1963-08-18 - The Age of Innocence
Summary: The lies we tell ourselves are the most harrowing when held up against an undeniable truth.
Related: Friends Like These
Theme Song: N/A
bucky rogue 

A few hours after the explosive departure from the Humanity First garages, the rally point had been set for Scarlett and Bucky— to meet at the warehouse on the docks he'd turned into his personal garage/armory. He's there, waiting for the leggy bohemian redhead; sitting on a stack of boxes, holding a knife in his right hand and honing it carefully with his left. He seems possessed of an endless patience, staring at the sole entrance into the warehouse area, and waiting for the redhead to join him.

There are things afoot, and the coming minutes might have consequences long unpredictable.


Factors that hold little bearing in the great scheme of life still matter to those bestowed their graces. A silver-haired lady helped across the street might avoid the thug around the corner, looking for an easy mark. The artist on his last ten bucks finds a stolen motorcycle tucked away in his garage, and staves off an importunate return to Poughkeepsie to his father's told-you-so looks and a life dream crushed. Food for the belly of a too-thin child impoverished in the Bronx coming in a paper bag staves in the larceny that will end in a shooting, a victim, another name swept under the rug by the precinct.

A lonely path through the warehouses ends at the waterfront, taken one step by another, the flower girl carrying her offerings in a wicker basket over her forearm much like he met her the first time 'round. No carnations this time, and beneath the pile of flowers, secrecy and truth. They promised so much.

She emerges from a gossamer dream imagined by the disillusioned Beatniks tired of a wandering lifestyle, the pre-Raphaelite heroine-queen come to dispense wisdom in bare feet (boots, actually) and a diaphanous dress that stops above the knee. So different, not so different.

An endless vigil terminated by the slim bars of slanting light finding her coronet, long 'ere she reaches the Winter Soldier, a child of Brooklyn crowned by a red star.

And there they are.


Bucky eases off the crates and jams the knife into the wood, splitting it with a *thunk* and leaving the grip singing a song of metal in the air as it stills itself. He gives Rogue a level look— today, he's all business. Serious. And just to drive the point home, he makes no effort to hide the revolver tucked into his waistband. Wearing his cotton undershirt, he also is not wearing the glove that normally hides his left hand. It's steel and cables, clearly a prosthetic of remarkable quality.

"I'm a government agent on covert assignment," Bucky explains to Scarlett, staring at her with those flat and impossible to read eyes. Haunted. Guarded. "I can't get into details. The Humanity First people represent a serious threat to America. My mission is to stop them." He gives her a level look. "If this is too much for you to handle, you should probably leave right now before you get in any deeper."


How the fates wrought this moment, casting their shuttles on the looms of knotted and tangled lives to make a tapestry for the ages.

Metal strands wind around the shining cobwebs of fleeting life. Where Verdandi throws with unaccountable violence, Skuld loosens the snarled intersections in her nimble fingers. A mere stroke of Urd's knife would capsize them, but none save the rarest of men and women ever see the inklings of their greater destiny allotted at birth. 'Tis a harrowing thing to walk upon a swept cold stage hearing mortality ringing on the block, and knowing neither will you walk away breathing or enter into sleep's tender safekeeping by the hour's end.

She stands there facing him, separated by a distance shorter than it would take to hurl a rose and strike him in the chest. He could knock her down in a lunge, by all appearances. Appearances of course lie. She's the flower girl, he is the Stark facilities man. The smiling bohemian and the bitter agent.

"You are my friend. Enough is a long way off that," Scarlett replies, apropos of nothing.


"As you like."

Bucky considers his words, and in his clipped, cut-off manner, starts laying the situation out for her.

"Humanity First is everywhere. Senators. Police. Even some mutant groups are being controlled by them." A partial truth, though he's the puppetmaster. "They want to set off riots so the mutants and humans kill each other. War in the streets. Burn it all down and rebuild it without metahumans in the mix."

"I'm a double agent. I am working with Firsters and mutants both. The riots need to be controlled— the chaos can't be so undirected. By destabilizing things a certain way, the people who can -really- fix things can step in and smoothly transition over to a government better equipped to protect and care for people. For everyone, humans and mutants," the sturdy agent tells the bohemian.

"Do you understand so far?"


Whatever Jack expects of her, the young woman is not taken by the wind. She does not dash off in a flurry of petals and summer dust.

She hasn't run for the cover of the warehouse as a hailstorm of bullets plink upon the battered, stained concrete when embedded counterforces emerge at a hidden signal. He isn't staring down the barrel of a gun or the swirl of electrified plasma about to pierce his chest.

The space of conversation lies to him as Scarlett remains unaccountably quiet, although their time together in the studio apartment with a door refusing to lock spoke to her capacity to function for hours without making any tangible sounds. Even if there was a period slumbering, so too she felt no need to natter for hours. Her gift to him now is listening, disentangling the statements afforded to her as one would review a closet's expansive contents: keep, amend, toss, think about.

Her answer then is a nod, lips yet pressed together. Another step puts then within a few meters of one another, no less and no more. It's the measure of a tiger to a tyrannosaur. One approaches cautiously.


Bucky relaxes a little, finally, when Scarlett nods, but his expression is still wary. "I'm risking everything by telling you this," he warns the bohemian lass, standing and walking towards her as she approaches him— meeting her halfway. "Everything that's happening could fall apart. Pepper, Stark, the riots, Mutant Town— we're barely holding on. This dream of a better world where the wealthy don't control the water and trees and farms. Where all are truely equal. I would not ask you except that… we seem kindred spirits. More than I would have ever thought. And of everyone I've met, you might be the only person I can trust to help me."

"So. Will you?" he adds, his voice heavy with the implied weight of that glorious task.


Glory. Glory is a concept utterly lost on someone built from fragments of a hundred selves, some of them her own. Jack might be petitioning the moon for her opinion on whether his actions meet with her approval or will suffer some enlightening censure, a glimmer in the night to betray his presence at the wrong moment.

Scarlett reaches down for one of the stalks of gladioli, the only flower repeated again from that riot weeks past in Midtown. The tender blooms are so deep a wine-red they might be violet, exposed only in their hearts aught than a bruise to black. One finger strokes down the gentle petals furled around their honeyed throats.

What glory does the great rose window of Chartres seek in its existence, if provided independence from the surrounding stone piers and flying buttresses? Can a single shard of glass, however pretty, conceive of the enormity of his pursuits? "Stark does control a great deal, though, does he not? Or his father, for that matter," she murmurs, a weighted reflection of a romantic two steps out of touch with the world.

Her gaze lifts, and in it, the surreal balefire glints green, shaded under her hand. "What do you want of me?"


"Young mutants starve to death while Stark dines on fois gras and drinks the rarest of champagnes," Bucky says, spiitting out the name. "He is the height of debauched wealth and privilege, and men like him are conspiring to bleed this nation for every drop of blood, sweat, tears, and oil it has."

He doesn't back down before that hellfire gaze, stopping within arm's reach of the woman, then with his metal hand reaches up and grips her knuckles. It's a powerful grip, if but lightly restrained, and he gently urges her hand back towards her breastbone as if to encourage her to nurture the flower near her heart.

"I want to know I can trust you. That you will trust me. I will do and say things at times that run counter to your instincts— even counter to the mission or morality. I do this for the good of everyone. Someone has to be hard enough to make the hard choices. That's me, this time. But it'll be easier with you at my side."


"Have you ever given me reason not to trust you?"

What answer he might slyly insert between her ribs to lodge deep into the unguarded wall of her heart comes at arm's reach, her gaze meeting his. Earth to sky, the blazing heart of latent spring staring back at the winter which went before. The flower is a delicate thing, easily crushed between prosthetic fingers, as much as bone powders before a striking blow.

Her palm meets his, in a strange way, lifted like one of the Hindi deva or Buddhist bodhisattvas inspiring the tradition she practices with such supple indolence and control. A flower between them, the differences in their size made apparent. Scarlett's control is barely a whisper, and does any sort of organic structure rest within the confines of his metal hand, betrayal of the senses will surely flare in three.

"And next time?"


Her expression softens a margin, but that. Yielding in the cold, most flowers would shrink back or wilt. Not quite the same. "I can only promise to try and be the light you need in the dark. I am not some great leader of men, nor a phenomenal tactician. I didn't come out of Brooklyn to save the world." True, she has no idea of her origins, so that's a truth spoken. An accusation in a shade of honesty. "I'm only me, you realize that, yes?"




The penny drops, and makes no sound. Bucky searches Scarlett's face, his patriotic fervor giving way to a moment of empathetic puzzlement as she clearly suppresses some sort of strong emotion or fear as that silent counter wends down to zero.

Zero passes, silent and unremarkable as all the other moments, his hand still wrapped around her knuckles like a gentle cage. Unresponsive, no flow of energy or life force or chi— a machine.

"You are not 'only' you," Jack assures Scarlett, frowning in perplexity. "I know that from first time I saw you. You're unique. There's something in you wanting to break out. I don't know what that is," he admits, shaking his head. "But you are looking for a proving ground. This might be the greatest thing you ever do with your life," he warns her. "And if you bring all that you have, then all that you are is far more than I'll need."

He squeezes her fingers again, and then— a ghosting smile.


A squeeze for a squeeze; the light pressure hints at nothing of the borrowed strength, the capacity to crush every joint with harrowing skill or wrench a man's arm from its socket. To all the world, the girl in the pale, flowing dress is merely that, a young woman of considerable athleticism toned through her yoga-toned muscles and perhaps a touch too upright for comfort at times. Too likely to dance under the sky for the joy of it. But that does communicate as the guard slides away, somewhat, pulling him inwards to a more private orbit full of debris and pulverised lives that like Saturn lend an interesting quality even to those who don't know it.

Her words are soft, then, another step taken in. The flower tumbles away from her breast, his arm mirrored along the line of hers. Woe, child of red stars and blue seas, run.

"I told you I can't remember my family. Where I traveled. Nothing about my childhood." A pause. "I told you when we had that chicken you took from the Stark cafeteria?" Of course she would bring to mind the chicken, its origins, and skim over the confession.

A sigh, her face shuttering for just a moment to compose what may be the simplest poem ever written. "I wasn't very happy with you then. All that's true. There is a great deal I don't know about me. And you are willing to sign on knowing there's a sheet of nothing behind me. I'm not sure I understand why. I understand that you want to. But what's within here," a squeeze of his hand, pushing back, presses to his heart instead, "that would have you risk so much for so little gain?"


"I remember," Jack tells Scarlett, his face hard and difficult to read. "I remember very little either. I don't— don't know if I can't or won't." A tic tugs at his left eye.

"I am not a good person or a kind person, Scarlett," Bucky tells the woman, allowing her to move his arm with a clicking whirr of cogs and pulleys and wires. It /moves/ like a human's arm, albeit stiffly. "I have done harsh things, and more harsh deeds are coming."

"But I know I have to take care of people. This is the best way to do it— to make sure everyone is equal, and treated fairly, and has equal opportunity. Govermnet for the people, not the wealthy. I can make that happen. I have very little in here," he admits, tapping his thumb's knuckle against his sturdy breastbone, gripping her fingers firmly. "But I will fill that with duty and sacrifice until whatever's left floats to the top."


"Does it make you uneasy having a blank slate in the past?" A query lingers upon the air, the scent of rain foretelling a downpour or a break in the oppressive conditions. She reads that tic. Familiar to the mind that knows others, placing them in a spectrum. Treading carefully, Scarlett leans forward in perhaps the most unthreatening of gestures and brushes her brow to his provided he allows her that. "Harshness can be tempered by what else is done. Not all things must stand hard as an oak, for oaks fall when struck by lightning and lashed by storm. But something as deep-rooted and supple as the willow knows how to flow and avoid breaking."

A murmur of her breath passes away, and the fallen petals are so easily crushed to lend another scent to the air. Gladioli are showy things, not the heaviest scented, but there in a trace against diesel and poisoned water. Neroli traces her around and anew. "I could well be a wrench to your plans, one of those self-serving sorts you hate. If that were the case, what happens then? This isn't an ask that you sacrifice your convictions or anything that makes you you. But I am me. Only me, and in me, there's a space for…"

She knocks his chest for good measure, using his own fist to do it. Mostly. "You have more in there than you think. It's heard and written in the spaces between the things you say, and all over how you act. You might think you're drained but you really aren't. Else you wouldn't be here. Or on a bike. Or giving a damn about dinner."


He stiffens, confused, like a cat unsure of the brush of an over-affectionate owner, and manages to gain himself just a bare inch of retreat by ducking his chin to his throat— but she bumps him once, and he looks startled despite his self-assurance moments earlier.

"The way is difficult," Bucky assures Scarlett. "I do not expect you to carry a gun and fight like I do. It may be you can serve the cause in smaller ways— reconnaissance. Inspection. Even simply talking to people and learning what you can. If you can aid, please do. If you cannot, all I ask is that you stay out of my way."

He falls silent for a beat. "I am not a good man, Scarlett. You can't convince me of that. But I am trying very hard to be one, and that's the best I can do."


"Good. Because I dislike resorting to any violence." Were that not apparent, then the Winter Soldier wins the Politburo prize for the year's least observant of men. He may expect recalibration on a front that does not include seismic hourglass proportions.

Her gaze falls evenly upon him, settled without a fault visible in her wide eyes. "What I am aiding is briefly outlined. You have done much to convince me why this is valuable on one hand. On the other you are trying rather hard to convince me to stay away. You want my help, you want my friendship, and you keep pushing me back."

Contradictions are allowed to sink in, affirmation or denial given in a dream. She curls her fingers back to her palm and steps away considering his unease, and Scarlett wins points at least for noticing that. "There are questions I am not asking, we both know that. You'll tell me in your own time or not." The obvious one shines right there, exposed, plain. If he still holds onto her, and he may well, she won't get longer than arm's reach and perhaps they pirouette in their dark, strange dance physically under an oppressive sky. Her basket of flowers will touch the ground, either way, an act of turbulence perhaps to see what happens when she strikes a certain faultline. "Being good is all we can do. Striving for goodness, acting the best we can. And then?"


"Your help is needed. And I appreciate it." Bucky looks to the girl as she steps in those curious circles at the end of that metallic tether, fingers curling into an enviable simulacra of an iron J-hook that she can fairly drape from if she so wishes.

The movement of her feet stir some truely ancient memory from the fellow, and his eye twitches once more before she slips away from him.

"I have no 'and then'," Bucky admits. "My life is the mission. I have no past, and I've been given no future. All I have is what's been set in front of me. I will tell you… I can only tell you what I think you best know," Bucky admits, honesty forced from him. "It will not always be the truth. But sometimes it will be."

"If you wish me to ask you to stay, I will ask you plainly— I need your aid."


"All so simple. Does it make you happy?" Scarlett's pirouette will end in one of those dipped bows, curiously formal and something not in keeping with the usual styles of dance in the clubs, on the streets, and in Greenwich Village's hundred different holes-in-the-wall. Though there, too, she can switch from the Watusi to an almost shamanic trance with her peers.

Such a strange collision course plots them together along this path, sedition for one and the spindrift floating along through life for the other. One more step and she faces him again, the bend in her knees and the tilt of her torso straightened until they might see eye to eye. "I will walk with you as far down the path as you are willing to have me. Rather like I said during the riots. Though I anticipate better dinners, given the broader options. Even if it's saving us from ourselves."

Her fingers reach out. Halt. Almost brushing his jaw, almost affectionate, almost so many countless things, almost sweeping away the hair that direly longs for her to tend it while he sulks while it dries. Almost. Almost.

What they want and what they have are separated by a nameless gulf. "I attend Columbia. My name opens the very doors you despise, but it's not /my/ name. Fear in their eyes saddens me. If there is any proving ground for me, 'tis control, Jack. The noble goal is leaving the world better than I found it. The petty one is…" She shakes her head, the smile too faint to blunt the fire in her eyes. "You never ask me questions. You accept what I am. That scares me a little. It's like you know or you don't wish to. Blow the doors wide open."


Is it her mistake? Or does he lean into that touch— even just a little? Craving some of that human contact that she, too, so urgently desires?

"You're what you do. You understand how to run, how to fight, when to flee. How to disarm with a… flower," he says, gesturign vaguely at the petals littering the ground near their feet.

"You have things about you that you don't wish to understand. Or can't. I don't need to know where you're from. I've got my ghosts and skeletons. You do, too. I just care what you can and will do, right here, right now."

He steps closer to Rogue, focusing on her with those unfathomable, hard eyes. "So if you do what you can— the best you can— I won't ask you any questions. None of that matters as much as who we are today."

"Maybe you're not the only one who's trying to forget what we can't remember," he admits, in a mutter.


"It matters." A faint smile blossoms, fearing the winter cold, not up to withstanding the absolute chill that might be just beyond the shadowy flames of her partitioned hair. Usually her braids conceal that shock of platinum, but if one knows how and where to look, there it is frosting her hairline and slipping silvered through fire.

A soft, slow dawning as she looks up, and offers another flower of a sort. "You can ask. I may be unable to answer, usually for the lack of knowledge. But ask when you wonder. Not everyone around here needs to live in secrecy and absolute privacy. If your life is clandestine, isn't honesty a bit of a novelty?"

If he reaches to touch her fingers, still curved as they are, the pull is irresistible. Tension flickers and flows, auras muted and commingled in their worst of ways. Almost like a pieta, she tips her head.

"You can kill me with a punch, and I can give you a flower. I've watched you. I know how strong you are." A pause on that note seems to wonder, not in the way of skeptics pondering the mysteries of life but a girl staring into the stars and finding her own place described therein on a little rocky body around a modest sun in the far arm of the Milky Way spiral. "It's an odd balance. Stop trying to forget. Look over your shoulder but never be afraid of it."


Bucky shakes his head violently at that suggestion, backpedaling a step from Rogue. "N-no. It's gone. It's done, and I'm done with it," he says, his voice going a bit harsh and flat again. That tic resumes in his left eye, and he turns partially away from Scarlett, putting that left arm between them as if unconsciously summoning a wall to guard him from her advances.

"I don't want to kill you, Scarlett. That's the entire point tonight," he says, finally, not quite looking at her. "But things are getting dangerous. So I need you to either be with me, or leave me. Anything in between gets you hurt."


So be it. Walls and secrets, doors and castles. She can only offer that quiet, sad smile to the fates who know better than she what means to pass.

"Then hit me." It's a very, very odd statement. "Preferably not that side." Scarlett glances towards his metal arm, and then all the way back up. "Should you be hellbent on ultimatums while shoving me aside, at least honour me in that."

Thus, on the cusp of considerations when a hundred possibilities have been reviewed in a heartbeat (…and typed…), the girl resolves herself to that. "And if you cannot hit me, then bloody well figure out a way to deal with someone who will not hurt you, and who cares about you. You're evading me. You're lying to me. You're /hiding/ from me. When I would never hurt you, you hide. And I don't understand why."


Bucky doesn't make any response to Rogue's accusations, though her words fall on him like hammerblows— he almost recoils from them visibly. At the proposal that he strike her, his hand curls into a fist, but then goes limp. Maybe it's some sense of loyalty, or fidelity, or some ancient Cro-Magnon proscription against striking a female.

"You can't ever understand," he says, finally. "You couldn't and I can't make the words. It is what it is," he says, turning away from her to start moving a set of boxes from one stack to another, losing himself in the appeal of mundane drudgery. "Either accept that I can't do more, or leave."


It could be an hour of frustrated sounds, but it isn't. Her voice is soft, almost soothing. "Jack, please. It's the only way I can safely show you." A pause follows. "I could try throwing a box at you, but that doesn't seem to be how it works. It seems to work best the other way around. Trust me, please?"

This might be disastrous, but it might not. She holds out her hand. "I can't leave." It's as simple, and utterly devastated, as that truth on the block. "Would that some part of me were harsher than I am, but I cannot let you walk alone down that road. I'd be the very mistaken person who holds you in the middle of the night when the nightmares hit."


Jack's silent for a moment, head bowed, face hidden from her. With a huge swing from his arm he smashes his fist through two full, sturdy reinforced crates, sending assault rifles tumbling to the ground in a clatter of steel on concrete. The explosion of motion is swift and powerful, and his shoulders curl forward in anger, rising and falling with the urgent panting of rage.

"Why? Why are you -here-?" he demands of her, not looking at the woman. "What do you want from me? What can you possibly expect I can do for you— I have nothing, I don't have memories or a life, or money, I don't even have a -name- of my own," he rasps, staring at the empty wall across from him.

"All I have that I can offer you is this mission, and you don't want that to be enough."


"Like /I/ have a name? One I made up, one I took." Yes, she had the choice. He stares away. "Do you think I care about names? No. You stood your ground, Jack, you didn't have to and you did. Do memories of a life or money matter, when I've had neither? Not really." Her footsteps are not there. He will have no hint of the footfalls because she does not play fair by standing on the ground. One moment away, the next not.

"No one told me why I'm here." That instant, she's at his back, provided his enhanced senses do not tell him to swivel immediately and connect with the girl directly behind him. Do not tell him flee from her arms winding around him from behind. "I'm sorry. My memories don't tell me that. Only that you're enough." Fuck a mission. To hell with purpose.

If that should not be enough, then the world is not enough.


There are hands encircling him. Bucky is a warrior, and the warrior attacks. A lashing strike with his right elbow, the left comes up to try and break her grip at the thumb, and he turns into her—

—and then cheek and brow touch, and all the adrenaline and fear and emotions of the moment conspire to hammer down the walls between them in the space before Bucky can even attempt some kind of response against the girl litreally hovering behind him.

His eyes go wide, then vacant, jaw slacking, and he groans once— a high pitched, weak gasp at the back of his lungs that lasts far too long, as a torrent of what fragments remain of his brain go puddling out across that flesh to flesh bridge between them.

A deluge slams into Scarlett, but no mere stream or flowing river, this is a hydrant of frozen ice. Nothing comes in order, no part of it makes sense. Broken images that the mind had discarded as false memories are clear and sharp as the sure knowledge of breaking a man's neck with bare hands, or how to hotwire a Soviet battletank, or leaping with GI commandos into Europe with cloth and nylon the only guarantor of safety instead of death. A lifetime of shattered, nonsensical memories, and over and over and over again, one common theme— death.

Oh, there is so much death around him, in his wake. Hundreds of individuals. Bodies. Streets full of them. The sure knowledge that one bullet in the right place at the right time, a hammer and sickle on the copper jacket, could start a chain of actions that lead to warfare the likes of which humans prayed will never return. Two decades of it, nearly, a literal lifetime of murder.

And always, the cold, the pain, and the darkness, suspended between wake and slumber in endless agony.

And in a few heartbeats, Bucky simply collapses to the ground, shuddering, eyes wide and vacant and seeing nothing but the non-existent stars overhead.


And that devastating, small fact of critical importance: it does not feel terrible. The engaged void of her soul striking his is not, in any sense, agony. Oh, quite the contrary.

It's rapture in a bite, bliss on the ecstatic wings of an angel. The stabbing blow through the chest that sent St. Theresa into visions. The lamentation of a smile, it's how he touches the face of God. A god, if any exist, and that deity may not be kind.

For her, torment is heaven. An addiction, and damning, so very damning.

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