Que Qiao

June 02, 2017:

Jane and Bucky share a last quiet moment before the latter is taken to his cell in the Raft.

The Raft

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Inside the labyrinthine halls of the Raft, sound carries.

The prison is a coffin forged of concrete and steel, made to hold in all it contains in a perfect cage: bodies, freedom, light, and all its noise.

What gets to Jane Foster is the last of it, and the way even through the door and walls of the interview room, she can hear the opening of every alarm-rung gate, every concussive footstep of guards, and every distant howl and scream of distant prisoners. Even with no windows to see out from where they keep him, an intake prisoner awaiting processing, that amplified sound promises plenty: a distant, waiting taste of what's to come for James Buchanan Barnes.

The stark, humming lights cast her face into shadow, bringing out the sleepless shadow alleying her eyes, hollowing her cheeks, bleaching her skin to a sickly pallor. She has barely moved from her chair and her place at that steel table since Matthew Murdock's formal departure and Steve Rogers's more uncertain parting.

Only Jane remains, yet refusing to leave. Visiting hours are nearly up, however, as the last guard so reminded her, no clock on the wall to inform either of them of the time.

For now, they've allowed her to remain. They figure it keeps the prisoner calm: advantageously calm until they can do something about that left arm.

The mirrored lens of a security camera watches them both, but with the door locked, prisoner and vistor are allowed their facade of privacy.

At her side, James is listening too. He can assuredly hear more of his impending fate than she can. And the expression on his face is one of tired, numb resignation to it.

Resignation has been his demeanor this entire time, since the first moment he was stopped and told he was under arrest. He is aware that his lack of fight troubles Jane and that she does not understand his passiveness — why he will not fight harder to defend himself when nothing was ever truly, objectively his fault — but he has not had the heart nor strength to explain, nor the words.

What the mind knows, the heart does not always feel. And a heart heavy with the souls of so many dead feels a certain catharsis in the punishment that has finally come down on him.

There are reasons enough to fight back despite those feelings, though. James knows that. One is certainly that he is not, under the law and under any kind of rational logic, guilty of any of his acts, but the major reason is sitting beside him, pressed so close she might as well be sharing his chair. He looks down at her, and after a moment leans his head against her own.

"Hey, Lyra," he says, his voice gentle.

Jane Foster sits fixedly at James Barnes's side as close as can be. Close enough he can feel the warmth of her side. Close enough he can hear the low, rabbit-quick beating of her heart: ever since he consented to restraints, her heart has been beating at a near double-time.

Here in every sense of the word, unwilling and refusing to abandon him, but even then, Jane's eyes reflect a distant place a million miles away.

Her empty eyes gaze down at the steely surface of the table, the sterile shine of it taking her back six months ago, facing an interrogation before Hydra proceeded to take her mind apart. Her eyes flinch back and forth, reading some script only she sees, and she's thinking — furiously, desperately thinking.

She is intelligent. She is a genius. She has an answer for all questions in the world, but it seems she can't yet figure out one for this. There has to be some way she can stop this, reverse this, fix this, end this, and her structure of faith is that the infinite universe conceives of infinite possibilites, but she can't seem to calculate one that saves James Barnes from his charges, his to-be trial, his possible conviction. His execution.

She's supposed to be intelligent, and yet she can't think him a way out. She'll just keep trying until she does. She'll…

Jane's thoughts break to the touch of James's head against hers. He brings her back, and she gets to hear the name he gives her sometimes — that name she loves so much — spoken in such an ugly place. A place they're going to force him to stay. A place that might eventually kill him. It might be the last time he calls her Lyra, and it will be in this room —

She held out through the last hours with such fierce restraint. She never once let District Attorney Archer, or his people, or the guards, witness her weak. But all things have ends.

Hearing that name empties Jane of the rest of her anger. With nothing left, she breaks down, trying to hide her face into her hands as she racks with light, breathy sobs.

Normally James would take comfort in her close presence. To some degree, he does; the simple fact of a warm, loving body pressed close to your own can make even the worse incarcerations bearable. But there's an obvious blot on the comfort he can take from her right now, and it's the fact that he is also the cause of all her distress and pain and fear right now.

He can hear it — the rabbit-quick race of her heart. He can smell it, in the fear sweating off her pale skin.

He watches her from the corner of his eye as her eyes dart back and forth. He knows her well enough to know what she's doing. She's trying to think her way out of this, because that's always been her greatest asset — her mind, her unparalleled intellect, her keen intelligence that can unravel any problem or puzzle.

Except she can't think her way out of this one. There's no way to solve this equation so that it balances in any satisfactory way.

He watches until he cannot bear to see her tortured thinking any more, and then he leans his head against hers and calls her by his pet name for her. This is the only way he can touch her, with his wrists shackled down in heavy cuffs and chains. He means it as a comfort, but her traitorous mind asks her: what if it is the last time he calls her that, and it's in here, a place like this, with that unfeeling camera eye on them —

She breaks down. She starts to cry.

Immediately, on impulse, he tries to reach for her. The cuff and chain securing his right wrist stop him far short of being able to touch her. His expression twists, his temper finally breaking with the situation, with the unfairness of it, with his inability to even touch her, and a black rage flickers across his face for the first time since his arrest. Heedless of the unwinking camera's gaze, he pulls hard and snaps the chain brutally in two with a sudden surge of strength that surprises even him. The camera goes mad, whirring angrily. He can hear rifles in the corridor, running men taking up position.

He doesn't care. He leaves his left arm obviously shackled, makes zero move to free it. But his right, still bearing its cuff, dangling that broken chain, finishes what it started, and reaches to cradle her face.

Jane Foster breaks.

Her body trembles against his, one last, holding shudder, before the last levee breaks. There is no more false bravado for her, only the terror and heartbreak of a woman being told the man she loves — the man she would build a life with — faces the likelihood of execution.

In one last hold, however, needing more than anything to pretend strength for James, Jane covers her face with her shaking hands. She tries to hide her weeping inside her own palms, curling in on herself, her bowed head hidden behind the dark wing of her hair. She tries to speak through her sobs, but the words hitch and catch and fall apart. She tries to apologize.

She needs to be strong, because it's him in chains, and it's him facing this nightmare that's about to become his life, but it's so much — and she can't. After everything that's happened, she can't lose him this way, and it may just be what will happen. They have him in chains like an animal, they're going to put him in a cage where she can't protect him, and they want to inject his vein with the poison that will kill him. They're going to execute him as an enemy of the state, and it's not fair, it's not right, everything they've done to get him back his life — and his own /country/ will take it away.

In just a handful of minutes, they're going to force her to leave, and she'll have to spend her first night in six months without him near. She won't know if he's safe. She won't know if he's in pain. She /won't know/—

The snapping of a chain breaks through her weeping. Surprised and confused, Jane loosens her hands from her eyes to look, to see what happened —

— and James's freed right hand, dangling a broken chain, cups her face. Her own hands fall away, down into her lap, arrested by that single touch. Her tears lick down the lines of his palm. And Jane looks up, her dark eyes raw and, in that moment, so afraid.

The camera reacts. Outside the room, guards prepare. Undoubtedly they are watching him, ready to intercept this for the escape attempt it might be —

— but to them, the man the world calls the Winter Soldier remains seated. He lets their chains fetter his left arm. The camera witnesses his continued submission, and in a silent moment of decision, they do not breach the room. Simply put, they are terrified of him, and do not wish to escalate something that may not be there.

Nothing happens. Nothing save for the way Jane looks up at James. Don't leave me behind, beg her eyes.

He snaps one restraint. It surprises even him, because he should not have been able to, but high emotion can bring a man to lengths he thought impossible. It certainly shocks the people outside, watching through that security camera, and the guards prepare with fearful resolution. They don't want to have to try to restrain him, but they will if they must.

But he makes no other hostile move. He leaves his left arm, the more dangerous arm, docilely shackled down. He doesn't even try to leave his seat. Tell the truth, he probably could not free it even if he wanted to — all the focus was placed upon restraining that obvious weapon.

All James does, with his small sliver of freedom, is touch Jane's face.

His eyes, on hers, are sad and apologetic. His unhappiness is not for himself, that much is transparent — it's for Jane, who he is hurting and leaving behind. It's for all the numberless people he has killed, whose only means of justice may be this farcical trial. His touch wipes the tears from her face.

"Well," he says, softly. "I don't plan to make it easy on them. All right?"

Whether or not he can free it, no immediate retaliation of guards dares the door to test that theory.

There are many hackled outside that door, hungry to test their meddle against an old ghost story. But the in-take superior makes his command; let the Winter Soldier say his good-byes, and then once processed, weigh him in thicker chains. Give him his time and survey his body language; do not invoke a situation where they may have to point a gun or immobolize with tear gas the civilian woman in there with him.

It won't end well for anyone.

The camera lens watches balefully as the room moats with the Raft's holding pattern. Learning what makes James Barnes tic even before he's fully-processed into custody.

Jane's tears smear hot under his rasping fingers. Her dark eyes search James's face, and there is a gravity to the way she looks at him: something that begs to pull him closer and never let him go.

So she averts her eyes, gaze lowered, perhaps even through her tears struggling with the selfishness of a grieving heart. Her hand touches his.

Jane's voice rasps brittle and too-thin. "Whatever you want me to do, I'll do it."

James is aware of their total lack of privacy. Aware of the men circled tensely outside: some frightened to fight, some eager. He is aware that his action will spell heavier restraints for him later, tighter and stronger chains that he will not be able to break no matter how hard he pulls. He is also aware that he is betraying a weakness — one which may be used against him in the future.

He does not care. He pays them all as little mind as if they did not exist. His eyes are on Jane.

Her own beg him to never leave her, beg with such a weight and gravity that after a few moments she drops her gaze, unable to sustain a look that pleads for something she knows might not be ultimately granted her. His hand stays on her face, palm cradling her jaw, though he does not force her to look back up if she does not want to.

She'll do whatever he wants her to do.

"I want you to be careful," he murmurs. "Don't do anything too rash. There is a chance for me, OK? A chance. You and I have to believe in that. I don't want you to do anything to get yourself in trouble right along with me." His eyes soften. "I'm sure everyone will do everything they can to help."

The tears still roll from her downturned eyes. Through his hand on her face, James can feel the minute, shallow way Jane still shakes to control herself.

She does not try nor want to escape his touch, but her eyes avert, turned briefly, deliberately from his. The reason is transparent in a single glimpse of the woman's face: in those eyes is her begging fear of death, and the last thing she means to do is burden James Barnes with another heavy chain.

But Jane doesn't think she can do it; she doesn't know what she'll do if she has to watch someone else she loves die. She doesn't know if she can handle being left behind one more time.

They want to kill him. And they might. And they'll try.

Jane stares through all of James's soft words, not looking at him, but listening. She breathes slowly and deeply to control her panic. He speaks of others helping, and her head briefly bows its full weight into his hand, fresh tears steaking her cheeks.

She nudges closer to wrap herself around him, her hands tangled into his clothes. "I won't worry you," comes Jane's weak promise.

Fear of death is heavy in Jane's eyes. Oddly, there is no matching fear of death in the eyes of James Barnes. He has seen things that are worse than dying. He has lived a life that was worse than dying. He has been alone for decades, in every sense of the word. He cannot be afraid of death or solitude any longer. They have already happened to him, in the worst possible way.

He only regrets he may be the reason Jane suffers them.

She bows her head into his touch and draws close. He moves as much as he can to allow her in, letting her cling close and curl against him. He won't be with her tonight. He lets her take as much memory of his touch and presence as he can.

She promises not to worry him. A sigh exhales from him, as he puts his right arm around her. The broken chain drapes down her back. "It's not for my good," he says quietly, "but your own. They'll happily crucify you right along with me. Don't think they won't."

A movement over her head suggests him looking down at her. "We've gotten through worse before, haven't we?"

There is a certain irony that the world's greatest ghost story — forced for decades to a solitary existence — is what gives Jane, in the first time in years, her first feeling of home.

She's felt homeless for so long. And if she loses him this way, may she remain homeless forever. If she has to watch her country inject James Barnes with its poison, may a piece of Jane Foster die with him.

Closing her eyes, she lets herself be drowned briefly in James, in all the immediate, sensory detail of his body holding hers close. Jane's eidetic memory will never let her forget any part of this moment. She hides her face into his shoulder and breathes him in.

She can feel his voice rumbling through his body. The sound of him bleeding into hers.

Her eyes squeeze tightly against his warning. Jane says nothing, but her hands clench tellingly. They will crucify her, but in this moment, she doesn't care. She just doesn't care.

Only the sensation of him looking down on her turns the woman's head, and her red-rimmed, too-raw eyes meet his. "I don't know," Jane answers, her whispery voice honest and sad. "Maybe."

Perhaps it's only two lonely people who can give one another a sense of home. They understand one another, in ways no one else could. They share that sense of being unmoored from the world around them, isolated and solitary. For different reasons, granted… but they do.

In a way, it is Jane he worries about more than himself. He can die and it will make little difference to him — he'll be too dead to care — but Jane will have to carry on. Jane will have to survive him, somehow, with a piece of her torn out. Jane will have to live on in the world, with the knowledge that such injustices can be inflicted upon its denizens, and that the few things that make her happy can all be brutally taken from her.

James worries she will not survive it. He supposes that's an arrogant way of thinking, or perhaps one that doesn't give her strength enough credit, but… he simply hates to think he could be, potentially, the cause of so much of her suffering.

For the time being, he has her and she has him, and he allows her close. He has always been a little cagey about touch, his abused and painful past making physical contact very difficult for him to bear for long, but in these moments he swallows that discomfort and lets her have as much of him as she could want. He lets her commit him to memory, the warmth of him and the scent of him and the sound of his voice overhead.

But he has to prepare her as well. Has to warn her. He says so quietly, even though he can tell from the clutch of her hands that she does not and cannot care.

Maybe, she says. It's a cop-out answer, and he doesn't let it fly. "We have," he insists, gently. "We've been stuck in Hydra captivity and we pulled through then. Just gotta fight again, this time."

And Jane Foster would have to carry on — far different a person than she began.

Alone in the new life she forged with him, unable to go back to what was: unable to claim a lost return to innocence. Unable to ever want to. James Barnes has become her home for many reasons. Her place of trust. Her place of safety. Her place of duty. And, above all, her place of grounding as she navigates her place in this new, dark, deadly world.

He is her home, and yet she may lose him.

Her brown eyes drink him in, something starved in the way she looks at James Barnes; Jane trying to absorb detail with losing time that it may not last. That she must covet all she can get.

Even then, some part of her either remembers or remains perceptive of his suffered discomfort for prolonged close contact, and eventually, she retreats to allow the man some function of personal space, shuffled back down to her own chair. Even if she cannot pretend her bravado, quiet forbearance comes far more true to Jane. She tips down her head and stares through her own hands, small and pale, in her lap.

She listens as more tears, tears that seem they'll never stop, never end, blur and distort the shapes of her fingers.

"I'll always fight for you, James," Jane whispers, confesses, promises. "I'll never stop."

That is the worst part of it for James. He knows the vast, game-changing effect he has had on her life, and in his private view it has been mostly deleterious, though he is fully aware she would disagree. Since she met him, she has been tortured, broken, tarnished. She has killed a man. She has lost the kind of innocence most people do not realize or value until it is gone: the innocence of those whose hands are clean of blood.

It is an innocence that cannot be overvalued, in his opinion. There is rarely any moment in his life, as it is now, where he cannot feel the phantom grease of blood on his hands, covering and caking them. He knows the sensation well from memory: he has killed with nothing but a knife often enough.

Jane has been brought into that dark world, now. And now he seems poised to leave her in it, alone.

Even then, she still promises to fight for him.

"I should not have…" he whispers, the familiar guilt heavy in his voice. His gaze avoids hers, fixed on the floor. "Should not have brought you to this. But as I already have… I'll do my best. All right?"

That familiar guilt in his voice briefly closes her eyes.

Will there ever come a day, some part of her wonders, that he'll ever believe himself beyond some plague in her life? That he'll ever think that she chose him, rather than was trapped by him? That he'll view her role in his world than his own selfishness?

Because it's untrue, Jane thinks; he's not brought her to anything or anywhere she did not choose to go. It hurts and it isolates; it makes her feel so /tired/ to want to keep arguing —

— but she says nothing, because she doesn't want to argue now, not when in minutes they're already going to force her to leave him behind.

She takes everything in that moment and forces it down, down and down, until she can breathe again.

"I don't have a single regret, James," she tells him quietly, her voice strained, but her words sure. "Please don't regret me."

Her eyes close. He reads the gesture for what it is, and a deeper pang of guilt pulses in his chest. He knows his continued self-doubts hurt her, but he can't seem to help himself. Looking back over the course of his long, ill-starred life, he can only seem to see the harm he's caused and the destruction he's wrought. Can only see that before he came into her life, she lived a gentle, intellectual existence of looking at the stars.

Yet he knows, also, that it is an insult to her decision to continue to question it.

"I'm sorry, Lyra," he murmurs. "Didn't mean to offend."

He is quiet for some time, thinking. Then his arm loops about her, drawing her near for the kiss he leaves on her forehead.

"There is nothing about you that I regret," he says. "Without you I probably would have died already. There wouldn't have been much tying me to living."

His spoken apology reflects along Jane's face. Her eyes pinch and her mouth tightens, and she shakes her head no.

Because it's not about offence, and she's not offended — it seems so trivial a thing to feel when what she wants is something more, a calcified desperation to have James Barnes see himself the way she sees him —

But she says nothing, the thought immediately let go the instant he pulls her close. Jane yields to James's touch without an ounce of resistance, and her eyes close to his anointing kiss.

His words pull apart her heart. She presses even closer, her head tucked to his, her hand drawn up to cup the side of his neck. It is not by accident that Jane curls her fingers to count James's moving pulse under their nerves. Wanting to feel he is alive.

"There's so much I want to show you," Jane entreats, a catch to her voice like she's holding back more tears. "I promised I would. I'm not going to let them take you away."

It may never be possible for her to truly get him to see himself the way she sees him. He has thousands of memories, thousands of moments, coloring his mental perception of himself, which she does not know — cannot even dream up.

She has seen him in some pretty dark places, been with him in some pretty dark moments, but at the end of the day the fact remains that he has lived ten decades without her, and in that time he has seen himself do things — has been a thing — that would appall even the staunchest of his supporters. He has done things that still wake him up, sweating and shaking, in the middle of the night with nausea burning the back of his throat.

He cannot share that with her. But he can try to come as close as he can. He can try, at the least, not to hate himself, even if he cannot view himself with the love or respect that she does him. He can pull her close and let physical affection say what he cannot.

He feels her curl close. Feels her seek out the reassuring beat of his pulse. It is not a place he usually likes people to touch — he has lived with danger too long for that — but with her, he does not flinch.

"You will get to show me," he promises. "I'll fight to ensure you will — "

But all things must come to an end, and so does this. With no regard for the privacy or intimacy of the moment, someone can be heard unlocking the door and turning its handle. Jane's time with the prisoner is over.

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