'practicing restraint.' What she really needs to do is practice it when her fight-or-flight, life-or-death instincts are at their highest and worst.

But that is not today. And Bradenburg is not today. She studies Steve as he tries to turn it around on her, as she did indeed expect that he would. She tries to think of some clever way to handle it, but in the end, as she meanders to the boxing ring, she just meets it head on.

"You don't have to be my shoulder today, Steve." It's said very gently. Green-flecked brown eyes raise to meet blue ones. There is a slight emphasis on some of the words. On the word 'you.' On the word 'my'. Just enough to let him know that today, it's the other way around.

A pause. "You're not going to hurt me," she adds, "in more ways than one. If you just want to be Steve, for awhile. Not Captain America. Not Steve Rogers. Just Steve."

She starts a warm-up. It might look familiar, since it's the one Bucky taught Jess…and perhaps one of the ones Bucky taught Steve so long ago, too.

—-

A brow is quirked as Jessica expresses that she is there for him. It's an alien feeling, it would seem considering that Steve's face is a mix of light surprise and discomfort. After all, there are only really two people in the world Rogers feels comfortable opening up to and one is currently in prison. It's so odd that Rogers is so willing to offer trust for his life, security, and well-being to people he only has the faintest read on, but so unwilling to express himself. But perhaps Captain America is a little more complex than some give him credit, but well, that's often true for most people.

Slowly, Steve climbs into the ring once he's finished his water. "Roger that," he replies, perhaps the formal answer suggesting that he's not exactly willing to pour his soul. But as he raises his hands in a traditional American boxing stance, it seems he's willing to fight.

In a flash of speed, the fists of Cap come flying. It's a flurry, as strong as a normal person's but not nearly his full power. One would think that he's taking it easy, but perhaps Jones' insight might show something else. He's probing; every attack is testing for defenses, reaction times, and possible counters. There is no emotion in his fighting at the moment, merely following his standard protocol for taking someone down.

—-

Jessica's lips quirk into the faintest of smiles. If she expected soul-pouring? That doesn't show. In truth, she at least thinks Bucky trusts her by now, and he doesn't soul pour either. He mans up. But it's not about soul pouring.

It's about letting the man know he doesn't have to Captain America her. That he's not alone. That he has a friend.

That's it.

She brings Bucky cigarettes and sandwiches and booze. Well. Not cigarettes anymore, since they both heard how much it hurts Jane. Today, she brings Steve…well. Herself. And that's it.

And then the man is moving, testing her.

Bucky has exposed Jessica to a variety of styles; but the one they finally settled on was the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do. It offers some locks, some grips, some throws, but mostly it's like Jessica herself. Blunt, straightforward, to the point and hard-hitting. She was taught not to hold back, to respond as if it was a real fight, and she does so now.

His flurry of blows is met with a flurry of blocks; as he's testing, probing, these she'll meet easily. She waits until that moment where there's a break in the flurries and then counters with a swift flurry of kicks; front kicks, round kicks high and low, side kicks, keeping her guard up, using the part of her body that's the strongest, trying to avoid being put on the ropes or forced on a never-ending defensive early. She doesn't mess around with probing and testing simply because she's the weaker opponent and that would be goofy— she already knows he's the better fighter. Her job is to give him the best, longest run for his money she can, to be the best distraction she can be. Her form is clean, if simple, her reaction times by necessity pretty damned good, since failing to react fast enough tends to result in a lot of pain with her current teacher.

—-

Steve's eyes widen slightly as he sees that Jones is not only incredibly aggressive, but clearly trained. Usually when men and women like herself have certain powers, they rely on them, using the bruiser mentality to just slog through whatever people have to offer. Jones clearly is not like that anymore. The front kicks are parried away with forearms that swing out, the high roundhouse results in Rogers craning his head just centimeters away from the foot. But before he can try and move in, the foot swings for his shin. He tries to reflexively swing his hand down and grab the foot, but her leg is too powerful for his grip and it slams into his side. With the hand engaged in a failed counter, he is forced to fall painfully onto his head and shoulder, but pushes off his other hand and with a grunt and a push he is back onto his feet.

"Huh" is all he states in his briefest of interludes.

The failed catch is enough to cause him to take this rather serious it would seem. He weaves in low with a boxer's bob, trying a trio of punches, but once the guard is up, he goes for the grab on the outside of her shoulder's. If grab finds purchase or if it is refuted, the end note is the same as he tries to crash his head into her own forehead. Normally, it would be a strike for the nose, but well, Steve is a gentleman. Or perhaps it's something else. With Jones' increased resilience, she might have a bruise from the blow if it collides, but for Rogers, his own crown will be bleeding, lacking the usual protect his headgear provides.

—-

It is worth noting that Jessica's own eyes widen in slight surprise as her foot slams into his side. It's a measure of the rarity of such instances when fighting Bucky, the only one of Steve's calibre she ever regularly fights. Bucky did indeed break her of the habit of relying on her strength within…probably about a week…of their training sessions. It might be generous to call her trained, but…she has definitely been training.

Once, she might have freaked out a bit, asked if he was okay, worried she'd used too much strength. But Bucky has broken her of that as well, and if he won't really hurt her, she's got to trust that she won't really hurt him. That calculus was done before she got here.

So when she hears 'Huh' and sees him get serious, she just refocuses. He goes boxer and she tries to shift to the same vein, as boxer's training has also been on the docket, but his shift in tactics nevertheless allows him to give her some of her own back. She staggers back as his head slams into hers. She regains her balance quickly, keeping her hands up as she shakes her head from side to side to clear her vision. She fires off a high axe kick that sweeps across her body, not to hit him seriously, but to make it dangerous for him to get any closer to her while she recovers. Then she launches for him like she's going to attempt to simply barrel him to the ground, only to sidestep at the last minute, attempting to throw another round kick at his gut.

—-

Now the fight seems to have gotten into the proper way of things, two people more than willing to beat the crap out of one another. While some people would find this a release of sorts, for Rogers, who only enjoy pounding those that really deserve it, it's more what Jessica planned it to be; a distraction. His face is neutral and calculating, taking her as a fighter as if a puzzle to be broken down and solved.

As the kick goes high, Steve does break off as expected, waiting for her to come in. The side step seems to catch Cap off guard, because it slams firmly into his gut with only the lightest of hands to catch it. The man slides back a few inches, but it's clear that he's not out yet.

Instead, the reason to take the hit is clear as his hands have swiftly attempted to snake around her calf and upper leg, not in some sort of moment that would make Peggy jealous, but rather an attempt to use the hand on her upper leg a fulcrum and the leg itself a lever to break her out of the stance as he spins around. Should she not have a clever way to break free of this, Rogers will then pull a move from Superman's book, spinning around in place as he has a death grip on her to toss her over the ropes and right out of the ring.

—-

She has a clever way to deal with that. The problem is? She's…not really very good at it yet. This is a move she recognizes, and she lets out a "Shhhhhhhh" sound that's really just an aborted swear word. She starts the counter, which involves shoving up with the uncaught leg, leaping up, twisting, and snapping it in a high kick— she knows it, she's practiced it a hundred times— but when she goes to do it she finds her ankle at the wrong angle again. It's been at the wrong angle nearly every time she's tried this.

She goes flying out of the ring, but while others might use that as a concession point, well. They didn't set rules for this thing, and this wouldn't be nearly done in Bucky's world. She hits the ground hard with her shoulder, grunts, rolls, and then springs up, shoulder throbbing, already visibly bruising. She does bruise; she's got one forming on her face as well. They just heal really fast.

She comes leaping back into the ring with him, offering a punch towards his face from above as she comes.

It should be noted there's nothing of 'enjoyment' for her either. It's also a distraction, it's a learning exercise, it is what it is. But Jess? Doesn't really like fighting. Doesn't really like hurting people, deep down. She'll do it. She's good at it. She's equipped for it. When she's angry, she's vicious about it. When she's sparring, she's been taught to be aggressive about it.

But there's a reason why nine times out of ten in a battle she's still the person you'll find grabbing civilians out of the way, shielding people with her body, grabbing vital artifacts out of the way, or playing decoy instead of actively beating on people. She keeps at it not because her blood is up, but because she's been taught to keep at it until she can't or until the other person calls a halt, and because her objective is fixed. Keep it up as long as she can so Steve doesn't have to think for awhile.

—-

CRACK!

And with that, there is a solid blow that would shatter of the jaw of lesser man and almost dislodges the jaw of Rogers, but it doesn't. While the man almost takes a knee, he doesn't. While for a short time it seems the plan might work. It doesn't.

"That's enough," Rogers states, his blue eyes meeting hers. Rogers moves calmly towards a drinking fountain, spitting some blood into it as he isn't the sort to ruin a mat for the ease or dramatic effect. After the ten or so long seconds it takes for Rogers to clean his mouth, he finally speaks. "I appreciate what you're trying to do. But to be honest, it won't work. I mean, it's good to train, good to-" Steve sighs, taking in another breath to inflate himself to keep himself going. Once he does that, his eyes look toward Jones', a glimpse of the pain just beyond the professional gaze of a man dedicated to inspiring others, even during his own grief. "I really appreciate it, Jessica, means a lot."

Perhaps in this moment, a simple fact might begin to shine though. There is a Captain America and there is a Steve Rogers (and according to a drunken Jane, there's a Stev too); but there is no Steve, not these days. Bucky and Peggy knew him as the wanna-be, the kid with nothing but heart. But now, he is what he wanted to be. And he'll be that thing until he dies or it's stripped from him.

Rogers moves toward his things, packing up the gym bag as it's clear he's preparing to go before he gives the… you know: the Cap Monologue <TM>. He loves them so.

"I know, I'm down about Bucky. I might be for a bit. But it's not a bad thing. It reminds me to pray, reminds me to push forward to be there for Bucky, Jane, Peggy, yourself, and everyone else in his life, and reminds me that there are perhaps other people in that similar situation where the justice system seems anything but just. Yeah, I'm sad about it, but everything, even sadness, has a purpose to it. I'm merely a man trying to be at peace with that." There is a definitive zip of his bag. "I'll get there though."

—-

Crack.

Shit!

Her eyes widen, especially when he staggers and calls a halt. She opens her mouth to apologize, but then he's saying she appreciates it. Her teeth snap shut with a click, even as she lands on the bottom of the ring. She straightens, her face reflecting mostly uncertainty as she watches him, watches his pain. Slowly she decides that the hit to his face is probably something she shouldn't worry about.

She comes over to the ropes and leans on them, watching this man, trying to understand him. She's seen the shining example. She's seen the dork with the salad dressing on his face. She spent a long time trying to reconcile the two, and for awhile had even come to the conclusion that the man was just so pure she couldn't even begin to relate to him. But there is this other facet to work in.

And if she suspected this facet was there, she nevertheless has to spend a moment accounting for it.

And then he shocks her by admitting he's sad, because honestly, she didn't expect him to do that much.

She listens to him, watches him gear up to go. She doesn't say anything for a moment. For a moment it looks like she's just going to let him go.

"Nobody doubts," she says, "that you of all people will keep pushing through. Least of all me."

Another pause, her arms still draped over the ropes. She still feels like an ass for hitting him; she'd expected that he might fling her down and take her out in fact, because that's usually what comes next when she tries that move. But maybe his heart just wasn't in it.

She hesitates. It comes out awkwardly, but…the thing he said about things happening for a reason strikes a chord with her. It's how she's come to grips, as best she can, with her own past. And his comment about praying reminds her of the still, small voice she heard in a Berlin cafe.

She thinks about how for Bucky, fixing things for her seems to be the healing balm.

She swallows, feeling a bit vulnerable. Feeling weird. Feeling small.

She says what's on her heart anyway.

"Will you pray with me before you go, Cap? I don't really know how. Or what to say. But maybe you do." Seeing, too, that he needs to put the mantle back on. She can't look at him though, because now she's doing the very thing she promised herself she wouldn't do. Now her face is crumpling up a little bit, now her eyes are watering up at the corners, now she's about to break down and be weak, and she promised herself she would do what they do. Push through, endure, have a little fucking grace, and be there for them.

—-

The request to lead prayer is something else that Steve didn't expect. Rogers' faith is often personal, but there is a lot of reasons. Captain America is supposed to believe in God, but not in a way that offends anyone. In the 1940s, not that big a deal. In post-9/11 world, a far less simple matter. Still, he doesn't miss a beat as he just gives a nod, moving a hand to place on Jones' shoulder in a sign of a comrade.

After a moment of thought with a lowered head, he begins, "Hey God, it's me Rogers. I'm here with Jess and we're really worried about Bucky. If you could help watch out for him, Foster, and make sure they get to other side of this okay, that would be great. In the end, I know that it's hard to tell what your plan is and what isn't, but I know you're a good God and you'll do what's best, even if I don't understand it. Thank you for everything you've put in our lives and let those difficulties make us better people."

There is a brief pause as something crosses Captain America's mind to add, "Oh, if possible, don't let Rocket melt anyone's dog before he gets to see Hamilton."

What, wait?

"In your name we pray, Amen."

With that, Steve moves to get his bag. "Prayer is just talking to someone who your mind tells you isn't there, but your heart knows is there." He seems ready to go into a whole Sunday school thing, but well, not the time nor the place. "In any case, I need to get going. Need to make sure that an unveiling or some new tech doesn't draw in aliens or the villain of the week. Not sure what villain or alien would be attracted to the 'Perfect Hamburger', but SHIELD asked so…" A simple shrug is given. "Til next time, Jessica. Stay safe."

—-

She saw the Bible at her bedside. He just talked about praying. So…she asks him to pray with her. She hasn't been to church since the accident. Her most vivid memories really aren't even about God. They're about how much fun she had cutting out the little sheep when she was in first grade Sunday school. And how the potlucks were always fun. And how she really enjoyed being able to throw frogs at the audience in their production of Moses. She got to be all the plagues, actually, which was a real riot. Somewhere in there she remembers Christmas and Easter stories and what it was all supposed to mean. Then her family was gone, and her faith was gone with it.

Then she woke up to a man reading a Bible by her bedside. Then she started seeing the other side of all the shitty things that had happened to her, the one that let her take that experience and maybe use it to be there for others who were hurting in similar ways, how sometimes being that little cog in the greater scheme of things made things come out okay in ways that could not have come out okay if there weren't some hand on the rudder. She stomps, she swears, she sins again and again, but she's developed something.

She keeps her head down as she listens, swallowing around the iron lump in her throat. A few abominable tears hit the floor.

He adds the bit about Rocket and she chuffs a tearful laugh. She knows Rocket, and that makes perfect sense to her. She gives another one when he describes the Perfect Hamburger, not sure this time that he's not just joking.

"Stay safe," she adds, rubbing at her eyes to dash the tears away.

When he's gone, she looks up at the person who her mind tells her isn't there, and adds, "Hey. So. I'm still here."

Pause. "And I just want you to know this is some bullshit."

Pause again. "So I sure hope you're planning something spectacular, because if you let them kill my friend? I don't even care. I might just come up and hit your face."

Well. God can handle it, right?

She mutters: "In Jesus' name we pray Amen," really fast.

And then she checks the time on her phone. Time to catch a shower. Get dressed. Compose herself. And go see her friend.

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