Cut to the Heart

March 10, 2018:

Sharon visits Michael to update him on the situation with Peggy

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Peggy Carter, Steve Rogers

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Thanks to one Tony Stark, Michael is looking much better - at least physically. He's no longer covered in knots of scars and visible cybernetics. The repair job fixed the mechanism that disguises the Frankenstein mess that is a body experimented on. That fix prompted a trim of his hair, though he still sports a bit more facial hair than he usually does. He's also not back to bespoke suits, but he's moved out of grubby t-shirts and jeans. He wears a blue solid v-neck sweater with a collared shirt beneath and a pair of dark wash jeans.
He's been cleaning the flat that his SHIELD contact has graciously allowed him to stay in. There's boxes of models sitting in the hallway. They're finished and well-painted, but there are a lot of them. The door itself is propped ajar and there's more boxes of models just inside. He's currently wiping down the walls with a sponge and a bucket of soapy water. The place smells sharply of Pine Sol and is neat as a pin, if a bit hard-scrabble.

*

It's days like this when Sharon can see how great Michael's little flat can look. …The answer is "not amazing, but nicely scrubbed". Michael looks a whole lot better than last time they saw each other, but Sharon… doesn't. Sleepless nights and impending grief are taking their toll. And the short list of people who could have visited Aunt Peggy is… well, extremely short.
But she smiles, nevertheless, when she sees Michael Carter. She'

*

It's days like this when Sharon can see how great Michael's little flat can look. …The answer is "not amazing, but nicely scrubbed". Michael looks a whole lot better than last time they saw each other, but Sharon… doesn't. Sleepless nights and impending grief are taking their toll. And the short list of people who could have visited Aunt Peggy is… well, extremely short.
But she smiles, nevertheless, when she sees Michael Carter. She's careful not to sneak up on his open door, and she stands in the doorframe and gives him a little wave when she sees him. "This is a LOT better," she says. "Good afternoon, Uncle Michael. Mind if I come in?"

*

There is a brief moment when a gun is in Michael's hand, but it's returned to its holster under the edge of a table in the time it takes him to confirm her identity.
He may be late-winter cleaning, but he's still one of the most highly-trained and longest-serving spies still living.
"Sharon. Hello. Yes, I've never really been one for clutter, despite appearances the last time you visited." He takes a moment to look her over. His eyes narrow. "What's wrong?"

*

Ah, it's the traditional Carter Bluntness. There's nothing like it for getting straight to the point. "We'll get to that pretty quickly," Sharon replies with a weary sigh. "The big thing is: you should visit Peggy. The one who time-traveled the long way around. She remembers you, and she also remembers you're alive. I really don't think seeing you is going to confuse her so much as potentially irritate her that you haven't come earlier."
She crooks a slight smile: "Though she became a little more relaxed in the last few decades. The thing I'm primarily worried about is that she may not have much time left. And… that's the other thing I came to talk to you about."

*

When Michael isn't around family, when he's putting on a persona, he's less blunt. He can be rambling, or suave and charming, or uncouth. But in his natural state, yes, the family preference for getting straight to the heart of the matter does rise to the top.
The answer he gets to the question though, makes him pause - though it's hard to find the emotions he's feeling by just looking at his face. "I always suspected she might have known. She held one of the highest clearance levels in the world for a time. Someone would have had to work very hard to keep me a secret. But when she retired and I received no communique, I assumed I had been wrong."
Michael crosses towards his kitchen. Rather than tea, he pulls down a bottle of single malt and fills two tumblers with a generous splash. He presses one into Sharon's hand. "She is quite old, and by all accounts, not quite well. That's why I haven't been by. If she genuinely didn't know I was alive, or had forgotten, it seemed cruel to dredge up those memories."

*

"I know you haven't neglected her." Sharon strides on in, and she can't help a heavy sigh of honest gratitude when she sees him splashing a pair of tumblers with scotch. She has to smile, in fact: it's a combination of an uncle's courtesy and an agent's fellow-feeling. He may not know what's kept her up for nights on end, but he knows she could use a moment to unwind.
"I couldn't say why. Maybe she could, but I haven't called her on it. Except knowing you survived your first scrape doesn't mean she was sure you survived all the rest, and corresponding with you could have disturbed your cover." She shrugs: making judgments on what Peggy's thinking is a fool's errand. For all that the woman is as blunt as a planet, she also keeps a lot inside.
"She's quite old. She's not quite well. But for all that her memory fades sometimes, she's sharper than her nurses suspect." Sharon sucks in a breath: "And she's in trouble."

*

"The starkest difference between my Peggy and her younger counterpart," telling that Michael phrases it that way, "…is that my elder sister lived and worked through the Cold War. She saw our profession get progressively messier and more morally gray as the years went on. My sister's younger self still has the absolutism and the idealism of what was a violent, but in many ways, simpler time. It has been a privilege to get to know that younger version, but that lack of lived knowledge represents a barrier in truly understanding one another sometimes." He looks down into his glass before taking a sip.
The last bit causes his head to snap up. He was expecting just news about Peggy the Elder's declining health. "Something from her past?" Because lord knows she's got a long list of enemies - as does any spy who lives to retirement age.

*

"I… need to get to know her younger counterpart a little better," Sharon admits. "It's — you know, you might be the only other person in the world who really understands how uncomfortable it is. Your Peggy — our Peggy — is the one I grew up with. She's the one who tossed me in the air and helped me learn to swim. She was there when I first held a handgun, when I graduated from high school. She's the one who taught me to know my own worth. This new Peggy? I have no doubt she's the same brilliant, brave, vibrant woman, but she's not the same. You understand it."
In response to his question, Sharon nods and takes another slow sip. "I think so. Someone who sees her as… as symbolizing SHIELD and everything it's done. Someone SHIELD has hurt, or someone Peggy in particular has made an enemy of. Someone who takes it incredibly personally, I think. There's something so personal about all this. If nothing else, why target a centenarian in a retirement home? Why go through all the trouble of — whoever this is, he's visited her personally. He's left black roses at her bedside, roses that come from some varietal even our best biologist has never seen. We have camera footage of the man, we think. I was actually hoping, just as a shot in the dark, that a name might spring to mind." Though there's not a lot of hope in her voice or her expression.

*

"My sister is a remarkable woman at any age," says Michael with confidence, and without artifice. "But yes. It is especially difficult for me because I look as she remembers me, but I've watched her age over the years." He lets that sentimental thought linger, until he realizes it sounds…vaguely creepy. "Well not literally. I received reports about her status and situation," his voice cracks drolly.
He swirls the glass and listens to Sharon's words. His hand tightens on the glass. His jaw clenches. "Why target her? To not let her go quietly and peacefully. An attack on the elder Margaret Carter is an attack on everything she's built. Spycraft, as you know, is as much psychological warfare as it is inflicting physical damage." He suddenly swallows what's left in his glass. He goes reaching for his coat and scoops up his keys. "I need to speak to her. I trust you have someone watching her. And I trust you understand the significance of black roses."

*

"She and the facility are under guard. But we haven't loaded up security too heavily. We're not going to disrupt the facility any more than necessary; damn it, Michael, there's only so much we can do." She's infuriated with herself for saying it. Even more so at the crack in her voice. Sharon gives her head a sharp shake. "That's exactly what they're trying to do. That much is pointedly clear. To attack SHIELD by destroying the woman who created it. To use her as a symbol of whatever it is they hate. To let us know they can strike anywhere. And yes. Insofar as what they're meant to signify. I was hoping you might know where they come from. Who uses them as a symbol. How long that's gone on."

*

"I have been in this business a very long time, Sharon," says Michael as he tucks his keys away and zips the pocket of his jacket. He then reaches into a well-concealed (even from her - a spy with training) handgun from a spot beneath a sweater that hangs on a hook on the wall. It's slid into a built-in holster in the inside of his jacket. "But there's still a great deal I don't know - especially when it comes to inter-agency conflicts. I've always been a weapon who was pointed at a threat and told to deal with it. I was never an administrator like you or Peggy."
It could be easy to take 'administrator' as an insult, but the field agent doesn't seem to mean it that way.
"I was never privvy to the high level politics except when it directly affected my mission. I do know that black roses are not a friendly gesture. And I'm going to stay by my sister's side to make certain no one can make good on that threat."

*

"I'm expecting the same from Captain Rogers," Sharon replies. Another thin smile, and then she downs her own glass. "So between the two of you, you can sleep in shifts. I wouldn't have it any other way. She'll be thrilled to see you."
And that's most of what she has to tell him, frankly. She could talk about how actually rewarding it is to be a part of the administrative side of the team, to run things and only sometimes have to actually shoot people. Less romance. More bird's-eye view. She could also fall down in an emotional heap over losing her beloved aunt, but he knows. He gets it. No point in talking about it. She can cry over her own scotch at home.

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