Kindred Spirits

August 06, 2017:

Michael Carter seeks out the erstwhile Winter Soldier, and finds himself getting to know James Barnes instead — who bears more similarities to him than he expected.

Brooklyn, New York

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Peggy Carter, Jane Foster, Steve Rogers, Jessica Jones, Matt Murdock

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

There's a number of popular riverside parks in the Bay Ridge area, close by where Jane Foster lives and works, and Bucky Barnes avoids most of them. He could disguise himself to avoid recognition, sure, but even with how good he is, with the kind of media storm that's going on right now, he'd have to do some serious work to completely avoid detection, and he's just too tired to bother with that degree of effort.

Such it is that he's gone to one of the much smaller parks in the area — really no more than a bit of green and a few benches, overlooking the river. Jane doesn't like to let him out of her sight — and with what's going on lately, honestly, he doesn't like letting her out of his either — but sometimes a man gets cooped up, and just needs to go out and think somewhere the open air will instantly carry the smoke away. He likes his little fire escape outside Jane's window, but the air can get stagnant.

Such it is that, approaching eight o'clock at night, he's out on one of the benches, a half-finished cigarette in hand, finding a way to be completely alone even in New York City.

Several decades of spycraft combined with Barnes' half-assed stealth leads Michael Carter to his location fairly easily. He also doesn't disguise his approach. He's not a man it's smart to sneak up on.
"I'd say that cigarettes will kill you, but I doubt it could do what some of the world's toughest have tried." There's a note of amusement in his crisp, British tone. He's clad, as usual, in a neat, finely tailored and modern suit in pale blue. No tie, also as usual. Once you get garrotted a few times, you lose your affinity for Windsor knots.

Bucky notices the approach of the other man, but makes no outward reaction other than to lift his hand and place his cigarette back in his mouth. He doesn't turn, nor rise; he just takes a drag, then lets the smoke stream out, and watches it disperse in the air.

"No, he admits, in response to Carter's quip. "I don't imagine it could. Heal too fast for cancer, or so I am told."

He glances over his shoulder, finally, appraising Michael in a long look, before shifting over to one end of the bench. "I keep trying to quit," he says. "They were all they gave us for stress relief back in the war, though, and old habits die hard, I guess."

"I remember," says Michael. Getting cigarettes in the war, that is. He moves a little closer, but not too close that he might be percieved as a threat. "I suppose congratulations are in order. That was a hard-fought case." Which is really an understatement.

Bucky watches Michael as he draws closer — watches him in a way that suggests that the British man's intuition about not seeming like too much of a threat was a good thought after all. Probably not terribly surprising that he's on edge, even though the acquittal's just been handed down. He's still got plenty of enemies. He was shown that in horrible fashion, not too long ago.

He doesn't precisely relax when Michael offers his congratulations, though he does eventually avert his eyes and turn back forward. "Hard fought on the part of my lawyer," he says softly. "Murdock did a hell of a job."

He is tellingly silent a beat, before he adds, "Hard fought on the part of everybody who spoke for me." A number that includes Peggy, who spoke at rather considerable risk to herself.

"You are a man who seems to inspire tremendous loyalty," says Michael, in a manner that suggests he doesn't quite know why. "Many people I've spoken to since coming to New York got incredibly angry at the mere suggestion that you might be even slightly culpable for your actions as the Winter Soldier." Then he adds, dryly, "If I had said you were guilty, I am quite certain Jessica Jones would have broken my nose. And I doubt she would have stopped there."

A slight grimace comes and goes across Bucky's features, as Michael remarks on the loyalty he seems to inspire. The expression seems to suggest he doesn't know why, either. He says nothing, accordingly — not up until Michael goes on to note that even the mere suggestion he might be culpable for his actions sends many people flying into a rage.

"If that's how they react," he says, "then they don't get it. I'm not… but I am. I didn't will it, but I did it."

Cryptic answer given, he takes another drag from his cigarette, pulls it from his mouth to exhale smoke. "I can't get mad at them for loyalty, of all things," is the man's blunt remark. "But they see me in their own way. They got their biases."

Michael rests his hands in his pockets. If he's going for any kind of weapon, he's incredibly adept at disguising his body language.
"Peggy doesn't think I understand your situation." He works his jaw to the side. "I don't know what intelligence about me you were privvy to, but." He inhales, then looks out across the park, then back to the other man. "So I'm not sure it would surprise you to know that I understand your situation perhaps better than anyone."

Bucky's gaze lowers when Carter repeats Peggy's words. The guilt that crosses his features is transparent. What will happen to Peggy now…?

He glances back up when Michael speculates on what intelligence Bucky had about him. "Some," the former operative admits. "Not your family relation — if the Soviets knew, they didn't tell me. Maybe thought I'd remember too much if I heard the name Peggy Carter. But enough to know that the Brits had a program, and that you were the probable result. The timeline of it suggested it wasn't the success Steve was. From there… just extrapolation, on what that might mean."

He is silent, a beat. "The thing most people don't get," he eventually continues, "is that the will to do an action and the action itself are separate. You can not be responsible for one, but still have to live with the other."

He watches the burning end of his cigarette. "Maybe you get that."

"A sleepwalking man who killed his dog may not be culpable, but his dog is still dead," says Michael, thoughtfully, and with a slow nod. The way he says that suggests that he too has been the sleepwalking man, though he doesn't go so far as to admit it.
"It is…difficult for me to separate you from the man who tried to kill me. I won't pretend that isn't the case. I'd imagine…" he pauses, then, "…it's difficult for you, as well. More difficult than it is for your friends."

Michael doesn't admit it, but Bucky can read the suggestion hanging in the air clear as day. It brings him to slant the other man a measuring look, agreement flickering in his gaze as Michael makes that analogy. "Dead. And you remember feeling its neck break," he says.

"It's difficult for ME to separate myself from the man that tried to kill you," he says, very softly. "I had a life, in the Soviet Union. I believed… I was living some kind of life. I felt autonomous, and driven, and real. I felt I was making those choices."

He is silent, a few moments. "How out of control did you become?" he asks, eventually. "Were you frozen to stop it? That you were put in stasis was the assumption when you did not operate for years." He barks a laugh. "People just love putting other people in stasis."

"Whoever invented those stasis tubes did neither of us any favours," drawls Michael. He looks over his shoulder. He doesn't reallly need to, but he does it anyway. Then he moves a little closer now, within reach, but still a polite distance.
He hesitates, like he's not quite sure he wants to admit anything. But after a moment, he does speak. "The serum had several side effects. The medication used to try and even me out took many years to perfect. So yes, I was in stasis, but I was removed more often than you were. At least, that's what our intelligence seemed to suggest."
But they're not really talking about stasis. They're talking about losing control. "I've done some regrettable things. Unlike you, for some of those things, I was fully culpable. But not all. And I suppose you could blame me for those things too, as it was my choice to enter the program in the first place."

Blue eyes track the way Michael moves closer. Bucky doesn't comment on it or what it means, instead shifting his attention back up to the other man's eyes. He is aware that Carter is making a sort of decision at the moment, a determination that is difficult for all spies: to share? Not to share?

Bucky listens when Michael decides on the former. "Steve did get the only perfect one," he says, and there is nothing in his expression to suggest any emotion attached to the statement. "The rest of us have our problems." He doesn't try to ask what Michael's were — are. He instead looks away as Carter mentions having been thawed more often.

"Some part of me is jealous," he says. "The rest isn't. Less time awake is less time for me to feel confused by, now."

He falls silent as Michael admits having done regrettable things for which he, unlike Bucky, was fully culpable. "In our line of work," he says eventually, "that's an inevitability."

Michael lets a moment of silence fall. He watches Bucky, as if he could determine more than he already knows by observing. "Imagine if you had entered your program voluntarily, and that your handlers did generally care about you. Add to that missions that were for the most part, necessary." He hangs onto that last word a moment, letting it rest on his tongue before dropping. "Then you have some idea of my life."
He exhales, then shakes his head. "I just hope one day my sister extends the forgiveness to me that she seems to have extended to you."

Bucky is silent as Michael presents a hypothetical: what if his program was voluntary? What if his handlers did care about him? What if he was given missions that were necessary? Then he would have some idea of Michael's life.

"I do," he says suddenly, surprisingly. "That was my life in Russia. That was what I believed, for near-on forty years." He smiles, briefly, humorlessly. "That was what they had me believe."

He shrugs, taking a drag from his nearly-finished cigarette, exhaling smoke. "Admittedly, I know now it was a lie. But I got the feeling of it, for a time." His gaze is distant. "Then, back to Hydra…"

That last statement Michael makes is so loaded, so laden with weight, that Bucky averts his eyes and turns his head away. His mouth thins, suggesting a weight is landing on his own shoulders: the discomfort of guilt. "I got to know Peggy pretty well, even though it was just a couple years," he says. "She burns hot at first, but she cools and comes around sooner or later."

Michael chuckles. There is a note of humour in that. "You don't need to tell me that about my sister. When we were children, she would get angry at me all the time, and usually forgive. But it feels different this time."
He bites the edge of his lip, then shakes his head. "The times we clashed, I thought you were like me. A true believer who was given an edge by his government. I found out that wasn't true when the rest of the world did. Although I imagine my superiors knew before that." There's a certain…acceptance of the fact that his superiors aren't always going to tell him everything.
"I'm sure Peggy would find this easier if I bad been brainwashed. What she's taking issue with are my choices, and I can't say that I blame her."

"That's what I thought I was," Bucky says, grimly. "God knows how much your superiors knew, though if they knew what I really was and did nothing…"

He shakes his head. "I guess I get the 'not our business' line," he dismisses, though he also looks like the idea of people knowing and doing nothing touches at a deep wellspring of rage.

But as to Peggy? Bucky watches Michael a few searching moments, as if he's now debating himself how much he should say. Smoke trailing up from the lit end of the cigarette is the only thing about him that moves.

"I'm easy for her to put in a box," he says eventually. "I'm just a friend, not a brother. You got a little more work ahead, I think. You already know the problem is that this was a choice you made, leaving her. You gotta start there."

"It's possible they could do nothing. At the very least, if they knew, they would have told their American counterparts. And I can't imagine they would have sat idly by." Michael pauses, headwobbles, "…depending on the decade. In any case, I understand why they wouldn't tell me. If they had humanized you and then we came across each other, you probably would have killed me." Because the mission would change from self-preservation to saving another. And that would have probably ended badly for him.
He settles hands into the pockets of his jacket and slouches his shoulders. "At least Peggy doesn't seem to be doubting my identity. I can handle her being angry at me if she accepts who I am."

"Depending on the decade," Bucky echoes, the wry smile on his face somehow encapsulating all the complexity and bloodiness of the Cold War in one sardonic look. "No, for the best they didn't tell you. If there had been any hesitation on your part, I would have used it." I, he says. Not he. The line between himself and the Winter Soldier is blurry. Sometimes it does not even exist.

He shifts the cigarette back to his mouth, slinging his right arm across the back of the bench. Carter gets a somewhat penetrating look as Bucky considers his words. "I guess after all of us showed up in the future in our unique ways," he says dryly, "it gets believable that you could really be who you say you are, too. Why not?"

He blows a breath of smoke out through his nose, like an amused dragon. "While you can handle her being mad at you, I'd suggest you work on getting her un-mad. Hope is well and good, but…"

He shrugs, and rises from the bench, the very picture of someone who knows — right now — just how short life can be. "I didn't get to see my sister again until she was ninety-two," he says bluntly. "Now she's too far gone in dementia to really know me. But you have an opportunity."

Michael is an observant man, by talent and by necessity. He notices the singular pronoun that others are so very careful to avoid. "Yes. Our handlers do like to remove doubt. It helps with the job." He says that both with pragmatism and cynicism.
He looks sort of amused at the idea of Bucky giving him family advice, but it comes across just as a twinkle in his eyes. "I do intend to try, but Peggy is rather like a cat who is angry at you for leaving. You can't just pick her up and squeeze her. That's how you get scratched. Better to linger nearby and let her come to you on her own terms."

"Mine removed a hell of a lot more than just doubt," Bucky says laconically, though his tone is more wry than anything, so he seems to at least be retaining his humor.

Especially since it really is odd for him to be randomly giving the Carters family advice. "This isn't really where I thought my relationship with Peggy was going to wind up, when I first met her in '43," he says of that. "She was a damn hellcat. Still is. I thought I was gonna have to fight her, a couple times. She all but put up her fists in my face."

As far as how to handle Peggy? "That I learned the first time I met her," he grumps. "Froze me solid. Never had such a cold reception since Sally Monroe, and Sally had an actual reason to hate me."

He shakes his head. "Anyway. Don't just linger too long," he insists. If he might be thinking of talking to Peggy himself at some point, well, he doesn't share. Men don't like other men in their business.

Except they seem to be doing quite a bit of sharing, especially for men like them.
Michael straightens and slips his hands out of his pockets. "She wasn't always a hellcat. She was ready to be a housewife. Can you imagine?" He shakes his head. "Anyway, I should be off. I'll leave you to your solitude. I imagine you don't get much of that these days."

It is a lot of sharing for men like them. Perhaps it is why there is this much sharing, however. When you are unique, there are very few people to whom you can relate, save for others who are unique in much the same way, and therefore understand the issues which cannot be understood by anyone else. And you don't really get much more unique than a periodically-frozen supersoldier used in furtherance of the goals of the State.

Bucky's brows lift at the news Peggy was ready to be a housewife at one point, though the surprise soon dissipates. Picturing Peggy as a housewife is brain-breaking, but then again she was unusual for the time as well, and picturing women as housewives is how Bucky — a product of his time — is more accustomed to thinking.

But then, he thinks about that Walther PPK of hers again. Nope, can't see it.

All moments have their end, however, and no matter the odd resonance that two such similar men can have… there's still only so much a man will talk about such things. Michael makes to take his leave, and Bucky laughs briefly, resting a hand on the back of the bench. "No," he says, of his lack of solitude. "I don't. But appreciate you stopping by." He pauses. "Think on what I said."

"It was a pleasure to speak to you face to face, Mr. Barnes." As opposed to the barely-conversations Michael had with his alter-ego. "Especially without pointing guns at one another," That's a joke, a touch of levity. But he's sort of a lousy joke-teller.
The resonance is in fact, one of the reasons he's taking his leave. It's difficult for him to realize he has so much in common with a man he considered an enemy for decades - a man who is very likely more innocent than he is.
He inclines his head, and without any other fanfare, turns to head off.

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