A Regular John Doe

April 23, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert seeks the assistance of the Winter Soldier, and again tries to reconcile the legend with the human. Takes place after "5714: Seeking Answers."

Stark Industries - New York City

Rising high into the skyline with the name of it's Lord and Master for all to see, the Stark Industries Tower is the most visible component of the Stark Industries complex centered in Midtown Manhattan. Manufacturing, office space, power generation and even some inventory is housed in the tower and its associated subelevels. It also contains guest housing and, at the top, the penthouse suite that is the domain of the Main Man himself, at least, when he's not at his Malibu home.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Phil Coulson

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

There isn't much mistaking Stark Industries for any other venue in the world. The name proudly emblazoned at the height of the sign makes it a pretty screamingly obvious landmark in midtown Manhattan. Some might even say it's a little too brazen, but that would be entirely fitting to the personality of one Tony Stark.

Isa Reichert knows. She's had the dubious pleasure of meeting him on several occasions, and each successive meeting with the man hikes her blood pressure up even more.

Today the pilot has come back to the tower to deliver some engineering suggestions, mainly in the form of a sheaf of papers in a manila folder, tucked into a briefcase. She's opted for an extremely professional look today. She's traded her bomber jacket and tee-shirt for a black blouse, suit jacket, long black skirt, heels. A light touch in makeup helps draw emphasis away from the scarring on the right side of her face, and bring out the blue of her remaining eye. Her hair has been drawn into a loose braid, some of it artfully not quite contained and left to spill across the right side of her face — another tactic to draw attention away from the damage.

At the moment the pilot is briskly making her way across the lobby with her briefcase, eye set firmly on the elevator. It's a quick trip, and hopefully one that doesn't entail meeting with Stark himself. This is supposed to be just a simple paper drop.

But since when has her life been simple? Definitely not since moving to this wretched city with all its weirdness, and its occasional incomprehensibility.

There isn't much mistaking Stark Industries for any other venue in the world. The name proudly emblazoned at the height of the sign makes it a pretty screamingly obvious landmark in midtown Manhattan. Some might even say it's a little too brazen, but that would be entirely fitting to the personality of one Tony Stark.

Isa Reichert knows. She's had the dubious pleasure of meeting him on several occasions, and each successive meeting with the man hikes her blood pressure up even more.

Today the pilot has come back to the tower to deliver some engineering suggestions, mainly in the form of a sheaf of papers in a manila folder, tucked into a briefcase. She's opted for an extremely professional look today. She's traded her bomber jacket and tee-shirt for a black blouse, suit jacket, long black skirt, heels. A light touch in makeup helps draw emphasis away from the scarring on the right side of her face, and bring out the blue of her remaining eye. Her hair has been drawn into a loose braid, some of it artfully not quite contained and left to spill across the right side of her face — another tactic to draw attention away from the damage.

At the moment the pilot is briskly making her way across the lobby with her briefcase, eye set firmly on the elevator. It's a quick trip, and hopefully one that doesn't entail meeting with Stark himself. This is supposed to be just a simple paper drop.

But since when has her life been simple? Definitely not since moving to this wretched city with all its weirdness, and its occasional incomprehensibility.

There's only one thing that spoils her crisp and businesslike attire, and that's the presence of a sling on her left arm — the jacket is only draped over her left shoulder, owing to the fact that she can't actually thread her arm through the sleeve. Whatever the cause, she doesn't seem to be letting that slow her down too much… but for someone whose most dangerous work is in a cockpit and not boots-on-the-ground operations, that's probably telling that interesting times are upon Isa Reichert.

Bucky's met Tony Stark a few times, but it was Stark's father, Howard, who Bucky actually knew well. It says something — 'like father, like son,' probably — that Bucky can see Howard's ghost clearly in the modern-day Stark Industries and in his son Tony. It calls up memories every time he's at the Tower, which is frequently, because now Jane practically lives here in the lab set aside for her frenetic scientific use.

He's just arrived at the Tower himself, and for once he's being perfectly polite and above-board about how he's getting up to his intended destination. He got keys to the appropriate places he needed to go after the first time he got into the Tower, which involved him employing all his vast skills to show up by surprise behind Tony in the man's penthouse, so there's no more need for stealthing his way through security or anything fun like that.

In fact, he's just waiting at the elevator. The same elevator Isa's going to need to get up where she's going. He's not 'on' right now, his mind elsewhere as he watches the floor numbers change, so for once she's going to notice him before he does her.

He's in civilian clothes, which is probably a jarring sight for someone raised under the spectre of 'The Winter Soldier' as she was. In jeans and a jacket, he looks no different from any other early-thirties American man.

Preoccupied by making sure that she has the right bank of elevators, the pilot doesn't notice her slightly horrifying acquaintance at first. She takes a moment to check her papers and ensure everything is still neatly contained in the briefcase, which is probably a nervous gesture, because most of it has no reason or opportunity to be outside the briefcase.

It's when she looks up to watch for a free elevator car that she spots him, and… just stares, blankly, for a half-second. That the Winter Soldier is standing there in civilian clothing without a half-mask on his face or the metal arm bared is just… not… computing.

Isa tries to say something but only croaks.

"James?" She finally remembers his name, but it takes her long enough that the pause is noticeable. In fact, she's so thunderstruck that she skips right into Russian. "<Wh…what are you doing here?>"

Bucky finally glances over at Isa when he becomes aware she's coming over to the elevator banks. It's an automatic gesture, the quick assessment of a man ingrained to always be aware of his immediate surroundings. He recognizes her instantly, and his stance shifts slightly in a way that suggests a fleeting awkwardness. Oh yeah, that lady. The one he almost accidentally murdered. OOPS. Small world, huh?

She spots him, in turn, a moment later. It presumably takes her a little longer because of the utter mismatch that is seeing 'the Winter Soldier' in a civilian environment, in civilian clothes, but when she gets it… she sure gets it.

James?! she sputters.

The owner of that name tosses off a small two-fingered salute, a disturbingly casual and all-American gesture from someone she really only knows as a Soviet horror story. "<I'm forcibly picking up somebody who doesn't have enough sense to leave more often,>" he says, though he answers in Russian in quiet sympathy to her obvious shock.

His eyes laser-focus instantly on her injured arm. "<What are YOU doing here?>"

The fact that he's wearing civilian clothing is bad enough, but the fact that he's out in the open in a place like this — and nobody's freaking out around her but her — is telling. The Americans must not have been on the receiving end of his tender mercies very much; not enough to spread story and rumour like the Soviets.

Then again, it's a completely different culture, too. She has no doubt that that must factor in.

Isa flounders for a moment as though she were trying to think of something suitable, and also not dumbtardedly stupid, to say. It takes her a few seconds but she gets there. For someone whose file suggests she has lightning-quick reflexes, she sure experiences a lot of helpless floundering around the nightmare super-soldier boogeyman of the Red State.

"<What?>" That's not very helpful, so Isa tries again. "<You have—>" Her voice lowers, and she looks around, conspirationally.

…Somewhat naturally, her brain immediately interprets his statement in the worst, most monstrous possible light, but logic slams on the brakes a moment later. Hadn't he mentioned he did occasional work for SHIELD? And hadn't Coulson mentioned that SHIELD drew a significant portion of its research and development straight from Stark Industries?

It takes something of a deep breath for her to settle back down again, but she's getting better at landing on her feet after all this horrible trauma to her nerves.

"<I am leaving annotations and suggestions on an engineering schematic for Mister Stark. At least, with one of the engineering department's secretaries.>" She had flown as a test pilot, so a certain degree of aircraft engineering is part of her work experience. Maybe not enough to build an entire aircraft, but enough to make informed suggestions.

Tilting her head, she eyes him a little suspiciously. Yes, she noticed he's staring at her arm; yes, she's pretty sure that laser-focus stare is an unspoken question.

"<Over here,>" she urges, gesturing for him to follow her to a relatively unpopulated corner of the lobby wing; close enough to see the elevators, but far enough away from the building's main traffic to be overheard.

Given Stark's surprise propensity for knowing spoken Russian, she's not so sure she wants to take any chances.

The difference lies in the fact the Winter Soldier was known, in the USSR. He was feared for being very real. To the Americans, to the West as a whole? His job necessitated no one ever knew who he was— necessitated, in fact, that he be so invisible that his very existence be disbelieved. He is a myth to the Americans, a legend… a cipher whose face they never knew. His story and rumor, here, was his unprovability.

It works to his benefit, now he's home in his native country. He can walk without being stared at. He can live without being feared.

He seems to appreciate the ability, judging by the way he looks so comfortable in civvies.

He cants his head a little as she gets herself back under control and tells him what she's here for. "Ah," he muses. It seems pretty standard, so that's not what his focus eventually lands on. No, his focus lands, inevitably, on her arm and its obvious injury. She notices him looking, notices the implicit question, and beckons him urgently to a more quiet corner of the lobby.

He follows, at a casual saunter. He's well-versed in never looking like he's in a hurry or nervous about anything. It's rule one of being a clandestine operative.

Composing herself quickly, the pilot smooths down her skirt with her hand, balancing the briefcase in the crook of her elbow as she does. Her own attire is wildly different from normal, at least in that it's so unambiguously feminine, where her preferred attire seems to be more towards the masculine end of the scale — flight suits, bomber jackets, combat boots.

Apparently she did learn how to walk in heels at one point, but with that handicap of hers, God help her if she has to go up or down a flight of stairs.

Heels are bad enough with depth perception.

"<I do occasional work for Mister Stark. Think of it as consulting,>" she explains, shifting her grip on her briefcase. "<I am not by any means impressed with Mister Stark's conduct, but even I must reluctantly admit that his engineering skills are brilliant.>"

She tosses her head, clearing her hair from her face and eyeing this man who is and is not the Winter Soldier appraisingly.

"<If you are asking about this, I was shot.>" Her expression stays neutral, even though her tone of voice is bleak and leaden; the tone of someone who's had too many traumas and too many old wounds ripped open in the course of too little time. "<You were right. The dead have not stayed dead. I… saw my husband in Barcelona, Spain, but I was not able to leave with him. I did not remember much after I was hit.>" Isa frowns, looking away. "<But I saw him before he left. He looked terrified. I… am… looking into the issue.>"

She looks back to him. "<Phillip Coulson thinks that someone is hunting him. I am inclined to agree with that. Obviously he was not expecting to see me there; even I could see that took him off his guard.>" Burn-scarred fingers tap in restless rhythm on the briefcase.

Perceptive as he is, he might notice that she's taken to wearing her wedding band again — it glints from her ring finger when it catches the light. "<After thinking, I would like to ask for your help. But I will understand if you do not want to.>" That blue eye settles on him, calm now that she's recovered her composure. Look, she's getting to the point where she can talk to him like a normal person! How wonderful. "<You were able to find my information quickly; quickly enough to worry me.>"

"<I am sorry; I know that this is sudden. What are the chances I can convince you to do some more information-gathering for me? Do not worry,>" she adds, balancing the briefcase at the crook of her right arm and waving her right hand placatingly. "<I will not ask you to go into the Kremlin, or anything so dangerous as that. Merely some private records. I would like to know where my Misha is going next… I want to talk to him, and help him with whatever demons he is fleeing from.>"

Her eye settles on him again, grim. "<Before it really is too late this time.>"

James transparently has no comment on Stark's conduct, other than an amused roll of his eyes. "<He's like his father,>" he says. "<Apple never falls far from the tree.>"

He falls silent, however, as she starts to explain the condition of her arm. His arms fold over his chest as he listens, his features pensive, and in these moments the casual Americanized look falls away. In these moments, even unmasked and in civilian clothes, he wears the aspect of the Winter Soldier. All the skills and long years of experience the Soldier has are there in his eyes, and his body language.

She was shot. Because her husband is not dead, and he's mixed up in stuff bad enough for bullets to be flying around.

He says nothing, at first, to her request for his help. He is silent for long enough that she might doubt her own brazenness, asking the Winter Soldier himself for his assistance in anything. Finally, very briefly, he says, "<Things are never simple in Russia, are they?>"

He doesn't make any comment on how quickly he can find information. Let that ability of his stay cloaked in mystique. "<I have business out of the country soon that cannot wait,>" he says eventually, and completely fails to clarify anything about that, horrifyingly enough. He must be off to murder someone horribly. "<However, I can see what I can do. It is not work that requires me to be here, per se.>"

His eyes narrow, briefly flickering with the kind of deep anger that cannot be quenched by anything but blood. "<Besides, I have a bone to pick with the Russians. If they are behind this, that shall be motivation enough.>"

"<You knew his father?>" The question strikes her as absurd even as she speaks it, and Isa exhales a soft breath of annoyance. "<My apologies. Of course you did, or you would not say otherwise. I am sorry. Seeing you always seems to cause me to say the most stupid things,>" she says quietly. Her half-smile is several things, mostly sardonic; but also hapless, and somewhat helpless.

It's not every day that the terrifying boogeyman you knew for most of your childhood and your adult life turns out to be very real, and it's even more seldom that he shows up in one's kitchen, after determining that he's going to kill you, only to apologise because he has the wrong person. She's still trying to compute the notion of the Winter Soldier making mistakes — a clear case where the legend is so much more powerful, culturally, than the man.

He is a man, though, and a man is not a legend. Perhaps he may have a legend that surrounds him, but that does not define all that he is. She must remind herself of that fact.

When he shows that flicker of glacial anger, she finds herself taking an involuntary half-step away from him, and it's a conscious effort of will that keeps her from shuddering.

"<I see. I suppose it was arrogant to ask that of you, unprompted. But I do not know where else to turn. SHIELD is assisting me in this, but I do not know if they will work quickly enough.>" Isa shakes her head, shifting her grip slightly on the briefcase.

It's tempting to automatically blame this on the Motherland, but she is too honest for that; the unscarred side of her face twists briefly as she struggles between the urge to recruit the Winter Soldier and the urge to maintain her integrity.

The latter wins out.

"<I do not know that they are behind this,>" she answers, dubiously. "<I would be lying if I told you with confidence that it is wholly the fault of the Motherland. But I cannot rule out that they are not involved, somehow. But I cannot be certain; there is much in shadow still. I do not know what manner of snare my husband has gotten himself tangled into, but I know that he was — is — a man of great integrity. Whatever it is he did, I must believe that he did it for a noble cause.>"

"<I am sorry to ask you this, and it is awkward for me to do so. But if I do not… then I will lose Mikhail Nikolayevich, again.>" Her explanation is soft, and she shakes her head slowly. "<and I do not know that I could survive losing him a second time. No,>" she corrects herself, "<I am certain that I would not. I do not know how I could repay you, but I would find a way. Everything I own, if I must, small as that list may be.>"

You knew his father? Isa expresses doubtfully— before apologizing, because of course he does, why else would he say such a thing? Bucky doesn't look offended, though he does slant Isa a look when she says that seeing him always seems to cause her to say stupid things. "<I've heard stupider things,>" he says. "<But yes, I knew him. It was decades ago, though. I heard he changed.>"

And therein lies that… difficulty in reconciling the man before her with the legend with which she grew up. That difficulty in just seeing him as one or the other. He looks… normal, standing in front of her, acts normal and wears normal clothes and says normal things. But then he says other things, like having been personal friends with a man now decades dead.

Then he does things like let the latent anger burning in his blood show through. It makes Isa shy away, something he notices and which immediately causes him to regret his temporary loss of composure.

His features smooth back into calmness. "<It is not arrogant,>" he says, after a pause. "<I understand the desire for urgency. My honest guess? Russia is involved somehow. They usually are. I will see what I can do for you, devochka. I may no longer be the Winter Soldier, but I have lost none of my abilities.>" They are his. Neither the USSR nor Hydra can take that from him. Not like they have taken everything else.

Moreover, he knows what it is to lose someone, only to suddenly regain another chance to be with them.

"<I would not know. I only met Tony Stark recently.>" Isa wrinkles her nose, which probably says all it needs to about her opinion of Tony Stark. He's a brilliant engineer and at the same time an insufferable man-child, and she's not sure how he hasn't gotten himself killed before now. "<No. I meant that I do not think, when I am with you.>" She's too distracted, too anxious and afraid. At the same time, she's too proud to speak that truth.

Isa may have had most of the good seared out of her, but her pride is still there. In some ways, it was all that was left to her; that, and her ironclad will to survive. Times were a little simpler before she came to this city. The worst she had to worry about was proving her fitness to operate an aircraft. To that end, most of her attention and her absolute focus was occupied with her rehabilitation. She pulled every string, cashed in every favour, and directed all of her almost self-destructive focus on succeeding, to the exclusion of all else.

Here, there are too many things she doesn't know; too many elements that are still in the shadows. She is no intelligence officer. Politics on that level were never a thing she had been able to follow. Isa is too direct and too willful; dangerous qualities that she barely kept managed in her homeland, where such things could at best ruin her career and at worst get her killed or shipped off to the gulag.

Her regard is a little bland as she tries to reconcile the truth and the legend, and maybe whatever lies between.

Why is it so difficult to think of him as an ordinary man? Because there are discrepancies like the guilt in his voice and the glacial fury in his eyes.

"<I did not know where else to go. These things do not come easily to me.>" Isa shakes her head and shrugs her good shoulder, almost helplessly. "<This is a new world for me. In more than one sense of the word. I always did what I was ordered to do and did not intend any trouble… now I live looking over my shoulder. I did what I did then out of desperation, too… you'd think that I would learn,>" she sighs, ruefully. "<Ah, well. We sink, or we swim.>"

"<And I am going to be a goddamned dolphin before the end of all this,>" she vows, jokingly.

She inclines her head, though, in a gesture of concession. "<I thank you, James.>" The missing patronymic is like a loose tooth that's recently fallen out; phantom pain that can't be probed with the tongue. The awkwardness in her short address shows. "<And I am certain that Mikhail Nikolayevich thanks you, too, wherever he is hiding right now.>"

It's not just for the help, though. Her gratitude is also in his form of address. It's terribly polite of him after the way he'd greeted her for the very first time. Zhenshina. Old lady, old nag. The fact that he seems remorseful at all is terribly polite of him, she thinks. Someone like him wouldn't have to worry about that kind of thing, but he does.

Another humanising trait.

"<Even so. I will find a way to repay you,>" she vows, more solemnly. "<I cannot tell you what this means to me. I am frightened for him; so frightened for him. He is no better at these worlds of cloaks and daggers than I am. Worse, maybe; he is always more concerned with everyone but himself. I do not doubt that he is afraid right now, though. If what I think of this is to be believed… I am now more of a target than I was before; a sword to be held at my Misha's throat.>"

Isa looks over to the far side of the lobby, single eye sliding out of focus for a moment, before her attention turns back to the Winter Soldier. "<Here. I brought some of the information with me to study, in case I was made to wait for any length of time.>" The latches click open and, carefully balancing it against her hip, she fishes out the appropriate folder and offers it to the Winter Soldier.

Inside is a series of credit card charges under what is not a false name, but a stolen card. The trip tracks westward across Europe, mostly centring around Barcelona and the outlying Cardona. A second list has charges in New York City, with a different name, this time American instead of Russian. A few blurry security camera photos — though they're in black and white, the levels are good indicators of colour. Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov is a handsome fellow, closer to forty than thirty, clean-shaven with boyish good looks and short blonde hair combed neatly. It's hard to say the colour of his eyes from monochrome photos, but the lightness of them suggests blue. He's wearing a nice suit, but the shadows under his eyes and the hollows under his cheekbones suggests he hasn't slept, or slept well, for a very long time. He's still wearing his wedding band.

"<If you find something out, please, tell me. These are not recent, but I do not doubt that he must be using another name and card at this time. I do not know if he is somewhere in the city, yet, but he will be. He knows I am alive.>" Her voice drops, so soft it could be missed over the ambient sounds of the lobby. "<He will try to find me, I think. If he finds the name I am using now, he will find my apartment, which I am no longer living at.>" Not since the Winter Soldier showed up in her kitchen, in fact. "<I do not think he will be able to stay away.>"

Another look is cast over the busy lobby, a fleeting expression of weariness crossing her face. She pins the briefcase to her hip with her elbow, reaches into a pocket; comes up with a Russian-issued Molnija pocket watch, with the likeness of a Mikoyan enameled onto its face. The inside of it sports a small cutout wedding photo; the same that Isa had shown the Winter Soldier when she told him her tale.

That watch hadn't been in the hidden drawer with her wedding band.

<"Forgive me.>" She snaps the cover watch decisively. "<I have already taken up too much of your time, James. I had best go. Goodbye,>" she adds, formal and polite, dipping her chin to him. "<And thank you.>"

With that, provided he doesn't move to stop her, she'll continue on towards the elevators to finish her business here.

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