Candid Camera

April 22, 2015:

The Winter Soldier drags Emmett Argyle out to Staten Island to ask him a few questions and force a rather seismic answer upon him.

Staten Island, New York

A power plant in Staten Island.


NPCs: None.


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Following a rifle-fired tranq dart and a ride through Brooklyn, Agent Emmett Argyle is a long way away from his neighborhood gym: by the drug wears off, he's laid out in a mostly empty parking lot overlooked by aged brick buildings and a single soaring chimney.

He is not alone.


"Agent Argyle," the masked and goggled Winter Soldier states from behind the pistol hovering a few feet away from the tech's eyes. The unpeeled upper half of his stained mechanic's coveralls hangs from his waist, revealing a tactical vest and the dull glimmer of moonlight off of cold, Russian steel hanging by his side.

No demands, no questions; he simply crouches to press the barrel of the gun to Argyle's forehead, squatting over the agent as he does so.


Argyle's head is throbbing. Whatever was in that tranq dart wasn't exactly a Sleep Eze D. Before he can worry too much about that, there's something pressed against his forehead that could make the pain in his head go away permanently.

The SHIELD agent lifts up his hands and sets them by his head. He breathes a few steadying breaths and stares up at the man who hovers above him. He doesn't say anything. Instead he just locks eyes with the other man and works his jaw to the side. There's been no question, and he's been trained not to volunteer any answers.

There's currently a technician cursing up a storm back at the Triskelion. The signal she was supposed to be monitoring - the signal that has been steady and trackable for nearly ten years went out about twenty minutes ago. A snack break meant she missed the 'off the reservation' alarm. Someone's going to hear it, and she'll be lucky if she only hears it from a Level 8.

The Winter Soldier… waits.

And waits.

And waits a little more.

It doesn't actually take him but a couple of seconds to call an audible on his plan to see what Argyle's made of, but this is basically an eternity when there's a gun to someone's head.

*KRAK!* the barrel goes across the agent's jaw before being jammed up under his chin. The Soldier sinks down in an effort to pin the other man to the ground. Now he has a question, dripping with frost:

"Nobody knows where you are." His finger curls around the trigger and tenses, but doesn't quite pull. "Nobody is coming to save you; do you have any last words?"


Argyle's head snaps to the side. He tastes the blood in his mouth before the ringing pain dances down his nerve endings. He grits his teeth, tenses his back muscles and stares up at the other man.

And then, finally, after a few long seconds, he says, "You're not going to kill me. You're an assassin. Assassins don't play with your marks." He turns his head and spits out blood. "You just take 'em out. If all you wanted to do was blow my head off, I would have never seen it coming."

The Winter Soldier stares for a few silent seconds, empty eyes scanning over every inch of the agent's features.

"You're right; that isn't want I want." To prove this, he keeps the gun right where it is. "But it's what will happen if you don't give me what I am after." Now he withdraws the weapon, and even vacates his mounted position… only to throw a kick towards the agent's ribs as soon as he steps clear.

"Unbound," he hisses mid-motion. "Drugged, but conscious; is this how you want to die? On your back, and able to prevent it?"


Something about this situation rings in the back of Argyle's mind. The ringing is unrelated to the vibration that still rocks him from the pistol whip to the head. Words very much like those words, once barked to him in a different language.

He narrows his eyes and manages to roll somewhat out of the way before the kick swings full force. He still gets it in the ribs, but not with the cracking strength he otherwise would have.

He gets to his feet in one smooth motion. He drops back into a defensive posture, eyes hardened and trained on the other man. He doesn't advance, but he's sizing him up. "If you wanted to dance, all you had to do was ask." He smirks.

There is a pause just long enough for the Winter Soldier to holster his weapon against hip, and then he advances with raised fists and a low posture that lends itself well to cautious but inevitable forward movement. The cybernetic arm is held forward, ready to intercept weapons and limbs alike.

"I asked; I was beginning to wonder if you were equipped to respond."

The Soldier springs out of his somewhat protective stance like a viper lunging towards Argyle's right. He snaps his foot towards the agent's knee, hoping to buckle it and bring him right back down to the ground.


There is nothing superhuman about Emmett Argyle - except perhaps for the capacity to receive instruction. So this, at the outset, is not the fairest of fights. Still, he has SHIELD training - and prior to that, a childhood of conditioned responses.

SHIELD noted how quickly he took to combat training. That was one of the first clues there was something different about him.

A solid arm drops down to intercept the foot. His forearm absorbs the blow and glances it off, but not without a solid transfer of force that shakes his arm. He swivels back and swings his arm around, point of elbow aiming to connect with the other man's jaw. Whether he connector not, he swings back around again, the opposite fist pummeling out with a bruiser's strength aiming at his adversary's ribs.

He's playing for keeps - the gun to his forehead made sure of that. But there's still an element of sparring to his movements. None of the moves are desperate or wild. He is, in fact, surprisingly calm.

Bone meets a metal palm when the Winter Soldier catches the elbow coming at him. The limb gently whirrs, bands flex and sigh, and just before Argyle's fist can meet his ribs, that arm drops straight down to let the agent's knuckles slam against it. The arm is just about the only thing separating Argyle from the Soldier's torso; if it wasn't for cybernetic reflexes, he'd probably be staggering back right now.

This is not an especially fair fight, but the Winter Soldier doesn't care about 'fair'; he cares about studying the agent's style for hints of his own.

As his left arm swings out to force Emmett's arm aside, the Winter Soldier steps in to drive a knee towards his gut; if it lands, he'll follow it up by dropping an elbow towards his spine.

If not, he'll be momentarily off-balance, with his best defense still out to his side.


Argyle's elbow stings and welts as it hits the metal of the Soldier's arm. He grunts in pain where someone else might have cried out. The same goes for the second blocked blow. He's developing painful welts with every hit of flesh to metal.

Still, the longer they fight, the more the agent is able to anticipate. He twists his torso when he sees the signs of a raising knee. He's not fast enough to dodge it completely, but he can absorb and twist, to glance the blow and mitigate the full force of the strike. He plants a foot between the soldier's feet, then feints with the left, but swings with the right, aiming for a good old fashioned punch to the jaw, with all of his not-inconsiderable strength behind it. His planted foot is placed in the way of the ideal stance to dodge the blow. He's hoping to either keep his opponent off-balance, or force him even further off it as he tries to correct.

The Winter Soldier's head and shoulders twist with the direction of Argyle's blow as the agent blocks him from shifting away as he otherwise may have liked to. The punch jostles his mask, not quite knocking it free but leaving it hanging a bit askew; underneath, his jaw is a fireball of pain, not that he makes any noises to betray it.

His foot comes down firmly and slides towards Argyle's back leg, partly to engage in a similar game of screwing with the agent's footwork, and partly for bracing as a gunmetal blur moves towards his belt, then snaps towards Argyle's neck.

It's not a killing blow, but he does mean to destroy Argyle by burying a primed syringe in his jugular.


The drug works fast. The pounding of Argyle's heart rushes the milky white pharmecutical through his system within moments. His hand reaches towards the gun on the Soldier's belt. His fingers barely brush the handle, before he drops backwards and to the ground. His body is racked in a cold sweat and his eyes roll back in his head. He struggles valiantly to keep conscious, but ends up falling backwards onto the cold cement ground. He's out cold for the second time, though this time the other knows precisely how long he'll be out. The doses are calibrated precisely to his body weight and system.

The Winter Soldier weaves to the side a little while sliding the plunger home, but he's reasonably confident that one way or another, Argyle will be out of the equation before any shots can be fired. Sure enough, the agent collapses without removing his gun, leaving him to straighten up, edge away from Argyle, and wait.

And, after a second or two of throbbing, nudge his mask aside long enough to touch his jaw in a couple of places to get an early estimate of the damage and check for blood.


The wound on Argyle's head from the pistol whip snakes down the side of his face and pools around his chin. Angry welts on his arms with split skin are growing more purpled with each passing moment. It's the pain of those injuries that nudge him towards consciousness slightly earlier than the drug would usually allow. He stirs, but doesn't move much as his stomach twists and lurches as Fogburner chases Haze.

Slowly but surely, the drug takes hold. He gets to his knees and rocks back on his heels, then mops the drying blood from his face. Keeper spits, then lifts his head. "When I was a child, they told stories of you." His voice has lost its New Orleans drawl, but as before, he also does not sound Russian. "You were the monster in the shadows. They said…" He lifts his head and hoods his eyes. "…that you would come in the night if we disobeyed. That you would take us away. And when we graduated, if we saw you, it would mean that we had failed in our mission." A pause, and then, "Have I failed? Has the monster come to punish me?"

The Winter Soldier is busy smearing a few flecks of blood stuck to his fingers into his palm when Argyle regains consciousness; he can get more gloves, but a mechanic's disguise with just the right level of verisimilitudinous staining is a little harder to come by, and the blood has to go somewhere lest he leave traces of it around this makeshift arena.

His right hand hovers near his gun, but it's more of an idle precaution than anything. "Have you failed?" The rebounded question is followed with a fresher one: "Do you have reason to believe that they suspect you? View you as less valuable, or trustworthy than their other agents?"


"SHIELD is paranoia embodied. No one trusts anyone. They keep the leashes short and tight. You could do nothing wrong and prove your loyalty at every step and they would still not trust you more than they absolutely need to." Keeper shifts painfully and gets to his feet. He weaves, but he doesn't reach for the nearby pillar to steady himself out of principle. He's stronger than that.

"I'm less valuable. My clearance is not high. My…" he stops himself and smirks, "…his projects are carefully monitored. And he doesn't ask questions. Have I noticed this increase? No. But that means nothing. SHIELD looks for any excuse to distrust their people. It really is a toxic environment." Despite his state, there's something wry in his tone. "The real danger is in him becoming aware. Your last incursion did not go unnoticed." He touches his lip, his forehead. "…nor will this one."

"What kinds of projects do they give him?" the Winter Soldier asks while adjusting his mask. Keeper's already seen his face - Emmett's already seen his face - but that's no reason to leave it half-revealed. "What's his daily routine when he's working?" There's another question on the tip of his tongue, but it'll have to wait; with Keeper's description of SHIELD swirling in his head, something else springs to mind:

"SHIELD isn't a small organization, nor is it an especially secretive one by our standards: there are offices all over the world, and anyone could tell you, generally, what they do, even if they don't know the full extent of its activities. Its directors have every reason to be paranoid," he says while slowly pacing back and forth. "It's an obvious target for infiltration. I doubt that you're unique in your position, even if you might be the only one working for who you work for. Is there anyone that he distrusts? Anyone who seems as if they're hiding something… more than most of them might?"


"Weapons projects. Recruit firearm training. Field op support in demolitions." Keeper is completely candid. There's nothing in his manner that suggests he's lying, or even capable of lying under the influence of the drug. "The routine changes depending on what missions are on the docket or if a weapon project comes up with any urgency. Most recently, he assisted Agent Fitz on a device designed to prevent dimensional intrusions into SHIELD headquarters."

The comment about paranoia makes him smirk and lift his chin. "It's true. It is, in many ways, a shadow organization that tries to operate with one arm in the sun. It makes life difficult. And…" he corrects his stance as he starts to weave slightly. "…he trusts very few people. But he also does not question anyone. It's…" he makes a soft, disparaging sound, "…not in his nature. The Widow knows something, though. Romanoff. She was in his apartment when he woke from our last visit. They're not close. It made little sense."

The Winter Soldier's goggles hide his eyes when they briefly widen at those names.

"She's… going to be a problem," he determines once his expression is neutral again. "She had a hand in training you, yes? Before her betrayal." The Soldier plants his feet while turning towards Argyle and continuing, "Did she tell him why she was there? Did he ask?" Air is pushed out through his nostrils and his arms fold across his chest.

"Is that what you mean when you say that my incursion didn't go unnoticed? Do you believe that they suspect my role in his first disappearance?" His head turns all around as he asks, searching for drones, or new and unfamiliars cars. Or unfamiliar people lurking in familiar cars, or in the distance near the power station proper. His tone is stil level, but his demeanor is shifting away from cold composure.


"Yes," says Argyle. His lip curls and his chin lifts. "I was only a child then. She looks good for her age." Again, there's that thread of wry humour. He's not an automaton, even in his drugged state. "She claimed that he got drunk and texted her that he believed someone was following him. A thin story, but his phone had sent and her phone had received a message."

Despite his best efforts, he has to use the pillar to keep himself upright. "Not you. I don't think they believe you're connected to my program. If so, well, they've been subtle about it. I do think they suspect someone has made contact with me. Or at least, Romanoff does. Which could mean my usefulness to you could be coming to an end."

It's potential suicide to admit that, but to say otherwise would be a lie. The Fogburner prevents him from spinning lies to save his own skin.

"Clever enough," the Soldier observes as his eyes dart around the skies. "She must have known that he wasn't where he was supposed to be, somehow— or at least suspected. Perhaps she follows him, or…"

His eyes drift over the power plant before finally resting on Keeper. "… I was right to take extra precautions in choosing our rendezvous point tonight," he considers. "If she was there when he woke… perhaps he could have sent the message himself, if it wasn't for that, but there was no opportunity. Unless he regained consciousness between when my associates left him and she arrived…"

The Winter Soldier is silent for a few seconds as he ponders without lowering his head, stroking his chin, breaking eye contact, or, generally, doing the things that one might expect a person to do when thinking through a problem.

"If that's the case," he eventually says, "then I will have to consider how I can get the most out of what time you have left. Could you be him, if you needed to? Enough to fool them? He might not have a very high clearance, but demolitions… weapons projects… security systems… these are not unimportant roles that he's entrusted with."


"They didn't tell me about the drug," says Keeper. The words fall heavily off his tongue and he leans a little more on the pillar. "I trained to be him, imagining I would have control." And it was rather a rude awakening to realize what the real methodology of the program was. "But it's not that simple. I receive weekly doses of Haze. If they know about me, it is through that. I've just assumed the cover of a drug to treat a blood disorder has held, and I have been under so long that I had no one to raise concerns with." Which is a statement of fact, but could be read as a subtle complaint. "I don't know what the effects would be if I stopped with my doses. But I can't imagine I would just simply regain my memory."

"I don't want you to stop." The Winter Soldier approaches Keeper as he makes the correction, mainly to get a closer look at his condition while he works to stay standing. "I want to know if you could, given some minutes of freedom, be a wrench in their operations without drawing too much suspicion. Between us, I think that we could expose him to the Fogburner subtly, so that you have a chance to take control while he's on duty. SHIELD's atmosphere would make it risky, of course."

Another few moments of thought pass as he examines Keeper, and then he states, "Stop straining; sit, if you need to." He slowly exhales, then continues, "Something to think about, anyway." He is momentarily silent again, before:

"Your superiors did what they thought was best, I think. For the sake of the mission," he says, quieter than before. It's meant to be an assurance of some kind, filtered through the perspective of one serially brainwashed operative for the benefit of another. "Your training may have had a purpose, even if it isn't an obvious one."


"I accept my lot," says Keeper. He pushes off the pillar and straightens, just as a matter of pride. "And I will do whatever you order me to do. But if they already suspect, they may put me down at the first signs of suspicious behavior." He says that like a man who is worried for the sake of the mission, not simply a man who wants to save his own skin. They trained him too well. His own well-being is only important inasmuch as it serves the mission. "SHIELD likes to pretend that they have some moral high ground, but their methods are not very different from ours. We just don't pretend."

He sniffs once and meets the other man's eyes, or at least, his goggles. "Why did you fight me? You could have injected me immediately." It's not questioning so much as…curiosity.

"I fought him," the Winter Soldier clarifies. "I know who had a hand in training you; I wanted to see how much he remembered… if anything. If I could recognize her style in his. It wasn't personal, but the injuries were unavoidable; I did try to minimize them, however." There's nothing in his voice to suggest that he's sorry for the pistol-whipping or anything else, of course, but there's no joy, or mockery either.

At least he didn't throw any left-handed punches.

"You've been an asset to me. The operation in Slaughter Swamp went poorly, but it wasn't a complete failure. You've spent years trapped in another man's life, but you remain loyal, ready to share what you've learned through his eyes, no matter what it costs you. You were trained well; it would be wasteful in the extreme to throw your life away for nothing. You should continue observing… for now. Looking for vulnerablities, opportunities— anything that could be exploited; if your time with SHIELD is coming to an end, then it should be in our terms."

As he speaks, the Winter Soldier draws a clean white cloth - perfect for quickly handling stray prints - from just beneath his coveralls and holds it down to Keeper. For whatever blood might still be lingering.


Keeper watches the Soldier as he speaks. He listens, and if he's angered by any of it, he doesn't let it show. "A little personal indulgence, then? I understand. You wanted to test your legacy. Did I pass?" There's that wry sense of humour again. A small smile even makes an appearance. "Have you fought her? She is…particularly deadly. The years have honed those skills." The admiration is clear in his voice, even as it's tinged with a slight hint of venom.

He eyes the white cloth, hesitates briefly, then accepts it and dabs at the wound on his face. The muscles around his eye twitches, but he doesn't hiss in pain. "I'm glad you were able to escape. I admit, that the failure of your mission was worrying. It leads me to believe that they either feed their agents false details as a matter of course - or they truly don't trust him. Both are entirely possible where SHIELD is concerned."

He moves the cloth down to touch his split lip. Blood blooms bright against the white material. "SHIELD's greatest weakness is its people. They are also their greatest strength. There is also a current obsession to control and guard against things of a mystical nature. They've hired two former cops to try and get a handle on magic."

"Not recently," the Winter Soldier says of Black Widow— eventually. It takes a second of silence before the words come. "Former cops… why? What would the police know about it?" Another brief pause as his brow furrows beneath the goggles.

"Are there departments with anti-sorcery units, now?" he wonders with a bit of genuine bemusement. The SRD, maybe, SHIELD, certainly, but the notion of police departments fielding teams of people with garlic mace, rock salt shells, and whatever else an anti-mystic unit might require is somewhat surprising.

"What do you know about them?" he adds a moment later once the surprise fades. "If they're new - transplants from another organization, even - then there must be plenty of scrutiny on them; they could be useful." He falls silent for a tick after this observation, as if making a mental note of it or beginning to contemplate its implications.

"You did well enough," he then says. "Considering the circumstances. How often does he train? How hard? He is a technician, after all." Whenever Keeper seems to be more or less done with blood-dabbing, the Soldier reaches down for the cloth. "And as far as the swamp goes: he could have had all of the right information, but it could have been out of date, somehow. It was… easy to enter the detention block, but Captain America— "

His normally even tone slips, twisting and hardening into something hateful as he says the name.

"— was there, waiting. I'm still not sure whether his presence was a coincidence or not, but it was… convenient… for them."


"Pezzini and Manning. They have some expertise when it comes to the mystical. Were never taken very seriously on the police force. X-Files sorta thing, from what I understand. The woman, Pezzini, has some kind of gauntlet that's got a mystical origin."

Keeper clears his throat and shifts his weight before continuing, "Pezzini is impatient with them treating a seasoned cop like a rank recruit."

As for training, he wobbles his head back and forth. That makes him wince. "Obviously not hard enough. But, often. Enough to make sure he still gets sent into the field. he trains some of the new recruits as well." He looks vaguely perplexed that the Soldier might want to bloody cloth, but he's not in the habit of, well, questioning anything. He hands it back after dabbing his forehead.

The bile in his voice when Captain America is mentioned causes his eyebrows to raise. "Well. If you ever want to get to him, I know the perfect target. Were you aware that his old lover, Peggy Carter, has somehow appeared from the past? He was dating Pezzini, actually. From what I can gather, they were quite serious. He ended it abruptly once she appeared."

"No," the Winter Soldier says after a wide-eyed beat, "I was not."

'Peggy Carter'; the name doesn't ring a bell, but he is reasonably confident that it will for someone in HYDRA.

"Who was she, that she's come from— 'the past'?" If he were the type to air quote, there would certainly be a pair around that nebulous time frame. "And Pezzini… what's the Captain's connection to SHIELD? Is his ex-lover being one of them a coincidence too?" The cloth is just balled up in his bloody glove for now, ostensibly for later disposal. With his free hand, he grabs two sets of cuffs from his partly hidden belt.

"On the ground," he says while crouching and working a cuff open; afterwards, he stops long enough to drop the bloody cloth, peel that glove off, and fetch a fresh rag so that he can do the rest two-handed. "I don't want to risk moving you again tonight; we will need an alibi. You met someone at your gym; he or she convinced you to take a trip to Staten Island, maybe for a leisure activity. You were drugged at some point during the trip, and you woke up to find this man or woman's friends robbing you. They panicked; beat you. Overpowered you, bound you so that they could finish what they'd started; panicked more once they realized what you were, and then fled. Tell me when you begin to fade, or— I don't know what it must feel like, losing yourself to him," he says before taking a pause from dealing with the cuffs. "Do you think that he dreams of— you? Sasha— who he really is? Was?" Beat. "Would you know?"

Assuming that Keeper complies, he'll eventually start moving and cuffing limbs into place to support his version of events, and once he's done, he'll pull out a phone and check the time to figure out how long he has left on this dose.


"The founder of SHIELD. Or one of them, anyway. She was an SSR agent when Rogers was first active. From the mission report, she's from the late 1940s. Some kind of temporal rift. Something to do with Howard Stark. She means something to him. I don't know the details. Argyle isn't much for office gossip."

Keeper complies. He drops to kneel and holds his hands behind him, dutifully ready to accept the cuffs. The cover story makes him chuckle. "He'll get angry at himself for that. He might also consider moving neighbourhoods with the number of muggings he's endured lately. Two were you," he drawls, "…but another one was real. A few weeks back."

He's doing a good job of hiding it, but according to the Soldier's watch, the Fogburner is starting to wear off. Fingers of disorientation start to slide back in to fog his mind. "Mhmmm. I'm so used to it. It was…terrifying at first, to be aware but unable to act." His voice gets quieter. His eyes droop a little. "Now, it's a bit like settling in to watch a television show." As for dreams? Well, he has to think about that. "We are the same man in many ways. This programming, it can't make me someone I'm not. That's the real secret. It only changes the details. For instance, he can't stand football. He likes hockey. He's supposed to be from Louisiana and he likes hockey."

"That sounds like a detail to me," the Winter Soldier says of Argyle's hockey fascination. A beat later, he adds, "I prefer baseball," a little quieter. "Seeing two teams take turns infiltrating one another's territory, patiently coordinating bursts of action with one another while keeping a careful eye on their enemies… who are, in turn, defending a space too large to be held by only nine men…" Another beat as he trails off.

"But I don't watch sports very often," he finally concludes while securing Keeper's ankles. "They're a distraction. An opiate." Another quick glance down at the time after he withdraws his hands, and then… the conversation shifts.

Keeper might be fading, but there's still enough time for the Soldier to press him for details about Sasha's life. Little things, really: the way his mother prepared him for his eventual role with innocuous-seeming games, his love of baking, the friends he had before Haze; whatever details he can think of to fill in some of the details of Sasha's pre-Argyle existence.

"Thank you," he eventually states. "We will speak again. Soon, while there's still time left— before SHIELD decides to to end whatever game they are or are not playing with you. Continue to keep your eyes open, meanwhile."


Keeper smiles. It's a drowsy, distracted sort of smile - the kind a drunk or a pleasantly tired sort might give. "I suppose I'm a simple man. I prefer the pleasure of watching heavily armoured men with razors on their feet and sticks in their hands beating the shit out of one another. It lacks elegance, but it's satisfying." He chuckles and closes his eyes. His shoulders roll forward.

"Nothing wrong with the occasional opiate. Didn't they ever drug you in your training? The official excuse was so we would know what being drugged felt like. But that training was reserved for those of us who had done particularly well." The reward was getting stoned out of their minds.

"I will try to get him to keep his eyes open. Too often, he casts them down. If there's one major failing in my program — " aside from Keeper being the only success, that is, "…is that there was so much focus on my ability to…blend that they forgot to make me useful." His chuckle is rough and self-deprecating. It's clear he's struggling to stay conscious. He lowers himself slowly to the cold concrete ground.

"Often," the Winter Soldier admits. "But it wasn't… it was… different. Sometimes, anyway. My training was not easy; there were— the drugs were not a reward," is where he ends up after some fumbling. "But you have a point, I guess."

Following a brisk shake of his head, the Soldier continues, "You are doing all that you can with the mission you've been given," in a steadier voice. "Maybe now that you're coming out more… it will be easier for you to keep his eyes where they should be." Scooping up the glove and cloth, he adds, "Good night for now," and then heads towards the van he brought them in - a colorful number from a pet store, this time - so that he can drop them off inside. Instead of returning after unburdening himself, he keeps his body halfway inside the side door as he taps a small switch on the side of his goggles, ejecting a memory card which he transfers over to his phone.


"You know," says Keeper, even as his voice begins to slur, "…the worst part about this is not knowing whether I'm Jekyl or Hyde. Or…" Keeper swallows and closes his eyes. "…does that even apply? Maybe I'm the dreamer and the dream."

And that's the last word for now, as the man who is Keeper and Argyle drifts into unconsciousness.

"Whichever you must be to complete the mission," is the Winter Soldier's quiet opinion on the Jekyll/Hyde, dream/dreamer debate. He isn't sure whether or not Keeper heard him, because he's busy with the phone. Busy opening and running back through the footage his goggles recorded and finding the moments after he stabbed Argyle; Keeper is out by the time he finally does turn around, leaving the Soldier to look up from his phone and stare at the agent's prone form for a while before returning to his side and crouching.

Again, he waits for Argyle to wake; this time, his weapon of choice is the phone, held near his body with the screen turned off.

"Welcome back," will be his first words whenever Emmett wakes up. The goggles are on his forehead, now; otherwise, he pretty much looks the same as he did earlier, just without the gun pointed at Emmett's face.


What wakes Argyle up isn't the cold floor or the sensation of the cuffs digging into his wrist - it's a sharp, ice pick of a headache from behind his left eyeball. The pain radiates out like the hangover from hell. He grunts and rolls over onto his back, hands pinned beneath him, cuffs digging in even deeper. He coughs and tries to sit up, but the pain forces him back down again. "The hell, man? What do you want from me?"

The Winter Soldier doesn't try to speed the process along any; no shaking, no slapping, none of that. He just waits, still and silent until the agent begins to move and make noise.

"Do you know who the Black Widow is?" he wonders in response to Argyle's question. "Not her identity, or even her association with your organization, but who she is. What she is. Do you?" He holds both hands out to Argyle; one is empty, the other just has the phone. "This is not an interrogation."


"S'funny," Argyle coughs weakly and slowly gets up to sit back on his heels. "Sounds like one." He looks like he might be sick, but to his credit, his stomach contents stay where they are. "She and I ain't drinkin' buddies if that's what you're after." As much as he might want to try and loosen his bonds and fight, the hangover-like symptoms of the Fogburner wearing off keep him more or less incapacitated.

"She's an assassin." Not only does the Winter Soldier appear to have no qualms about answering Argyle's questions with questions, he seems comfortable with just plain answering his own. "One of the finest in the world; this is on top of her obvious talents as an agent." The empty hand is drawn back in, while the other is left hanging, ready. He doesn't make any move to stop Argyle from sitting up, either.

"Do you remember sending her a text message a few weeks ago, to tell her that you were being followed? You were drinking that night, but I'm sure you must remember, if it was important enough to justify contacting her, despite your lack of a relationship."


"I believe it," says Argyle. He shifts and squares his shoulders. The look he gives the other man is the opposite of the cooperative, almost pleasant interactions with Keeper. His expression is full of suspicion. He's constantly looking the other over, searching for signs of weakness, or trying to calculate whether or not he could get a weapon. Before, he was a willing source. Now? Now, he's a chained bull.

"How the hell do you know about that?" A beat. A squint. "…is she one of you still? I thought she defected."


"She isn't, no."

There's just a hint of extra emphasis on that 'she'. The Winter Soldier doesn't budge from his position a few feet from Argyle's face, nor do his eyes waver from the agent's.

"Do you remember contacting her?" he repeats. "If not— if you didn't do it— then why was she there, waiting for you to wake up? Didn't it seem strange to you?"

Without much delay, the Soldier moves on to a separate, but perhaps tangentially related subject before giving Argyle time to answer the ones about Natasha: "You don't fight like the middle-of-the road technician that you are; SHIELD must be thrilled to have a natural talent like you in reserve."


"S'this part of your interrogation technique? Buttering me up with compliments before you knock my teeth out with that metal fist of yours?" Argyle nods towards the Soldier's arm and shifts his feet. He's aching in all sorts of fun places, and the Fogburner is giving him the mother of all headaches. Still, he manages to keep his focus. "Look, what the hell do you want from me, huh? I may not have a cynaide capsule under my molar - " that he knows of " - but I'm still a SHIELD agent. I ain't gonna tell you a damned thing, Ozzy Osbourne."

While Argyle tells him off, the Winter Soldier looks down at his phone.

Because apparently, neither Soviet Russia nor HYDRA know the first thing about 21st century etiquette.

He keeps the screen tilted away from the agent as he fast forwards through the initial fight until he's a few seconds ahead of Keeper waking up, and then he just waits for the agent to finish protesting. As he pitches a reference that the Soldier is only equipped to catch due to a pop culture crash course before a mission in the 70s, the former Ghost turns the phone around, presses play, then fixes his eyes on Argyle again.

"This is not an interrogation," he flatly states. "It's an assessment, a briefing, and, yes, an intelligence gathering session… but I'm not trying to interrogate you, I'm trying to help you before SHIELD gets tired of the game they've been playing with your life."

As Keeper wonders whether he's about to be punished, the Winter Soldier poses another question in what would be a conversational manner if he wasn't, well, him:

"What is your favorite hockey team, Agent Argyle?"


"Yeah, right. The Winter fucking Soldier is trying to help a SHIELD agent." That's a very definitive scoff, that. Out of principle, Argyle keeps his eyes on the other man, even as the video starts to play. He holds eye contact just long enough to prove it's his choice to look down, then he looks at the video. "The hell is this?"

As he watches though, as he hears his own voice saying things he doesn't remember, his expression starts to harden. The question would not be one that he would normally answer. He knows from interrogation training that it's not a good idea to answer even innocuous-sounding questions. Still, he says, "The Canucks. I went to school in Seattle. But I like the Rangers, too. Why, you wanna go see a game some time? Maybe grab a few beers before?" Deflecting, that. He keeps looking back at the screen, but it doesn't seem to be sinking in.

"Your name is Sasha Aleyev. You were born in Moscow and raised to be a spy— to be someone else, someone who could pass as American: 'Emmett Argyle'. You were never intended to be an agent of SHIELD, but you became one against your handlers' expectations. The people in charge of SHIELD know, because they're too paranoid not to. You've been allowed to continue serving them as an agent because you have skills that are useful to them, you carry privileged information from one of their oldest enemies somewhere in your head, and their network affords them some insurance against Russian contact."

Morgan Freeman has nothing to fear from the Winter Soldier, but he at least keeps his voice at just the right volume to avoid competing too much with the video for attention.

"They were almost right, there," he tacks onto that last point. "But I am no longer affiliated with the Kremlin."

He takes a moment to glance down at the screen himself. "You are not a SHIELD agent; you're a project. An experiment; I wouldn't be surprised if they were studying you, to get a better idea of how you were made and see how effective you are in your role before moving to make agents of their own in your mold. Is there something that you take on a regular basis - weekly, perhaps - for 'health reasons'? A pill, a syrup?" He pauses for a beat before concluding, "A shot?" and investing the words with a little extra weight.

"Do you remember contacting the Black Widow that night when you were drinking? Do you remember asking the most dangerous woman in SHIELD, this person who you barely associate with… to watch you while you slept?"


If the whole truth bomb were lobbed all on its own, Argyle would dismiss it out of hand. But the Soldier is presenting evidence along with explanation. His mind fights to try and rationalize it all away. This is a doctored video. A shapeshifter. It's manipulation. It's…

…all of it makes too much damned sense. He's known for awhile now that something isn't right. The time that Widow was in his apartment is just one of a series of smaller incidents that have all led up to a vague, pervading sense of unease.

All of this conflict plays across his face. He remains transfixed on the video now. He bites the edge of his lip, then clears his throat. "I have a blood disorder. A weekly injection." The Haze.

He rolls his head forward, then closes his eyes. The audio of his own voice saying things he doesn't remember can't be shut out as easily as the image of it.

"And why do you give a damn?"

"Do you?" the Winter Soldier evenly tosses back after the blood disorder is mentioned.

He lets the video play on, even if Argyle isn't looking at it. It's evidence in and of itself, yes, but more importantly: the latter part of it is almost all about Sasha. For all he knows, some part of it - baking with his uncle, the games he used to play with his mother, his friends before the program - might strike some chord deep inside of the agent.

And even if none of it does, those things are, at least, the kinds of details that would've taken someone a fair bit of trouble to fabricate.


He falters a little at Argyle's question, and there's nothing performative about it. He knows the obvious reason - that a turned SHIELD agent could be a huge asset as long as he's in conflict with the organization - but he also knows that that isn't quite the only reason.

"… believe… that I know what it is to be lied to by those I've given my all to," he finally replies, quietly and without quite making eye contact. "Your organization is my enemy, but you are not; you've been a valuable asset to me, even if you're only just now finding that out, and you could continue to be one. I… owed this to you; if not now, then some day. Before your employers decide to cut their losses and put a bullet in your skull without you ever knowing why."

Beneath the mask, the Soldier bears down on his bottom lip hard enough to draw a few drops of blood. Beads of sweat are beginning to form across his brow; empathy is hard work for a man who's been conditioned to have none.

"The injections are meant to keep you— you," he eventually murmurs.


It's hard to know what Argyle is thinking. He's staring at the other man. His jaw is set, his shoulders are hunched. He makes a cursory and useless attempt to strain his bonds. He's trying to process all of this. Every fibre of his being wants to reject what the Winter Soldier is telling him. He wants to scream and deny it and thrash around.

A year ago, two? That's exactly what he would have done. But the last six months have been full of holes.

"You want me to betray SHIELD. Consciously. And do what, let HYDRA inside? Tear them apart? I ain't a fan of their methods - " and he knows them well enough to know what he's being told is entirely, entirely plausible. "…but the folks you work for? Can't be much better. Why should I help you, other than to save my own damned skin?"

"I would prefer it if you were on my side, yes," the Winter Soldier admits. Argyle's resistance gave him a little time to take a deep breath and center himself— to push the inner conflict threatening to boil out more than it already has back down where it belongs. By the time he speaks again, he's back to making eye contact with the agent.

"SHIELD exists to prop up a corrupt and broken system; it deserves to burn until there's nothing left. But I… understand, if you have reservations about going to such extremes. This is new to you. Some of them may be your friends— or you may believe that they are. You may need time to… process this. To decide what it means to you before acting. That's fine; I can give that to you. As for why you should help me…?"

The Winter Soldier lets the video play on while he reaches behind Argyle, hooks the handcuff chain with a metal finger, and pulls until it snaps; he shifts a little to repeat this with the ankle cuffs.

"Remember that I'm the only one who's told you the truth after all these years," he says while moving. "Not the Black Widow. Not your fellow agents, not your superiors. Me. SHIELD will burn for its sins, one day; maybe you or I will be the holding the matches, and maybe we won't be. But at least now, you have the choice of whether or not you'll be consumed with the rest of them." He hooks the ankle chain, but doesn't pull just yet.

"If nothing else, I would hope that that's worth a measure of trust."


Argyle remains still as the Soldier circles around and works on his bonds. His training tells him he should fight, but his experience tlls him not to. He got a beat down when he had his wits about him and didn't have a headache verging on a migrane. He's also gotten the sense that the Soldier was pulling his punches. He doesn't remember that metal arm being used for offense, just defense. Which is another point in his favour as far as truthiness goes.

He clears his throat and tries to straighten up as best he can, though various injuries make slouching infinitely more comfortable. "Look, you might be able to convince me that SHIELD's got issues with how they operate. Hell, even before you showed me that video, I probably woulda agreed with you on that point. But here's the thing, ain't no way you're gonna convince me that HYDRA is the savior of mankind or better than SHIELD. I've had ten years of meeting 'em in the field, and they're not out to save the world. They're out to control it."

Once the cuffs are free, he pulls his arms forward and rubs at his wrist. "How much they tell you about who you are, huh? Ever think that I might not be the only one who's had the wool pulled over his eyes?"



"Not enough."

The Winter Soldier keeps his eyes squarely on the cuffs and the concrete as he frees Argyle. He also clenches his metal fist as soon as it's clear of the chain; even though this is kind of, sort of a conversation at the moment, it's not the kind of conversation where he's going to let himself be sucker punched in a moment of weakness. Stillness could just as easily be a prelude to sudden, unexpected violence as a sign that none is forthcoming.

"There are holes that I don't know how to fill— that I never needed to fill, before." Following a drawn out exhale, he brings his eyes up to Argyle's again and wonders, "Do you ever dream of being someone else? Of hard, bitter winters?" Afterwards, he stands, still with his fist closed and ready.

"HYDRA stands for peace," he then says. "And yes, it's an enforced peace - heavily enforced - but compared to the violence that freedom's brought the world… is that really so much worse? Can you think of a way to bring peace without spilling blood, or crushing spirits?" He is mostly trying to defend his ideology - there are flickers of genuine passion for the notion of a HYDRA-wrought peace, even - but there's a little strain, as if he's trying to reassure himself that the people who've perhaps misled him are still working towards an overall positive end. "I'm not hoping to convert you to their side, though; just mine."

If Emmett's still down, the Winter Soldier will offer him a hand up— a flesh and blood hand, after tucking the phone into his belt for safe keeping.


"And what if it turns out they've lied to you as much as the people around me have lied and used me?" There's something…aching in Argyle's tone, even though he fights against it. As time ticks on the reality of what he's been shown, what he's been told - starts to sink in. And it sinks to the very bottom of his stomach like a lead weight.

"You're never gonna get me to believe folks need to be strong-armed into peace. If nothin' else, that ain't a peace that's gonna last. People gotta choose it. And people're gonna fight against the boot crushing their faces, no matter how well-intentioned the boot."

He looks at the hand, then reluctantly takes it, but not out of any kind of agreement. He needs it because there's a splintering feeling along his side that might be a bruised or broken rib. "If the price of peace is a whip, well then, maybe the price is too high. Maybe the price of freedom is a little chaos."

"I dream of winter, yeah. Which is funny because I never thought I saw snow til I came to New York." He chuckles roughly and humourlessly. "Which'd make sense if I'm really a fuckin' Russian. You'd think they'd make me from Canada or somethin'. Would make more damned sense." It's deflecting. It's searching for humour in a rather humourless situation. "Look. No way in hell I'm going to help you bring SHIELD down. Let's get that straight. But I might be able to do something that'll help us both. They've got files on you. Maybe they know something you don't."

"Then— we will have something new to talk about. At your Rangers game."

Now, apparently, it's the Winter Soldier's turn to attempt deflecting with humor. Halting, atonal, dead-eyed humor. His grip is quite firm as he hauls Argyle up, both because he's bigger and because there's nowhere else for the tension to go.

"Let's… agree to disagree," he tightly murmurs after letting the agent go. "We both work for men and women with questionable intentions for their people, if nothing else." Folding his arms, he continues, "If you can get your hands on my files - if that's what you're offering - then I accept. How long will it take you?"

At some point, the cover he laid out - with the robbery and the drugging and the beating - will come up in the video, if it hasn't already; either way, he asks, "What will you tell your superiors about tonight?" while unfolding his arms so that the metal one can drift a bit closer to the phone. "Remember: they will be suspicious of you."


"You gotta work on your delivery there, buddy," murmurs Argyle at the Soldier's attempt at a joke. He'd be lying if he wasn't worried about how tight that hand is. He exhales a breath he didn't know he was holding when he's released. That could have easily been a knife to the gut and he knows it.

"Why do I feel like this is gonna be a science versus religion kinda talk with you?" a beat, "…or Star Wars versus Star Trek?"

As for the question, he shrugs. "Got no idea. If I start digging for you by myself, then they might raise some flags. I might have to be a bit sneakier. But I'm high enough up the totem that I bet there's some stuff on you in there that you don't know. Or at least you don't know they know." He's going to go digging for his own files. Might as well search for the Winter Soldier's files at the same time.

"You leave that to me. I got an idea." He looks around the power station, then back to the other man. "Must be something in here that's blocking their devices. Guessing that's why you brought me here. No way in hell they'd let me wander around unmonitored if they even had a tiny sense that I might know what's going on, or if folks like you might try'n get to me."

"They are both about space," the Winter Soldier mutters after that second comparison with a furrowed brow. "What does that have to do with— "

With a raised hand and a shake of his head, he lets it go, then refolds his arms and listens.

"Your idea doesn't involve me being here tonight," he states, more to confirm it than anything. "Otherwise, just make sure that they don't feel the need to put a bullet in you." He stops the video and tucks the phone into his belt on that note, then begins backing towards his van. "This place was convenient, but we'll need to rendezvous elsewhere next time; we can't assume that anywhere is safe, monitoring devices or no." His next few words describe a drop site near, but not quite in Argyle's usual stomping grounds: a crack in an alley behind a popular sports bar. Maybe Emmett knows it; maybe it's just a bit too far out of the way for him.

"Leave word when you have it."


"Yeah, thanks. Don't give them a reason to kill me. Solid advice." The sarcasm is thick in Argyle's tone. He nods towards the phone. "You gonna give me a copy of that, or is that strictly for your own viewing pleasure?" There was a lot he didn't actually absorb because, well, of various reality-shattering things.

"I'm not gonna make promises. And it might take a bit, depending on how panicky they are about me being off the grid. They might be watching me too close at first for me to try for anything."

"Once I have what I need," the Winter Soldier says of sharing a copy. "But for now, yes: it will be for my eyes only." Leverage— not that he has to say it, likely.

"Take the time to make sure that this is done correctly," he then allows. "Just remember that I will be waiting for you."


"Yeah, fine. Just don't like…creep into my bedroom at night or anything else super spy like, okay? Cause I keep a gun in my nightstand and I don't like being woken up." Argyle holds up a hand towards the other man. "You gonna knock me out again or can I just chill here a bit and wait for you to leave?"

"You should be more worried about the Black Widow creeping into your bedroom, I think."

The Soldier stops to look at Argyle over a shoulder, studying him. "You had an idea, you said; does it involve being unconscious?"

Muscles bunch and fists clench, just in case it does.


"No, no." Argyle holds up a hand and rocks a half step back away from the clenched fist. "It involves me walking out of here and coming up with a completely reasonable explanation for why this thing went off the grid." He points to his head to mean the tracker, though that's probably not where it is.

"I'm gonna explain the injuries as something that happened at a boxing gym. If you gotta hit me again, maybe avoid the face next time? I'm too pretty to keep getting busted up like this. And seriously, I'm not gonna say I was mugged again. Or got drunk. That'll put me on their shit list for entirely different reasons."

One of his fists opens into a dismissive wave as the Winter Soldier turns away and resumes leaving. "Then no. There's no point; it would be more trouble than it's worth for you, clearly."

Unless Emmett has something else to throw at him, he will climb into the van to dispose of evidence and— well, probably not report this to anyone; he doesn't know what his handlers might do with the information, and for some reason… that matters.


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