“Stark Tower,” said Skye.
?????????, said the text feed in Mike's eye, accurately reflecting his own feelings. Had she heard him wrong?
“I said, where do you—”
“Stark Tower. The drive is keyed to the coordinates of Stark Tower in New York, seventeen hundred feet up. Longitude, latitude, and altitude. That's where the drive will unlock.”
“God damn it, Skye —” rasped Ward, from where he was sprawled on the ground. Mike was impressed he still had breath to speak.
“I'm not!” snapped Skye. She tugged again at the chain around her wrist. “Stark Tower. Believe me or not, it's the truth.”
“… And you just happen to know the coordinates of Stark Tower off the top of your head,” said Mike.
“40°45'12"N by 73°58'36"W”, Skye rattled off immediately. “And 1700 feet in the air, in your case.”
“A nice young girl like you — how do you even know this?” Mike asked rhetorically.
“Ask him,” said Skye bitterly, jerking her chin at Ward. “He gave me the idea. Something he said the first time I met him.”
“...”, wheezed Ward, before trailing off into silence. Mike decided against trying to decipher what that could possibly have meant. As it was, Ward already needed to have his mouth washed out with soap.
“Garrett will probably want his specialist alive if he’s going to be running a frontal assault on Stark Tower,” Skye added pointedly.
In the absence of any orders to the contrary (what is even happening, said his handler), Mike shocked him again — enough to ensure oxygen circulation, and enough to keep him on the ground. In this line of work, you had to get your pleasures where you could.
Ward gasped greedily for air, clutching his chest. “You son of a bitch,” he snarled. “I swear, I will kill you—”
He was still sprawled out of breath on the ground, unable to get up, which made his threats rather less effective. Mike tuned him out. “Go on,” he said to Skye.
“He called me a fangirl, a groupie,” Skye said. “That I might as well be one of those sweaty cosplay girls hanging around Stark Tower, because I wanted to speak to you alone, the first time we met.” She sighed. “God, that all seems so long ago.”
“You did not encrypt the drive to Stark Tower when we were under attack in the Hub,” Ward wheezed. “Not even you—”
“This was on the flight out to Los Angeles,” said Skye grimly. “I knew you were HYDRA, and I asked myself, where in all the world would HYDRA agents least be able to go? I thought about the White House or Congress, but I wouldn’t put it past you bastards to have people there. And then I remembered. I was alone with you, like I’d asked to be alone with Mike.” Skye laughed, bitterly satisfied. “Good luck getting into the penthouse of Stark Tower.”
“If you could change the encryption’s location then, then you can do it again now,” said Ward. This was probably the first sensible thing Mike had heard him say all day.
“Uh, no,” said Skye. “I left myself a back door to get in the first time, because I thought we might need it again. I closed it the second time I hacked in, after I realized what you were doing and who you were working for. The only way anyone is getting past that encryption now is if I enter the password and the drive is sitting in the penthouse of Stark Tower.”
“You’re lying,” said Mike, only a little desperately.
“Are we really doing this again?” Skye sighed. “Look, fine, then can you at least unchain my wrist? It’s getting a bit sore, and if you want me to do this hypothetical hacking into the drive — which isn’t going to happen, by the way — I need to be able to type. I don’t want to get carpal tunnel. Repetitive stress injuries are the worst. Last time I had to go to the chiropractor…”
Mike felt the situation rapidly slipping out of his control (not that he minded much). The eye implant had gone dark, his handler having long since progressed from sensible questions, through chatspeak, profanity, punctuation, and incoherent keyboard smashing, before finally giving up. Ward, still on the ground, didn’t look much better.
“…Does Ace like superheroes?” Skye finished awkwardly. Both Mike and Ward stared at her (well, Ward had already been staring at her. Someone needed to have a conversation with him. Mike hoped Ace would grow up to have better manners, especially with women.)
Fortunately for everyone involved, the plane’s speakers crackled to life, as a third party chose that moment to become involved.
“This is Ground Control to SHIELD 616,” said a woman’s voice over the loudspeaker. “We have your plane surrounded. You have 30 seconds to come out and surrender. I repeat, come out and surrender.”
Mike and Ward glared at each other, then turned to Skye. She shrugged as best as she could with one wrist still chained to the stairwell.
“You going to answer me, Ward, or do I have to come out there?” said the loudspeaker.
“I don’t know who that is, but you might want to respond,” said Skye helpfully. “I mean, she knows you’re here.”
“My earpiece is dead,” Ward muttered sullenly. “After you shocked me—”
Mike resisted the urge to roll his eyes — was this what teenagers were like? — as he patted himself down, finding a microphone and transmitter unit among all the miscellaneous electronics on his body and tossing it to Ward. He never knew what HYDRA had installed on him; he wouldn’t be surprised if they’d managed to get an electric razor in there somewhere. (Ward certainly could have used one.)
“Maria Hill,” said Ward. “Kind of hoped you went down with the Triskelion.”
“And I hoped you weren't the duplicitous lowlife you turned out to be,” said Hill serenely. “But here we are.”
“I’m going to be honest with you, Hill — I’m having a pretty bad day. So if I were you, I'd get the hell out of here." It was a pretty decent attempt at swagger, Mike thought, though given the sorry shape the man was in, it was all just bluster.
“Give up Skye, and we'll talk about it.”
“Yeah, that's not happening,” said Ward.
“I am right here, you know,” said the girl in question tartly.
“You know, I never liked you, Ward, not since our first sit-down, but I never figured you for John Garrett's lapdog.” Which about summed up Mike’s own feelings for him, too. Ward had shot him the first time they met. That should have been a sign.
“A lot of us lost respect for Fury after he picked you as his second. He wanted eye candy, he could have at least picked Romanoff.”
“‘Eye candy?’” mouthed Skye incredulously. Ward was really just digging himself deeper and deeper now, which was quite impressive considering she’d started out by calling him a Nazi and a serial killer.
“That's funny. I'll tell her you said that,” said Hill. She sounded genuinely amused. “Now hand Skye over, or I'll have a squad of F16s knock you on your ass.”
“Even if you had that kind of pull any more, which you don't, Coulson would never let you do it. He would never sacrifice Skye like that. But you know Garrett would. So don't try and follow us.”
Mike revised his estimation of Ward’s maturity downwards a few more years. Never mind a teenager, now he sounded like a toddler. This was worse than Ace in a tantrum. Maybe the oxygen deprivation from the shock-induced heart attack had hit him harder than Mike had assumed.
Three little discs sailed out, landing at his feet.
“What—” he began, before the discs exploded in crackling electricity around him. He could dimly see, through waves of static, a redheaded woman emerge from behind the corner.
“Who said anything about following you?” she said.
That’s the Black Widow, thought some part of Mike’s brain, the part not occupied with the fact that his cybernetic enhancements were shorting out. Ace would be so proud to know his daddy got knocked out by the Black Widow. Maybe she’ll give me her autograph, he thought, as he gratefully succumbed to unconsciousness.