Old Habits

February 02, 2018:

Peggy visits Michael after he's released from the hospital.

Michael's Flat

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Tony Stark, Jessica Jones

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

The flat that Michael is staying in is not the upscale Chelsea one that he was staying in before his disavowal. Instead, it's a third floor walk-up in Hell's Kitchen, about four blocks (coincidentally) from Alias Investigations. An old associate of his in SHIELD arranged for him to have use of the former safehouse in the meantime. It beats a shoddy motel, only in that staying there doesn't blow through the meager amount of money he still has access to.
Although out of the woods physically, his cyborg bits are still pretty heavily damaged. Scars need to be covered up with clothing, but even then the ones on his face and neck are visible. He looks like he's got heterochromea because he wears one brown contact lens to cover up the metallic right eye. Somehow having mismatched eyes was less disconcerting than changing his eyecolour entirely.
He's set himself up on a folding card table in the middle of the small living room and covered it in newspaper. There's little pots of paints spread out amongst a series of miniatures. Peggy would recall that it was a hobby of his as a teenager to paint die-cast models. It's not exactly a hobby that travels into the trenches or on stakeouts. Apparently, he's used this disavowal time to pick up an old hobby.
The whole flat smells faintly of paint. There's a radio on in the background and Michael is bent over with a tiny brush, adding details to a die cast spitfire.

*

After Peggy visited Michael in the SHIELD hospital, she has come back a few times to check in on him. Her visits are short, but she is there as often as she can be. However, since he has left the hospital, she has not been by his new place.

Now, though, she means to remedy that. With a bottle tucked into her bag, she climbs the walk up to his new flat in Hell's Kitchen. Arranging herself, she takes a deep breath and knocks on the door.

*

There isn't an immediate answer, but it's obvious someone is in there because of the radio and the light that seeps under the door. Michael appears at the door after a few minutes, wiping paint off his fingers.
He's still a far cry from her perpetually put-together older brother. His hair is still long and half-tied into a ponytail with a few strands escaping. He's wearing a hoodie over a t-shirt and jeans rather than a suit. The scars are visible against his neck, on his hands and over his right cheek. He doesn't, however, look as tired or weary as before, which suggests an improvement. "Hello, Peggy."

*

"Hello, Michael," Peggy returns the greeting. She takes in the state of his clothing as well as the scars on his neck, hands and cheek with a practiced observation. It's quick and most would probably not even notice the assessment that she's making. Michael, of course, is probably used to such scrutiny, however.

Pulling the bottle of scotch from her bag, she also produces two proper glasses. "I thought it was high time we had a bit of a proper visit. You can drink while on recovery, can't you? If not I brought some tea, we could have a nice cuppa." There's a glance behind him into his apartment.

She raises an eyebrow, though it is not so much judgmental as curious. "Do I smell paint?"

*

"You always were an observant one," drawls Michael as he waggles paint-stained hands. It's a dig, but a gentle one, and without the sibling tease that might otherwise be sharper. He steps back to allow her in.
"I'm no longer on painkillers, so yes, I can drink. Or rather, it's doubtful that a belt would make me any worse." There's a series of miniatures lined up on the windowsil to dry. They're all quite detailed, most from the World Wars, but a couple of more modern ones mixed in. "I understand the whiskey, but tea, really? Do you truly think I'd have settled in this place without a kettle and tea bags?" Again, it's a weak delivery where once it would have been a sharp quip.

*

"In your current attire I couldn't make the informed decision you simply hadn't washed your hands in awhile," Peggy retorts with just the same amount of teasing. The smirk gentles the words.

As Michael steps to the side to allow her entrance, she quickly takes the hint and steps inside. Settling the glasses back into her bag for the moment, she glances about. "Back to painting your toys again?" she asks, a smile on her face. It's quite likely she remembers quite well that particular hobby of his.

"Ah, but this isn't tea bags, this is loose leaf and the good stuff. I've been told if you steep it long enough it could stand a spoon straight up." It seems that whether he could have had scotch or not, she plans on leaving the tea.

She settles the bottle down and then moves to inspect the figurines closer without touching them.

*

"It was Jessica's idea," says Michael. "She once asked me if I had any hobbies. I told her I used to do this. She said I should do it again. And as I find myself with some time," he lifts an arm and then drops it.
It's a mini unit lined up along the windowsil. There's a jeep, a few planes and a tank. Peggy will recognize them all as fairly accurate WWII-era equipment. Some of the finer detail is imperfect (suggesting a shaky hand on the smaller parts) but otherwise competently done.
Meanwhile, he heads to the kitchen and fishes down a pair of nondescript glasses for their drinks. "I've had so many poor cups of tea that I've ceased to be fussy about it. Whiskey, however, drinks just as well in the trenches as in the parlour."

*

"It was a good one," Peggy agrees. Though she does not say it out loud, she certainly thinks it's a good idea for Michael to have something to do while disavowed. She studies each of them for a time while her brother goes for glasses. "Just because you aren't fussy doesn't mean that you can't enjoy a good cup."

Straightening, she turns and opens the bottle, ready to pour for the pair. "How have you been?" Other than what she can see, of course.

*

"Bored to madness. Alternatively full of rage and full of despair?" Michael says all of that with a shrug in his voice. "Honestly, I haven't a clue what to do with myself. MI-6 won't let me get in touch until they've concluded their investigation. And what can I possibly do in the meantime except…" he motions towards the models.

*

Peggy knows a little something about that. Once the scotch is poured, she sets the bottle back within easy reach of both of them. "Well, if you'd like, I could see what there is on the SHIELD itinerary. There might be something you could help out on." Though, she focuses on the scar on Michael's cheek for a moment rather than at his eyes.

"You know, I know someone who might be able to help with that." Peggy gestures at the scars. "Howard Stark's son, Tony. He's…eccentric. He may look at you are a problem to be solved, but he certainly would be able to help, if you'd like."

*

Michael shakes his head about SHIELD. "No, not yet. It's too soon. I don't want SHIELD to face any more awkwardness than it already will for dealing with me during my disavowal. As an allied organization, they should have left me in the cold as well." He takes one of the glasses and swallows a healthy mouthful. "Maybe after the investigation is concluded. If they clear me for wrongdoing, they still might not let me back in the fold until the heat on Norway has gone down."
He smirks a little at the name. "Oh, I am aware of the younger Mr. Stark. I never thought I'd see a man who was more of a showman than his father. And five times as reckless. But undoubtedly talented."

*

There's a nod at Michael's refusal. Peggy thought that might be the case, but she felt the need to ask. Leaning against one of the walls, she takes a sip of her drink as well. She knows how organizations like theirs work. "It might be good for you, too," she offers. "It would…be good to see more of you. Perhaps even work on a mission together." One where she's not flying to Norway to pull him out of an abandoned shack.

She can't help but smirk at his assessment of Tony. "Neither did I. It would send him into a fit for me to tell him, but he truly reminds me of his father at times. Just as much trouble and just as smart. If you'd like, I can introduce you two."

*

"I'm not sure how well I'd fit in in SHIELD. But it's too early for those conversations." The fact that Michael is not dismissing it out of hand is actually a good sign. He swirls the golden liquid around in the glass, then sips it. "You don't think you and I would have trouble working together? Do you remember the road trip to Brighton when we were kids?" He chuckles gently at the memory.
He ponders the question of Stark for a moment, and pauses to sip again. "Mhmmm. I should refuse on account of the classified nature of my biology. But the truth is, I'm rather certain that the fact that they're not willing to give SHIELD my specs has more to do with professional tension than actual security concerns. My systems are so jerry-rigged and custom, and in some cases, out of date that I'm more like an Italian sportscar than a top secret prototype. My wiring is complicated as shit."

*

Peggy grins as he asks about whether he thinks they'd work well together. "Oh, I remember. That was entirely your fault." Drinking some more of the scotch, she shrugs her shoulders. "SHIELD is certainly different than your organization. Though, it's certainly a lot different from when it started out."

Shifting off the wall, she moves to a chair. With pursed lips, she considers. "I'm not sure I can guarantee how quiet he'll be." Tony isn't exactly known for his discretion. "However, I'm pretty certain that if you're alright with it, he could figure out how to help your wiring."

*

"You know, I never considered myself a vain man, but I suppose I am," says Michael with a slow shake of his head as he fingers the ugly scars on his neck. "I admit, it's not really giving me energy to bounce back from this when I see Frankenstein's monster in the mirror each morning."
He paces towards the window. "Is there any way at all that Stark could be convinced to be discrete?"

*

Pouring a bit more into Michael's glass, Peggy also puts some more in hers. "That's not exactly vanity." She sighs. "And you're not Frankenstein's monster." Frowning, she leans back a bit. "How did the person who assaulted you know how exactly to hurt you this badly? I read your file…at least as much as was given to me. I'm sure there's quite a bit more of which I have no idea. However, it did make it seem as if it was incredibly difficult to do what happened."

As for Stark, she shrugs her shoulders. "We can attempt to appeal to his better judgement. Hopefully we the pair of us ask nicely, he'll agree. Howard could be reasoned with, it simply took him to agree it was in his best interest as well."

*

Michael looks down into his glass and sips it before speaking. "Felix Culpa is his codename. He used to be my partner. He was part of the Latinates, an MI-6 subsection that was born out of our version of Project Rebirth." He stares off into the middle distance and is quiet for a moment. "Felix was disavowed in the 80s after a failed mission in Yugoslavia. The mission was sloppy and the investigation into his activities concluded he had been compromised. He disappeared completely and evaded a burn order."

*

The information Michael gives is processed and she nods. "I'm sorry," Peggy gives Michael a sympathetic look. "Having a partner betray you like that must have been difficult." While not all partners are the best of friends, working with someone for an extended period of time generally engenders a sort of familiarity and trust.

"Compromised," she repeats, grimacing. "Has that happened before? A member of the…Latinates going rogue?" Her head tilts. "Was that your division?" It seems as if that makes the most sense. She knows his own abilities were inspired by Project Rebirth. "It's hard to imagine someone at that level becoming that sloppy."

*

"It was a division, in a sense. I was the first semi-successful recipient of any attempts to make a supersoldier. And I remained effective, despite the various…" Michael looks down at his hands at the scars that run there. "…shortcomings. When I started gaining more control and the technology was developed to even me out, the Latinates were established. Initially, it was support personnel who were mutants or augmented humans. They mostly supported my missions. Analysts, handlers, backup. But as the program grew, it expanded to other agents with their own support systems. Felix was a mutant who was given cybernetic enhancements. He was supposed to be my equal, or at least someone who could keep up with me."
He takes a moment to gather his thoughts, to swim through the lake of old memories. He shakes his head as if to clear it. "Felix was chosen because he had mutant powers and seemed loyal, not because he would make the best agent. You've been through intelligence screening. You know it's as much about psychology as skills. You can teach someone how to shoot, but not everyone can be taught what you need to know to be a good spy. I believe Felix was simply not cut out for the life." He says that with some degree of sympathy. "He was…my friend, at a time when I couldn't get close to anyone. I can only imagine he felt deeply betrayed when I didn't go to bat for him after his disavowal."

*

Peggy takes another long, slow drink as she listens to Michael's explanation of his division and Felix, eyebrows furrowed. She knew at first the serum made Michael unstable and difficult - more violent. It's one thing to read it and another to hear it from him. To learn more about this straight from him and not from his file is something she has wanted since she learned he was a alive.

"That seems irresponsible," Peggy can't help but comment about allowing Felix into such a dangerous field without the proper checks and balances. Perhaps Michael was supposed to be that check as much as Felix was for him. "All agents, no matter how valuable, only become threats if they're not properly prepared or suited for their missions." While her words may be lecturing, her tone is more sympathetic.

"He was compromised," she assures Michael. "What did he wish you to do - go on the run with him against MI:6? Did you believe him to be innocent?"

*

Michael shakes his head slowly. "I don't know. The truth was, at the time I was focused on my mission and dedicated to my country. Blindly." He flexes his fingers, shoulders tightening. "You have to understand, Peggy, this was the Cold War. You've read about that, yes? The threat of nuclear armageddon was hanging over the entire world as Russia and the United States entered into a prolonged pissing contest. It made people desperate, in a way that even the threat of Hitler didn't. It also made people paranoid and willing to compromise. Felix may never have been made an agent in peacetime, but in wartime, his healing ability made him well-suited to accepting experimental cybernetics which would allow him to be faster and stronger."
He stands up and scoops up his own empty glass. He moves to refill it. "I was not…the most emotionally stable. This was before the microchip that evened out my emotions. I was kept on an even keel by pharmecuticals that sometimes acted erratically in my system. They erred on the side of a stronger dose, which made me more detached and cold. They had just modified my dose before Felix's failed mission." He swallows a mouthful and doesn't savor it. "I should have defended him. I should have told them they had a responsibility to him because they threw him into a scenario he wasn't well-suited for. But instead, I let him hang. And now he's returned the favour."

*

Duty. Peggy knows the word, feels it in her very bones. Duty and doing the right thing was a large driving factor for her growing up and well into her adult life. It still drives her.

As for the Cold War, she nods her head. "Yes, I've read about the Cold War." She did not, however, live through it like the Older Peggy. All the she has read and been told of people who knew that Peggy seem to believe that time period certainly changed her. The threat of nuclear war, the tension, she can imagine the difficulty, the desperation. "I understand it is a very different thing between reading about it and living through it."

A frown forms as Michael continues. The glass with perhaps only a finger left of the amber liquid rests on her knee. She nods, though she doesn't like to think of her brother as a cold and calculating super agent. He was her compass, her example, a loving guide throughout her life even after she thought him dead. "Michael, you were going through extenuating circumstances. He was your partner and must have known about your dosages as well as your disposition. Of course he feels you betrayed him - that seems a very visceral sort of reaction to such a circumstance - but if he truly knew you, he would eventually forgive you. He would know that what happened was perhaps your choice, but not exactly by your own design."

*

Michael chuckles humourlessly. "Yes, perhaps. If he was a purely logical being. But Felix's problem was always that he led with his heart. I can imagine that my recent…forays into an actual life must have chafed him if he'd been watching me. I have no doubt that reconnecting with you and my brief attempt at a relationship with Jessica were what prompted his ire. When I had nothing but my job, I can imagine he felt that was punishment enough. But if I started getting more?"
He lifts the glass to his lips, but doesn't drink. He lowers it instead. "It could also be that he planned to do this for some time but was just not presented with an opportunity. I was vulnerable and functioning without backup, in a situation where I could be disavowed. It's been a long time since I was sent on a mission that left me operating without a safety net." After all, disavowal only tends to happen when an agent is doing something clearly illegal or within the borders of an allied nation without their sanction.

*

"Not immediately," Peggy amends her assessment. "However, he's had 30 years to mull over things. To come to terms with how you were and how you could change. Though, well, it sounds as if he has gone the other way." Instead of forgiving, he's turned leading with his heart into full out anger and revenge.

Why Felix has come out of the woodwork now as opposed to earlier is met with an unhappy nod. That would certainly track with a certain type of person. Both explanations are equally upsetting to her.

"Do you think he's intent on furthering his agenda?" That is, killing him. "Or do you believe that he now believes his revenge is finished?"

"I honestly don't know," says Michael with a slow shake of his head. And that bothers him. He's usually quite good at determining motivations and puzzling out what people are going to do next. "The person I knew had his issues, but he'd never shoot me in the chest in cold blood." He reaches up to touch the spot in his chest. It's long since covered over, but the internal damage is still healing. "It makes forming a profile rather difficult. But I do have to be prepared, especially if I get reinstated or manage to get back on my feet. I'd imagine he's satisfied with my misery for the moment."

*

The thought of Felix coming to finish the job certainly makes Peggy shift a bit uncomfortably in her seat. Covering that with a drink from her glass, she finishes the rest of what she had left. "One thing is certain, you're no longer operating without a safety net, no matter what MI:6 decides. I'll always come for you, Michael. And if Felix wishes to try again, he will have to get through me to do it." Standing, she pours herself another - small - glass of liquor.

"In the meantime, I say we forget Felix and drink like old times. I can tell you the story about the time Dum Dum Dugan was trapped with Audrey Hepburn on a mission in Holland for three days. I called him a liar for years, but one day he showed me the letter she wrote him. He told it far better than I can, but it's certainly a tale."

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License