Professional Courtesy

October 24, 2017:

Michael Carter pays Bucky Barnes a visit… and provides him an unexpected bit of information.

Brooklyn, New York

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Peggy Carter

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

When the call from Michael Carter came, Bucky had thought hard about where might be a decent place to meet that was acceptably neutral. The Chip Shop came briefly to mind, mostly as a joke, though it was quickly ruled out due to dubiousness about Carter's 'sense of humor' level, and a concern that the locale simply wouldn't live up if it was picked as an actual serious venue. Starbucks is way too ubiquitous. Other restaurants are too fancy. The Chocolate Room is too romantic. And Bucky has a bad enough track record with occurrences in parks that he thinks he should probably skip on that for a while.

Ultimately, he winds up suggesting a small coffee shop near Jane's apartment. He'd been wanting to check it out ever since he learned to use Yelp and saw it listed, it has backyard garden seating, and to be quite safe and uninterrupted, he suggests the kind of 'crack of dawn' early morning hour that only old men like themselves like to conduct business at.

He's there early, perhaps to scope it out as a potential place-to-take-Jane-later, an espresso in front of him, heedless of the slight October chill that has settled in the air. If the servers have recognized him — either by face, or by the missing left arm — they make no comment. New York pays little mind to fame, good or bad.

Michael Carter is many things, some good, some bad. But one thing he always is, is prompt. If Bucky hadn't shown up early, he probably would have gotten there a few minutes before him.
Fall is a good reason to break out the stylish winter coats before the weather gets too damp and too cold. He's wearing a stylish pale blue overcoat with a burgundy scarf. Somehow he manages to make it look classic rather than painfully and purposefully hip.
Given the early hour, there's few people lingering, so it's easy for him to spot the person he's come here to visit. He puts in an order for a cappucino, then moves towards the other old soldier. "Good morning. It's a rare person indeed who beats me to a meeting." That's his attempt at a joke. It's easy to imagine that particular comment coming from an old wizened veteran as he meets his old war buddies at a very particular pub in some small town in England. Instead, the fates have the words coming out of the mouth of a man who looks barely into his thirties.

Courtesy of keen senses and the sparse population at this hour, Bucky hears Michael long before the other man approaches. He finishes his drink and turns towards Carter as the Englishman makes his greetings. The joke, such as it is, coaxes a brief smile from the erstwhile Soldier's features.

"I have the advantage," Bucky demurs, standing to greet the other man with a handshake and an old world sort of mindfulness. "This place is only a few blocks from Jane's place. I hope you didn't have to come too far."

"Not too far," though Michael doesn't elaborate on just where he's staying. Maybe it's habitual cautiousness, maybe he figures Bucky doesn't care where he's actually staying.
He shakes the other man's hand, then sits. "You're feeling better, I hope? As well as one could be expected to feel after such an ordeal, at least? Ah, cheers," he says as the server places his drink down in front of him.

Cautiousness or not, Bucky doesn't pry. He understands the natural reticence spies attain, over time, for revealing too much. Oversharing dies fast in the profession.

Instead he simply takes his seat again — with slightly less than his habitual grace, due to the missing limb, though the difference is barely noticeable to mundane eyes — and nods. "As well as can be expected," he says, with a shrug of his left shoulder. "When you're missing an arm. The replacement is underway, at least."

He stops the server long enough, when she appears, to request a cup of coffee. His attention returns to Michael, afterwards. "This gives me an opportunity to properly thank you for what you did in Wakanda," he says. "The group setting didn't lend itself to it. It probably wasn't your thing. Wasn't really mine either, to be honest. It used to be, but…" But then the Winter Soldier happened.

"Will you be returning to England?" He doesn't say it, but he is thinking of Peggy.

"No thanks are necessary." And the undercurrent to that is that Michael was rather hoping not to be thanked, so he could avoid saying, "In truth, I didn't go for you. You had more than enough champions in Wakanda that I was fairly certain that they'd find a way to clear your name and bring you back. I went for Peggy, and for Jessica. So I could watch their backs as they risked themselves on your behalf." He grins a little. "Though I trust you won't tell either of them that fact. I have a feeling that both would take issue with any suggestion that they weren't entirely capable of looking out for themselves. But," he tilts his head to the side, then shrugs, "Sometimes we need backup whether we think we do or not."
He sips his cappucino, somehow managing not to get a lip full of foam. "No, my superiors have told me to stay put for the time being. Though, frustratingly, they haven't yet given me a mission. For the first time since…" he strains to think. "…well now, I can't exactly recall a time in my adult life when I wasn't on some kind of mission." That's not really an exaggeration. He became a soldier quite young, and was recruited by British Intelligence quite young.

An easy smile crosses Bucky's features as Michael demurs the thanks, because he didn't go for Bucky — he went for Peggy and Jessica. "The gratitude isn't necessarily on my own behalf. I happen to care about them both, so the thanks serve for that purpose," he says.

As for telling either of them? "Hell no," he shudders. "I value my skin too much to tell Peggy, in particular that I thought she needed someone watching her back." Much less her brother — but that part he doesn't say. Not until he gets a broader picture of Carter family relations.

There is faint surprise when Michael says that he has not been given a new mission. He cants his head a little, thinking, almost forgetting to thank the server when she returns with his coffee. His blue eyes search Michael briefly, speculatively, before he just lifts his cup to take a sip. "Unusual," he says eventually. "Our type doesn't do well, not working. There must be a motive."

Michael chuckles humourlessly. "Perhaps they want to see how I adapt to not being given a mission. Perhaps it's their attempt at kindness. Or perhaps this is prelude to sending me out to pasture." He smiles a little, as that statement sounds absurd given his appearance, if nothing else. "I suppose I am rather an old horse at this point."
He reaches up and tugs at the scarf around his neck to loosen it. He removes it and drapes it over the arm of his chair. "Speaking of missions. That's why I asked to meet you." He opens up his coat. He does it in a subtle way, but in a way that shows Bucky that he's not reaching for a weapon. In fact, he did not conceal the pistol resting just under his left armpit as well as he normally would to make sure the other man could easily spot it. He's reaching into the interior pocket on his right for an envelope.

"Maybe you are being put out to pasture. You're even older than me," Bucky says, amused. "I don't meet that a lot, you know."

The levity is short-lived. He taps contemplatively on the side of his cup. "If it were an attempt at kindness, I'd think kindness would involve being up front." Experimentation, on the other hand… that never ends, so cynically enough Bucky takes that as the likely scenario.

He pauses as Michael admits that missions are the reason he asked to meet. His eyes do follow the movement when Carter reaches into his coat, but he long ago saw the weapon and can easily discern it is not being reached for, so he does not appreciably respond. Certainly not to reach for his own semi-concealed weapon.

It's funny what the small courtesies end up looking like for men of their stripe. It means assuming the other came armed and not being insulted by it. It means making damned sure that nothing you do could be considered threatening. It means respecting each other in a sort of neutral, professional way.
Michael continues his movement to the paper to be as non-threatening as possible. He sets the envelope on the table. He smiles a little at the age comment. "I suppose the existensial question there is, would our time in stasis be considered part of our age, truly?"
He pushes the envelope across the table, towards his present arm. "This is a copy of the report I filed with my superiors regarding your status. I wanted you to know that if British Intelligence still considers you a threat, it's not on my recommendation."

There are many unspoken courtesies between men of their profession, and Bucky has scrupulously adhered to them all, just as Michael has. It would be almost an insult to come unarmed, but at the same time politeness dictates one not hide the weapon worn too well. It would be rude to be too much on guard, though a bit insulting to be careless to the point of dismissiveness.

It is a tenuous dance. Part of it involves making no move that could be construed as a threat, and that is how Michael passes over the envelope. So far as existential questions? "I haven't decided how I feel about that particular question yet," he admits. "I don't feel like I'm a hundred, but then… I know my birth year and I know the current year." A helpless shrug.

The casual commentary helps to hide his surprise at what Michael elucidate the envelope to be. Bucky takes it with his remaining hand. He starts to position it as if to open it, but then remembers his lack of a left arm, and stops. "…Thanks," he says. "I suppose I should have already assumed other nations were still monitoring me. Knowing what one might think is a help."

If he trusts the report to be undoctored, anyway. If he believes that British Intelligence will listen to Carter, even if the report is undoctored. But that is another part of the dance.

And that constant dance of professional killers is why they simultaneously understand each other better than most, but will also likely never be more than allies. How do you let your guard down around someone when it would be an insult to let your guard down? And friendship with claws out is no friendship at all.
"It would be interesting to see my file. I'm sure they've tracked my conscious hours over the years." Michael says that with the breezy dismissiveness of a man who expects to be monitored.
He looks at the envelope when Bucky looks like he might open it. He pointedly does not offer to help. Again, rude. "That's not the entire report, of course. Just the bits pertinent to you. My superiors didn't like the idea of me handing over that document to you, but I told them it might smooth the waters a little. And that it's far wiser to make an ally of you than an enemy."
It's not often that Michael is the one giving advice to his handlers. That alone will make them pay attention a little more than usual. But paying attention and heeding advice aren't the same thing. "It's certainly not written with the blind trust of your friends, but I trust you can take my more cynical and pragmatic perspective." He smiles a little as he drains the rest of his coffee.

Friendship, indeed, requires a degree of vulnerability. And vulnerability is the one thing in which professional spies and killers can never indulge — at least, not around one another. Little wonder they are solitary creatures, and if they make connections, it is with those outside the profession entirely.

Two tigers, as they say, can't exactly be friends.

"It must be something," Bucky says, voice lacking in affect, "to go into this willing, and to be run by an organization that tracks you." He looks down into his mostly-finished coffee. "I read my own files, the ones the Soviets kept. And Hydra. The terminology was not… flattering."

He takes the envelope, starts to open it — only to be stymied when he remembers he's short an arm. He seems to decide he can just do it later. Politely, Michael doesn't try to do it for him, which is appreciated.

"You're correct," he says, and for a moment there is no levity to him at all. "I make a much better friend than enemy. Honestly, all they needed to do to keep me from being pissed is stay off my case…" He slides the envelope into his own coat pocket. "This goes a long way towards making me feel actually favorably disposed."

Michael's remarks on his decidedly more unbiased assessment actually bring him to smile. "I'm kind of curious what a professional assessment looks like, actually. I'm not going to be hurt by a more realistic take," he says, wryly.

"As then, and as now, I do it for Queen and Country. It started as King and Country, but we do need to adapt to the times." Michael's jokes, such as they are, are delivered with all the British dryness, but he often misses the wit. Old British man jokes, essentially.
He picks up his scarf again, then stands to wrap it back around his neck. "I can't promise they won't still breathe down your neck. But I think I convinced them to get intelligence from you through our ties with SHIELD and whatever you reveal to them. I appealed to my countrymen's proclivities towards respecting hierarchies and proper channels, so I am hopeful they'll take my recommendations."
He straightens his coat and then offers his hand to Bucky again. "Happy reading, Barnes. I'm sure you'll find it interesting enough. Though I can't promise a cracking read. I've been told my reports lack vividness." And with a bit of self-deprecating smile, the Agent turns to take his leave.

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