There are a great many things to be said about a bloodline that traces back generations to a famous strike team that defined the shape of the modern times. Although a lot of those things could be arguably unsavory—very little of the past actually retains its glamour when the stories spill from the lips of men with very little affection for political correctness—there is a certain aspect of it that, quite certainly, holds a very specific type of magic.
Enough time has elapsed that very little expectations are attached to certain surnames, but some bloodlines are indelibly marked by memory.
It defines you, that sort of memory. If you let it.
Her name is Carola Jones. She is forty-three years old. She has a husband, Alan, and twin little girls turning twelve next week. Olivia and Amandla.
Two generations back, her grandfather bared his teeth in the face of widespread social prejudice and, proud of himself in a manner only those ritually oppressed may understand, fought alongside a legendary man with a shield.
It’s this history, this bloodline, and a lifetime of living with the knowledge of its legacy, which allows her to take this in stride, today.
He stands in front of her, hands shoved defensively in the pockets of a hooded sweatshirt that for all its deliberate bagginess fails to hide the bulk and power of the frame it tries to conceal. He looks tired and worn and miserable and it’s no wonder; he’s crawled his way out of the distant past, one painful handful of dirt at a time, and although his face looks young and his body looks strong time, it appears, has not been kind.
“I have to admit,” she says, somewhat blankly. “I can’t decide whether I should be surprised or completely unsurprised, considering the company you kept.”
James Buchanan Barnes exhales a laugh through his nostrils that suggests he recognizes the bare bones of amusement in her tone, even though he’s himself immune to it.
“Can’t help you there,” he says, tipping his head to the side in a gesture that was once cocky and now doesn’t quite fit right. “Can’t decide myself.”
“Well, you waded through seventy years of god knows what to get here,” she says. “You might as well come in.”
He arches his brows, strolling inside with the casual relaxation of someone whose muscles are turning to stone in hidden alarm. He hides it well, she thinks, to the unobservant eye; but Carola has an eye for these things honed by the scope of a sniper rifle, and although it’s been a while since she last used a weapon—thirteen years and counting—some edges just never soften.
“Monty told me we’re related,” he says, eyes glancing around in the quickest, sharpest threat assessment Carola has had the privilege of witnessing.
“Monty could have called me and given me a bit of a heads-up, the prick. I’m your grandniece,” she answers. “Very odd to say with you looking twenty years my junior.”
“How do you tell someone this,” he says, and gestures at himself vaguely. “on the phone? And hey. Gotta be open minded,” he chastises.
He makes a good point about the phone. She can’t imagine she’d have reacted well to Monty calling her and saying something like, ‘so, you know how one of my buddies from the war came back from the dead looking exactly the same seventy years later? Guess what, it happened again.’ Not even a posh British accent can salvage that one.
“If I wasn’t, I’d be calling a psychiatrist right now.”
He laughs lightly, but it sounds like he does it at the lack of anything else to do or say. He brings up his right hand and rubs it across his eyes slowly, tiredly. The breadth of his shoulders speaks of strength, but he’s several meals short of his ideal weight. In the pictures she’s seen all her life, Bucky Barnes was always somewhat round-faced, pouty and mostly smirking.
“I need help,” he says at length, dropping his hand and staring at her, like he’s expecting her to turn him around on the spot and evict him from the premises. Something kind and warm and undeniably very motherly, she’s not going to lie to herself about it, spreads across her chest.
“We’re family,” she says simply, coming closer.
“The kind of help I need…,” he pauses, shaking his head slowly. “I’m gonna ask you a lot.”
She regards him for a long moment, his haggard appearance, his youth, the delicate tracing of faded scars across the left side of his neck and throat, like shrapnel. James Buchanan Barnes plummeted to his bloody death seventy years ago, and there is certainly quite a long way to go from that day and place to these, and Carola Jones, granddaughter of Gabe Jones and Emily Barnes, former marine, former sniper SEAL, can read between the lines.
Helicarriers crashing into the Potomac, and Captain America like a storm of unexpected violence, in his war uniform?
“HYDRA,” she murmurs, a flash of anger hot enough to consume her to ashes erupting along her chest and engulfing her lungs. It lasts only as long as she allows it to last; a fraction of a moment, raging uncontrolled, before she inhales and tempers it, breaks the fire down into coals she can use to fuel an oven.
She knows what this means. The timing of his return and HYDRA’s rise from the shadows is too coincidental for the two events to be unrelated. Bucky Barnes won’t be the first unfortunate victim of an organization that will stop at nothing to achieve its goals, nor surely the last. In fact, it won’t even be the first time it happens to him specifically; an idea that makes hatred itch beneath her skin, uncomfortable and heated. The surface of him at least seems functional enough; what lies beneath the mask of his face, Carola knows, will eventually emerge for her to deal with in its time.
Bucky is nodding, slowly, warily. The anger must have shown in her face, but he seems capable of understanding it’s not directed at him.
“They’re still out there,” he says, tone low and rough, eyes skittering away. She sees the moment they snag on something he hadn’t expected. She glances the same way and sees Olivia’s Totoro doll, askew on the couch smiling and as always vaguely unsettling. “You… have children?”
“Two little girls.”
Bucky’s face lands first in faded blurred excitement at the discovery of more extended family, and then disintegrates swiftly into loss and loneliness, which he attempts at once to cover.
“I can’t ask you to do this.”
“You don’t have to ask,” she replies, arching a brow. “I’m a third generation Howling Commando. Burning HYDRA to the ground is a family legacy. Besides,” she adds, unimpressed. “Aunt Peggy left SHIELD in male hands for a handful of decades and look what happened. I don’t think I trust you boys not to screw this up any further.”
Bucky’s eyes flicker away; down and to the right. He looks abruptly wretched, although it’s quite a feat to make his expression worse considering how he was looking before. It’s all shades of unhappiness.
“Where is Steve?” she asks cautiously.
Bucky’s jaw sets. He shakes his head, slowly, deliberately, finding her eyes.
“You want to fight HYDRA without Captain America?” she asks, genuinely curious.
He inhales, a long drag of air, slow and measured.
“I can’t—stand him,” he manages with considerable difficulty. “There’s all this—pervasive fucking hope he sheds like the fucking sunlight. I feel sick just looking at him.”
He pauses, dragging a wary hand down his face, inhaling shakily. Carola watches him, checking the urge to touch him. That might be unwelcome, as he is now, agitated and upset. The aversion to Steve’s nearness is shocking and heartbreaking, but God knows what Bucky’s been through. Carola isn’t about to start arguing with him about how Steve must be tearing himself apart over him. Bucky probably knows.
“That’s another thing,” he says at last, looking at her in defeat. “You have to tell him to back off and stop looking for me.”
Carola blinks at him. “You want me to tell Steve Rogers to back out from a fight?” she asks, incredulous.
He grits his teeth. His frown is tempestuous and grim. “In seventy years,” he starts, voice carefully controlled. “This is the first decision I have ever done for myself. It’s the only thing that’s clear in the—fucking broken mess that is my head. I have to tear HYDRA down. I have to put a bullet in every single one of the motherfuckers that—“ he stops, gritting his teeth so harshly she fancies she can hear them grind. “But he can’t know. What they did to me. Because if he knows, they win, you understand? So much of it was just for him, because I was his. They broke me to break him. And I’m not gonna let them win. He can’t know.”
Carola controls the surge of ice-cold fury arcing down her veins like lightning. She substitutes the urge to hug him with an outward raise of her chin, and then a tip of her head with an arched brow.
“I’ll get the message to him. Where is he?”
Bucky inhales, chest heaving with his breath, and leans back against the wall. “New York.”
Carola nods. “Sharon Carter’s there. I’ll call her.”
He drops his head back against the wall, almost visibly slumping in relief at her acceptance. How could she argue? Seventy years seems like a long time to be denied his free will; and while she is absolutely certain that Steve means well and wants only to help, this isn’t the type of situation he can smash into shield-first.
She folds her arms, lips twitching. “So,” she starts conversationally. “Tell the truth; did you actually come back from the dead only so you could get the younger, hotter version of the Commandos?”
Bucky huffs a tired laugh. “I made that bunch hot and you know it.”
“I don’t know,” Carola frown at him. “Steve’s pretty okay in the face. Huge shoulders.”
Bucky laughs. “Shoulda seen him before. Tiny little squirt. The face though, that’s actually pretty much the same. Bigger jaw.”
He dips his eyes down, going surprisingly still. She can see the moment something else starts creeping up him, tensing the line of his shoulders. Best steer him away from whatever that is, probably.
“Well, it’ll take a while to get everyone here,” she says, resting her hands on her hips. “And you really need a shower, a shave. I’m not introducing you to my kids looking like a homeless person. That would rather kill the mystique, you know?” she evaluates him for a moment. “The hair can stay.”
He looks at her oddly for a long moment, like there’s something about her he can’t quite figure out. It takes her a moment to realize it’s wary surprise. Seventy years without making a choice for himself. She wonders if he remembers how. Oh, but—yes. Of course he does. He remembers how to choose to protect Steve above everything else. Whatever else HYDRA has created on top of the bare bones of this man, Bucky Barnes is most certainly still in there somewhere.
She wonders if she should be less pushy, and decides it’s too late to backtrack now. She hates the idea of tiptoeing around him, treating him like a fragile floweer. Doesn’t sound like it’s something Bucky Barnes would appreciate.
“If I’m gonna be around your kids for a while,” he says reluctantly, like the idea disquiets him. Wait until he actually meets them. He shifts, for the first time extracting his left hand from his pocket, and shows it to her, face blank enough to belong on a statue.
It’s out of a sci-fi movie.
“How far?” she asks, sinking her anger down to the bottom of the ocean.
“Whole arm up to the shoulder.”
She takes a deep breath. “Are you violent?”
Bucky slumps against the wall. Shakes his head. “Not anymore. I have bad days, but mostly I’m… controlled.”
She decides to trust him. Someone has to. If anyone’s a resilient bastard, it should certainly be him.
She leads him up to the bathroom, hands him clean towels, sets out a razor for him in the counter. Then she makes her way downstairs to the kitchen and starts preparing pancakes, because cooking sweet things is her comfort habit, and anyway Bucky looks like he could use some calories.
Now the real question is, how is she going to justify to her husband that she absolutely needs to go alongside her not-so-dead granduncle, the World War II veteran, Captain America’s best friend, to hunt down and destroy the members of a Nazi organization working towards world domination?
Oh, who is she kidding? Alan is going to be so thrilled at meeting Bucky that the prospect of his wife gallivanting around the globe with a sniper rifle again will probably pale in comparison.