MI6 makes the grab after an American tipoff, and when they lay hands on the target, the first impulse is to conclude that this must be a lesser agent. He is tall, but not particularly tall. He is surprisingly, almost shockingly young-looking, and he is also dark-haired, more handsome than the KGB generally favors. Well-dressed. When cornered in his hotel room, the man drops his gun, puts both hands up, and says in flawless, almost amusingly colloquial American English, that he surrenders.
Dark hair. Dark eyes. Compact, neatly built body.
"So you got me," the man says, pleasantly. They handcuff him.
Sitting in her office overlooking the Thames, frowning at the section report from Warsaw, Margaret Carter gets a call.
Photographs arrive in the director's office a few hours later, once the cross-Channel pouch arrives. She gets another call and goes upstairs again.
"So you got me," the man says, pleasantly, smiling at the dozen men and half-dozen semi-automatics pointed at him. They have put handcuffs on him.
The room isn't large; the bed takes up a large part of the space, and the men and guns take up most of the rest. Outside, they can all hear street traffic. It's a pleasant street in a reasonably nice section of Paris, and now that the man is handcuffed, one of the MI6 agents taps his finger against the man's forearm. Instead of skin and muscle under fabric, instead of almost no noise -- it sounds as though agent had rapped his knuckle against the wall.
The next sound anybody hears is the scream of metal being twisted so hard that it screams under the tension, and the next moment, it sounds as though a gun goes off. Instead, it was the handcuffs snapping, and the dark-haired man jumps for the closest agent with a machine gun. He kills two with his hands and is beating the head of a third into a bloody pulp against the nightstand before someone gets ahold of the neural interrupter disc that the Americans sent.
"Hello -- Giacomo." Margaret pretends, fairly convincingly, to be a little surprised by the choice of the first name on the Italian cover passport.
He smiles. How are you doing today, Giacomo? she says, in easy Italian. There isn't an accent; she could pass for an older woman from a well-to-do family in the north. Milan, maybe? She treats Italian vowels a little like a native speaker of Milanese.
Very well. How is your lemon tree in the little courtyard with the fountain?
She once spent a year and a half in deep cover in West Germany, gathering intelligence on arms manufacturers who were either sympathetic to selling technology to the East Germans. The one whose mistress she had liked to vacation in the north of Italy; for their first anniversary together as man and mistress, they planted a lemon tree.
Giacomo matches her accent nicely, and they sit together in the room, quiet for a while, with the harsh overhead lighting buzzing overhead and putting years on them both.
"Would you like to drink some water?" He nods, so she turns around and nods at the one-way mirror. They wait for a few moments, and there is a rap on the door to announce that there is water, a single cup. Plastic cup on a tray, with a straw. She doesn't offer to uncuff his hands; the neural interrupter is blinking blue and riding on one shoulder, and the arm hangs down, dead and heavy.
She stands next to that army and brings the straw up to his mouth.
"You're a famous man in our files, Winter Soldier," she says.
He looks up from the table and directly at her.
"Do you know why he's asking for you, Margaret?"
"We used to know each other, during the last World War," she says. A fire pops in the background; the windows are curtained in heavy, rich-looking cloth. There is a tumbler of Scotch next to her.
"The last World War?" the director says and looks down at the photograph of Bucky Barnes, strapped to a metal table. The director has his own tumbler, and the ice cubes clink against each other. "He looks -- "
"Twenty-five? He was twenty-five when he fell off the side of the side of the Alps near Tyrol. Nowhere near the Soviet border, but I'm sure he went over the side of the mountain and it was a long way down. I held his best friend's hand afterwards."
"Do you know why he asked for you?"
She shakes her head and turns to the next photograph in the file. It's a closeup of the shoulder, showing how the metallic arm and the shoulder are fused together. The arm is covered in synthetic flesh, so the color values aren't terribly jarring. There is significant scarring on the rest of the torso that she can see in the photograph; she assumes the bruising is from the beating he took after snapping his handcuffs by sheer brute force and killing three trained agents.
"Nobody has called me Peggy in -- since 1943."
"How do you like the year 1967?"
"It's not a bad year so far," he says. His shirt hangs open; there is blood on his mouth that nobody has wiped off, and a bruise is starting to swell his right eye. His left arm hangs down, a dead weight with the neural interrupter blinking on his shoulder.
"So I hear. You've been busy."
"I'm an Italian businessmen. Women's toiletry items sell well in Paris," he says.
"Yes. We hear you've been spending a lot of time in Western Africa."
He makes a gesture meant to communicate his Italianness, as well as remind her that his left arm is a dead weight, completely useless.
"You look a lot like a man I used to know," Peggy says and pulls a photograph out of the folder on the table. "You see this? Taken twenty-four years ago -- Italy, actually. You see the date in the newspaper? Aside from the arm and some of the more interesting scars on your body, that looks a lot like what you saw in the mirror this morning."
She puts the photograph back into the folder and sees that his eyes don't track it; he is still looking at her with his head angled to the side.
"Twenty years ago, you were probably beautiful," he says.
"Weren't there pictures in the file where you learned about that lemon tree?"
"What file?" he says. "I don't remember one, but I read a lot of things."
She smiles. "Have you read anything about Brooklyn? Coney Island? They're in New York City, in the United States."
He smiles back. "I've never been to New York City. I'd like to go someday."
"I have it on good authority you were there nine months ago. A Czechoslovakian diplomat who was thinking of defecting ended up dead on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum, shot while eating lunch. People were very upset."
He spreads his hand -- spreads his one good hand, drags the other hand -- to indicate that he can't control what people get upset over.
"So here is a question, Giacomo. If you've never been to New York City, do you know whether you can transfer to the B at DeKalb if you took the N from Coney Island?"
She stands up and picks up the folder, and studies his face for a long moment: he is too well-trained to say anything, but is there something in his eyes? Is that something in his expression?
"The N has been stopping at DeKalb mid-day since 1951," she says. "When do you think you remember riding the N?"
He is too well-trained to say anything, but she sees it. She catches the flicke --
Margaret walks into the room on the other side of the one-way mirror; there is a tape recorder, two strong men in not-very-good suits and an aide from her office. He is in a somewhat better suit. Two Americans seconded, a British man who still doesn't look like his stomach has settled from the flight. They all look to her for instructions. She looks at all three of them, then gives the order for torture. She tells the aide can leave if he wants; she seats herself and watches the men go in, take off their coats. The shorter one pulls the tables and chairs out of the way. The taller attaches one end of a fine chain to the handcuffs and runs the other up, over a hook on the ceiling, until Bucky is on his toes. The sounds come through the microphones in the interrogation room; the tape recorder takes it all.
Bucky has been trained to take it, too, and ten minutes in, the aide leaves. Margaret stays.
Eventually, they check his pupil response, check his vitals. The taller one reads them into the record, and they talk to Bucky. They ask him a few light, probing questions about the Red Room and don't get much of a response.
"Agent Carter, do you have authority to allow the cart?" the taller one asks.
"I have authority, and you are clear to order the cart," Margaret says. She pushes a button in the interrogation room and calls for the electrode cart.
To prepare for the cart, the men strip Bucky's pants off and unbutton his shirt.
The next morning, Margaret sits down at the table across from Bucky. He is slumped over in his seat; he is sitting is clearly painful for him. His hands are still cuffed in front of him, and she looks at him.
"You aren't the first Red Room graduate we've caught," she says. "We know that you've been prepared for this, and when the pain reaches a certain level, you'll tell us a certain amount. When you've been tortured to the next set point, you'll tell us more."
"Is that what you've learned?" he says. His face is a mass of bruising; his nose is almost certainly broken. Margaret checks the inhibitor at his shoulder; it blinks blue, and she has just turned to the job of looking back at his face, when faster than her eye can follow, he stands up, shoves the table out from between them, and lunges forward. She throws herself off the chair, falls backward onto the tile floor and hits her head. Still moving faster than her eye can follow, Bucky wedges her chair against the door, which, Margaret realizes, stupidly, has a doorknob. She takes half a breath, and then, he's on top of her, kneeling on her chest and bending down to use the weight of that immensely, incredibly heavy dead arm to choke her. There is banging on the mirror; there are undoubtedly men on the way. The door will not hold.
She loses consciousness before they can get the door open.
Margaret finds the news waiting for her when she arrives at her office in London: the Winter Soldier escaped. They returned in the morning to find his metal handcuffs snapped and the neural interrupter merrily blinking on the bed. Apparently, it had never worked at all. By the time they knew he had left his cell, he was gone out of the complex, and a général de brigade of the French Republic lay in his cell, strangled. Inquiries into his bank accounts were showing irregular funds: he had let himself be bought, but was having scruples. He had offered to double, was being kept in isolation until his value could be ascertained -- the cover was a family vacation in America, and the Red Room had found out.
"Would you bring me a cup of tea, Alex?" Margaret calls to her confidential secretary, but doesn't turn on the lights. Her office is beautiful; it looks onto the Thames, and in the twilight, everything seams to both to gleam and be dim at the same time. Still with the main lights off, she walks over to her desk and turns on the desk lamp.
A picture of her family is by the desk lamp -- husband, son, daughter. A happy family. A good family. She studies the picture, then begins leafing through some of the accumulated inbox documents.
Alex brings the tea. "Thank you," Margaret says. "You're free to go home. I have some calls, but I'll handle them myself."
When Alex is gone, Margaret puts down the tea; she picks up the telephone and gives instructions to the foreign call desk.
"Tell them it's a friend in London, calling about fondue in Geneva. Those words exactly. I'll wait, but he'll take the call," she says, and has some more tea while waiting.
Margaret watches boats pass on the Thames, sees people pass on the bridges on their way home. Night settles, deepens, and she thinks about the time that has passed and how far she has come in the course of her life, the things that she has seen, the things she has done or permitted to be done, and consequently, when Howard comes on the line, a little distracted, had been in the middle of something, but she can hear the happiness in his voice at hearing from -- it's a long, long time before Peggy can manage any words at all, and she never manages to say Steve's name.