In the Grip of Your Shadow

February 22, 2018:

Bucky Barnes and Jane Foster come to issue an apology to one Jessica Jones. But the detective wants something else entirely.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, New York

The owner's turning into a freakin' marshmallow and the place is starting to look like a home. What's up with that?


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Danielle Moonstar


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Point of fact, Jessica's been in Gotham more than she's been in New York lately. She has two cases there instead of here. But when she got the call that Bucky and Jane wanted to stop by, she said she'd be there in a few hours. Hard to tell where her head was at; she sounded subdued more than anything else, offering as few clues as she could as to how she might actually feel about all that has transpired.

In part because she still doesn't know herself.

Fortunately for them she got the lights and water turned back on.

The place has undergone some changes, from the line of strategically placed Ottomans that make a new L-shaped sofa wider, to various objects that weren't on the shelves before: a complete set of Sherlock Holmes books, a Tibetan singing bowl, a photo of a teenage Jess with her baby brother and parents, a statue of Athena. The place is clean enough, standard beyond that.

She answers the door somberly. "Hey."

She waves them in. Adding a 'make yourself at home' gesture that's been more implied between all of them for over a year. At the moment, she seems to feel the need to make it anew. "Want coffee?"


In truth, Bucky had been in hiding from most of his friends and associates after the debacle of the Demon Bear came to an end. Jane had had to drag him out to prevent him from isolating himself in a miasma of shame, self-castigation, and guilt. She's slowly been having the desired effect on him in the sense he's lightened up a little bit — enough to even make a few jokes at the last few engagements they had — but overall his mood still remains black.

This is objectively his fault, or so he believes. He was a fool and thought it would be safe to uncollar himself. How could he have ever been foolish enough to think he would ever be safe enough to unleash? The Bear would not have taken him if John retained the ability to shut him down, and without him he's sure Jane might not have gotten as far as she did. He might even have been able to stop her, reach her somehow. Her actions are on his hands.

Jane really didn't like that reasoning, when she finally beat the admission of it out of him one dreary evening.

There were a few people with whom Bucky took a little initiative to reach out, however. One of them was Jessica. Perhaps it was their shared history as people who had both suffered having their autonomy ripped away, and thus knew well the feeling of disgust and self-hate. Perhaps it was that he had always been a bit extra-protective of the young woman, and the impulse to check on her was greater than the desire to hide away in guilt. Whatever the case, he had contacted Jessica about stopping by, or else 'not stood in the way, for once, while Jane contacted her.'

Nonetheless, he still looks sober as hell when Jessica opens the door. The past while has not been kind to him, and even the supersoldier is starting to show the effects of too-little sleep and constant nightmares. His entire countenance is tired as hell; he meets her eyes briefly, before his own gaze averts. So much impetus to come here… and all of it flees him once he sees her face, along with his bravery. His entry into her home is tentative, and he doesn't immediately sit.

"Coffee would be great," he says, but he is quiet other than that.


Jane Foster's headspace is, similarly, as confused as Jessica's. Without a long, cemented routine of guilt and self-loathing like James Barnes, and somewhat new to this crippling remorse thing, she too has little idea what to think.

Her heart wants to blame herself. It started with her, either because of some celestial tainting of her soul, a la John's warning, thanks to her foray with magic, or because she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. And it nearly ended with her, because her unimpeded mind — always the seat of her arrogance and the greatest piece of her identity — went too far and hurt many people. But her head — that same old, thinking, calculating mind — wants to balance the logic and say no, it was the damn Bear's fault, and she had no way of knowing even to defend herself, and James's sin on top of that was simply to love her so much he'd go after her.

In the end, it's a too-tight knot of confusion. She hates the Demon Bear, hates her own intelligence in a way she never could before, and hates circumstance itself — hates that it leads both her and Bucky at Jessica's door, feeling between strangers and unwanted guests to a woman who was — is? — one of their closest, dearest friends.

What does one even do in this situation?

Thankfully, Jane has one weapon. She knows how to compartmentalize. She takes this scene piece by piece, and evaluates each in its box. A hand on James's arm to ensure he's not as alone as he may feel, and to sensitize him away from the darkness in his head, and her own dark, sleepless eyes up on Jessica, immediately appraising and assessing her — none too worse for wear, tired, drawn-in, careful. Her home is different too.

Everything here has undergone some change.

Come through the threshold, and nodding quietly along to the offer of coffee — a glance at Bucky, he's talking, good — Jane gives herself one moment longer, then launches into business. This is her only bravery now, lest she sink into a nervous unknown, a victim to that confusion of how to feel, what to say, who to be — she can't be here to wallow and grieve. She is here to fix.

"Thanks for letting us see you, Jess," Jane begins quietly, her voice a little thin; she's not sleeping well either. "I just want to start — I need to tell you I'm sorry. We're sorry. You have no idea how good it is to see you here. I'm sorry you were put through — all that. In that thing." Say it. "By me."


Bucky's averted gaze. Jane's soft and halting apology. It softens everything in one Jessica Jones. And for a moment she struggles with that softening. The prickly woman she has been known to be has an instinct to push away, to keep the walls up. Up high and tight, right where they were on the phone, and with the step to her door.

But she finds she can't do it. Not when they're both here in front of her. She can't brick them out, can't hold on to the hardness.

They're so close to each other still that it's easy enough to step towards. She opens her arms in offering, not flinging them around but just in offering to create a sort of quick group hug. Touch has been fraught for all three of them after all. "I still love you guys," she says, just cutting straight through the bullshit, avoiding the coffee for now. "Okay? I've got some feelings, some of them aren't great, but I still love you guys. I just need— answers. More than I need apologies. But we'll get past this one too."

Probably no surprise that at the end of the day what Jessica most needs is to understand, to make sense of these events, to patch up lingering questions to create some level of narrative. Because she does understand some. She understood everything.

Right up to a pivotal turning point.

Her tone is the rare gentle one. "Come on. Come in for real."


James Barnes knows how to compartmentalize, too. Trouble is, the guilt lives in every single compartment of his mind. He hates himself, in every iteration of his thoughts.

Yet Jane's hand on his arm is a balm and reassurance, giving him enough fortitude to face Jessica for those initial few moments after the door opens. He glances down at her briefly, his eyes gentle, before he looks forward to meet Jessica's gaze — and just as quickly drops his own away. Awkward, guilty, he mumbles something about coffee instead of anything substantive, his usual calm wisdom — which Jessica has come to know so well — wholly absent.

Thank God Jane is there to say all the things they should say.

"I just keep putting you in a bind, Jess," is his sole addition, his voice tired.

Her reaction? To… open her arms. Bucky looks up, surprised, before he nudges Jane forward into that embrace — and then puts his arms around both. It is not an easy thing for any of them to do, and that's perhaps what makes it all the more meaningful.

They're all them, however, which means it's still a brief thing. Jessica says she needs answers more than she needs apologies, and Bucky bows his head in thought. "Ask whatever you need to ask," he says, his voice low.


Jane is Bucky's mirror for one moment, wearing an identical look of surprise when Jessica, who could respond in so many ways, or even choose not to respond at all, to dismiss it, dismiss them, and —

— instead opens her arms to them both. Tells them she still loves them.

It halts the young woman in her steps. It's not what she came to do — came to make things better for Jessica, to fix, to solve, not to help herself, not to take something more. She's not even much a hugger, never really searched them out at length before Hydra got to her and made trusting touches on her body a new, awful thing. But now?

Bucky nudges her forward. Jane doesn't even resist. Something she's been pulling too-tight in her heart rips, and before she knows it, she's throwing her arms around Jessica and pulling close to the taller woman, her eyes stinging dangerously to feel the added weight of Bucky around them both.

She didn't realize she's been needing this — needing this from someone. Anyone. Someone who will pull them both close and prove, no, they are not monsters.

Jane shuts her eyes; she doesn't want to cry. So much so, that she leaves Bucky to speak for them both. Too choked up to trust words, she nods a tight agreement. Whatever Jessica wants.


Their reactions soften her up a little further, and for one moment Jessica has an impulse to tell them they'll talk about it later. They could just have coffee. She could give Jane her equipment back. Hell, she even has Christmas presents for the both of them.

But as she moves deeper into the apartment to pour the coffee for real she thinks of dozens of reasons why this can't be her response, starting with knowing they won't really sleep at night until they've made their amends.

"Okay," she says, when Bucky tells her to ask. She sets the coffee down on the coffee table, an invitation to come and sit. She pulls out the ragged old quilt slung over the back of it. If allowed she'll shake this out, tuck it around Jane's shoulders; a response to the choking up, to the tears. Any anger she might have had has drained out of her for real now. She pulls out an ottoman for herself so she can face them, drapes her elbows over her knees.

And asks, soft brown eyes flickering between their faces.

She inhales. "Everything up until the math museum? It's a wash, it's a pass. I need to understand what the hell was going on after that. Because it looked like you two flipped the script. It looked like you two ended up in charge of this thing, that we helped you do that. That suddenly you were both in control. And I don't— I don't understand. Were you? Or weren't you? What happened?"

Mind control is a pass. It's that day that is her sticking point, her block, that day and every day that came after it. But here they are, themselves again, and filled with remorse, so what does that mean, about that day?

She flushes a little; she made a big fool out of herself, to her own recollection, that day.


Bucky dislikes physical contact, most days. He's lived a long life, and for the vast majority of it, anytime someone touched him, it was only to inflict pain. He avoids it whenever possible… which makes it all the more remarkable that he willingly engages it now.

He knows Jane needs it, for sure. He nudges her into that embrace first, and follows to wrap them both up in an embrace. To not be treated like monsters… perhaps that's what they needed. The distrust and hurt in the eyes of their friends cuts worse than any physical injury they received.

He is quick to pull back afterwards, clearing his throat, folding his arms. When Jessica eventually disentangles herself to brew and bring in the coffee, only then does he tentatively sit, taking a mug in his hands: one flesh, one steel.

He listens, as Jessica asks her questions. What happened, that night in the museum? Did they… truly take the thing over?

"We took it over," Bucky confirms, his voice distant. "Well — Jane freed herself, and freed me. Then we took it over. We were tired of being controlled. We were tired of being victims. We didn't… have it in us to care, at the time. About anything."


The hug leaves Jane a little flushed, a lot more misty-eyed, and even more than both her stiff-upper-lipping of trying to hide the emotion off her bearing — she refuses to make this about her — but, above all, it feels like one knot of many has undone in her belly.

A little less burden pressing down on her than before.

Unable to deny Jessica anything right now, she comes when beckoned, and sits obediently, unresisting even to feel that quilt drape over her shoulders. It swallows Jane up, small and still unable to regain the weight she lost since Wakanda — and for reasons that are more than obvious. Her heart pangs from the gesture. She tucks near Bucky's side, trying to offer strength at the same time she drinks from his, and gratefully accepts her own coffee. Her cold hands warm on the mug.

And she listens as Jessica talks — asks them both a very, very good question. And she listens again as Bucky answers. The sound of his voice, too faraway for her liking, compels her to free a hand to settle on his closest knee. A silent gesture that she can take point on explanations if it's too much for him.

But he gets it out — says it straight. Basically what happened.

"After Hydra," Jane adds, "I made a… failsafe. In me. Not with magic, or technology — it was something simple. Well, something complex. I changed the way I think. Not the thoughts themselves, but the patterns by which I do it. It's a lot of practice and rehearsal, every day — I promised myself, never again. I thought I could create an algorithm tight enough that, if thoughts came in — thoughts that weren't mine, they'd exist beyond the pattern. They'd stand out like weeds. Even if I couldn't stop them, I'd know they were there. And it worked."

Her dark eyes avert, then reassume their watch on Jessica. Not at any second of explanation does Jane try to hide. Honesty to the end. "I gained an awareness to it even if I couldn't stop myself. That allowed me to develop a means to use the connection to that thing — the Bear — to reverse its control. That took magic and science. Rest is as James says. I freed myself, then him. From then, we knew what it did to us, and we decided to make it weak. That's how we used… all of you guys."

She exhales. "According to Danielle Moonstar — she was the third taken by the Bear. It takes your souls. It feeds on them, and keeps them, and all that's left is… everything else. I have memories of everything that happened. It was a part of me. But it wasn't me. All it — all I was — it was just cold. So cold. And so angry."


And Jessica just listens. She sips her coffee and she listens. They have her full attention, she soaks in every word. Bucky's explanation has her eyes crinkling in some confusion, but one word in Jane's stands out like a beacon. Because it wasn't that they could break the control and take control that was the surprise. They are who they are, and that made sense. It was everything that came after.

Cold, but not coldly logical. Not able to say, maybe, I don't feel like doing the right thing but I know it for the right thing and so will do it anyway.

Cold and angry.

Jessica Jones gets anger. "Who were you angry at?" she asks. "Just everybody or…?"

That one word a puzzle piece that clicks into place, helping her to resolve some of the dillemas she's been wrestling with. The last of the walls melt away.

For her, understanding really and truly is a need.


Bucky says it straight, which is a blessing, in a way… but saying it straight loses some of the nuance, and leaves Jessica a little confused. Jane tides in as Bucky goes silent however, and the look he slants her as she takes over with her greater facility of language is grateful.

He drinks some of his coffee as Jane speaks, and lets her lean against his side when the telling gets hard.

In the end, it's one word Jessica focuses on. Bucky framed it as tiredness… as one might expect from a man reaching his hundred and first year of life. But Jane cuts closer to the heart of the matter. She speaks of their anger. And Jessica wants to know… who were they angry at?

"Me…" Bucky says, after a long pause, "…it wasn't really a matter of who. There's no one 'who' to be angry at, anymore. Almost everybody who had a direct hand in making me what I am is now dead."

He puts down his cup. "More like 'what.' Because what I was angry at, for my part… was just my life. The shape it had taken. What people and circumstances felt free to do to me, over and over."

He is silent a moment. "In my right mind, I don't think about it."


After her spiel, Jane indulges in her own drink of coffee. It goes long.

It's not for the taste, not for the caffeine, not for wet on her throat gone dry from so many words — but just to feel heat fill her from throat to belly, warm and vital. Heat to chase away the memory of feeling so cold.

The mug is half-drained when she's done, and the woman exhales, breathing deeply into the solid, heavier curve of Bucky's side. Jessica, always the investigator, always needing to understand — chases an answer to mention of anger. Who were you angry at?

Bucky's answer softens Jane's heart, because she can hear it in over seventy-years of ground-down, exhausted hurt. Her hand tightens on his knee.

"I — yeah," Jane adds her part, trying to search recent memory to give clarity to her own reasoning. It hurts to remember, it's her but not her, but she endures that alien loathing of seeing her hands put to disparate actions. "Angry at the world for making that hurt happen. Angry at — its broken logic. It — me — I don't even know how to call it. Part of me. All it wanted was order. It didn't care about anything but the logic of a universe united under a single will. I guess it's part of me? Some repulsive echo? The worst pieces of my mind? But it wanted the exact opposite of what I want."


Bucky's words cause Jessica to incline her head; he has without a doubt been dealt one of the worst hands it's possible to get in life, and there's no reason why he shouldn't be angry. She contemplates what these two spent 2017 doing, from Ozone Park to being put on trial twice, and she can well imagine the anger building.

"Almost like you were in the grip of your Jungian Shadow," she muses softly. "The bear ate your soul, you both activated your failsafes, but what got to drive the bus was the shadow."

Her eyes narrow thoughtfully. "Order? There were demon robots in the street, it was a giant mess. Like the exact opposite of order. The logic of the universe united under a single will…what does that even mean?"

She swings her head between the two of them. "I really lost the thread at Stark and the robot thing," she admits. "What were your Shadow-selves trying to do?"

Still more questions, but she did say she had them. Lots of them.


It is not obvious — Bucky wears few emotions on his sleeve, least of all weakness — but he takes comfort in Jane's near presence. She leans into him, and he lets her, absorbing himself in the feel of her so close by… and taking a solace in knowing that his solidity gives her comfort, too. James Barnes never did feel right unless he was looking out for someone, after all.

And as Jessica asks… he answers. He answers far more candidly than he would otherwise — these thoughts rarely leave his own head — but he did promise to do so, and Jessica right now is owed whatever she might want from him. His own comfort is immaterial. He speaks many truths… and a lie.

He thinks about it. He thinks about it a lot. But he never gives voice to his resentment over the hand he has been dealt. What right does he have to be to be angry at his life, after all the people he has hurt and killed? What right does he have to give himself the luxury of anger? Others paid far worse a price.

What were they trying to do?

"I wanted to give Jane what she wanted," he says, brief and sad. He lets Jane speak to what that was.


Finally, the dam breaks. It's Bucky's confession, brief and wan: in those words, the simplicity behind what he did and why. For her.

Tears blink free from her eyes. Therein is the heart of Jane's confusion, how to take it, how to weigh it: her corruption and his, made them think and act nearly like different people —

Empty of their souls. Empty of their inner compasses. Empty of empathy and moral inhibition, but with enough deep, driving identity made of who they were — and the things he did as, partially, an act of love to her.

And what she tried to do to the world… her reponse to him.

Shades of grey, and a blur of humanity, in what would otherwise be so black and white. Jane's tears roll down her cheeks.

"It was a mess," she quietly confirms Jessica. "It was a test. It — me — part of me — was testing a script I was planning to distribute on — everything. It successfully took to synthetic intelligence, the guinea pig precursor to biological intelligence. It was an experiment, a diversion. It allowed me time to work. I — me — it — could easily reintergrate any disorder into the singularity."

But what where they trying to do?

"Take free will away," Jane confesses, her hand even tighter on Bucky's knee, hanging on now for her own sake. An anchor in the storm. "The permutation of it — erase quantum disorder. Erase entropy. I don't know why that's in me. Why it's a thing in my head. Why it's a thing I'd want to do. That depraved shit Hydra tried to do to me. It wanted to make a paradise. Or an emptiness. Something without pain. But it's disgusting. I don't know what this says about me, if I'm a monster, if this is some Freudian bullshit that we're all monsters inside — I don't know. All I have is just to trust that I don't want that, and I'll never want that."


For one moment Jessica's face goes a bit blank when Jane Foster says they were trying to take free will away. Jane Foster and Bucky Barnes, of all people. It nearly makes her fingers itch for cigarettes. Hell, it nearly makes them itch for a drink, for all that she is hell-bent for leather to get her 6-month token for the first time ever, for all that she's discovered things she likes more than drinking.

But Jane's tears demand a response. Bucky's sadness does too.

It doesn't come immediately. Jessica looks down for a long moment, off and to the side. Thinking.

At last:

"You didn't. Want that. I mean. Not in your core. Two pieces of evidence."

Detective, Scientist, even Assassin-Spy; evidence is what they all run on.

"Knowing I'd be immune, you put me in the soul gem. You didn't kill me. You could have. You got the drop on me so hard I didn't even know what hit me. There was no real reason to keep me alive,no reason to risk I might come out. But you did. You even tried to keep me comfortable."

She holds up one finger. That was one. She then adds a second.

"Two? You are James Freakin' Barnes and Dr. Jane Freakin' Foster. Even with a laundry list of capes and crusaders on your tail, my money is on you guys not being found or dealt with if some part of you didn't want to be found, dealt with, stopped. Your Shadow-Selves may have been calling the shots, but you were still in there somewhere. Both of you. You came back to us the best way you could. So."

She meets their eyes, firmly. Some part of her is shaking her head, wondering when she became such a damned soft-serve marshmallow ice cream cone. But the other part feels it resolved. This is right. This is what she chooses to do, anyway. Others will have to make their own choices, they may not agree, but this is, ultimately, what's on Jessica Jones' heart. They're also trying to make amends, with their typical show of guts, however uncomfortable it may be.

"Do trust that. I trust that."

She feels the last of the knot inside her drift away,the last of the conflicted feelings she's been wrestling with since the night at the math museum.

"Just like I trust the both of you."

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