1964-04-10 - American Dream: White
Summary: Old friends before an abduction for the good of the country.
Related: American Dream: Red
Theme Song: None
rogue bucky 


He does shave, amazingly. So when Rogue appears at the particular squat he's using this afternoon, he's actually scraping away with a safety razor, looking in a scrap of mirror tacked to the side of the tumbledown pigeon racer's shed he's set up camp in, atop a building already marked to be condemned. He's discarded coat and sweater for the moment, wearing only a plain white t-shirt and those old jeans, the former clearly new by the snowy purity of color. Hard to keep whites white when you're living on the run.

*

Scarlett, they call her. The Flower Girl, if they remember her from the riots and the day in Times Square when a dead alien fell from the sky in front of her and the Human Torch. So many names, so many identities. Some are in fact her own.

So many skins, too. Black beatnik wear, worn out sweater and jeans, minidress, tired suit; her closet supplies whatever she needs. For the day it's her usual garb, a dress and leggings, nothing to attract too much attention from the curious. A backpack over her shoulder probably weighs more than its worn canvas straps suggest, and someone with a keen sense of smell might pick up tantalizing fragrances below her preferred neroli perfume. Not so much gives her away walking into this most unlikely of places, but then, she leaves no footprints. No one is likely to be following her, but footprints are a liability for all she appears to walk over the ground. Moving from spot to spot, she hops and jumps and tumbles to avoid staying down there where footprints might give them away.

*

Wise of her. And when she appears on his own personal rooftop, inasmuch as anything belongs to the nameless and officially dead, he looks over with what isn't really a smile….but is as close to welcome as Sergeant Grim ever shows. There's even approval. "You were very quiet," he commends her. "I musta trained you well." That dry note in his voice - lack of memory's a profound irritation, amongst its other trials.

*

It helps not to have a weapon drawn on her. However, she's no fool to assume that Bucky is unarmed, incapable of defending himself against a casual pass of a regular old girl. Nothing keeps him from grabbing her ankle with an unbreakable grip and flipping her to the ground. It might simply be nice to think in his heart of hearts, he would rather not do that. Her lidded eyes follow him as he emerges, and dips her head in a nod. "I brought you food," she offers, Scarlett's hello as much as anyone can appreciate. "Be careful, the breakable stuff is on the bottom, bread on the top. And socks. I suspect you might appreciate dry socks given the laundering facilities out this way are terrible." Truly, she thinks of nearly everything.

*

Which gesture throws him, it's clear. Consideration - when was the last time anyone did something like that for him? Memory's mum on that front, but gut instinct registers surprise. He takes it, looks at it, looks at her with the air of someone groping for a response. After a long, awkward pause he says, finally, "Thank you," And it comes out more foreign than a whole monologue in Russian. He says it again, clearly trying it on for size. "Thank you."

*

A small lift of her mouth approaches a delicate crescent to capture sunlight in abundance, even should the day be sinking into a low, breezy evening if the scudding clouds and rippling waters of the Hudson River be any proof. It takes a great deal of skill to see the river from this vantage, at any rate. The answer would be sufficient on his part; nothing needs to be said at all. But far from her to deny her the attempt, she gives him a nod. "Keep the bag. You might find need of it. I could not remember from us what you liked best, so I tried to get you everything. A flask of tea there in the Thermos, too." A battered thing, but it comes as dark and bitter as Little Odessa makes it, and they know a thing or two about a brew so dark it might as well be extracted from an Estonian peat bog and sprinkled by a few weathered leaves.

*

That kindles something like recognition. Taste and scent, the most visceral of the senses, and the ones closest tied to memory. It's the tea he goes for first, taking a sip and rolling it around his mouth like a sommelier with a new vintage….and the first hint of anything at all like a kind of sensuality. For someone who knows his body's capabilities down to a hair's breadth, he's remarkably divorced from it - treatingf the entirety like equipment to be tended and marshalled, not just the arm. The fact that it's as bitter as old regret seems to dismay him not at all. He takes a swig, and then offers her the Thermos, mutely.

*

Flavours do odd things to the brain, as much as a touch. The merest connection sometimes proves sufficient to light up whole portions of the mind, and the shock sometimes proves sufficient to kick some bats out of the belfry, memories crashing into place. Or at least what constitutes 'place,' for someone whose very being is crackling with misfired neurons. The most she can give him are those hints, the pieces she retains that might fall together. James, Jack Frost, the Winter Soldier: whomever he is lives on in her mind, and there is still an incomplete puzzle.

Scarlett inclines her head, that smile remaining in all its frosty shimmer of delight. And how not? Here the simplest of delights comes to the fore, unveiled freely, even though he might never smile. She raises a hand. "I drank probably an entire pot on my own to make sure I had the flavour down right. Yours, though I thank you for the hospitality." If he pushes, she won't decline. Cannot. "Is it good?"

*

"It's awful," he says, without hesitation. "IT's just perfect," As if there were no contradiction at all. Another mouthful. Then he gazes down into the flask as if he could divine by the tea leaves that have to be layered on the bottom. "It makes me think of things." Realizing the lameness of that statement, James grimaces. "It reminds me of…..not memories?" He gazes at her. "Of something."

*

"Impressions. Deja vu. The sense of the familiar even when you have nothing to place it? I have them often enough. Most people do, so you are perfectly human like the rest of us," Scarlett assures the soldier, floating over with light steps to take a perch leaning against the shack. Her expression remains mindful, not quite soft, and entirely alert. Both hands rest against the wall, giving her a balance point. "You do not have to use big words with me or impress me with the vocabulary of a Columbia grad. I am one, it goes with the territory. I apologize that sometimes I don't know how to shut it off, though I wish that I did."

*

And for a wonder, he actually laughs. Oh, it's utterly soundless, the laughter of a man who's spent so long so far into Indian Country that the reflexes will never entirely be erased. Just a mute shaking of shoulders, his lips compressed, but for a moment, the look in his eyes is almost impish. "That's good," he tells her, finally. "I know I never got beyond high school."

*

Score one for the fates. A tally is kept, by the girl who tries not to judge and rarely keeps score, a mark mentally scraped down. Her smile is fixed as the stars overhead, by which a man might steer his course and expect to find a port sooner or later. Celestial cartography in a person's nature can be a strange concept, and it's enough for her to elevate his laugh with a delighted grin exploding out of the ashes of a smile. Scarlett doesn't quite clap her hands together, but she wants to. "You may have had this thing called a war in between. And truth, I have Columbia, but a tattered curtain of experiences before that. Who is the more interesting, I wonder?" Rhetorical question soon answered. "Oh, I know. You."

*

The smile's more a suggestion in the lines around his eyes, mouth, than anything real. But for someone who's usually as expressive as a slab of concrete, it's damn near a song and dance complete with jazz hands and tap solo. "I wish I had the war stories to tell you," he says. "Apparently James Barnes was kind of a madman. Musta been the people he was hangin' around with."

*

"You have your own stories now. Those matter. Where did you go yesterday? Have you done anything today of note?" Such are the threads of their lives, sometimes not woven from gold but steel, and not always silver but the simpler, humbler textiles at hand. Scarlett pulls her coat a little closer, and radiates that sense of contentment, which may be saying something given James is an assassin and she is a bohemian without an ounce of real combat training.

Real, as far as one cares. "Tell me the tales that move you. Cease worrying right now about what you have been. I think we are a collection of such things, but not only defined by the past."

*

"No," he says, quietly. "I've run into this agents….they want me to defect. They aren't CIA, though. Something else," He rubs the back of his neck. "I might have to," he concedes, reluctant. "I can't keep hanging out in the wind like I am. This….it's not right."

*

"You have plenty to weigh up. Whether you think it's wise to trust them, if you can manage on your own. If your handlers are coming back." Scarlett measures up the possibilities and she comes up with a few alternatives, delicately drawing her hair back behind her ear. "Having someone to turn to in times of need is tempting. You aren't alone. How did they find you, and what are they offering?"

*

His brow's furrowed, with that pained, abstracted look. "Steve, who used to be my friend, offered the possibility of a fair trial. But….Steve's kind of too naive for anyone's good. The real thing they can offer is to get me out of the reach of my old masters. Because they'll come for me, sooner or later. Assuming this isn't part of a plan." He shrugs, rolls that metal shoulder - something pops into place with something that sounds almost like a chime, and he looks momentarily embarassed. "They've found me at random, as far as I can tell. What looks like coincidental meetings."

*

"Is he? Does he see too much of the good in people to be aware of their faults, or has he merely believed the faults can be surpassed?" Scarlett lacks the language of unkindness in that moment, nor has she the means to paint a dark, unwelcome picture of an essentially good man. It would be utterly unfair of her to disparage the character of someone scarcely known on a personal level, anyways.

His embarrassment earns James the faintest inclination of her head. Among their shared memories are probably a goodly number of phantom pains in a limb purely flesh and bone, pins grinding where none are, plates and oil and friction. "Nothing in the universe exists as coincidence. I am fairly certain of that. I wish I could say otherwise, but then, I distrust the possibility of plans."

*

There's a little cant of his head, almost a shrug, acknowledging that. "I agree," he says. "Like the saying goes - once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action. And this is in enemy action territory already. And….I think he's infected with a bad case of American optimism."

*

Scarlett shakes her head softly, throwing ripples of her braids around her slim shoulders. The net scours a fiery copper veil wrought no thicker than her pinkie finger, and probably considerably thinner in places. She stands out in such a rough place, fairly cosmopolitan and cultivating a pretty look. Hand outstretched, gloves firmly in place to abandon the threat of real danger, she says, "That may be the case. It tends to be insidious, catching up with you when you turn your back upon it. But what now, then? Are you looking forward to a respite guarded by someone else, or another faction with a larger shield against the sword of your former allies? Or will it be another dance in which you guard yourself and wish for the best?"

*

He settles down on a crate that serves for seating, in this rooftop aerie. "Well, there are two possibilities at the root. One, I really have broken away from my handlers, and in that case, these guys sound like my best chance to keep from being picked up again. But I've been out here several weeks, with only one hint of having really been hunted. So I think it's more likely the second - I'm out here trailing around like a wounded bird because my masters want me to be. Instead of making me a conscious weapon, I'm bait. And something will happen when I'm picked up." HE's got that flat, even voice, with that faint hint of what's almost a smoker's rasp. "I might be being just herded towards them."

*

Those eyes hold a shimmer of the aurora borealis to them, even when bedimmed by lowered lashes. Copper gates cannot diminish the surreal intensity of covetous emerald shot to a plasma high, and when she lifts her gaze to him, all those truths of a dawning spring are painted in the bohemienne's countenance if he chooses to decipher them. "So. Suppose you are. Your new guardians certainly aren't likely to be the sorts without resources of their own, are they? For look at you, a man of your calibre does not fall into someone's hands freely or easily. Save mine, but I am the ingenue following a path of non-violence. Perhaps in doing this, you feel the beginnings of a lightness of spirit that has not been with you for a very long time. Trouble or not."

A curve of her smile dares him to maintain the flat, emotional ambiguity 'round her. A hard thing to manage when she practically seethes with an effervescence. Pirouetting on her toes makes a movement cut with grace and feckless ease.

*

It's like the old child's game about not smiling. James doesn't quite smile, but there's a gleam of humor there, as he looks at her. He takes a swig of tea, still not flinching at the bitterness. "You're like one of those princesses in the Disney movies," he tells her, amused. "I'm kinna surprised you don't have pigeons do your laundry, or something. And you're right," he allows, tipping the thermos towards her. Only now does he offer to share, the greedy bastard.

*

"Pigeons don't get along well with girls who like wolves and cats. Nor am I much of a princess, though I suppose I could be. There was only ever one diadem I wanted, and it's out of reach now." Her smiles are things that conceal ill-healed scars, so unlike his in a ridge of neatly knit white. Dark, smoky laughter weaves a satin and velvet rope to the ears, even when the natural placement of her soprano in the upper register of a feminine range wouldn't normally support it. "I need neither mice nor rabbits. I have you, no?" The mischief burning bright gives Scarlett reason to take the thermos. She denied the offer once, but twice, she cannot do.

*

And that makes him laugh, again, silently. "I don't do your laundry," he retorts, when he can speak again. "Do I? If I caught a rabbit I'd eat it. And I've eaten a few pigeons already," he adds, more philosophically, gaze rising to the rooflines. Ignominous prey for someone who's brought low princes, priests, generals and potentates, like Death in the tarot deck. But then, generals don't make good eating, no matter what they say about eating the rich.

*

"Would you if I asked nicely, or would you prefer if I give you the burning stare and resentful look of raw stoicism? Some people respond better to the latter. I am sure if you provided me with a mirror, mon ami, I could manage." Running her fingers through her braids only nets them, but Scarlett warms to the rattle of that long dormant vocal engine turning over and filling the afternoon air with the wholesome notes of a laugh. Such things are precious, so rare they might be used to bind the divine or make for metaphors of impossibilities, like hen's teeth. "You might look remarkable up to the elbows in suds, stringing out damp colourful laundry on a line. It beats a garrote. Wet t-shirt, imagine all the girls swooning over that." Mischief, the Trickster goddess incarnate.

*

That makes him bridle a little, looking at her. "I did someone's dishes, not too long ago," he admits, with no sign of shame. "A man named Kai. He's been kind to me, though I've been a tremendou asshole to him. Guess you really can find all kinds in New York City." He spreads his hands. "The arm's waterproof, after all. I'd be in sad fucking shape if it rusted every time I got wet, like the Tin Man."

*

He might bridle angrily, and Scarlett weathers that with all the aplomb given to young women. They may be fragile in many a way, but they can summon unusual reserves of pluck and fortitude when necessary. "I have run into a clothesline. The effect is similar to a wire, terribly irritating. I think I may well have had one of those at my throat, too." For all the light sheen, it's a simple statement of black iron syllables. "A man named Kai. Light, friendly fellow, beatnik, looks like he would become inevitably maudlin with two glasses of a potent liquor? We are acquainted."

*

She's surprised him. Genuinely so. "Really?" Buck asks, a little blankly. "SMall world. But that's him, yeah. Nice guy. I don't know how he does it." He scratches at his jaw with the nail of a thumb, as if not satisfied with the shave.

*

"Quite." Scarlett puts her fingers to her lips. "There was a time I felt like I was only four hops from everyone in the city. These days, it feels a little closer to six, but that may be because my attentions have drifted over the horizon rather than lingering in the city. He does it in part by a reckless belief in the good, which might be the definition of denial, though I believe not."

*

"That sounds like Steve," he says….and immediately gets that bemused look. As if some other part of him had spoken up. A memory of memories. The frown lingers, and he has t hat listening air. AS if hoping something else from the past will pipe up.

*

A pass of the thermos back after she takes a drink of the bitter brew might give insight, and perhaps not. Lips wet with the remembrance of the dark, dark Russian tea are blotted, and Scarlett watches him from the corner of a luminous eye. There is no need to interrupt right yet, no purpose for her to intrude upon the jagged pathways he wanders.

*

It fades, as if the sound had passed beyond his range, and his shoulders droop fractionally. Then he shakes himself, like a bird settling its feathers, with an absurd clatter of plates, and looks back to her.

*

One cannot help but admire the unfamiliar, and hold some regret to be incapable of providing the answer. The best she might do in this case is provide a solid degree of support quietly, and such may not prove sufficient. Scarlett swings her feet lightly over the edge of the roof, once seated. "I wish there was more I could do on that front. No matter the choice you take, I am here if you want to forget work or pursue some course."

*

That rueful twist to his lips returns. "I can't forget what I don't remember," he says, trying for lightness. "But….either way, this can't go on for good." He rubs the back of his neck, smoothes the human hand down the arm, as if checking for any roughness, anything out of place, a gesture with the absence of mind of long habit. "So….thank you," he adds. "Because I've got to go one way or another, but….I don't know where I'll end up. Might not see you again."

*

"I doubt that very much. Finding people when they need me is one thing I am halfway good at, thanks in no small part to identifying breadcrumbs and following them. If you get caught by wicked witches, remember the trail, and that can be something I track. You forget, too," a gentle reminder comes from the soul-thief, tapping her temple, "I can think as you think, and recognize your signs. Not the best, naturally, but you have bequeathed me that much."

*

James goes quiet, still, as if he were doing his best to fade into the stonework, like some sort of odd Art Deco gargoyle. "I don't know that I want you to," he says, after that long silent moment. "I don't like the idea that I pull you in after me."

*

"You don't remember much of me, so allow me to offer this." Scarlett rests her hands over her knees, staring away from the city and tracking back towards him. The starry nebulae of her gaze never wavers from his face. Odd gargoyle and bizarre caryatid, such a pair they make. "For my friends, I will walk through fire. For those who have aided me and in turn proved worthy of my care, I will hold a lamp high in the dark to see you through. I choose this. Not an act of martyrdom; by no means am I so selfless. Nor am I asking anything of you from it." Her tone is soft, simple enough, but wrought with a conviction rarely spied in the mists of herself. It's there, if one dares to mine deep enough, among all the other weight of sin and failure and bright joy. "If there's anything in the world I seem to be good for, the hard path may be it."

*

He breathes out a low sigh. "I guess I can't dissuade you, eh?" Trying to sound annoyed, or just flat….but there's that humor in there again. Pleased, almost. Friends undeserved and unsought.

*

A small shrug follows, simple rotation of muscle and extension of motion. "Present a good argument or give just cause. I refuse to stalk you like a crazy soul, but neither am I entirely comfortable with the idea of the Soviets or the Americans or, say, the Uruguayans forcing you to a path that suits them and not you. Reckon that seems like a violation of your rights, and who you are." Scarlett swings her feet forward again, unbothered by gravity. Gravity is far less concerning when she can crash to the ground, and land gracefully all the same. "Without sounding like a bad recitation of Shakespeare or a greeting card, it is enough to want to do the right thing."

*

James lifts a hand, waves it as if conceding the argument, or waving away a persistent insect. "I don't think I've been to Uruguay," he says, after a beat. "God knows I hope I don't have them pissed off at me. How do you know I do want to? The guy you described sounds like a coldhearted killer."

*

"The man before him sacrificed much for country and friends. And the man you are now? Are you the sum game of all you have been, and only that, or the potential for what you could be?" Scarlett never asks the questions that are easy, when given an opportunity to look down the long, slow path of possibility. The Nornsdottir, her. "You probably don't remember what you have done, entirely. I remember pieces. So what? What you do today counts. And all those futures ahead of you, they may lead to good outcomes. Perhaps bad. I choose to think the dice will come up positive more, and you very uncertainty and rejection of your past acts speak for you. Besides, what sort of person would I be if I judged you on what happened involuntarily under some weird coercive behaviour or torture? For I've seen that." Dark shadows flow through her eyes, barely visible silhouettes spinning on a red, red ribbon of death and agony. "I think so, at least. We were brutalized. What would we do, subjected again and again? No, darling, it's not that simple for me to discard you and say no hope lies in your future. Call me naive, foolish, or eminently hopeful. None of those quite apply, but whatever soothes your soul." Her shoulders dance again in concession to a shrug, for all those convictions evaporate under a smile, far from gone, their gravity a measure pulling the thoughts aloud. "I like you for you. You're enough. The great secret of life."

*

It's enough to make him drop his gaze to the gravel, for a good little while. The breeze ruffes his hair, the few wisps it's managed to tease loose from the tie that pulls it back. "I guess if anyone would understand, it's you," he allows, finally, not looking up. "You've seen it all." Fingers, flesh and metal, lace in his lap.

*

A test, maybe, a measure of whether the silver threads woven into her tapestry were thrown by the pitiless Norn or the compassionate, by the callous or the proud. Scarlett wordlessly reaches out and sets her hand on his arm. Gloves stop the bite of the void, at least at any noticeable level. Atoms might be displaced, nothing dangerous.

"Not all. Enough. Friends can see past acts to the person, I like to think. If they cannot, well… a lonely world for me, then."

*

He knows enough not to touch bare skin. But his own hand rises to pat hers, gently. "I'm glad you found me," he says, simply. On so many levels, clearly.

*

Gloves help. Long sleeves, a proper coat. All signs are off if James feels the urge to rub her cheek like an overgrown house cat — albeit one more like a jaguar, really, given all things with him. Provided alarm were not the issue, she might actually hold to enough calm to prevent another transfer. The Soul-Thief's gift is, at best, dubious.

"Likewise." And that warrants a nod, her fingers light where they are settled. Nothing to hint at the terrible capabilities beneath.

*

He smells faintly of shaving soap, and now of that bitter tea. Content to sit in silence for a little. Sharing warmth of a sort. It's likely more of a touch than he's ever permitted just for sociability's sake. Rogue's taming him to hand, if slowly.

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