T2C Interlude: I Don't Want the World to See Me

July 31, 2017:

Everyone's got an opinion on the lives and actions of Barnes and Foster right now. Some feel inclined to take justice into their own hands.

The F Train

One of multiple subway lines running between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Characters

NPCs: Some truly horrible human beings.

Mentions: Matt Murdock, Bucky Barnes, Tony Stark

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

In the two days subsequent to her testimony, Jane Foster either can't sleep or won't sleep.

They all tell her it was a victory she made in the courtroom, a success that may have turned favour toward the future of James Barnes, and maybe they're right —

— but she just doesn't feel it. Doesn't feel much of anything, save for a vacant, evicted sort of emptiness. She doesn't have James's recent nightmares, but she shares in that keyed-up, too-alert tension what follows it, something that makes even her mind, used to perpetual forward momentum, feel like it's been forced on a death march.

She still doesn't visit with any friends, not willingly, not since John Constantine. Not since she told him what she plans to do should her country decide to murder James.

Thinking back on those words makes everything feel so transitory — meaningless. Why keep up with anything if she has no plans to stick around? Why even bother? It's not like she ever did before, when it was just her. Her and her work.

James eventually cannot stand the closing walls of their little apartment and goes out. Probably to see Steve. Probably someone else. He asks her with, but she doesn't have the spirit to interact with anyone at length. She tells him she's going to concentrate on work.

And, in all fairness, she does. She decrypts more data free of the Hydra pull and adds it to the madness she's made of one bedroom wall: a veritable flowchart of names, businesses, bank accounts — most of them European, most of them leading to dead ends, some of them threaded with nebulous ties that feel more like hunches than anything she can prove with evidence. And nothing that brings her any step closer to what happened in Mizizi.

The realization hits, soon enough: Jane isn't going to get as far on this as she'd like without Tony's holotech. No intern she can hire, nothing to sort leagues and leagues of information too much for her own two eyes, and her own compiling algorithms feel elementary —

She texts James she's off to Stark and, in a mad rush of thought, heads to the trains.

The subway smells as it normally does in summer, hot, stale, and sour with too many people, even the cloying sweetness of the earth turned like milk under the heat and sweat of the city. She holds her handbag at her side and looks down at her slippers, mind a million miles away before the shrill squeals and roar of the train fills the tunnel, blowing back her hair in the wind of its passing.

It dumps off late evening Brooklynites, and she loads on, thankful for a car empty enough to find a seat.

@LexCorpNews
Dr. Jane Foster described as "loony" by colleagues, obsessed with wild theories and increasingly isolated, takes stand today. #T2C

@LoisLane
Drama at the bench: Murdock and Archer tangle over inflammatory question about #JBB's activities after escape from Ozone Park. #T2C

@TruePatriot1999
"Did you see him murder anyone else? Did you participate?" Jury told to disregard. So, yes, then. #T2C

@LexCorpNews
Jury to disregard question about #JBB killings post Ozone-Park, but should we? #T2C #wintersoldiermenace

@TrishTalks
Foster: "I'm not a victim. I'm not an accomplice. #JBB is the only reason I survived Hydra, and the strongest man I've ever known." #T2C

@RedPill494
Can someone explain to me why we aren't hanging that traitorous slut Foster right along with the metal-armed freak? #JBB #T2C

@BenUlrich
Foster's heart-rending testimony brings at least one juror to tears; Archer passes on redirect. #T2C

@TheView
Foster and Barnes: Beauty and the Beast or Star-Crossed Stockholm Syndrome? The View takes a look tomorrow morning! #T2C

@LexCorpNews
Archer drops ball: refuses to grill Foster further about her traitorous activities under the thrall of the Winter Soldier. #T2C

@2ndSovreign
Can't believe USA couldn't get #Foster to admit the tapes were fake on the stand. Incompetent BS. Moved by big crocodile traitor tears. #T2C

Her face is a famous face. It has been flashed across every news channel. People have done profiles. The testimony has been hashed and rehashed and discussed and rediscussed. Foster is a household name now, just like Barnes, just like Rogers.

The train is as crowded as ever, but Jane finds herself across from five men in baseball caps. Three of them are very big, portly, potbellied men with scruffy beards. Two are younger, all lean, whipcord muscle, "Don't Tread on Me" tattoos, hungry looks.

"The traitor whore takes the subway," says the leanest and the hungriest of the lot, pushing off his handle bar to come seize one right over Jane, all so he can leer down at her. "Here we thought you built magic bridges to get where you needed to go. Or do you only get what you need to do that when the commies are happy with you and your boytoy?"

The parade of social media escapes Jane's attention.

Part of this is negligence: she's in that lost generation, young enough to understand it, old enough that she can't keep up with it, and though she's a vestal virgin to the altar of technology, Jane's never had the stomach for social media.

It takes having a social life, first.

However, well-aware of what's to be expected, now part of this is deliberate: she warned James away from following his own case too closely on television and the internet, and this time, has the good grace to follow her own advice. It won't help anything. It won't fix anything. They know nothing about her; she can keep her head down and pretend today she was just as anonymous and overlooked as last week.

It keeps Jane's head down, her dark eyes faraway, as she rocks with the initial motion of the moving train. Under the river and toward the bustle of Manhattan.

She looks at her fingers, curling absently against her knees, until those first words are spoken her way. Jane looks up; it's an accident she soon regrets, not expecting it her way, not once in her life ever called such a thing by someone never met. Her eyes tighten with shock, and then it passes. She understands.

Anger and a twisting, knotting lurch of anxiety chill Jane cold and hollow. She averts her eyes and holds tighter her handbag, expression guarded. She takes evasive glances, counting the men, shooting looks to others in the train. They look at her and then away, avoiding conflict.

"You have the wrong person," she answers quietly.

The rest of the men crowd round, jackals in a hungry pack.

"No," the speaker says, a hard smirk on his face. "No, I don't think we do."

People to the left and right of Jane move, averting their eyes. They find somewhere else to sit, or somewhere else to stand. They don't want any part of it, but neither do they want to help her. They ferociously mind their own business even more ferociously than they were minding it before, which leaves seats to either side of her. The man with the lean and hungry look, our own Cassius, helps himself to the seat to her left. Helps himself to throwing a tight arm around her shoulders.

The largest of the troop, a rabid bear of a man, sits to her right and drops a heavy hand on her knee.

Cassius speaks. "We can fulfill that little coercion fetish, Dr. Foster." He mocks her name, makes it sound like she's some sort of wild-eyed nobody with a mail order degree. "We can hold you in both arms while we do it."

The three blocking the view from the rest of the subway all snicker, eyes hard.

She would only need press a button on her wristwatch to call him.

Jane and James have a system. A system, and that garish Apple watch that looks too-big on her narrow wrist. It gives him peace to know where she is; it gives her peace to know he'll be there if she asks him.

She could call him, and he would find her in a handful of minutes — always has, always does — and this will be over. He will end it at the end of his hands in seconds.

And then to what end? For police to be called and bring him back in? For him to lose his bail and be back in that cage? For someone to record it on their phone and the video to shared a million times to a million more eyes, with only days left to his trial? Jane could call James, and it could end any chance he has to be free.

To be alive.

She presses nothing on her watch. She only sits there, looking and feeling lost, and tensing up the instant that first man winches her close to his body. Panic drops out her stomach. Fury rolls in against that hand on her knees. Jane looks back up, because someone sees this, someone has to see this — and no one's looking. No one's looking her way. No one wants to see this, and they're just going to let it happen, sons of bitches, they're just going to —

Those ugly words slip into her like a dagger.

Others come in to block, and it's too much, happening too quick, and she doesn't know what to do. Can't call James, can't fight — can she fight? What if they see her fight? What if it hurts the trial? What if it kills James?

"Stop it," she warns, but there's no fire in her voice, nothing to fill in the hollowness of shock. Jane tries to push that hand off her legs, tries to shoulder away from that body leaning too close. "Stop — get off me!" She's all bones. She needs to get out. Get out at the next stop, get out, get out.

A rough hand slips around her throat, shoving her hard into the sharp-edged plastic subway seat.

Another is under her shirt in a heartbeat. One of the 'blocking' men presses in, his legs against her knees, making the claustrophic space even tighter and smaller.

Someone turns up their iPod in response to her cries. The tinny music floats across the subway car as he blocks her out.

Nobody complains in response to what would normally be a very inconsiderate public transit move. In fact, a few more people turn up their iPods. Someone else starts talking a little louder on the phone. He's talking about stocks.

The man with his hand on her throat has cheep beer on his breath as he leans in close. "You love it. Come on, baby, give me a little kiss. I'll let you work on one of my parts."

Then, the man with his knees pressed so hard against Jane's simply falls, apropos of apparently nothing. Blue veins trail over his neck and face. Revealing a rather unassuming sight. It's another man in a baseball cap, but…it has the Captain America shield logo on it, pulled low over his face. Blue polo shirt, jeans, over a frame that is well-muscled and fit, but not remarkably so. One hand holds an ICER pistol, which he simply jabs into the kidney of a second participant. He carelessly pulls the trigger on that, too. People are just as good at ignoring the fallen men as they were the distressed woman.

The other hand holds a badge, carefully concealed from the rest of the car. "You boys looking for a tour of Riker's Island?"

The voice is so mild mannered, so understated. He could be asking if they'd like a tour of Chinatown.

"Stop the train!" Jane yells, high and shrill. Even her own voice sounds alien to her own ears. This kind of helpless terror isn't her, isn't who she is. "I want off the train! Someone stop the train! Stop —"

The hand around her throat strangles her words to silence. It applies just enough force to still her struggles, and there's no mass to her to oppose it; no fight in her to test it.

Every instinct in her begs to fight. She wants to. That's all she's done; all she knows how to do. She's a fighter, for her work, for her goals, for her stars, for her people, for James. But if she fights now, it'll undo everything. They'll edit the video and taint the world with it, vicious Jane Foster, vicious Winter Soldier — it'll poison whatever hope he has. Then they'll put the needle into James, and when he dies, it'll be all her fault.

Her head hits hard against the seat, and white light sparks painfully behind her eyes, and then Jane can't breathe. She can't breathe, no matter how desperately she grabs at the arm holding her down, and she can't give noise to that horrified shudder to feel someone's hand up her shirt. Tears blink from her eyes.

Now Jane fights, stripped down to raw, animal terror, but it's too little, too late, and she can't fight against two men holding her down. She gags against someone's sour breath on her face, her head flinching away. This can't be happening. This can't be happening to her. Does no one see? Does nobody see her? Does —

The first man goes down, and suddenly her legs are free. An instant later, the son of a bitch on top of her follows, and the instant his body goes boneless, she pushes him brutally free, standing up straight on the still-moving train. Jane Foster shakes from head-to-toe, tears on her face, white with shock. Her dark eyes turn on her savior.

The men stare as well, eyes falling on the badge. But they are cowards, and they move away from the altercation quickly, shooting the man in the hat a poisonous look. But they are basically cowards. Easy prey who can't fight back? That's one thing. An armed man with some sort of authority who has just shot down two of their buddies with some sort of weird alien ray gun…something else again.

The train comes to its next stop, and the man in the hat holsters the weapon. "Come on, Dr. Foster," Phil Coulson says, pushing the hat up a little bit to unshroud his face. He's quiet, steady, holding out a protective arm without actually touching her. The doors hiss open, and he murmurs, "Let's get you the Hell out of here."

Despite holstering the weapon, he has his hand near it, ready to draw it again if anyone else wants to try their luck. So far? Nobody does.

Jane freezes, jostled by the movement of the train, girding against its inertia and not even really feeling it. Not really feeling anything.

Her heart pounds painfully. She looks down. Her skin goes bloodless, and losing more tears, she smears down her dishevelled shirt. She feels sick. She feels hollow.

Her eyes find the man who just saved her. He lifts his hat to bare his shadowed face, and it's Phil Coulson; recognition reflects in Jane's eyes, but she does nothing more, not even all there. She starts to stare through him.

At his beckon, she animates, and her hands are shaking as they reach to grab her fallen handbag, and she holds it to her chest rather than looping it over her shoulder. She steps back, looking over the train, crowded, congested, people still not looking, or catching her eyes by accident and then glancing away.

The tears still roll down her cheeks. Jane looks over the interior of the train she's seen a hundred times, with a look on her face like she recognizes it no more.

Coulson guides her out without touching. She makes no movement to touch back. She shivers in a way that probably suggests she doesn't want anyone touching her, not for a long time.

The train lets them off, and she steps off into a station she neither recognizes nor cares. The avenues mark her still in Brooklyn. Didn't even make it to Manhattan.

Jane needs to get above ground. Underground, she's so fucking tired of being underground. "I need to go home," she says quietly, a blank numbness to her face, her voice, but within it, the plea of someone who wants to be alone. Her eyes are on the stairs up. "I can walk home."

A pause. "Please don't tell anyone."

"Of course I'm not going to tell anyone. But I am going to make sure you get home safely," Phil says, quiet and firm all at once. He keeps his distance, very very careful about doing so, maintaining just enough to become an effective guard but not enough to crowd. He's dealt with people who have been traumatized like this before. It doesn't take much thought to find the appropriate balance.

His face is set into grim lines of fury that do little to downplay the compassion that's in his hazel eyes. But he's focused on the pragmatic. Meanwhile, on the platform, people sense something radiating off of him and veer off.

Her eyes are on the stairs, but he won't move until she does, and when she does, he does. "I can walk with you, or I can drive you, whichever will make you feel safest, but I don't think it's a good idea for you to go it alone right now."

The man who just saved her won't let her walk home. Of course.

Jane feels her heart twist. She wishes he would. She wishes so many would. She just wants to be alone. She just wants the rest of the world to stop seeing her broken, and exposed, and weak. She just wants to hide and never be seen again.

Her eyes drop, but there's no fight left in her. She doesn't even argue.

Instead, she just wipes the tears from her face, and arranges her handbag to her shoulder, trying to pretend to look like any other woman in this godforsaken city, on her way home. "Walk," is all Jane says, voice too-thin. "I want to walk."

And, just like that, she does. On shaky legs, she ascends the stairs back up to the street, and with her raw eyes, recognizes the street names enough that she's nearby, a good half-hour walk back. She crosses her arms and does just that.

Jane says nothing more. She barely acknowledges Phil Coulson near her side. Her body goes through the motions. Her eyes see straight through the world around her, far away and sightless. Her hands never stop shaking.

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