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Keep Calm And Manage The Damage

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On the first day after the Accords Bombing, Maria Hill sets her resources to finding Barnes before the CIA does.

Considering she’s in South-East Asia when the shit hits the fan and she can only reach two of her operatives in Europe, neither of whom are in Bucharest or have the Avengers’ resources, it’s not entirely surprising that Steve Rogers gets there first.

Neither is it entirely surprising that his priority is Barnes, not damage control.

“The channels here mostly focused on the Accords bombing, not the manhunt,” Maria tells Akela Amador four hours after the CIA gets their hands on Barnes. “What are the reports like in Europe?”

“Varied,” says the former agent. “Half of it is on the bombing, but they’re mostly focusing on the fact that they’ve brought the Winter Soldier in. There are mentions of the butcher’s bill – a couple of mil – less property damage this time, more injuries and vehicular. They’re sure making a mess of things.”

“And it’s only going to get worse.”

Maria’s no clairvoyant, but she can see where the Accords and the Avengers are going to end up.

The line is too hard for Rogers, too inflexible; he’s not going to sign it.

Stark is still reeling from Pepper walking away. The Accords are something he can cling to – something to keep him in line as so little else does.

Maria understands both perspectives. She’s seen what happens when politics plays it cool and cruel - the New York nuke, the cold regimentation of HYDRA. But she also likes the certainty of the rules – boundaries that should not be crossed.

And God knows the Avengers need something to make them think and count the cost in damage and lives, not just objectives and outcomes.

But the Accords – security run by committee – can go nowhere good.


On the second day after the Accords Bombing, Maria Hill calls Pepper Potts.

“How are you doing?”

“I was doing okay until I turned on the news.” Pepper sighs. “God, Tony, what are you doing?”

“I don’t think he’s doing it all by himself.” But Maria sighs, too. Akela sent her the photos – the mess of the Berlin offices, the chopper floating in the river. She’s seen the grainy vid of Rogers keeping the chopper grounded – someone spotted the escape attempt and, rather than call the cops, took a video of the crash. And, like everyone else out there, her heart stuttered as she watched the chopper crash, never mind that she already knew Rogers had made it out alive.

“You realise that this is Tony’s version of atonement?” She’s pretty sure Pepper knows, but it’s worth checking.

“I wish I didn’t.” There’s a long silence on the other end of the line. Maria doesn’t mind it; they’re not women to chatter just for the sake of chattering. “So, you called for a reason other than to check that I’d seen the news. What do you need?”

Maria hesitates, but she trusts Pepper, and she knows that Pepper understands what she’s doing and why.

“When I first joined Stark Industries, you mentioned that Tony had worked on a containment project with Thunderbolt Ross back in the mid-00s.”

“I think the specs are still in the system somewhere – along with some code for a…” Pepper pauses as she starts to see the shape of Maria’s thoughts. “This is the part where I should stop asking questions, isn’t it?”

“Two words, Pepper.” Maria smiles in spite of herself. “Plausible deniability.”


On the third day after the Accords Bombing, Maria Hill answers a call from Sharon Carter.

“This is Agent 13. I need an exit, vector red. Status is compromised but not yet pursued.”

The ‘yet’ sounds ominous.

“I take it you’re the one who helped Rogers and Wilson get out?”

“Yes.” The answer is flat and somewhat defiant – odd, coming from Carter, who’s usually one of the calmer heads…

Oh.

Maria opens her mouth. Pauses. Closes it. She pushes the thought to the back of her head and mentally runs through the exit vectors available in that part of Europe.

S.H.I.E.L.D might have gone down in a welter of HYDRA agents, but there was a great deal more to the organisation than just technology and people. Procedures, locations, codes, escape routes. Some of them have been compromised, but many still haven’t, lost in the sheer volume of intel that Natasha dumped on the net.

“Location?”

“50 miles outside Łódź.”

So she’s already over a border. Good thinking; that makes an extraction easier.

“There’s a safehouse in Poznań.” She gives Sharon the address of the apartment. “I’m sending a contact to you – Akela Amador. She’ll give you the plans for getting out and down to Antalya. Remember Sunil Nader?”

“Great Pharoah Ramses?”

Maria grins at the nickname Nader earned in the Academy for his autocratic ways and his eye for the ladies, but doesn’t let her amusement seep into her voice. “That’s the one. Several of the refugees tested positive for gamma radiation. Nader would like someone with some medical to take a closer look before he starts calling for the big guns.”

“So you’re sending me Hulk-hunting?” Sharon doesn’t exactly sound overjoyed – a perfectly reasonable reaction.

“I know it’s not as sexy as saving Rogers’ ass,” Maria quips, “but I’m not sure there’s much that is.”

Sharon snorts.


On the fourth day after the Accords Bombing, Maria Hill stares at the wreck of a Berlin airport, and thinks, Goddammit, guys.

She watches the airport feeds of Rogers’ cohorts being escorted away by armed troops, Vision, the Black Panther, and the Black Widow.

Barton and Wilson stroll like the soldiers they once were, deliberately insouciant in the face of capture by the enemy. Lang swaggers, a smooth criminal. But Wanda Maximoff is still young, never mind the scope of her powers. And unlike the other three, she’s not an American citizen, and Sokovia has disowned her.

They’ve bound her hands with gauntlets that inhibit her powers. Maria recognises the tech – she damn well should since she authorised the creation of them a year ago, in case a situation arose in which the telekinetic lost control.

It was supposed to be a safety valve for a young woman, not a straitjacket.

And Rhodey is a mere footnote in the carnage of what the media are calling the ‘Avengers War’: Colonel James Rhodes was badly injured in the battle. There are no further reports on his status.

Good intentions , Maria thinks to herself, studying the Quinjet’s path before Rogers activates cloaking and the radar recordings go blank.

What are Rogers’ intentions?

Is it just getting Barnes free and away from the governments of the world and the ruthless strictures of the Accords, or is it more? Rogers and Wilson called in Barton, Maximoff, and Lang for backup. Why, when it would be easier and simpler just to vanish, go underground, disappear and reappear somewhere else?

Were they expecting a fight here in Berlin? Or were they expecting to wage a war whenever they got to where the Quinjet was taking them?

The more Maria looks at the data, the more she’s convinced that Steve isn’t running away, he’s in pursuit of something.

The question is what ?


On the fifth day after the Accords Bombing, Maria Hill finds herself in a snowy wasteland in Siberia, facing four men who look variously exhausted, intrigued, unconscious, and armless.

She puts up her hands as the Black Panther moves to stand between her and the other three, his pose shifted to one of attack. “I come in peace.”

Steve is staring at her like he’s seen a ghost. “Maria?”

Where’s Stark?” At Rogers’ blank look, she rolls her eyes. “Yes, I’ve bugged his suits. No, I’m not here to arrest you. What happened to Barnes’ arm, and who’s this?”

He manages a smile, although the bruises show around the edges. “It’s a long story.”

And the short version?”

Short version; you’re coming with me. T’Challa can take Zemo and Stark back, but I need you with me.”

Somewhat surprisingly – at least to Maria – the king of Wakanda is perfectly okay with this. The reason becomes clear once they’re in the air and Steve explains Zemo’s gambit.

Maria flies on autopilot, trying to process it all. Stark. Stark’s parents. Barnes. And, of course, Rogers. Unforgivable sins, bloody ledgers, ties of brotherhood, and the severance of those bindings.

The Avengers War,” she murmurs, more to herself than to Steve. Looks like the media got it right for once. And Zemo killed more than one hundred people and fucked over world security for the sake of a little piece of revenge.

What a fucking mess .

And she already knows who’s going to get stuck cleaning up.

But that’s something for tomorrow. Today, they’re on a mission.

So,” she says to Rogers when he comes back from checking on Barnes, “what makes you think that I can get into the Raft?”

He smiles, sideways. “Who else could?”


On the sixth day after the Accords Bombing, Maria Hill storms the Raft with Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, and a stolen Quinjet from Berlin.

The codes are good for one time only. Which means nobody else had better turn up in the Raft or they’re staying there until they’re let out – if ever.

Maria allows Rogers and Barnes to be the vanguard while she uses the Quinjet systems to override the Raft’s security systems via Stark’s backdoor. By the time they’ve taken out the guards, she’s blanked out the cameras and it’s safe for her to exit the Quinjet.

They’re not dead,” Rogers assures her as she picks her way through the security room to the control desk.

I never thought they were.” Maria starts loading the cracker program into the cell controls. The system for cell security is separate to the facility system and the codes changed daily. They don’t have those codes, but they have a program care of Coulson’s Little Hacker Girl which can mimic the sequences such that they’ll open even without the day’s code. As the program uploads, she tells Steve, “Go let them know that Luke Skywalker’s arrived and is here to rescue them.”

One by one, the program runs on each of the cells.

Sam grins as he sees her. “Hey, Maria. Don’t you ever get tired of following Steve around and cleaning up after him?”

I don’t follow him around,” Maria tells Sam as Barnes snorts. “I merely coincide with his location and intent.”

My God,” growls Barton, “it’s full of smartasses.”

Steve comes out, guiding Wanda ahead of him. “We can’t get the inhibitors off.”

I’ll do it on the way,” Maria tells them, meeting Wanda’s hollow-eyed gaze. “Let’s go.”

Lang scratches his eternal bed-head. “Uh, where exactly are we going?”


On the seventh day after the Accords Bombing, Maria Hill has come to a conclusion and a decision.

“You’re going back in, aren’t you?”

She mutes the screen in the lounge as Steve enters the room and drops into one of the armchairs. “Barnes?”

“He’s going to take the cryo.”

There are a variety of things to say, but Maria goes with, “And how do you feel about that?”

Steve snorts. “Do they pay you to play therapist, too?”

“I don’t ‘play’ at anything.”

“No, you don’t.” He exhales and drags a hand through his hair. The gesture is new – Steve Rogers at a loss. “So you’re going back to keep an eye on Tony.”

Someone needs to. He’ll lean more heavily on the Avengers – such as they are – now that Pepper’s gone.” She glances up at him. “And the world will need the Avengers again, sooner or later.”

So you’ll be there, pulling the strings. Just like Fury did.”

“I’ll be there making sure that everything works as it should, so you can do the job that the world needs you to do.”

Steve smiles, perhaps a little bitterly. “Does the world need us? Or does it just want to treat us like HYDRA treated Bucky – a tool to be taken out and used when necessary?”

“Newsflash, Steve. You are a weapon. The fact that you can think and reason and choose doesn’t change that. And yes, they have a right to be afraid of what you can do.”

“They?” He looks at her.

Maria returns the same look back at him. “Would you count me in the crowd?”

“No.” This time, the smile is rueful. “Will you keep in touch?”

“That’s my question,” she tells him. “Not yours.”


On the eighth day after the Accords Bombing, Maria Hill keeps on keeping on.