Albums and Issues

February 04, 2018:

Sharon Carter visits her presumed-dead great-uncle Michael Carter.

A former SHIELD safehouse

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Peggy Carter

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The flat in Hell's Kitchen is nothing remarkable. But, that's rather the point. It used to be a safehouse for SHIELD before they moved on for safety and accessibility purposes. It does just fine for a down-on-his-luck former MI-6 agent, though. It's a first floor walk-up, with a bedroom, an alcove kitchen and a living area. Most every surface is covered in little scale models in various states of being painted. The smell of model paint leaks out into the hallway.

*

From outside, Sharon takes a deep breath. Then another. She squares her shoulders, stares at the door, and tries rethinking this whole thing. She has a bag with her. She brought… stupid things, but things he might appreciate. She's not sure about the odd smells of glue and paint and the like, but in the end, she knocks on the door at last.
Sharon looks normal enough. Cornsilk hair where the rest of the Carters are dark, blue eyes, a warm royal blue wool coat with silver buttons and warm slacks peeking out underneath. Normal. Unlike this situation.

*

There's sounds of movement inside, but no one comes to the door right away. There's a moment where Sharon can feel someone nearby, perhaps peering through the peephole. There's a long pause, then the shuffle of feet. The door is opened slowly.
The photos in Michael's file are more reflective of his usual self. The pictures showed a man in his late twenties or early thirties with neatly trimmed blonde hair and neatly kept, spare facial hair. Most of the photos that weren't taken from surveillance photos show a man in impeccably tailored bespoke suits. Family photos show a man clean-shaven, but not much younger, unsmiling but not unhappy in the way of old portraits. The one most of the family has a copy of is him in his uniform, in the days before he was sent off to war, or a happier one with Peggy when they were both in their Sunday best.
The man who opens the door looks older, or at least more weary and worn. Age is not evident in lines, wrinkles or gray hair - as there are none, but in his carriage and expression. One of his eyes looks to be a dull brown, while the other is vibrant and blue. His hair is too long and in need of a comb, and tied back in a haphazard ponytail. He's wearing a gray v-neck t-shirt with a black hoodie. What skin that is exposed shows knots of scar tissue and stitching. The side of his face up to his right eye shows odd scarring in the shape of circuits.
She knows protocol enough to know that the hand behind the door holds a weapon, safety off, finger resting along the side of the barrel. Ready, but not an imminent threat. He stares at her with those Bowie eyes, then shifts. After a long moment, he says simply, "You must be Sharon."

*

Sharon's eyes range over the face she sees, flicking from eyes to brow to hair to scars to nose and jaw and back to scars for just a fraction of a second before resting on his eyes again. She knows that stance, knows that wariness, and understands it all at the same time. Another little reminder of how none of them are really normal.
The thought is banished and she responds with a slight smile: "I guess Peggy mentioned me. I hope I'm not bothering you, but I brought a few things. If you don't mind." The bag she's toting is a rather large brown thing resting on her hip with a crossbody strap. A very large satchel, perhaps.

*

"Peggy didn't. Mention you," says Michael. Proper English-sounding, as one might expect. "But, I've kept up with the family over the years." Especially the ones who ended up in spycraft.
Cautiously, slowly, he opens the door more fully. His finger slides back to click the safety into place. He does it within view of her. No need to insult her by assuming she didn't know he was armed. "Are you here as a SHIELD agent, or as part of your family duty to your old grand-uncle?"

*

That's actually rather a comforting thing to know. Even if he didn't keep in touch with the family, he kept an eye on them. Perhaps the idea of a spy spying on her family, taking surreptitious pictures, that sort of thing, should be unnerving. Sharon, a spy herself, finds it a little less so.
"I guess not everything I brought will be useful or news, in that case, but you might still enjoy it. I'm here — well, you can't take the SHIELD out of the agent, but I'm here for my great-uncle." She gives the hallway a quick glance, but this is a safehouse for a reason. She's not too worried about Michael's safety here.
"I come with bribes. Proper tea if you don't have it, for a start, and an electric kettle. SHIELD safehouses sometimes leave out the real necessities of life."

*

Michael whuffs a chuckle and scratches his eyebrow. "I do see that the family is very concerned that I get a proper cuppa." He reaches over to pluck a can of loose leaf off a ledge. "From my sister. Although as you well know, it's difficult to be a spy and to be picky about your hot beverages."
He steps further inward and shifts a few of the models away to make room on the paper covered kitchen table. "I'd imagine it's rather disturbing for you that both Peggy and I are around and looking much the same age as yourself."

*

"You're English and I know Peggy. Specifically, the one who traveled through time at a one-to-one relationship. They didn't want to allow her a kettle and a hot cuppa every day when she first got to her current facility, and things went downhill fast. Then they learned to adapt."
Sharon sets down her bag — it wumphs rather heavily on the floor, and she looks to Michael with a slight shrug. "I'd say 'you get used to weird things going on', but it would be inadequate. It is disturbing. But I'm grateful. Your sister, my great-aunt, was a mentor all my life. I've always been fond of her and wished that I could have 'known her when'. And you were the family hero. It's a privilege, but an unexpected one."
Bending then, she reaches into the bag and sorts around. Tea's fine, but she withdraws a tablet and a couple of thick… oh God. Family photo albums.
"You kept track," she says. "But you didn't get the Christmases or the birthdays. I thought you might like them."

*

"Funny thing about heroes. They're usually better if you never meet them." There's a bitter edge to it that Michael immediately looks apologetic for. "Sorry I've become a bit of a cynic over these last several weeks."
He eyes the photo albums and blinks rapidly. Well. "I got periodic updates." He looks from the stack up towards Sharon. He looks uncomfortable in that distinctly English way when faced with a situation where one must be polite but one isn't quite sure how to react. "How much…do you know about me? I know that you work with SHIELD, and yes, that my sister mentored you through most of your life."

*

"I'm not sure how to answer that question." Sharon takes a deep breath, then turns around to do the most English thing this American knows how to do: she's going to damned well make that tea. This is what the English do when they feel awkward, and even Sharon, brash and highly American, is feeling the need to have some kind of social lubricant. Preferably in a thick warm cup.
"I know you were — " She clears her throat. "You're Peggy's brother and she admired you. You're in every story she ever told about growing up. I know that officially you died in World War II but were kept alive somehow by MI-6 or some offshoot. I know that you're here in New York because your handler botched their mission prep, or at least I would have been in touch with my Norwegian contacts before — "
Another throatclear. Sharon cuts herself off. "As for me, that's most of what there is. Your uncle was my… great-grandfather, I want to say. I always mix up the lines."

*

Michael doesn't move to intercept. He'll let her set up the kettle. The kitchen alcove at least, is not full of models, though the sink has a yogurt container mixed with paint and water with a few brushes sticking out of it. There's also a sauce pot on the stove that it looks like he was using to boil water for tea. Like a heathen.
"My uncle, yes. Phillip. Your line came here with his son, if I'm not mistaken." He nods once. Then he looks back to the photo albums and opens up the nearest one. He takes a deep breath in. "My mission in Norway was…complicated. With a few details I'm not at liberty to disclose." Even after being disavowed, because he is a man who believes in Queen and Country.

*

The poor man. He might as well be living in the Stone Age when it comes to tea-making. She plugs in the kettle with a certain satisfaction and sets the temperature while she pops the tea into a strainer, the strainer into the pot. "I wouldn't ask you to. Believe me, I know how it is." It's not remotely offensive to keep things like that from loved ones, even family members. Carters, if anyone, know about the dualities of duty.
There are, peeking out of the bag, a few boxes of biscuits. Especially good for dipping into tea.
But in the photo album? The one on top actually has some pictures of Michael and his generation. Some of these are clearly printouts from scans, suggesting that Sharon (or someone, perhaps her mother) might have acquired scans of old family photos and added them to the album. Several are original, though, and include the usual sorts of scenes. Further on are more recent pictures, including Sharon's parents' wedding pictures.
"How are you taking to New York? You're clearly good with a glue pot and a paintbrush."

*

It's been a very long time since Michael has looked at old photos. Over the years, when he'd receive reports about his family, they'd be current. The snapshots would be recent, the news of-the-moment. He's never really spent any time going down memory lane. He's a little taken aback by the first photo of him and Peggy before he joined the military. He looks a little more baby-faced and chubby of cheek in that photo, while his sister is just 14 and starting to do her hair with curlers. He turns the page and skims over the old faces there. Cousins, aunts, uncles. His parents. His friends from school.
He's so distracted by the photos that Sharon will have to make another noise before he turns to look at her. "Mhmm? Oh, it's…a hobby a friend suggested I take up again. Considering I find myself with time on my hands."

*

"And a need to do something with your hands." Sharon nods her understanding. The kettle beeps in under two minutes, and Sharon sets the tea to steep. She smiles to herself as Michael starts going through the photos, even allowing herself a brief chuckle: "It's funny how genes work. I used to look at those pictures and get you confused with Phillip's line because we're practically the only blonde Carters. I never looked like anyone else. It didn't help that Peggy was always Aunt Peggy."
Everything gets carried, two at a time, to the table. Teapot and a plate for biscuits. Cream and sugar. Two cups, saucers, spoons. She starts arranging the biscuits on the plate in an absence of protest, including half a box of Caramel De-Lites and half a sleeve of Thin Mints because she got ambushed by Girl Scouts outside Duane Reade.

*

"Mhmmm, yes, blonde does seem to not peek out much in the Carter genes. I was told my great-grandmother was blonde, but there were practically no other Carters." Michael points to a photograph taken at a family gathering. "This was my grandmother's 70th birthday." He stands out like a sore thumb in that picture as not only the only blonde, but the only one with hair that isn't dark brown. Well, of anyone who isn't gray-haired or bald, that is. One or two of the women are also wearing such extravagant hats that their hair can't be seen at all. But of the younger set, he's easy to spot.
He looks over at the platter of biscuits. "Good lord. Are you expecting company? The whole community to come over for tea after church?" Wry, that.

*

"Shockingly," Sharon replies, "anything that isn't eaten can be put back in its box. And you'll find that these — " She snags a Thin Mint — "are even better frozen. Next time, I'll consult the Miss Manners Guide to Entertaining English People, particularly the chapter on serving sizes."
That same dry Carter wit. She doesn't seem angry, though. Leaning over to look at the photograph, she looks among all the faces with her lips pressed together. "Is that Phillip?" she murmurs, pointing to one of the men, and adds: "I only ever had Peggy to ask about these. At least as far as people who were there."

*

"Sometimes my cousins would tease me that I was adopted and I was actually from Switzerland," says Michael wryly. "They did it one too many times and Peggy shoved them in the dirt. She was eight." He smiles warmly at the memory. "Honestly though, how anyone could know me and doubt my Englishness is a mystery." He reaches for one of the cookies, nibbles a corner and makes a face. "Mint. In a biscuit." Hmm.
"Yes, that's him." He lays a finger on the image of a stern-faced gentleman in a well-fitting suit. "He owned a tailor shop. He fitted me for my first suit and taught me how to dress well. It's a shame he died so young. I think it was only four or so years after this picture was taken."

*

Sharon's had the odd smile or two, but the story is the first thing that really elicits a grin. "And that's Peggy Carter in a nutshell. I'm not a bit surprised. Look at you in that necktie. So serious. Were you never the sort of boy to run around and, I don't know, chase dogs or something?" Tch. The English. She sips her tea.
"If the Thin Mints aren't to your liking, try the caramel ones. And if both of those are too American, there's a little box of lemon poppyseed biscuits that're as dry as sand. They're the ones my aunt dips in tea." Sharon rests her chin on her hand and looks at Phillip with a rueful smile: "When was this? He was handsome. He looks… stoic. Was he always as serious as that?"

*

"Oh, yes. Though Peggy came back with her clothes torn and dirty more often than I did. We used to spend whole days out in the forest getting into all manner of trouble." Michael reaches for one of the dry biscuits, bites, and seems more pleased than with the mint one.
"Mhmm, no, actually. He just always tended to look that way in photographs because he came from a time when you'd get maybe one portrait a year because it was so expensive. He actually had a jolly good sense of humour. Dry as the Sahara, but witty, too. He did rather enjoy people being intimidated by him, though. He was…" he pinches one eye closed and estimates in his memory, "…well, I'm six foot on the nose, and so I'd say he was 6'3", maybe even 6'4", and lanky."

*

From awkward to actually wonderful. Sharon beams, tracing a finger along the edge of the picture. "I've noticed that about many big men. They're quite often gentle giants. They don't have to be any other sort. People are nervous just looking at them." Another sip, and she tries one of the dry biscuits. Dipped in her tea, even. They're better that way.
"I can see it, though. You and Peggy on a summer afternoon, climbing trees and catching bugs. Learning to skip stones. Eating berries. I used to go to the country in the summer but I don't think it was the same for me. I lived in Virginia, so I learned to shoot cans off a fence when I was… eight? Nine?"

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