Chapter 1: One Too Many
"How could you!" Maria shrieked, throwing their wedding photo at him. He dodged it, but the hurt in her voice wounded him.
"I had to. For Anthony."
She shrieked in rage and in pain, successfully hitting him with a crystal vase.
"Don't ever touch me again, you evil fucking monster!" She threw another vase, full of the flowers Edwin and his wife and bought them for the birth. She dropped to her knees, weeping loudly and painfully.
"Don't! I'm just chattel too, right? That's my only fucking use to you, so don't try and comfort me! I hate you! I hate you!"
He left the room, tortured by the way she sobbed. But he remembered Pierce and the bargain to be made for the sake of his business and his family - there was no other way.
In the other room, Anthony sniffled and squirmed, upset by the sound of his mother's anguish.
"It was the right choice." He told the infant. Anthony didn't answer.
"Is Mom going blind?" He asked Mr. Jarvis at the breakfast table.
"What makes you think that?"
"She always looks to either side of me, like she sees something there."
Mr. Jarvis smiled sadly. "It was something that happened a long time ago."
"Oh." He frowned, looking over at where his mother sat by the window, somber. He never understood why the day after his birthday hurt her so much. Maybe he never would.
Howard entered the room and Maria stood, leaving without eye contact or a passing touch.
Come to think of it, in his ten years on this earth, he'd never seen his mother touch his father. They fought about it sometimes, but Maria always shut him down with the same line.
"Stop pretending we ever mattered to you. Just your fucking legacy. The right heir."
He was distracted by Mr. Jarvis, but he wasn't done thinking about this.
Chapter 2: A Time
"Kill and retrieve." The Colonel said, handing off the file. "The Soldier goes with you, kills targets. Handling of the sensitive material if your main priority."
"Understood." The Swan replied, taking the folder. "Is the Soldier active?"
"Prep remains, which is also your task."
"This was approved?"
"Only recently. If you are successful, you will be his full-time handler."
She nodded, turning and walking back down the hallway of the bunker to the holding cells, where he would be coming down from the cryo shakes.
The man at the door saluted at her approach. "Grey Swan, he is ready for equipping. Arms have been made available, as far as I was told."
She nodded silently and opened the door. "Soldier, come."
He skulked out of the shadows, uncanny quiet for a man of his size, and followed her without hesitation. The private guarding him breathed a sigh of relief when they were gone - monsters in the flesh. It was a pity, because the Grey Swan was clearly a young woman under all that gear, somewhere in his own age range and not unattractive.
He was too piss-terrified of her to even consider asking her to breathe, let alone date. Not to mention the Winter Soldier's frosty looks . . .
Best not to mess with success.
The car smashed into the tree just as planned and she walked out of the bushes at the designated area.
"Barnes . . . Sargent Barnes . . . " The man pleaded, trying to talk.
She walked up to him instead, towering over him. Recognition lit up his eyes, of her or his death, she didn't know. She bashed his face in with the butt of her rifle. The Soldier killed the woman who was crying, calling out a foreign name.
She ignored it, walking to the back of the car to retrieve the case, the serum. They would need this.
"Soldier, let's go." She said, petting his hair when he stopped beside her.
She stood before the Colonel and accepted the duty of becoming the Winter Soldier's primary handler.
"The missions will be coming more rapidly, now that the Algorithm has been completed. We must ensure the plan's ultimate completion."
He nodded. "But there is another task which I have already set you on."
"The trade, for Howard Stark to have more time, we must protect his son. You will defend Anthony Edward Stark, with open access to the Soldier, any time his life is in mortal danger."
"Effective immediately. You will also maintain your duties here."
She nodded once.
They held each other in the darkness of the holding cell, slow touches and explorative kisses.
"I will protect you." He murmured.
"I know." She replied, tracing the grooves in the metal. "I will protect you."
"I know." He tilted her head back to kiss her again, something he seemed to like more than all their other activities.
"You will sleep soon, but it will be better when you wake. I have a plan."
Chapter 3: A Place
"We need more time." Yinsen said, looking back at him in horror.
"Stick to the plan." Tony urged.
Abruptly, there was a clang and a burst of gunfire from down the cave halls. The form of a woman materialized in the murk, all but a small section of her forehead covered. She registered their existence, then vanished back into the darkness. Gurgling followed the gunfire.
"Yinsen, c'mon man, stick with me." Tony spoke again, drawing the man's attention away from the phantom.
"Something is happening out there. I think they're being raided." Yinsen wasn't a military man by any means, but even he knew this was not a raid - raiders didn't move like that.
"Stick to the plan."
After signing over the company to Pepper, women appeared way more frequently in the upper echelons, namely Pepper's assistant Natalie and a coordination manager named Ana.
Natalie and Ana were everywhere and nowhere, always floating around somewhere. Like in Monaco. They shadowed Pepper during the brunch, we're remarkably calm through the Whiplash attack. Neither of them seemed phased about the sniper either.
Tangled in the other's strings, Tony'd not been at his best. Then, a sniper bullet tore open the front of the Reactor on the man's chest. And when it was all over and the crews were cleaning up, there was no bullet to be found.
When Natalie revealed herself as Natasha, he wondered what role Ana was in, both of them appearing at the same time.
"Ana?" Natasha had hummed thoughtfully. "She's just Pepper's coordination manager. She'll be taking my place as a personal assistant with this, now, though."
He wondered why she stood out to him. She was an average brunette, non-descript. Black eyes, pink lips, a good body, but average. Natalie at least had been stunning, a gorgeous redhead.
Then, he forgot about Ana.
Standing on the bridge of the helicarrier, he spotted a brunette watching him. Not Hill, but another, from the deck above.
"Do I know you?"
She blinked in surprise. "I don't think so, Sir."
No, she was German. Ana had been American, though they did look very similar.
"You've got a sister in the States?"
She frowned, confused. "Mr. Stark?"
"You just look a lot like a woman who works for my CEO. Twinnish levels of similar."
She shrugged. "No, I don't. Only a brother back home."
He nodded. "Well, thanks anyway."
She nodded and went about her tasks. How common was the name Ana anyway?"
"Do you know her?"
Tony looked up from the screen to the lady Cap was gesturing to. She was looking at a tablet, minding her own business.
"I spoke to her some on the helicarrier before Loki, but not really. She was in Coulson's detail when he came to oversee me a couple of years back."
"And your secretary?"
"Ana Stanton. Why?"
Steve frowned. "They look the same."
"Doppelgangers are a thing, Rogers."
"I know." He hissed. "It just seems too coincidental."
"Ask Fury if you're that nervous."
He managed to get himself off the bedframe and most of the way out of the compound when a massive explosion let him know where most of the forces had gone.
"Was that you?" Rhodey asked.
"No." He replied.
"Well, whatever that was, you can thank your lucky stars. Killian went to deal with it."
He did so, quietly, then fled the compound.
Steve had noticed Agent Hans disappearance around the beginning of Project: INSIGHT, but didn't have time to address it with anyone but Natasha.
"Which Agent?" She asked.
She frowned. "I don't know a female Agent by that name."
She bore that in mind, however, when she had Pierce at gunpoint to unlock the files and a little blue dot appeared on the back of his head. She had just enough time to register it before Pierce's head exploded.
Grey Swan Override appeared on the screen, coated in Pierce's blood and brains. Then the PA turned on.
"The Furher is down. If you value your lives, you will flee. Authorized by the Grey Swan."
Fury looked back at her, visibly surprised.
"The Grey Swan . . . " She murmured to herself. It had been a while since she'd heard those words, that name. The Red Room's most successful ballerina. The Winter Soldier's personal dancer. No one in her class had survived, cut down in a brutal campaign to conceal her identity completely. Even the Colonel who had been her administrator had been fled, terrified of becoming her next victim. Only the Soldier had been immune to her, her partner and accomplice.
"Who?" He demanded.
"I don't know. She's a . . . a story." The teachers had told them about her as an inspiration, but no one had been able to reach her level, let alone surpass it. She was an impossible standard, a dreamer's goal. But perhaps her crusade had been the reason they no longer applied those techniques to a ballerina's training - too much success and there wasn't much control. Then it occurred to her. "We're standing in the middle of a coup."
Fury looked out the window, but there were no buildings that the shot could have been made from. At least, there shouldn't have been. But the INSIGHT carriers were only beginning to aim at each other-
"She's on the carrier." He realized.
I I I
Steve came face to face with Bucky on the last platform, standing in his way.
"Don't make me do this."
He was slammed into from above, a slim woman covered like Bucky, but with her face mask intact. Her long dark hair was obscuring and distracting, blurring the lines of her form.
"Give me the chip." She demanded, accent American with slightly harder vowels. Russian.
"No." He scrambled to his feet, away from her.
"Give the chip, or the EMP fires Wilson's suit and his smear is yours to clean."
He had two. They didn't know he had two, but he did. He could stop this from happening if they were sufficiently distracted. "Here."
"Not the replacement. The two you took, the originals."
He pulled his back, then pulled out the two originals. He tossed them to her and she caught them effortlessly. Bucky stared ahead.
"Why do you want them?"
"Nothing is more valuable than information." She replied, tucking them away. "They broke the bargain, so they are broken."
She gestured to Bucky and said something in sharp Russian. He nodded and followed her without incident, leaving him alone on the platform with a job to finish and no idea why they were going to let him do so.
Bruce opened the front door to the compound and found a plain cardboard box, with elegant handwriting that simply said What you need in black Sharpie.
He called Tony and Steve down, had them open the box. Inside were several USBs, some notebooks all in that same script, and some CDs, apparently video. At the very bottom of the box was a collection of maps and a list of operations.
"And you didn't see who sent this?"
He shook his head. "There was a knock, I opened the door, and it was there."
Tony and Steve looked at each other, but were thinking of very different people.
Ana was in Pepper's office when he dropped by, typing out a report.
"You just missed her, Mr. Stark." She smiled sympathetically.
"Alright." He paused. "You know, it occurs to me that I don't actually know a whole lot about you."
She put the computer to sleep. "What did you want to know?"
"You got family?"
"Just a brother, back home."
"And where is home?"
"I was born on Long Island. He lives there still, but I don't."
"Whereabouts do you live?"
"Are you flirting with me, Mr. Stark?"
"For once, no. Just innocently curious. I was born in Long Island too."
"Huh. Cool. And as for where I live now, I just rent places wherever Miss Potts needs me. No one fixed spot as it were."
"Got a significant other?"
"I do, actually." She bit her lip. "He's a soldier."
"Ah. Bit hard on the love life?"
"A little." She chuckled. "It's okay, though. He's coming home soon."
"Good to hear. I hope it works out for you."
"Thank you." She smiled gently, a sweet little thing. "Anything else, Mr. Stark?"
"That's all, Miss Stanton."
She watched him go. He felt it on his back and it was heavy, but the kind of comforting weight that only protection could bring. He paused to look back over his shoulder at her, and she offered a little wave.
When he rounded the corner out of sight, she finished typing the report out in Miss Potts' preferred manner, feeling a little better about her decision.
"I keep my promises." She said to herself. "Even if they did not."
Chapter 4: A Chance
Tony spotted her across the room, even surrounded by INTERPOL officers and Steve's stupid face.
"Agent Hans." He greeted. "Always good to see a familiar face."
She smiled, her accent thicker than he recalled. Maybe it was being back in Germany. "You as well, Mr. Stark. Here to observe the Winter Soldier?"
"Something like that."
"Well, the interrogation is to begin soon. You might want to sit."
"It was good to see you. I'm glad SHIELD didn't take you down with it."
Her smile was a little rueful. "Indeed. See you later, Sir."
He waved and walked back to the box.
It wasn't long after the therapist started talking that Agent Hans grew eerie. He spotted her as she stood and briskly made her way out of the room. And it wasn't the kind of walk of a woman with a full bladder. He was tempted to follow her, but some instinct had him stay put.
"What?" Natasha asked.
"Agent Hans looked upset." He replied.
He frowned, confused at her confusion. "Nevermind. Doesn't matter."
Natasha dropped it.
The therapist checked something on his laptop, but then the door to the interrogation room opened and Barnes stiffened.
"What's the meaning of this?" The therapist asked, standing, but was met with the barrel of a handgun.
| | |
The woman in grey didn't reply, simply backed him into the desk before pistol-whipping him and shooting through the screen of the laptop.
"Nia, please. Just go." Barnes begged, struggling some.
"Silence." The woman hissed, her accent a thick Russian and suddenly the Colonel's words as he drowned made more sense.
"The Winter Soldier didn't belong to us by the end. If you wish to hurt him or use him, she'll do the same thing to you she did to Pierce. The Grey Swan does not forgive."
"So you're her."
She grabbed him by the hair and bashed his face against the steel table, breaking his nose. She pulled a hook from her thigh, stuck it through the meat of his hand, then shot it into the ceiling and pressed the retraction button. He was pulled up by the rapidly giving flesh of his hand and unable to escape the agony either by moving or staying still.
"Fucking devil!" He cried out.
She ignored him and with the black mask in place, it was hard to tell her expression. She marched over to Barnes' container and opened it with a pass ode and swipe of her finger.
"Don't get involved, Nia, please." Barnes asked again, taking her by the shoulders and staring hard into the goggles.
"Move, Soldat." Was her gruff reply.
She snapped something harsh in Russian that had him frowning but ultimately doing as she said.
"Trust me in this." She said as he exited the room. He paused at the door, casting her one last furtive look, before nodding and vanishing.
"You won't escape them!" The flame therapist said.
She pulled out a flask and poured the contents on the paperwork of the desk, the thick smell of gasoline overwhelming. Then she lit a match and dropped it, staring up at him as it ignited and burned away medical workup from both Berlin and Siberia.
"But he will."
She left the room.
| | |
"What happened?" Ross barked. "Unfreeze the fucking cameras!"
Tony stood to go sort the problem out himself, but stopped dead when he noticed who was standing at the door, the blood of multiple guards sliding under the closed doors.
"I hope you brought a gun." He gasped out at Natasha, who turned around in concern.
"Hostile in house!" She barked. All the ex-agents pulled their arms on the woman, but she didn't move.
Steve exited his glass case of emotion to face her just in time for the screens to unfreeze. The therapist hung from the ceiling with the desk under him on fire and Barnes' cage empty.
"Damn." Sam muttered.
"Fuck." Tony blurted.
"Who the fuck is she?" Everett Ross snapped.
"The Grey Swan." Sharon supplied, gun raised.
"Sharp girl." The woman replied, accent Russian but English perfect. "I'm not here to fight."
"Do you do anything else?" Sharon sniped.
"And I was not talking to you." Very, very slowly she raised her hands and dropped to her knees. She kept her arms away from her head, fingers splayed. It was a prisoner of war position.
Steve closed the door behind him, scowling. "Who are you?"
She looked up at him, dressed in tight-fitting white cotton clothes. She was sitting cross-legged in the sealed room, in the centre of the concrete floor, looking like she had all the time in the world. He supposed she did, but that just infuriated him more.
"I am the Grey Swan."
"That's not what I meant."
"It is what's most relevant to you."
His scowl deepened. "What have you done with Bucky?"
"I freed the Soldier."
"Where is he?"
"A secure, safe location."
He took a threatening step forwards. "I asked you where."
She remained impassive. "Captain, there is nothing you can do that HYDRA has not already done. Evidently, I survived them with secrets of my own. Your posturing will get you nowhere."
"You've never been interrogated by a super soldier."
"I was interrogated and trained by the people who broke your best friend. They made him forget his own name through strategic pain alone. What worse could you do?"
"Why did you surrender?"
"I'm almost done. I just have this last thing to do."
He was visibly running out of patience. "What thing?"
"That is for Anthony Stark only, I'm afraid."
He snarled. "You're useless."
"I didn't do this for you." She snapped back, voice harsh and commanding - remarkably similar to the whip-like crack of Peggy's orders - even though her face remained placid. "Please ask Mr. Stark to enter when you're done."
Steve stormed off.
| | |
Tony closed the door slowly, looking at the Swan. He didn't like being called out like this - he was about to hear or feel something he wouldn't like, he could tell.
He'd not gotten to see her face when they dragged her off, and his fears were confirmed.
She smiled placidly at him and suddenly it wasn't Hans he was looking at, but Stanton.
"You know, I told Steve you two looked alike." He quipped on reflex. Quietly, he was heartbroken. He'd liked Ana Stanton, honestly and genuinely. He would have considered her a friend after another lunch. "So, was the boyfriend a ruse too?"
"No." She said, her accent perfectly American. "I told you my soldier would be coming home to me soon. I freed him today."
He didn't even want to get into the semantics of her word choices. "What did you want to tell me?"
"The truth. My last secret." She patted the ground in front of her and against his better judgement, he sat.
"You've got my attention now." He said softly.
"Howard made some terrible decisions for some good reasons." She started, her black eyes deep and wise. "In order to buy himself time, to stay alive long enough to see you into young adulthood, he made a deal with HYDRA. He would give them weapons, state of the art, for five years. In return, they allowed him eighteen years. His wife, newly pregnant, hadn't known about this."
He sighed heavily. News he didn't want, exactly like he'd predicted.
"But during the birth, they discovered not only was their one baby, but he had a sibling."
He froze, horror gripping his heart.
"In another desperate bid to save his son and heir, he sold his second child to HYDRA. In return for his baby, his son would be protected from outside harm and kept from HYDRA's crosshairs. For many years, that was the case."
"Who is it? Who's my sibling?"
Her smile was melancholy, lopsided and self-depreciating. It was a mirror. "I am."
If he had of been standing, he'd be sitting now.
She nodded in understanding. "I was raised in HYDRA's Red Room, one of the first of my kind. And just as the experiment with the Soldier, I was too successful. They assigned me to be your protection. I was the woman Yinsen saw in the tunnel, I shot out Vanko's heart when he attacked you in Monaco, I assassinated Alexander Pierce."
"Why would Pierce be for me?"
"Dr. Zola had an Algorithm, Rogers knows this, that targeted people likely to rise against HYDRA. It was what was programmed into the INSIGHT carriers. Pierce thought I would not notice that your name was on the list, when it should not have been. All the other necessary names were omitted, but not yours."
His laugh had an edge of quite-reasonable hysteria to it. "You brought down SHIELD and HYDRA just because of me?"
"What is a person who cannot keep their promises?" She looked down at her hands. "I am very little else like a person. Pierce always used the Soldier and you to keep me in place. I warned him. I told him if he deployed my Soldier without me, I would destroy him."
"Why, though? Why for just two men?"
"Because you're the only two things in this world that matter to me." She met his gaze again and to his everlasting heartbreak, there was love there. "The Soldier was my world for a long time. We taught each other what it meant to be human, to feel and want and protect. Then they sent me in with Natasha to oversee you. I never lied to you. Not once. I came to adore you, for all the ignorant bliss you do and don't live in. You two are all that matter to me, which is why I am here now."
He took a deep breath, trying to process all of this. "There's more, isn't there?"
"I am the one responsible for the deaths of Howard and Maria Stark."
He swallowed back tears. Of course. Of course she was. Why waste the opportunity for irony?
"I guess that evens out that karma debt." He sniffed, trying to keep back the waves of emotion for - for- for his sister.
"The tapes will show the Soldier there also, but I was his handler, which makes me ultimately responsible. He couldn't have disobeyed me even if he wanted to." She paused, considering. "You don't seem surprised by any of this information, even disbelieving."
"That's because it sounds like something Howard would do." He wiped his eyes, thinking of all those years Maria spent with empty bottles under her bed and recoiling from his father's touch. Why he had no siblings, why Maria always called herself 'we' when she would yell at Howard.
"The first and last time I saw him was when I killed him." She replied distantly. "You would know better than I."
He was shaking when he reached out, taking her hand in his. "I need to think."
"Do you . . . Do you happen to know what Mom named you?"
"The certificate Howard gave HYDRA stated my name as Antonia Elizabeth Stark."
"Hmm." He snorted. "Ana. Nice."
She grinned a little. "I thought so."
"What is your name now?"
"My cover is usually Ana. However, the Soldier took to calling me Nia. Both are derivatives."
He squeezed her hand. "Well, you're not either of my Anas. Nia it Is, I suppose."
She smiled warmly, like he would imagine his sister would have, squeezing back. "In the likely possibility I never see you again, take care, Tony. And please don't give up. The world needs people like you."
| | |
When he came out of the cell, Natasha frowned and cupped his face. "Tony? Are you okay? You're crying."
"Always." He replied, weaving away from her.
This was going to hurt at the meeting with Pepper he had tomorrow morning - when it hit him that the woman he'd gotten to know over the last six years was rotting behind bars. When it seized his heart because she'd lived this terrible life solely due to Howard.
That she'd been chained to the ground so he could fly.
Chapter 5: A Change
"You can't possibly be serious."
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"Tony, she's a murderer."
"Last time I checked, we'd killed people because we were told to too."
Steve sighed heavily. "It's not the same."
"You're right." He stopped and faced the Captain. "We chose to follow those orders. She was a slave and a victim."
"She killed all those people in the headquarters. It's not going to be easy to spin that."
"You want to protect Barnes, right? He's like a brother to you."
"She's my blood sister." His hand automatically went to clutch the Arc Reactor. "What kind of a man am I if I don't even try to help her? Yeah, Steve, she's dangerous, possibly unhinged. We still let Natasha on the team."
Steve bit back whatever he was going to say and looked down at his feet, hands on his hips. "I don't know if you should blindly trust what she has to say."
"Thanks to you and the INSIGHT stunt I didn't have to." He held up his phone. "Howard buried her official records, gave the original copies of her birth certificate and hospital paperwork to HYDRA. And they backed it all up. I mean, you know how Nazis are about paperwork."
Steve sighed again.
"I'm not Howard." He said, lowly, like it hurt. "But that woman sitting in that cell? She's his legacy. She's a reflection of the kind of man he was. The kind of man who would sell one of his children because she was female, because he had no use for her other than a pawn. But I have never been Howard. This is just the first time in my life I've ever been grateful for it."
"What's your plan?"
"First, I've got to make some calls. I've already got lawyers on hand for your idiotic stunt. I'm sure they can argue this one too."
He was already walking away.
Tony woke up to a knock on his door. No one lived with him. The knock sounded again.
The door opened and the hulking man slid inside like a ghost. He was dressed very similarly to how he'd looked in Romania.
He sat up warily. "What can I do for you?"
"She wanted to talk to you. Did she tell you?" He asked, nervous energy vibrating around him.
"About the fact we're related?"
"Yes." He breathed. "She did tell you. Good."
The other man wrung his hands. "I can't help her anymore. She told me to wait, but I couldn't just do nothing. You're the only one that can help her."
"We're you planning on doing anything to me if I say no?"
Barnes expression glossed over, like he was hearing something far away. "No. She won't let me."
"That's why I'm here to ask." He said. "We need your help."
He softened at the desperation in the tone. "I'm already working on it. I can't let my sister hang like that."
Barnes collapsed against the wall, a grateful laugh and some tears escaping him. "Thank you."
"Do you . . . need somewhere to lay low?"
"I won't compromise your house. I just . . . needed to talk to you. I needed to ask." Barnes' smile was radiant and true - he really did love her. "But you're helping already."
He swallowed thickly. "Howard never gave any indication that she- I didn't know. I wish I had of. After I became Iron Man, I could have, I would have-"
"She doesn't blame you. Especially you." Barnes looked so small standing there, a hulking menace of a man. "In her own way, she loves you. She's looked out for you since she was small. HYDRA doesn't have a late start program."
"Thanks." He ran his hand through his hair. "Are you sure you don't want to stay? Doesn't have to be here. There are other places I can hide you."
"Once she's free." Barnes held his metal hand. "Where I am is fine now. I just care about her."
"Okay. My door's always open, though apparently you knew that."
Barnes cracked a grin that made him look boyish and handsome - a reflection of the man from Brooklyn who was long gone. "Oh, there was one other thing."
"They're likely going to come for her again. They had plans for an experiment of some sort? I thought they'd already done that with Mia and Aldrich, but apparently there was supposed to be a step two."
"Mia and Aldrich? Wait, do you mean-"
Barnes jolted as though he heard a noise and vanished into the darkness of the house before he could ask if they were the same Mia and Aldrich that worked for AIM. If the experiment he'd been talking about . . . was Extremis.
Sure enough, two days later, the alert goes up from where she'd been held in Berlin.
He rushed to her room, pushing past all the personnel forbidding him from entering. He found her there, collapsed on the ground, but steaming enough to condense on the ceiling. In the centre of her chest, there was a silver circle, roughly the size of a moderately large pendant, that emitted a glowing blue light. He laid down beside her, wanting to reach out but knowing that he'd just burn himself. He shooed away staff and guards that tried to convince him to go with them and eventually, they closed the door and locked it behind them. Only then did her eyes snap open and a surreal, swirling blue that leapt off her face.
"Woah." He blinked. "Those are new."
"They're from the parasite." She replied, casual as ever, as though she hadn't been screaming in agony hours beforehand.
"Wanna unpack that sentence for me?"
"No." She sighed. "But I should."
"Are you going to?"
He offered a tight smile. "Fair enough. Wanna tell me why they came?"
"They thought they had control over it, and that they would give it to me and reel me back in."
"No. It's mine and always has been." She considered him, looking even more inhuman with those creepy LED-looking eyes. "I'll just have to kill them with it and make my point that way."
"I mean, I don't condone violence as a general rule anymore, but if it's HYDRA, it's like stress-punching a pillow: consequence free. Have at 'er."
"I'm glad you think so. Not much good having the intentions, however, when I'm in here."
"Yeah, I know. I'm working on it." He pointed at the silver and blue thing on her chest. "Do you know what that is?"
"That's how it got into me in the first place."
He winced. Yeah, he knew something about what that was like.
"Don't worry about me, Tony." She reached over and touched him with a warm hand. "I'll take care of myself."
"I know you will, but still. Isn't that a brother's job? To help his sister when she needs it?"
"After all these years of looking after me, let me help you. Let me take care of you."
That icy gaze softened. "I'll go where you lead."
"I promise I won't be long."
"I know." She grinned crookedly, and it was like looking at a mirror. A mirror with new, creepy eyes.
Working to get Nia and Bucky out of prison was way harder than it should have been. The government seemed to be very, very keen on getting the two into the custody of the Pentagon. Tony, however, was intent on bending them to his will. As a billionaire, he was more than aware of what he had to say and who he had to 'donate' to for the result he wanted.
When he finally did succeed, it coincided with when HYDRA attacking the Berlin maximum security INTERPOL holding facility.
"Well." He swallowed, watching Nia kill the assailants with vicious and ruthless efficiency, dressed in something resembling silver armour. "Isn't that something."