Echoes of Widows

July 05, 2017:

Bucky Barnes shows up at Alias Investigations directly after Jessica Jones concludes her business at the Wakandan Embassy. Things get tense.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, New York

Now serving: frustrations, defensiveness, and misunderstandings!

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: T'Challa, Sizani, Jane Foster, Matt Murdock, Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine, Red Robin

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Jessica Jones had not exactly been anything other than forthcoming about the fact that she had an appointment at the Wakandan Embassy. She only went at all because Jane called her back and told her to go ahead and try to get the intelligence files, try to get permission to insert herself into the investigation. Matt might need the information for his case, and even if he doesn't, Jessica, knowing a bit about T'Challa by now, knows an American case outcome isn't going to change his mind about squat…though she also knows he'll use it for his own ends, for sure. He might even try to play multiple angles to make sure Bucky winds up dead.

What she hadn't been very open about was that she'd known enough about Wakandan culture and T'Challa's mindset, even before she went on her reading spree, to have a real good notion that they might throw her into some sort of battle to get that information. She didn't want to burden Bucky and Jane with that.

And she'd had no way of knowing just how complicated and bad it could get.

The Wakandan medician was pretty amazing though. She comes back to her home with little more than lingering back pain and a long pink line from left shoulder to right kidney to mark her time there. The evidence is still on her clothing though. She comes in sighing, worry written all over her face, her suit jacket slung over her arm, face freshly washed but crisp, white shirt still covered in blood. Most of it is on the back, but the wound was severe enough to make splotchy patterns all over the front, to stain her shirt sleeves. Her pants are crusty with it. And of course the fabric on the back of that shirt has a long, neat slice on the back of it.

She forgets that she has just given up on security at Alias Investigations, forgets that her doors and windows are almost always unlocked, forgets, as she often does, just how often one of her potential clients— or, even more often, someone she cares about— winds up sitting or standing around her place waiting on her to get back. If she'd remembered, she might have pulled clothes out of her STUFF app and found a hotel to take a shower in. But was too preoccupied, and now she's here, unmistakably marked by her "diplomatic conversation."

The thing is, Bucky Barnes knows plenty about Wakanda as well — or about as much as any outsider can know about Wakanda. This is why though Jessica had no idea how complicated it could get, Bucky had enough of an idea that he took up a quiet watch outside the embassy at the time of Jessica's appointment. Just to see the state she came out in.

The state she came out in was hard to miss.

Such it is that when Jessica gets back to Alias, she will find she does indeed have a visitor, one whose skills are undulled by his confinement and his repentance and the ordeal of the past few weeks. It's impossible to even tell which window or door he might have come in, or when.

He's perched on a windowsill smoking, a sure sign of stress, because otherwise he would not be doing that indoors even despite the fact he's from a time where smoking indoors was more common. At the least, the window he's perched at is open, in some feeble nod towards ventilation.

He doesn't look around when she enters, but that just serves as a tacit remark on the fact that he already knows how she looks.

She stops cold, because she didn't want him to see it and didn't want him to know about her wound, or even about the fight. She'd have quietly swept that risk under the rug if she'd had her way.

She looks away, something on her face. It's not guilt, exactly, though the concessions T'Challa wrung out of her make her feel…icky. It feels a little like a betrayal even though she knows it honestly isn't. She still hasn't even figured out what she means to do about it, only that she doesn't like the position she got put in. The wound, now, is nothing, at least to her. She doesn't realize exactly that it might be a big deal to him.

Still, her tone is gentle. "Hey," she says. "Just um. Let me grab a 10 minute shower and change okay?"

She pauses to inhale the second hand smoke. Oh god, she needs that hit of smoke. She has been jonesing for both smoke and drink for awhile now, and that hit of second-hand goodness is a good hit.

But since he already knows and isn't shocked, well. She…might as well just not spend this entire conversation being gross. So she slips into the bedroom, still equipped with bunk beds even though Az is locked away and Silk is hardly ever here. Silk does still live here. Through there to the bath.

She emerges with still wet hair, ripped jeans, and a ratty Rolling Stones tank top that has dozens of tiny holes in it. "There. Sorry."

She opens the other window and tucks herself into the other windowsill, giving him space and time to tell her what's on his mind.

The trouble with not wanting an internationally-renowned spy with decades of experience not to know about something is, well… you're not wanting an internationally-renowed spy with decades of experience not to know about something. He's gonna know whether you want him to or not.

The Winter Soldier is a master of turning up where he is not expected, where no one particularly wants him to be, knowing things they really don't want to know, and James Barnes didn't stop being the Winter Soldier just because he reclaimed his own true life. Such it is that when Jessica opens her door, he's there, silent and unsurprised.

"Take your time," is all he says to her request that she shower and change, before he puts the cigarette firmly back in his mouth.

He's on cigarette number two by the time she gets back. Not a lash blinks to her apology. She gives him space and silence, and the space and silence accordingly stretch on.

"They're an odd people for a Western audience to understand," he finally says. "They don't play by any rules but their own."

He lets smoke trail languorously from his nose in an exhale. The gesture gives him the aspect of a tired old dragon. "You know I was never sent there? Not in fifty-odd years."

The other problem with being friends with an internationally-renowned spy is that other than knowing that he's stressed (which, duh), she can't really read him. Not that 'reading people' is at the top of her skillset anyway. She verifies facts against other facts, and makes guesses about approach, but she, in general, doesn't try to guess at what other people are thinking or feeling.

There are too many places in her life where her social growth was stunted and messed up. It results in a lot of scenarios where she feels like she's out of step with everyone. Like Zatanna Zatara, that she's often too much…except when she's not enough…when it comes to dealing with everyone in her life. She does the best she can on that angle, and sometimes silently thanks them all for putting up with her. When she's abrasive. When she's anxious. When she feels like the most obnoxious person on the face of the earth. When she makes all of her many mistakes.

So she has no idea where he's going with his opening statements, no guess at what's going on behind those eyes of his. He morphs, does James…tired old dragon, young smartass. Old wolf mentor, just a guy. Warrior, spy. There are so many aspects to his personality, complexities grown over years and experiences she can still only even begin to half wrap her mind around.

She decides, then, the safest thing is to keep giving space, while encouraging him to keep talking. He'll get it out in his own time, and she's happy to listen to him. So all she says is, "Would explain why the State Department seems to have done such a piss poor job of accounting for them," in tones that invite him to go on.

He morphs. Or perhaps he is just moving through all the men he is. He is four in one body. Four different men, all sharing space in one troubled head, all trying to reconcile themselves as one coherent whole.

It's hard to say which one he is now, if he even is any single one. Especially with his blue eyes a million miles away, gaze unfocused and distant.

"Nobody can really account for Wakanda," he says. He ashes his cigarette out the window. "S'why I was never sent, as the Soldier. Never in fifty years. Never thought the risk involved in committing me as a resource was worth the reward. And given the potential reward… the risk was pretty damn big, indeed."

He leans back and puts the cigarette back in his mouth. "What did you do in there, Jessica?"

She looks at him for a long moment. She stands, restless.

She is not happy with anything having to do with Wakanda right now.

She goes to the fridge. She needs a vice to engage in, but nothing appeals. She finally just gets a Coke. Coke and second-hand smoke. They'll have to do as her vices for the evening.

She crosses back to the window. When she does, she sits perpendicular to him on the sill, facing her office more than she's facing him. She snaps the Coke open, a pop-hiss sound that generations of marketers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into associating with fun, laughter, friends, food, and family. Tonight, though, the pop-hiss is stand in for a sigh.

"What I had to."

She starts there. It's simple truth.

"You know we need to know the details of that investigation. Otherwise Matt could be blindsided by it in court. And T'Challa wouldn't listen to you, but he listened to me. A little. Enough. Enough to tacitly admit there may be room for reasonable doubt. If it can be found."

She takes a sip of a Coke. "But the request itself triggered some cultural issues I guess, that demanded a trial by combat out of me. Or maybe some shit I said, I don't know. There really was no good way to say 'you people screwed up', but I did try. I think the outcome of the ask was pretty inevitable though. So. I duelled for it. One of the Dora Milaje. She meant it as a duel to the death. It wasn't. I took her down. If you hadn't taught me so well I think that would have been it for me, cause she was damn good and accounted for my strength like you showed me anyone dangerous can, but you did, and in the end, I was the one left standing. Their MedTech is pretty good, I don't think she'll suffer permanently from what I did to her."

There's more. Because this isn't the part that troubles her. She says it like it's nothing at all. It was a fight. She's been in dozens of fights, especially since Zatanna first walked into her office, drawing her into the world of sorcerers, secret societies, spies and soldiers. A world she was ill-prepared for, for all her powers, but for all that, a world she seems to be more or less treading water in. She takes her wound as no consequence. She doesn't feel great about the fight itself, taking no relish in hurting the woman who she had to pound down to get what she wanted. His ability to read people will get that she even knew the woman well enough to like her, on a surface level.

It will also catch a great good deal in what she doesn't say next, on what she pauses on, a pause filled with misgivings, the pause of a woman who found a snare. A woman who doesn't know how to talk about it, doesn't know what to do about it, is ridden by epic levels of anxiety and fear over it. It isn't the fight that is making her second guess her decisions in that embassy.

It's what came after.

She did what she had to, she says.

He goes silent and stays that way. He doesn't interrupt throughout her long explanation. He just smokes on, his features carefully blank, though his expression hardens gradually over the course of her answer. She describes what it was she had to do — engage in a ritual duel. A trial by combat. A fight to the death that she eventually won without having to actually inflict death.

She took the other woman down, she says.

"Because of my teaching," he echoes, very softly.

He stubs out the cigarette suddenly on the windowsill and flings it out, with unnecessarily violent flicks of his wrist.

"What did you do to her?" His voice remains conversational, despite the gesture.

Is that a bad thing? Jessica has no idea of the landmines that she's walking in right now. "Broke both her hands, broke a rib, knocked her out. I think I hit her once in the throat too, but the red haze was starting to come in."

She frowns. "Are — what— ?"

That line about his teaching, the flick of his cigarette, has completely confused her. She can read agitation in that, no matter how inexpert she is on the matters of spycraft. "I was never going to kill her," she adds, in case he had doubts. "And I wouldn't have taken it that far if she hadn't made it perfectly clear that she was going to kill me."

For the first time, his reaction makes her wonder if she should be uneasy over the duel. She'd have been content to diplomacy it. To ritually armwrestle over it either. To have a game of ritual chess. The Wakandans chose 'duel to the death because you asked for something we didn't like you asking for,' and on that point her conscience was clear…

Until that violent cigarette flick made her wonder if there was something about that she hadn't considered.

Red haze, she says. He drops his face into his hand, scrubbing it, before letting his hand just come to rest over the lower half of it. His blue eyes stare out over his fingers.

It's not important you weren't going to kill her," he finally says. His hand finally drops away again, letting him speak more clearly.

He continues. "You took her down? Because you had to? And with what I taught you?" he continues. "You sound like a Widow."

He lets his spine hit the windowframe as he leans back. "I gave up making those decades ago. You did not 'have to' turn yourself into — this — just over this."

Red haze from the pain is what she meant, not from anger.

But she decides not to clarify it as he tells her exactly what he thinks of what she did. It hits home. She turns the Coke can over and over in her hands, rolling it in circles. Coca side. Cola side. Coca side. Cola side. "You didn't make me into anything that I wans't already," she says at last. "And I made my own choices, and I made them because this is not how it ends."

She suddenly flings the pop can hard out into the night, hard enough to hit the other building. It explodes, splatters, sends fizz and soda everywhere. It drips down the side of the brick, and when she looks at him there are tears brimming in her eyes.

"Just over this. Just over this, like it's nothing. But it's not nothing. You did NOT go through all that just to have it all taken away from you. Fuck that. You endured, your perservered, you fought your ass off to get back to yourself, and what is supposed to happen next is that you and Jane get to be happy. And she needs you. She needs you. She would be devastated without you."

Truth is, Jessica feels like she'd be pretty damned devastated without him too, though of course, for nothing at all like the reasons why it would destroy Jane.

The tear falls, much to her shame, then another. She swipes it away with the back of her hand. "It's no different than John and Zee in Hell. You guys are both in fucking Hell right now, and it's not fair, it's not right. So yeah, Bucky. I went and made the next move in a battle those god damned panthers started. They started it when they fucked up their investigation. Oh, Bucky Barnes is there? Well we like him for it. Those fuckers probably didn't bother to look beyond the surface, to look beyond anything that negated their case, and fuck them for it. They are the aggressors, and whatever the United States of Fucking America is doing? Fucking T'Challa intends to fucking murder you. And you wanna know what I think? I think it's as much because pitting himself against the legendary Winter Soldier fits into the overarching god-hero narrative complex he's got as anything else. And yes, I know you can god damn take care of yourself, but that whole god damn nation has basically declared war on you for no fucking reason at all. Because as you said yourself, in all your long career, in all these long lists of crimes you're trying to atone for, you never went near their borders. So what was I supposed to do? Just stand by? Or just magically intuit that you'd feel that way? What the Hell should I have done differently?"

He doesn't jump to the sudden explosion of the can against the far brick wall. He doesn't react substantively to much of anything she says.

He only says, firmly and softly and first of all: "Not for 'no reason at all.'"

He is silent a time, afterwards.

"Yeah, you're entitled to make your choices," he says, tonelessly. "You see how weird it is, telling me that, and then telling me your choice is to dictate how it ends for me? What's supposed to happen next in my life?"

It's not said in an accusatory way. Not hostile. Not much of anything. Just that same calm, instructive tone he used to teach her to fight.

"What happens next, how I see it, is that justice takes its course," he says. "What happens is that people have their say about me. Yeah, I expect it to be fair, a say made with all the information reasonably attainable. But I don't EXPECT exoneration, I am not 'owed' anything, and sure as hell don't expect it at the cost of other things that are important to me."

He seems to regret tossing his cigarette, because he takes out another. "There are things that are not worth you talking the way you talked just now." His lip curls briefly in disgust. "Doing what you 'had to' to 'take people down.'" He shakes his head. "Did you even have to? Jane is working on pulling whatever she can."

He concentrates on lighting up. "I guess you can do what you want. Choice, right?" He closes his eyes. "I'd just prefer not to be the reason you did anything you'll come to regret."

His blue eyes rest on hers. It becomes evident he didn't miss the fact the real thing bothering her was something she hadn't yet gotten to saying. "You can't fuck around with Wakanda. Don't sell them anything you cannot pay when it comes time for them collect. They will. With interest."

Well, yeah, she sees it. She paces around, and nods her head— she has to conceed the point, even if she doesn't like it. She's not really hostile at him, she's hostile at the whole situation, and her considerable temper has been held, and held, and held at bay. Her regret is it's coming out now, in front of him, that she finds herself fighting with him. "You're right. I'm sorry. That was stupid. I didn't mean it like that." And she means that.

"Jane didn't tell me what she was doing," Jessica replied. "She told me not to go. So I did not. Then suddenly she told me to go, that getting that intel wouldn't interfere with her at all. I got no information about what Jane is doing. I went in blind, and I told her what I intended to do, and I assume she told you. So I don't know. I have no idea actually if I had to. It sounded a lot like she had decided on some two-prong strategy… But I'm not exactly in the loop. And I trust you both enough that I was okay with that."

The truth is, she's not sure what it is he thinks she's lost, that he's lost, by her going in and fighting that battle. Because she feels like she would have made the same choice for any of her friends without ever having met him.

And then he's calling her on the rest of it. And this is where it gets sticky. Because she doesn't want Wakanda holding her as a sort of hostage against his own behavior. And that's what it is, really. They don't really expect her to 'bring him in.' That's foolishness. If the case doesn't get solved, if he can't get absolved, they're hoping to leverage her to make it easier on themselves. And will also kill her. If she doesn't play pawn proper. It's not even can't pay. She just…won't pay it. Not with his blood anyway.

She'll happily pay with her own, and consider it a good trade. Who does she have that needs her? Who does she have that would be devastated if she were gone? Nobody. It's just simple fact. Sad, sure. But not devastated. In three months, they'd all be fine. She crosses her arms, thinking about bad bargains, and others in their group who have made them. Jane. Red. Now her. And the idea that she's done any or all of this and has in fact involved herself in ways she perhaps should not have been involved is also part of what's torturing her.

'Too much.'

Matt still needs that information. And for all she knows, so will Bucky.

Then again, if they capture him anyway, and also decide to kill her, that's just two stupid senseless deaths stacked onto one.

"Yeah well. When you're down to two bad decisions, the only thing left to make is a bad decision."

He says nothing to her apology. He just holds his silence and continues to hold it throughout what she has to say about Jane.

He inhales like he wants to say something, but just as quickly decides against it. His gaze slants out the window, cigarette dangling from his mouth, its smoke trailing up through the dead air. He looks at the stain from the busted can, still slowly running down the brick.

"Doesn't matter now," he decides, of the whole thing.

His gaze tilts back towards her as he warns her about Wakanda, about the way they transact business. About the inherent dangers of treating with them. He has no idea of anything she might think about the matter. But he does have a visceral reaction to what she has to say.

When you're down to two bad decisions, all you can do is make a bad decision.

"No," he says, his voice tired. For a moment, his blue eyes are very like Steve's. "That's not the only thing left."

He rises from the sill. "Thanks for your efforts," he says. "Think about what I said about Wakanda."

He has no idea what she is thinking, but something in watching him go all Steve gives her a bad feeling about what he might be thinking. It gives her the feeling that he's pretty much going to go circumvent them all if T'Challa doesn't back off. He won't run, he won't hide, he'll stride in and do his own thing. Regardless of whether she says anything or not about the sucky deal they strongarmed her into.

It makes her feel that she'd better solve this case. What he doesn't say torments her too; she wants to chase it, pursue it, find out what it is that he's not saying. There's an awful lot being Not Said, on both sides.

She has to solve the case. That's the only way to transform the choices into something that doesn't utterly suck.

"You're disappointed in me," she says at last. "And I'm truly sorry for that. I wish that I hadn't hurt you, and that was never my intent. Not in what I said. Not in what I did."

Her own eyes are shadowed, her head falling forward, her hair covering her face as she looks down, gripping the edge of one of her office chairs.

They're all doing the best they can…but an awful lot of it still sucks.

You're disappointed in me, she concludes.

"In myself," he says. It is transparently an effort for him to put this much into words: already taciturn, unused to discussing anything of this nature. "Most of the fault is always with the teacher."

He stares through his own clouding smoke. "I'm not hurt," he says, with the kind of quiet conviction that rules out self-delusion. "It's others I worry about."

He sighs out a breath. "Be careful, Jessica," he warns tiredly, and moves to step out the door.

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