Star Spangled...

March 11, 2017:

Steve finds Bucky at his own grave in Arlington National Cemetery. The two have a brief conversation about what Bucky means to do now that would have been rather somber if not for surprise JANE.

Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Peggy Carter

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It was probably inevitable that he would come out here eventually. The only question was when.

He had taken a long time to get around to it. Not because he was not ready to see his own grave, but because he was not ready to see the graves of the others. Some of the Howling Commandos were not here— laid in family plots far from Arlington National Cemetery— but the rest of them were. The last of them died years ago.

James Buchanan Barnes, once thought to be the first among them to give his life, does not miss the irony that he was the one who wound up persisting up to the modern day after all… haunting these tombstones as an unnatural revenant that has barely aged since his presumed death.

It is their graves he visits first. His own he leaves to last. He's standing in front of it without really seeing it, gloved hands shoved in his pockets, his features mostly hidden by too-long hair and a heavy scarf wound about the lower half of his face. His blue eyes are visible, though, their gaze distant: staring across time, rather than space. The ID bracelet on his wrist, under his glove, is heavy against his skin.

What finally brought him out here? Perhaps it is as simple as this: a sense he is wanted as Bucky Barnes again, but an inability to really picture that person when all he can see is the Winter Soldier.

"It's always hard to see that the world moves on without you. It'll dull with time, I feel like it's already starting to with me."

The voice is Steve Rogers, speaking calmly and ending with a sigh as he moves from his position far behind Barnes, slowly moving to close the gap as he passes endless rows of people who have sacrificed more than he did for God and Country.

Considering that Steve is 'watching over' Jane and Bucky, there isn't really any explanation needed on why he's here, he gets the information on their whereabouts even if he wanted to respect their privacy and let them slip under the radar. But they both preferred to have him be the one who was responsible and it seemed for now, SHIELD preferred it as well.

Currently, the American Icon is clad in his usual jean, blue collared shirt, leather jacket combo. The serum helps keep him warm, but not enough that he doesn't protect his hands by keeping them in his jacket pockets. "I made sure it was kept nice and proper for you," he points out. "Not exactly sure what proper protocol is for maintaining a grave for someone who's still alive is though," he admits, glancing from the marker toward Barnes with a shrug. It's an odd conversation to have, but somehow Steve makes it seem as causal as talking about the weather.

That bowed head lifts slightly at the sound of Steve's voice. It is a sound as familiar as his own voice, both wanted and unwanted; Bucky's gaze, when he looks around, reflects that schism between being bone-deep glad to see Steve, and unable to really face the man, all at the same time.

"Sorry I didn't tell you," he says. "I figured it'd be just a day trip. But SHIELD's already keeping its tabs, huh?" He turns back to his own grave. "I only told them I'd help once in a while. I didn't think that put me on any payrolls yet."

His shoulders are tensed, but not against the cold. "And," he adds, "only help if it was you. Or Peggy."

Steve notes that he isn't really sure about the protocol for maintaining a grave is, when the owner isn't quite dead. "Ah, well," he says. "Leave it there. I'm still dead, officially. Don't know when that will change. And I don't think the James Barnes it was put up for is still alive. Appreciate the maintenance, though."

He cants his head. "Looks pretty good. Not too gaudy. I've seen the shit they put up for you."

"SHIELD just wants to make sure you're safe." Which is kiiiinnda true, but SHIELD knows the words to say to Cap to keep him happy and believing the organization is much more selfless and noble than it can be at times. "After everything you went through, you deserve time to find yourself and figure out what you want to do. No pressure for work or pay checks, just do what you need to do."

Rogers moves to stand beside Bucky, but he doesn't look at him. He knows when men are feeling slightly awkward; they just look at stuff stoically. It's what you do. "As for the grave marker, well, that's more for Arlington to decide than you or me." Cap, defender of the system. "But if they ask my thoughts or yours, I'll let them know."

A pause is given at the talk of memorials for Captain America. He gives a light sniff as he considers his words before speaking. "Captain America is an icon. Even when I died, there were still people that wore the star and stripes. It was less about Steve Rogers being honored than the first man to wield the shield. But that's how it should be. Sure it would be that way if Superman ever died. I've heard people say memorials are more for the living than the dead, after all."

SHIELD just wants to make sure you're safe. Bucky looks sidelong at Steve at that, that wordless glance he perfected long ago that says he thinks Steve's being a little too optimistic, but he doesn't to be the one to shatter that optimism, either. "I'm sure they do," he settles for saying. "If only for the things that I know. Though that's a knowledge bank that's rapidly getting obsolete. Hydra is reorganizing itself fast."

You deserve time to find yourself and figure out what you want to do, Steve says. Bucky laughs a little. "I'm not sure what I need to do, Steve," he says, and there's the slight edge of desperation to his voice— as if the remark is really a plea for Steve to provide some answer to that. "I know what I did do. I can't get away from it. A part of it dropped right onto your table the other day." A pause. "Sorry about the date, by the way."

He listens pensively as Steve opines that it's really up to Arlington what happens. "I suppose they'll decide when it comes out I'm alive," Bucky says. "…If it does come out I'm alive. SHIELD could probably keep me off the records for the rest of my life." He grimaces. "However long that is. It's probably better if they do. If it comes out I'm alive…"

He shakes his head. "People will want to know what I was doing for seventy years. They'll make me tell it." And Steve will hear it all, is the unspoken addendum.

"True," Rogers states on Hydra. But it isn't the lead he bites on. After all, the fact they work in cells, change constantly, are masters of adapting is something they both know. Instead, the other points seem to come into a whole point of itself, and he address them at once.

"There's nothing to be ashamed of, Bucky. Not the date, not the time as Winter Soldier… None of it." There is a two second window there that shows he wants that point to rest on it's own before going on. "You didn't ask to ruin my date, you didn't ask to the Winter Soldier. It just… happened. Like American Idol."

Does Cap not like American Idol? Who knows, because he just keeps on going.

"You just push forward. You can control the choices you make, the goals you make for yourself. You can't decide the future, but you can work toward one. Just decide the future you want for yourself and those around you and make it happen."

A brief glance is given toward Bucky before Steve looks forward again. As expected, his attention goes toward the horizon. "People are going to be horrible. It's what some thrive on. But you are just going to have to keep going. It's something else you'll get used to in time."

There is a brief pause as Cap suddenly remembers something that grinded his gears. "You know someone asked me for my birth certificate once? Claimed I wasn't born in America." He just shakes his head at that, letting out a breath before he focuses back on Bucky. "As long as you're willing to put one foot in front of the other, I'll do what I can to make the way clear for you if people want to cast stones."

Bucky is silent as Steve reminds him he didn't ask for any of this— the war, the experimentation, the Winter Soldier. Not even the ruined date. The obvious parallels with Steve's own life make his mouth twist in a bitter way, especially when he considers those same things in Steve's life— the war, the experimentation, Captain America— were all things Steve did ask for. Ran towards, in fact, reaching desperately to claim them.

How did they start out in the same place, live the same lives, yet wind up such polar opposites? One where he is by choice, the other wholly involuntarily?

Steve speaks. It was an impressive thing, listening to him orate, even before he gained the physical stature and experience to make it truly great. Bucky knows he is probably one of the last people alive to remember that kind of thing— Steve before Captain America— and the absolute last person to remember Steve as a child. The thought makes him feel briefly peaceful, along with the quiet assurance of Steve's insistence he can control his own choices and his own fate now. But it is a brief thing, passing before a renewed and insidious doubt.

"There is more than enough to be ashamed of," he says. "The bombed-out peace delegations, in the Algerian War. That was me. The Soviets invading Afghanistan. That was also me. Those burned-up orphans in Beirut. Me. Every person I killed just because they might have seen me in passing. Every time I committed another atrocity just to prolong a war for a few more years. I tore a girl out of her father's arms and killed him in the street. I killed all a woman's children for refusing to give up what she knew. I was being controlled by other people, yeah. I was there because I was forced to be. But how I finished the mission was often my discretion. How much of my discretion was the personality they gave me? I hope all. But…"

He laughs. "I don't think the only kinds of stones they'll throw at me will be doubts about whether I'm a natural-born citizen. They'll be a lot bigger, Steve. You'll have to do a lot of way-clearing." And it's obvious Bucky does not want his brother carrying that kind of load.

He looks at Steve. This is a question he has delayed asking, but cannot continue to delay if he wants to allow himself to re-enter Steve's life. "If I show you all of that, will you still be able to see Bucky Barnes anymore? Most days, I have trouble seeing anything but the Winter Soldier."

The crimes are listed and Rogers listens to them all. He does glance over toward Bucky. He seems concerned, yes, but pity or fear never enters his façade or his voice. "You like asking questions you already know the answer to, Bucky," the Super Soldier replies confidently. "If I told you 'I'm with you', I'm with you. James Buchanan Barnes. Just that simple."

Oddly enough, there is a long pause. Cap is considering something. But when he finally speaks, it isn't a long speech, but a question that is short but far from simple: "If Hydra had captured me instead of you… If you had become the new Captain America while I became Winter Soldier, what would you be telling me?"

You like asking questions you already know the answer to, Steve says. It's not the words— which are true— so much as the confidence with which Steve says them that draws Bucky's eyes. "You liked doing that too, as I recall," he grumbles automatically, thinking of the endless 4F-stamped papers littered all over the place back in the day, but the autopilot reply is just that.

His mind is elsewhere, just thinking about that sheer confidence. He recognizes that stubbornness: the pure, uncompromising way that Steve would see things. Like— James is realizing— the way he sees Bucky Barnes. His childhood friend, the one person who knows him best… and who he knows best.

Even when Bucky himself doesn't know who he is, that confident tone says, Steve always will. Even when he's covered in the shroud of the Winter Soldier, Steve will always see the core beneath.

And then Steve asks THAT question. Bucky's head lifts, his eyes widening at the very idea of such a role reversal. He struggles visibly to picture Steve doing all the things he did as the Winter Soldier. The images are so irreconcilable it gives him a visible headache. "You would have fought it better than me. Maybe broken free," he mumbles. "But I guess, until then… I would be telling you the same thing."

He's quiet for some time, looking at the grave where his old self was buried.

"I'll come in," he finally decides. "Come in from the cold. I said I would help SHIELD. But what I meant is I'm backing you. Whatever you do, I'm following. Like I did before." Maybe in time he'll see himself as confidently as Steve does. Maybe he'll feel, again, like that guy who made the promise the first time around.

He looks down at the ground, wry. "You need someone looking after you, Stevey," he says, the old pet name a thing of their mutual childhood: abandoned when the teens hit, except for those moments Steve was sick and Bucky cared for him and it snuck its way back. "You get into the same damn shit no matter how big or important you get. Did you set another date with Peggy yet?"

Rogers could talk about how Bucky resisted Hydra torture before, how Rogers has no idea if he would be able to weather the Winter Soldier program, or the dangers of putting up men as lofty heroes since no man is perfect. But Bucky is taking the advice and pondering it. Cap has no desire to argue a point made and considered.

"Hey, if you want to keep working with me, that's fin-" There is a slow frown at the mention of Stevey. Such horrors were supposed to be lost to time, James. LOST TO TIME.

The frown remains as they talk of dating, though it slowly begins to fade to neutrality as the conversation goes on. "Not really. It took a bit to block out the time to see each other that night and that means we both are gunna be busy for awhile. And heard she had some guest over at her place, so I'm sure she needs to entertain her at some point so the guest isn't left all by herself." A shrug is given. "It's okay though, I can wait."
Because clearly that is why everyone keeps getting on Steve. To continue waiting.

That frown finally elicits something like a very real grin out of James Barnes. It's a classically Bucky expression, wry and wicked and unrepentant. "You thought I forgot about that, did you," he says. "You wish I forgot about that. I never goddamn will."

His levity fades as Steve admits he hasn't had a chanc to reschedule the date, what with everything going on. It turns into an outright frown as Steve says they're really just too busy, but it's okay, he can wait. "No you can't," Bucky says, exasperated. "Didn't you learn anything after the war? The whole lesson is you can't wait. The— a guest?"

He looks down at his phone, swiping through messages. His expression wars between affection and exasperation. "Is it Jane? God damn it, Jane."

It's… soothing, bantering with Steve again. Every so often the pangs hit him— the little moments of pain that try to remind him he deserves none of this for all the atrocities he's committed— not normalcy, not laughter, not Steve— but the idea of tiring Steve out with his constant doubts hurts too.

The most recent message from Jane Foster is sent from twenty or so minutes ago. The scroll goes as so:
Ogm
Omg
Whathe fuck
Pagy isn nedsn kissed!!!!!!!! Telst
Tell stev to use his star spangggld boner

Bucky reads his recent messages and spontaneously starts laughing too hard to speak. He refuses to let Steve see his phone if Steve tries to.

Once he recovers enough, Bucky starts typing back a message, which he will definitely not let Steve see.

It's not star spangled, trust me.

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