Schrödinger's Guide to Friendship and Dating

December 17, 2016:

Steve and Peggy go to Arlington Cemetery to place wreaths on graves of the fallen. They stop in front of James Buchanan Barnes' gravestone and talk about Bucky, The Winter Soldier and their previous choices.

Arlington Cemetery

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Zatanna Zatara, Jessica Jones, Melinda May

Mood Music: Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd


Fade In…

Arlington Cemetery

A place that is normally empty is filled with people. Young couples, sadden grandparents, patriotic families. Each person is dressed for the cold, moving across the vast array of tombstones, gently and carefully placing the wreath on each one. They offer the fallen their remembrance and dignity, regardless if they were related or not.

It is little surprise that Steve Rogers is here too during the Wreaths Across America event.

With practiced steps, the solder soldier makes his way toward one of the first areas he visited when was 'thawed out'. He isn't dressed like a hero, not wishing to make a large fanfare of what is a personal moment and time. Without the shield or costume, he appears like many others. The chill of winter is kept at bay by a brown leather jacket. The white t-shirt and blue jeans complete the 'every day American' look, though most of the tee is hidden under the zipped up jacket as a vain attempt to keep out the biting wind. In his hands, a few wreaths that are placed over the graves of those that he fought with, saying a few words to each grave and what a passerby could note as a prayer as he settles the wreath.

Finally, one remains: JAMES BUCHANAN BARNES. Steve holds the Christmas decoration with both hands, looking over memorial for the fallen with a distant stare.

Most people will likely give the vet space when feeling the intensity of the moment that seems to hang about him like an fog. However, there was one person he did invite, perhaps the person that understood him the most. Maybe he's just waiting for her.

—-

Steve does not have long to wait. The grass muffles her footsteps, but she - perhaps ironically - tends to have an impeccable sense of time. Though her look nowadays is typically more modern, today her look it decidedly vintage. Her pincurls tousle in the frigid breeze, the wool collar of her coat is turned up against the wind. Behind him, she does both a shared and silent vigil for their fallen comrades. After Steve places a wreath, she takes a moment and then tucks into the boughs a bright red Tudor Rose.

Finally, though, they stand in front of Bucky's grave. She gives Steve a bit of space here, lingering on another grave before stepping up to stand right beside him. The wind whistles past them, loud in their silence before she looks over toward him, hands in her pockets to protect them from the ice-cold air. What is the proper thing to say here? She's not quite sure. He has yet to place the wreath.

Peggy lets the silence hold for a few moments and then simply asks, "Does it feel like a decision?" Her voice is soft. Despite the question, she is attempting to be helpful.

—-

A glance is given toward Peggy with slightly watery eyes. Who knows, it might be wind, but he is definitely conflicted as he considers her words. As he looks back to the grave, he sighs. "You know, in physics, I heard on the radio they have something known as Schrodinger's cat. That if you put a cat in a box and put something in it, poison or something?" Cap shrugs, as if the exact details were not important. "Either way, in that situation, with the box closed, you don't know if the cat is dead or not. So in that situation, the cat is said to be both dead and alive."

Cap pulls out a small item from his jacket pocket. It's a small box, wrapped with a bright and shiny green wrapping paper. A red bow is tied around it. As he holds it, the analogy becomes clear: the wreath is held in one hand, the box still in another. "I had two women seek me out. A woman named Zatana and another, Jessica Jones. They claimed they saw Bucky and that he knew my name."

There is a pause as Steve looks to the two items in his hands for a second before he looks back toward Peggy. "One of them said they believed he was just under control of some… thing." As he continues, it seems harder for him to speak. Disbelief mixes with hope in a way that makes it all come out as a confused and baffled voice. "Just when I thought the world couldn't get any more unexpected, it manages to find a way to surprise me." He gives a weak grin at that, trying the impossible task of finding some mirth in this situation.

—-

"I have heard of Schrodinger's cat." It might be the weather, it might be many things. Peggy, however, is used to reading situations and emotions that go with them: the conflict is certainly registered. The former head of SHIELD is unsure of how to proceed in this sort of direction. However, she has also dealt with the idea of waking up and losing everyone who thought you knew, and then finding them again. It can be a joyous as well as sobering realization. However, none of those people attempted to kill people she knew. That tends to complicate things.

The names are familiar to her, if she does not know them personally. "I have heard of them. Jones, I know, is quite a good PI, if you can look past her alcoholism." While she does not confirm the fact that those two seeking him out may mean something, the implication is there.

There's a long pause. Peggy steps to Steve, practically standing shoulder to shoulder with him, hands still in her pockets. "The world has a way of handing us the unexpected, doesn't it?" Her head turns and she gives him a ghostly quirk of a smile. Who would have thought she would find herself here in front of Buchanan's grave with Steve Rogers in 2016? "May I ask what is in the wrapped box?"

—-

"A gift," Cap replies cryptically, not wanting to ruin the surprise. He forces a small smile to appear on his features as he makes his decision. The wreath is placed on the grave. "He deserved to be honored in every way possible, alive or dead," he theorizes. The gift is placed back in his pocket, perhaps intending to keep it until he gets the chance to give it to his friend in person.

Jumping around conversational topics in a way that makes sense perhaps only to him, Steve sighs slightly. "Well, if she's a good detective in your book, then I suppose I'll trust her judgment," he states, understanding his current company far is shrewder than himself. He lets the sentence linger for a half beat before going on. His eyes never leave the tomestone, as if it were a third person in the conversation.

"I suppose so. I never thought I'd survive the war to be honest. The process, the fight with Red Skull, the plane…" His words falter as he turns to take in the woman besides him, recalling his final words on that fateful flight. Part of him wants to speak on it, but it's a raw wound for him still and he knows its likely for her as well. "I always thought it would be you and Bucky living your happy ever after stories after the war." Steve realizes the implication after he speaks and begins to blush faintly. "Not that I thought that you and Bucky would get together." He tries to swiftly correct himself yet again. "Well, if you wanted to get together, that would be your choice." Realizing that he's done screwed up again, Rogers just looks forward as he lifts his chin slightly in desperate attempt to maintain his ever frail pride in his social expertise than admit defeat.

—-

Peggy's eyebrow lifts at Steve's cryptic explanation. "I think I could tell from the wrapping," she tells him with dry tone. She continues, "Also, that is not quite an answer. If I didn't know any better, I would think you have been getting lessons from SHIELD HQ." It may be something she harps on for a little while longer, however, she does leap with Steve toward the other conversations brought up.

"I don't know her personally," Peggy tells Steve. "I have heard of her work. Mostly, that SHIELD refuses to hire her due to her methods. But, from what I can tell, her work is solid." As she speaks, her eyes shift toward Steve every now and again to see if he has changed his focus from the somewhat nebulous conversational topic in front of them. It's always a quick glance, nothing too studied. Steve deserves a chance to mourn the Bucky he knew.

The mention of the plane brings a pronounced wince to Peggy's rather studied features. That is something she thought she was over. However, she can still hear the static over the radio as she called his name, pleading with him to respond. He didn't. Strangely, it's Peggy who keeps her eyes on James Buchanan Barnes' grave for this one moment in time. She gives a soft, amused laugh at the idea of her and Barnes getting together. While unsure of whether that hurts or soothes his pride, she says, "Barnes was dead. I couldn't have thought about getting together with him." Then there is silence.

When she turns to Steve, there is no smile there. While she is used to putting on faces and strong fronts, she finds that hard to do in front of him. Instead, there is only a failed attempt at neutrality and unshed tears in her eyes as she says, "I thought you were dead. For so long. I tried to come to terms with that, but I'm not sure I ever did."

—-

A smirk is given at the talk of getting lessons from SHIELD, but says nothing on it. Considering he's usually one to treasure his straight forwardness, it's likely an intentional decision on his part. Likewise the talk of Jones and Peggy's assessment is noted with a silent nod, filing it away for further reference. After all, he gets the sneaking idea it isn't the last time he's seen Ms. Jones.

The mention of a lack of lust for Bucky doesn't trigger much other than an arched brow from Steve, as if learning something for the first time. Perhaps he thought every woman had a secret desire for Barnes, but well, being deceased does hurt your love life. Unless you're a vampire. Which he doesn't think Bucky is. For now. However, Steve does offer a couple of words as if important corrections. "Presumed dead," he points out. It's clear that he's slowly warming up to the idea that Bucky is in fact alive; however, it's something that he's loathing to state outright. There is a lot that is involved with that statement after all.

Then Cap mentally berates himself for being up the plane. For some erroneous reason, he thought it would be brushed past, but hindsight reminds him of the conversation landmine that it is. But the man never really runs from hard things and this is no exception. He turns fully to face the woman, watching her as her vulnerability is exposed. While the warrior tries to keep the surprise in check, it is clear Steve's shaken slightly. After all, to see Carter moved like this is a revelation, she seemed so put together and calm, even when he was going down. They both had the stiff upper lip in those moments. Now it seems, the facades come down.

The big blue eyes of Rogers soften as he tackles the issue head on as best he can. "There's a lot of people that deserve apologies from me; you're definitely one of them." He moves to have his arms wrap around her if she allows, one hand curling around her head to guide it into his chest, attempting to offer her a refuge so she could bury face where the public could not judge it, should she desire it. His other would move just slight under her shoulder blades, as if worried that some sort of horrible thing would happen to American society if it were any lower. "I got so caught up in being the hero, I'd forgot the costs until someone else paid the price. Doctor Erskine, Bucky… You… I'm sorry such wonderful people like you had to suffer for my decisions." It's like the idea of giving his life is not that big a deal to Captain America, but it was rather easy for him: A crash and waking up in a bed. It's a far different thing than years of pain and loss. "I hope you'll be able to forgive me."

—-

There's a bit of an amused and surprised look as Steve tells her that Barnes is now 'presumed dead'. The last she spoke to him, he was convinced the man she saw was an impostor. Zatanna and Jones must be as good as she assumed. At least, they had enough information to shift Steve's perspective.

The plane, however, gets most of her attention. It is an interaction that haunted her for quite awhile. And, now, facing Steve, it is hard to keep up her usual emotional barriers. That moment has always been a difficult one for to speak about. In fact, it may be one of the few things that she cannot discuss of her past without her usual veneer of strength and 'keeping calm and carrying on' no matter the time period.

As Steve wraps his arms around her, she instinctively allows herself to rest her head against his chest without thinking. Her held breath exhales and for a moment she simply relaxes against the protective warmth that is Steve Rogers.

"I know. You did what you had to do to protect the people, the world. It was your choice. I always respected that." Her arms move to wrap around him as well. "So, I forgive you." For a long moment, she stays there, protected from both the public and the frigid air. "I just missed…" she stops herself. That may be too much and not exactly the time for that. In an attempt to cover it up, she says, "That is, I would have been quite the hypocrite had I not allowed you the dignity of your own choice."

—-

The moment lingers, Steve seemingly allowing Peggy as much time as she needs in his arms. The moment she makes any sort of movement, he'll take that as the sign that she's wishing an extraction and releases her slowly as he takes a step back.

A sheepish smile is given at the forgiveness and the talk of respecting choice. It's clear there is likely some extra words the soldier would say on the matter, but she forgave him, so he is polite enough to drop it to leave it be for now and just concludes it all with "Thank you".

There is a realization that Steve must say something to change the topic or it might get even more awkward for the pair than it already is. "Speaking of sharing stuff, I ended up talking with a SHIELD representative. Agent May, the division head of WAND?" His questioning tone suggests he has no idea what WAND is, but he doesn't ask Peggy much like he didn't ask May. He'll try the vain attempt to pretend to know he understands the inner workings of a vastly complex agency. "She told me that if Bucky is sighted, they have orders to take him in alive." He looks carefully for Carter's reaction on this, perhaps trying to see if she thought that was a good idea and seeking her approval in fear that he was not secret agent enough; which is understandable, because he's not really a secret agent. "I still plan on going to Gotham to find him myself however."

—-

Peggy is content to stay in Steve's arms for a little while, but as she pulls back and he releases her, she does not attempt reinitiate the contact. Instead, she gives a bit of a smile and tucks her arms into herself. The sheepish smile is returned, the SHIELD agent giving a somewhat high school response to him. "Of course," she replies automatically.

As things turn more toward business, her feet are on more solid ground. "I have worked with Agent May in the past, she is quite good at her job." As she takes in Steve's response, she nods. "May is very reasonable. If she says she will take in Barnes alive she will." Reading a bit of Steve's expression, she gives him as much of a reassuring smile as she can.

More seriously, she adds, "Though, from what I can tell, he is not going to be taking in to SHIELD without a fight and SHIELD is not in the manner of gentle take ins with someone who has attempted murder."

Peggy pauses, looking back at the gravestone of Bucky. There's a bite of her lower lip, a contemplation. She's not sure if she should burden Steve with this knowledge. The man she has heard about in her briefings with a metal arm and a much larger kill count.

—-

"It doesn't matter who he's tried to kill. Or even who he's killed." It seems the restraining the knowledge of the Winter Soldier's career may not necessary; Steve seems to have an inkling of it. Or it could easily be, that in the end, he doesn't care. The grave marker is watched with almost disturbing focus. "He saved my life so many times over my life… In so many different ways."

Rogers mind drifts toward the last time he dealt with James Barnes at a cemetery. Rogers was proud on the outside. He said he didn't need help, he didn't WANT help. In spite of illusion of strength and the attempts to push support away from his frail friend, Bucky didn't leave when anyone else would have, when most would think he should have.

Now, Steve stands here at the gravesite for a changed, transformed into the polar opposite of what he was remembered as, seemingly modified against his will. In response, the no-longer frail friend's next words burn with a righteous anger. He doesn't shout, he doesn't scream toward the heavens. That's not Steve's way. He instead speaks with a clear conviction, his eyes focused on an unseen horizon.

"Bucky deserves to have his life back, to see that America survived the war thanks to his actions. He /deserves/ the chance to be happy. I won't let anyone take that chance away. Not HYDRA, not even SHIELD. Not that SHIELD would be like that. That /America/ should be like that." His anger burns out as quickly as it came, far from a natural emotion for the hero. What is left is a quiet voice, one that is still clearly heard in the cold winter air. "Not to a war hero. Not one that's done so much." Part of him already knows the answer for how others may respond toward the terrorist actions of 'the Winter Soldier', but it just seems unfair, even cruel.

A moment or two pass after the soliloquy and Steve can't find anything else to say with regards to his friend. His lips part, the man who seems on the edge hoping in vain that a poetic muse overtakes him and he finds some sort of solace for himself or perhaps something for Peggy. For a brief moment, he seems actually ready to cry as emotion mounts within his blue eyes.

But Cap takes a slow breath. He won't break. At least not today.

"I'm sorry," Steve admits, lowering his head. "You've done so much. You're /doing/ so much. You don't deserve me just running off at the mouth like this." Between the fights and the emotional struggles with his friend, the blond warrior speaks with accidental elegance between bouts of winter winds, a rare perk of his usual anxious energies spent on other things. "You deserve a lot more than this world has been offered you."

—-

As Steve processes his emotions in front of his best friend's grave marker, Peggy remains a quiet but solid figure beside him. She has her own thoughts as she looks at the engraved granite in front of them. She's read The Winter Soldier's file - what little information they have on him - multiple times. If their intelligence is true, he is responsible for quite a few murders directly and far more deaths from the chaos that tended to follow those he assassinated.

Those people deserve justice, but if this man is Bucky and he truly is brainwashed, he also deserves a chance to be redeemed. She thinks of how easily it could have been Steve that fell from the train. What would she do if she stood in Steve's place now - hearing that he had committed multiple assassinations, had attempted to kill someone close to her - all of that knowing that he would never do that if he had the choice. She knows she would find him, rehabilitate him.

A hand reaches out tentatively to rest on Steve's shoulder and she steps in to stand so that their sides rest against each other. It's her turn to comfort him, now. She has reservations about Barnes, about if it is even possible to rehabilitate him, but this is not the time to vocalize that.

"We will find him, Steve. There will be a chance for him." Her voice is firm. It's not an order, instead there is conviction here. After a moment, it breaks into a softer half-smile. "The same could be said for you. You've done so much for this country - the world even. You gave your life to save it. I believe you have earned the right to say what you wish. After all, is it not a basic right of the United States to speak freely?"

Peggy pauses, the wind continually sweeping her brunette hair this way and that. After her own words of support, she actually responds to his apology. "It is not about what we deserve. It is what we can do with what we are given. I am proud of my work, both before and now. You owe me no apology. I rather enjoy when you run your mouth off. It usually means you're speaking from the heart."

—-

"It's different."

The words hang as Peggy tries to speak of Cap's praise. It likely sinks in somewhere within his psyche, but the usual humility he wears so naturally often makes it easy for him to redirect praise or explain it away, as if excessive amounts of pride or ego in his actions or self would somehow end the world. The agent smiles, attempting to make light of the serious words, but the gravity of soldier's beliefs keeps his face with the stony resolution as if speaking a confession.

"I've been honored as a hero. I speak to men of power and they listen. I have nothing of my own merit save what I've done with abilities I didn't work for. This body?" A hand moves to take Peggy's hand from her shoulder, letting it rest of his heart if she allows. Regardless if there is feminine hand upon it, his chest beats with resounding power, akin to when she perhaps first felt it so long ago after the original transformation.

"This was given to me. Perhaps I've done a lot for people with it, but it's only because it's what I should do. There are so many that haven't this, that could have done so much more with it." The legendary man of action steps in, the man that once had to look up to see Carter's countenance now looking down as he seeks to be closer to the woman he's verbally admiring. "You, on the other hand, had to work for everything you needed out of life: Your job, respect, every lost cause you believed in. That's what makes you who are. Someone who fights even if no one is watching… or caring. But /you/ care. You always do. And few things in this world could compare to that. Never let this world change that." At that, Steve lets out an exhale, as if saying that freed at least one lingering burdern upon him.

—-

The hand leaves his shoulder and then remains on Steve's chest, right over his heart. Though attempting to lighten the mood before, Peggy allows it to shift toward the more serious again. Perhaps because of those things he has said, she is not used to this sort of recognition. There were few people who believed her a capable agent before SHIELD, before coming to the present.

It's strange to hear the praise from Steve, to hear what he thinks of her. Not because she does not appreciate the words, but because she never thought she would see him again, let alone have this conversation with him. Her cheeks tinge pinker in a way that cannot be attributed to windburn. Her eyes first stay on her hand, resting on his chest, feeling his heartbeat. It is remarkably akin to the moment after his transformation excepting that he has far more clothes on than he did at that moment.

There is a second as they stay there like that for a few moments as Peggy debates how to respond before she tilts her head back to look up at him. Raising onto her toes, she leans in to attempt to place a quick, soft kiss on his lips.

—-

As the heroine of the SSR moves up, she will find there there is something keep her from leaning up into the kiss, his lips only a couple of inches from her own. "I-This…." The blush blooms on Steve's face in record time, his body heat building from embarrassment, perhaps even shame as the next words may suggest. "I shouldn't have said that here, it wasn't right." He glances down to explain himself more. Kissing at his friend's grave. Sadly, he has a feeling Barnes wouldn't mind. But obviously Captain America does.

Meanwhile, two kids watching the whole thing about five rows back continue to take in the show, having dropped their wreaths and shirked their duties to watch the two without an iota of shame. Without taking eyes of Steve and Peggy, one of them slides another a couple of Pokemon cards, clearly having engaged in some sort of bet.

"That place will come for…" Steve bobs his head slightly back and forth, as if saying kissing was something they might get in trouble for. "You know. I promise. And you know I take my promises seriously." As it like magic, things seem to go back to how they were, the awkward Steve front and center as he lets go of Peggy and takes a couple of steps back. "We should get some coffee or something. It's cold out, you cold? I know I'm starting to get cold and /that's/ saying something," he says with an increasing rapid speech pattern as he gives a large and stupid looking grin in a horrid attempt to be causal.

—-

Peggy's blush is of embarrassment now, her cheeks not just pink but a bright red. "No, of course, I'm so sorry. That was incredibly inappropriate of me." Her hand pulls back from Steve's chest, clasping them together in front of her as she looks downward, mentally kicking herself. They're standing in front of Bucky's grave and she's attempting to kiss him. Great thinking, Carter. Where was that supposedly famous tactical mind when she needs it? "Ijustthank you for your words. They mean a lot to me."

The woman takes a few more steps backward, too, as if to ensure him she won't try anything else inappropriate. "Right, yes. Ityes. Another" Another time? Another place? She's not sure. With her current track record in judgement, she should most likely simply cut her losses with that sentence there.

"Absolutely freezing," she tells him, though her face looks warm from the blush. "Coffee sounds brilliant." The forced casualty is matched as best as she can. "Let's…yes, let's go do that." Avoiding his eyes, she turns and starts to make her way back.

—-

"I hear it's a thing people do! Getting coffee, that is." As Cap says that, he's waaaay too proud about this, as if thinking that discovering people go out for coffee socially is a modern mystery that he was able to uncover on his own. And with that, Rogers walks alongside Peggy with his hands going firmly back into his pockets.

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