Chapter 1: An unexpected parcel
The unfortunate HYDRA minion standing in front of Director Pierce (Jones? John? Jack? Pierce doesn't really care) is sweating so much that it is starting to show through his tac gear. Which is impressive, really, because tac gear is designed to be sweated in and it's a reasonably cool day. Alexander Pierce resolutely does not pinch his nose in frustration, and in a very genial voice (considering the circumstances) says:
'I'm sure there is a very good explanation for how, exactly, the Winter Soldier went missing in transit?'
The minion (whose name is Dave) actually shudders, and desperately hopes that he survives long enough to become an anonymous hobo somewhere...
Darcy Lewis glares at the Fed-Ex box. The Fed-Ex box remains emotionless, huge, and un-openable by the merely mortal. She sighs. Janey is currently in the manic, scribbling-on-napkins-and-muttering-under-her-breath stage of scientific discovery (which comes before the manic, building-dangerous-machines-and-shouting-at-inanimate-objects stage). In Darcy's experience, this is not the time to interfere, especially with something so mundane as post.
'Jane, I'm just going to borrow this crowbar, kay?
Jane mutters something that sounds like 'supercharged entanglement science science science and photons' which means 'yes' as far as Darcy is concerned. It doesn't matter, as Jane is not going to start needing the crowbar until she gets to the dangerous-machine stage and that shouldn't be for another hour or so.
Darcy returns to the stupidly large box, and glares at it.
'Okay, nemesis-box. Prepare to reveal your secrets. By the power of Grayskull!'
She levers open the box, fully expecting lots of shiny bits of science equipment courtesy of SHIELD. She is not expecting a large, tube-like container with an unconscious man in it. Definitely not. At all.
Darcy drops the crowbar, which lands on the tubey-thing and hits a keypad. With an ominous sort of sshhhhhffffff noise, the tube rolls open. Mist and cold air seep out like a particularly expensive special effect.
'Thor's Holy abs!' Darcy swears.
The Asset comes-to in an unfamiliar environment. The Asset blinks, and assesses the body: currently uninjured, though not yet operating at 100% due to the cryostasis. With proper maintenance the Asset will be mission operational within 30 minutes. The Asset looks up, the programming preparing to imprint on the new Handler.
Who is apparently a short, white female of curvaceous build and zero combat experience, currently staring at the Asset with a strange expression. This seems... Odd. Outside of parameters. However, the programming clicks into place, and the Asset relaxes. The Asset will obey. The Asset will be given a mission, and the Asset will complete the mission. The Handler will tell the Asset what to do.
'Och crap oh crap oh crap.' Says the Handler. Something in the Asset's belly tenses.
'The Asset is prepared to receive the mission.' Says the Asset.
His Handler stares at him and blinks a lot. She appears uncomfortable, and is showing signs of distress. The Asset dislikes this: distressed Handlers result in unnecessarily painful maintenance. The Asset feels the urge to squirm, and squashes it. The Asset always suffers these strange little urges and desires after cryostasis, which is why there is maintenance. The maintenance makes it better, and also makes it hard to remember anything about the odd feelings later. The Handler still says nothing. Perhaps this Handler is new? Perhaps HYDRA is testing her?
'The Asset requires maintenance.' Prompts the Asset, still sitting in the cryo tube.
'Fucking Fed-Ex.' says the Handler.
When Dave's body has been dragged out of the room, to be disposed of in some unpleasant and permanent manner, Alexander Pierce sits down and carefully pours himself a drink. He knocks it back, and glares at the empty glass. The Winter Soldier. The Asset. The Fucking Fist of HYDRA, their best assassin, best-kept secret, the bogeyman of the intelligence community, has been lost in the post. By Fed-Ex. Due to a fucking mix-up involving a whole batch of last minute orders that SHIELD made all of a sudden. It's going to take days to track down which shipment went where, although as soon as they find out what's actually been sent to the Triskelion base they'll be able to narrow that down.
On top of that, the Winter Soldier had already been prepped for a new Handler imprint. Meaning that whoever opens that box has a deadly, obedient assassin at their beck and call.
Pierce grimaces. Maybe he can get those days down to hours if he scares the lackeys enough. At least, he thinks, it's not just HYDRA that's incompetent. SHIELD managed to lose Captain America only this morning (something else that he needs to look into), although Captain America had in fact been conscious at the time. He pours himself another glass before going to terrify people.
The thing is, once Darcy calms down, she remembers that she has skills. Total skills. It's why she still works for Jane (who is completely absorbed in science and has failed to notice the arrival of a man in a Fed-Ex box). She tased Thor. She faced the Destroyer. She can totally deal with a semi-naked man/cyborg who refers to himself as 'the asset' arriving in the post in a box. From SHIELD. Who are shadier than the shadiest shade to ever shade, and who have still not returned her iPod, Thor-damnit!
'O-kay.' Darcy says, waving her hands around more than is strictly necessary. 'How about we get you out of that terrifying tube-ma-thing and into some clothes. Yep, clothes sound good. I don't know if we have any clothes that will fit, though, because you are totally ripped. Are you related to Thor? Like, are you his earthly relative or something? And holy shit, metal arm!'
'The Asset has no relatives. The Asset is a weapon. The Asset does not know of a Thor.'
'Well that's terrifying.'
'The Asset is supposed to strike fear into the heart of enemies.'
'Well, the Darcy is not so into that, and suggests that the Asset sit down over there while the Darcy finds the Asset some clothes.'
The man (Darcy is torn between calling him Ripley or Aang - the tube looks kinda Alien, but the whole being frozen thing makes her think Avatar) tilts his head slightly at her. He has gorgeous blue eyes, which would be making Darcy's lady-parts melt if it wasn't for the fact that he is clearly deadly and very confused. He follows the direction that Darcy indicated, and then sits on the floor. And looks at her expectantly.
'Are you just going to sit there?' Darcy wants to know.
'The Asset is obedient.' Asset Ripley (she went with Ripley. She knows Ripley is a woman, but Aang is way friendlier than this guy) sounds almost petulant.
'The Asset obeys the directives given by the Handler.'
'And I'm the Handler. Right. Of course I'm the Handler. Okay. Stay. Right. There. I'll be back in a minute. Do not disturb Jane.'
Darcy runs out of the room. In a very dignified, not-at-all panicking way. She takes a few seconds to breathe deeply, and then goes in search of clothes for Asset Ripley. During which she does some serious thinking about SHIELD, and how they ended up sending Janey a seemingly-brainwashed assassin dude rather than the sciencey stuff that they were meant to. She has the horrible feeling that she's going to have to call her brother.
Handler-Possibly-Darcy returns after 4.5 minutes, bearing clothes. The second woman, Designation Jane, appears not to have noticed the Asset. This is fine, as she appears to be a scientist. Scientists noticing the Asset is never a good thing.
The Asset resists the urge to squirm again: the Asset should not be thinking about good, or not good, or being noticed by scientists. The Asset is not supposed to think. Surely Handler-Possibly-Darcy will perform maintenance soon (maintenance involves a chair, the Asset thinks, and possibly electricity), and then the Asset will not have to worry about anything at all.
This thought worries him.
Handler-Possibly-Darcy gives the Asset clothes, and helps him when she realises that he's not sure of how to put them on. The Asset thinks there should be more buckles, and his face feels oddly exposed. She also talks a lot, and the Asset struggles to keep up. The Asset worries that there will be a directive hidden in the babbling, and that the Asset will miss it and be punished. This does not appear to be the case, and Handler-Possibly-Darcy steers him into a chair (it is not the chair) and then stands and surveys him. The Asset sits very still, because Handler-Possibly-Darcy has been very pleasant so far, has not mis-handled the Asset or given the Asset pointless-yet-painful tasks to do (and the Asset does not remember, exactly, but the Asset thinks that this may be important) and has not reprimanded the Asset at all. The Asset wants to be good for Handler-Possibly-Darcy.
'Okay, Asset Ripley, I'm guessing that solids are a no-no, what with the cryostasis and all. How do you feel about milkshake?'
'The Asset does not have feelings.'
Handler-Possibly-Darcy rolls her eyes. Handler-Possibly-Darcy is very expressive with her body, and yet half the time the Asset still has no idea what Handler-Possibly-Darcy is thinking.
'If I gave you a milkshake, would you be able to drink it without throwing up?'
'Yes.' The Asset says, despite not knowing what a milkshake is.
Handler-Possibly-Darcy walks out of the Asset's field of vision. The Asset does not turn, because the Asset has been placed here and the Asset is good and will stay. Handler-Possibly-Darcy returns with a drink in a colourful bottle, which she hands to him.
'Drink slowly, okay Ripley? I have to go science-wrangle for a minute.'
The Asset drinks slowly. The Asset enjoys the taste of the drink, and feels guilty about enjoying it. The Asset did not know that nutrition could taste good. Clearly the Asset is being rewarded. For something. The Asset has no idea what.
In fact, the Asset is increasingly confused - he has been dressed in clothes that are soft, has not been given a weapon or a mission, and has been given sustenance that tastes nice. The base is very small and disorganised, and appears to only contain Handler-Possibly-Darcy and Designation Jane, who are currently having an argument in low voices. The Asset counts all the visible exits, and everything that could be used as a weapon, because it is better than being confused.
The Asset is still counting weapons when Handler-Possibly-Darcy returns.
'Right, we are totally blowing this popsicle stand. Come on.'
'The Asset has not been equipped with explosives.'
'... Note to self: activate Thor-speak. I mean that we're leaving in a hurry. Come on.'
Director Pierce rarely interacts with Agent Coulson, although like anyone else in SHIELD he has heard the stories (some of which have undoubtedly been made up by Agent Barton, because there is no way that anyone can take out an entire drug cartel armed with a pair of underpants). And because he's part of a secret, evil organisation, he also has access to a coded file on the man. Apart from the information that they've simply lifted from SHIELD, it contains a post-it note that reads "Chance of recruitment: 0. Will at some point have to assassinate. Suggest Asset." and in much less professional handwriting "we could probably bribe him with rare Captain America cards" Pierce doesn't know what it says about his organisation that they think bribing someone with collectors cards of their sworn enemy is a good tactic.
Right now, he's reading through reports of the manhunt for Captain America, which of course is being overseen by Agent Coulson. It makes getting his HYDRA people into the right places a lot harder, and Director Pierce makes a mental note to have the man assassinated. Soon. As soon as they have the Winter Soldier back, because they've tried to assassinate Agent Coulson before and it went very, very badly. Agent Williams had to be retired early, because she kept having nightmares about paperclips. She currently oversees the HYDRA recruitment program, and never goes near stationery.
Pierce does get some joy out of the fact that at least he's not the only one having a terrible day. That minion that he shot earlier, for example, had a much worse one.
'I want everyone we can spare split between finding Captain Rogers and tracing the Winter Soldier.'
'We must take full advantage of this opportunity to prevent Captain Rogers from becoming a thorn in our side again.' Alexander Pierce continued, copy-and-pasting the same email to the twentieth raving HYDRA member. He believed in his work, he really did, but sometimes it seemed like all his underlings were a little bit mad.
'Under no circumstances are the two allowed anywhere near each other - the last thing we need is the Winter Soldier imprinting on Captain America'
'And someone put together a memo that our operations don't stop because a man from World War Two was defrosted. He's not hunting them down through some kind of super sense; he's barefoot and lost somewhere in New Jersey.'
'And get some deodorant man, you stink like a pig.'
Designation Jane, the Asset thinks, should not be driving. Designation Jane drives as if the vehicle has personally insulted her. The Asset is, of course, unlikely to be damaged in case of an accident. Handler Darcy might be though, which is unacceptable. He supposes that Designation Jane could also be damaged.
'The Asset is capable of operating a vehicle.' The Asset says.
Designation Jane nearly steers them into a tree.
'Jane what the hel?'
'He talks! I didn't know that he did that!'
'Seriously? Seriously Jane? That's what's freaking you out right now?'
'I was surprised! He's just been sitting in the back with his caveman-face.'
'Shut up Darcy, I blame you for my depleted vocabulary.'
'I think your driving scares him.'
'If you are to be believed, he's some kind of brainwashed killing machine that SHIELD have been keeping in cold storage. Why would my driving scare him?'
Handler Darcy squirms in her seat so that she is facing the Asset.
'Hey, Cro-Magnon man! Does Janey's driving scare you?'
'Designation Jane's driving style will draw attention to the vehicle.'
'You know, Ripley here makes a point. And her name's just Jane.'
The car swerves dangerously.
'Ripley?' Designation Just-Jane appears shocked. Handler Darcy rolls her eyes again.
'Like Ellen? You know, because of the cryo tube? Alien?'
'I know Alien. I just thought you'd go with something more obscure.'
Handler Darcy appears to ignore Designation Just-Jane, and looks back at the Asset.
'Can you do better?'
'Affirmative. What is the mission?'
'Erm, get to New York undetected by SHIELD I guess? We've got a contact there.'
Hawkeye is a professional. He's a fantastic agent, he's the best marksman in the world, he brought in the Black Widow and he survived Budapest. This is why, when he watches the video of Captain America making his escape, he does not laugh or even grin. At least, not on the outside. Besides, he heard that Deputy Director Hill gave Agent Clarkin a raise for putting it together, and he can see why.
Agent Coulson outlines his mission, which is to hang around in New Jersey and keep an eye out for any lost-looking blond super-soldiers. There's a bit more detail than that, but it basically boils down to 'get high, keep your eyes open, report in and for god's sake, Barton, do not try to make friends with the pigeons this time - it never ends well for you.'
Because he's a brilliant agent, he also does not laugh when Agent Coulson's phone rings, and he answers it to the sound of Tony Stark giggling like a teenager on a nitrous oxide.
'Stark.' Agent Coulson manages not to growl his name.
'You lost Captain America!'
'Those files were classified.'
'Classified, schmassified. Seriously though, your firewalls are shit. You should get a consultant in to look at it. I hear SHIELD can almost afford me these days.'
'Stark, unless you have anything useful to add I am going to hang up on you, and if you call again I will inform Miss Potts that you were wasting SHIELD time.'
'Agent, I'm hurt! Wounded. It's as if you don't like me.'
'Cold, Agent, cold. So does SHIELD want my help finding the Capsicle or not?'
Agent Coulson's face twitches, which is the equivalent of a full body sigh, and he glares at Hawkeye until he gets the hint and leaves. Hawkeye waits until he's out the door, down the corridor and in the back of the van taking him to his perch before bursting into laughter.
After four hours driving the escape vehicle, the Asset has learned the following things:
1. His new designation is apparently 'Ripley', which makes Handler Darcy laugh for reasons that he does not understand, and "just" Jane sigh.
2. Handler Darcy and "just" Jane are surprisingly adept at subterfuge.
3. Handler Darcy and "just" Jane are also almost certainly not HYDRA.
4. Handler Darcy and "just" Jane think that Asset Ripley is 'cute', 'adorable in a caveman way' 'sort of like a duckling if ducklings could kill with their eyes', 'only a bit crazy, come on Jane, you are dating a Norse god' and 'brooding'. These all appear to be positive attributes.
5. Handler Darcy will provide Asset Ripley with food, drink, clothing and rest freely and without any indication on his part that he requires any of those things. She does the same thing for "just" Jane, although "just" Jane argues a lot. Handler Darcy also touches Asset Ripley in a manner that could be termed 'friendly', with apparently no consideration for the fact that Asset Ripley could kill her in approximately 522 different ways. It is... pleasant?
6. Without intending to, Asset Ripley has formed an increasingly long list of reasons why returning to HYDRA would be detrimental to the long-term operation of Asset Ripley, helped along by Handler Darcy's occasional rants (Handler Darcy seems to think that HYDRA is called SHIELD. Asset Ripley intends to double-check this intelligence as soon as he can. He also intends to find and return Handler Darcy's iPod, as soon as he discovers what an iPod is - Asset Ripley thinks it must be vitally important, with how much Handler Darcy mourns its loss).
7. There is a voice in the back of his head that Asset Ripley recognises from somewhere, encouraging him to 'get the hell out godsdamnit, we do not want to stay with fucking HYDRA. HYDRA are seriously messed up and also Nazis. Stay with the dames. And find out what happened to Steve. And get a haircut because we look ridiculous.'
8. He is 90% certain that Handler Darcy's contact in New York is Tony Stark (aka Iron Man, threat level: 8, designation: enemy, orders: do not currently engage). He's not sure what to think of this.
Asset Ripley feels a little overwhelmed. There is too much data, and the frame of reference is too small. The mission makes little sense, and he feels uncomfortable about the apparent breakdown in his programming. However, despite this, Asset Ripley thinks that he might be having... Fun. Yes, fun. Handler Darcy is loud and ridiculous and currently singing a song about a child with a large back, "just" Jane is trying to write scientific formulae on her trousers using some kind of colourful marker pen, and Asset Ripley is, possibly, having fun.
In the back of his head, the voice cheers, and also says that they might have more fun if they killed some HYDRA fucks. Asset Ripley doesn't know if he trusts the voice yet, but he's not certain that it's wrong.
The thing is, Darcy's brother is a bit of a shit. He's also twenty-one years older than Darcy, which is awkward. Darcy never met their dad, and is eternally grateful she escaped the clusterfuck that was his attempt at parenting. Darcy always knew she had a brother, because her Mom was great and didn't lie to her. Her Mom also wanted her to have a relatively normal life, so Darcy never told anyone who her dad was. Even after Mom died.
When Tony tracked her down back in 2009, he'd been a bit surprised that she already knew they were related.
'You absolutely, 100% cannot send a suit. We're trying to be sneaky. Your suits are not sneaky. Your suits are a towering monument to your ego and your sad, sad desire to be a Gryffindor.'
'I'm insulted that you think I couldn't build a sneaky suit. And Gryffindors are clearly the best.'
'Keep telling yourself that. I'm serious, though. We're in New York, we're nearly there and you swooping in right now is not going to help.'
'Alright fine. SHIELD's busy at the moment anyway. Lost something very important and just can't seem to find it.'
'...That's not exactly reassuring right now.'
'Wait, you didn't tell me what actually happened. Have you stolen something of theirs? Are you thieving from SHIELD? I demand to know!'
'We're on the phone!'
'And it's completely secure. I know it is because you're using the StarkPhone I gave you, and I'm me. So spill. Tell me your secrets. Let me in on your SHIELD thievery. I'll help'
'We didn't steal anything.'
'Because people are not things.'
Tony actually shuts up for several entire seconds. Darcy wishes she could see his face.
'Gotta go, see you soon.'
She hangs up with no small amount of glee, and pockets her phone. A quick glance tells her that Tall Dark and Deadly is driving the van with terrifying focus, and Jane has started writing on her shirt. So pretty much as expected. And they are less than fifteen minutes away from Tony's place.
'I need coffee' Darcy mutters. TDD Ripley (she can't keep calling him 'Asset'. It's weird) tilts his head towards her, and Darcy has a sinking feeling that everything is about to go wrong.
The van swerves and screeches to a halt. Jane squeaks, Darcy yelps and TDD Ripley rolls out of the van and vanishes. Just vanishes.
'What just happened?' Jane asks.
'Really no clue.'
'Do we wait for him?'
They wait. Darcy crawls into the driver's seat and glares at everything. Jane fidgets, and then worms her way into the front to sit next to Darcy. Neither of them talk. After eight minutes of intensely silent waiting, TDD Ripley returns. With coffee, and an expression that is nearly hopeful.
Darcy faceplants into the steering wheel. She takes the coffee, because she is not a cruel woman, and says thanks. TDD Ripley blinks in surprise, and climbs into the back. Darcy downs half the coffee (it's that sort of day) and hands the rest to Jane.
'Okay, we're on the home stretch now folks, buckle in.'
'We're ten minutes away - what could go wrong?'
'JANE, WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT?'
Steve is loitering in an alley. It has been a long, weary day. It's nearly evening, and it's apparently 2012. He still hasn't figured out how that works, and if it was a dream he thinks he would have woken up by now. He's managed to avoid all the agents chasing him so far, and he's now looking for somewhere to sleep. Another letter writes itself in his head:
How do you always end up in these messes? Seriously? You get to the future, and become a fugitive within a day? Really?
Also, we are disappointed with the lack of flying cars.
the Howling Commandos
He probably should have paid more attention crossing the street. In fairness, it is a tiny street. He thought it was pedestrianised. The van driving into him is a total surprise , and Steve hits the pavement hard.
Steve is aware, vaguely, of two female voices arguing. Someone nudges him.
'Do you have something against perfect specimens of manliness? Do you just see blond, blue eyed hunks and think "hey I'll tap that ... WITH A VAN?'
This voice belongs to the woman prodding him. She has surprisingly gentle hands.
'He looks okay.'
The other voice is further off, and sounds anxious. The woman close to him sighs.
'Okay, let's just... Oh Odin's balls, just get him in the back of the van. There's a medical floor where we're headed. Hey! Ripley! Can you get this guy into the van?'
Steve tries to open his mouth to tell them that really, he'll be fine in a minute. It's only a van. He's been hit with a tank before. Then someone lifts him up, and they must be strong to do that so easily. Steve thinks they smell familiar: homely, somehow. He's put down with a lot of care, and someone reaches over him to do up his seatbelt. The engine starts, and the vehicle lurches into motion.
Steve cracks his eyes open and turns to face whoever lifted him, meaning to say thank you. For the billionth time today, he feels all the breath leave his body.
Agent Barton, watching from the roof, tries to figure out how he's going to put what just happened into a report. He imagines it going a bit like this:
Found Captain Rogers looking remarkably lost in the street, like a big dopey golden retriever. Then watched as he was hit by a van. Two women exited the van, who on further inspection turned out to be Dr. Jane Foster and Miss Darcy Lewis. This was surprising, because they are meant to be doing some weird SHIELD assisted science some way out of the city. Rather than calling, say, 911, they decided to take Captain Rogers with them. An unidentified man exited the van and assisted. They then drove a short distance to a building with an insanely intricate security system, and entered with zero questions asked. Preliminary research suggests the building belongs to Stark Industries.
He snorts, and continues:
And I would like to hand in my resignation, because I let Captain America get hit by a van, kidnapped and taken to Tony Stark and I value my balls.
He sighs, wonders how Natasha always manages to avoid this shit, and dials Coulson.
Chapter 2: What kind of Walt Disney shit is this?
Tony Stark snarks, Steve is adorable, Jasper has a panic attack and Darcy gets hugs. Also, HYDRA interns are not the luckiest of people and everyone fears Pepper.
Here it is! A bit shorter than the last installment, sorry. The title of this chapter is what LullabyKnell was originally going to call the sequel, and the line was originally going to be said by the poor Fedex worker who found the Winter Soldier.
Again, unedited and un-betaed, so please point out any mistakes that you spot.
Director Fury swoops. It's a skill that he has, alongside shooting with remarkable aim despite the eye-patch and being able to acquire leather trench coats under any circumstances. When he enters a room, he is noticed. Unless he doesn't want you to notice, in which case you will have no idea that he's present until it's far, far too late.
Maria Hill, being the Deputy Director, does not jump when he enters the room. Neither does she fall over while attempting to look busy (Agent Kazura), squeak (Agent Williams) or quietly piss her pants in fear (looking at you, Agent Kadrey). She stands, salutes crisply, and says:
'Sir, we have no new intelligence at this point, despite Stark's somewhat dubious assistance.'
'At ease, Hill. And we damn well need to get some. The WSC...'
Fury is interrupted. By a ringtone. Silence engulfs the room as Maria and Nick pivot gracefully to face Phil Coulson. Who blinks, just once (Agent Kadrey uses this distraction to sneak out the door).
'Is that your personal phone, Agent Coulson?' asks Fury.
Phil Coulson nods sharply, and answers his phone.
'Barton, I hope this is important.'
Tony Stark was never very good at family, and he would be the first to admit that (he'd also be the first to blame his parents, although only in the safety of his head). He never really understood how it was meant to work, but was quite secure in the knowledge that at least he didn't have any family left to fuck it up with.
Until three-and-a-half years ago anyway, when he'd suddenly discovered that, thanks to dear old dad, he was in fact an older brother. Seeing as he was dying at the time it was only Pepper's intervention that had prevented him from preemptively signing SI over to his baby sister.
When he went to go meet her, he hadn't been sure what to expect. It certainly wasn't having a wrench shoved at him by a tiny brunette woman whose first words to him were: 'Well that took you long enough, brother dear. Hold onto this for a sec, I've got find the oilcan. Also, why is your chest glowing? It's kinda creepy.'
They got along like a house on fire, although they do still have some disagreements...
'You are absolutely not encasing me in a suit until this is over. I mean, if you want to build me one that's super cool; I would rock that armour like nobody's business. But you are not encasing me in a suit, or toppling SHIELD or spamming Fury's email with creepy porn until we know what's going on!'
'I will call Pepper!'
'Cheat! You can't invoke Pepper! I forbid it - this is my house so I'm, like, god. Or Stephen Hawking. Wait, what am I talking about? I'm better than him. This is my house, and I'm Tony Stark and I say its not allowed and you are a dirty cheater.'
'If anyone's a god, it is Pepper. And trust me, tin-can-man, I will invoke her.'
'Alright, fine. I withhold judgement.'
'I'll settle for that.'
'So how did you manage to kidnap Captain America?'
Darcy startles. She turns to the corner of the room, where everyone else is watching their disagreement. Well, Dr. Foster (and Tony is going to fanboy about meeting her later – Einstein-Rosen bridges are the stuff of legend. Literally) is writing on the marble tabletop with a sharpie, Captain America is sitting on a chair and alternating between making adorably confused and confusingly adorable expressions, and the tall dark cyborg that his sister has yet to introduce is... Petting Captain America's hair? Yep, petting his hair, and also checking all the exits and following Darcy around with his eyes. It's weird.
'You didn't kidnap Captain America.' Tony realises.
'Nope,' says Darcy, 'we kidnapped TDD over there when he arrived in the post in a cryotube. From SHIELD. The blond dude just, you know, stepped in front of the van.'
'You hit Captain America with a van?!' Yelps Tony, feeling pride and outrage in equal amounts.
'Jane grabbed the wheel!' Darcy snaps.
Trying to find anyone to take messages to Director Pierce today is nigh on impossible, on account of how HYDRA agents gossip nearly as much as SHIELD agents, so everyone has heard about Dave the Unfortunate. Brock Rumlow is currently holding a scrumpled piece of paper and glaring at it. Jack Rollins threw it at his head and ran away, the little shit. Not that Brock blames him that much; nobody wants to die today.
The STRIKE team leader sighs, and hides in a closet near to Pierce's office. After a while, the door is opened by one of the interns. Brock grabs him, shoves the paper into his hand, steps out of the cupboard and hoists the intern over his shoulder. He then proceeds to run down the corridor before literally hurling the intern through the door of Director Pierce's office and sprinting away.
It's not exactly a graceful entrance.
'Ummm.' says intern Llewellyn Lewellyn, possibly about to become very dead. Director Pierce is aiming a gun at him with the sort of calm expression that suggests he is counting down. Llewellyn Lewellyn whimpers and scrabbles at the paper.
'Er, umm, Director Sir. Um, apparently the package that arrived at the Triskelion contained a great deal of scientific equipment as well as an iPod, sir. We're currently trying to trace where it was meant to be delivered. Um. Hail Hyda?'
'Get out of my office.'
'Leave the goddamn note.'
Jasper Sitwell always thought it was a joke. A really bad, sort-of lame joke that had been going on for way too long, but a joke. The first time he overheard two SHIELD agents whispering 'Hail HYDRA' to each other, he thought it was hysterical. So of course he joined in, and for the last few months whenever anyone mutters it to him, Jasper's always muttered it back. He thought that maybe everyone was just waiting for Agent Coulson to find out and lose his temper.
Except that he's just received a mission in the form of a coded note passed to him by Agent Ward with a low 'Hail HYDRA'. De-coded, the note is a directive to locate Captain Rogers before SHIELD, terminate if capture is not possible, and to pass on any information about a missing Fed-Ex package that was meant to go to the Triskelion, details below.
All of which has left Jasper in a stationery closet, having a very quiet panic attack because those bastards actually think he's one of them, and what in the ever-loving fuck does he do now?
Asset Ripley is now 100% certain that he is experiencing a severe failure in programming. Ever since the blond man referred to him as 'Bucky', he's been malfunctioning. There is no other word for it: the Asset is a tool, a weapon, designed to kill and follow orders. He is not supposed to have memories, especially not these strangely confusing ones about a tiny, sickly boy who is at the same time a large, musclebound man wrapped in the American flag. The voice at the back of his head keeps yelling at him, and it's starting to give the Asset a headache ('His name is Steve, we've known him forever, he's such a little punk! Is he hurt? Check if he's hurt! I can't believe he just walked in front of the van! Don't let him out of our sight, okay? This idiot will get into trouble anywhere.').
He also has severe doubts about his Handler's current course of action, that is, covering Asset Ripley in a large amount of blankets whilst inside a construction that Handler Darcy calls a 'blanket fort' and making him drink a strange yet pleasant warm drink. Designation Tony complained that the 'fort' was structurally unsound, and Asset Ripley is inclined to agree with him. However, they are now all inside the strange construction, including 'just' Jane and Designation Steve ('Finally, you learnt a name!' the voice in his head snaps), and there is something familiar about it.
Handler Darcy is tangled up with Designation Tony, and they are arguing softly over a tablet. A third voice joins them from the tablet occasionally. Handler Darcy's feet are tucked under Asset Ripley's leg. She does not appear to be moving them anytime soon. Asset Ripley finds it oddly reassuring - he knows exactly where his Handler is, and can easily defend her if he needs to. 'just' Jane is curled awkwardly near Handler Darcy, and is typing furiously on a tablet with a mug held in one hand. Designation Steve is curled around the Asset's side like... like... like something that curls. A boa constrictor, maybe? He clutches onto Asset Ripley as if he is the only bright thing in the world. He has not spoken since he called the Asset 'Bucky'.
'Hey, Ripley, can I ask you a question?' Handler Darcy seems concerned.
'Do you know this dude?'
She's pointing at Designation Steve, who is frowning ('He's been hit with a van; of course he's frowning.'). Asset Ripley has a short, internal struggle before answering.
'I don't know.'
Handler Darcy's eyes widen, just fractionally, and then narrow. Asset Ripley is suddenly filled with the fear that now there will be maintenance, and he really doesn't want it.
'You don't know?' Handler Darcy's voice is soft, kind. In his head, the shouty voice stops talking about Steve, and starts reminding him that Darcy is safe and 'definitely a swell dame, you know? I don't think she's going to hurt us, I think you're safe with her. She gave you milkshake, remember? And that cocoa you've got right now. And she's running from SHIELD. I think she's safe.'
The Asset shrugs.
'He's Steve.' Says Asset Ripley.
'Steve?' Asks Handler Darcy, still speaking very gently.
'Steve. I think. I think he's my mission? I think... I think I'm meant to protect him. I don't remember. There's data missing.'
'You know, I just have this urge to wrap you up in blankets and feed you hot cocoa until you stop looking sad. I'm struggling with it. You are seriously triggering all of my nurturing instincts. Jane and Tony are the only ones who usually do that.'
'You've already wrapped him in blankets and given him cocoa.' points out Designation Tony.
'I know. But he's still sad.' Says Handler Darcy.
'Is this real?' Designation Steve's voice sounds harsh, as if he is forcing it not to shake. Asset Ripley recognises that tone. Asset Ripley remembers....
He remembers too many things all at once, experiences cognitive failure and loses consciousness.
Phil Coulson has been described as a paperwork ninja, mainly by Agent Barton. The rest of SHIELD agrees with the sentiment, but they don't dare to voice it in case Phil Coulson takes offense and there's a repeat of the 2006 Requisitions vs Agent Phil Coulson Paperwork war. He also has a not-all-that-secret obsession with Captain America. This means that all of the files for Captain America's discovery, recovery and escape are in perfect order. He's even invented new ones, because having a '40s super soldier escape from a SHIELD base after being frozen for 70 years, especially when the super soldier had zero weapons and there were 18 agents on site, requires that kind of thing.
Phil Coulson is still considering whether or not he can get away with punching Agent Barton in the face, as the report that he has casually given over the phone is going to require a lot of paperwork, some of it inventively worded to avoid Tony Stark noticing it in their servers. It may also require interacting with Tony Stark, which is far worse than inventing paperwork.
However, Phil Coulson is nothing if not dedicated, and he is hardly about to leave Captain America in the clutches of Tony Stark. No-one deserves that. Director Fury has consistently turned down Phil Coulson's suggestions that Tony Stark be allowed in on interrogations to irritate their prisoners, on the grounds that although Tony Stark would certainly annoy anyone enough to make them spill state secrets, he also might get along with them too well and break them out.
Agent Coulson is also not about to just attempt to gain entry to one of Stark Industy's buildings and demand to know what's going on. There are much smoother roads than that. The line he is calling connects.
'Ms Potts here, who is this and how did you get access to my personal line?'
'Ms Potts, Agent Coulson of SHIELD. I was wondering if we could talk about Mr. Stark?'
Jasper Sitwell has a plan. It is not the best plan, but it is a plan and he feels better for it. He has made a list of all the agents that he can recall 'Hail HYDRA'ing him in the last few months. He has split it into parts and hidden it in various files in Agent Coulson's office. Sitwell considers this safe, because if Agent Coulson is HYDRA then everyone's fucked anyway. He's using the code on the message he was given to crack other coded missives, and is slowly building a picture of HYDRA inside SHIELD. It's a horrible picture. He's asked Agent May to look after his cat for a while, which is code for 'shit's going down, I'm working on it. Also please look after my cat because I'm going dark and I don't want her to starve'. And he's requisitioning as many weapons and supplies as he can before leaving.
It's while he's packing garrotte wires into a bag that someone bumps into him, causing Jasper to spin around and punch them in the stomach.
'Please don't kill me!' squeaks intern Llewellyn Llewellyn.
'Hail Hydra.' says Jasper, figuring he may as well start now.
'Oh! Hail HYDRA sir. I didn't realise...'
Jasper knocks the young man out, and then tries to figure out how he's going to sneak an unconscious body off the base.
By the time TDD Ripley regains consciousness, Darcy's big brother is busy arguing with Pepper on the phone and hacking SHIELD at the same time. Darcy's not really paying all that much attention, on account of how she's somehow ended up comforting Captain America. Who insists, between sobs, on being called Steve. He's actually still crying.
'I'm so sorry ma'am.' he sniffles, 'I'm not... Usually I don't... It's just been a very long day.'
'Hey, no worries. I mean, if I woke up seventy years in the future with a creepy government organisation trying to pretend it was still my time period, escaped, wandered about and then found out that my dead BFF was alive and didn't remember me and had a metal arm I'd be crying as well. Although I think Janey would rock the metal arm look. And seriously, having a national icon sob on my shoulder is, like, an honour. Almost as good as tasing a god.'
'Maybe we'll save that story until there's a little less culture shock.'
'Technically, Thor is an alien who possesses god-like qualities.' Jane mutters. Darcy rolls her eyes, and goes for distraction.
'Hey, is he waking up?'
Steve nearly gives himself whiplash turning to look at Ripley. Who is, apparently, James Buchanan Barnes. He stirs and mutters, eyes fluttering (Darcy is trying very hard not to imagine him as some kind of princess in a Sleeping Beauty style bed. It's difficult; the man has damn fine eyelashes).
'Steve?' He grunts. Steve shuffles forward and grabs his hand, looking down at his friend with an expression of love so pure that it makes Darcy a little breathless.
'Hey Buck.' Steve whispers. Tiny cherubs fail to burst into existence around their heads, which is severely disappointing. Darcy wonders if Thor knows any cherubs.
'They told me you were dead. They showed me newspapers. Said you'd crashed your plane.'
'Well, I did maybe sorta do that. Just a bit. On account of the bombs. But I'm here now, so...'
'You crashed your plane.' Oooh, now that's a tone of voice Darcy knows well. Steve is definitely in trouble.
'I had to, Bucky. There were bombs and the tesseract and there wasn't any other way.'
Bucky responds by reaching up and yanking Steve down to rest on his chest in what is probably the most muscular cuddle Darcy has ever witnessed. Seriously, this could only improve if Thor was present. Darcy could probably persuade him to join in the hugs. She could say it was a form of bonding or something.
'Idiot.' Bucky mutters into Steve's hair. Steve just grins and snuggles into him. Darcy, who actually has some form of social propriety, starts to back out of the blanket fort.
'I'll just, you know, leave you two to get reacquainted. Check on my brother, that kind of thing. Continue to cuddle up and ooomph.'
Bucky snags her round the waist and pulls her down to join the hug. Darcy blinks.
'Well, hello pectorals.' She says.
'You rescued me.' Bucky says, wrapping an arm around her.
'I feel like I can't really take credit for it, seeing as it was accidental.' Darcy mutters, although she does not move away from the pectorals. The pectorals are a thing of joy and beauty and she is going to stay there as long as she can. Steve winks at her; clearly he has similar feelings. It's nice to see him looking less weepy.
'You rescued me.' Bucky's voice is allowing absolutely no argument, and Darcy's not about to argue with him when the man's only just regained any sense of self. She just curls up into him.
'Yeah, okay. I totally did. I am a paragon of awesome, and I deserve all the hugs ever.'
Which results in being cuddled securely by two ridiculously massive soldiers from the forties. Darcy grins. Tony is going to be super super jealous. As soon as he stops arguing with Pepper about the best way to take out SHIELD anyway. Because, hello, Darcy is getting hugs from Captain America and his BFF/possible boyfriend (the eyes that Steve is making at him are in no way platonic).
'What did she rescue you from?' Steve asks. Bucky frowns, and answers slowly.
'I think... I think HYDRA are still around.' He says quietly.
'I knew there was something wrong with SHIELD. Jane, didn't I say SHIELD were creepy?'
'Yes, Darcy, you said SHIELD were creepy.'
'What are you even doing over there?'
'Trying to build a functioning Einstein-Rosen bridge.'
'Take a break. Join the hugs. Seriously, Jane, super-soldier hugs. Thor will not mind if you cuddle. He cannot blame you for cuddling beautiful men while he's not here, and if he did Sif would totally kick his arse. Come, hug.'
Jane blinks at Darcy, sighs, and puts away the tablet that Tony gave her after bemoaning her paper scribblings. She carefully joins the cuddle pile, and Darcy grins. Her brother is busy trying to topple SHIELD, Pepper is yelling at him in the background and she's in a cuddle pile with a forties propaganda tool, a brainwashed assassin and a brilliant scientist. Despite all the weirdness and terror, Darcy feels very content right now.
Tony sticks his head into the fort, probably to yell about something, and stares at the pile of cuddly people.
'What kind of Walt Disney shit is this?' He demands, 'Are singing animals going to appear? Has the power of love saved everyone? Wait, did Steve kiss him to make him wake up? Because if I missed that I am going to be sad for the rest of my life.'
'Join in or go away.' Darcy says. Tony shifts uneasily, clearly torn. Darcy, unable to reach him from her angle, turns to Bucky.
'Just grab him.' She says. Bucky obligingly uses his feet to sweep Tony to the floor, catching him before he smacks anyone. Tony splutters and swears and protests, but snuggles up to his sister anyway. The exhaustion finally catches up with Darcy, and she falls asleep to the sounds of her brother muttering about fascists and Nick Fury's evil eyepatch under his breath.
'Captain America is WHERE?'
Several STRIKE team members try very hard not to jump at the sound of DIrector Pierce yelling. Apparently, the news that their superhero nemesis from the forties has somehow ended up with their irritating superhero nemesis from the now has not gone over well. HYDRA is probably going to run out of interns to throw at him quite soon.
Chapter 3: The Grand Finale
Conspiracies! Coffee! Cuddles! The downfall of HYDRA, Pepper Potts being awesome, and a cat named Cat! Read on for more...
This is actually the real, proper end of this story! Thank you for all your comments and kudos.
Warning for major character death - nonexplicit, and not one of the goodies.
The tone became a bit more serious than I wanted it to, so I hope you all enjoy it. I don't think there's anything that needs warning for, but please let me know if I am wrong as I really don't want to upset anyone. :D
Again, this is unedited and unbetaed, so point out any errors! I posted this pretty much immediately after finishing it...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Pepper Potts, in her time working for Tony Stark, had seen a great many things that she would dearly like to unsee: the twins, that one time with Rhodey and the banana, the engineering cocktail party that is Not Spoken Of, and the incident with the wax . There have been less since the birth of Ironman and the Great Sibling Discovery, but still enough to haunt her.
This, however, is the first time that she has ever caught Tony asleep inside a blanket fort. Pepper takes a moment to immortalise the moment on camera before clearing her throat in a tone that she has carefully trained Tony to respond to. The genius sits up very fast, gets tangled in a blanket, yelps, and rolls into Darcy who sleepily punches him. Captain America makes a sound that resembles 'mmmffrrugghhllat?', Dr. Jane Foster growls under her breath and clutches at her tablet, and James Barnes shows no sign of waking, which Pepper doesn't buy for a second.
'Agent Coulson is here. He would like to discuss alternatives to all-out-war between SHIELD and Ironman.'
'Coffeeeeee.' mumbles Stark, the single most dangerous man on the planet (according to certain senators).
'I brought coffee. And pastries. Enough for everyone, although if Captain America's appetite is comparable to Thor's we may need more.'
'Pepper! Angel, delight, organiser of paperwork and broker of treaties. What did I ever do to deserve you?'
The man who is apparently a brainwashed version of James Barnes snorts, and opens his eyes. Darcy stays resolutely snuggled into his chest (Pepper can empathise – if she could get away with snuggling that chest she would). The agent that Phil brought with him is bouncing on his toes and looking enviously at the blanket fort, although he does have the professionalism to do so when Pepper's not looking at him; it's hardly his fault that Pepper has excellent peripheral vision.
'The coffee is not being brought to you. You have to get up and drink it like adults.'
Pepper's announcement is met with a chorus of complaints and groans, although they do taper out when she raises an eyebrow. It has taken years, but the Pepper Potts eyebrow is feared by all those with a sense of self-preservation. The toe-bouncing agent sends Phil a questioning expression, which Phil ignores. The inhabitants of the blanket fort shuffle, roll, walk or, in the case of Darcy, get carried to the table where they eventually settle.
Pepper chats to Phil while everyone eats and drinks, although that does not stop her noticing that Barnes does not eat until Darcy shoves food into his hands, and that even then he keeps sneaking food in front of Captain America, who pretends not to notice and then sneaks it back. There are a lot of crumbs.
Pepper also very politely does not notice the way that Phil Coulson's eyes repeatedly slide over to Captain America as if the man were a particularly gorgeous magnet.
When everyone is nearly done, Pepper smiles gently and says:
'So, perhaps now that we're all awake, we can try to clear up exactly what it is that SHIELD have been up to? You understand, Phil, that accidentally sending a person in the post looks bad.'
'Yes,' says Phil, heroically focusing on Pepper rather than his childhood (and adulthood) hero, 'frankly, I'd like to know that too.'
'Sir,' the other agent says, 'for the sake of full disclosure I feel like you should know that if SHIELD and Ironman go to war there's a strong chance that I'm defecting.'
'I'm just saying, sir, that they were having a cuddle pile in a blanket fort. Who says no to a cuddle pile with Captain America?'
'Idiots.' Says Darcy.
'Exactly.' Says Barton. Phil's face twitches very slightly; Pepper nearly misses it.
'Also,' says Darcy, 'there's a chance that most of SHIELD is HYDRA, and our team has 100% less Nazis.'
'I wanted to say that!' Tony yells. Pepper gives up hope of having anything resembling a reasonable meeting, which is whatever happens on the rare occasion Tony is actually present at one.
Melinda May is rarely seen out of the archives these days. She prefers to remain hidden in the deep, deep depths of SHIELD administration. Maria Hill, who saw the details of her last mission and couldn't even bring herself to doodle on them, understands.
So she's quite surprised when May walks into the mission control room in which Hill is overseeing the Captain America hunt (the general SHIELD populace do not need to know that he has been accidentally kidnapped by Ironman and Dr. Jane Foster), steers her way through the baby agents and glares at Maria.
'Sitwell's cat is sick.' She intones.
'Well fuck.' Maria responds.
And then she grabs her jacket, takes May's arm (carefully, because May actually has more blackbelts than Romanov), orders the agents to carry on with their work and leaves at a pace.
Llewellyn Llewellyn fully expects to be dead when he wakes up. So it's quite a relief to just be tied to a chair in a dark room with a single bright light shining in his face. Almost comforting, actually: it reminds him of the HYDRA hazing rituals, which Agent Williams had been kind enough to warn him about. She was also the one who had told him that paperwork did not equal safe, and to avoid STRIKE teams if he possibly could.
'Hello?' Says Llewellyn Llewellyn, because this is his first time being kidnapped outside of hazing rituals and he's not sure of the protocol. Someone beyond his field of vision sighs.
'Kid, if you wake up kidnapped in a dark room tied to a chair, you don't say hello. Didn't they teach you anything?'
'Erm, not really. I mean, mainly you progress beyond being an intern by still being alive. Which I was winning at, but maybe not so much anymore.'
'But you're doubling as a SHIELD intern. Are we really that crap at training interns?'
'Yes?' says Llewellyn Llewellyn, who is beginning to realise that he really needs to pee. The voice sighs again.
'Okay, this is the situation. HYDRA have infiltrated SHIELD. HYDRA think I'm one of them. I am going to take those bastards down, and you can help me, or you can be dead.'
Llewellyn Lewellyn thinks about it. Or at least, tries to.
'Can I go to the toilet before I decide? Sir?' he asks.
'For fuck's sake.' Groans the voice.
When it becomes clear that Pepper and Agent iPod-Thief's Very Serious ConversationTM is not going to end any time soon, Darcy decides to be elsewhere. She's said everything she has to say at least three times, her brother is unlikely to do anything stupid while Pepper is supervising and she can only amuse herself by bouncing scraps of rolled up paper off Agent Biceps' arms for so long. Jane vanished to go to the toilet about forty minutes ago, and Darcy has a bet going with herself about whether it's surprise menstruation or surprise science keeping her.
She enacts the Darcy Lewis sneaking technique, which involves leaving "to get more drinks" and not coming back. It works very effectively, and Darcy happily wanders in the general direction of the loos while humming under her breath.
And then she hears the thud. It's not a particularly loud noise, but it is out of place. Darcy carefully reaches for her taser while sneaking along the corridor. She peers around the corner, gripping her weapon. There's a dude in tactical gear lying on the floor, the remains of a Stark Industries tablet next to his head, and another dude struggling with Janey. The chances are that he looked at Jane and though "hey, she's relatively tiny and harmless. She just caught my partner-in-evil by surprise", and is only now discovering that Jane is an absolute menace when she's threatened.
Before she has time to second-guess herself, Darcy steps out behind him and fires her taser. Dude number two twitches and drops, and Jane steps forward and kicks him in the stomach. Hard.
'Erm, Jane, he's down already. Also, how did they get in? And are you alright? Because I will kill a bitch if I need to.'
'I'm fine. I don't know. And I broke the tablet.'
'You know, we can probably retrieve the data. Are you sure you're not hurt? There's blood on your face.'
'I bit him.' Jane says, wiping a hand across her mouth.
'O-kay, well I'm freaking out, how about you?'
Jane just shrugs and carefully picks up the tablet, which she proceeds to cradle like some kind of tiny creature. She's opening her mouth to reply when Bucky pelts around the corner like a man possessed. He stops very abruptly when he sees the two of them, which gives Steve a chance to catch up at least.
'You're alright.' He says. Some of the blankness from earlier is back in his eyes. Darcy reaches over to pat him on the arm.
'We're fine. Bit shaken, but Jane used science to defeat the creeps.'
'She means that I hit him with the tablet.' Jane says, in the tone of one who spends a lot of time with Darcy.
'Same thing. Ooh, do either of you have zip ties?'
'Damn, she's a swell dame.' Steve murmurs. Bucky raises a wordless eyebrow, and Steve goes pink. Darcy, who is definitely going to explore what this 'swell dame' thing is about later, clears her throat.
'Zip ties? Wait, were zip ties a thing in the forties?'
Getting a phone call from Stark is rarely a good thing. Nick Fury is just glad that he's alone in his office when it comes through.
'Wherever you are, go be somewhere else. Like now. Maybe five minutes ago. Do it.'
'Why exactly are you telling me to leave my own damn building?'
'Trust me, you don't want to be there.'
'And Project Insight is a terrible idea, just so you know. I won't be consulting on that.'
The line goes dead.
Fury grabs a few things from his desk and strides out.
Maria and Melinda are in Phil's office for three reasons: reason one is that Phil is meticulous – the likelihood of any bugs remaining there is pretty much zero, and particularly sadistic surveillance trainers use it as an exercise for their students; reason two is that Jasper and Phil have been friends for years, and if Jasper's left clues anywhere it will be here; reason three is that both May and Hill have go-bags hidden in Phil's office and there's a chance they're going to end up running.
The two women are methodically tearing the place apart looking for anything that appears out of place.
'So that's all he said?' Maria questions, checking for secret drawers in Phil's desk, and absent-mindedly counting all the visible Captain America merch to see if Phil's bought any new stuff.
'Just the code phrase.' Melinda is going through folders, scanning each page.
'Jasper's unflappable. What the hell happened?'
'I don't know, but whatever it is, it's big.'
'Do you think there's a mole?'
Melinda doesn't answer. She's staring at something inside the folder.
'What is it?' Maria asks.
'A list.' Melinda says.
Maria walks over to stand beside her and read it. She whistles.
'That's one hell of a list.'
'It's not the whole thing. It's been sectioned.'
The two women look at each other, and wordlessly redouble their efforts with the folders.
In the end, Llewellyn Llewellyn answered all of Sitwell's questions. On any other day he might have held out longer, but today he's literally been thrown in front of a gun by his own side. Plus, everyone seemed to think that Sitwell was HYDRA anyway, so he can always claim he thought it was just another hazing ritual.
In the time since Sitwell left, it has occurred to Llewellyn Llewellyn that this could be a training exercise of some kind. In which case, he is fucked. He sighs.
At least Sitwell untied him from the chair and left him with food. A lot of food, actually, which is slightly worrying. But better than no food. There's also a hardcore mobile phone, which will not make outgoing calls.
Llewellyn Llewellyn sits on the very small bed, and starts singing under his breath:
'20,000 green bottles, sitting on a wall...'
Alexander Pierce arrives home, finally. Of course he's not actually off duty; he just needs to have a drink and a nap. Rollins and Rumlow are due to check in soon, and he has every faith that they can avoid Stark's security long enough to find out if Captain America is actually with him.
Pierce sits down and pours a drink, swishing it about in his glass. And freezes, the cold kiss of a gun making itself known at the base of his neck.
'You're a sick son of a bitch, you know that?' Says Jasper Sitwell.
Alexander opens his mouth to reply. Sitwell squeezes the trigger, and Alexander jerks and slumps, very much dead.
'Not gonna grow another head?' Sitwell asks.
To say that Phil Coulson is furious is to miss out on a perfectly good opportunity to use the word incandescent. He has discovered that SHIELD, which he has given his blood, sweat and tears for most of his adult life, has a HYDRA infestation of uncertain size. Barton has been unable to contact Romanov, which is making the archer stressed. A STRIKE team broke into the building, clearly looking for Captain America despite the fact that Fury and Hill had agreed with Phil that they should keep his location secret for the moment. And Phil's beginning to suspect that Darcy and Tony may be related, which is enough to give him a headache all on its own.
Phil Coulson believes in channeling his anger into useful activities, which means that Coulson is interrogating Rollins. Captain America had cheerfully offered to help, which had thrown Phil off at first. He remained confused for all of five minutes, at which point he hears a yell from the next room. Upon investigating, Phil Coulson finds Barnes holding Rumlow upside-down out of a window while shouting: 'And I'm resigning, you fucking son of a gun! Make me fight for HYDRA will you? I'm gonna rip you a new one!'
Phil can just about hear Rumlow, screaming out a mixture of swearwords and very complicated Russian phrases. He turns to glare at Rogers, who stares back at him steadily.
'You knew this was going to happen.' Coulson accuses.
'From what I gather, they spent seventy years torturing him and making him think he wasn't a person. I'd be holding the bastard out the window myself if Bucky didn't have first call on that.'
Coulson is prevented from replying by one of the Russian phrases actually having an effect on Bucky. The man suddenly goes very quiet, his face blank. He scans the room quickly, appearing a little confused.
'Where is the Handler?' he asks.
'Pull me the fuck up you useless retard!' shrieks Rumlow.
'Current intelligence indicates that you present a threat to the Handler.'
'Are you fucking broken?' demands Rumlow.
'The Asset is following its primary directives. Also, the Asset has deduced that working for HYDRA is detrimental to long-term functionality, and will not be returning. The Asset will be remaining with the current Handler, and with Designation Steve. The Asset thinks that you can go fuck yourself.'
'Crap.' says Rumlow.
'Do you know the location of the iPod?'
Darcy gets called in to calm everyone down. To her credit, she stifles her giggles and only takes one photo 'because when Steve and Bucky are living together somewhere nice with a picket fence and a dog, they are definitely going to want a memento of this moment on their wall' before persuading Bucky to pull Rumlow back into the room.
Agent Ward, on his way to report to Garrett after a three day mission in Calcutta, vanishes into an alley and is never seen again. Garrett doesn't notice, because he recently died of fatal character mis-judgement. Jasper Sitwell, on a roof several buildings away from the alley with Agent Ward's secondary mission reports in hand, is beginning to think that he missed his calling. Being an avenger is, he thinks, kind of a lot of fun.
At the SHIELD headquarters, several things happen in speedy succession. Firstly, Melinda May and Maria Hill assemble Jasper's list, complete with a drawing of a red skull with tentacles (they've both seen far too many of Phil Coulson's Captain America PowerPoints not to recognise that symbol), and embark upon a swift exit. Alexander Pierce fails to check in at the pre-agreed time, and an automated alert is sent out using HYDRA codes. Nick Fury, reluctantly following Stark's orders, climbs into an SUV; and Agent Kadrey, who is absolutely not playing Galaga in the top corner of his screen, notices a strange blip in the files that he is looking at.
What happens next happens in even faster succession. For the benefit of the reader, it has been put into slow-motion.
The entire computer network crashes, every single screen playing the Ironman nyan cat video. Agent Kadrey, in a move that likely saves his life, casually crawls under his desk and attacks anyone who comes near with a staple gun. It is possibly the best-timed mental breakdown ever.
Withers, currently the only HYDRA intern in the building, reacts to the sudden takeover of their computers so shortly after an alert about Director Pierce with blind panic. Withers happens to be near the garage, and carrying a grenade launcher.
Director Fury, tipped off by a particular sense that only those who have spent years surviving the underworld of spies possess, hurls himself out of the SUV just as the first grenade explodes against it. He swears loudly; however the effect of putting this section into slow motion means that it is impossible to tell exactly what he is saying: this is probably for the best, as Nick Fury can swear with a level of creativity that would shock Gordon Ramsay.
Upon hearing an explosion, Hill and May react in typical SHIELD fashion, which is to run cautiously towards it. May slams into Withers with all the force of a tornado, and a similar effect. Hill draws a handgun and sprints toward her boss, who is currently picking himself up from the floor with aplomb. She wastes zero time in grabbing him and dragging him into another SUV. May, now wielding a grenade launcher, joins them in the vehicle and Hill proceeds to drive them out of SHIELD headquarters with an enviable combination of precision and speed.
Local law enforcement, backed up by a small army of Ironman suits, arrives 30 seconds later.
The Asset is, once again, confused. He is beginning to feel as if he will be confused forever, although he supposes this is an improvement on feeling nothing forever. His Handler is sitting squashed up beside him with her head on his shoulder, which is not something he would usually expect a Handler to do. However, it is something that he would expect this Handler to do, and he finds the physical contact very reassuring: he knows exactly where she is, and can keep her safe.
He had been quite strongly tempted to disobey Handler Darcy and drop Rumlow out of the window, and if she hadn't made such a good point about gathering information he probably would have. Designation Steve had looked as if he might do it anyway.
In fact, Designation Steve looks as though he would still quite like to drop someone out of a window. Maybe quite a lot of someones. He is making an expression that the Asset has named 'someone let me at the Nazis'. He's not sure of the significance of this, and has decided to blame the shouty voice in his head for it.
Handler Darcy has her fingers twined around Designation Steve's, and looking at their hands make the Asset feel strangely warm. And maybe a little jealous: Designation Steve has very nice hands. The shouty voice, which has been very quiet since Rumlow used The Words, suggests that probably neither Darcy nor Steve would mind if he wanted to hold hands with them. The Asset doesn't know if he believes this. The shouty voice points out that, even when they upset Darcy by hanging Rumlow out of the window, Darcy had only told them not to do it and had not punished them at all. The Asset thinks about it. The Asset looks at their hands, which look very nice and friendly all wrapped up together. The Asset wants.
Carefully, he reaches over and attempts to subtly slide his fingers in with theirs. The subtle part doesn't really work, but no-one tells him off so he counts it as a win. Handler Darcy smiles at him, and Designation Steve's expression changes to 'adorably hopeful'.
'Alright there TDD?' asks Handler Darcy.
'I'm just swell.' he says, the words familiar and strange all at the same time.
Designation Steve squeezes his hand gently, and the three of them settle in to watch Pepper Potts bring about the controlled downfall of HYDRA using the power of extremely competent phone calls and a well-aimed Stark.
After three different cars, a lot of evasive manouevres and one stop to pick up Jasper Sitwell's cat from his flat, the trio of disgruntled spies arrive at one of Sitwell's safehouses. The cat, who is apparently called Cat ('Jasper forgot to name her.' May had said), trots ahead of them, jumps up onto a table and starts washing her face.
Because they're a bunch of paranoid spies, they check the perimeter before engaging in a silent contest over who gets to sit in the area with the best sightlines. Melinda May wins.
'So,' Nick says, 'tell me there is some good news?'
'Well, we do have a very comprehensive list of potential moles.' says Hill.
'Do either of you hear singing?' asks May.
They go quiet, and a lot of hands subtly migrate towards weapons as they strain to hear the soft singing. Which of course is the moment that Jasper chooses to enter, glaring at everyone. The only sign that he's been up to anything untoward is a slight stain on his shirt, and the bruising on his left hand.
'This safehouse is meant to be a secret.' he snaps.
'Do you hear singing?' asks May. Jasper glares at her, then sighs and rubs his eyes.
'It's probably Llewellyn. I should go check on the guy.'
'Llewellyn Llewellyn the intern?' asks Nick
'Yes. He's HYDRA. Very informative though.'
'I am beginning to get upset.' growls Nick, his eye glinting dangerously.
'Well don't take it out on the intern; it's not really his fault.'
Nick Fury harrumphs but says no more. There is an awkward silence, thankfully broken by Maria Hill's burner phone. She answers it cautiously, picking up without a greeting.
'Hill?' Coulson sounds tense. Tense and angry.
'Coulson.' She replies.
'I'm assuming you have heard the news.'
'You mean the SHIELDRA news?'
'Yes, that news.'
'I may have done. I'm curious Coulson; why didn't you contact me?'
'I had no way of knowing who to trust. It was the expedient thing to do.'
'That's fair. Are you still with his Mighty Metalness?'
'Lord save me, yes.'
'How's that going?'
There's a pause, and something that might have been a sigh.
'I'm not certain you would believe me if I told you. And if we ever have the chance to recruit Ms. Potts, we should take it: I'm reasonably certain that the only thing standing between her and world domination is her conscience.'
'Don't tell me she's replaced Captain America as your hero.'
'I'm sending our current intelligence to you. I'm sure you can find something useful to do.'
'No comment on Captain America?'
'He's surprisingly devious. Stay alive Hill.'
They hang up, and a moment later the phone beeps. The agents lean forward to read the new information. Maria Hill whistles again, and Nick raises an eyebrow.
'This will keep us busy.' comments Melinda.
'Very busy.' agrees Maria.
'This could take a while. We may need to split up.' Jasper mutters.
'It's been a while since I've been on a roadtrip of vengeance.' says Maria.
'Wasn't your last one in Iceland?' asks Melinda.
'Iceland does not count as a roadtrip of vengeance. Iceland was just a series of embarrassing mistakes.' Maria retorts.
'But you were in a car with a flamethrower, an 084 and a team that turned out to be turncoats?'
'People,' interjects Fury, 'I suggest that we identify the sections of HYDRA that ordinary law enforcement will be least able to deal with, assign sections and break off to neutralise them. We'll centralise intelligence through Coulson and take missions from him. Some of our agents are under deep cover, and if at all possible they need to be warned before they're compromised. This is possibly the most important mission of our lives, and we have precisely zero guarantee of back-up. I won't blame anyone if they choose to walk away.'
'With all due respect, sir, take your walking away and shove it. SHIELD's ours, and I am personally going to bust some Nazi balls over this.'
'Glad to hear that, Hill.'
It takes twenty-four hours for the dust to settle, and when it does HYDRA is coming across less as a well-oiled machine and more as a creaking wreck. Betrayed SHIELD agents, it turns out, are both vindictive and deadly. Stark Industries applications have been inundated by SHIELD agents seeking protection in return for information, and Tony had gleefully put Agent Coulson in charge of sorting them out.
Darcy spends those twenty-four hours locked in one of her brother's ridiculously comfy panic rooms (complete with a bar and a basic lab) using her considerable hacking skills to keep on top of the information being published on the internet and liaising with Phil, Tony and Pepper through JARVIS. It definitely wasn't boring.
Bucky had refused to be separated from Darcy, and Steve had refused to be separated from Bucky. Seeing as neither of them had any way of helping from inside the panic room, this has effectively meant that she has had two incredibly gorgeous men catering to her every need for the last twenty-four hours. Darcy thinks she deserves an award for not abusing her power. Jane had agreed, but she had also been running calculations on the shiny Stark computer at the time so Darcy isn't sure that she had any idea what Darcy had asked.
The brunette stretches her arms out and yawns.
'Okay, that's it. I am officially done. The gods of sleep require my presence and I am not about to deny them. That way madness and naked science lies.'
'Naked science?' asks Steve, caught between distress and intrigue.
'Yup. I think it's in the Stark genes.'
'Wait, you're a Stark?' Steve's voice actually squeaks.
'Did I not say that?' Asks Darcy.
'It was not made explicit.' states Bucky, who is still hovering between being the Asset and being Bucky Barnes.
'Oh. Well, yeah. I'm a Stark. I mean, technically I'm a Lewis because my mom raised me on her own and did a damn fine job, so like hell am I dropping her name just because of the fact that my sperm donor happened to be famous. But I like Tony, so, you know, in private I don't mind being a Stark. It is a secret though, and if you tell anyone I will destroy you with the power of my mind.'
'...The future is so confusing.' grumbles Steve, pouting.
'It'll get better.' Darcy promises, stifling another yawn. 'Jane!' she yells, 'it's time for sleep!'
'Ten minutes!' yells Jane.
'Five minutes, and then I'm sending in TDD to collect you!' Darcy yells back.
Jane mumbles something incomprehensible, and starts saving her work. Steve is looking at the one enormous bed with something resembling trepidation, and Bucky has moved forward to support Darcy, who has begun swaying on her feet. It takes a few minutes of shuffling about, yawning, carrying Jane and confiscating her tablet, shuffling again so that Bucky can sleep on the outside and tucking Darcy's phone under the pillow before everyone gets comfy. Steve is hanging on to Bucky like the world's blondest octopus, which Bucky seems quite pleased about if the little smile chasing the corners of his mouth is anything to go by. Jane has completely crashed out, and Darcy is nicely squished between Janey and Steve.
'I think my brother bought you a house.' Darcy mumbles into Steve's back.
'Really?' asks Steve, sounding a bit unsure.
'Means he likes you. S'no good at showing affection unless it involves showering people with money. You don't need to live there 'f you don't want to.'
'Would you... Do you think you'd be nearby? I mean, just because Bucky seems better around you and...'
'Don't go using me as an excuse punk.' mutters Bucky.
'I don't actually know where this house is.' Darcy points out.
'Oh.' says Steve.
Darcy pokes him in the kidney.
'I remember that "swell dame" comment, don't think I'll forget it mister. We're talking about that in the morning. As well as the heart-eyes you get whenever you look at Bucky. Which, if you were wondering, would be totally legal now.'
'The Asset would be permitted to be in a relationship?' asks Bucky, his voice tired.
'Yes, the Asset would be permitted to be in a relationship, and it is now completely legal to be in a relationship with another man.' Clarifies Darcy.
There's a moment of contemplative silence.
'Stevie, d'you wanna be my boyfriend?'
'Of course Bucky.'
There's a noise that sounds suspiciously as though two someones are having a long overdue smooch.
'If you two wake me up having sex, I will reign down unholy wrath on you.' threatens Darcy.
'Thor-on-a-bike, will you all shut up and go to sleep?' mumbles Jane.
'Ma'am, yes ma'am.' says Steve, the ghost of a grin in his voice. He snuggles more securely into Bucky, and eventually everyone drops off.
Tony Stark eventually has enough time to go and check on his baby sister. When he walks into the panic room and sees her sprawled between three other people, he turns around and walks back out. Pepper laughs at him for twenty minutes and informs him that this is what karma feels like.
'We are on a very important mission. We do not have time to stop off and check if your peace lily is still alive.' Jasper's grip on the steering wheel is getting dangerously tight.
'We stopped to drop off Cat. Why is this different?' Asks Llewellyn Llewellyn, glaring from the passenger seat.
'Because I say so. Do you want to come on the roadtrip of vengeance or not?'
'Can I at least choose the music?'
'Yes, fine, you can choose the music.'
'Join HYDRA, you said. We'll go places, you said. I never thought you meant the inside of a disused air-vent.' Rollins is grumbling in a low voice as he and Rumlow scramble slowly towards freedom.
'Will you quit bellyaching and help me with the rope?'
'I'm just saying, this was your idea and look where it's got us. I bet we're on every Wanted list this side of the planet.'
'Well don't blame me!'
'I blame you!'
'Heads or tails?' asks May.
'Tails.' says Hill.
May flips the coin. It lands heads up, and she grins.
'I get to call Potts. You deal with the senator.'
'Damnit,' grouses Maria, 'can't we take turns?'
Barton's phone goes off abruptly, causing the archer to flail and fall out of the bed with an oomph. Phil barely stirs.
'Wazzzaat?' Clint grumbles into the speaker.
'I was gone for five days, Clint. Five. Days. How the fuck do you get into these things'
'Aw come on Nat, it's not like it was my fault!'
Watching the strange group of people moving into the house down the road from his, Sam Wilson shakes his head.
'I have a bad feeling about this.' he mutters.
And that's all folks! Thank you for reading and for commenting and kudos-ing. I doubt that I will be writing any more of this, but if anyone wants to take this idea and run with it go ahead - just link me as inspiration. I'm sad that I didn't get Thor or Rhodey in there, and that Jane didn't get to do more :( I kind of wanted a Thor/Steve/Bucky epic hug of muscles to happen, so you know, if you do want to take this and run I'd love to see that :P
Again, thanks for all your encouragement and your awesome comment conversations! This would never have been more than a one-shot without that...