Lately, I really miss writing fight scenes. When it comes to choreography, it's not unlike a love scene, a chance to develop character through action and reaction. Found this one while organizing old folders and I still rather like it. I was reading Ed Brubaker's iconic Captain America and Winter Soldier runs at the time and, as one who loves to revel in the broody, I fell hard for the Bucky Barnes character arc. Because that's the point of Captain America - no matter how many times you get knocked down, you stand back up. Also, it was fun to write a bar fight.
World and characters belong to Marvel Comics
Header image courtesy of Pexels.com
He'd come here to be alone. The bartender did his job well, knew to keep the glass full and keep moving. The other patrons barely looked his way, distracted by the television above the bar, by the game of pool in the corner. If they did notice him, they would see only a man, shoulders hunched and head down. Another lost soul looking to forget. He scowled into his glass. They had no idea.
But it was working. The ghosts had gone quiet. The skinny kid had followed him here, had sat quietly on the stool beside him, but a few drinks had been all it took to make him fade away. The others had come then - ambassadors and arms dealers, soldiers and assassins, men and women and children, too. He'd toasted them all, drained his glass and watched them disappear. Whatever had been done to him must have improved his constitution. The bartender had started to look concerned, but one glare and the heavy thump of his arm on the bar had fixed all that. After all, he was already dead.
Dead and drunk. It had been a long time. The memories weren't just fractured now but blurred, slipping dizzyingly away whenever he tried to focus. But he remembered this. There'd been bars during the war, bars that made this hole look like a palace. They'd known how to do it back then, had raised their glasses while the walls came crumbling down, salvaged bottles from the wreckage and tried to forget the fact that tomorrow might be the end. He laughed at that. An end would have been something.
Down the bar, an old man was watching him. He'd been there all night, buried in his own drink, lost to his own misery. Did he think he saw a kindred spirit? For his sake, he hoped that wasn't true. Still, when the man raised his glass, he raised his in return. To old ghosts.
The bartender passed again, glancing up as the image on the television changed. The game was being interrupted for a news bulletin, replaying footage from a hearing held that afternoon. The whole world was on the verge of collapse, a world that he'd helped create, a world that he'd helped destroy. More guilt, more ghosts. But he hadn't expected to see them on television, hadn't expected other people to see them, too.
Most of the bar had stopped to watch the woman on the screen. She was being questioned about the attack, facing the stern-faced panel with a defiant calm that made his head swim. He'd heard that voice before. She'd whispered to him back at the museum, whispered to him in his dreams. Even now, she seemed to reach out to him, looking straight into the camera.
She sat on the stool beside him, a hazy apparition, shifting and fading, but with the same red hair, the same challenge in her eyes. He searched his memory, fighting the vertigo, taking another drink to calm the bile rising in his throat.
"<You're drunk.>" She spoke in Russian. He still wasn't certain how many languages might be rattling around in his head, but at least if he was going to talk to himself no one would overhear.
"<That was the idea.>"
She crossed her legs, resting an elbow on the bar. He saw it then, the hole in her belly, the blood seeping through her shirt. There was another bullet wound in her shoulder, fresh and red and angry. He could feel the gun again in his hands, the cold certainty that came from knowing that he wouldn't miss.
"<...I killed you.>"
She smiled. "<You tried. More than once.>"
He glanced up at the screen. She was older now and speaking flawless English, but a ghost was still a ghost. He drained half his glass, willing her to go away. But when he closed his eyes, he saw her again. Not from a distance, not aiming down the barrel at a target. She was close, warm, whispering in his ear, burying her face against his neck. A ghost that he had known. A ghost with a name.
His voice was thick. "Natalia."
Behind him someone sniggered. "Lock 'em all up and be done with it. We saw what happened in New York. Now D.C. You think any of that would have happened if they weren't there?"
He made a fist on the bar, willing himself not to turn around. The ghost pursed her lips.
"Hell yeah. You can't call yourself a hero when it's your own damn mess." More voices chimed in in agreement, the game of pool momentarily forgotten.
"What about Captain America?"
"Won't even show his face. Gone into hiding or something. That's guilt, you ask me. The whole thing's probably his fault."
The ghost had turned around, leaning back on her stool to watch the show. He pinched shut his eyes, breathing deep, his nails digging into his palm.
"They gotta pay the price. Accountability, y'know? Send that little traitor bitch my way and I'll show her what's what."
The others howled with laughter. "Yeah, man. Get her workin' off that debt to society."
The world went still. His opened his eyes, saw the ghost watching him, saw her slowly smile. Then he was spinning around, throwing himself forward, driving his fist into the belly of the first man that he saw. The man staggered backward, swinging wildly as the next blow took him in the jaw. He went down hard, but his friends were circling around, arming themselves with whatever was to hand.
Someone cracked a pool cue across his back and he turned, grabbing the man's arm and twisting it behind him until the shoulder popped. Another came at him with a bottle and he planted a kick in his stomach, spinning the other man around and sending them both crashing into a table. The other patrons had fled. Only one man was left on his feet, the man who had started it all, a barrel-chested beast glaring at him from across the pool table.
And still he was undeterred. Looking down at his fallen friends, he spat. "Fuck you, man."
With a growl, he launched himself across the table at the man, the momentum carrying them both to the floor. His opponent was bigger, stronger, strong enough to get an arm between them, to turn and pin him to the floor. The pain spread through his jaw as a meaty fist came down, as the man drove a knee into his chest. He could fight him, throw him off, but he let the blows come, lost himself to the blinding glare that flared behind his eyes.
"That's what I thought. You think you're like them? Wanna be the hero?"
He opened one eye, sucking at his split lip. "No. I don't." Then he reached up, locking his hand around the man's wrist, twisting until it cracked. His glove was gone, his arm exposed. As his hand locked around the man's throat, his eyes bulged, his mouth working in wordless disbelief. He lifted him bodily, regaining leverage, one good punch sending the man sprawling on the floor.
The world had gone quiet again. The ghost had left him, the television returning to the game. Some of the men were groaning, but they wouldn't be getting up any time soon. Walking back to the bar, he sank back onto his stool. The bartender crouched behind the counter, a shotgun in his hands, eyes narrowing as he watched the stranger take a long, slow sip.
"Mind if I finish my drink?" With a tired smile, he tossed a wad of bills on the bar.
A door slammed in the back and the bartender jerked up in surprise, but it was only the old man from down the bar, wiping his hands as he returned from the bathroom. Surveying the room, he nodded.
"You do that?"
"S'nice work. Kids never could keep their mouths shut." He sat down on the stool beside him. "Bet they didn't know who they were messing with."
He hadn't been listening, not really, but now he glanced over at the old man, saw his knowing grin. "What?"
"Wasn't sure it was you at first. You could use a shave, Sergeant."
He turned his face away, staring down into his glass. "You're drunk, old man."
"No doubt. Still have eyes, though."
"Do I know you?" He squinted at the man. He was old, but not that old.
"No, sir. But I know you. You was already dead and gone - so they say - when I signed up. Different time, different war, but we all carry it the same. I grew up with the stories, read all about you. Hell, you're half the reason I enlisted. Gotta say, it's an honor."
He'd known people would be hunting him, knew that being recognized would land him back where he'd started, or worse. But this he'd never expected. The old man was drunk, confused. The man he thought he saw was dead, just another ghost.
He drained his glass and pushed to his feet. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Impossible, right? That's what I thought, too. But look around us. Aliens attacking, gods walking the earth, old soldiers coming back from the dead. It's not like you're the first. Makes a guy like me think impossible’s not such a big deal. Maybe the end don't have to be forever."
He stared down at the man. Even drunk, his eyes flared with a certainty, an acceptance worth envying.
With a sigh, he shook his head and left a few more bills on the counter before turning for the door. "Just... keep it to yourself, okay?"
"No problem, Sarge." The old man smiled, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "And say 'hi' to Captain America for me."