An Accord

April 22, 2017:

As the Howling Commandos are formed, James Barnes and Peggy Carter square off in regards their places.

A Camp

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Steve Rogers

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

1942

The Howling Commandos, as it turns out, were not set up in a day. Popular as Steve was in the wake of his miracle rescue of the 107th, he still didn't yet have the power to overcome a foe nearly as old as written human history: the snarled, tangled mess that was military bureaucracy.

Paperwork had to be filled out. A lot of it. Units reorganized. Command structures set up. And in the midst of it all were two best friends who'd come all the way from back alleys in Brooklyn to this unlikely point in their lives: Steve Rogers, trying to learn how to act appropriately to the new set of shiny railroad tracks on his shoulders; and James Barnes, trying to recover from what had just been done to him in captivity, and trying to come to grips with all the changes in his best friend.

He keeps trying to look down at where Steve's eyes used to be. Those aren't eyes anymore that look back.

It's finally getting into the last stages of the approval process, however, and the boys are off in the next town over getting drunk in anticipation, but newly-christened Captain Rogers and his long-suffering sergeant— too weighed by responsibility for similar carefree antics— are hard at work in their tent going over maps and potential plans of attack on the first of the Hydra bases on the list. It's as much a crash course for Steve in the particulars of Army bureaucracy as it is a discusison of actual tactics, so it runs a little long before Bucky finally emerges from the tent for a break and a smoke.

He looks… better for having work to focus his mind on again, but he's still a little drawn and tense around the edges: the way he has been ever since his captivity, and never was before it.

*

Well accustomed to the slow moving machine that is military bureaucracy, Peggy Carter has been with Colonel Phillips for most of the set up period. The pair of them have been ironing out the scope of their unit, the funding, their base of operations and who would be in charge of the planning.

It's required quite a lot of travel back and forth for Peggy as well as dealing with the annoyed bluster of Phillips who dislikes the asskissing and general time waste he thinks the bureaucracy side of this war is. Peggy has recently returned to camp after another meeting with the higher ups. Her manner is the same as it always is: professional, crisp and no nonsense.

The other Commandos offered to take her out for 'a night on the town she would never forget', but she politely declined with a steady look and a counter offer of, 'forcibly applied office supplies in eyes should they make another implication to her in that tone ever again.' Laughing, the left without her and she remained in one of the tents, compiling various paperwork and intelligence.

A folder is tucked into her arm as she makes her way toward the command tent. She knows that Barnes and Steve are in the middle to end of a planning session, but that does not stop her determination to speak with Captain Rogers. As she makes her way across the camp, she takes note of Barnes standing outside for a smoke and gives him a polite, but almost dismissive nod.

"Sergeant," she greets, tone neutral. "I was hoping to speak with Captain Rogers if you are quite finished with your planning session?"

*

The Commandos had extended a similar offer to Bucky, less the unsavory 'implications,' but he had similarly refused— though not for similar reasons. For him it was the necessary divide between NCO and soldier. He could be closer to the team— certainly closer than Steve could— but at the same time, he couldn't be their friend. Ranks work only if they're respected, and that means a certain distance maintained so that everyone can do their jobs.

To that end, Bucky hasn't been sure what to make of Peggy Carter. She's not really within the organizational structures that he's familiar with— he'd never really heard of the SSR before they steamrolled into his life along with this new, upgraded version of Steve Rogers— and more worryingly, she and Steve seem to have this… thing… going on that he hasn't been able to really vet yet, either.

So the polite but dismissive glance-and-nod she gives him is met with equal neutrality, Bucky inclining his head after a moment with a brief, "Agent Carter." His eyes are searching, but he's at least not having himself an eyeful of her anymore— he's more studying her in the way of a man assessing a girl for his kid brother. He takes his cigarette in hand to speak more easily, exhaling a cloud of smoke.

She was hoping to speak to Captain Rogers, she says. Bucky doesn't move, per se, but there's the sense of a defensive wall going up. Sheepdog hackling over the shepherd. "Captain Rogers ought to be ready in thirty," he says, though there's a flicker in his eyes and a hitch in his voice that suggests he's really not used to talking about scrawny Steve Rogers in this way. "Just gotta sign off on the last requisition requests for the mission to Greece."

His blue eyes flick towards her folder. "What've you got there? More on Lamia? We were told there might be some last-minute intel coming in about the area and the base layout we'd have to account for."

*

The divide between ranks and individuals is one that Peggy knows quite well, not only as a British woman, but through her work in the SSR. The slightly empty feeling of the camp may be lending itself to the way she studies Barnes just as much as he studies her. After the first time he attempted to get her to go dancing with him, she has not had much interaction with the man she helped Steve steal a plane to rescue. However, despite limited interaction, she has noticed his demeanor. She's a spy and she knows how to generally read looks in her direction. Usually, those looks come from men who don't believe her capable of doing her job.

As Barnes refuses to budge from his place as well as relinquish his monopoly of Steve's time, she pauses. There is a little in an expression change from Peggy, but it is clear her own hackles are slightly raised. She knows she is dealing with a man Steve was willing to go behind enemy lines to rescue, but the hitch in the voice, the defensive stance…she wonders if the man is not yet willing to respect Steve's authority.

"Thirty?" Her tone does not raise, exactly, but the incredulousness is easy to hear. "This should only take a few minutes. Perhaps it best to take a small break in order for me to debrief Captain Rogers on this. It's sensitive information. Perhaps a cup of coffee to go with the cigarette." The question as to what may be in the folder is given only silence as an answer. Sensitive information is sensitive information and she has authority to share it with Steve, but perhaps not Barnes himself.

That imparted, she takes a step to the left in a clear gesture that she plans on moving toward the tent to speak with Steve.

*

It might be easy to interpret his silent, studying look as a skepticism of her competency at her job. Maybe there is some of that— it's ingrained in most men of the time period— but much more important, personally, to Bucky is her intentions towards Steve and how much they might or might not hurt his brother in all but blood.

"Thirty," Bucky confirms. "He wanted time enough to actually read things through before putting his Hancock on anything. He didn't wanna be bothered." His head's spinning enough as it is from having to bother with all the bureaucratic bullcrap, and he needs some time to really get acclimated, Bucky could say, but he's not going to undermine Steve in that way.

He just slides one step to his right when Peggy steps one to her left, accordingly. He's polite enough, but decidedly firm. "I mean him not to be unless he comes out here and tells me otherwise."

There's a slight pause. Then Bucky puts the cigarette back in his mouth and lapses into a more conciliatory stance. In a peace offering of sorts, he doesn't try to push the question about the folder. If he was not told already, it's probably not cleared for him to know anyway, and Steve will pass down whatever he does need his sergeant to know.

"Listen, Agent," he says after a pause. "You're guaranteed to be rid of me in thirty, anyway. Free and clear access to Stev— to Captain Rogers, without me breathing down your neck the whole time." A grimace crosses his features. "Your SSR folks won't be put off any longer in interviewing me, and that's when they're gonna get me." …For what?

He thumbs over his shoulder. "Field kitchen's right over there. I'll get you a coffee for your trouble. Actual coffee, not the dirt-in-a-cup. Got in actual B-rations the other week."

Bucky neglects to say he gets at the better stuff easily because one of the ATS girls at the kitchen really likes him, like really, because he has a feeling present company wouldn't be amused.

*

"Yes, I know Captain Rogers is thorough," Peggy tells Barnes. As he steps to the right with her, there is a squaring of shoulders. Her posture is already prim and straight backed, but somehow, she is now standing even straighter. It does not look like Barnes is about to get punched, but the defensive state that he was previously in is now readily identifiable. A raised eyebrow at the manner with which he speaks to her.

"You attempting to breath down my neck does not worry me in the slightest." Most likely because if he attempted it, it almost certainly would not go well with him. "Especially as this report is for Captain Rogers' eyes only."

His attempt to be conceding is given with that raised eyebrow still in place. "I have no idea what you may be speaking about in regards to SSR interviewing you. That is not my department." Then, her eyes narrow just a fraction. "I know where the field kitchen is, as I have been to camp before." Her tone is sharp and firm.

"I do not know who you think I am, Sergeant Barnes, but I am not a woman bought off by ill gotten coffee rations when I am attempting to do my job." It seems that Peggy already might know about Bucky's standing in the kitchen. "If you have a problem with me, I suggest you bring it up with Colonel Phillips. Of course, he is not here at the moment, so you will have to deal with me. I have little time for a member of this company attempting to undermine me due to ridiculous notion that I am incapable due to my being a woman."

*

Bucky smokes in placid, bemused silence as Peggy methodically responds to everything he says, in turn, in the most defensive way possible. He doesn't actually say anything at first, perhaps due to a healthy concern about receiving additional floods of tirades in response to anything he might proffer.

He seems content not to talk about what SSR wants him for, also.

"I know exactly who you are, Agent," he says, after a time. His blue eyes are perfectly calm. "If you have a problem with me, I suggest you bring it up to me, and we get this outta the way right now."

He takes his cigarette from his mouth, ashes it. "Cause I don't recall having had any problems with you. Not until just now, anyway, when you accused me of bribing you to keep you off the Captain. As a sergeant I know exactly what is allowed and what is expected of me, and as Captain Rogers' sergeant in particular, I am gonna follow his orders until he countermands them."

He tilts his head at her. "You brought up your own sex first. You've made it quite clear what you're here for, and believe it or not you are not at cross purposes with me. I'm here to win this war, much as you are."

*

The tirades, for the moment, remain silent. Instead, she watches him and frowns. The hand grips the folder just a tad tighter. They're valid counterpoints to her own issues. "I believe I just did, Sergeant," she replies to whether she has a problem with him, just as stubborn as he. Though her tone is sharp, she does not seem to be ready to brawl.

"That was not me accusing you of bribing me, it was me accusing you of drawing my attention to coffee rations instead of seeing him. This folder does not contain idle paperwork, it contains important intel which I have no authority to divulge to you. I understand he gave orders, but I will not be sent off for coffee without at least alerting him that I have this information. Should he wish to send me away, that is his own prerogative to do so. This is my job and you are steadfastly refusing to let me do it."

As for her bringing up her own sex, she raises an eyebrow. "I have seen you studying me while we were in London as well as here and it wasn't to see if I would be up for dancing." The folder remains held, perhaps a little impressions made in the sides now as to how tightly she is gripping it. "No, in these situations, sex is generally not brought up directly. It is, instead, implied. I have little time for such obfuscations."

*

To all accounts, Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes is an easygoing kind of guy. He's an eminently good soldier and a competent NCO, a man who got field promoted rapidly and not just for the fact he could drill a dime at 800 yards with his Springfield. His only described vice is a certain fondness for female company, though that's pretty much characteristic of ninety-nine percent of soldiers, and Bucky is far less disgusting about it than most.

It rapidly becomes clear he's been so easygoing, in his career as a soldier, because Steve Rogers wasn't here. Now that Steve is, Peggy is getting a front row seat to how non-easygoing Bucky can get when he feels overprotective about Steve.

Peggy accuses him of trying to divert her attention instead of allowing her to at least see him— to be sent away again, or not, at Steve's own discretion. Bucky's eyes flicker just a bit more narrow, he starts to look defensive… and then he seems to recognize she's got a point. There's the absolute letter of the law of things, to be sure— when a CO gives a do not disturb order, you follow that order— but there's certainly room enough for a sergeant, within his discretion, to take a little latitude with that instruction if something important enough comes up.

Then, more to the core of the matter, she points out that she's seen him studying her, and not in the way he first did, either. In a more inscrutable way, where she doesn't know if it's because of her gender or because of something else. Bucky studies her a few silent moments, before he sighs in apparent concession.

"All right," he says. "I have been. But it's not because of what's under your skirt or any doubt you can do your job." He glances around, to ensure no one is within earshot. "Speaking freely, ma'am. It's about Steve," he says. "I'm used to looking after him. You get me? Ever since we were thirteen, and he had more fight in him than force to back it up. He shows back up looking— like this, and I've not been told what exactly's been done to him or how safe it is — " Bucky only knows, from personal experience, the process is VERY painful, " — and I guess I been watching everybody like a hawk. I don't know what people really intend for him."

He folds his arms. "I know the way I gotta look after him is different now," he says. "But I'm… adjusting." He rubs at the bridge of his nose, making no further attempt to bar her path.

"I would appreciate you not sharing," he says after a beat. "Least of all with Steve."

*

It's clear that Peggy knows his jacket. When helping put together this team, she had to read all of their files. Perhaps that's also why she feels so defensive in front of Barnes: she knows him to be a quickly rising military star with few vices. His study of her felt as judgement. She knows quite a few of those Sergeants who find her authority in this project as well as others to be an affront to the way they feel the military should be run.

As it seems like Barnes might double down on his own claims, she readies to square off. However, that is not what she sees. Instead, he confides in her. The look of surprise on her face is brief, but a well won emotion from the woman many believe to be a stone cold bitch. The defensive expression slowly relaxes into something that resembles understanding and even compassion as Barnes explains his actions.

After a moment, the grip on the folder relaxes. "I think I understand, Sergeant Barnes. As I believe you know, I was part of the project that selected Captain Rogers for the process. It was a very prestigious position with a number of applicants. Strong, brutish military boys, if you understand my meaning. And then there was Steve Rogers. The serum was one that enhanced who you are inside. Colonel Phillips wanted a true military man: strong, brutish. Doctor Erskine and I insisted on Steve, because of the man he is."

Peggy pauses for a moment and smiles a bit at the memory she is about to tell. "I'm not sure if you were told the manner by which Captain Rogers managed to make it behind enemy lines to rescue you and the others. He attempted to steal a jeep. I think he thought he could drive the whole way there. Instead, I convinced Howard Stark to fly us into enemy territory. I was nearly Court Martialed by Colonel Phillips and even if I had been, I would not have regretted my actions." She doesn't add that she hopes that clarifies her intentions in regards to one Steve Rogers, but it seems clear that is what she is attempting to do.

There is a bit of a smile as he asks her not to share that with anyone. "I am a secret agent, Sergeant. I am very good with secrets." There's a beat. "Of course, I also often tend to use them for leverage as well."

*

There's some relief on Bucky's own face when his admission seems to find purchase. That Peggy seems to understand where he's coming from. It's not what he would have preferred to do, as he doesn't think it's particularly professional to be speaking so freely about his CO— or about his own feelings— but at the same time, it wouldn't be very conducive to everyone doing their jobs, and the engine of the military grinding on smoothly, if this tension and acrimony isn't cleared up and put to rest for good.

If he has to speak his true thoughts on the matter for that to happen, so be it. Peggy DID tell him to just be out with it if he had some kind of problem.

"Yeah, I was aware," he confirms, of her alignment with the SSR and her high level of responsibility within the project that made Steve what he is now. His own stance and expression gentle markedly as she goes on to elaborate a little more about Project Rebirth for his benefit, speaking of how there were many applicants for the chance— but only one with the strength of character to truly qualify for the serum.

Bucky is an inherently guarded person, but he can't help but feel favorably disposed to anyone who likes Steve Rogers.

"Good choice," he says gruffly. "I've known for years how good of a man he is. Time enough other people saw it."

He falls silent as Peggy tells him the means by which Steve got behind enemy lines in the first place. His expression looks briefly pained, both from recollection of his own torturous time as a POW, and from thinking about the risk Steve took on his behalf. That, it seems, this Agent Carter did on Steve's behalf. "Time enough other people had that kinda faith in him. He is deserving of it," he says. "So I guess I got you to thank as well, in that case."

A flicker of a smirk crosses his own features as she says she is quite good with secrets— and quite good at leveraging them as well. "I take the hint, Agent. I plan to stay on your good side."

He shakes his head. "A jeep. He was gonna drive a jeep all the way behind enemy lines?" A pause. "It wouldn't be the dumbest thing he ever did. There was that time he tried to throw a punch at Jimmy Gorman for putting sand in a girl's hair. And I mean—" He indicates the relative sizes involved with a grimace. "This stuff just happens when I'm not around to put a stop to it."

*

While there are those that may think Agent Carter emotionless or hardened, that seems to be a circumstance of her position of authority over others who believe she should be an emotional wreck due to the circumstances of war or hate her for being professional. However, as exhibited by her understanding as to Barnes' position, that is not truly her way. She knows exactly what Steve was willing to do to rescue James Barnes and it seems as if this man is willing to do the same for him. It's both not surprising as well as illuminating. Perhaps this would be a breach of some sort if their CO was someone other than Steve Rogers. But, as it is Steve they are speaking of, it is a more unifying than anything else.

Peggy cannot help but give a smirk as Bucky notes his approval as to picking Steve over other applicants. "He was the only clear choice, honestly." There is a bit of warmth that sneaks into her tone as she speaks of her own decision and push to ensure that Steve would be the one that benefited from the serum. As for thanking her, she puts up a hand and shakes her head. "No, your rescue is entirely the thanks to Captain Rogers. It's clear he was going to march himself into danger either way, I simply wished to give him the best chance of actually making it there." Though, she knew what she was doing when that plane was commandeered and she certainly didn't need to be aboard it when it took off.

As Barnes brings up the jeep, she grins and shakes her head at the idea. "Yes, believe me, I know. It was clear he needed help. He is filled with good intentions and no forethought." She gives a soft laugh. "Yes, he spoke of his penchant for getting himself into fight."

*

"There aren't a lot of people like St— like Captain Rogers," Bucky says, finally remembering proper protocol now they're no longer speaking quite as 'off the record.' His expression isn't quite back on protocol, though. It's clear from the muted affection in his voice and the fierce loyalty in his gaze that anyone who crosses Steve is going to be on Bucky's shit list faster than they can blink.

It might not be the most traditional setup, as a result, having Steve and Bucky be CO and NCO. There are aspects of that dynamic which are enhanced by that relationship, but there are also aspects that could become very difficult indeed given the need for a certain objectiveness. Yet then again, the Howling Commandos aren't really a standard unit, are they?

"Well," he insists, "there's still thanks owed you. You and Stark. He'd probably still be out in that jeep driving right now if you didn't back him up. You backed him up for the procedure, too. I admit I don't understand it, I don't…" He shakes his head a little, the gesture encapsulating how strange it is to have your best friend become a science experiment, "but… he's always wanted his body to be able to keep up with his heart and mind, and he's always been sick as hell. It's… seeing him just be able to run and all…"

He shakes off the feeling. "Well. You got business that's been held up enough already, ma'am. He'll excuse me if I don't warn him before you go in, I think." This said with a bit of a knowing expression. "I expect I'll go get some of that coffee myself. It's not gonna last long."

*

Yes, Captain Rogers. Peggy knows that problem with wanting to call Steve by his first name rather than his rank. However, she has readily squashed that urge most turns. She must remain professional in front of everyone else.

She laughs softly. As for Steve still driving in that Jeep toward the Hydra base, she concedes, "It's possible. I have no doubt he would have made it there eventually, though." He is a rather determined person, something she recognized in him immediately. There's a nod as to her backing him up for the procedure. "As I said, he was the only clear choice. Captain Rogers was supposed to be the first in a whole new squadron of soldiers. If Doctor Erskine had not been killed, that might have been the case. But, as I told him, if it only worked once, it is a good thing it was on him."

With that, it seems she has no idea what it was that Barnes went through under his captivity. "To know exactly how it worked, you would have to be Doctor Erskine." And, unfortunately, he died. So, it seems as if no one will know how the serum was perfected.

The happiness Barnes feels to see his friend run and survive without the lapses in health is evident in his expression. One that Peggy does not bring up. As he says that he has held her up, her own expression softens as well. An accord has been struck, it seems, between these two.

"Thank you," she tells him, sincerely. "I'll be sure to not keep him long. You two have important work to continue."

*

Bucky doesn't know what he went through under his captivity, either. He has an idea, hence his oblique questions to Steve about the procedure, how he felt during, how he feels now, whether it might be permanent…

But he doesn't really know that he's standing there as living proof that Steve might not be the only beneficiary of the science, albeit assuredly being the only perfect beneficiary. The shit Zola and Schmidt put into him was imperfect, and the effects have not yet truly manifested. Not other than lingering sensations of illness, and periodic cold shakes that he doesn't want to contemplate the reasons for.

He hasn't been talking about it. The interview he has with SSR later is them finally making him talk about it.

Perhaps for the best it was only Steve," he muses. "People could use supersoldiers for ill just as easily as good."

He glances up when she thanks him, though. He hears the earnestness in her voice, and his eyes soften. "Sure," he says. He hesitates, and then offers, "Could use someone helping me keep an eye on him. It's been a pretty big job for just one."

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