An Understanding

May 27, 2017:

Aware of the broader implications of his recent actions, Bucky has a sitdown with May.

The Triskelion, New York


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jane Foster, Phil Coulson

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The past few weeks have been a succession of trash fires and decisions that, objectively speaking, were probably poor decisions, but at the same time were incredibly emotionally cathartic, or just plain necessary to James Barnes' strong need to repay debts owed. Now that he and Jane are back in the States and things have slowed down long enough for him to sit down and think, he determined there were a few calls he needed to make.

Some of these calls take him to the Triskelion. He needed to talk to Peggy, and Coulson. It is not a place he feels exceptionally comfortable in — the habits of a man accustomed to living far away from the radar of any formal agency die hard — but increasingly he finds himself enmeshed in the organization's interests. That necessitates some things.

Like the contact he has made with Agent May. It is a brief request for her time. The location is her choice, which doesn't seem that remarkable of an offer until one considers that the former Winter Soldier is probably not one to allow others to dictate the conditions of a meeting very often. It is a subtle concession on his part, but not likely one she would miss.

Agent May did indeed notice the concession of letting her choose where to meet, and perhaps in deference to that she chooses an out of the way breakroom in the Triskelion — likely less used because it's small and has no windows. What it does have, though, is a small part of May's tea stash. And she's pretty sure she's going to need it.

After a junior agent shows Barnes to the breakroom and leaves again, May nods the man towards a table and chairs and carries a pair of coffee mugs over to the table. One is already filled with an aromatic tea, but the other is empty and there's a carafe of fresh coffee alongside a closed thermos on the tiny countertop in the corner of the breakroom.

May sits and sets the empty mug on the table for Barnes to claim or not as he wants, and she takes a sip of her own tea. Apparently, she's opting to let him get a beverage before she tears him a new orifice. Figuratively. Though she considered doing so literally.

It doesn't escape Bucky, the subtle answer May makes to his initial offering in the wordless interplay of insinuations they make. Any kind of special agent tends to be a rather paranoid sort, and so these dances often take the form of careful loosening of the otherwise tight reins they keep over their secrets. It's a kind of language only spies really speak in: a concession here, a deference there.

He doesn't really delude himself that it means he's gonna get a hug, though.

Offered a mug and coffee to put in it, Bucky wordlessly does just that, because he feels like he's going to need it. He returns to the table afterwards, setting the drink down and seating himself.

"I'm here," he begins slowly, "to make an apology. My actions… I'm aware, have put you in a difficult position."

May sets her mug down gently enough for it to touch the table silently. "That's an understatement." She leans back in her seat and crosses her arms.

"Can you at least offer an explanation as to why you chose to go gallavanting off like that? Wait, no, I already know the answer to that. What I'd like to know is did you even give even a moment's consideration beforehand to how your actions would affect anyone beyond yourself and your close allies?"

Bucky turns his coffee slowly. His blue eyes study May, processing her questions. What she chooses to ask, and how.

"Probably one moment," he finally says. "But not enough moments. We took precautions, but the extent of profiling done on everyone involved, to immediately identify me just by the people around me, was… unexpected."

He cants his head. "In some of these things I have to do, I don't believe myself to have much of a choice. It was reckless of me to take your trust, when I didn't know if I could properly safeguard it. If it'd be safer for you to disavow me, that might be best." A tired look comes and goes in his eyes. "I am not a positive name to be associated with, and I got reason to believe that will get worse very soon."

May narrows her eyes at Barnes. "You don't get to walk away that easily. If you're going after people, then they no doubt deserve it. And I'll be damned if you get sole vigilante credit for taking down some of the most evil people still on this planet." She leans forward then, and looks at Barnes in a manner likely reminiscent of Peggy at her angriest. Despite this, her voice is still completely level and bordering on emotionless.

"From now on, if you plan to do something like this, you go through SHIELD. You get our okay, and you get access to our resources. Let Coulson and me write up your vengance as official missions, and no one can touch you — or us — for them. Have I made myself perfectly clear?"

You don't get to walk away that easily, she says. "No… I don't," Bucky sighs, with infuriating vagueness. He has to grin at her being damned if he'll get sole credit for all the kills, though it's a brief and rueful expression.

His expression sobers considerably when she lays down her ultimatum. He looks down at his coffee, still untouched, perhaps a metaphor in its own way.

"If I plan to use your resources, or think it would have a negative impact on SHIELD or your image, then I will be official," he finally agrees, taking a very small sip from the mug. "Coulson's made this same offer to 'officialize my vengeance.' I assume he means my personal feelings about HYDRA, or however people wanna put it. I told him I would think about it. It does make logical sense. But after this long, I'm used to… working alone."

His eyes are half-lidded. "My methods aren't palatable to everyone."

"So I take it you don't know what my job is, and you haven't spoken with Romanov about what she does for SHIELD. Her missions are frequently required to be solo, not even Overwatch support or extraction plans. Somehow I think that your methods are not as foreign to us as you think they should be."

May finally takes another sip of her tea. "This kind of thing was exactly why I offered you and Foster what I did. So that you wouldn't have to go off the reservation and put yourself back at the top of the most wanted list."

The former Winter Soldier goes still at mention of Romanova. His blue eyes are briefly heavy with memory, and then tellingly very blank. "I haven't spoken much to her, no," he says. "I doubt that Natalia would be candid with me even if I did ask her. She's not really one for frank conversation." A light pause. "But your point taken."

He sighs, raking one hand through his hair. "I get it. I do." He lays both his hands to the table surface. They are visibly tense, resisting the urge to claw. His voice has that equal tension in it when he says, "It gets hard not to — do something, when I see just how much they took from me."

He forces himself to relax. "Hard to trust anyone knowing too much about me or what I'm doing. I lived decades avoiding that." He closes his eyes. Probably thinks of Steve, who had the strength to do this. "I'll make a better effort."

Point has been made, so May sits back again, though instead of crossing her arms she keeps her mug in her hands. "That's where Colson's offer comes in. He — and I — know how you prefer to operate. And we can insulate you from the SHIELD bureaucratic red tape, if you'd let us." She shakes her head slowly. "One more incident like that, and your name will end up back on the 'kill on sight' list, and I won't be able to get it removed again."

"I… got a demonstration how many strings can get pulled," Bucky says. It's pretty obvious he's talking about Coulson. "And how much insulation can happen. It's… useful," he admits. "Benefits both of us. I get to do shit discreetly, how I want to do it."

He glances up at May. "You get HYDRA dead."

He sighs. "I don't wanna be logged in payroll, or any kind of official representative or agent like Miss Romanova seems to be now. I don't want everything I do being some statement on SHIELD. But I do shit that implicates SHIELD directly — all right, I'll check in."

"I can mark you on the books for WAND, and that's probably as close to invisible as I can manage and still cut you a paycheck," May offers. Coulson could likely do more, but when it comes to HR and payroll things, he's far more by the books than she ever was. So maybe not.

"I do want to speak with Dr. Foster again at some point. I would have expected her to be the voice of sanity." May is clearly disappointed in the astrophysicist, even if her tone of voice is still completely Vulcan-neutral.

Bucky laughs a little, the sound bitter. "No books. I don't want or need a paycheck for this, unless Coulson's got some magic to work up total deniability. Too much connection back that could damage SHIELD, if people really wanted to pick on me and what I do in specific."

His eyes lid. "Seeing HYDRA blood is enough for me. Maybe my POW back pay and DD-214 too, but that's on Uncle Sam, if he graciously decides not to execute me instead."

He hesitates at mention of Jane, however. The voice of sanity thing… "That's… probably actually me. In this situation, anyway. Why I came by myself. She gets headstrong about stuff."

May doesn't seem to pleased about the refusal. "Fine. But for the things that you truly want SHIELD to have deniability about, you still need to at least tell Coulson or me what you're planning." She sips at her tea. "If for no other reason than to give us a chance to make sure that SHIELD operatives don't get in your way."

She looks at Barnes over her mug then adds quietly, "Coulson's been working on that, considering you're ultimately still one of the Howling Commandoes. But pulling stunts like this makes it harder for him to get that done." Then the comment about his being the voice of sanity gets a raised eyebrow. She should have known that Foster would be the hot-headed one. The meek-seeming ones usually become loose cannons when given the chance.

It's not every day a man refuses money, but Bucky seems steadfast about his desire not to be implicated as any kind of SHIELD operative, even in the face of May's formidable displeasure. "Yeah," he at least admits, to the things she does insist upon. "I'll keep in better touch with both of you." He winces. "The retroactive cleanup isn't too smooth a way to do shit."

The topic of the brewing shitstorm in Washington inevitably arises. Bucky winces, scrubbing a hand through his hair again. "Yeah," he admits again. "I mean, there's nothing conclusive they could really prove. I like to think I'm at least good enough, after seventy goddamned years, not to leave obvious trails." He grimaces. "But better to keep my head down until that particular bubble bursts."

He cracks half a smile at the raised brow about Jane, which says a lot without really saying anything at all. "Yeah, she's a spitfire."

His coffee isn't really finished — barely touched — but he makes to push it back, anyway. "Any rate. Thanks for the time, Agent. I shouldn't take up more of it, if that's all."

"Keep me posted about when that hearing is going to happen. I want to be there." Not that she'd be able to do more than sit in the stands and spectate, but it's the thought that counts, right? Well, maybe she can sit and try to keep a leash on Foster. That might be something she could manage. Maybe. The scientist seems awfully slippery for a little nerd.

"That's all," she acknowledges with a nod. She sets her mug down and moves to stand. "I'll walk you back out." Better than having to wait awkwardly for that junior agent to come back and do it.

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