1963-12-28 - Friends meet once again
Summary: When two once and future partners get together, how could it be anything but in the category of 'uh oh'?
Related: None-ish
Theme Song: None
barney natasha 


The city has had better days, better years, but as a tourist spot, there are few in the world that can even rival The Big Apple. The Tree in Rockefeller Center is up, resplendant with lights, and the skating pond just at the foot of it seems busy now night and day. Traffic has increased, on the streets, sidewalks and public transports.

And this means?

Barney Barton has an easier time of getting lost in the crowds when he wants to ditch his tail for an hour, a couple of hours, a day. So far, the wrath from above hasn't stricken him, and the man isn't about to rein himself back. There's too much to do! One of which is to check a seldom-used drop site. There's been whispers of movement, hints of a shadow, and if there's one thing Barney is, he's a damned good… whatever it is he does. Assassin is such a horrible word. Commonly used for an uncommon man with uncommon contacts.

Out on the rocks, near a lake that only has crusting of ice due to the overnight dip, Barney's dressed in suit and tie, that is, he absolutely blends in with the rest of the world. Hair's cut a little shorter, beard is clipped, and he's looking very human. In hand, a cup of coffee and in the other, a cigarette. He's more interested in the cigarette at the moment, not touching the coffee as blue eyes look out over the water, seemingly thoughtfully. (He's actually listening…)

*

Tucked into the drop site was a folded flyer for an album long since released: 'Annie Get Your Gun', featuring Doris Day and Robert Goulet. The release date - February 11, 1963 - has been almost entirely redacted, leaving just '11, 19' beneath the black and white album cover. Beneath that, a blurb from 'Lakeshore Wax Emporium' offers a deep discount on the record for 'ONE WEEK ONLY', with a warning that 'SUPPLIES ARE LIMITED', so 'ACT NOW'.

If Barney's got an eye for such things, the flyer as a whole looks a little washed out and diminished, and that final blurb is slightly askew from the rest of its contents, suggesting that either the person who created it was an amateur, or that it's been through some photocopying. Even if he doesn't, though, he's a good— whatever he is; sussing out that the numbers are a time, that 'Lakeshore Wax Emporium' suggests a place - and not a retail location, as no such store exists - and that 'ONE WEEK ONLY' is a window is well within his capabilities.

And thus, the chilly lake and his moment of tranquility.

"I was thinking of seeing family this December," says the woman who practically just— appears looming over Barney's reflected self several minutes after the indicated time, "but it's so expensive, you know?" She's wearing Jackie O glasses with a knit hat that almost entirely hides her bright red hair, and a long black coat over warm, Sears-chic attire; her coded phrase comes with a subtle Slavic twist.

She is not a stranger, at least not entirely: her name is Natalia Rumchenko, and once upon a time, she was responsible for facilitating Barney's clandestine services on behalf of the KGB, in the name of securing a safer and more prosperous Motherland.

*

It's a little bit of life that Barney actually misses, the movement up and out at the drop of a hat, or in this case, a playbill. He's burned it in the local homeless barrel fire, and so? Place and time. Maybe it is time to start playing the field again; money's good, and in this world, in this climate? Who knows who the next target may be? After all, the President of the United States is no longer completely off the table.

Barney shrugs his shoulders and holds out the untouched cup of coffee, still steaming, "Book earlier next time," rides smoke in his exhale. He looks at Natasha for a long moment before, "Didn't expect you 'round the holidays. City is jumping, and crowds are a bitch." It's good to see her; it's been a little while since their days of quid pro quo days. Some work for the KGB, the GRU and the FBI and HUAC make strange, okay, maybe not so strange bedfellows, as it were. "Seriously, not that cold out yet." He's in a simple wool dark, long jacket, collar turned up to keep off the odd breeze.

Gesturing in a twist with the hand that holds his cigarette towards the opening of the path waaaaay back, Barney finishes, "Coffee's actually pretty good from the guy out front."

*

"It is," Natalia off-handedly says while sparing a glance for the coffee guy and retrieving cigarettes/matches from her coat. The clothes underneath are reasonably weather-appropriate, if perhaps a bit more thermally conservative than Barney's: she's wearing a scarf that matches her light and rather uninspiringly patterned sweater. After lighting up and taking a drag, she continues, "There aren't any vacations in this world of ours, Mr. Barton; people can pass on Christmas just as readily as any other day, da?" while letting the smoke trail from her lips. "Would that it were not so: this city is terrible."

A beat is taken as she inhales another puff and glances from side to side, briefly tracking a couple of pedestrians who are themselves tracking the movements of some ducks swimming along the shore.

"I hope you're well…? It's been a few years, but the riots in Da Lat, decapitating the ARVN's anti-guerilla campaign— you were an excellent operator." Towards the end, her free hand begins to creep back into her pocket until it's lying in wait. "Who is it that has the privilege of signing your checks and looking the other way now, out of curiosity?"

*

Barney simply doesn't lose any sleep over those he's killed, and won't in the future. The FBI agent that lost his life a day before Thanksgiving had a wife and a couple of young kids at home; the Bureau will provide for them. Mostly. And even if it doesn't? Not his concern. Ever. So the thought of a job on Christmas is exactly as she'd said, "Yeah. Only makes it trickier if you wanna keep 'em on ice for a couple of days." Phones are easy to manipulate, however. Get the right few poles, an operator on board, and all is well. "Haven't lost my touch, by the way." Everything, as far as he's concerned, is intact. Mostly.

Ah, memory lane, though! Barney takes a pull off his cigarette, and watches the ducks as they're 'chased' by the pedestrians. They're in that middle ground; they want any bits of bread but won't come to shore long enough to have any thrown at them. "I liked your style at Dien Bien Phu." Taking on the French Foreign Legion was ballsy, to say the least. "You know everyone is still scratching their heads on that." Called 'The last stand of the Wehrmacht' in '54, the Foreign Legion was crushed by the Vietminh, only nominally supported by the Russians at that point. Ah.. nothing like planning for the future!

A chuckle sounds from the man and as the drink isn't taken when offered, Barney pours it out and tosses it in the can. No harm, no foul. He'd already had his this morning. It's time for his second vice anyway. Cigarettes. "I'm good. Good enough. You're looking good yourself. Kinda nice to see." Not always looking over a shoulder even if both of them still do. There's a slight gleam in his eye at the question, and the cigarette comes up to his lips again for that long pull. The glow of the tip burns up, and he holds the smoke in his lungs for a long moment before letting them out. "What makes you think I've got a leash?" He's teasing, though.. as much as he can, anyway. "There's this little upstart group. I know you've heard of 'em. 'SHIELD'. S'far as I'm concerned, the only thing they do for me is let me kill any Bureau that want to take a shot at me. J. Edgar's still mad I left." His 'goodbye' to the Agency, however, is in the form of at least ten dead agents who tried to 'clean'. Eleven now. "Problem is, they're damned quiet. Hell. At least before, I'd get to travel a little. See the world. Now?" Shoulders rise in a shrug and he looks back to Natasha now, his voice lowering. "Tell me you're not here just for the holiday parties."

*

"Well, you don't look homeless…" is Natasha's grinning response to the mention of a leash. Her lips flatten right back out in short order as she listens to him talk about SHIELD, though, and she offers small nods of assent here or there. She has heard of SHIELD, of course; being pulled into a peacekeeping organization that's undergoing a slow season is not terribly exciting, naturally.

When he finishes, rather offer a verbal answer to a question that doesn't really beg one, she simply withdraws her hand to offer over a folded slip of paper. On it, there are nine names; three near the bottom have stars drawn next to them, while the very last is bordered by question marks.

"You've heard of the Weapon X project," she begins after a drag. It isn't even a question; besides the fact that she's passed information to SHIELD about the program in the past(albeit before Barney's tenure), it's a matter of public record, at this point. "It is, of course, still in operation; they've simply gone to ground. We know this because we have a source close to the operation, and also because it would be incredibly stupid to build something of its magnitude without contingencies in place for continuing on beyond exposure. On this list," she gestures with the paper slightly if it hasn't already been taken; if it has been, she'll just jab her cigarette towards it, "you'll find the names of nine people associated with the program; all but one needs to disappear. You'll get your standard rate for each confirmed accident, but if you can bring any of them back to me, you'll receive your rate plus a bonus. I need at least one of the starred names alive, no matter what; the bonus still applies, there. The very last name on the list needs to be followed, so as to determine her true loyalties and position within the project; she must be kept alive. I would suggest a mask; Dr. MacTaggert is something of a celebrity in her sphere."

Her arm wraps around her mid-section as she punctuates these instructions with another long drag, and then as smoke trawls out over the lake, she shifts her eyes towards Barney and another grin forms.

"They were heady times, weren't they? Me, barely out of training; you, <ballsy>, full of fire and death; sad, screaming Frenchmen. I would hope that SHIELD hasn't smoothed away any of those wonderful, rough edges, but then— you're here, aren't you?"

After a quick glance around for a potential #12, she adds, "Eleven, huh?" with an arching brow and a low whistle of appreciation.

*

"I still like living cheap and easy. One safe house after another. You know how many the FBI's forgotten about? And they're still paying ConEd for the electricity." Barney's 'homeless' by choice. He grins, the expression lopsided as he finishes the cigarette and tosses the still lit bit on the ground, grinding it out with a foot after. Hands don't quite go into pockets as he's reaching for the bit of paper to look at. "I'm about as homeless as you can get without bein' on the street. Keeps everyone guessing. I'll let you know if I ever settle down to one place. I'll have a housewarming and maybe a barn raising. Get back to my roots."

Now, he looks to the paper, letting the words flow over him, blue eyes shifting from the names to his friend and compatriot and back. "Weapon X. Yeah, I can do this. Did it for Rebirth. On my end." The attempt at reproducing the serum that created Captain American. "Stopped at Stark." Howard Stark. One of the more prominent names on his old list. He digs into his pocket and pulls out his cigarettes before he folds up the paper and puts it into the pack. Then, matches, and he offers 'Tash another one. It's lit, match is thrown away, and he's putting it all back in. "I hate bringin' 'em in. I had to explain to someone in SHIELD that it isn't my job. You know they went after Barnes." Just as a 'heads up'. "Dunno what they got or what they think they're gonna get."

The cigarette is held loosely and easily, and he's ready to take that stroll around the lake, now that the ducks have resettled. "As for the edges? I'm not the settlin' down type. If I figure out a way that I can avoid two agencies, I'm gone. I still got my name, I still get pick-up work on my own time. I just have a goddamned target on my back if I rabbit. Worse than the FBI." Barney's expression shifts to the scowl as he considers it before he shrugs it away, his tones lightening for the moment. "You and me. We gotta do somethin' crazy. Been stupid around here. What'd'ya say we go back to your stompin' grounds and have fun." Beat. "After all this is done."

*

Natalia's eyes roll a little as she mouths 'barn raising' through her grin. The cigarette is accepted and a mostly spent butt flicked aside; in lieu of a match, she helps herself to his flame, tip pressed to tip for a tick before she leans in to hold the filter to her lips and inhale.

"You're on," she then says of Barney's funvitation, her grin taking on the sort of impish edge normally reserved for screaming legionnaires and jungle heat. "And if I find myself attending either of those other functions, I'll be sure to come in black. Veil and all, so you feel properly honored."

The grin falls, then, because they're still in the middle of a meeting about important matters. "Rebirth?" she wonders before helping herself to a brisk drag. "You did that work for who— SHIELD? When?" Her eyes narrow just a little as she takes another soft drag. "Why did you stop? Did your handlers ask you to?"

*

"Yeah, barn raising. When I'm done and if I'm still alive, I'm finding a nice piece of land out in Iowa somewhere and build a house and a barn." Barney barks a laugh and he leans to nudge his on again, off again working partner, still holding onto that lopsided grin. "You know. Cows. Horses. Chicken or two."

Barney leans in so 'Tash can light her cigarette, and he looks at her for a long moment. "Just make sure I'm dead. Beyond that? I won't know if you gave it a miss or not." He can, at the very least, trust her to do that! Hell.. he's probably got a 'kill order' for her if he asks for it. One of those 'kill me if <x> ever happens to me' requests. There isn't anyone he'd trust more to do it.

The casual stroll continues, the pair looking all the world as if they're a 'couple' enjoying the morning's chill. Not too distant, not too close. Barney looks forward, and takes a pull on his cigarette, the smoke blowing out. "Got it while I was still with the Bureau. Did it come from them? Probably not. My best guess is the HUAC." House Un-American Activities Committee. "Probably heard info got sent over your way and guessed there was a leak in the pipes. Trying to stop it." He looks over at her and gives her a one-shoulder shrug. "I took out a few of 'em." All accidents. "Didn't get to Stark. Someone took out his wife, so I figured that someone didn't like the way I was doin' things. So I said 'screw it'." That's Barney. No women, no children. "Still have the names, though."

*

"Someone might find them interesting," the redhead almost idly suggests of the names. "The confirmation of - some - of the circumstances, too, if we really were pursuing interests in that direction." It isn't quite clear from her tone whether she's unaware of her country's Rebirth-related activities or if she's simply withholding for the sake of her job. "It's unfortunate, a little— isn't it?" As she meets his gaze, her features take on a thoughtful cast. "Just think: what if there had been a leak? What if we'd all had the opportunity to build our own armies of supermen; how many lives could've been saved when a dozen men could do a company's work?" She clucks her tongue softly, shakes her head, and takes a short puff.

"Not that I wouldn't have done similar in your Committee's position," she notes, an edge creeping into her contemplation. "But it's no less unfortunate." Following another beat, she adds, "This list, you'll burn in front of me, I think," with an arched brow and a tip of her chin towards the pack in his pocket.

Once she's looking forward again, and once she's taken the time to let out a fresh lungful of smoke, she allows a small smile, shakes her head, and suggests, "You'd want to look into a goat, too, I think. For your make believe farm-slash-memorial. Tough, stubborn things— I bet that you'd understand one another. Also, they're fairly tasty, which is arguably more important."

And once that's out, it's back to business again, as she finally comes back around to an important detail: "Speaking of tough and stubborn things: what do you know about Barnes? My superiors have been in a— delicate place, of late. I have heard rumors."

*

"Someone. Sometimes, it's how I manage to stay alive. Some want me dead because I have the info, and others want me in and alive and workin' for them because I have the info." Barney smiles tightly, the shit-eating smile before he takes another draw on his cigarette. "God, I love this game." He's no fool; he'll make it last as long as he can, and hopefully come out on the other side.

Brows rise and he barks a soft laugh, pulling out his pack again. "Jeez.. okay. Memorizin' after one cup of coffee. You're brutal. What've you been doin', kicking puppies? I swear." He taps a cigarette out, then the list. The cigarette, he palms, getting ready for the time when he's going to have his next, and he looks at the names. No outward pronunciation; in case they're being watched from a distance. He's not giving any lip-readers a chance. "Yeah.. easy 'nuf. Heard of one, two.." and the cigarette pack is put away before he pulls out his book of matches. Brows rise again in silent inquiry, 'Ready?' before he sets it alight in hand. It burns quickly and easily, and as it gets close to his fingers, he's dropping it on the ground and letting it go to ash. His foot grinds it into the dirt before he shuffles the dirt so it doesn't look as if anything was amiss. "Goats are pretty tasty. I figured you'd more compare me to a bull." He grins, the expression back to lopsided and boyish. "You know.. uh.." Stubborn as a bull, right? Right.

"Barnes. Jeez. I know he's pissed off a bunch of people. SHIELD almost gave a kill order. Instead, they put a shit ton of agents on his ass. Hell.. they got so damned desperate, they were willin' to pull me in to watch the back of one of theirs. Couldn't trust their junior agents, they said."

*

Natalia waits, watches, and puffs while Barney reads, seemingly unmoved by his protests on the heels of his rhapsodizing about the joys of possessing sensitive intel.

"I would've been willing to let it wait a while," she eventually, evenly notes. "Maybe watch you flush the ashes down a hotel drain. I'm not so cruel."

Her eyes return to the path before them after a lingering moment, and then she shifts entirely: "They think that they can bring Barnes in," she quietly says, disbelief creeping into her otherwise neutral tone. "If half of what I've heard of the man is true…"

The redhead closes her eyes and draws in another deep breath of smoke, burning until there's little more than filter between her lips.

"If they're right, then this may be the last time we see each other for a while," she ruefully murmurs as exhaled smoke dissipates around her. Her free hand comes up to massage her brow briefly, and then she presses, "This 'shit ton' of agents, whatever that means— did they find mutants to slap uniforms and clearance onto, or are they not quite that desperate? And how long ago was your assignment?"

*

"Yes you are. You waited this long to tell me you would have waited," Barney quips back in a theatrically grumbling tone. Still, he's got it done and taken care of. He knows the name. Next on the list is what he's good at; finding them and setting them up, each to their own weakness. Except for the one.

Barney finishes the cigarette and tosses it on the ground a couple of yards away from where he'd ground in the ashes. "Yeah. I would've just taken him down. But they want him alive, so.. that's on them." Shoulders rise in a shrug as it also underscores the next, and he shakes his head for good measure. "Couldn't tell you. Last conversation I had with the Director, she was threatening a girl of mine, and I was threatening her husband. I'm not welcome to sit behind a desk or chat at the water cooler." Barney doesn't sound too put out about it, either. "Eventually, everyone's gonna be using them, I figure. If not they're gonna be behind the 8-ball soon enough."

*

"True enough," the redhead replies with a grimace and a nod. "Your people certainly know which way the wind is blowing, and there's no telling what mine are hiding in the emptiness of home. We could wake up one day to find ourselves and our games redundant— which would, I suppose, just mean that we'd need to find ourselves some new ones to play."

After one last puff, the filter is crushed underfoot and her hands disappear into her pockets. "If you happen to hear anything more about Barnes - a change in tactics on their side, maybe, since you've apparently alienated yourself from the chain of command - I would appreciate a word— and so would my superiors. Could get you closer to that farm of yours." Despite the severity of the situation - an elite secret agent for her side under threat by the grand new intelligence org on the block - she can't help but let a little warmth find its way into her voice as she mentions his last conversation with the Director.

Which may play into why, when her hands leave her coat, one brushes against Barney's then tries to press something small, jagged, and metal into his hand— a key, clearly.

"Later, that is," she clarifies with a glance over her shoulder. "After you've found your way back to your tail, and your awful red tape."

*

Barney barks a soft laugh and shakes his head before he looks at her there beside him, his tones soft and genuine. "We can always find something to amuse ourselves. Though I can't think of a moment when you could be considered redundant." Sentiment borne on many, many missions; many long, cold nights, longer, hot, dry dusty days on 'assignment'.

He nods soon after and the ghost of a smile remains behind. "I'll find out. Just means I might have to see if one of the Senior Agents wants to try and kick my ass again." Operative term: try. The ghost of the smile turns broader, "I think she wants me." Yeah, yeah, though that method isn't the 'tried and true' way that Barney gets information. That's other peoples' way.

The stroll is shared a little longer, and a softly chuffed breath exits as the key is placed in his hand. Barney palms it without looking at it, setting it into his pocket where he'll get the feel of the teeth. "It's the idea of goats, isn't it," he teases. Still, he nods. He's going to have to pick up his tail soon. He's already written his various 'incident' reports in his scrawl, stuck 'em under the door, so no one is really expecting that he'll be back at the office. "I'd better get back. 'Tash… it's good to see you. I've missed seein' you 'round. And I'm not kidding. One day, you and me, we'll go back out to Russia." He does speak Russian fluently, and could easily pass. "Before the winter's over. Get a troika, go riding. Pretend we're normal people." One more for his 'bucket list'.

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