1965-04-30 - Welcome to the Jungle
Summary: A pair of old soldiers cross paths on a new battlefield
Related: None
Theme Song: None
frank-castle bucky 

So, once upon a time, he was one of the CIA's boogeymen in Europe and the Far East. A Russian assassin working to further their aims, so often by assassinating pro-Western or communist-opposed figures. Most of the kills were of the kind so close to deniable: a car accident, a fatal allergic reaction, old men whose hearts failed them in their sleep. Only a few were of the more blatant kind, the shot from a distance, a knife in the dark. But he was real enough to leave a few definite traces….so it's got to be utterly weird to see him here, in broad daylight, walking down the sidewalk.

For there he is, a young man in a worn leather jacket and t-shirt and jeans, battered steeltoes on his feet, the long hair pulled back into a low ponytail. Walking along the sidewalk as if he had every right to be there, and not a care in the world, rather than skulking on the rooftops waiting to waylay some UN diplomat, as one might expect.

Frank Castle didn't get a reputation. He wasn't allowed one. He was just another faceless killer, an empty-eyed man behind a rifle who went into bad places and did bad things and wasn't allowed to tell anyone about it. But of such men, he was one of the most dangerous.

Of course, he's developed an entirely different reputation NOW.

He's left part of the reason for that reputation behind in an alley, the stool pigeon he's just finished with thrust down into a dumpster, his feet kicking futilely as he finds his face soaked in refuse. Better that than the alternative, though, when dealing with Castle. Frank lights a cigarette as he hits the street, buttoning up his coat to hide the death's head.

He's got a piece of paper clutched in the ungloved right hand, a list of addresses. Who's he looking for? Or what? The scent of tobacco smoke has him turning, unthinking, like a dog scenting the wind. It's been long and long since he had one - the boss doesn't like 'em, and his nose is more sensitive than once it was.

But it's the face behind it that gives Buck pause, that furrow appearing between his brows. He knows this guy from somewhere….and since the lack of immediate recognition's enough to make the probability that this is someone Winter tangled with, someone buried in those half-lost memories, that's a problem. Not that Frank seems to be in hunter mode, for the moment.

Frank Castle can almost feel attention on him, that sort of sixth-sense predators begin to develop around one another. He catches Bucky looking in his direction and, by the same token, there's something that strikes a chord there, too, but nothing he can place. Likely he'd only been given vague photos or sketches of the Winter Soldier, nothing so definitive as to match a face. But it's clear the hombre's dangerous, just from the way he carries himself.

Frank doesn't back down, though, just returning the look. He's a dangerous hombre himself. "Somethin' on your mind, soldier?" he says, not realizing the pun he's making.

There's a blink from the smaller man, a fractional tensing at that inadvertantly accurate nickname. Still looking warily at Frank, though he's poised as if for fight or flight. The gut's trying to speak up, shouting, in fact, but the forebrain isn't getting it. Hard sometimes, with two sets of memories. "No, sorry," he says, voice rough and low, letting his gaze slide away to an ad posted in a shop window. Deliberately trying not to provoke while he figures out why internal alarms are jangling.

Frank Castle cocks his head a bit, reading that internal conflict a little bit. Frank doesn't have much of it himself. If he decides to hurt someone these days, he hurts them. Whatever conscience he had he buried a couple of years ago in three plots of soil.

"Ain't no thing," he says. "Don't get itchy at me, though, kid. You won't like how it turns out."

There are fights you lose just by getting into them in the first place, and this is so very clearly one of them. "Not here for trouble," he says, voice still hoarse. "Just looking for somewhere to live." If he's checking out the realty in Hell's Kitchen, chances are good he's one step up from the skids. He's certainly got that look, down at heels, if clean enough.

Frank Castle nods, "Cheap neighborhood, should be plenty of places," he says. He points down the street, "Think old lady Hankins might have a room for rent, down in her basement, long as you don't mind it moist and cool. Closer to a cave than a room, I'd imagine," he says. Frank keeps track of who's who around this place and he's done enough to earn the respect and protection of a few otherwise upstanding citizens.

That air of puzzlement doesn't leave him. He's still studying Frank carefully. Where….where…where does he know him from? "Thanks," he says, quietly. The accent's Brooklyn. "Problem is I gotta big family. It'll have to be more'n a room." A bob of his head.

Frank Castle takes a drag on his cigarette and nods, "Yeah, family can be harder in this part of the city. Close quarters, ethnic tempers, loud bastards shoutin' all hours of the night. You got kids? Dunno if you want this neighborhood if you got kids," he says.

"Should be some brownstones over in Queens, though, if ya got the coin. Although if you're shoppin' around here, I'm guessin' you don't."

"I gotta lotta kids," he allows, wryly. How's that? He can't be more than twenty five, twenty six. "And yeah, Queens's right out of the budget." A look up and down the street, and then he asks, a little sheepishly, after patting down his jacket and coming up with a rather squashed pack of Luckies, "You gotta light?"

Frank Castle comes from a big Italian family, he knows how people end up with lots of kids at a young age. Might've done the same himself, if he hadn't ended up on the path he did. Probably be a plumber with a place out on Long Island and a mess of kids runnin' around the pool in the backyard.

He reaches into his pocket, drawing out his old lighter, the Marines emblem on the side as he hands it over. "You can prob'ly find someplace. People always movin' in and out around here. Make sure you got good locks on yer windows, though."

He always wonders about his own future, without the ice and the Russians and HYDRA. Come back like every other GI, gone to school on the GI Bill, married and living in the suburbs. Not to be.

Buck takes it carefully, flicks it alight, gets it drawing…even as it gets him a closer look at Frank. Unfiltered and harsh, then he hands it back with care. "Thanks," he says again. It's then, of course, that memory finally clicks into place with a nearly palpable jolt. He's seen that face above fatigues, through a scope.

Unfiltered and harsh. Kind of sounds like the Punisher.

Frank returns the lighter to his pocket. He sees the scrutiny and says, "Probably better you don't recognize me. For you and me both, really. Nothin' good can come of it," he says. "I don't mean you no harm and, right now, you don't mean me no harm. Somethin' down the line changes that? Well, we'll deal with it then, like men."

He can see it change, the younger man's pale gaze sharpening into something cold and gauging. Like watching a mask drop, and a very different intelligence raising its head instead. Whoever's there now isn't just some young father trying to scrounge up lodging for a wife and kids, but another predator indeed. He - it - gazes back at Frank for a long moment. Then there's a slow nod at that. "I," he says, deliberately, "Have no quarrel with you. Neither of us does our old jobs now. It was never personal, and it is not now." The accent has dropped, no hint of New York now, the precision of someone who's learned English from a schoolbook.

If he's jarred or shocked by the change, Frank doesn't show it. But not showing it is part of the way it works, isn't it? No time for feelings. No time to bleed.

"All I do now is personal," he says. "So keep your nose clean and you and me can stay good and neutral. Nice little Switzerlands. Long as you don't hurt anybody on my turf and make me need to come hunting," he says. "Well, anybody that doesn't deserve it."

An inclination of James's head to that. No use picking a quarrel he doesn't have to. Not with a veritable litter to defend, even if each one is more deadly than his 'father'. "Who deserves it?" he asks, tone mild. As if he really wanted to know.

Frank Castle finishes off his smoke with a slow drag, taking it down to the filter before dropping it to the sidewalk and crushing the butt beneath the heel of his boot. "Scum. Pimps, pushers, flunkies. Leg-breakers and hitmen. Mobsters and made men. Rapists and predators and wifebeaters," he says. "The bottom feeders who suck the life out of the good and the decent to get fat on whatever they can, however they can," he says.

"All of them? Break 'em off and let it hurt, see if I care. Just leave the good folks alone and we'll do fine."

An actual vigilante. Huh. Whoever, whatever, is watching him seems oddly curious about it. "What brought you to this point?" he asks, apparently serious. "This is more than personal vengeance, isn't it?"

Frank Castle snorts, "I stopped believin' in causes. I do what I do because that's what I am. Period. Can't be any different. They made me that way, so they can pay the price for it," he says. "I don't get too caught up philosophizin' about it. I leave that to fuckers wear capes and flags," he says. "But I sleep clean as a sheet."

"Who's 'they'?" he asks. The urge for fight or flight has apparently ebbed. Buck's standing there, slowly dragging on that cigarette, still regarding Frank like a scientist with a new specimen. "You can't be different? Why not?"

Frank Castle leans in just a little bit, actually looking past Bucky and down the street, the two men close as he drops his voice, looking up and down the street to make sure they aren't being watched.

"Are you fuckin' with me right now, son? Cause I gotta tell ya, it feels like you're fuckin' with me and I don't like it. Not even a little bit," he says. "I ain't gonna sit here and crap out my life story to you like some sort of pussy-ass beatnik. I'm just makin' you aware that you're walkin' in my jungle an' I keep an eye on the monkeys and the parrots and the little bunny rabbits. An' that there are consequences if one o' those bunny rabbits winds up hurt. Capisce?"

That pale stare is utterly level. "Never think it," he says, and his voice is flat as a Kansas highway. "But you went from taking life for money to taking life because you think it's right. Most men came back from that jungle sick and unwilling to do more than they had to. You didn't. Now you bear the burden of death and not the state. It's hard to carry." His tone is matter of fact, not mocking, as he ashes delicately to one side. No blowing smoke in the PUnisher's face, literally or figuratively.

Frank Castle holds steady for a long moment. "I'm not most men," he says simply.

"I'll carry as long as I can, until it weighs me down and buries me. Just fine by me. I'm already dead," he says. He draws out his pack of Camels and lights a fresh smoke, taking a long draw before he pushes on past Bucky, letting their shoulders brush for a moment. "Good luck in your house-huntin'. Hope we stay on the same side of the barrel," he says. His words are punctuated by a scream from the alley as the carcass of the man whose throat he slit - the one who tried to mug his good informant, just moments before Frank shook him down himself - is discovered by a local housewife, now squealing in her curlers like a well-groomed pig in a nightgown.

He doesn't flinch at the outburst of sound, but merely cocks eye and head that way, brows lifted in mute question. That one of yours? "I imagine we will," he says, quietly. "We have before." No flinch at that contact - it's only the human shoulder the bigger man's bumped against, and he yields ground without protest. Frank's definitely the biggest gorilla in this particular bit of rainforest.

Frank Castle just blends into the growing afternoon crowd, slipping off back into the jungle from whence he came. But these two big cats will no doubt cross paths again…

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