Can't Keep Calm, Must Carry On

January 03, 2018:

The Carter siblings say things that have long been left unsaid after Michael's unfortunate mission in Norway.

SHIELD Hospital


NPCs: None.



Mood Music: [*\ None.]

Fade In…

The plan was to stop in London. It made sense. London is far closer to the wilds of Norway than New York City. About an hour out from Heathrow though, a message pops up on Peggy's phone just as the plane also begins to veer. The reason? A not-so-subtle warning from MI-6 that Rule Britannia was not to enter the United Kingdom. Or rather, there was no guarantee of his safety and care if he did. Which seems rather callous, but the spy game is not about the individual. The explanation related by way of SHIELD? The situation in Norway is still hot, and there's too much of a chance that he would be witnessed entering the country and connected to the failed mission. No amount of protests from either Jessica or Peggy would change their minds.

The plane then, lands very briefly in Amsterdam-Schiphol to refuel and take on a SHIELD-adjacent physician. Then it was on to New York. The doctor performs several tests on Michael en-route. Well, as much as she can, anyway. She does manage to get an IV in, only after destroying a half dozen needles before she finds one hard enough to penetrate his skin. Even then, it has to be closely monitored because the skin would close itself up and push the needle back out again. By the time they land, SHIELD is ready to take the unconscious spy quickly and quietly off to a facility.

The next week is no doubt incredibly frustrating. There are a great deal of logistical considerations when it comes to taking on a disavowed agent from an allied organization. It is only because of Michael's long years of service that SHIELD is even allowed to help him. Another agent would find no quarter with any allied organization after being disavowed.
They are, however, ill-equipped to handle Michael. His extensive biological and cybernetic modifications are deeply complex, designed to be difficult to figure out and nearly impossible to repair without a roadmap. In the end, they manage to fish out the bullets and do what they can to repair the damage.

It is January 3rd before Peggy is allowed to see him. "I don't want you to be alarmed," says the SHIELD doctor. "Most of the damage you'll see is not the result of his injuries. Some of his components were damaged during our attempts to remove the three hollow point armor piercing rounds. Whoever shot him knew about his defenses. Those bullets are overkill against anyone not wearing state-of-the-art body armor." The doctor speaks in hushed, comforting tones. "But he's stable. We had to put him in a medically-induced coma while some of his systems self-repaired. However, the damage to his systems isn't something we can repair. Not without the cooperation of MI-6. Several of his systems were designed to fail or become indecipherable if he found himself injured and in the care of anyone but his own people."

Michael is the lone occupant of a sterile, state-of-the-art hospital room. He's propped up slightly, eyes closed. He still has the shoulder-length hair and scraggly beard that was artificially stimulated to grow as part of his cover. There is a large needle in his arm, secured with a metal cuff to stop it from expelling. The monitors have all been marked with pieces of tape to indicate his actual normal range for vitals rather than a standard human. The most startling thing is the network of scars over nearly every inch of his body. He looks like a burn victim who's had a dozen surgeries and skin grafts, and has been implanted with fibre optic cables. Most of his face is unmarred, except for the skin around the right side of his face and below and above his right eye. Networks of filaments can be seen just beneath his skin.


Peggy Carter paced and prodded and needled to know every detail of Michael's condition as she waited to hear word. She knows exactly how difficult something like this can be and also the implications of having brought him to SHIELD. She also knows that that the implications can be damned she will ensure her brother's wellbeing no matter what it takes or how much of her newly reinstated job it may jeopardize.

When she is finally able to see him, she does not hesitate and she waves off the warnings that she will be alarmed. She read about his implants, about his enhancements. She has seen war, she has seen death, she has seen horror. Insisting the doctor stay behind, she steps forward into the sterile room: proper precautions taken, of course.

However, once inside, she takes a soft gasp. Despite the shoulder-length hair, the beard, the years and the anger, this is still her brother. And he looks torn apart and then put back together. "Michael?" she asks softly.


The doctors have warned that Michael is on medication and has still been sleeping rather a lot. In fact, the only reason she's been allowed to see him is because she is both family and a SHIELD agent. Not even other SHIELD agents have been allowed in to debrief him (as much as he'll actually tell them anything, but.)
He stirs, opens his eyes, then smiles a little tightly as he looks towards her. One eye is steel gray like it was when they found him. Most of the filaments lead up towards that eye. "Hello, Firecracker. I look rather a mess, don't I?" He chuckles dryly.


Not afraid to use whatever leverage she has available to her, Peggy does not mind using her familial obligations to Michael to ensure that she is able to visit and find out more about his condition.

As he stirs, Peggy takes a deep breath. When he actually says her nickname, she relaxes. And then, the anger returns: fresh and hot on the tail of the fear and worry of the past few days. "You absolute bastard," she tells him. The tone is incredibly hard to pin down. There are tears there, certainly, and also relief and the same hot anger. It's a mix.

The one thing that can be said for the Carters is when they feel things, they certainly do so with a bang. "I thought you died. Again."


"But I didn't. Somehow, I didn't. By all rights, I should be dead. By all rights, I should have died a dozen times over." Michael stares up at the ceiling. "What do you want to do, hmm? Get angry at me for taking a mission? Come now let's not be hypocritical. We do work in the same field, you and I. And we know the risks that come with that." He might sound defiant, but there's emotion on his face he can't quite hide. Maybe it's the scars laid bare. Maybe it's the scraggly state of his hair. But he looks more vulnerable than she's ever seen him. Yes, even more vulnerable than he did lying on the floor of a cabin in the Norwegian fjords.


This is almost certainly not how Michael expected to wake up after such a traumatic experience. And Peggy did not exactly mean to start this off. However, she can't help but be furious, to be worried, be terrified. It all comes out as anger, though.

"Yes! I can be angry at you at that. You tell me you want to reconnect and then the next moment you turn around and take a mission you cannot even have contact during. This is more than that. You weren't just offered this job. You sought it."

She steps forward toward the bed. "You almost died. You promised."


"I never promised I wouldn't die, Peggy," says Michael softly. "That would be a foolish promise to make. I told you what I knew at the time, that this was a simple mission. It was. How was I to know someone would use that as an opportunity to come at me?"
He's not looking at her. Instead, he's clenching handfuls of hospital sheet. He doesn't even realize that he's doing it. The flexing makes some of the embedded circuits in his arms flex and tense.


"You promised you'd be back." And like the little sister that she is - despite everything - Peggy took that as not dying.

There's a shake of her head. "You know who you are, what people know about you." What can she say? This is all new territory for them. This is far more honest than they were during the war.

"Michael." She move forward again, right above the bed. She doesn't dare touch him, doesn't dare do anything that may infect him, despite all the precautions she went through to even see him in this sterile room. "Look at me."


Michael looks over, looks up, arches eyebrows. He's a mess, no denying it. His right eye looks dead and cold, but the other is clear and blue. The circuits are a latticework of human and inhuman. His body is a Frankenstein mess of tissue. This is the truth of what MI-6.5 had to do to him to put him back together in the wake of the failed serum. It's always been there - it was just covered up. A thin veneer of a normal man. Which is true in more ways than one.
"I can't apologize for what I am, Peggy. And I can't escape the ghosts of my past. I won't sit at home and not do my job just because my enemies might decide now is the time to come at me. Although," he whuffs a bitter noise, "…it seems British Intelligence has made that decision for me. I heard they wouldn't even let you land in London. Understandable. If they're trying to distance themselves from me and deny my part in the mission, they can't very well have me rolled through Heathrow." He sounds very pragmatic about it all.


Peggy looks over Michael as she approaches. She should be kind, she should be understanding. He almost died. She is not. She is angry and she feel righteous. She meets his eyes, not caring about the latticework, about the pain, about everything else: he still remains her brother. And therefore she will talk to him as a sister will. "That is not what I am angry about," she tells him. "You ass," she adds unable to help herself. Then, she reins herself in. She reaches forward to grab Michael's hand and then stops herself. She doesn't want to infect him, to cause him more harm.

"You know that's not what I'm angry about." An angry, comprehensive face crosses Peggy's. "This is not about MI:6, this is not about SHIELD. Michael."

There is a shake of her head. "Stop it. Stop being noble about this. You used Steve against me when you took this job. You can't try and say this is King and Country now. Don't you fucking dare."


Infection is unlikely given the serum in Michael's blood. It might be imperfect, but some aspects of it worked just fine. Not that he's going to tell her that it's okay to touch. She might, in the mood she's in, translate that to being okay to slap.
"What do you want me to say, Peggy?" He sounds tired. Very tired. And not just because of the drugs and recovery. "I can't make amends for choices I made a very long time ago. I know it doesn't feel that way for you, but it's been a lifetime for me. I also can't apologize for it when you went on to have a full, rich life when you thought I was dead. I know it's hard for you to accept, but you did just fine without me. In fact, you were bloody brilliant. And if you lost me tomorrow, you'd still be bloody brilliant. Because you're Margaret fucking Carter, and you've always been able to do a lot more than you thought you could. Even you couldn't see it about yourself at first, but I've always seen it. And I've always been so very proud of you, even if I couldn't say so."


Even now, Peggy is not going to risk infection Michael, making it harder for him to recover - or maybe even recover at all. She will not risk that for the world. Even if she would like to take Michael's hand. Or slap him across the face. Either/or.

Peggy closes her eyes as Michael speaks. The compliments, the way he speaks about her character are absorbed, are held close.

For awhile, there is silence after his speech. She doesn't say anything for a very long time. When she does, it is filled with emotion, there are tears she cannot hide. There is a very long silence and then, she tells him quietly, forcefully: "Fuck you, Michael."

Peggy shakes her head, glares at her brother. "Your death effect me. How dare you think it wouldn't a second time. Your death broke me, Michael. I thought I got you back and you just…you toss yourself…" Peggy clenches her fists. This is not like her. She stands. "I am who I am because of you, Michael. But, maybe I'd have been better if I knew you were alive. I know I wasn't my best self just now when I thought you were dead."

Peggy closes her eyes tightly. "The dead can't tell anyone what they feel, Michael. That's why they're dead. How you felt about me while you weren't there? What am I supposed to do with that. I'm not that Peggy. And that Peggy never even knew you were there. I don't know what she wanted. But…I always want you here."


Michael doesn't react to that curse more than with a subtle twitch. "And I'm not the Michael you want me to be," he says quietly. Almost a whisper. "That man, the young, idealistic man who stood for King and Country. The man I used to be before the experiments, the missions, the blood on my hands. It…kills me to have you look at me with the love you had for him. Because you don't know what I am anymore."
In spite of himself, his voice is shaking a little. "If I died tomorrow, you'd be grieving for someone who died a long time ago. Not for me, as I am now."


"You think I'm still the Peggy you knew?" Peggy looks at Michael, unable to hide those tears.

"I want to know you." She shakes her head. "You still look at me like the woman I don't know. Maybe you remember the Peggy that was more than Bletchley Park. That founded SHIELD and then did more. That is not me, Michael. You think I look at you like him and I think you look at me like her. You lived through it all. I didn't. You lived through these years. I didn't."

Finally, she reaches forward to take his hand. The touch is gentle. "We're both looking for people who aren't really there."


"No, you're the Peggy I never got to know," says Michael softly. "The one I learned about through reports and through news clippings. You may not be exactly her, but you're close." He takes her hand and squeezes it like he was waiting for her to do that. His hand is rough. Without the mesh to disguise the scars, they feel rough, as well. Bundles of scar tissue. Rough bits of skin. His facade was designed to hide the failures of MI-6.5's program. But they were always there, just below the surface.


Peggy squeezes his hand, she can't not. There is a worry still in her expression. "You're going to be okay, Michael," she tells him. The scar tissue do not at all scare her off. "I'm still not," she tells him, softly. "I'm not even that. I'm different." It makes her sad to tell him that, to severe that tie. %r"Look, you should rest. I'll be here in the morning."


"I know what I see," says Michael, fatigue seeping into his voice. He squeezes her hand. "The details may be different, but I still see my Firecracker." He smiles a little. "You rest as well. I'm out of the woods. I'm sure you've got things to take care of that don't involve babysitting me."


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