With A Little Help From His Friends

June 06, 2017:

With Bucky Barnes out on bail, John Constantine and Zatanna Zatara waste no time in visiting him, to get some much needed details and bring some comfort to a man who has chosen to face the gallows.

Jane Foster's Apartment - Brooklyn - New York City

Jane's flat in Brooklyn.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Dr. Jane Foster, Jessica Jones, Red Robin, Daredevil, Captain America

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Ever since Jessica Jones' phone call, the subpoena delivered to John's flat - by Ginny Townsend of White Light Pentacles, of all people (and who, to her credit, looked absolutely apologetic…whoever this Archer guy was, he was canny enough to recruit someone in the magical community to serve it up to the young witch) - and the article by Ben Urich plastered all over New York, Zatanna Zatara has had difficulty sleeping. While she had anticipated that things would return back, and hard, on the wire after she and John returned from their Tahiti trip, this was the last thing she had expected to happen.

And what does an Italian girl to do when stressed out and unable to do much about it?

The day after she finds out that Bucky Barnes has been released on bail, the whopping one million dollars posted by Tony Stark, she has brought the results of those days spent trying to drown herself back in her studies (which she has failed) and other projects that she and John have been working on, the most major of these being how to network a set of four wards in four different locations. Tubs of tupperware are stacked on top of one another and stuffed with homemade Italian cooking, having gone so far as to actually crack open the old notebook her deceased Nonna had used to pass down some family recipes. The offerings are numerous; homemade pasta of different kinds, separate containers full of different sauces and each carefully labelled, meat-and-cheese dishes that she had John taste-test before she deemed them acceptable to bring, some seafood dishes for Jane, and enough cannolis to feed a small army, all with a variety of fillings - the classic sweet ricotta, hazelnut, chocolate and key lime to name.

Unlike the past visit to Jess' office, she lets John help carry these, this time. Her free hand remains in his as they walk up the front steps of the brownstowne.

Whenever Bucky opens the door of Jane's apartment, the sun hangs closer to the west than the east, though it remains high over a crystal-clear field of cerulean and populated sparsely by fluffy white clouds. With light spilling through the dark green leaves of trees lining down the block and New Yorkers milling about in summer wear, it will be a week or two still before the heat becomes absolutely intolerable, of temperatures liable to fry eggs on the sidewalk. It is a very beautiful June day outside, but hardly reflective of the mood.

She nearly drops everything she is carrying when she sees Bucky, the urge to hug him tight assailing her as her side of the tether explodes with worry and sorrow. Instead, after a final squeeze, she releases John's hand, situates whatever she can of the load she has brought in the nearest clear surfaces she can.

That is when she wraps her arms around him, if she's allowed, when everything is put away in silence. She doesn't speak yet, because she's afraid of unleashing the embarrassing waterworks that are due to follow prematurely. Today, she is a slender, pale thing dressed in a short sundress and sandals with modest heels, there's no sign of her distress until this moment when she allows herself to try and touch him.

"Oh, Bucky," she whispers, her words choking at the back of her throat and gripping as tight as she possibly can. "Oh god, oh god…"

—-

John's response to the news of Bucky's arrest has been difficult to discern, which is probably no surprise. He has appeared, at most, hard-faced and annoyed when the matter has been raised, but he's kept whatever he feels about it to himself. Emotions are the enemy. Still, some things bleed out around the edges of his focus on work that needs doing — like the increasing frequency and volume of old anarchist punk favorites played on the stereo in the flat. On any given day, it's probable that a visitor would be subjected at least once to that Sex Pistols classic, from Never Mind the Bollocks: I am an anti-Christ, I am an anarchist, don't know what I want but I know how to get it, I want to destroy the passerby — 'Cause I want to be anarchy, no dogs body!

When the label they were on dropped the band and pulled the single, Johnny Rotten had famously quipped, ""I don't understand it. All we're trying to do is destroy everything."

Visitors are likely to hear about that, too.

Still, there he is when the door opens, an armload of tupperware on one side and Zatanna on the other, looking as domestic as he ever looks. There's no overt indication of whatever cauldron of sentiment has been fueling his reunion with the old government-hating shitkickers of his youth, but he sets his expression as Zatanna does what Zatanna tends to do: turn into a bubbling font of open emotion. Wherever she sets the food down becomes his immediate destination, a place to add what he's brought with more eye to organizing and keeping it neat than necessary — anything to evade that display. To give them privacy, or something like it, or to spare himself any temptation to give his own feelings breathing room? Or both. Possibly both.

—-

The article was certainly not very flattering, and it kind of summed up everything about how pear-shaped everything has gone in the space of just one weekend. Though some had advised Bucky not to read it, he had anyway, in that self-flagellating way men pick at scabs even though they hurt. He was by turns shocked, grateful, and incredibly guilty at the support he had gotten from multiple angles, because he was by turns furiously angry at this injustice being done to him, at the way he was being thrown under the bus for things he did not willfully do — and numbly resigned that this was, on some level, deserved retribution coming down on him from thousands of victims who had, otherwise, no other recourse or catharsis.

Similar feelings, at the hatred and disgust he had also gotten. He was technically able to walk around to some limited degree, as long as he didn't go far from the courthouse, but he was not inclined to. In prison, even some of the other prisoners had spit on him; getting home, passerby who had recognized him on the street had done similarly.

No. Better to stay in. So the tubs of tupperware are probably very much needed as a source of sustenance.

The Bucky that answers the door for John and Zatanna already looks different, and not just because the long hair which they are accustomed to seeing on him is shorn short in a ragged cut that only barely approximates the neatness of his Army days. He looks more like the historical photos of 'Sergeant James Barnes' with his hair short, to be sure, but his features are far more weary and haggard than was ever expressed in any of those images, even in the ones taken after his initial stint as a POW.

He does try to smile when he sees Zatanna, however, because it is in his nature to be strength. Even when there's a very solid-looking monitor bracelet locked ostentatiously about his left wrist. It might seem like an odd choice of placement, up until one realizes that his left wrist is necessarily the one place he can't reach with his metal arm.

He stands aside in a plain invitation to come in and put down their stuff wherever they like. Once that's done, Zatanna turns instantly to latch onto him. He doesn't resist — his right arm goes about her back, after a moment — and he makes something approximating a soothing noise. Over her head, his eyes briefly meet John's in mute acknowledgement.

"Thanks for coming by," he says, in what is predictably a wildly understated response.

—-

"I'm sorry," Zatanna tells him, voice muffled against his shoulder. "I didn't know what else to do so I just…" Went overboard with the Nonna-ing. After one last ferocious squeeze, she takes a few steps away. To her infinite credit, she hasn't started bawling right away, but her hands do come up so she could drag her fingertips over her eyes in an effort to dislodge telltale traces of moisture clinging to her lashes. Seeing him in this state hurts, and a hand extends to touch lightly on the short-shorn locks by his temple.

"They even took your hair," she murmurs; it generates a spark of familiar temper, burning bright under the more insistent layers of sadness. Worry remains the most dominant emotion on that expressive face.

His thanks do earn him a small smile, and one that manages to hold. "I'll fix us some drinks," she offers. "I brought the bottle you tried in Shadowcrest with me, I just need a couple of glasses."

Something tells her that they were going to need it - she has managed to take the bottle of sidhe whiskey that Bucky has tried in Shadowcrest - he seemed to like it, an offering from her father's private collection, though it is one that he hasn't touched for years. Whenever directed to where the tumblers are, that is where she goes, rifling through her pockets for her phone and taking herself out of Bucky's orbit momentarily so he and John could speak. There's a quiet peck on John's cheek when she passes, so she could get to those glasses and pour out some of that potent otherworldly liquor.

It also gives her the room so she could refrain from showing more of her tears. It would get awkward in the apartment very fast if she just started wailing.

—-

There's no nod from John to go along with that moment of lock-eyed greeting. He holds it a moment, then returns it to the needless pursuit of stacking the boxes of food in some semblance of order, a task that stalls when Zee kisses his cheek and pulls out of him one brief moment of something gentler — as usual. His eyes lid, and he touches her side, fingertips only a momentary contact that slips away when she does.

When she's gone he's appropriated one box of the many, and he turns back to Bucky with it, already prying the lid off. It's the cannolis. None of the rest of it seems appropriate to drinking with Sidhe liquor and, in any case, indulgence is just one path of many to soothing hurts. "So she just bought amounts of flour, sugar, and butter that would probably be illegal to own at once in any other country," John finishes, picking up where Zatanna left off. "I'm glad we were allowed to pop in, mate, because I've got to watch my figure."

While he quips, he flicks an efficiently searching glance over the differences: the shorn hair, but the bracelet, too. The arm, inert. The bruised expression. His expression remains more or less the same, but there's a tight twang of something unpleasant on the astral link. He visibly debates with himself about whether or not to say something direct about the reasons they're here, and in the end he makes the same choice he made with Jane Foster the first time he saw her after her horrifying experience with Hydra. When he's not sure, he asks.

"So, would you prefer we have it out and chat about all of this rubbish going on, or just spend time hanging about and talking about other shite?"

—-

Blue eyes gentle a little as Zatanna murmurs muffledly that she's sorry. "You got nothing to be sorry about, doll," he says. "The food'll be helpful. Jane's not eating like she should." No mention of whether he's eating like he should, though honestly the serum does not give him much choice. He has that caloric requirement whether he feels like it or not.

His expression turns a little wry when she reaches for the shorn ends of his hair, however. "Ah, the hair's all right. I only kept it long to not be recognized, and… that's shot, now. Having it long reminded me of being the Soldier, anyway. It was my custom to keep it short when I was young."

If anything, he seems most interested in the alcohol. He smiles wanly when she mentions having brought that bottle from Shadowcrest that he liked. "Now there's something I could use," he says. "Having special needs to get shitfaced is a burden. Glasses are in the cabinet back there."

He watches Zatanna until she's out of sight. The silence stretches a bit, as John pries open the cannoli container and debates what to say. In the end, he just… asks. Bucky glances at him, some mute appreciation in his gaze for the directness.

"We can talk about it as much as either of you wanna talk about it," is Bucky's noncommittal answer. "It's not anything I… don't wanna talk about. It is what it is." A pained look crosses his face. "You both get subpoena'd?" There is apology in his face.

—-

The raven-haired witch returns with three glasses she has chilled with a quick spell - the kind of behavior that John tends to detest, forever disdainful of expenditures of magic where it's treated like water, which she has silently justified to herself as this being an occasion in which every indulgement is vital. These are situated on a tray, along with a dusty bottle that Bucky would recognize, with a label printed in a language that he would not recognize, but that John would. It leaves a hint of Giovanni Zatara's signature around a construct of a glass so green, it is almost black. Wherever the two men have decided to convene, that is where she goes, setting the glasses on a nearby table and taking a seat next to the Englishman, her fingers curled around the glass.

Zatanna doesn't take a sip yet, watching the pristine golden liquid swirl in the tumbler.

The question about the subpoenas and the apology on Bucky's features is reflected on her own. "I did," she tells Bucky quietly. "I guess I made enough of a spectacle of myself in the earlier months of our relationship when I was desperate trying to get Steve to you. That Archer guy actually went through all the trouble to find someone within the community to serve me with it - someone I knew, no less. An old friend of Daddy's." The earlier thrum of John's own emotions through their tether finds an answer from her own end, apprehension plucking the silver string that binds them together at the remembrance of the piece of paper that has told her in no uncertain terms that she will be called as a witness.

After a pause, and finally, a swallow of the sidhe whiskey, she ventures: "Bucky…how bad is it? I mean, what exactly are you looking at, here?"

—-

John extends the unlidded container of desserts to Bucky, and then tosses the lid down beside his oh-so-carefully stacked pile of the same, instantly giving the lie to any pretense that he's just feeling especially neat. "Not me, mate," he says, and even accompanies it with a wolfish sort of smile, thoroughly disreputable. "Good job on you, too, because I'm not sure palling about with me would help your case t'all. Turns out I'm an acquired taste." He has the temerity to wink in spite of the heavy pall hanging over everything, and whether Bucky takes the container of grief cannolis or not, he seats himself next to Zatanna in the end and reaches for his glass, sitting back and settling in for what promises to be a difficult conversation.

"American law isn't exactly my area of expertise," he says, tilting his glass and looking down into it at the wobbling reflections of light on the surface of the contents, "But the cynic in me says Barnes is being hung out to dry."

—-

Bucky sure is not complaining about the use of magic for this particular 'trivial purpose.' He takes his appointed glass and downs half of it at a go, putting the lie to his external air of strength and aplomb. He accepts the cannolis, too, because not even threat of death can get a supersoldier to stop eating.

Leaving the couch to the two magicians, he sits himself down in the armchair opposite, looking down into his glass. Bitterness flickers across his features as Zatanna confirms she's been dragged into things, noting that Archer was even dick enough to find someone she knew to serve her the subpoena. "Scare tactic," he observes. "The prosecutor is a dick like that. Archer is his name. US District Attorney."

He gestures with his glass. "My lawyer — some kid Jessica dug up, Matt Murdock? Good kid — my lawyer said he talked to this guy. Archer said if I took even one step out of the perimeter, he'd go after all of you. Charge you — " the glass tips at Zatanna, "as an accessory. Dig up shit on you — " A glass tip at John, followed by a grin and a snort, "though really, I'd almost pay to see him try, he couldn't even get you for a subpoena." He hesitates. "Charge Jane with treason." He shakes his head slowly, finishing his glass.

Then Zatanna wants to know how bad it is.

"Death penalty," he answers, after a brief silence. "Uncle Sam takes treason seriously." His features are neutral. "My alternative was a plea deal for 100 consecutive life sentences, so. There's almost no real choice to be made there."

—-

Scare tactics and intimidation: John knows a thing or two about those. Did, even before he became what he's become, whatever that is, because when you're a scrawny kid growing up on the streets in Liverpool, you learn to make yourself bigger than you are in a real hurry. If he bristles at any part of Archer's decision to use Ginny Townsend as a courier, it's that the man has no business setting foot near anything to do with the occult.

What Barnes says, though? His follow-up about going after the people that Barnes knows? That's another story. He ought to have a wicked look of his own at the thought, something to answer Bucky's for all of the same reasons, but he doesn't. His expression tightens the way it has every time the arrest has come up, and he takes a sip from his glass before he says a word. The strength of it husks his voice, but the roughness suits the sentiments: "He goes after the birds, he's going to be sorry." There's a pause long enough for emphasis, and then he makes a meaningless gesture with his glass. "This 'Murdock,' he fancy your chances?"

—-

Intimidation tactics aside, Zatanna falls silent when Bucky explains who Archer is, as well as senses that twisting note of irritation from John. Legal strategies are something she is woefully inadequate in parsing, but she had suspected at first that the man used Ginny because she was part of their community, and magicians knew how to look for other magicians and he wanted to make sure that the piece of paper got to her. A person can't be summoned at court, after all, without notice - she knew that much at least, from whatever courtroom shows were in television these days; a pale imitation to the drudgery that encompasses the real thing, from what she had gathered, though large trials such as these - the 'Trial of the Century' types reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson court proceedings - tend to be more sensational than most.

She worries about that, too. How it would affect everyone else within their circle of trust. How it is affecting Jane, who probably isn't sleeping again. She remembers the grateful look she flashed everyone when they returned with the chair - the thing that holds the key to getting whatever pieces remain of Bucky Barnes for good. It had been a victory for the both of them, only for their efforts to be rendered moot…if the US Government gets its way to appease its allies abroad.

Fingers tighten over her glass, and she goes pale, even paler than her usual wont, when Bucky finally divulges just how bad it is. "But…" she begins, her voice faint. "You helped save the world. This world wouldn't be without…doesn't that matter? Doesn't that count at all…?"

It wasn't fair. Seventy years of his life stolen after paying for a chance at a HYDRA-free world with his everything.

But she already knows the answer to that, a glance at the man next to her, who has engaged in highly dangerous world-saving operations on his own and has paid the price for it over and over. She thinks of her father, who has also paid his dues. This entire affair only solidifies the idea that no matter how hard someone tries, they can still be thrown to the wolves in order to protect….what, exactly? Her teeth grit behind her lips, a surge of white-hot fury spiraling from her stomach, shooting through the tether she shares with John like a rocket. It is present in her eyes, practically luminescent with that sudden wave of anger.

Talk shifts towards Matt Murdock; it tempers that volatile spiral, but only slightly. "Matt's…a pretty young lawyer," she ventures hesitantly. "Jess asked me to help him, once, the Cult of the Cold Flame targetted him because of his association with her. I met him in the hospital and I was going to retain him to look into the case of another friend of mine. I know he specializes in criminal defense, and he does great work in Hell's Kitchen - fighting for the little guy, and all. But this case is huge, Bucky. You could— "

You could die.

The unsaid words drive ice deep into the rush of her hot blood.

"If you need me to, I could call around…Daddy never had much use for lawyers, save for the ones who handle his estate and whenever he gets summons like these. But I'm friends with a few people who practically run Gotham. If Matt needs more experienced co-counsel, I can ask for a referral."

Were it another case, another person, she would throw her chips fully on Matthew Murdock, Esquire, who she also knows moonlights as the Devil of Hell's Kitchen.

But this is Bucky Barnes, and he is facing the death penalty and the only person willing to bat for him in this unknown and unpredictable battlefield is a rookie. She wouldn't feel comfortable if she didn't at least offer.

—-

A grim smile crosses James' face when John intones that Archer'll be sorry if he goes after 'the birds.' "It'd be cathartic, but probably not terribly helpful to the case. I don't plan to make it an issue to begin with, though." His smile turns bleak. "Got nowhere to go, even if I wanted to disobey the terms of bail."

The question of whether Murdock fancies his chances is harder. Bucky looks distinctly uncomfortable, reaching for the bottle to pour himself another glass. "He's realistic about it," he finally says. "It's uphill, no matter how you slice it. I know," his voice gentles at Zatanna's anger and indignation, "what I've done, the service I've rendered, and… what I've given up. But there's no denying it looks kinda sketchy from the outside. Not easy to prove 'I was mind-controlled' or anything."

He puts the bottle back down. "Mr. Murdock will bring that all up at trial, I'm sure. It'll matter as much as the jury or the judge or whoever wants it to matter, I guess."

Speaking of Murdock… Zatanna ventures that he's pretty young, all told, and offers to get in touch with powerful friends. People who run Gotham. She could ask for a referral. "If you like," he says, doubtful. "Though it's up to him to take the help. Don't know how many would risk their neck on this kind of case, anyway. It's a career-altering case. Shocked a kid like Murdock threw in…"

You could die, goes unsaid, between all the other words spoken.

"I know," he says, and the tired hundred-year look in his eyes says without words that the thought doesn't horrify him as much as it probably should. "Well, probably best to focus on putting up a good fight at trial. I'm sure Murdock will wanna sit down with you about what you'll probably get asked."

—-

A lot of alternate conversations play out for John while Barnes is answering questions.

We could make you disappear, he says in one of them. Red could make you legitimate. New life. Saving the world offsets whatever you did. But it doesn't offset it for Barnes, and he knows this because it has never once offset it for him. And he knows already, because of the conversation he had with Bucky about how much of his former life he wanted or was even willing to retain, that the man sees himself as culpable to his victims, because nobody else can be — a point John would argue on logic if there was any point to arguing it. It's not up to him, though, or anyone else.

Holding his silence on these varying conversations is not easy, and that's especially true when he feels a bonfire ignite inside of his chest, an inferno borne by the wild emotion that lashes across astral space from the young woman beside him. He glances that way sidelong, then extends one slow hand to settle on her forearm, as both of her hands are busy white-knuckling her glass.

"So you're determined to see it through to the end, whatever it is? You know if things are rigged from the start it's not justice, mate. If it comes down to it, if it turns out to be a sham…" Hesitating, he glances at the bracelet around Bucky's left wrist. It ought to be incredibly illegal to plant a bug on someone during a legal proceeding, but John's paranoia and distrust of authority insert themselves before he can say what he was going to say. We can help. Instead, there's a stalled, not-quite-helpless look on his face, one he chases away with another pull from his glass — enough to leave him wincing in the aftermath. "Proving mind control wouldn't be so difficult. Proving you were mind-controlled is another story, maybe. But — bloody hell, Barnes. The footage we saw in the Hydra facility, before that wanker blew his own head off. All of the records, and that. How is that not enough?"

—-

The thought about being put in the stand doesn't even faze her…for now. Zatanna Zatara has not met US District Attorney Archer. It is possible that might change later, but she is presently too angry at the unfairness of everything to worry about what questions she could be asked during the trial. She makes a note to talk to Tim, once they meet up for class again in the University - at least field the question with him as to who among the Waynes' army of lawyers would be willing to assist Matt Murdock if he needs the help. "I'll ask him once it's time to go over possible questions," she replies, attempting to sound reassuring.

The cool hand on her forearm has her looking up at John, meeting his eyes for a moment before her own lower at her glass once more. She winds a set of fingers off it, slipping her arm away in favor of tangling his digits with hers, and gives them a squeeze.

"John's right, Bucky," she murmurs. "If this is all a political play after all just to get the international community to shut up, then…" Whatever Matt does would be futile from the start.

And the Englishman has his own points to make - evidence retrieved, caches of it from Ozone Park. She had seen Peggy Carter take them into custody. The recordings they found prior to that - SHIELD had been involved the night they went to get her soul back, that would make the seizure of those voice records admissible, wouldn't they?

How is that not enough?

"We have people punching costumed lunatics through buildings all over and aliens just dropping from the sky trying to take over," she adds. "After everything this world has seen especially after New York nearly got invaded by creatures from outer space, how is it so hard to believe that you were mind-controlled into doing what you did for the last few decades? It's not as if nobody knows about the atrocities HYDRA is capable of committing, they're all over the history books, for God's sake."

—-

Perhaps James senses something of the unspoken thoughts running through John and Zatanna's heads. Senses it because… it's really the logical thing anyone would do if falsely accused and facing death for crimes one objectively did not commit. They'd take a chance to run. Make a new life. Insist that it's owed them due to the services they've done the world. It all makes sense, really, in his mind.

So why can't he reconcile that in his heart?

And it's really just that, in the end — he feels his good deeds are overshadowed by the seventy years of harm he has done. It is hard to feel righteous when he has too many memories of murdering children — too many memories of full-out wars sparked by his hand. It is hard to live a life as a man with a conscience, with such memories as swim in his mind, and yet face absolutely no punishment. His victims have had no recompense, and he himself has never been called to account in any true way.

Such it is when John observes he's decided to see it through to the end… he just nods, bleak and resolute. "I don't know if justice is what I expect," he says. "Merely the appearance of it. The sense that something was done, about all that has happened, is probably more important than pure justice. America can't just ignore the grievances of that many foreign powers, not even on my behalf. So I am absolutely sure it is a political play." His expression turns wry. "That could be either real bad for me or real good for me, depending how much America chooses to value my past service."

John has very good points about all the physical evidence, then, to which Bucky nods. "I'm sure all that will go into evidence," he says. "Hopefully it will be enough. But if anyone has any inkling of a doubt about it, thinks it was just forged by SHIELD or something like that…"

He shakes his head. "But I just can't run anymore. The past has to be put to rest."

—-

"Riiiiiight, like they did with the moon landing?" John does not even bother to dress his incredulity up as something else. "That's a line in the sand, innit? It's — ah, bloody hell. I'm not going to say anything you haven't already thought about, being stuck in 'ere."

Putting someone to death for the sake of appearances. The distaste in his expression is genuine, but not in the least bit surprised. The dim view he takes of government and politics has plenty of room in it for that kind of ethical atrocity. It's his assumption that this kind of thing happens all the time — leastways in London; he's been embroiled in enough hushed scandals around Buckingham Palace to know that for a certainty.

Knowing the person that it's happening to, though, transcends stomach-turning disdain and becomes something else. The kind of thing that people go to war for.

"Whatever responsibility you think you need to take, alright, you're still owed justice. Same as anybody else. Forfeiting that because you feel guilty won't do the rest of this country any favors, either." It's a grouse more than a lecture, and he says it less stridently than he might to anyone else — and to the lip of his glass as he prepares to drain the last of what it contains — because this is edging up very close to glass-houses territory for John. "Christ, what a lot of pillocks."

He doesn't clarify who the pillocks are. Lawyers? Government? Hydra? Americans in general? People in general?

It's probably safe to assume all of the above, though.

"So what can we do to help? Or at least not make things worse. I get the feeling this is going to be a long, drawn-out circus. The media can't help themselves anymore. If it smells like ratings they're going to aggressively fellate it for the duration."

—-

All of what Bucky says makes sense, but emotion is not often rational or logical. All it does is set a heavy stone in the niche on her bowels, realizing that the man before them has decided that he was tired of running and that the bill has come due. Her lips press together in a thin line, still entrenched in the belief that they are putting the wrong man, wrong person, on trial. This was all HYDRA's doing - why is it that the world can band together in decrying the actions of one man, whose guilt, to her, remains in a fuzzy gray area, and not when it's time to bring down an organization like HYDRA? It doesn't make any sense to her.

What about the moon landing? Zatanna gives John a puzzled glance at that - a brief tangent away from the heavy atmosphere brought about by the subject they are discussing, but it is only a few seconds before she returns her attention back to the discussion at hand. The rest of John's litany comes as no surprise to her, though she has not been privy to the details of the cause, as the man hasn't talked about whatever he's done for the Palace. He's always given the government the stink-eye for as long as she's known him.

"So try not to screw things up on the stand," she murmurs in offerance, though now that it is sinking in, bone-deep apprehension starts to settle. With Germany fresh in her memories, she is well familiar with her temper, and if this US District Attorney Archer is as big of an asshole as he is being painted to be, she already knows that she probably wouldn't hold onto it with any sort of grace. But things are dire, and she knows she has to try.

…but if she can't withhold it from John, she doesn't know how much of a prayer she has holding it at bay when a stranger gets in her face. And she can't screw it up. She can't. Bucky is facing the death penalty and if she harms his case in any way, she will never forgive herself.

And when John asks what else they can do to help, she falls quiet, watching Bucky intently from where she sits. Reaching out, she pours John another glass once he's done draining it, and refills her own.

—-

"You know, I missed the moon landing," Bucky says, apparently apropos of nothing, though there is a sadness to his eyes that makes that one statement encapsulate the sum total of all that was taken from him, when the Soviets and Hydra put him on ice. "I was in freeze at the time. Would have loved to see that."

John's cynical lack of surprise, Zatanna's shock and outrage… neither are a surprise to Bucky, knowing both as well as he now does. Neither is John's eventual assertion that whatever responsibility he thinks he needs to take, he's still owed proper justice. "I know," he sighs. He seems to struggle with himself a moment, before he haltingly admits, "I get… a certain way sometimes, where I think if I just pay somehow, get hauled up in some way for all that's happened, then the guilt will stop. Cause I sure as hell can't convince myself rationally. Maybe part of it IS on me. If I had been stronger, done more, resisted harder…"

He shakes his head. "But I know that's… kinda self-centered. And there's still more than enough anger in me, being strung up for shit I had no say in, that I can promise I won't just give up, either." That anger flickers in his eyes. The ID bracelet is still obstinately worn on his right wrist. "They call me a traitor? Me?"

But John gets to the salient question in all this, with typical practicality. James is silent a few moments, thinking it over seriously. "Look after Jane," he finally says. "The food, the wards on this apartment… those are already a big help. I don't need media coming around here, waiting for her to have to leave, making her life hell." He shakes his head. "It's shocking how shameless they are, this day and age. I looked at Twitter for maybe ten seconds. It was ten too many."

He sobers considerably. "The machine… I'd be obliged if you could hang onto it for a spell, Zatanna. Can't think of many places more secure than Shadowcrest."

—-

John notices — senses, maybe? — the confusion from Zatanna over the moon landing remark, and glances that way. Bucky missed it entirely, so it only seems right to explain, even though it's a digression: "Some people believe your government faked the moon landing. Conspiracy nuts. Trying to say the Hydra footage was faked, though, it's — you can't just call foul play every time someone shows you evidence of something that you don't like. It's a shite legal system already, it doesn't need help failing more often than it does."

He lapses into silence after that. Listens, watches, while James Barnes peels back a layer of guardedness to give them a glimpse of what lies beneath. It's personal for him, and it's personal for John. Guilt is something he understands altogether too well. Deserved, in his case. He slants his gaze low and off to one side. He doesn't believe that anything will ever alleviate it, though he continues to try for reasons that often elude him. Would that be different if he were in Bucky's shoes? If that guilt existed in the gap between his identity and his physical self, put there by other people?

He suspects not.

"Anger is good," he says eventually, because 'I don't think guilt ever goes away' is a goddamn depressing thing to say. "We'll look after Foster, 'course. Things get to be too much and I imagine Zee could give her a new look, though, eh…" He lifts one hand and palms at his cheek and jaw thoughtfully. "She'll probably stick her chin out and say something about not duckin' and hiding from that lot because they're the ones who're wrong about things, and what." This hypothetical is delivered with a tone that straddles the line between exasperation and grudging respect — maybe even grudging affection. He'd never admit to either one.

—-

This is the most Zatanna had heard from Bucky, talking about his experiences while he was the Winter Soldier and how he feels about it now. She does not ask, there is plenty about his demeanor that reminds her of John, and his reticence to let others in the life he lives inside of his head is once of those similarities. So when the man before them does decide to let them in for just a moment, she listens quietly, intently, her expression softening when he talks about compensating for his transgressions, or the guilt associated with his helplessness to prevent HYDRA from doing whatever it wanted with his body.

The righteous anger at being called a traitor. She can understand that, too, from an objective observer's point of view. She knows she would be pissed. "It isn't right," she says quietly; her internal furnace continues to burn, but the solemnity of the moment and what she has just heard from her friend tempers enough of it that she doesn't fly off the handle right away.

A thumb absently rolls a circle over John's knuckles as he looks to the side, ice-blue eyes glancing his way and observing his profile for a few quiet moments.

"You can count on us to look after Jane, though I think John's right about her trying to keep on with her day the way she usually does," she says, having had a chance to become familiar with the woman's ferocity - she was up close, after all, when the diminutive physicist plunged the Spear of Destiny's facsimile into the back of an immortal nazi sorceror. "If she needs a protection spell just to make sure nobody lays a hand on her too badly while she's out there, I can work one up." John's wards are active in the apartment and there's a glance over at him. "You think maybe we should add this set to the network we're building?" she wonders towards the Englishman.

There's a pause at the last request regarding the machine. "Hopefully they don't know about it," she says. "And if they don't know, hopefully they don't find out about it, so the faster I can move it, the better off we all are, I think. I can stash it in Daddy's library - nobody can get in there unless I'm in the house."

—-

Conspiracy theories weren't really part of the regular updates the Winter Soldier got — they weren't much pertinent to the business of killing, most of the time. Thus the moon landing thing flies right over Bucky's head — and John's subsequent explanation just seems to baffle and upset him. "The moon landing can't be faked," he mourns. "I was real happy about that. Well, I guess people will say anything's faked. They'll probably try to say this was faked. Nothing to be done but prove it's not."

There is a brief silence afterwards, a silence in which Bucky visibly struggles with himself between the ingrained impulse to keep his own counsel… and the awareness that John and Zatanna, after all they have been through, deserve more than brush-offs. Eventually he consents to open up — just a little — enough to show an inkling of what circulates in his head when his eyes go distant and his demeanor goes sad. He doesn't miss John's reaction, that averted gaze that suggests something which hit too close to home. He's not been privy to details, but he knows instinctively there is a kind of kindred spirit in John Constantine. A man who understands guilt, the impossibility of atonement, and the need to try anyway.

A man who understands, also, anger.

Both of them promise to look after Jane, John with a muted affection to which he'd never admit. Zatanna adds that she'll keep the machine safe in the most secure of locations in Shadowcrest. "Then let's do that," he says, of her suggestion to stash it in the library.

He leans back, afterwards. A hint of relief crosses his features, unburdening him visibly of some of his worry. "Thanks," he says, and that single word seems somehow to encapsulate more than just simple gratitude — seems to allude, with its weight, to everything John and Zatanna have done for him in the past few months of their acquaintance. "Thanks to you both." He is somber a moment… and then a hint of a grin flashes over his features, a welcome sight after so much bleak grimness. "I'll get through this. We still got some asshole mages to clean up."

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