AoA: Much to Avenge

October 12, 2017:

Set in the war-ravaged world Earth-295. Director Barnes approaches Captain Jessica Jones with an offer.

//AoA NYC, the airship docks. //

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: AoA Trish Walker, AoA Clay Quartermain

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The Alias is a rather large craft. It's a helium powered airship, though the body of the thing, the parts without a balloon, are heavily armed and armored. There are a few hatches that don't seem to make sense, unless one considers that the Captain of this ship may well have, 'slip out of this ship, hold it up, and fly it to safety' as one of her plans. In reality the thing weighs far more than the 5 tons she can lift, but…slip under it, and guide it down in a controlled fashion by picking the right spot to apply pressure? That she can do, and it's a problem she consulted with her engineer about at length before she applied the modifications. Inside, Bucky might already know, most of the space is devoted to passenger comfort. It can carry up to 100 individuals at a go, each with their own bunk, a shared mess hall, and a couple of shared bathrooms comparable to what one might have gotten on an Amtrak back in the days when Amtrak still was a thing.

The woman herself stands on the docks, leaning against the railing near the spot where her ship is chained up and floating in place. She's dressed in jeans that need a wash, boots, and a green flight jacket sporting a couple of patches devised by her Irregulars during the war, which serve for rank patches or memory patches well enough. A royal blue scoop necked t-shirt is beneath that. Her hair is cut in a stacked bob, short in the back, with a sweep of bang across the front and two longer spiked and shaped strands to frame her face. Savagely practical, and designed, mostly successfully, to make her look quite severe.

She's smoking, and she's by herself, two things which are usually pretty satisfactory for her. The smell of liquor wafts off of her, strong enough to hit even a normal nose good and hard whenever someone gets close enough. She carries no weapons, even though she knows very well how to use a gun. Granted, her gun days never relied on precision weapons. Strictly spray-and-pray automatic crap when she used to fight.

*

It's been several days since the conversation with Creed and Ross, but Director James Barnes, or the Winter Soldier, or Bucky Barnes who should inherit his best friend's shield — whoever he is, whoever they now want him to be — he still doesn't feel like anything of what happened is quite real. They found Steve's shield, but not Steve. They want him to replace Steve. How could he possibly? How could he possibly not? He did not deserve to — the decades he spent atoning are still not enough, to him, to wash away the blood — but at the same time, he could not trust another to.

And now this. The Avengers Initiative.

He spent the last few days reading dossiers late into the night. He had never had the gift of inspiration that Steve had; his was a more physical, personal charisma, one that did not always involve words. He hasn't the first idea how to begin approaching most of these people, but there was one dossier he eventually stopped on. This one had a note on it, from Creed himself. Bucky read through it, and then closed the file and got to work.

There isn't much, at first, to indicate that there is anything special about the man who appears to speak to some of the dock administrators, where the Alias is currently moored. He's in plainclothes, standing far enough away that his features cannot be clearly discerned. But when the conversation concludes and he turns to walk closer, he becomes halfway-recognizable. The Director of Military Intelligence is not exactly in the news the way the President or members of the Cabinet are, but there was some amount of media surrounding his appointment, given his connection back to the long-lost Captain America (how is he still alive?!).

He stops near her, leaning against the railing and looking out over the vista. Despite being… who he is, when he opens, it's with this: "You got another of those?" he says, of her lit cigarette. "Could use one. I'll understand if you don't wanna share, though. Quotas are killer."

*

Jones doesn't seem too shocked by his appearance. She doesn't seem clueless, either. She found herself in an unlikely meeting with the President and Vice President the other day, but after giving 'Magneto' shit for not using his real name she mostly walked out of the meeting to go comfort an unhappy X-woman from another dimension. She doesn't seem put out by his arrival by any stretch of the imagination, but neither is she excited. She just sort of regards him, her gaze flat and wary.

The subtleties of body language, now, that shows tension; the habitual apprehension of someone who has no comfort, whatsoever, in the company of strangers. Someone who on a gut level expects said company to turn on her and attack at any moment, even when that thought is completely irrational. Which it is, given to whom she is speaking.

Asking for a cigarette, and asking in just that way though, is a good way to ease some of that, relaxing the set of her shoulders. She doesn't even hesitate to acqueisce to the request, once it's made. She takes out the pack and pushes one up for him, offering it out to him. "I share now, someone else shares later. It's the circle of life, or some shit. Need a light?"

Hard-bitten alto, with a sardonic edge even when she's not saying anything particularly sarcastic.

*

Whatever tension and wariness inheres in Jessica's body language is mirrored back by the man beside her. Director Barnes both does and does not act like a man of his title might. He lacks any of the pomp, swagger, or officiousness one might expect of a man his rank, but possesses in spades the authority of presence — and the paranoia. All people expect paranoia of a spymaster.

Mostly, he acts like an old soldier who has been through too much war, and who can no longer truly relax. His demeanor is one of a man perpetually prepared to have to catch secret knives meant for his back.

It's likely not surprising. Little of Bucky Barnes' true history is known to the public, but there is enough gap between his loss in 1945 and his sudden reappearance in 1999 that most people can read between the lines. No man is MIA that long and then abruptly resurfaces after a global war without some very bad history between then and now. Nobody tries so desperately to atone through service without having something very bad for which to atone.

He speaks, eventually. He doesn't talk like a director of military intelligence, either, and perhaps that's what gets Jessica to play along. Taking one when it's offered, he shakes his head — a short, efficient gesture. "Decent philosophy to keep in this day and age. Hell, any day and age. — Nah, I got one." That last, to her question about a light. Placing the cigarette in the corner of his mouth, he digs a lighter out of his pocket — vintage Zippo, matte black — and lights up for himself.

He takes his first long inhale, through lungs that will never be scarred by the circulating smoke, before he tilts his head at the ship. "How are the refugees?" It's a broad question, inviting as terse or detailed an answer as desired.

*

She tucks the pack away.

"Walker says they're getting settled in. We have a couple of charities and shelters we work with. They help 'em find jobs or places to live, get the kids in school, get them medical care, feed them, and then let us know when they've got space for more. We don't like leaving anyone up there longer than they have to, but neither do we want to just deposit them somewhere without any support network, so we're basically docked until they get some more space."

Walker, of course, being Trish Walker, Jessica's communications officer, who is also apparently responsible for being the kinder, gentler, more mother-henny liason to the desperate people who find themselves aboard The Alias.

Again, he makes the right choice, because those people are of course one of the only things Jones cares about in any real, passionate way, and as a result, she's happy to talk about them.

But then she says, "Can't imagine you came here to talk about them, though. You didn't even come cause you knew I might share a spare. What's on your mind, Director Barnes?"

The tone has settled on something almost companionable. Something about the old wolf's demeanor, and what she knows of him, and his approach has all conspired to give him, in fact, about as much courtesy as she gives anyone. No pomp and circumstance, but courtesy at the heart of it, with an actual willingness to hear what he has to say. It's a far cry from the combative snarling and ranting the titular leaders of the free world got out of her, that's for damn sure. And a far cry from the sort of gruff, motherly or sisterly there-there, have some booze comfort that she's been known to dispense to those who she percieves as being in trouble, or in pain. Meeting him head on and straightforward, with neither an excess of respect nor an absence of it.

*

Bucky regards her quietly as she speaks of the refugees, rising smoke screening his blue eyes. For all the deceptive youth of his features, those eyes tell the real story of his age. They show recognition when she mentions Walker — of course he would know — but he doesn't say anything and doesn't interrupt. He listens, as if actually interested. He is. Because —

"Last time I saw shit like this — really saw it — was occupied France," he says slowly, taking the cigarette from his mouth and exhaling smoke. "Not on this scale, granted. But then, how appropriate is it to use words like 'scale' when it comes to human suffering?" A life is a life, is a life. One, or a thousand. For a man who has killed hundreds, it is perhaps the only and most important thing that can be learned at the end of such slaughter.

He doesn't answer his own question aloud, though, nor seem to expect an answer from her. He just puts his cigarette back in the corner of his mouth, letting it dangle, and folds his arms on the railing. The left clinks against the metal with a distinctly different sound than the right.

Called out about his real intentions, he offers half a self-aware smile. Sorry, but not sorry. "I did come for both those reasons," he makes minor correction, "but they weren't the only reasons, no."

He glances over, meeting her eyes. "I know Creed talked to you." A wry look. "Or tried to talk to you, at least. He's a fucking asshole, so I'm not surprised you blew him off."

His eyes turn away again. "Will you hear it out from me?"

*

Occupied France. Jessica gives a half shake of her head as if she's having trouble wrapping her mind around a guy who looks like he's her age— if not maybe younger— standing here with real, live, vivid occupied France memories. But it only lasts a moment, and whatever emotion corresponding to that is gone in favor of a grimace and a nod. She agrees, on this manner of human suffering, and his war story has caught her keen attention.

And when he says he came for both reasons, she tilts her head. The faint frown that flickers over her face isn't because she doesn't believe him. It's because she does, and he's surprised her yet again. Her walls come down another notch, and more of the hardness eases out of her face, even though he admits there are other reasons behind his visit with her here on the docks.

He doesn't just launch in, either. He asks if she'll even hear him out, acknowledges this is the Creed thing. Honesty. Choice.

She doesn't know what Hell brought him from the middle of the 20th century to the early 21st century, but abruptly she knows it's allowed him to get something, something which is important.

She looks down for a moment, sucking a long drag on her cigarette. She exhales. She couldn't say, in this moment, why she feels some apprehension over hearing it just the same. It might just have something to do with knowing the wind, knowing it better than she knows anything or anyone, and right now what she feels stirring over her hair is a wind of change. She's never sure how much she welcomes those.

But all the same, she lifts her brown eyes back up to his blue ones. His blue eyes which have seen multiple Hells unfold, over multiple lifetimes, has seen, and has survived.

"I'll hear it from you."

*

For a spymaster, James Barnes has honest eyes. Perhaps not honest in the sense of free expressiveness or candor as one would typically think of the word, but honest in the sense that they are frank about who and what he is. He is a man pushing eighty-five, at least sixty of those years — if not more — spent awake and battling against the worst the world could force a man to endure. Once you're that old, with a career built entirely on silent observation and analysis, most subtleties get easy to read.

Her reaction to his mention of France is one of those things. He watches her from the corner of his eye, before he returns his gaze to the ship. "The serum has its benefits," he says, "though at times I've felt it's more like a curse."

He does not make much more small talk, however — if such a thing can grade as small talk — once Jessica asks him to get to the point. He lays it out: but in the form of a request, not an immediate dump of demands nor information. And here, perhaps, is where the waters grow murkier.

He commands hundreds of spies. He is one himself. He read her full dossier, knows her backstory, knows what will and will not set her off. With careful little steps — like the spiders he used to train, like the little spider he lost twenty years ago — he moves around her hot buttons. For a woman robbed of choice, the opportunity to accept or deny means everything.

To be fair, there is a personal element to this, as well. It is not all cold calculation. Bucky Barnes knows a hell of a lot about having choice removed. There are few more adamant, now, about free will than him.

She says she will hear it from him.

"What they are planning," he says carefully, "is an initiative to build a small unit of human fighters that can match mutants in combat. Spec ops, probably, is the closest analogue. We did similar stuff back in the War, with the Invaders. The Howling Commandos. They want to create something for the crises of today. Your name's on the list.

"Creed was dismissive of your efforts with the refugees," he says, watching as one of the said refugee families makes its way along the dock. He does not speak of his own involvement yet. "I'd ask you to consider something that would put an end to there having to be refugees in the first place."

*

She darts a glance up at him. To her, the human-mutant divide seems kind of laughable really, given she can zip around and fly. She's had people try to classify her as a mutant, because it happened at puberty and clearly she was 'triggered' and her genetics probably aren't normal to let that process work on her on the first place, witness how it didn't work on her family. And others trying to claim no, no, she's an altered human, a change-child of a substance that people have been trying to knock off, duplicate, and make their own (and badly) for decades now.

To Jessica Jones, those particular distinctions seem stupid as fuck. The whole 'mutant debate' seem stupid as fuck. It's not what people have running through their veins that makes them who they are, be it DNA or radioactive gunk or spider jizz or serum. It's what they do. People, by and large, are defined by their choices, when they have their own to make. Or so she believes, anyway. So the first reaction is a bit of a twitch of her mouth to the terminology. Powers only matter because of what they let her get done, and every other distinction just seems loony. Plenty of folks without powers get plenty done, too.

Still, she's not going to get into that particular debate. He says her name is on the list, and his spies eyes might catch the sudden look that's all out of place on the face of a hard-bitten ship's Captain. An expression that seems a bit lost, as if she's wondering why anyone would put _her_ name on any list like that, why anyone would think _she_ has what it takes to do anything like that. She is cracking her teeth to give some sardonic comment to that particular effect, some self-depreciating thing about how they must have skipped right past the bottom of the barre phase in favor of the creme de la cesspit.

But before she can…he brings it back around to the refugees. Her gaze turns north, and crumples to something else. She did some of that. She is part of the reasons why there are refugees, whether she wanted to be or not. And here, on a platter, a chance to do something more positive than that. More than just damage control, 100 refugees at a time when there are always 100,000 more waiting, and those are just the ones she knows about.

So she swallows instead of falling to her go to strategy of deflecting everything with raw humor. She gazes up at her ship.

"Quartermain's probably more than capable of taking command of this old boat," she allows, trying to hide the emotional roller coaster she's been silently riding.

He's not a bullshitter and he doesn't have time to waste. If he didn't think maybe she could do this thing, would he be here?

"If this initiative can really do what you say…" She trails off, unsure, trying to grasp the vision of how a spec ops team could make that big a difference.

*

Another human augmented as a beneficiary of science, James Barnes doesn't look that fussed about the difference between empowered human and mutant, either, though he pays the divide some lip service. He supposes there is some difference between a human meddled with and a new species — one which some call the next step in human evolution. He's not quibbling. He has more important things to worry about.

He notices the amused, derisive quirk of her mouth with regard to the whole topic. He pretends he did not. Let her get her licks in on him. It will put her more at ease for what he is about to tell her next, and his attention is focused on her reaction once he has said his piece.

He doesn't miss that quick look that comes and goes — the look of vulnerability, of questioning, of 'why me?' He recognizes it because he has seen it in the mirror for the past twenty years. Why does he live, when more worthy people die? Why does anyone take note of him, when he is worth less than nothing? Why ask him to take up the mantle of the brother he loved, when there are others who did not spend thirty years enslaved and murdering?

He reached his own answer, days ago. It was because someone must, because someone must honor the shield the way it is meant to be honored, and because he spent so long breaking the world he has to do something to put it back together again, now.

Jessica eventually speaks. Her phrasing indicates the edge of the decision she is teetering upon. He listens in silence at first, watching her, before he answers.

"We got a hell of a lot done back in the Second World War, with the Howling Commandos," he says wryly. "I'm sure we can get a hell of a lot done again, with the Avengers."

We?

"Times like this, we got no real choice but to try," he concludes.

*

"The Avengers, huh?"

She studies him, really studies him, just in case there's some bullshit anywhere in this man that she's missed somewhere. The link back to a successful team like that doesn't hurt. She's read her history, she knows enough.

Times like these, we've got no real choice but to try. And that strikes another chord with her, because barreling through and doing something is very much her m.o., part of the nature of her very core. Maybe not always the most effective thing; maybe things that lack vision or have too much emotion behind them and not enough calculated thought. But doing things, pushing ahead, and damned if the problem thinks it's going to defeat her.

She searches her heart, and finds whatever she thinks she has inside of her, she's at least located a real fucking readiness to get a Hell of a lot done.

"Ok," she says. "I'm in. Where do we start?"

She should, she supposes, ask 100 more questions. Who else is he recruiting, maybe, or a dozen logistical questions. Thing is, none of them matter. Whoever else is there, she'll work with them. Whatever else needs to be done, she'll do it.

Damned if she doesn't think this man might just have what it takes to lead them there.

*

He knows the reason she's studying him. He holds still for her scrutiny, smoking placidly: an old man in a young man's body, a soldier turned spy, a man asked to continue his lost brother's legacy, and unsure whether he will measure up.

It is his duty to try.

That same duty is why he is here, convincing a young woman of something when the only thing he ever used to convince young women of was letting him in their beds. He never imagined himself an inspiring or persuasive sort other than that, not the way Steve was, though perhaps he picked up something after so many years watching his brother work.

Because Jessica, she says yes.

"We start when we get the rest of everybody pulled together," he answers her, with his customary bluntness. A wry look crosses his face. "Don't worry about Creed, or Ross. Or any of the talking heads. I'll handle 'em." He grimaces: this is the part of Steve's work he remembers well — remembers how much he hated it. "That is," he sighs, resigned, "Captain America's job. You have any other questions, you come to me at the Triskelion."

Finishing his cigarette, he stubs it out, straightens up. "The name seems appropriate," he ruminates, of a sudden. "There's a hell of a lot to avenge."

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