T2C Interlude: Gallows Humor

July 31, 2017:

Bucky Barnes shows up at Alias Investigations to mend fences on the evening before Jessica Jones is scheduled to take the stand.

Alias Investigations

The friendly break-ins are a matter of tradition at this point.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Matt Murdock, Jane Foster, Trish Walker

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The trial has been proceeding apace, with all it entails for those involved: constant emotional tension, shocking revelations, and the unique weariness that comes of trying to live one's life around the clamor of a 24/7 media circus.

Bucky Barnes hasn't been sleeping much at night, but then he never did, so that's not really a change. Let's say only that he sleeps even less than usual.

Such it is that, this afternoon when Jessica gets back to Alias, it will be to find a rather exhausted-looking Bucky seated at her fire escape window, just as he was before, the window cranked open to let the smoke stream out. It's pretty obvious by now he stress smokes, though he's tried to tone it down for Jane's sake.

He doesn't look around or speak, at first. He just takes another drag from his cigarette, and blows smoke out into the balmy New York afternoon.

*

Jessica has always been near. Mostly at the same cafe across the street, day after day. It's sort of foolish. She could read the Twitter stream from home as easily. She could be there in seconds once she gets the notification she's being called to the stand, even from home. But it makes her feel better to be there.

She shows up today with a dry cleaner bag over her arm; a nice, business-like dress by the look of it. Something no doubt borrowed from Trish's closet, as it's classy and stylish. It comes with shoes, pumps with a chunky heel. The woman herself is back in the 'uniform' she used to wear all the time, the same thing she was wearing, as it happens, the day they met, and screw the summer heat. Ripped jeans, hoodie, old grey scarf, black boots, leather jacket, fingerless gloves. Any glimpses of her for, oh, days now, show her back in that self-same armor. She's had a haircut since they last spoke, though, the fall of it just above her shoulders, a little asymmetrical, falling in somewhat whimsical ringlets that display a bit of wave to hair that was too heavy to have any.

He doesn't speak, and she stands there opening and closing her mouth for a second. Brown eyes soften and light up all at once; she's happy to see him. Her mouth briefly takes on a look of chagrin and apprehension. She swallows finally. Hangs the dress off her coatrack. And says softly, "Hey, Bucky."

*

Bucky's eyes turn to the sound of Jessica entering. He assesses her in a glance, the outfit, the changed hair. Then his eyes track away again, aware of the odd impression their positioning gives that almost seems to make her a guest in her own office. It's an unconscious thing he did by long instinct, left over from his time as Winter Soldier — a way to subtly seize control of a dynamic before an interaction begins, to put someone off their game. He grimaces a little, thinking about that. Not the best thing for him to have done.

"I probably oughta stop showing up like this," he makes apology, ashing his cigarette out the window. "Sorry. Habits die hard, I guess."

He grins, passingly and without much humor. "I figure if I sit by the front door, though, there's not much risk of you walking in in any kind of state you don't want me seeing you in." He folds his left arm over his belly, crooks his right elbow to rest atop its metal wrist. His right hand lifts to place the cigarette back in his mouth. "Unless you got a boyfriend."

*

"Everyone does it," Jessica says, shaking her head, dismissing his apology even as she tries to assess him. Ragged, on the edge, clinging to a sort of gallows humor, pasting on grins he doesn't feel. Right now she can see it, and for a moment she can only swallow the lump in her throat that forms on his behalf.

She comes over, opens the window as she did the night of their disagreement, folds herself into the opposite frame. He makes that crack about her having a boyfriend, and she says dryly, "Turns out there's not a real long line for socially awkward, hot-tempered, issue-filled women who throw cars. Who knew? I should have stuck to one-night stands so I could do 'em before they knew anything about me. Now I'll be alone and unlaid for life."

The joke rings with the painful edge of someone who pretty well believes her own words, and for a moment she looks at his cigarette with the air of someone considering bumming one. But…for whatever reason, she doesn't. And she doesn't linger long on her wry assessment of her own love life, however good for humor it might be. Instead she says, "It's good to see you."

*

"Not everyone," he says, cryptic, smoke trailing from the corner of his mouth. He looks out the window, watching a couple children run by down the street below. "And if so, you got some rude friends."

He glances over at her at her reaction to his quip about boyfriends. His expression is not… surprised, per se, at her self-assessments, but there is a certain sadness that comes and goes in his blue eyes. "You'd be surprised," he ruminates. "There was somebody for a hundred year-old guy with a bad case of… what do you call it now? PTSD? And a worse history operating as somebody that subverted basically everything he used to stand for."

She doesn't ask for a cigarette. He doesn't offer. He knows they're bad for you, now.

It's good to see you, she says. He blinks slowly, gaze still fixed off at some distant point. "Yeah," he eventually says. "Time's about up, and the last time we talked, eh, not the best way to leave things."

*

Her own smile is sad, and her eyes brim up but don't spill over. She chuckle-chuffs with the edge of the unshed tears now, and says, "Well I mean. You had the benefit of that god damn Pantene hair, before you went and chopped it all off. I didn't want to tell you that it legit sparkled every time you threw it over your shoulder in that certain way."

She looks down though, unable to keep the gallows humor going without trying to poke at the heart of it. He says she has rude friends; includes himself in that, says it's not the best way to leave things. "I— yeah. I thought maybe it was best to— I thought maybe you didn't want to see me so I— just stayed out of your way. But I mean I went all bullrush crazy, you had a right to be mad."

She takes a deep breath. "It's— I mean it's going well. It looks like it's going well. You're going to win this. You're not beat yet…"

She trails off, looking quickly out the window, her fingers curling into fists so tight that her knuckles go white, all to conceal the slight shake of her hands.

*

Bucky turns a bemused look on her when she remarks on his hair. He laughs a little, almost self-consciously, recognizing in himself a fleeting emotion he has not seen in over seventy years. He pushes his right hand through his shortened hair, combing it back with his fingers. It's not cut all that short, enough left that locks of it drift about his face when he lets it go, though certainly nothing anyone could call long anymore.

"Pantene?" he asks. Oh right — old. He looks like her follow-up about the sparkling kind of clarifies it for him, though he gives her a brief and sidelong look. "I probably would have cared about that kind of thing when I was younger," he says. "Now, though — I needed it off. Too much of a reminder. I feel more like myself, this way."

He laces his hands together afterwards. He has no real immediate remark on her insistence he had a right to be mad, though his brow furrows a little as if he wonders about that. "I'm not the easiest person to talk to," he finally says, feeling his way through the words as if feeling through the dark, "so I wouldn't put it all on yourself. The way I hear things sometimes… it kinda hits me. Have to go sort it out."

He watches her hands as she says it's all going well. They're going to win this.

"Yeah," he says, mentally putting doubt and death-confession aside to put on a smile for her. "We are. We got your testimony coming up, after all."

*

She listens closely, then says quietly, "And the way I phrase things sometimes is not— often as mindful. As it could be."

But the air is cleared. Something in her relaxes. Maybe she hasn't disappointed him, failed him, messed up their friendship irrevocably. Maybe it's going to be okay.

Well. Maybe that bit is going to be okay.

He says her testimony is coming up, and her gaze twists into something that's filled with raw fear. It drains the blood right out of her face, and she looks down and away, shoulders slumping. "Yeah. Yeah, Matt says… he says that I had a few uniquely helpful bits. If I can um. Keep my temper. Not break down or blow up, keep my smart mouth under control and avoid rambling. So uh. You know. Basically go up there and be anyone but Jessica Jones. I've been meditating. Practicing."

She forces her gaze up. The grin is forced. "I can do it. I got this. I won't let you guys down."

One arm curls tightly about her leather-clad stomach. "Hashtag Team Shitty Club."

*

Air cleared, words exchanged, Bucky closes his eyes, inhales, and seems to consider the matter closed. He takes the cigarette from his mouth, ashing it again out the window, letting the smoke out in a slow stream.

He doesn't seem aware of how catastrophically she takes any minor disruption in their interactions — that she is viewing it as a do-or-die of their friendship. Or — if he is, he pays no attention as a means to give the fear even less currency than it already has. It does not matter to him. Water under the bridge.

There's other stuff to discuss, after all. Even if mention of her testimony makes Jessica lock up so bad he can smell her fear in his sharpened senses. He cocks an eye at her, studying her in silence a moment as she says she'll be fine as long as she is anyone but herself, before he drops his gaze back to the street outside.

"I don't know much about law," he says. "But from what little I do know, the outcome doesn't always rest on logic or sense." He looks at her. "You can't really control what happens, Jessica. No reason to wear the burden like it's all down to you."

He shrugs. "Matt knows what he's doing." He smiles to himself briefly and ruefully, as if at a private joke. "…Definitely knows what he is doing. He'll guide you. He's not gonna let you say anything stupid."

*

Someday Jessica will get used to the normal ebb and flow of all-friendships-and-relationships-that-are-not-Trish-Walker.

She's still not there yet.

She has been draped in riches when it comes to having people, after years with a list of one when it came to anyone who even gave a damn if she lived or died. She is, in many ways, the personal interaction equivalent of a Great Depression survivor who, in 2017, still cuts open tubes of toothpaste to get at that last little bit because she knows what it is to do without.

Meanwhile, Bucky is hitting the nail on the head of the current topic, drilling it down to…to, well, everything, when it comes to anything with Jessica Jones.

Control. And whether or not she has any. Whether she needs to wear the weight of the world on her shoulders.

He also rather invokes the right name to reassure her: one Matthew Murdock, attorney at law and red-clad vigilante.

The smile that passes over her face is brief, tight, but also betrays a rare, unguarded moment which turns her expression into something both fond and full of absolute faith. "Yeah. Yeah, he does."

But she looks up at him, and if she finally unwinds her arm from around her stomach she also gives a sharp inhale of breath. She starts to say one thing, but then decides on something else.

"I love you guys," she says. "You and Jane. I love you both with deep, crazy, philia love. I— I know I'm— intense. In your faces, practically, running around like an idiot trying to help, but I just—

*

It is not even particularly intentional, the way Bucky hones in on the crux of the issue, and then on the best solution for said issue. It is simply a result of a fine observational sense honed by decades of spycraft. He has pressed enough people, in his time, to quickly discern where their fracture points are, and right now Jessica Jones's demeanor screams of a woman who has no control, and yet simultaneously believes that the outcome will only be favorable if she has total control over every aspect.

As for the remark on Matt? Bucky trusts the man and his skills implicitly himself. He doesn't need to know about any sort of special connection between them, though it is obvious that Jessica does feel something. She selected the man, after all.

Bucky pauses noticeably when Jessica takes a breath, girds up, and starts to pour it all out. Clearly, while Bucky has a certain amount of give to him in the event of unusual situations like 'impending death,' there's only so far he can flex.

Somewhere in the middle of her sentence, he holds up a hand. It's a silent, understated, quelling gesture, a gesture of 'OK but this is — as the kids would say — a bit extra.' "That is very intense," he says, with half a smile to mitigate the fact he is just stopping her, "and we know that already, so you don't have to say it."

*

He stops her, holds up his hand, and half-smiles at her. She just stares at him for a moment, and then? She just…sticks out her tongue at him in rather bratty fashion, pulling the whole face like she's nine. "It's intense and? It didn't happen. So there."

She stands up and goes to the fridge, shucking off her leather jacket and her hoodie, throwing them carelessly on the couch, revealing a ratty black Rolling Stones tank top beneath. Mostly indifferent to heat or cold doesn't mean it's not kind of a relief to dress for the temperature.

She pulls out a lemonaid, drinks it down, shaking her head. "Asshole," she says, but it's said with warmth instead of anger or despair.

*

"What didn't happen?" he asks, innocent and devilish all at once. In temperament, he seems to have mastered that particular line between being a good boy you'd wanna take home to your mother, and being just bad enough that you know he'll have a little fun with you before that happens. It's a rare side of Bucky to emerge these days, a side that largely died in the fire and chaos of the Second World War, but every so often, the Bucky Barnes that Steve knew back in the '30s, he rears his head.

He leans back afterwards, finishing off his cigarette as she removes herself from his infuriating presence. A half-smile plays on his features as she declares what an ASSHOLE he is.

"Heard that one before," he says, stubbing out his cigarette. "You just keep that fire in you for the trial tomorrow, you'll be fine."

*

She leans in the doorway of her kitchen, smirking at him, but…the truth is…that, too, was exactly what she needed. A kick off the more serious, damn near standing by the graveside track. A look at his bratty side to bring out her own. A look at the side of Bucky that is still in there, the side that might just be her favorite side, infuriating as it can be.

The smug half-smile says he knows every one of his actions had the desired effect, as do his words, but…she's still more warmed than angry.

"What, now you're critiquing my creativity?" she says, with an amused snort. "Christ, this town. Tough audiences all around."

There he is. Still teaching, still fixing things. Even at his brattiest. "It's not about me being fine," she grumbles in protest, but it's tinged with gratitude rather than any real crankiness.

*

There's value enough in gallows humor. Bucky Barnes learned that a long time ago, as early as North Africa. You couldn't survive if you couldn't, at some point, acknowledge how ridiculous and insane and crazy the world could become, especially in the midst of war. You'd just break, snapped like a brittle branch, if you couldn't flex.

"Don't be hard on yourself," he quips back, falling back into old patterns with an ease that he thinks he needs to know he still has. "I've heard a LOT of things before."

Of course, she still tries to refuse any focus on her being fine in favor of him being fine, because he's the one on trial, he's the one who might DIE, but James Barnes never really led any kind of life where the focus was ever on himself. His loyalty and affection for those close to him has always been too great for that. "Well," he says, folding his arms, "I'd like to be fine, and I'd like everyone else to still be fine at the end of this too, so you'll have to accept that it is about that. In some way."

He stands up, starts to slide down her window, then leaves it open to let the last trails of smoke escape. "But I should get out of your hair. Murdock will probably be over soon."

*

She tilts her head as he lays it down…about being fine, and everyone else being fine. It casts a brief smile over her features, one tinged with some understanding that wasn't there before. "Well," she says. "Then I guess we just all gotta keep fighting our asses off and look out for one another until we are all fine."

She may not be as good at keeping the focus off herself, as prone as she is to anxiety and despair. Those are inherently self-centered emotions, even when they're warranted or understandable. But…at the same time, her own loyalty and affection is always too great to allow her to stand still, to do anything else other than to fight like a badger, to push forward and find ways to do something about the problems ahead of her until they're not problems anymore. That was true even when she was at her worst. She can't even begin to stop it when she's at…whatever she's at right now.

She crosses to get her borrowed dress. She's taking the dry run seriously enough that she fully intends to wear the clothes that she'll be wearing on the stand, even. She says dryly, "Granted, never thought I'd be riding off to battle in a goddamn 'Jason Wu' designer dress."

Because of course Trish told her all about the designer, at length.

"And if you laugh at it, Barnes, I will kick your ass. While wearing it. It won't even matter that you're the bigger badass on any other day. I will have feminine rage on my side. Feminine. Rage."

She just starts walking to the tiny bathroom, trusting him to show himself out just as he showed himself in.

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