Nothing But Net

June 20, 2017:

Jessica Jones sits down with Bucky Barnes to give him a piece of positive news.

A Small Park in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

And a park bench far enough away from anyone's listening ears where two people can speak freely.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Matt Murdock, Jane Foster

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Bucky has not left the apartment for the last few days. It was just not generally deemed worth it, by him nor anyone around him. Others were concerned that going out would expose him to any number of incidents which he could ill-afford at this point in time. He, himself, just didn't really find it necessary to push his existence into the faces of people just trying to live their lives.

Yet even the most reclusive person will get restive after a long time spent staring at the same few walls. With Jane absorbed in her work — the one way she felt she could have any sort of effect or control on anything currently — Bucky decided to go out, if only for a short walk. He at least took some care in not being ostentatious in his identity, and decades of experience in disgusing himself come in handy now.

The trick is not going overboard. Sunglasses and a hat are often enough to disguise a man's most distinctive features, and Bucky was already fairly generic-looking as far as a white American male went. He's certainly got his left arm and hand covered up.

He is not hiding from anyone he knows, however. If asked, he will freely tell anyone looking for him where he is: a small park in the Carroll Gardens area of Brooklyn, seated on a bench watching the families with their children.

The hat and sunglasses trick is one Jessica Jones uses in her own work. She arrives, after text reply given and sent, wearing the same thing, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail to make her even more generic. Her black tanktop and ripped jeans may look iconic to her friends, but…it is what it is. Not that the press hasn't mostly figured out by now that she'll give them the finger and say nothing, but she's not going to bring them down on Bucky by being stupid. She walked the roof road, so to speak, to get as close to the park as she could.

She's suddenly beside him with a big bag containing 10 pulled pork BBQ sandwiches and a Coke, which she gently offers over to him. That's how it goes with her…material support first. She has said very little on her quick, practical visits. She has been concerned about the possibility of intruding on what she sees as time that belongs mostly to him and Jane. But…she's happy to have this opportunity anyway. As it is, she waits until she's sure all the kids and families are well out of earshot before she says softly, "I might have some good news for you, for a change."

Verbal pleasantries seem like such a waste of time, when a man's time could be running out. 'Hey, how are you' is the dumbest question on earth right now, so she just…gets to the point.

One of the points. The other is, 'I actually want to hang on to this person who has somehow become family to me— friend, father figure, brother figure, mentor, all in one— just a little bit longer, and I don't much care if we just sit here in silence because I'm terrified I'm going to lose him.' But thankfully, she's said some of those things to him before. When the pressure was off, when it's not so sad. That's why that stuff has to be said at those times instead, she realizes. Not just because a person can be ripped from you at any moment, but because then that can be there when it needs to be, without adding strain.

He is expecting her, so he does not startle when she appears at his shoulder suddenly and takes a seat. The gifts are accepted, though with a rueful sort of smile. "Hammers home how unnatural I am when it's all in a sack like that," he remarks wryly, hefting the thing pointedly as he puts it aside, though it's not like he's saying no. "I'll make Jane take one, she hasn't been eating like she should."

He isn't rude enough to dive into it right now, though he does crack open the Coke.

He holds his silence up until Jessica breaks it. His expression says he appreciates the cut to the chase, the business-like discussion rather than the tentativeness or the inquiries whether he's okay.

"Oh yeah?" he wonders. "What's that? I should keep better track of things, but…" But the only thing he watches is the coverage of his victims, giving interviews. There are enough that it takes up most of his time. "Media these days. Lots of noise."

"This wouldn't have hit the media anyway, though Matt might have told you on your next meeting with him. Still, Matt's swamped, and I'm not, so. You get to hear about it sooner."

Jessica waves her hand at him. If he wants to eat, he should. "I had mine on the way over," she explains. "You'll find the wrappers in the bag as proof."

But she cuts back to the chase. "You know who Peter Smirnov is? Or maybe I should ask, do you remember who he is?"

If he does, after all, if he remembers the name, she can save a lot of long-winded explanation and cut right to how the Hell Peter Smirnov matters to Bucky right now. But if he doesn't, she can give him the background.

Despite the fact that she's saying it's good news, she delivers it matter-of-factly. There is no such thing as a clincher or a game-changer or a home run in a criminal trial. This is like telling a General that she's found an unexpected weapons cache when the ammo supplies were looking a bit low, not war-ending intelligence.

His brows lift as she relates that it's not the kind of news that would show up in the media, though what he focuses on is what she says afterwards: Matt Murdock being swamped. "He doing okay?" he asks, and it's transparent he asks out of concern for the man's health and sanity and not concern for his own case. "Maybe you ought to take this stuff to him, instead."

Then Jessica says a name.

Bucky falls quiet. A flurry of memories pass visibly behind his eyes at the name, like mud stirred up from the bottom of a creek by an enterprising stick. There's a few common themes running through all those recollections. Children panting in fear. Children running. Children screaming in pain. The Winter Soldier didn't handle all the children of the Red Room personally — they only sent him the best ones, and often not until they were older, anyway — and so there were other handlers to corral them.

"Pyotr Arkadyevich Smirnov." He doesn't say Peter, not the way she does. There's a different inflection he uses, more recognizably Russian with the distinctive scoop of that Y. With that, Jessica receives her introduction to Peter Smirnov's true original name. "Haven't thought of that man in years."

A pause. His voice is very soft. "I suppose that's why he's still alive."

"We've been in contact. He seems okay, but if he weren't? He'd never tell me," Jessica replies bluntly. "Because unless I very much misread him, he sees it as his duty to be a mountain in the midst of our storm. If he's not, the only one who is going to get to know that is Foggy Nelson. Maybe his girlfriend."

She watches, though, as memories flood across his face. Listens to the different inflection. "It's a good thing he is. Professor Pyotr," she tries the inflection and mostly sounds like an American trying to sound like a Russian, it's embarrassing, "thought to retire to a quiet little life teaching Political Science right here in New York City."

She holds out her hand, studying her nails, and then smirks. Lightly, in a way that tells tales, she says, "Professor Smirnov seems to have had such an attack of conscience about all of his activities with Department X, the Red Room, Project Wolf Spider, and later, the Kindergarten…that, damndest thing, he all but ran to Nelson and Murdock to present himself as a witness for the defense, ready to tell the court all about it, and his oh-so-successful career as a brainwashing trainer for said programs."

Bucky laughs briefly when Jessica says that Matt would never tell her if he wasn't okay. "No, I suppose he wouldn't," he says. "That's not what men do."

His gaze goes distant at the mention of Peter Smirnov, however. A man the Winter Soldier knew by his full name, spoken in the Russian way. Jessica tries to imitate the pronunciation; Bucky rather tellingly makes no comment on her attempt.

It might just be, however, that he's distracted by the rage that flickers across his features to hear of Smirnov squirreling away to hide in America, retiring to a life as a teacher. A teacher. "That man," he says, "is not fit to be among anyone young and impressionable."

And then Jessica explains the relevance of Peter Smirnov to all this.

Bucky is silent for some long moments, looking at Jessica unreadably. "Attack of 'conscience,' huh?" he finally says, a knowing look bleeding across his eyes.

The knowing look bleeds across his eyes. Jessica looks up at him and repeats, "Damndest thing." There's a little bit of mirth there, though it sobers.

Because she knows there is a good chance he won't approve at all of how that attack of conscience came about. Then again, he might. On this, it's a little bit hard to tell. The unreadable look alone reminds her of this, tells her that he might not at all care for how she's handled things. But. She'd already faced that possibility. She hardly thinks he's going to throw away the asset over his disapproval, and if he has to be mad he just has to be mad.

In that cap, with those sunglasses, with her hair pulled back, the look on her face might be all the more reminiscent of some soldier under his command that has pulled something. Possibly good, possibly bad, possibly both…a soldier who knows that maybe, just maybe, Sarge isn't going to be as impressed as she might hope, and yet stubbornly clinging to the notion that she did what she had to do and would do it again.

His expression continues to give no indication whether he approves or disapproves of her behavior. Possibly because hers, right now, is reminding him of some sassy buck private still green enough to the Army to have all kinds of independent ideas, and to think it's a good idea to execute them without Sarge's explicit okay.

Eventually, he looks away, and his features relax into a rather resigned, but tolerant look. "I won't ask," he decides, "if Murdock thinks it'll fly at trial."

There is a brief silence. "Did you promise him his life in exchange for his cooperation?" He sounds like he might be disappointed if the answer is 'yes.'

"It's possible a theoretical and hypothetical conversation took place between your legal counsel and certain parties before anything took place." Jessica says, "to ensure that nothing spoiled the asset."

She relaxes. It's good enough, really. He asks her the question about his life, and Jessica shakes her head. "No. I only promised that I was the only thing standing between him and his painful death by an entirely different individual should he fail to follow my instructions to the absolute letter. Though…"

And now it's her turn to fold her arms and look a little stern. "I think that would be irrelevant to you right now. And…you should probably put any thoughts of future relevance out of your head, Bucky. He's in legal hot water himself now, which means he's retained his own counsel and is rapidly cutting deals to basically give up all the intel he has about current activities to various and sundry enforcement agencies so they can go shut the Kindergarten down. Maybe the other programs too. If he suddenly shows up dead in witness protection, who do you think they'll look to first? They'll look to Hydra second, and you gotta figure his own asshole people will eventually find him and deal with him."

It's not easy, putting this before Bucky, but she bulls ahead anyway. "Let him get hoisted on his own petard so you can get yourself acquitted and keep yourself acquitted."

"Entirely theoretical and hypothetical," Bucky says dryly. "I see how it is."

There is no censure for her maybes and possiblys and hypotheticallys, all of which cover up an obvious truth: culpability. Bucky could, but he'd be a total hypocrite if he called out anyone else for stepping deftly around unpleasant truths, and he knows it. His silence serves for his acceptance of this act on his behalf.

He still doesn't ask. The less he knows, the better. But there's one thing he wants to know — one question which raises a very straightforward assumption about what he might intend.

Jessica answers, but not the way he expects. Bucky turns a mildly astonished look on her when she gives him the stern look and the lecture about how he should probably not go and murder this guy after the trial, because that would undermine everything if they get Bucky his acquittal. It's the look of an old patriarch when the kids suddenly start to talk back.

He has no good rebuttal, other than his disappointment at not getting to erase something ugly from the world, so he subsides, and instead says what he should be saying: "Thanks, Jessica."

He always looks so surprised every time she pushes back. Most people look surprised when she doesn't push back. But…it's the nature of the very real, very high degree of respect she holds for him. In most things? She values his opinion really highly, and is content to follow his lead. But sometimes she does know she's right, and the Jessica most everyone else gets comes right out, and how. There are a few others who command that high degree of respect, but the list is very short.

She leans over a little and nudges him with a shoulder in sisterly fashion. Just a little bump.

"You'd do the same for me," she points out. "And anyway, didn't I tell you? First day we met? Really met? I'm here to make sure you and Jane aren't alone. In anything. I'm here to have your backs. However I can. And if I see another opportunity for you, I'll take that too. So. I mean you've had nothing to do but stare at four walls and think about this case. Any additional exculpatory evidence or key witnesses floating around that might need more than a phone call from Nelson and Murdock to get into the hands of the defense team? Any other leads I can chase to strengthen your case?"

At least this time the 'Thanks, Jessica' sounds more normal. Like, thanks for bringing me a sandwich and news and maybe doing the thing, not a 'if I die, thanks,' which is a vast improvement over the last time they spoke.

His surprise is equal parts the fact Jessica shows him a much more deferential face than she does the rest of the world, and simply the fact that he's always been a rather assertive person, with years of military service calcifying that into a personality accustomed to command and obedience. He tries to hold onto that separation a little, if only because he is so, so used to being in the position of strength for so many people…

But Jessica keeps the pressure on. And eventually, that dynamic between them softens a bit when she leans over and nudges him with her shoulder. A sisterly gesture if ever there was one.

His eyes gentle, and suddenly there's no father figure, no mentor, no strong man her grandfather's age. Just a guy, physically and subjectively not too much older than her, who needs a little help and is learning how to accept it. "I guess I would," he allows. "I'm not the most graceful about taking help or company…" There is a brief silence, in which the breadth of reasons he is no longer great at human contact stretch out. "But I appreciate it."

The inquiry about any other leads she might chase to strengthen his case draws a frown. His lashes flicker. He knows a woman who could potentially be a star witness — but he won't name her. He still protects her, even now.

"Not at the moment," he says instead. "I'll let you know if I do."

Jessica tilts her head when that guy comes out.

She finds…she really likes that 'guy'. The glimpse of him produces something even rarer than respect. It produces a smile. He's brought a few of those forth from her before. When he made her laugh at herself for being so tentative about asking him for training. When he taught her how to dance. And now, when he peels back a layer and shows her a side of himself she hasn't seen before. It's a glimpse that might, ultimately, give him a bit more of the sassy sisterly Jessica than whom he's had in the past, but…maybe that's all to the good as well. Putting him on a pedestal has, after all, caused trouble before.

And she finds it sparks something in her, a strengthening, a setting of a spiritual bone that she can't quite put a name or understanding to. Maybe later she'll get it. For now she just kind of feels it. She's not happy, by a long shot, but neither does she feel like a woman with the very weight of the world on her shoulders, weight that she's carrying for reasons that extend even beyond Bucky's trial. It's weird, how something so small as a shift in understanding can shift everything else. She feels…somehow more anchored, somehow more rooted, like something in her core has clicked into place. She can only hope that whatever it is remains, cause she has a feeling she's going to need it.

He might even see the shift in her. The way she sits a little straighter, without realizing it, the way some of the dark shadows flee from her eyes, the way lines ease off her face.

Even now, he's helping. Just…by being who he is. Even if that's just a guy who in terms of actual lived life is really in her age group, who isn't really Grandpa.

"Not the most graceful about accepting help or company?"

She smirks and says, "I wouldn't know anything about that."

She suddenly chuffs one of those silent half-laughs of hers. "Though I guess you wouldn't know. You met me after I took a few levels in 'being less of an asshole'. Just…you're doing better than I did. You're not rip-roaring drunk 24/7 and you're not saying the most cutting, sarcastic things you can possibly think of to put down everyone from the paperboy to your own sister. I think…you're doing just fine."

To Bucky, his gentling feels like a lapse — a little let-down of his walls to allow her a look at his weakness. It is not necessarily an act he thinks of as a positive thing — more a tentative offering of trust from a beaten wolf no longer accustomed to human hands — so it surprises him that she seems to take it positively.

She smiles, at least. Even though he does not know the significance or breadth of the rest of the effect he has on her, that much feels a bit like a success.

And for all he feels old sometimes, old and divorced from the world around him with all its strange modern-day people — for all the horrors he has seen over the course of his many decades — the fact remains that he is still young, the sum total of his life lived as himself accounting only into the mid-thirties. Perhaps what he needs, sometimes — what Steve needs too, for Steve is in the same position — is simple friendship, and not the idolization as some distant, historical, ageless wonder.

"I got enough of an idea," he says, brows tilted, when she intimates he wouldn't know about how truly assholish she used to be. "Anyway, I think I'm only 'not drunk' because I can't get drunk," he says dryly. "If I could get drunk, I would have been. Many times, before now." He finishes the Coke, looks at it, then flicks the can across the park — forty feet, at least — into the recycling bin on its other side.

A few people look at him. There is a brief silence.

"I guess I shouldn't have done that," he says, though his voice is a little playful. Probably the first hint of levity she's heard from him since this all began.

"Awww, screw them anyway," Jessica says, laughing. And, louder, "Yeah! You go! Woo! Nothing but net!"

Come on, folks. You've seen 'nothing but net' before. She holds up her hands and imitates a rock and roll stance, she headbangs a little, she makes an ass of herself, all to make them forget about the impossibility of what they've just seen, all to draw attention to the loud woman so that they don't look closer at the quiet man beside her.

"Assholes," she mutters under her breath, but with more amusement than anything else.

"Come on," she says, hopping up. "Let's get the Hell out of here."

If he wants to walk alone again she'll certainly let him. But if he doesn't? Well. No reason at all why he should ever have to walk alone. Not if he doesn't want to.

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