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Apr. 11th, 2016


Plan and Execute (Ariel)

The nights had not gotten easier. He still slept in the pallet beside Ariel's bed, and only after the night sky started fading into morning. His devastatingly dangerous nightmares were kind enough not to disturb him for the first hour before sunrise, and Ariel was always awake - and safe - after that. Ariel's nightmares kept him busy during the evenings, so it was no waste of time for him to sit up throughout the night, his back against the wall of her bedroom, listening to her breathing.

He had a lot of time to think during the evenings. He thought a lot on his friendship with Steve Rogers, his place in this City, and on the past he'd lived through. Most of his memories were returned now; only rarely did he find gaps that he couldn't account for. There was a relief in knowing just exactly what sort of monster he was. And there was a great deal of condemnation from it, as well.

He sought to unite himself with the delicate innocent creature just across from him, sleeping peacefully (for now) in his presence. That was mostly what he thought about, these nights. He was wholly unworthy of her, and yet she'd still agreed. He thought they should be married very quickly, for propriety's sake alone... but also because he feared she'd come to her senses. He had a plan in place for how to wed the mermaid. Now all he had to do was execute it.

The sunrise caught him through the glass as his thoughts roved. Wearily, he ran his flesh hand over his face and pushed up against the floor to stand. She'd be awake soon. Even now, her breathing was changing. James carefully sat on the edge of her bed and waited.

Aug. 3rd, 2015


An Engagement (Steve, later Ariel, Edward)

It was to be today. James had everything in place. After having double-checked his work, he returned to Steve's apartment looking for Ariel - but found only quiet. Believing that she'd gone out to sun or to stroll, he went downstairs and circled the apartment building. Then he did it again. Dismissing the mild unease, he headed back up to wait.

But an hour passed, and she had not returned. The second hour ticked by, and he finally picked up his phone and tried to reach her on it. It wasn't unexpected that she didn't pick up. She never really seemed technologically minded. So he rang Steve instead. The conversation was stilted and harsh, at least on his end. His throat felt tight, and the back of his neck was hot.

He knew.

James knew, but was trying to deny it.

Steve was on his way back. James paced the front of the living room quickly, back and forth, and then shot a text to Dr. Quinn.

Today. That was all he needed to send to her; she'd know the rest. It didn't matter that night hadn't even fallen. And, he realized, it didn't even matter that he hadn't confirmed that Edward Nigma had kidnapped her again. He should have handled this long ago. It shouldn't even be a question.

After today, it wouldn't be.

Jul. 5th, 2015


A Warm Summer Evening (Narrative)

The hardest part was leaving her, knowing what he was setting out to do. James had always felt he was dirtied by the hold HYDRA had on him. Sometimes, his hands still looked red. Sometimes, he still thought in Russian. Ariel, who was pure of heart and soul, deserved a far better man than he. She deserved someone like Steve. And James was too damned selfish to let go of her to let her find that better man. He was too afraid to tell her that he wasn't the good man she thought him to be. Yes, the hardest part tonight was leaving her on the couch, innocent eyes questioning but not pressing. Perhaps she saw the dark creature that lived under his skin, and knew better than to ask. Innocent... and wise.

The rest came back to him easily. He stalked the shadows around Arkham, finding the security, listening in darkness to the sounds that filtered up to him from his hidden position. Now and again, he slid into another pool of darkness.

Typically, he had a file of details to use. Nothing so easy this time. He would have to case the place himself. There was time... not a lot of time; the more he wasted, the higher the probability that Edward Nigma used that time to terrorize someone else.... or worse, try again for Ariel... but time enough for what he needed.

When the crickets stopped singing, when the night grew its darkest and stillest, when he felt the dawn just beyond the deepest part of the night, James finally returned to the apartment they shared.

It would be soon. Soon, Edward Nigma would be no more.

Jun. 3rd, 2015


Planning (Steve)

The rooftop garden was an inspired idea, and James was glad to help Steve turn his best girl's dream into a reality. So it was that Steve and James were up on the roof of Agreeable Apartments, sweating in the mid-day sun as they constructed flower boxes and the frame for a couple of green houses. James had long ago abandoned his shirt. His torso was covered in grime and sawdust. He didn't seem to mind at all. In fact, his face had so few shadows these days that it seemed strange that he was the same man who'd attacked Steve months ago.

"My stocks account is here," James said, passing Steve a board he'd just measured and cut before reaching for the nails. "My savings account, too. It has accrued almost 90 years of interest." James shook his head at that. He was a very wealthy man, and had only just realized it when he picked up the smattering of mail in his mailbox and found the monthly statements waiting for him beneath a few flyers for dentistry and City restaurant coupons.

The money wasn't strictly necessary, especially in a place like the CitThe City was providing, and providing well, for everyone here. He wanted to work. Only -- until very recently (until Castiel, until that night on the beach with Ariel), he'd been afraid to take a job at all. Working now on Agent Carter's rooftop garden was a way for him to contribute, and he liked that he was allowed to do so. He'd find a job soon, maybe something that kept him close to Ariel...

... But no, the money wasn't really necessary. Not really, unless you just wanted to buy something.

As it turns out, James did. He stuffed a few nail heads in his mouth and knelt down, helping to position the board that Steve had in his hands, before positioning a nail to drive it in. He was having a hard time spitting out exactly what he was trying to get at with Steve. Still, he needed to tell him. He needed to get help.

May. 15th, 2015


The Long Awaited Dinner Party [Peggy, Ariel, Bucky]

It had taken far too long for this, but finally, finally, tonight was the night. Steve had agonized over what to bring, which wine, which tea, but he had finally settled on a pink sparkling moscato and a bit of Earl Grey bergamot for dessert. He'd also gone through several outfits before settling into a dark grey suit with a crisp white shirt, sans tie.

Facing the Red Skull hadn't been so nerve-wracking as a dinner date.

He'd kept asking Bucky's opinion. On the wine, on his clothes, on whether or not he was expected to bring flowers for Peggy. On one hand, he was already bringing wine and tea. On the other, wasn't that what you did for a date? Bring flowers? What kind of flowers? Roses seemed too formal, carnations too casual, lillies too somber. Fine, fine. Wine and tea. Wine and tea were perfectly acceptable.

Man, he hoped he wasn't screwing up already. He'd already missed their first date by seventy years. This one had to go right.

As he knocked at Peggy's door, he realized he had forgotten to ask if Ariel and Bucky liked dancing. This was a dinner date - why was he worried about dancing?

Yeah. Facing the Red Skull had been much easier.

May. 3rd, 2015


Force of Gravity (Ariel)

After an exhaustive search, James thought he'd located one of the most beautiful and most deserted beaches in the City. Located in the north, just before the island on which Wayne Manor was built, a smaller, separate island waited untouched by most of the citizens. It wasn't easy to get to; there were no roads to the two small islands sandwiched between Wayne Manor's island and the other. James had to rent a boat to take them over.

But after they finally made it to the north-most satellite island, and after he led them to the eastern side where the sunset would be most noticeable, James decided that it was worth the hassle to see Ariel's expression. He hadn't said much on the way; he wasn't much for conversation. Nevertheless, it was clear from his keen attentiveness to her that he was very interested in everything she did, and everything she said - even if he didn't yet know how to tell her.

"Is this what you wanted?" he asked at last, once he'd thrown a blanket over the sand. His flesh hand gestured toward the beach, and then he looked back at her again. He thought she liked it. He needed to be certain.

Apr. 26th, 2015


Smash (Bucky)

"...pieces of crap..." Harley mumbled to herself in a heavy growl, before she gritted her teeth. The grasp on the handle of the oversized mallet she currently was holding was white-knuckled, almost as if she strained to lift it. Oh but she was much stronger than her petite stature suggested and the mallet was nothing. Nor was the swing that followed it. The flat end of the head of the mallet came over her shoulder and down hard on to the top part of an automobile. When the glass of the windshield shattered and the crunch of the metal as the roof caved in hit her, Harley broke into a wide, almost comical grin. Oh it felt good smashing things! It was like lifting a weight from her shoulders.

Despite the warning from Crane about her attire, Harley donned her red and black jumpsuit. White grease paint was smeared across her face from sweat and the black khol that encircled her eyes was running. She laughed hard, red lips pulled back from her teeth to offer any unfortunate passer-by's a sample of what crazed delight was. Her blue eyes sparkled and the blonde pig-tails bobbed. This was so much fun.

"What else can I smash?" She asked herself, setting the long handle of the mallet over a shoulder. She skipped delightfully away from the crumpled mess of scrap metal and broken glass, not caring that the vehicle belonged to someone she didn't know that probably needed it. She didn't care about anything right then.

A skip, and a swing. A blue mail box flew into the street, skidding across the pavement to land in the middle and stop. Harley giggled and waved at it as if it had greeted her like an old friend would. "See ya lata, alligata." Another few skips and Harley terrorized a hot dog stand, subjecting it to the same fate as the mailbox and car before it. Hot dogs, buns and condiments littered the street and sidewalk. "Fifteen points fa me!" Harley squealed in delight.

The moon shimmered down on her, reflecting the glee in her eyes and the spring in her step. She drove her mallet through the window of a shop, next, hearing the alarms blaring at her. "Aw, shaddup. Nobody wants ta hear that noise," Harley said, her grin widening. "Gonna be a good night after all. I was worried there for a minute or two."

Turning from the window, Harley's eyes flickered at the street, curious if there was anything else that looked worth smashing to bits. Her mallet sat in the curve of a shoulder and she waited to find something good. It had to be real good. Perfect actually.

Apr. 11th, 2015


Pinnacle (Castiel)

Exhaustion was threatening James in a way that made him fearful for the red-headed little slip of a woman sleeping in the bed across the room. He had promised her to stay, to keep her nightmares at bay, and (oddly) to comfort her when she needed it. James would never have considered himself capable of comforting anyone, but she... She still clung to him as if he could make everything all right again. And he wanted to. He wanted to do that for her very much.

But he'd been pacing the bedroom they shared for the last three hours in the attempt to stay awake, and he felt more like a danger to her than a protector. The edges of his world were fading red-gray around the edges. He had started to think in Russian again.

James stood in front of the window overlooking the City. In the midnight hour, the City had been yet moving. But now, in the navy deeps of the evening, he detected very little movement at all. Across the rooftops, a great white steeple rose. Something deeply buried inside him told him that there was peace under that marker. That promise pulled strongly at him, over and over.

And when he found himself half-dreaming on his feet at the window, he finally gave in. He opened the window, closed it gently behind him, and walked the ledge until he could lead to the next roof. The church called him forward.

Mar. 31st, 2015


Adjustment [James]

Something was wrong. Steve could tell from the moment he entered the apartment building. Something was triggering his instincts, though he couldn't be certain what it was. But something was different, something was wrong. He hadn't been gone long, had he? Glancing at his watch as he navigated the corridor, Steve winced slightly. Three hours. He'd been gone for three hours. He'd done some shopping, done his usual workout at Logan's gym, and had planned to be back in time for lunch. He was within his time limit, but clearly something had happened while he was gone.

What had happened?

The door to his apartment was unlocked. Steve nudged the door open and paused in the doorway for a moment, taking stock. He couldn't identify the majority of items that were now scattered in pieces on the ground. He didn't mind very much - he hadn't had much attachment to the items that had filled the apartment. The small stack of records was unharmed, though the speakers for the sound system would have to be replaced. Wooden furniture was broken and scattered about, either outright shattered or flung in the aftermath. The door itself had cracks in the thick wood, impressive dents from what had to have been a metal fist.

Steve let out a slow breath and stepped into the apartment. "Bucky?" he called. "Ariel?" He didn't see any blood, but he hadn't seen the rest of the apartment yet. There was a scent of violence on the air, and the soldier set his packages by the door and cautiously moved towards some faint sounds in the kitchen.

Mar. 17th, 2015


Evaluation (Steve, Ariel and Bucky)

Harley stood in the hallway.

She was spent. Used up. Done.

In one hand she clasped a briefcase which was stuffed full of a variety of things. The other was lifted, fingers curled against her palm. She was knocking without realizing it. Number fourteen. Steve's apartment.

Scare beast had done a number on her psyche but she had a last promise she had to get out of her ledger before she could give herself entirely to the beast. And it had to be now. It couldn't wait anymore. Harleen had managed to change her skirt which had been rendered to tatters. Her button up shirt was halfway untucked from the waist band, and her hair was askew from the ponytail she had pulled it back into. Her blue eyes were hazed, but she made herself focus. Half of the collar of her shirt was pulled up, the other half was down as normal. Bruises and red marks riddled the flesh of her neck. She avoided them.

Again she knocked. Steve could tell her where the girl was, and they could be done with the assessment. She had to be done with it. It was that or she knew the beast would take her life. He had made her choose, and she had chosen him over the heroic life. Over protection. She was trying to save her friends. Steve needed to be alive, he needed to help people like Ariel. Bucky. Harley was past help. She had done this to herself.

"C'mon ya idiot, open tha door," she breathed, though she didn't mean it in a malicious way. She needed to get back. The timeline was growing thinner with each second.

Harley didn't realize how her makeup looked, it ran down her face. Maybe she had cried on the way over. Maybe it had been really hot in her car and she had sweated. She would never tell. But this had to be done. If she was even allowed to do the tests. It all would depend on Steve's friend. She needed the permission. She wasn't going to get squashed by someone just because she was fulfilling a promise.

So, Harley lowered her hand from the door and waited.

Mar. 10th, 2015


Debriefing [James]

[backdated: immediately follows this]

Steve entered the apartment quietly, not sure if his guests were resting, but hoping that they were. Ariel at least needed the rest. He didn't know just how long she'd been trapped in Arkham's dungeons, but it had been long enough, and she was far more delicate than the soldiers who had come to her rescue. While he hoped that James might have decided to sleep as well, he didn't have as much faith that the mindbended assassin had found much solace.

After taking 'Eddie' to the police, and persuading him it was in his best interests to confess, Steve had filled out his own police report, and then looked for something for everyone to eat. He didn't know Ariel's tastes, but he knew his own and Bucky's, so he had filled in the gaps from there.

It was a small stash of food for the time being. Some pulled pork sandwiches, salad, fries, and a few pieces of chocolate cake for dessert. The cake was a special treat for Ariel, the pork for Bucky. The man Steve had known loved barbecue pork.

He heard movement as he slipped into the kitchen, and began to unpack the food.

Mar. 6th, 2015


Security (Ariel)

They'd taken the car belonging to the woman that Steve interrogated. When Steve dropped him and Ariel off at their apartments, he'd tossed his keys without a word. Buck caught them in a flash of silver and gently led Ariel upstairs to the room on the key. Steve was right. Ariel's apartment was on the ground floor - too easily accessible. It was better to put her up at Steve's place, at least temporarily. They made a quick stop at Ariel's place to get the things she wanted. He also took the time to clean her up a little. His hands were gentle, though his eyes still hadn't softened from the moment he'd learned she was missing.

Still, once her hurts were tended and she had everything she wanted, he helped her carry things up to Steve's place. All of this was done in relative silence. Neither seemed to want to talk.

He was curious about the gesture she'd given him when he asked her what sort of power Eddie was referring to. All she'd done was pat her throat. Her voice, perhaps. He thought her voice was beautiful. He wanted very much to hear it again - laughing. He wanted to hear her laughing. The ache of want for that was great enough to hunch his shoulders, to overshadow the pain in his ignored hand.

When they were upstairs, he started helping her settle in. James was surprised to find sachets of tea in the cabinet. He made Ariel a cup and briefly considered one for himself, before his throbbing head determined that it was not wise. He avoided anything to eat or drink, knowing better than to test the limits of his body's tolerance while in this much pain. But he hid the pain from her as much as possible. She had other things on her mind.

At last, when he'd led her to the couch, tucked a blanket around her, and done a circuit of the apartment to familiarize himself with the layout, he finally came to her again. Though he didn't sit down - he was her sentinel until Steve returned - he was close enough to her that he could reach out and touch her shoulder if he wanted to. He did want to. But he didn't do it.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

Mar. 1st, 2015


Have You Seen My Mermaid? [Barnes, others later]

Cleaning up the apartment didn't take as long as Steve had worried it might. Of course, there was plaster to reapply and furniture that needed replacing, but within two hours, the glass and blood had been cleared away, the damaged walls tidied, the bed made up with fresh linens. The door was the final task, and once it was refitted and able to shut again (albeit with some resistance), Steve figured that was the best he would be able to do without a trip out to a hardware store.

He headed back to his apartment, hoping to clean himself up a bit before checking in on Ariel and Bucky.

The discarded basket caught his eye as he reached for the knob to his apartment door. Hadn't the redhead had something like that? He walked to it and picked it up, eyeing the business card within.

His eyes narrowed a bit. What was Harleen's card doing here? And where was Ariel?

A cold sensation nestled itself in between Steve's shoulders. He burst into his apartment, grabbed his shield, and then went to number seven, hoping he would find the pair resting together or talking quietly. He knocked twice and let himself in, the shield at the ready - just in case his instincts were superior to his desires.

Feb. 26th, 2015


Blank (Steve, later Ariel)

At first, The Winter Soldier suspected he'd been attacked somehow - rendered unconscious by some unknown foe, then left inert, tangled in a heap on the floor while they ransacked the hotel where he was staying.

But the door was locked; his safeguards were firmly in place; there was no sign of tampering or disturbance - at least, not around the points of entry to this hotel r -- apartment. It was an apartment, not a hotel. The Asset sat on the edge of the bed. He didn't recognize this place. No, that wasn't true. He remembered coming here, now, remembered being led by a red-haired, fragile thing. In the corner of the room, he saw the keychain lying half-against the wall, with the name 'BARNES' in precise, machined print on the back of the fob. Barnes. That was supposed to be his name. He didn't remember having a name.

The Asset raked his flesh hand back through the strands of damp hair clinging to his face. Analyze the situation. There was a large amount of glass on the floor, but it wasn't from the windows. A twisted metal frame lay on its side against the far wall. Against? Embedded. A glass coffee table, or what used to be one, thrown with force. On the other side of the room, a set of chairs and a small wooden had been reduced to splinters. All around the walls, there were large indentations. At his side, his metal hand flexed and relaxed and flexed again. But the windows and the door were undisturbed. And then there was the bed where he sat. The sheets were ripped halfway off, the duvet crumpled at the foot of the bed, the pillows mostly on the floor, and he saw, smelled, and felt that the sheets were damp with perspiration.

Finally, the Winter Soldier took stock of his body. His feet ached, and so he turned one bare foot over his knee. Dug a few bits of glass out of the sole. Repeated on the opposite foot. Flexed his flesh hand, felt the bones complain under their puffy skin, and stopped moving his hand.

No one had been in this apartment. No one but him.

And he didn't remember any of this.

It had been four days since he arrived here, four days since that red haired angel put her hand in his. He thought about opening the door to his apartment. He didn't. Instead, he dropped back into bed and slung his flesh arm over his eyes.

Feb. 20th, 2015


Loud noises (James)

Ruh ruh ruh!

Ariel winced at the harsh sound the dog was making toward her. Her ears burned with it and while she wasn't sure exactly what she had done to trigger such a frightening noise, she knew she didn't like it and that she needed to get away from it before it got worse.

All the mermaid had been doing was walking down the sidewalk, headed for the food market. Also she had been tempted to stop at the window of the store where she had met her friend John, but she had made herself not succumb to the temptations. Now she almost was cursing herself for not taking the alternate route.

She held a hand up, palm out, as if to distance herself from the slobbering mongrel whom was all teeth and tense muscle.

Having come upon the canine initially, Ariel didn't realize that the poor, starving mutt was feasting on what was left of a stray alley cat. It was protecting its hard earned kill.

"Nice doggy," Ariel breathed, taking a step backward slowly so as not to aggravate the canine more. It had already managed to lunge at her and its sharp teeth had torn a bit of the hem of her dress, which now hung in tattered ribbons.

Ariel moved one foot behind the other, leaving the dog for the curb and of course then the street. In her desperation to distance herself she had forgotten about the dangers that zoomed up and down the paved ways. Cars. Cars could hurt you and she had forgotten to look for them.

The mermaid backed into the middle of the street and only when she heard the blast of a horn did her eyes widen and her attention divert from one danger to another. Her body tensed as she watched a very large, metallic object careen towards her. What did they call it again? A bus?

A bus was coming toward her. There was the horn again, and she felt frozen to the street.