Only the Dead

February 08, 2017:

Bucky goes to see Peggy to make his amends for what he has done to her. An old friendship is rekindled.

New York City

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Steve Rogers, Jane Foster

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

"Only the dead have seen the end of war."


By this point, the newly reclaimed James Barnes has spoken to most individuals involved in his and Jane's retrieval. There are some people, however, who he has found it… more difficult to make himself face. They are invariably the people who are closest to him, people whose disappointment and potential censure would cut the deepest. He would have still been avoiding Steve, in fact, if it were not for Steve's own stubborn, dogged persistence to see his best friend.

Seeing Peggy Carter holds an additional dimension of discomfort for Bucky, not only because she was a personal friend back in the time period to which they all properly belong… but because he nearly killed her, months ago, and that just adds an extra dimension of 'ways in which he failed Steve' to the mix.

Nonetheless, spurred on by Jane and her persistence, he has finally stirred to seek Peggy out. He has to thank her, on top of everything else, for looking after Jane with regards to SHIELD in the aftermath of… everything.

He had considered ways to approach her. He was aware that surprising her was likely out of the question— Peggy is the entire reason he is not more dismissive of women, as a cavalier man of his era might have been, than he is— and so he selected a route he knows she takes between SHIELD and her apartment.

He waits, dressed casually, on a bench in a less traffic-heavy area along that route.

The fact that Barnes knows one of her routes may leave Peggy a bit off put. To know she could be so easily tracked down is - to her - a weakness. Living in the present day has dulled a few of her more heightened wartime senses.

However, she is not that out of practice that she does not notice James Barnes in casual clothes waiting for her on a bench nearby her apartment. She stops across the street, studying the man. Despite their mission, despite his supposed breaking of training, she is still wary of him. It is more than the time he almost killed her. It is more than what they saw in Hydra. It has to do with the tapes that she saw and listened, the documents she has read in the time that has followed that raid. She knows quite a bit about what they did to James Barnes. While she is hopeful, she knows that no one makes a full recovery immediately. And she is unsure of how long that may be for The Winter Soldier.

After the light changes, she crosses the street purposefully and makes her way toward Barnes. Her greeting is not warm, but it is also not curt. Instead, she is curious. "Sergeant Barnes." She gives a glance around - it not just to get the lay of the land, it is to see if he - or she - may be watched by who knows who. "I believe my next line should be, 'Of all the park benches in all the world.' To what do I owe the visit?" She knows better than to think he was sitting there for any other purpose than waiting.

To be quite fair, it is not necessarily that Peggy's easily tracked down. It's just that she has a legend with experience spanning seven decades on her trail. It's probably a difficult thing for her to wrap her head around— the James Barnes she knew was very good, but still a man— but it seems soon enough she'll have to get acquainted with whatever it is Steve's best friend has become.

Soon enough… like right now.

She picks him out before he does, at the least, and that gives her time to consider what she's seeing and prepare her approach. It's a few moments later when his blue eyes cross her, skating over her in a brief glance that betrays no special attention paid, nor hints that she is the one for whom he is waiting. He knows that she will still take precautions with him, despite everything. It's what he would have done.

Eventually she makes her move, crossing the street. He lifts his head to regard her directly as she draws near, noting the tone of her voice. She addresses him formally, and he nods in answer. "Agent Carter." He gestures, a polite direction for her to take a seat— should she wish— but he does not seem invested in whether or not she takes him up on it. It's simply a courtesy, drilled into a man raised to be polite.

Silver flashes on his wrist as he does. A military ID bracelet.

To what do I owe the visit? she inquires. His head lowers, his gaze pinning to the ground. "There are apologies I must make," he says eventually, "which you don't really have to accept. But it wouldn't be right of me not to make 'em, anyway."

For the moment, Peggy does not sit. There's a bit too much keyed up energy at seeing Barnes unexpectedly to sit right now. It is not meant as a slight, but there is still some mistrust there. Instead, she just gives a quick shake of her head. This is not a rejection of his company, but merely of the seat for the time being.

Sharp brown eyes track the glint of metal on his wrist - the wrist she would not expect to see metal. She knows the shape of military IDs to know it immediately on sight. The answer to her question is met with a shift in her expression. From curious, it turns neutral and then slightly softer. This all happens in the space of his gaze looking toward the ground, so he most likely will not see it.

This is delicate territory. She instinctively knows the man that attacked and attempted to kill her was James Barnes. But, she also knows very deeply and intellectually that it was not James Barnes. The line is delicate, but able to be balanced.

A sigh, unable to be silenced, escapes. "Is this what you intend to do? Find everyone you can and apologize?" Her words are not meant to be harsh, in fact, there is a dash of empathy there. However, she does not yet say that she forgives him just yet.

He does not seem surprised or offended that she refuses the invitation. His hands just fold back into his lap, his head bowed, his shoulders slumped. His left moves, metal fingers twining into the heavy chain of the ID bracelet, and he twists. The links dig into his wrist in what seems to be an unconscious, reflexive gesture. The pain seems to be centering to him, a sensation to ground him in reality— perhaps why he keeps doing it.

He does not look up at her. He misses all the transitions her expression makes, watching him.

Her question might not be phrased harshly— there is even a note of empathy to it that he detects— but he deflates as if it were a lash. Shame bleeds heavily into his eyes. "It's not what I wanted to do. Not initially," he says. "Words aren't really sufficient to cover what I've done. Just… apologizing seems insulting. But I guess running would be even more of an insult."

Peggy knows that Bucky can't see her as she watches him. Maybe she is judging, maybe she is empathizing. He cannot tell while he refuses to look at her. She certainly knows something about self-punishing men. Using that to give a quick look upward toward the heaven's, she finally sinks herself down on the bench. "For heaven's sake, I'd forgotten why you two were best friends. You both have the very same tone when you believe yourselves about to drown from guilt."

With a sigh, she shakes her head. Folding her hands together, she turns her head so she can still look at him. "Barnes…" her tone is less exasperated and kinder now. "I've read your files. I—" she can't say she knows what they did to him. She doesn't, she can't. "More than that. I saw you. You had no idea who I was. At all." There's a pause as she attempts to piece together her words.

"I will assume by this apology that you do not wish to kill me. But, I cannot forgive you for something that you did not do. That man who attacked me? That was all something that was done to you. It was not you."

In these moments, it is indeed easy to see why Steve Rogers and James Barnes became best friends. They behave in much the same way, hold many of the same convictions and principles… brood and self-flagellate in much the same way. Their postures are even similar: in the slope of Bucky's shoulders and the heavy hang of his head, Peggy can see an echo of Steve. Except perhaps with Steve, there is slightly more quiet and dignified self-recrimination, while with Bucky… there's more tendency towards aggression and seething.

Not that Bucky's expressing much aggression right now, though. If there were something other than himself to blame, to attack, maybe… but right now, there's nothing but himself. And he can attack himself well enough just in his own mind.

He does look up, distracted from his own self-hatred, when Peggy huffs a 'heaven's sake' and finally drops down to the bench. He glances at her, but his blue eyes are unable to hold hers for long. They stray, inevitably, to her throat, as if afraid to find the marks still there.

She'll assume by this apology that he doesn't wish to kill her. He huffs a humorless sound that could be the ghost of a laugh. "Sooner kill myself first," he rasps.

She read the files, she says. She saw him. He didn't know her at all, and all because of what was done to him. She can't forgive him for something he didn't do, because what happened to her? Was perpetrated by the hands of a man not him…

His expression tightens like her quiet understanding is painful. Painful because if only it could be so easy— if only he could feel /at ease/ with it being so easy. "It wasn't me," he agrees. He stares down at his titanium-steel hand, opens it in a bleak flex. "But I can still remember how you felt in my hands. How close I was to breaking your neck. The excitement I felt at being so close to a kill."

He shudders a breath. The excitement is the worst to recall… the sick thrill of a dog with its fangs in a rabbit's neck. "I didn't will it, but I remember it as if I had. What it felt like, killing you," he says. "My friend. And… the most important thing to Steve."

Having a unique outside - and outside of time, even - viewpoint on the friendship of Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers, Peggy Carter is able to see both the differences of the pair. While it is clear that she knows Steve better than Barnes, she spent quite a bit of time with the Howling Commandos before both Steve and Bucky's supposed deaths.

Leaning forward to match Barnes' pose, she keeps her attention on him. She knows she is making the situation far too simple at first. However, in the fact of Barnes' self-flagellation it is all she can do. His own admission that he would rather kill himself first is only proof of that.

Another sigh emanates from her chest as he describe their encounter to her. "Yes, I do remember it quite well from my own perspective," she tells him dryly. It's not meant as a reprimand, though as soon as the words are out of her mouth she realizes that he may take it as such.

"I can't know what you have been through," she tells him. How could she? She has never been mind controlled, has never been through decades of torture. "And I know it feels like you did it. But, I don't blame you, James." Calling him Bucky is a step into Steve territory - that is not where she belongs. She rarely called him by his first name even during the war. She called almost everyone but Dum-Dum and Steve by their last name. This is a deliberate word choice.

There is a bit of surprise at the end of that statement as to her relationship to Steve. "I'm not the—that is, I mean. Of course I am your friend." But, the most important thing to Steve? She's not even American. America is pretty important to Steve.

Peggy remarks dryly that she remembers the event too. From her own perspective. That makes him wince, his face turning aside, his fingers twining even more nervously in the chain about his wrist.

Perhaps seeing that, she hastens to add that she doesn't blame him. That she subsequently calls him James, however— that seems to have more of an impact than even her explicit exonerations. He mostly only ever remembered hearing 'Sergeant' or 'Barnes' during the war. To hear her take that step into a more personal form of address, given what he knows of Peggy's curt reserve in general… that is weightier than a thousand words.

He glances up at her. His blue eyes flicker briefly with a bit of hope, before they go cautious again: afraid to offend, to do something to lose this forgiveness.

Though of course, there are some things friends just cannot resist doing. He looks back down at the ground, though this time it's to disguise a brief smile at her fluster. Of course she's his friend, she says, dodging the actual important part of his assertion, because she's not— that is—

Bucky slants a sidelong glance at her, a look that shouts, 'sure, doll,' as surely as if he'd said it aloud.

The brief moment passes. He goes somber again. "I gotta… try to deserve it. To be back with you and Steve. I got so much to answer for. So much blood on my hands." He sighs. "I'll pay those debts until…" Until he dies. That thought brings him to frown slightly, his damaged mind finally remembering to speak on something very important. "I still can't get my head around you and Steve even being here. All of us being here."

Barnes and Peggy went through a war together. And, it seems, they will continue to do so. As she has found and spoken with Steve with: even if they thought the war could have ended in 1945, the fight never ends. She was adrift for a little while and now she has Steve and James. During the War she generally dealt with the overhanging whispers of 'sleeping her way to the top' or 'working UNDER the Howling Commandos.' Maintaining a healthy distance with language was an easy way to dissuade those rumors.

And now, there are the pressures of her supposed reputation. But James Barnes? He is a friend from the War. And she will use his proper name. She meets his eyes when he looks up at her and there is no anger, no blame. When he looks away again, she worries it's out of shame. Then, however, she sees the sideways glance.

A slight blush raises on her cheeks at the implications - she is a master spy, she knows an obvious 'sure, doll' look like that a mile away. She's almost about to call him out on it when she sense the shift in emotion. The topic shifts to something more serious.

"I hope you know you don't have to deserve anything to have a friendship with us. All Steve wanted was for you to be safe." And away from Hydra. "I can't believe I am here, either, believe me. It all feels like a mistake. But, we are. And we have to do what we can with it. I will never tell you not to try and make amends for your past. That is your own conscience."

She pauses and looks out into the street, the people there, the future and freedom they fought for all those years ago. They are now living it. It's nothing they thought it would be, but still they are here. "But…you know that Steve believes in you. You don't even need me to tell you that. I knew it, too. You can't Lady MacBeth yourself. The blood on your hands is not only on yours. It's a shared blame. Don't take it all on your shoulders."

One thing about wars, and the men and women who fight them: when the wars never end, the people involved never get to readjust. Some forcibly divorce themselves from it all, draw a line in the sand at which point they will go no farther— at which point they will put up their rifle and go home— but others find that they are no longer able to exist without the purpose of the fight. The call of the battlefield.

At one point, James Barnes could have been one of those men who went home after the war. Along the way, however, that changed. It's not clear whether it changed during the war itself, not clear whether it changed only afterwards, once he was enslaved to an abnormally prolonged life of violence. But however the means, whenever it happened, he has become a man who barely exists if he does not have a war to fight. He is, after all, the /Winter/ Soldier.

It will be easier to fight, however, with old friends by his side. An old friend who, for the first time… uses his proper name. He was quietly aware of why Peggy held aloof from the men back then— the rumors did not escape his notice, and so after that one initial pass at her he never made such a move again for both Steve and Peggy's benefit. Now, however… he's noticed the social dynamics have changed. It seems easier for a woman to mingle with men without being whispered about. He can't say it's not a welcome change. Makes things easier, in many ways, especially in interacting with Peggy.

Makes it easier to tease her mercilessly, for example.

It's short-lived, however, his mood dampening again. Gently, Peggy reminds him he doesn't have to deserve anything to be with them. All Steve wanted was his safety. "That's all I wanted for Steve too," he says. "But things got so… messed up along the way. All I can do now is try to be worth Steve believing in me that much." He exhales a long breath, staring off into the middle distance absently. He certainly looks prepared to spend the remainder of his life in making amends for what he has done. "I know I'm not the only one to blame for all this blood on my hands." His eyes half-lid as he looks down at the hands in question, palm up. "But the others who are to blame are never gonna take their share of the responsibility."

His hands flex, with a whisper of steel. "I'll have to make them."

They are all, perhaps those warriors. They were defined by the war and now what are they without it? Peggy found that back in 1946. The war might be over, but the fight…it continued. If it wasn't spies and the threat of what would turn into the Cold War, it was the domestic battle of gaining respect. Medals and promotions did not matter to her, but gaining the trust and respect of her coworkers was an uphill and tireless battle.

The fight may be different now, but it remains. A little knot of tension that she did not realize she was harboring in her shoulders relaxes just slightly as it seems they may slip into a more familiar and easy manner of speaking. For a brief time, it is as if they are sitting at a bench during the war, sharing a rare moment of peace. They are not their older selfs, maybe out of place and definitely out of their own time.

It is brief, though. The mood shifts again. The pair of them have quite a bit in common, most obvious being their shared fierce protectiveness of Steve and desire to see him happy. Despite the somber mood, there's a smile at his mention of being worthy of Steve's belief. Her eyes turn from the people around them to rest on Barnes. "Yes, I believe we all attempt to live up to Steve's belief in us." No matter who they are. Captain America tends to bring a boundless trust and goodheartedness to everyone around them. "You certainly do not have the monopoly on fear of disappointing him."

James' assertion at bringing responsibility to those who did this to him is met with a nod. It's a simple gesture, but it holds her own determination on the subject. "And don't believe that you will have to do that alone, either."

A little tension leaves Peggy. A little bit leaves Bucky, too. This is a rare moment for the both of them: a moment of peace amidst all the war they have known throughout their lives. The decade is different, their surroundings are different, the both of them are different— both changed by the many years that have passed— but the one thing that has not changed is the quiet way they sit together, knowing one another, comfortable in silence.

It's talk of Steve that breaks that quiet, eventually. Bucky glances up, markedly surprised, as Peggy speaks of how everyone tries to live up to Steve's belief in them.

"You worry about that kinda thing?" he remarks, inferring she includes herself in that. "Really? Didn't figure you were capable of worrying, much less about what Steve thought about you." He rasps a laugh. "Don't think you could disappoint him if you tried." He glances away again, gaze wistful. "Then again, it'd be stupid to think anybody was free from worrying."

The mood turns more grave. James thinks of his captors, and the thought brings his hands to curl unconsciously, clawing in suppressed anger. It's only Peggy's promise that he won't have to face them alone that brings him out of that isolated rage; his anger breaks, the man looking over at her in transparent surprise once more. Surprise— and then, just gratitude.

"I wouldn't put anybody out to do that for me, not unless they were real sure they wanted to put their hand in THAT fire," he says. "But…"

His right hand moves. With all the natural confidence and social adroitness Bucky always had, that Steve never did, he reaches for her hand to take it and hold it. It's not a romantic or amorous gesture: he purposefully grasps down on it in a less intimate way, his palm to the back of her hand, the cool steel of his ID bracelet brushing the back of her wrist. His grip, also, is too strong to ever suggest the tenderness of a man with a woman, though he is palpably restraining the full range of his strength not to hurt her. The firmness of it instead conveys the grasp of one warrior to another, acknowledging an offered sword.

Within a few moments it politely withdraws. "I appreciate it."

There's a smirk as Peggy replies to James' surprise at her own worry at disappointing Steve. "I don't think there is a person who has met Steve that doesn't worry about that at one time or another." As for being capable of worrying or not, she gives a soft laugh and shake of her head. "Didn't you hear? Howard, Colonel Phillips and I started SHIELD back int he day. I am officially a worrier on a global scale." As for whether it is possible for her to disappoint Steve, she matches his own look away. "Perhaps if I burned a flag." Her tone is dry, almost serious. It's a joke to cover her own worry that it certainly is possibility.

"My hand has been in that fire for years now, James." Peggy assures him. It may not have been the same Hydra, the same captors, but they have already established that they both are here for the fight. "Perhaps not quite as close to the coals, but I would be a real ass to not keep it there for a friend."

Bucky's quick grab of her hand is not dodged. Instead, her fingers grasp his and she squeezes back. She looks back over at him and gives a soft smile. "Of course."

"Steve is that kind of person," Bucky admits, though it's with half a rueful smile. It's strange and jarring, seeing him smile so half-heartedly and so briefly. He was such an expressive young man back in the war, especially when contrasted with Steve's quiet dignity and stoicism. "He's so… /good/, he makes you wanna be just as good. Like anything less is failing. Not matching up." There is no jealousy or resentment at all in his voice, however. Nothing but fondness inhabits his tone as he speaks of his best friend.

He falls silent as Peggy remarks— with a quiet laugh— that she and Howard and Colonel Phillips went and started SHIELD, so she can't exactly ever claim to not be a worrier. Quite the opposite. A certain tightness comes and goes in his eyes. "I… did know that, in a way. I was aware of the information as the Winter Soldier. This is the first time I've really thought about it with my own mind, though. Can't say I'm surprised you went on to begin something like that."

His eyes are bleak, his gaze avoiding hers again. "I can tell you, from having been on the wrong side, witnessing all the rage and frustration and anger at the failures… you all kept a lot of what Hydra wanted from ever coming to pass. The Soviets, too. Unfortunately" he grimaces, "once they got desperate enough to send me out, the job usually got done. But they sent me out often enough that I know… what you created wound up messing up a lot of their plans, over the years."

He squeezes her hand lightly. To his surprise, it turns in his to squeeze back. He looks up, finally meeting her gaze straight and holding it for the first time this entire interaction. A smile comes and goes briefly on his tired features. "Glad you're here, Peggy," he says. "It's gonna take two of us to look after Steve in this kinda world."

"He is," Peggy replies, the warmth in her voice is impossible to ignore when she speaks about Steve. She may not even realize that she is doing it. "And he's not self-righteous about it." He's merely righteous. It's hard to tell if that makes it worse or better. In the case of Peggy, it's surely to mean better.

"I have been told. As far as I remember, it has only been started for a few months." And now it is what it is. The Other Peggy did quite a lot to stop the spread of Hydra and the Soviets in her time at the agency. "It's strange for me to think about it, too. From my point of view, I've only been here a little while."

There's a bit of a sigh of relief, hearing that. There is always a strange moment of wondering what experience everyone else had with Peggy Carter - Director of SHIELD. There are those who revered her, those who feared her, those who believed her to be capable of everything. To hear that she was, at least, effective is good to hear. "It's good to hear, at least, that some good came of it."

The smile is met with another laugh. "Yes, it really will, won't it? This world seems hard on idealists."

Bucky certainly doesn't miss the warmth in Peggy's voice. His eyes gentle to hear it. It's transparent that, as a brother, he deeply approves of Peggy as far as a suitable match for Steve. She'll take care of his ass— /has/ taken care of his ass— when Bucky wasn't around to do it.

Then she murmurs that he's not self-righteous at all. A different brotherly circuit activates. "Weeeeell," Bucky says, and some hint of the man he used to be appears in a brief glimmer of humor, "I can tell you when we were kids, he could SOMETIMES be a shit. Yeah, even Steve Rogers could make you wanna punch him, once in a while. That was mostly when he was a skinny little thing, though. More to prove back then."

He falls quiet as Peggy observes it's good to hear that SHIELD did a lot to stop Hydra— from her point of view, it'd only just started. She's only been here a little while. He frowns, his quick mind putting information together into a whole that… doesn't make sense. He distinctly remembers a Peggy Carter throughout the decades, standing strongly in the midst of SHIELD, a pillar against the predations of Hydra. Yet this Peggy speaks as if she remembers none of that. "…I'll have to get you to tell me the full story sometime," he says.

"But you did do good. Did as much as you could. Still, though, this world…" He sighs. "Yeah, it's gonna be hard on Steve. Things aren't as simple now as they used to be. But I guess that's what you and I are for." The… questionable stuff, he doesn't say, but implies very loudly in the silence.

He gives his bracelet a last nervous twist. "I should… let you go for now, though. Kept you long enough."

For a longer period in time, Peggy and James reminisce like they used to in the war. It's a strange, wonderful thing as far as she is concerned. There's a soft, warm and longer laugh this time to hear James talk about Steve as a child. And to hear him swear. She's used to being around Steve and his aversion to swearing. "He still has something to prove." It's a truth, not a judgement. "Just as much now as then. I think he feels as if he has to prove that our way of doing things may be thought of old fashioned, but is not wrong." She's already had that conversation with him: Steve attempting to find his place in the world.

"It's not exactly a long story," she tells him with a shrug as to his conflicting memories. "But, perhaps it's not best for a park bench." It also gives them another reason to meet up again later.

That's what they are there for. To do the things Steve may not wish to do or cannot do because of his ideals. "I don't know if anything was ever simple. But, it certainly isn't now." At the nervous twist, she reaches out and puts a hand on James' shoulder. This time it is her reaching out to touch him in a reassuring manner. It's a brief, light touch.

Then, she stands. She'll be the one to leave this time, it seems. "It was good seeing you, James. Don't be a stranger. I mean that."

For as much as Steve refuses to swear, James cheerfully swears like the world will end if a sentence doesn't contain at least one cuss. It's just another way in which the two of them are at the same time remarkably alike… and remarkably different. Their core natures, core behaviors, and core values are so similar that it makes it all the more startling to see the divide in their actual personalities, approaches, and skillsets. Especially after Bucky's forced transformation into the Winter Soldier, cementing him as a man who would forever operate as a blade in the dark: completely opposed to the upstanding image his brother presents to the world.

Despite that, however, not all of who Bucky Barnes was has been changed. There's enough there to reminisce with Peggy as they did in days gone past; there's enough there to tell her embarrassing stories of Steve Rogers as a scrawny, annoying little kid. He still has things to prove, Peggy says. Just different things. He has to prove that while his way might be thought of as antiquated, it is not wrong. James looks wistful at that. "Yeah," he says. "We still need somebody like Steve saying that kinda thing."

James and Peggy, after all, certainly can't. Their task is to do what Steve cannot. Some hint of that unspoken pact is encapsulated in the way Peggy reaches out and briefly grasps his shoulder, wordlessly reassuring. His eyes close and his grasp loosens on the links of the bracelet in tacit appreciation.

She stands, eventually. Her story shall be for another time, in perhaps a more secure place. Don't be a stranger, she prompts. "Good to see you," he answers. "I'll… be around. Once I get my shit in order."

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