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TRUST MY HEART ⚘ b.barnes

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C A S T

JAMES "BUCKY" BARNES - Sebastian Stan

 

MAGNA DÁVALOS - Alicia Vikander

 

RONALD GALVAN & JULIA KLEIN - John Turturro & Julianne Moore

 

SHURI -  Letitia Wright

T'CHALLA - Chadwick Boseman

 

 

MCU CHARACTERS as themselves.

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D I S C L A I M E R

No profit is being made from this story. I don't own any of the characters/names related to Marvel/MCU → please, don't sue me. I own the original characters in this story. Whatever you recognize, it's from the MCU. All new -and possibly weird- stuff is mine. 

W A R N I N G

Mature content, strong language, mental health issues.

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C R E D I T S

I do not own any of the images or gifs used in this book (although I may edit some so they are more fitting for their context.)

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T I M E L I N E 

Started: July 12th, 2019.

Ended: TBD.

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♡ 𝕋𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕜 𝕪𝕠𝕦! ♡

Thank you for reading and for loving Bucky Barnes as much as I do.

If you like this story, don't hesitate to vote & leave a comment, feedback helps a lot!

 

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 »»————- ✼ ————-««

« The world has changed and none of us can go back. All we can do is our best, and sometimes the best that we can do is to start over. »

Peggy Carter

 

 

Chapter Text

Magna maneuvered her car effortlessly around curves and opened up on the straightaways until finally she caught the driveway of her parent's and then a long street that led right up into her childhood home's front yard. She parked and then briskly climbed out of the vehicle. Before she could shut its door, her eye caught a glimpse of bright yellow where it had no business being. Magna spotted Mrs. Valderrama and their eyes met; the two looked at each other briefly. Mrs. Valderrama kneeling by her flowers, Magna standing by the open door of her car. The latter raised her hand to wave, and the old lady did likewise, then returned her gaze to the ground, to the flowers in front of her.

Mrs. Valderrama clipped a brown and withered flower from one of the geraniums so that the new shoots would blossom. She would do this again the next week, and every week thereafter until the frost came and killed the plants.The young woman stared at her neighbor's well-mantained property, slightly in awe. Her lawn was freshly mowed along with the rose bushes trimmed up nice out front of the house as well, her aging and affable golden retriever called Pippa was lying on the grass, resting next to her pink dog house.

That was all it ever took for Magna, that cute dog. She felt hypnotized, as every time she saw a dog and got excited. Her heart began racing and Magna was glad she wasn't able to see the goofy smile that plastered her own face. 

She changed directions, trotting towards Pippa to pet her. She stayed on the path though, careful not to step on Mrs. Valderrama's precious lawn. The latter leaned forward and pressed her hands against the grass to keep from losing her balance. When she spotted Magna approaching, she patted the dirt around the last of the flowers, then sat back on her heels and brushed off her gloves. 

Pippa noticed as well and jumped to her feet, chasing her tail in anticipation of Magna's arrival. With impatience, the animal ran and welcomed her, bouncing on front feet with delight. Magna stopped walking and the dog thrust her head into her legs, greeting her.

— What do you think, Magna?- the woman said in a properly fruity voice and an afectuous grin when Magna reached her position. Mrs. Valderrama then stood up, taking off her hat with one hand and patting down her red hair with the other. 

— It looks so pretty, Betty. Always does. - Magna nodded politely, yet her eyes kept darting to Pippa. The golden retriever jumped again and wagged her tail. Mrs. Valderrama chuckled at the animal's unmissable enthusiasm. 

— She's always recognized your voice...- Betty (Mrs. Valderrama) commented. — Pippa comes to life, pricks her ears and wags her tail when you drive up. I think she looks forward to seeing you.- Magna grinned and kneeled near Pippa's dog house, gently rubbing Pippa's ears. The animal closed her eyes in bliss. 

— Of course she does, she's always been so smart, and so cute, and so, so, kind.- Magna could notice her voice doing that annoying thing it usually did when she was around dogs, babbling at them like a toddler. However, she couldn't care less. Dogs were her favorite thing in the world. —That's why I stop by so often, you know!

Magna crouched down and Pippa pressed her body against her but scooted closer so she could rub her face against Magna's jeans, obviously inviting more affection. Magna stroked along Pippa's hair, fondling the dog's ears. Then her face got closer, as she feigned sharing a secret with Pippa.

—... but don't tell my parents that, okay?- she spoke lowly. The dog barked and nearly tackled the young woman, licking her face with joy. Watching the scene, Mrs. Valderrama laughed again.

Betty and Magna chatted for a moment; the red-haired neighbor utterly aware of the boundries behind her questions. She knew Magna worked in security... -or at least something related to security measures. Sometimes she would just think of the female agent as a policewoman, or a detective of some sorts; It was easier that way. 

However, deep down, Mrs. Valderrama sensed Magna's job was more dangerous, given the latter's usual guarded demeanor, and a part of Betty felt too afraid to find out what Magna did for a living. After a few minutes they shared their goodbyes, Mrs. Valderrama wishing her mother a happy birthday, and Magna headed back to the front porch of her former house.

Taking the two wide steps up to the familiar entrance, Magna used the brass door knocker and waited. After a few minutes of unproductive waiting, she shrugged and pulled out her own keys. Magna turned the locks and pushed on the door, which opened, and let herself in, announcing her presence as she stepped in the foyer.  

— Mom? Dad?- she called out, closing the door behind her and kicking off her shoes in the entryway. She left them on the brightly colored mat that already held a pair of her father's work boots and her mother's tennis shoes. Once inside, she sat her purse down and surveyed her surroundings. 

She didn't hear anything in response and was puzzled. First she sauntered into the kitchen, hoping to find someone, but was disappointed. Eventually, voices came from the living room, her dad's easygoing baritone and her mom's clipped vowels. She figured Ronald and Julia were probably in the living room. She ventured slowly into the hallway, taking a good look around, noticing Ronald's latest renovations. 

While Magna'd been growing up, her father Ronald worked as a carpenter and a handyman whenever he could, and when they'd bought that house, he'd spent a good deal of time fixing it up. Now it seemed he'd moved on to the aesthetics.

 

Me gustaría ser un nido si fueras un pájaro
me gustaría ser una bufanda si fueras un cuello y tuvieras frío
si fueras música yo sería un oído
si fueras agua yo sería un vaso
si fueras luz yo sería un ojo
si fueras pie yo sería un calcetín
si fueras el mar yo sería una playa
y si fueras todavía el mar yo sería un pez
y nadaría por ti
y si fueras el mar yo sería sal
y si yo fuera sal
tú serías una lechuga
una palta o al menos un huevo frito
y si tú fueras un huevo frito
yo sería un pedazo de pan
y si yo fuera un pedazo de pan
tú serías mantequilla o mermelada
y si tú fueras mermelada
yo sería el durazno de la mermelada
y si yo fuera un durazno
tú serías un árbol
y si tú fueras un árbol
yo sería tu savia y correría
por los brazos como sangre
y si yo fuera sangre
viviría en tu corazón.❞ - CLAUDIO BERTONI.

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❝ I'd like to be a nest if you were a little bird.
I'd like to be a scarf if you were a neck and were cold.
If you were music, I'd be an ear.
If you were water, I'd be a glass.
If you were light, I'd be an eye.
If you were a foot, I'd be a sock.
If you were the sea, I'd be a beach.
And if you were still the sea, I'd be a fish,
and I'd swim in you.
And if you were the sea, I'd be salt.
And if I were salt, you'd be lettuce,
an avocado or at least a fried egg.
And if you were a fried egg,
I 'd be a piece of bread.
And if I were a piece of bread,
you'd be butter or jam.
If you were jam,
I'd be the peach in the jam.
If I were a peach,
you'd be a tree.
And if you were a tree,
I'd be your sap...
and I'd course through your arms like blood.
And if I were blood,
I'd live in your heart.❞ - CLAUDIO BERTONI.

 

Her parents were on the other side of the house, sitting on the living room couch and sharing an intimate moment. Following her father's soft tone, she trailed across the rooms curiously, her bare feet giving back no echo to her stealthy footsteps. Her father spoke slowly, tenderly, the poem coming out of his mouth dancing around the living room, caressing Julia's soul word by word, bit by bit. It wasn't until Magna'd opened the hallway door and gone inside, however, that she could make out what they were saying. 

She reached the door and leaned against its frame, arms folded over her chest, half-smiling with one long leg crossed over the other - still invisible to the enamoured couple. Someone with more scruples might have immediately announced themselves. Magna, however, entertained the thought for a moment or two, yet paused to listen in anyway, unwilling to interrumpt. 

It was a very sweet poem, and it overwhelmed her how much love her parents had for each other, still, after all these years. She listened intently, looking with keen interest at the two figures sitting on the couch. The corners of her lips twitched and Magna watched the emotions pouring out of her mother's expressive green eyes, as her father worded his affection and conveyed the immense feeling, finishing the last verse.

— That was beautiful.- Julia lay back into the cushiony depths of the couch, sighing as she basked in the adoring gaze of her husband. The love in his eyes entered her heart and Magna's mother placed a hand over her heart.

— Happy birthday, amor mío.- Ronald whispered, leaning in for a quick kiss. After that Magna took in a breath, knocked softly twice on the frame with the knuckles of her left hand.

— Knock knock...- Her father's eyes went wide for a startled moment, and Julia flashed an enormous grin in greeting. 

— Magna!- he gasped with joy. — We didn't see you there!- the young woman let out a lighthearted chuckle.

— Clearly...- she teased, scrunching her nose. — ... Should I come back later, though...?- she sneered, watching her mother stand up.

— Pfft. Nonsense.- she waved her hand and came forward to give her daughter a big hug. Magna wasted no time launching herself into the welcoming embrace.

— Happy birthday, Mother...- Julia smiled into the hug hearing her daughter's soft voice near her ear. — 58? Are we sure about that?- Magna poked fun at her and the woman released a sarcastic snort.

After the bear hug, Julia searched her face, her own wreathed in smiles. She was pleasently surprised at how well her daughter looked. She would have suspected dark circles and bags from lack of sleep, but not this time. Magna looked wonderful, and that somehow was the best birthday present of them all.

— Oh, shut it. Thank you for coming, my love. How's work?- she asked, taking Magna's hand and pulling her farther into the room, toward the couch.

— Well, you know. It's work...- Magna shrugged, tilting her head with indifference. — I have to head back there tomorrow, so I'm leaving early tonight. I'm so sorry...- her mother interrupted her apology, holding her hand again in hers.

— Magna, you're here. That's all that matters to me.- she shook her head, reassuring her. — Now, how are you? Honestly.

Ronald and Julia watched the news daily; they were very aware of what was going on out there in the world. Furthermore, they'd seen the look in Magna's eyes and it was obvious Julia wanted her attention while her daughter tried to ignore the questions, in hopes to prevent the older couple from stressing over matters they couldn't fix.

— Honestly? Hungry.- Magna pursed her lips nervously and her mother narrowed her eyes at her. 

Her parents knew probably she was used to being grilled by agents, detectives and so forth and had learned the skill of avoiding any direct questions - talking a lot but saying little. Still, it was understandable they still felt the aching need to pepper Magna with questions whenever she stopped by for a visit them.

— That I can fix. Be right back.- Julia stood up from the couch and rushed toward the kitchen, but paused at the living room door, pointing a finger at her daughter before disappearing.— But we'll still talk about it! - Julia shouted on her way out.

— Mother...- Magna groaned, rubbing her hands roughly over her face. Her exhaustion was apparent now as she relaxed back into the couch. 

— Daughter!- she called out again from the kitchen. Then she flinched, opening her eyes in a sleepy squint, glancing up to find Ronald's eyes meeting hers. A brief moment of silence entered the room, and Ronald narrowed his gaze at Magna with concern.

After a few uncomfortable situations with a British kid back when she was still in high school, Magna and her parents developed a long running joke, and would constantly call each other Mother, Daughter and Fatherin the most exaggerated British accent. Eventually, the three figured they had gotten so used to those words that they decided to start using them for everything, often replacing their usual cheesy nicknames like "honey", "baby", "sweetheart", "kiddo", - although sometimes Ronald would casually slip "m'ija" into conversations, but the three didn't find the term as cloying as the aforementioned nicknames.

Magna had been adopted at age 12. A very complicate stage in the life of a child, particularly when said child already carried a very complicated past. Julia Klein was 43 years old at the time, and Ronald 47. They never thought Magna would agree, all they could do was hope. 

The commitment foster care children require to feel safe is unconditional love and support. Which is a complicated thing to believe in after being treated as wards of the court, property of the state their entire lives.

Magna's experience hadn't been the exception to the case. She ran away from every single one of the variety of foster homes she'd been placed at, often exposed to terrible things that seemed to have happened there; stuff she'd always refused to talk about, a sense of reticence which still persisted, to the present day. 

Those temporary homes were not the best situations, but that was all her multiple caseworkers had available for her at the time. For too long Magna believed the word family was a pretense, one that older foster children learn all too painfully; only a dream she seeked to fulfill. Yes, she ran away from all of those homes -from Julia and Ronald's house too.

— Magna...- her father's voice murmured quietly and she forced her attention back to his face. — She's just a little anxious.- she met his worried gaze roaming over her features and fought the overwhelming urge to break down and cry. Instead, she smiled tentatively.

— I know, I know...- she mumbled, eyeing the Latin American Poetry book nonchalantly, flipping through its pages. — It's just... what do you want me to say? I understand your worries, but it's my job.

— Well, of course we worry. We're parents.- he shrugged her shoulders matter-of-factly, and she let out a huff of breath. — Worrying... that's kind of our job, you know.- his crooked smile was teasing.

— Oh, that's an understatement. You two work harder at worrying.- she leaned, wrapping her arms around her father's neck and and held him close, squeezing with all her might. Her forehead rested on his shoulder, and Magna kissed his shirt, feeling Ronald's hand ruffling the top of her hair. Magna's mouth twisted as his father's familiar chuckle echoed through the living room. — I'm okay though, Father.- she whispered confidently, closing her eyes for a brief moment, but her voice betrayed her words. — You know how it is.

Afraid of the tears threatening her eyes, Magna tried puling away, but Ronald didn't budge and held her even tighter, nestling her head upon his chest. It felt like an eternity. Eventually, after several futile attempts, Ronald sighed and broke away from the hug, resting his arm around her instead. He put his hand on her shoulder, and she placed her hand over his in an absentminded manner as she looked up at him. The casual brush of his fingers on her shoulder sent warmth to her chest.

 — It's not as easy as you think, just to do the right thing.- a sad wink accompanied her words, as Magna tried to smile. — I believe in doing what's right, you know, from where I am. And in that way the good outweighs the bad... or so I thought.- she frowned a little, as if she had difficulties following her own train of thought.— As long as I was helping people...- her voice trailed slowly, as Magna suddenly became aware of where the conversation headed and how dangerous the territory was.

— Are you? Helping people?- he asked. There was no judgement there, his tone was still soft and delicate, hesitant even. Yes, Ronald was interested, to say the least; his daughter never talked about her work at S.H.I.E.L.D, and despite knowing that wasn't going to change, there was a hint of hope in the way her eyes glimmered.

Magna's throat felt tight, and when she spoke again she deliberately avoided Ronald's previous question.

— Does it? Does the good outweigh the bad?- Magna voiced her doubts and Ronald shifted his weight, turning not only his head but his torso as well to look at her. She held her breath as he thought it over, unwilling to face him.

As an agent, Magna's double life was in full swing and it was clear both Julia and Ronald were concerned with how long she could keep the charade going before breaking. One thing was her missions and the lies she had to keep, but when it came to her own parents... It wasn't that she took pleasure in deception, she just didn't want them to know how scared she was about the future. Especially now that she'd been granted clearance to assist during the project.

— Daughter...- his tone was firm, and she glanced up at him guardedly, waiting to hear what he would say. — All I can say is... real integrity is doing the right thing knowing that nobody's going to know whether you did it or not, and sometimes to do the right thing is not always doing the right thing.

A beat of pause. She had listened thoughtfully to him, remaining absolutely still and unmoving throughout, holding her gaze straight ahead as she pondered his point of view. There was something about the way her father spoke that made her think he wasn't really stating what he was thinking or that there was something else on his mind.

— Sometimes the right thing is the worst thing you can do.- she reflected somberly. Magna's heart was racing, and Ronald's words had felt like daggers to her heart. — I just can't ignore what's happening...- head shaking, her expression was one of utter desolation. 

— Then don't, Magna.- Ronald smiled weakly and took a deep breath. — I know very little about most of your world, but I do know you, and you'd never be able to live with yourself if you walked away from saving someone.- he mused, matching Magna in posture and intensity.

— I'm sorry I keep things from you.- the bitterness she felt towards herself for being such a coward disgusted her completely. She felt remorse and a frustrating sense of impotence.

— Ah.. we all have our secrets, Magna.- her father said, patting her knee. She winced upon noticing him wiping tears under his glasses; a wave of guilt washed over her. — There's not a person alive who won't take something to their grave they keep hidden in their hearts.- she leaned closer to her father and he kissed her temple.

— I just don't think you need to know all the negative stuff, and it's for absolutely selfish reasons.- by the time she finished her lame exculpation, he was already shaking his hand. Her father thought so highly of her virtues, that he foretold what she would say.

— I have always been proud of you, my strong, brave daughter..- tenderness rose in his eyes as Ronald praised her, and Magna sniffed. Sighing, she clenched her hands on her lap, fingers tangled and saw the deepness of her father's frown. — And nothing in this world will change that. 

— Shit, I didn't mean to upset you. Don't cry!- she gasped, looking up at him with a frown, slightly worried. 

— Oh no, m'ija, it's the damn onions. One of these days I swear your mother's gonna kill me.- he shook his hand, taking off his glasses and placing them on the table before rubbing his eyes.— Or leave me blind...- he muttered under his breath. It wasn't until he mentioned onions that Magna noticed the heavy scent of food around them. Whatever it was, it was certainly delicious.

— Mother is here and her caramelized onions are outstanding.- Julia emerged from the kitchen through the cream swinging doors, wiping her hands on the apron that hung around her neck and tied at her waist. — And you didn't have a problem with my onions two weeks ago, Ronald.- she stood rigid with her hands on her hips and glared at her stunned husband.

— ... 'course life without 'em would be downright dull...- he added with a playful grin to let her know he'd been taunting her. Julia shook her head, scowling and crossing her arms. In her eyes there was a hint of humor glimmering.

— Feel free to claim the boring salad, then.- Julia shrugged teasingly. — Magna will gladly fill her plate with onions, right?- her eyes were pleading.

— Sorry, Father... - Magna chimed in half-amused. — ... but I love onions.- she winked and lifted her hand to his cheek, patting it twice, softly, before standing and walking towards the kitchen.

She hadn't looked her way. She hadn't even glanced, yet somehow Magna knew her mother was staring at her, weighing her expression, wondering about her tone. She knew her entirely too well. 

— You traitor, come here!- Ronald called out jovially. He rushed to her and put Magna in a friendly headlock in the crook of one elbow as he messed what he could of her hair with the other hand. — C'mon, c'mon, show me what you got!- he nooggied her scalp as she stood, crouched over, looking at the floor, waiting patiently for him to finish instead of struggling to free herself.  

Julia chortled at their behavior and watched Ron pat their adult daughter on the head, the latter finally breaking away from his grip with grace. 

— You didn't fight back!- Magna chuckled at the accusation, cocking one eyebrow. Had she actually fought back, poor Ronald would've had more than a few broken bones in result. Nobody needed that. — I want a rematch!- he demanded, following her to the kitchen, conspicuously eyeing the stove. 

She rested her chin in her palm, her elbow upon the counter, slightly bobbing her head as she checked her nails. Magna clicked her tongue against her teeth as she pretended to consider his proposition.

— And you wonder why I think you have a death wish sometimes, old man?- she taunted him, defiantly. Her father's rebuttal never came and when she finally looked up, searching for his eyes, she failed.

Ronald had his back turned to her, too busy stealing onions directly from the hot stove with a wooden spoon.

 

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A few hours later, her mother moved around to the side of the center island nearest the stove, and Magna sat on one of the stools on the other. She hoped her worries weren't visible all across her face. All training aside, Magna'd always found it more difficult to hide things from Julia. She knew her more than Magna knew herself and could see right through her professional walls. Fortunately, Julia didn't seem to notice that Magna's thoughts had turned to somber topics. She set a glass of almond milk in front of her daughter and then returned to filling a cookie sheet with dollops of sweet, buttery dough.

Ronald was having a siesta, and Magna helped her mother bake cookies, talking about current events. S.H.I.E.L.D never came up on conversations, though, of course. Magna's parents knew just what they needed to know about her job, nothing more, nothing less. She was terrified of the consequences of her lifestyle.

— Has it ever bothered you that I never changed my name?- the words left her mouth as soon as the thought crossed her mind and Magna startled herself, unsure why that was a good topic to discuss on her mother's birthday. — Perhaps it hurt you that I kept my name, the name of people that didn't love me while you two wanted me so badly...- she carried on, testing the waters.

Finally grasping the weight of the thought, her mother set aside the bowl and the spoon. When the oven timer went off again, she quickly punched the button to silence it and removed the tray of baked cookies, placing them on the stovetop to keep them from burning. Returning to the island, Julia shed the pair of oven mitts and slid onto the opposite stool, holding Magna's solemn gaze.

— You will always be my daughter, Magna.- she knew that her mother's care and affection for her never faltered and it was obviously reflected in the way her tone remained calm and clear. — I love you with every part of my being, so does your father. Your last name never had anything to do with that.

— I know... - Magna acquieshed, feeling a pinch of guilt. — I was just wondering, you know. We could have changed my last name at some point and we never did...- she swallowed, her throat growing tight with tears and long-suppressed emotional trauma. Magna's nose wrinkled, but Julia saw the dart of pain in her eyes. She shifted her rueful gaze past her mother's shoulder, obviously becoming uncomfortable and guilty for bringing up such dismal things on Julia's birthday.

— Daughter, look at me.- her green eyes fixed on hers with both care and the ferocity of a worried mother. — You are your own person, you've always been. We loved you because of it, and we will always love you. You came to us with so much weight on your shoulders, so many scars, so many fears. There was only one thing you knew about  yourself and that was your name. We didn't have any reason to steal that from you. Your identity belongs to you, and only you, Magna. And it will never make us less of a family.

Julia's speech was impassioned and an appropriate response eluded Magna. Her mother had always had the undeniable capacity to make someone the center of her world when she spoke, like nothing else mattered. Magna forgave the partiality of her thoughts, for the sake of the feeling which they contained.

— I live with this constant sense of foreboding, scared to death that I'm going to wake up one day to find myself with nothing.- the young woman suddenly blurted out, hiding her face in her hands with shame. Hopping off the stool she'd only climb onto a minute before, Julia came around to wrap her in a giant bear hug. Holding her tight, she rocked Magna back and forth, pressing her cheek to the side of her head. 

— My sweet, sweet Magna. Family never had anything to do with blood types, least does your last name. I promise.- Julia whispered in her ear assuringly. For long moments, Magna let herself absorb her mother's warmth, float in the comfort and security of her embrace. — I had no idea you felt this way, but I understand. Believe me, I understand.

— I'm so lucky to have you, you know. I never once regretted my decision.- Magna murmured in a watery voice, slipping away from her arms to look at Julia. The latter ran her fingers through her daughter's hair. Both their faces were lined with tears. With the hem of her apron, Julia dried Magna's cheeks first, then her own.

— That day changed everything for us. You came back, and we were so, so happy...- her tone was reminiscent and distant, just as her gaze. She caressed her face absentmindedly. — As hard as things were...- Julia continued with trembling voice. — ... the most important thing to remember is how we worked together to get through it. We couldn't have done anything had you not come back to us. Thank you so much for staying with us, Magna.

She didn't think of the past very often because of the pain that poured out of many of her memories, but she could perfectly recall how much laughing she'd done in that house, all the things she'd been able to do during her teenage years; the singalongs, the campfires, long walks along dirt roads and in the woods, and trips to the creek where they'd spent hours swimming, and splashing, and swinging from tree branches into the water. She did have happy memories and it made her so angry to think she'd stuffed them down so far and let the bad memories and the fears they generated take over so thoroughly.

— How could I not? You made me feel wanted.- she said, surprising herself with the cheerfulness in her voice. Then, her mother placed her hands on either side of Magna's face and looked her straight in the eye.

— And you, Daughter, made us a family.- Julia concluded sincerely. When Magna once again started to cry, her mother went for a box of tissues for them both. 

— I'm sorry I'm making you cry on your birthday, Mamá.- Magna blew her nose and let out a lame laugh. — I'm making everyone cry today, apparently.- Julia chuckled, doing the same. She walked inside the kitchen and shook her head at her daughter.

— Nothing that cookies can't fix.- she motioned at the sugar-coated cookies. Her voice was low but vehement. They smirked, and a few minutes later were back to baking -and eating- cookies. While Julia slid a new, full sheet into the oven and reset the timer, Magna picked up the wooden spoon and started dropping dollops of dough into another.

It felt nice. Being home, helping her mother in the kitchen and simply relaxing and enojoying herself. Magna couldn't remember the last time she'd done something like this without feeling as though the weight of the world balanced on her narrow shoulders, and it made her all the more determined to get past her own insecurities so she could start making new, worry-free memories in every aspect of her life. For so long she'd longed for a way to forget... now all she craved was moving forward.

While they baked and cooked, keeping the conversation light, Magna made a mental list of what she needed to do when she got back to D.C.

And calling Sharon was on top of everything else, of course.

 

 

Chapter Text

After dinner with her parents and against her mother's repeated objections, Magna had gotten back to her car and driven all the way to her apartment, craving for a hot shower. She'd already prepped her suit and folders before leaving that morning and all she wanted was to disconnect from her emotions for a little bit. It was something to do instead of lying in bed with her mind racing over her missions of the past few days. The bombing on the plane, the chase on the lodge, and even the menacing image of Project Insight plasted on the screen of her office, waiting for command.

Magna didn't want to dwell on her most difficult memories either, but lingered instead on the more serene moments of that afternoon with her parents. Eating together, the cookies, Julia's smile, even the sentimental conversations. Shortly after emerging from the bathroom and doing her laundry, Magna put on her pijamas and sat on her couch, retrieving some documents from a briefcase and flipping through the pages distractedly.

When she could no longer pretend that sleep might creep up on her, she put the folders back inside her briefcase and trailed to the kitchen in search of coffee, exasperatedly hanging up the phone she kept between her cheek and shoulder for the third time that night. Magna checked her messages. Nothing.

The screen on a small tablet mounted in the corner above the counter flicked to the news; traffic monitoring footage of a car chase and people running desperately covered the entire frame, playing in loop. She gasped as the camera zoomed in, showing what she recognized as the effect of a magnetic disk granade on a destroyed vehicle. The video started again, and Magna's breath hitched upon watching the undercarriage of a familiar black SUV exploding and flipping the vehicle over at an intersection, before it landed completely destroyed in the middle of 17th Av.

Her heart hammered in her chest and she punched Sharon's number into her phone. Again, it went straight to voice mail, and a scary thought gripped her. 
... Could it be?

»»————- ✼ ————-«« 

"S.T.R.I.K.E team,  escort Captain Steve Rogers back to S.H.I.E.L.D immediately for questioning."

Nick Fury was brought to the hospital in Bethesda, Maryland where he died, and Alexander Pierce questioned all agents who had been present at the shooting, including Sharon. As the latter and Pierce stood at his office door, he comforted her, telling Carter she had done all she could. Turning to leave, she saw Steve for the first time since her identity as an undercover agent had been revealed.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

 

LOCATION: THE TRISKELION, UPPER LEVEL. (WASHINGTON D.C)

FIVE MINUTES LATER

Glancing at Steve Rogers as he entered Pierce's office, Magna waited patiently for her friend's return. Arms folded over her chest, she leaned her back against the wall, one leg cocked up, her black ankle boot on the solid surface in a laid-back demeanor that didn't match her thoughts at all. By the time the blonde joined her by the elevator, Magna looked almost bored, her brown eyes surveying the see-through offices with a blank expression.

As the two usually did after briefing meetings, they headed straight for the coffee cart in the lobby, strolling past the entrance of the fairly quiet hallway. Only a few agents were standing outside their offices when they walked past them, the remaining security guards ducked aside as they passed, showing their clearance levels.

The lobby was a total different story. Around twenty or so men and women in dark suits walked briskly through the busy hallways, stopping by several offices and heading to different meetings. Security officers held each elevator except the one on Pierce's level, which was more private and only meant for upper clearance level agents, such as Fury, Hill, Council members and well, Pierce himself. 

— Everyone's in full swing today, it seems.- Magna muttered, flinching one eyebrow. Sharon sighed, nodding slightly.

— WSC conference, I assume.- Sharon mumbled. — They're arriving tomorrow for the launch.- Magna pursed her lips but didn't say anything else. "So soon?", she groaned mentally.

The duo reached the cart and moments later, Magna held Sharon's empty cup stamped "#13" in one hand as she tried to secure the lid of her own drink with the other. To ease her friend's task, the blonde grabbed the cardboard container and began fixing her coffee.

Sharon strained her neck to look past Magna's shoulder guardedly. The latter tucked a strand of her dark brown hair behind her ear. She had a messy bun, and she liked how it looked on her, but sometimes the messy thing was too messy for her. A playful smile teased the corners of her lips.

— So, let me get this straight...- Magna was enjoying herself. She slowly turned to face Sharon, her face pretty much a question. The latter breathed in and out slowly then looked at her with a grimacing expression. — Last night when I called several times to vent and you picked up and yelled "not now" before disconnecting, you were...- Magna trailed off, raising one expectant brow. Her eyes were playfully teasing as she cradled her coffee in both hands and examined her friend's face, watching the blonde securing the plastic lid over the rim of the cup.

Sharon sucked in a quick breath. She looked tired, and her thoughts must have shown on her face because the blonde grimaced again.

— ... Kind of in the middle of a shooting, yes.- she bobbed her head, lips in a tight line and Magna's eyes were wide, as was her smile.

Coffees in hand, the two left the cart and began walking towards the hallway again, heading back to Magna's office, the sound of their boots clicking on the cold, shiny floors. Their steps were steady as they were fast, the two barely glancing around as they spoke.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

— NEIGHBOR?- Magna choked on her coffee, her footsteps halting. Coughing and sputtering, she braced herself on someone else's desk until she could suck in a breath that wasn't blocked by liquid. — Shut up. Oh god...- she finally managed to rasp. Sharon crossed her arms, watching her friend regain composure, wiping a few tears out the corner of her eyes. — Shit! That's cold.- she mumbled under her breath, in disbelief. Sharon rolled her eyes and turned around, leaving her behind. Magna shook her head and rushed her pace to catch up with her. 

It's unclear how long Sharon lived across the hall from Steve, but it was long enough for Sharon to see him as a person and not just a symbol and come to genuinely respect Steve Rogers, the person, as much as she did Captain America, the Avenger. They were familiar enough with each other to engage in flirtation, though Sharon was careful not to let it lead anywhere. Steve was a big believer in ideals, and Sharon likely understood how little Steve would appreciate being lied to and didn't want to lead him on any more than she had to. She was prepared to lie to him to complete her mission as his protector, but she refused to emotionally manipulate him. She respected him far too much for that.

— Neighbor?- repeated Magna, still aghast. Then, she groaned in protest. — Ugh, I can't believe Fury assigned you to him and I didn't know...- shoving Sharon's shoulder, Magna shook her head and bit the inside of her cheek to supress a chuckle.

The blonde smirked lightly and rolled her eyes, yet there was a flash of emotion underneath them, a glimpse of vulnerability.

— Yeah, well, I deserved it.-she sighed, thinking about Steve's indifference, merely moments earlier. — And you know why you didn't know.

— Still... a little self-indulgent of him to do you like that, in my opinion- she shrugged, following the blonde's line of sight. Unfazed, Magna barely glanced at the manly figure walking around the corner and heading for the elevator.

Steve crossed his arms and stared out the massive window in front of him. Sunlight spilled like honey over the shield firmly clutched to his back as warmth radiated through the broad glass and brightened his pensive features.

— He should get over it.- Magna shrugged, darting her eyes away from him upon noticing an agent called Susan waiting for her.

She beckoned the woman with two fingers and the latter approached them, handing her a folder. She opened it and quickly scanned the report, her brown eyes widening with shock.

— Holy crap...- Magna whispered, stiffening her shoulders and neck. Susan lowered her voice to mimic hers.

— Yeah, that was my reaction too.- the woman said and she nodded, gaze focused on the pages of the folder she kept flipping through. 

A few moments later she closed the documents without a word and held them close, resting them on her right hip. Susan took it as her cue and excused herself with a polite smile which Magna returned. Sharon had been barely paying attention to their exchange but still managed to offer a curt nod goodbye, with a few seconds of delay.

— It would have been so fun to know about you and Rogers... - Magna sighed. — It's a shame.- Sharon's eyes finally dropped their obvious stare and focused on her friend's profile.

— Oh yes, I'm sure. A tragedy, indeed.- the blonde retorted coldly, bringing the cup back to her mouth. A sly smirk curled up Magna's lips when her gaze returned to Sharon'a face and found her holding back a smile.

— I've seen the way you look at him, my friend...- Magna teased her, scrunching her nose. — So obvious it's almost painful to wach, you know...- she trailed off. Sharon rolled her eyes up to her and the brunette blew out a breath.

— What about you?- she asked softly, nodding at her friend before lifting the coffee to her lips, deliberatedly changing the subject. — It seems that you've made quite the impression on Rumlow.- she drawled his last name suggestively on purpose.

Regarding Magna over the coffee cup, Sharon wiggled her eyebrows. Her friend stared at her shooting daggers with her icy eyes. The latter's glare was nothing but amusing to the blonde, who continued watching her, untroubled. However, soon she found herself grimacing with disgust as well at the scary thought of Rumlow being someone's potential love interest.

— Fuck no. What?- she snorted, taking a gulp of her coffee, and Sharon mirrored her actions. The two agents fastened their pace around one corner. —  Brock Fucking Rumlow.- Magna cursed under her breath, scowling. — Quite the opposite. He's been on my case lately, sabotaging my missions.- her nostrils flared.

— Doesn't that sound fun?- Sharon commented with undisguised sarcasm dripping from her words.

— I can tell he's trying to get me fired.- she swallowed more of her coffee, almost violently, and huffed. — I'm telling you, Shar, dude's a major asshole. I've known it since that one time he said dogs were pointless. Had he said cats maybe I'd even backed him up on that but dogs?! An asshole.- her busy hands moved the coffee cup in the air, empashizing her indignation.

— What's wrong with cats?- Sharon questioned. A wry smile tugged her mouth line and an eyebrow rose in quizzical, mock contemplation. Magna shrugged nonchalantly.

— They're fine, just not my thing. Unlike Rumlow. I don't think I've ever met a more.. more...- she trailed off, searching for the right words as her eyes squinted around the hallway, noticing a few agitated agents running around.

— ... Infuriatingly shallow, unemotional individual?- Sharon suggested, tilting her head. Magna snorted and glanced at her friend, only to find her grinning conspiratorially at her.

The sound of Pierce's private elevator reaching their floor came with a ting, startling the two women. The elevator doors opened right next to Magna and Sharon, revealing Rumlow himself. The man turned around and his cold gaze landed on them. He stepped out of the heavy glass box, two other S.T.R.I.K.E members emerging behind him, talking about the Forensics floor.

— ... Ladies.- he nodded at the pair with a blank expression, dodging them as he walked past Sharon and Magna. The former bobbed her head politely, whispering his name, her greeting noticeably reserved. Magna however raised her coffee cup, like making a toast, and waved it in his direction. Swiveling her head, she continued on a sarcastic note.

— Rumlow.- She nodded, a little too enthusiastically. She flashed him an exaggerated fake smile which then merged into a bitter grimace when Rumlow clenched his jaw and continued walking towards the elevator Steve had just entered.

Sharon frowned. Why was S.T.R.I.K.E using Pierce's private one, though?

»»————- ✼ ————-««

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Given the elevator was now occupied, Sharon and Magna descended one floor taking the emergency stairs, crossed over to the security side and ascended again. They transitited another busy hallway, making their way to Magna's office floor. The latter pulled out her clearance level badge and flashed it at the two officers who were standing at each side of the sliding door, Sharon mirroring her actions.

The two calmly strolled into the familiar sector. While there had been a subdued sense of pandemonium around the lobby, where people were racing around, bumping into each other, wholly preoccupied, back at Magna's floor, everybody sat at their desks, quietly skimming papers.

The sliding doors led to the Research area, run only by agents with level 8 clearance. The see-through entrance revealed a massive conference room, which was empty, followed by three sets of equally transparent offices, one of them belonging to Magna and her team. The noise level — before, a near roar—was now reduced to office sounds; phones ringing, the occasional click of keyboards, the soft voices of fellow agents checking confidential data on their screens.

They got inside the temporarily empty work space and closed the door behind them.

— I can't wrap my head around Fury being gone.- Magna whispered as soon as they were alone. Sharon posted herself by the door and watched her gulp down what was left of her coffee. — I mean it feels like a joke. Like it's not real. But If this wasn't true someone would have known about it.- she looked up from the pages. — Wouldn't they?

Sharon sat down on Magna's chair and the brunette handed one folder back to her friend before taking another one.

— That's what I keep telling myself.- Sharon whispered rather wistfully and Magna peered up from her folder with an inquisitive look. A few beats of silence, and then Sharon cleared her throat and spoke again. — He probably feels threatened, you know.- Sharon pointed out the obvious before waving at a fellow agent called Patrick as he passed by, outside the office. He looked quite agitated, but the two women didn't think much of it. He was one of those guys that sweated a lot. Like, a lot.

— Brumlow?- Magna asked, and Sharon nodded. — What makes you say that?- she wondered, flipping through pages without looking at the blonde, ignoring her sudden change of subject, at least for the moment.

— Well you kicked his ass during training last week... - Sharon suggested.— In front of entire S.T.R.I.K.E.- she added facetiously and Magna smiled at the memory.— That must've stung, I guess.

— Good point...- she mused, sipping from the rest of Sharon's abandoned coffee.— I got him good, didn't I? I heard there's a video...- she commented with a grin, making her way toward the trash can placed next to the office's door, to dispose of the two cardboard coffee cups. — Think you could get it for me?- Magna pleaded with her, glancing at Sharon with hope.

The blonde's lips parted to reply but before she could get a word out, the two felt the building vibrating, and all of a sudden there was the sound of something shattering. Magna turned around in the doorway, frowning at her friend, who was already standing up and sprinting her way. Glancing out the window fleetingly, the two women sensed how the structure shuddered hearing glass breaking underneath them.

— WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!- they asked at the same tine.

Alarms blared loudly and echoed even louder throughout the hallways. Seconds later the halls were flooded with S.H.I.E.L.D agents running to position, following protocol. A loud chatter filled the rooms to add on the blaring alarm.

Magna pulled one FNX-45 Tactical from the drawer of her desk, rapidly tossing it in the air. The blonde caught it with a swift motion and watched her friend pull out her own pistol.

Without a word Magna and Sharon stormed off, making their way to the Triskelion's Control Room as fast as they could. They descended worriedly, feeling their hearts beating a hundred miles per second as the anticipation of what was going to come next sunk in.


»»————- ✼ ————-««

LOCATION: THE TRISKELION, CONTROL ROOM. (WASHINGTON D.C)

FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER

Everyone looked at Sitwell as he briefed the rest of the agents what was going on with Captain America.

 Eyes here. Whatever your OP is, bury it. This is Level One. Contact DOT. All traffic lights in the district go red. Shut all runways at BWI, IAD and Reagan. All security cameras in the city go through this monitor right here. Scan all open sources, phones, computers, PDAs, whatever. If someone tweets about this guy, I want to know about it. ❞

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»»————- ✼ ————-««

Sharon boldly interrupted the dead silence of the room.

— With all due respect, if S.H.I.E.L.D is conducting a manhunt for Captain America we deserve to know why. - She looked at Sitwell then glanced around, to see the nodding heads of those who agreed, Magna's included.

The blonde had always possessed a strong moral compass, and it was becoming clear that she was willing to follow that compass even if it meant challenging her superiors.

❝ Because he lied to us.❞- a different person chimed in.

All eyes swiveled to the voice and watched Alexander Pierce entering the room, chin held high. He waltzed deeper into the control room.

❝ Captain Rogers has information regarding the death of Director Fury,❞- he went on, taking his time, his severe concluding words lingering in the air.

He refused to share it. As difficult as this is to accept, Captain America is a fugitive from S.H.I.E.L.D.❞

 

Chapter Text

»»————- ✼ ————-««

THE FOLLOWING DAY

LOCATION: THE TRISKELION, MAIN SURVEILLANCE OFFICE. (WASHINGTON D.C)

 

— Forget it, I don't remember what I was saying. Just forget it. - Sharon mumbled in an aggravated tone, stopping her contribution to the group discussion mid sentence. 

The blonde looked back at Magna just in time to see the paper with scrawled handwriting which read "You ok?" that the fellow female agent had been holding up in her line of vision. The silence that hang in the air between them was interrupted by the sound of Magna's mobile phone vibrating in her pocket. The latter frowned when she noticed the name "JULIA", as it glistened in bright green letters with tremor of the device.

— I gotta get this.. -before anyone could even consent to the brunette answering the call during the meeting, Magna was out of her seat and out through the door, phone to her ear to talk privately in the hallway.

— Yes?- she picked up. Hearing the strain in her voice, Magna wanted to curse. 

— Is it true?- her mother asked with concern, not even bothering to say hello hi either. She'd called her using the car's Bluetooth feature. She loved hands-free calling, yet her timing was usually the worst.— Is he bad now?- the agent tensed, her heart fluttering as the grip on her phone tightened until her fingers ached.

— I, uh, I'm kind of in the middle of something.- Magna mumbled as she paced around the narrow hall, eyes fixed on the screen before her, showing footage of Captain America's escape. Her team had been tracking him nonstop all night and she was tired. — Can I call you back..?- the hair on the back of her neck prickled to attention and she glanced around sharply.

— Oh, yeah, yeah, I was just on my way to my salsa class.- as a loud horn honked in the background and Magna heard a driver crying out loud in protest. — Red means stop, asshole!- her eyes squinted when her mother's cursing was too loud for her ear. — Listen, do you think you can pick Mrs. Valderrama up on your way to the restaurant?

Magna didn't say anything for a moment.

— I.. yes.- she replied slowly, looking over both shoulders. — Look, I really gotta go now.

— Okay Daughter, see you later!- Julia paused, hearing the slight sighed inhaled of her daughter before disconnecting the call after a low "bye".

Julia bit her lip with worry, pushing the button on the steering wheel to disconnect her phone to the Bluetooth. She squirmed restlessly in her seat for a few moments of motherly concern, then flicked on the car radio and turned the volume up full. Instead of overthinking, she repressed her worries by belting dramatically to the lyrics ofJohn Paul Young's Love Is In The Air, and blasted the music as a soundtrack to the drive to salsa class.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

A few hours later, all working members of Magna's team were relieved of their current duties until further notice, and she left S.H.I.E.L.D primary headquarters, ready to pick Mrs. Valderrama up and head to Le Diplomate, where a big plate of steaming pasta waited for her.

Betty, -Mrs. Valderrama-, was uncharacteristically silent on the drive to the restaurant, which was all right with Magna -she didn't feel much like talking anyway. Her mind was a mess of information, most of it regarding Project Insight still being a go, but also her heart sank heavy in her chest at the footage of Steve Rogers fleeing the Triskelion.

When the car stopped, Magna slid out and smoothed her dark blue suit, feeling oddly out of her element, nervous, jittery, like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. She knew she had to pretend everything was normal, but Magna wasn't sure she had the strength to keep up with the act that day.

Upon entering Le Diplomate, her eyes roamed. Manga's jaw was rigid, but she managed to give her last name to the maitre d' in an almost growl. As the polite woman nodded with a smile and led them into the restaurant, Magna stole a furtive look at her company. Mrs. Valderrama looked uncomfortable as hell, and if it wasn't for the urgency of the current circumstances, it would have been amusing.

The ambience was divine, though; the lights were dimmed ever so delicately and the background music was jazz. As if someone picked up a Parisian bistro and dropped it in the middle of D.C.'s trendy 14th Street, the restaurant had the whole package —shiny red booths, green subway tile, a show-stopping zinc bar, and all. 

They were led to a table right in the middle of the restaurant, where Julia and Ronald were already seated. Magna'd been hoping for something secluded, but that clearly wouldn't fit her mother's style. She and Ronald got up from the chairs and greeted them, beaming. Then, her father moved to pull out their chairs. As Magna sat down with an unintentional frown, Ronald pushed her chair in, leaned onver and whispered "smile."

She flashed him a wide smile as he sat across from her, unbottoning the front of his jacket with graceful hands, as if he wore suits every day. Betty laid her napkin in her lap.

— Thank you for inviting me, Julia.- the latter grinned, and soon enough the three of them engaded in conversation. The female agent chimed in every few moments politely, keeping the sweet smile plasted on her face, but it seemed more like a baring of teeth than actual pleasure. 

Magna's gaze went back to her lap, where her phone buzzed. She pulled it out again, it was a text from... her father.

"Your smile looks more like a snarl,"- he had sent- "Dial it back a little, weirdo." Finally, for the first time that day, Magna chuckled and rolled her eyes at him. Then, she forced her mouth to relax.

— I was reading the news today, and this article said..- Ronald paused, trying to recall the gist of the information. — It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce just 1 pound of meat, the U.N said it. Can you believe it?- he shook his head. Glancing her way, he gave Magna, the vegetarian of the family, a completely straight-faced appraisal.

— ... and only 25 gallons of water are required to grow 1 pound of wheat.- she added softly, remembering the information quite well. It had been all people talked about these days, but to her it wasn't really shocking. Regardless, the article had sparked conversations and that was the most important thing. Especially in times where even the current president was in denial of global warming.

— I think it might be time to get off our asses, then.- he smirked lazily at his daughter. The latter took a sip of her water. — We don't want the world blowing up any time soon...

Magna smiled slightly before excusing herself. Without an explanation, she stamped from the restaurant, picking up her buzzing phone for the third time in twenty minutes. The first two, sh'd stayed put, utterly reluctant to leave the table, but her mother was beginning to get worried, which was her cue to take her job elsewhere. She felt glad the low murmur of the tables would muffle her voice from other nosy diners. When she came back, her father gave her an odd look.

— You okay, m'ija?- the latter bit back her reply when the waiter appeared, introducing herself to them and reciting the day's specials. Ronald watched his daughter, not the waiter, and the look in his eyes was intense. 

Everyone ordered -a variety of veggie options- and the food came in no time. Magna whispered a quick thanks to the waiter, while she frowned at her phone. Glancing at her plate, Ronald cocked his head in curiosity, dying to stick his fork in whatever she had ordered, which looked delicious. Julia'd ordered a warm spinach salad, with figs & butternut squash. She didn't realize how hungry she was until she took her first bite of food. There was nothing she could do to hold back her little moan of pleasure as she chewed.

— This is so good...- she then lifted her fork up, pointing it at Betty. — You want some, Betty?- the llater was deciding whether she should or should not take a bite of her food. — C'mon , try some!- Julia's lips pouted, forcing Mrs. Valderrama to smile. She chewed quickly.

— Oh my, it is good.- she conceded, sounding slightly in shock and chuckled, taking another sip of her rosé. Julia mirrored her actions. 

— Well, when the world blows up...- she began and looked over at the present company. — I hope I go down dancing!- with a performative chuckle, her lips curled in slow motion into one smile Magna thought was her favorite of hers.

Mrs. Valderrama filled her glass with rosé, watching pink bubbles rushed down the side of the wine bottle. She raised the glass, holding it close to Julia's.

— Amen!- Mrs. Valderrama nodded with joy and clinked it against hers, agreeing completely. Ronald and then Magna joined the toast of the two.

Thirty minutes later all agents were summoned back at the Triskelion for a gathering to compare notes and determine how they might help one another, which forced Magna to leave Le Diplomate earlier than the rest. 

She didn't even bother to conceal her perturbed expression when she stood, ignoring her parents' concerned faces and inquisitive murmurs. Ronald had been drinking water too, so there was no problem with the drive back, given the two older ladies were rather tipsy already. She waved Betty goodbye, kissing her mother's cheek and giving her father a side hug before heading outside and climbing into the driver's seat. On the way back to the Control Room, Magna's mind was racing.

She pulled into the parking lot near the S.H.I.E.L.D's task force headquarters physically tired, but mentally wide awake. Securing the gun on her back with her inside-waistband holster, Magna kept hearing her father's voice echo inside her head, repeating some of the words he'd spoken to her when she visited them.

"You'd never be able to live with yourself if you walked away from saving someone."

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LATER THAT DAY

LOCATION: THE TRISKELION, CONTROL ROOM. (WASHINGTON D.C)

[WE ARE IN FINAL LAUNCH SEQUENCE], the female voice spoke over the speakers, updating every agent present on the inminate take off.

INSIGHT LAUNCH — 61% COMPLETE - 02:09:59

 

Cameron Klein shifted anxiously on his seat, regretting the two cups of coffee he'd had in a row earlier that day. The tense atmosphere didn't exactly help calm the jitters either. He typed a command into the system and adjusted his headset more comfortably over his head and ears.

— We are go on guidance.- he notified as the first confirmation alert appeared on the screen.

[ALL PERSONNEL TO LAUNCH STATIONS]

From the corner of his eye, Klein noticed Sharon monitoring the launch sequence a few consoles to his left, and Magna leaning over another screen doing the same, but to his right. She spoke to the man on her left, nodding in agreement at something he said. Their eyes met for a second, and Magna shot him a tight-lipped smile, yet her shoulders remained tense.

Magna had joined the agency three years after her blonde colleague, yet was immediately paired off with her because of their dynamic. Over training and small tactical missions tasks, the duo had proved they worked well together, and their superiors made use of it. As for Sharon, the blonde had trained to join S.H.I.E.L.D from an earlier age than many of the other agents, focusing on courses and activities that would give her an edge at the agency and would enable her to climb the ranks quickly.

The duo's assigned job was to oversee a group of three techs, and Cameron was one of them. S.H.I.E.L.D agents needed a clearance level of at least eight to work on Project Insight -Steve was level 7 and could only be shown Project Insight by Fury overriding the clearance-, which meant that even though Sharon and Magna were relatively young agents, they had already earned the clearance of a much more experienced member.

Cameron returned her a shy nod, his features changing into a frown upon hearing the PA System squeal. Captain Rogers's voice surprised everyone, blasting through all the speakers of the primary headquarters for S.H.I.E.L.D.

Attention all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. This is Steve Rogers. You've heard a lot about me over the last few days. Some of you were even ordered to hunt me down. But I think it's time you know the truth.

There was a brief pause, in which everyone's interest piqued.

 ... S.H.I.E.L.D. is not what we thought it was, it has been taken over by HYDRA, Alexander Pierce is their leader. The S.T.R.I.K.E. and Insight crew are HYDRA as well. We don't know how many more, but I know they're in the building.

The agents in the control room stared at each other, a mixture of shock, commotion and suspicion taking over their features.

❝ ... They could be standing right next to you. They almost have what they want: absolute control. They shot Nick Fury, and it won't end there.

Magna leaned a bit closer to the main screen, eyes roaming as she listened intently to what Steve was saying. Sharon examined everyone in the room exactly as Magna did, and the latter knew she couldn't be on Hydra's side. The blonde and a few others gasped slightly when they heard Steve mention that they shot Fury. 

Barely able to believe that she was hearing, Sharon glanced over at her partner, who looked at her with a befuddled expression matching hers. Steve's voice carried on with the speech, his tone as firm and absolute as ever.

 

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❝ ... If you launch those helicarriers today, HYDRA will be able to kill anyone that stands in their way. They must be stopped. I know I'm asking a lot. The price of freedom is high; it always has been. But it's a price I'm willing to pay. And if I'm the only one, then so be it. But I'm willing to bet I'm not.

Steve's voice faded after the sharp sound of disconnection, leaving nothing but a resonating silence, heavily filled with conflicted emotions. The two female agents shared a meaningul look across the distance, nodding at each other only once, an implicit confirmation that as they were on the same side, they now shared a brand new task: stopping the launch.

However, before the rest had a chance to even process the revealed information, Rumlow and his men broke into the control room. 

Chapter Text

LOCATION: THE TRISKELION, CONTROL ROOM. (WASHINGTON D.C)

 »»————- ✼ ————-««  

The S.T.R.I.K.E leader walked over to Cameron's seat, issuing orders that left no doubt that he too, -and most likely his entire team-, were HYDRA as well. Magna looked to her out the corner of her eye, and noticed Sharon's head imperceptibly tilt to him, in unspoken signal. 

— Preempt the launch sequence.- he barked immediately. — Send those ships up, now!- the young tech hesitated visibly, which made Rumlow very angry. — Is there a problem?- he demanded to know, and Cameron looked at him, then back at the computer. There was irritation in Rumlow's voice, and very little patience left.

— I'm...-  Klein stuttered, shaking his head nervously and placing his hands on his lap. Cameron trembled as he couldn't bring himself to answer, his fear taking control of his body and tightening his throat.

— Is there a problem?!- Rumlow repeated with a louder tone and all eyes were on Cameron, agents waiting to see what he'd do. Sharon moved slowly, approaching Klein's console.

Magna's feet moved backwards tentively, remaining out of sight, right behind one of Rumlow's men. She was sure the S.T.R.I.K.E member's position was deliberately meant to cover Brock's nine o'clock.

— I'm sorry, sir.- Klein took a few deep, nervous breaths before continuing. — I'm not gonna launch those ships.- despite knowing the risk, Cameron was willing to die to do the right thing, as Cap's words and convictions -ideals which he shared-, inspired him. Shivering, he heard Rumlow release an audible sigh, as if gathering some self-control. — Captain's orders.

Klein said those words, letting everyone in the room know where his loyalties lay, feeling a newfound sense of relief washing over him. However, simmultaneously, a wave of rage came over Rumlow. 

The unmistakable sound of a round being chambered came just before the muzzle of the handgun was pressed against the back of his head. Brock had pulled his Glock 17, aiming it directly at the back of Cameron's head.

— Move away from your station.- before he had a chance to follow through his initial plan, Sharon ran in with her trusty FNP-45 tactical already drawn. 

— Like he said...- without hesitation, Magna and all the other OP agents followed their colleague's cue and drew their weapons, aiming at S.T.R.I.K.E/HYDRA members, trusting Agent 13 and her leadership abilities, for better or for worse.

 »»————- ✼ ————-««

 »»————- ✼ ————-««

Both sides waited to see how the situation between Sharon and Rumlow would develop, and Magna adjusted her position behind the S.T.R.I.K.E member. He hadn't adverted her presence at all, and that was exactly what she needed. When she noticed him reaching instinctively for his gun, she pressed hers against the back of his skull, startling him.

— Hold it right there.- Magna warned, forcing him to stay still. Everything happened so fast, but for Magna it felt like slow motion.

— Put the gun down!- everyone in the room stood still, their guns aimed at each other. Sharon's weapon reached Rumlow's head, and the latter only brought his closer to the Klein's head. 

 ... Captain's orders.- the blonde finished, her tone icy, and final. Furiously, Brock pressed the gun harder against Klein, shoving the latter's head harshly. He cringed, eyes snapping shut as he waited for the shot, hands elevated in surrender.

— You picked the wrong side, Agent.- the traitor said, his face contorted with disgust.

— Depends on where you're standing.- Sharon fired back lowly, holding the weapon inches from Rumlow's temple.

The tension was so thick the air felt like weights on everyone's shoulder. Agents remained as still as humanly possible for a few seconds, staring each other down, guns aimed. 

Rumlow first weighed the problem and determined the factors and the best action, given his team was up against a complicated situation. He remained perfectly still, his calculating eyes furtively darting back and forth, as if looking for an opportunity to escape. Then they shifted between Magna and Sharon, sweat beginning to condense on his forehead.

On his right, Sharon Carter's perfect aim was dangerously close to him. On his left, Magna Dávalos had one of his man right where she wanted him, pressing the edge of her gun to the back of his neck. Before him, Cameron Klein was turning red from nerves.

There was a tortured silence for several minutes. Finally, Rumlow's face turned blank. He backed down and lowered his arm, slowly withdrawing his Glock from Klein's head. On purpose, he let the gun slide down from his fingers. It fell to the ground, hitting the surface with a loud which that startled Cameron.

In less then a heartbeat, the S.T.R.I.K.E soldier whipped out a knife and slashed Sharon's arm, catching her gun as it fell from her hand when she doubled over in pain and fell. A gunfight ensued between S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA agents, bullets flying around them.

Before he even had a chance to type anything, Rumlow drew the gun toward Cameron. Sharon managed to turn her position on the ground to her advantage by kicking the Klein's chair out from under him, knocking him out of the way of Rumlow's bullet, thus saving Klein's life.

His chair tpped over, and Cameron rolled under the console, covering his head. The action allowed Rumlow access to the screen, just long enough for him to enter the override .Chaos erupted, as alarms blared, meltng with the sounds of gunshots and screams of pain, as Rumlow's fingertips emitted noises every time he typed something on the digital keyboard.  

 »»————- ✼ ————-«« 

 »»————- ✼ ————-«« 

She swiftly rolled under the desk, grabbing Rumlow's Glock 17 from the floor in the process and firing it as he left his position on the console and shot at her. Under the desk, Cameron flinched, thinking about Captain's speech and what loyalty and bravery meant to him. He figured he could do no less. Magna noticed his resolution and dropped on the ground, sliding her gun against the floor, giving it to Klein before engaging in body combat with one S.T.R.I.K.E member, disarming him and leaving him unconscious. 

From his ventage point, Cameron took the gun without thinking and fired three times, taking out not only one Hydra guard about to shoot one colleague next to him, but two others as well.

Meanwhile, Magna leaned into the roundhouse punch, causing the S.T.R.I.K.E man to stumble and cry out in pain. She smirked, watching he thumb a small trickle of blood from his lip. In no time, he looked ready to continue the fight. She ducked a few kicks, but then another agent started shooting at her. 

She quickly dodged the insistent bullets, landing on the floor next to an injured S.T.R.I.K.E soldier. She grabbed his gun from him and rolled onto her right side. Once turned onto her back, she aimed fiercely, all in one smooth motion. Without a moment of hesitation, she fired off seven rounds in quick succession.

By the time Sharon got to her feet, Rumlow was already shooting loyal S.H.I.E.L.D agents, and she wasted no time in returning fire. Entirely focused on the S.T.R.I.K.E team's leader, the blonde ducked, dodging Rumlow's bullets, and managed to shoot three more at him, forcing him to flee the scene by a very small margin. If not for the bulletproof glass he ran behind, Rumlow wouldn't have been fast enough to outpace Sharon's shots and escape. Sharon was a killer shot, after all, which made Rumlow just lucky, not better. Amidst the bullets, he managed to release the Helicarriers himself.

The exchange of fire went on for several seconds, and Magna used the time to get up on her feet, shoving the gun into the back of her pants before running towards Cameron. He was typing furiosly at the keys, eyes roaming all over the screen. Sharon jogged near them, one hand covering her wound, keeping it from oozing blood. On the monitor in front of them, they could see the helicarries ascending, and the bay doors opening. Cameron leaned his hands on the console, sagging in dispair and Magna placed hand over his shoulder, comforting him. It was too late.

— Fuck.- she whispered, tears brimming in her frightened eyes.

Cameron leaned his hands on the console, sagging in relief and Magna placed hand over his shoulder, comforting him. A hiss to his left reminded them that someone had been hurt. Magna glanced over and watched Sharon makeshift a bandaging her arm, sitting on the floow. She'd tore the fabric of her jacket. 

— You okay?- Magna was beside her now, squatting down and holding her left arm up for inspection. Sharon made no reply, letting the silence continue until she finally spoke again in a voice not much louder than her whisper.

— Yeah. - she pushed Magna's hand away gently. — Thanks.- the frustration in Sharon's voice was evident. The blonde turned to her with a sour expression.

Cameron continued to asist Magna as she cleaned up Sharon's gash a little. The latter winced and her friend frowned, looking around for the medics that were bound to be there any moment. Magna knew how to stitch someone -hell, she could even stitch herself,- but it always was a nauseating experience for her. Over time she'd gotten used to it, but doing it had never become less uncomfortable for her. One side of Sharon's mouth turned up in an ironic smirk, however a sudden wave of pain washed all trace of humor and forced her to lower her head.

[EMERGENCY EVACUATION ALERT. ALL PERSONNEL PROCEED TO DESIGNATED SAFETY ZONES], the female voice filled every corner of the Triskelion. The building was in chaos, and Rumlow was right in the middle of it.

— Stop looking at me like that.- Sharon hissed when Klein's hand left her arm, moving slowly to her elbow, helping her stand up. Once on her feet, she removed his hand gently too. — I got this, Magna. You go. I need to handle evacuation.- Magna hesitated, lingering in her spot. Her gaze kept darting from the armoury door to Sharon's determined face.

— You sure?- she insisted. Sharon peered at her defensively, and then her face instantly softened upon noticing the subdued worry behind Magna's eyes.

— If Captain's trying to stop this then he's gonna need all hands on deck.- with a sharp nod, she urged her. — Go, Hydra won't let anyone override the system. Go.- Magna only bobbed her head once.

— Get everyone out of here.- Magna told her. Sharon gave her a small nod before running off with Klein to evacuate everyone. 

The brunette turned around and stormed off, punching in the alarm codes for the building, inserting a small earpiece into her right ear.

 All S.H.I.E.L.D agents regroup at Rally Point Delta.- Magna heard someone's voice over her intercom, and with one last glance at Sharon -who was already busy helping people out of the building-, she sprinted towards the armoury. 

 

Chapter Text

Magna reached the Triskelion's armory without running into any enemies. Unfortunately, the place had already been raided, her favorite bow included -which put her in a worse mood- and only a few useful equipments remained. She begrudgely took three guns, ammo and whatever tactical gear that had been left behind.

She tucked one pistol with a built-in silencer inside her pants, on her back. The other two rested in her belt holster, where a Ka-Bar knife she'd stuffed hung on her left hip as well. She adjusted the frequency of her earpiece with her right index finger, succesfully finding the one being used by Steve and his team. Magna sighed, looked up at the distant ceiling, and took off. 

Like all well-trained agents, her movements had all the stealth and sharp-sensed cunning of a cat.  Upon reaching the first level, she found two members of S.T.R.I.K.E leaning against the side of one of the windows of the building. They were shooting down repeteadly, their target apparently succeeding at dodging their bullets. 

She needed something heavy to pull the snipers away from the window. Magna looked around, gun in hand, for something, anything, to help and came across someone's abandoned briefcase. Bingo. She grabbed it and threw it with all her might against the see-through door in front of her. The resulting breaking glass and crashing to the floor certainly produced a usable distraction.

The noise echoed through the hallway, and one of the gunners motioned to the other to see what that was. Seconds later, heavy footsteps were moving around, searching for its source. After the soldier walked around the corner with his back turned on her, Magna pulled the pistol from the waistband of her pants with a swift motion and aimed very carefully, taking a deep breath.

An instant later the man heard the zing of a silencer and was hit in the knee. He fell with a raging howl, clutching at his leg before Magna pulled the trigger again, this time making the shot an instant kill. The cries of pain caught the other shooter's attention, and he abandoned his post by the window, sprinting quickly after his partner. 

Magna crossed the hallway, hiding in the opposite corner. She repeated the process, and fired one more time. The silencer made a quiet hiss and she shot in both knees the other man who was standing over the dead body. Her footsteps were drowned by the sound of his screams as he fell to the floor, and the shooter desperately watched blood gush from his wounds. Kicking danger away from his hand, she gripped her weapon tightly and took his life too. 

Steve's previous command was interrupted by the sound of another channel being opened.

 Two snipers down.- a female voice sounded in his earpiece. Steve's motions came to a halt. He brought a finger to the device and listened. — Anyone there? - the woman spoke again.

Meanwhile, Magna kept moving, relying on the fact that she knew the building sections by heart. She came across the large junction from which all the main passageways branched out. If she were orginizing S.T.R.I.K.E's team, she would have placed a man there to cut off those routes. Knowing Rumlow and his standard procedures, that was precisely what he'd had his agents do. Magna could try to go around or she could use the junction to her advantage. She stood listening for a moment before she heard the two voices. A man and a woman. Making sure they were alone, she gave it another minute and began trailing towards the junction.

Moments later, there was a crackle in her intercom and a male voice spoke to her with caution and authority.

— Rogers here, copy. Who am I talking to?- slowing to a walk, she wiped the sweat from her brow and willed her thumping heart back into a steady beat. —That was you? thank you for that.- he surprisingly added, and she repressed a smile. 

Magna saw the eerie figures in the black suits before they saw her. It didn't take long before the two came walking by her hiding place. The moment of action arrived, and she slid out of their blind spot and shot the two before they could turn around. 

— This is Special Agent 6, Cap. I'm on your side.- she could her the stacatto of beat of heavy automatic fire. Oh, so they were the ones being shot at. Duh. — What do you need?

— How about a real name?- Steve retorted, audibly sucking in air. He sounded a little irritated, and Magna scoffed, tucking her pistol back in her waistband.

She had an afterthought and grabbed one of the guns belonging to the dead agents, afraid to run out of ammo too quickly. There was only so much she could do with her body and a knife against their riffles. While she was checking how many bullets their weapons still had, a third Hydra member in civilian dress burst through one of the doors to her left. The menacing woman looked surprised for a fleeting moment, before contorting her face into a grimace. She appeared to look unarmed, yet a silver knife hung menacingly from her thigh holster. Given her proximity, there was no time to reach for any weapon. Magna held in place; she wanted her to make the first move. 

— Magna, Steve. - she stressed his name kind of slow, bitterly. — I'm Magna.- her reply hissed into his earpiece, obviously annoyed at him. They didn't have time for whatever personal grudge he held against OP agents. 

Quickly, the Hydra woman threw a left jab, followed by a solid right punch. With a thud, Magna flipped backwards, and her opponent ran forward, blocking one of Magna's punches and throwing a quick dig to her stomach. 

— Okay, Magna. We've got air support. Think you can sweep some floors?- An explosion blasted in the background.

Tears obscured her vision, but Magna pulled through, even after hearing her foe laugh. She rushed forward and kicked the traitor several feet back. Magna was rewarded by the sight of her opponent hunching over in pain. Wiping some of the blood pouring down her face, the latter took a few steps toward Magna, ready for round two. 

— Magna, copy. What's your status?- Steve's voice came in again and Magna groaned, delivering several strong blows to the woman's stomach. — Status, Magna?

— GIVE ME A MINUTE!- Magna growled, disconnecting the line before Steve could mutter a reply. 

Gaining some confidence, she was about to strike again, but then her enemy grabbed her arm and threw her into the nearest wall. She pretended to be more hurt than she actually was. Once the female was close enough, Magna took the opportunity when the agent crouched down by her side and thew another punch directly to her face, rewarded by the satisfying crounch of bone breaking. As the Hydra woman huddled over, yelling, Magna slid on the floor, taking the woman down and snapping her neck. 

— Status.- Magna's voice came through Steve's earpiece again, and when she spoke, she sounded like a different person, her voice freighted with determination. —Locked, cocked and ready to rock.- she sounded out of breath, but Steve decided to ignore it. — Can't get a fix on their asset, though.

 Don't worry,- Captain's words were cut off as more gunfire sounded, this time dangerously close to his position. — ... I'm on it.- Steve mumbled on the other side and she wished she could see his expression. What was he thinking? Was he calm and collected, or was he nervous and silently losing his mind, like her? 

She found a good spot which connected the floor to the infinite looking rows of steps. Magna suspected there would be more than a handful of agents per floor, but hopefully not too many watching the emergency stairs. If she took them out, it would be a while before anyone checked on them in the stairway.

The agents emerged from the lower level, speaking through their radios and intercoms, talking about Steve and the helicarriers. Magna blew their head off from behind, and their limp bodies fell down the steps. In not time, she checked her surroundings and sprinted away.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

She climbed up over thirty flies of stairs, mentally thanking her daily trainings as she took down several agents down on her way up, knocking them unconscious, and other times dead. Granted, she knew her legs would need some rest when all chaos was over -that is, if they made it-, but at that point, they were doing great. More alarms and warnings blared, each level looking  as endless as the previous one, yet more and more deserted as she kept moving up.

Outside the Triskelion, the enemy mostly responded by playing defense. With nowhere to hide, some ran, and it was a mass exodus, with tens of Hydra men trying to flee the scene.

Her weapons ran the lengths of her surroundings, back and forth, firing down at the men in each floor taking advantage of the emergency doors, using them for cover. 

Stepping into yet another floor, she checked her own ammo, confirming the worst. She had one risky shot, a shoulder barely visible behind a desk. She took a big breath and said goobye to her last rounds. She marched towards them, the grip on her gun firm and steady.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

After using her last gun to kill the four agents, she left them behind. Frowning, her gaze went to the last of her weapons, and she muttered a curse.

— Cap, I'm almost out.- groaned Magna with frustration. Steve's voice came over the intercom again, the sound of footsteps running and grunts could be heard in the background.

— Copy that.- more gunfire, grunts and the recognizable sound of Steve's shield colliding against human bodies came through Magna's earpiece. Then, Rogers was back, panting. — How many floors?- she just sighed, a horrible, rattly sound that seemed to resonate with the static.

— Uh... thirty one? so far.-  Steve flinched an eyebrow, fully expecting the number to be lower. He was notoriously impressed.

— Third level clear.- a male voice broke in, and before she could ask for identification, he spoke again. — Hey, Cap. How do we know the good guys from the bad guys?- Steve pressed his lips together before answering, but Magna beat him to the punch.

— If they are shooting at you, they are bad.- she intervened, dropping whatever interest she had in the man's name. Upon her answer, the unknown voice chuckled.

 That's really helpful, Secret Squirrel. Thanks.-  his words dripped sarcasm too and Magna simply shrugged, glancing over her shoulder.

— Well, it's the truth.- she pointed out as she continued making her way up and Steve clicked in one more time.

— Okay. Back to work, we've got a coup to stop.- he declared. Granted, there were Hydra agents everywhere, hiding in plain sight.

Over the Potomac River, a pair of quinjets circled around the immense building, firing at Sam. He swooped and glided, made a few death defying loops, even went into a dead drop, coming out of it before hitting the water, with only a few feet to spare. He heard a double click, and jacked in. 

— Hey, Cap. I found some of those bad guys you were talking about.- the man said, and gunfire thundered like a clapping clouds in a storm. Steve clicked his mic in acknowledgment.

— You okay?- the pause was deafening, and even Magna's gut fisted, despite not knowing who the other guy was.

Curling into a ball to make a smaller target, Wilson dipped low over the garden on that side of the Triskelion, going into a spiral as he flew into the air again, gunfire exploding all around him. 

— Not dead yet.- came in the man's comment, crackling with static.

Magna kept on the look-out for any of those bad guys they were talking about as well. At the next junction, she went down in a crouch with her back to the wall, so she could see in both directions. She remained in position, leaning on the wall, catching her breath. She waited for the right time to merge, but sounds in the far corner of the hall to her right caught her attention.

She heard one voice raise above all the others. It was deeper, more commanding than of any of the other men. Then, moments later, came footsteps from a hallway to her left. She peeked around the corner, and back. It was a group of eight, four men, three women, wearing S.T.R.I.K.E uniforms, and right in the middle of them, a very familiar face. 

Brock Fucking Rumlow.

Anger flooded her, yet she remembered her lack of ammo and the small detail that she wasn't, let's say, Black Widow. There was no way she could take them all down herself. Instead of doing something stupid, Magna ducked back around the corner before she could be seen, eventually moving back the way she'd come, into the emergency stairs.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

Back at Insight Command Center, Hill was busy countermanding overrides from the three helicarriers, her forehead crinkled in concentration.

— Eight minutes, Cap.- the Commander informed Steve over the intercom, and Magna listened carefully as well to the new female voice through the static.

— Working on it!- Steve panted. Both Maria and Magna winced at the sound of fighting, interspersed with the crackle of electricity. — Alpha locked.

— Falcon, where are you now?- the S.H.I.E.L.D subdirector immediately asked, her fingertips dancing across the keyboard before her.

— I had to take a detour!- Magna noticed the nickname belonged to the same male voice from earlier. — Oh, yeah!- a big detonation blared near him. Did he enjoy the explotion? — Bravo locked.- he announced flying out and Hill nodded.

— Two down, one to go.- confirmed Maria's sharp tone before disconnecting.

Every fiber inside Magna's body told her to get back in there and kill Rumlow, but she did her best to stay focused. No matter how skilled she was, the utter reality was that she was outnumbered and severely low on ammo. She knew better, her voice reminded her. She knew better than to recklesslessy give in to such impulses. Pressing her lips together, Magna stood at the lip of the door and drew her ear closer to the emergency exit doors, carefully listening to their conversation.

— Incoming. Move, move!- he barked the orders to the other members of his team, and Magna watched as they ran up from their previous position, complying. 

The commands echoed up and down the hallways around her, and the soldiers waiting in the main corridor called out to their comrades. They were evidently headed to a level beneath them. Meanwhile, Rumlow stayed put, talking through his headset to Hydra Dispatch.

 »»————- ✼ ————-«« 

»»————- ✼ ————-««

— Charlie Carrier's forty-five degrees off the port bow.- Hill noticed two Hydra agents breaking into the headquarters, but she managed to shoot and kill them as they entered. — Six minutes.

— Hey, Sam, I'm gonna need a ride.- Steve sounded out of breath as he tried to get away from the agents shooting at him on the Helicarrier.

— Roger! Let me know when you're ready.- the male voice came through. Sam. Falcon. 

"How many names does this guy have?", Magna thought.

Suddenly, the blare of a missile exploding came through everyone's earpieces.

— I just did!- Steve yelled. The channel was silent for a few seconds.

— Cap? Cap, come in. Are you okay?- Sam's voice was urgent and worried.

— Yeah, I'm here!- Steve pantedfrom the other side of the line. — I'm still on the Helicarrier.- he grunted. — Where are you?

— I'm grounded, the suit's down. Sorry, Cap.- Sam began to apologize, but Steve didn't let him. Instead, he reassured his new friend with unwavering voice.

— Don't worry, I got it.

As everyone at the Triskelion was rushing around, trying to evacuate the building, Rumlow fought and killed some S.H.I.E.L.D agents before HYDRA Dispatch came through the radio, drawing his attention.

— Sir, Council's been breached.- Brumlow's head snapped up in surprise and frustration at what he heard. 

— Repeat, dispatch.- the traitor frowned and HYDRA Dispatch clarified the current situation for him.

— Black Widow's up there. - they warned him on the other side. Nodding despite he couldn't be seen, Brumlow turned on his heel.

— Headed up.- he clickled and disconnected. Rumlow's voice faded. No sound, no voices -only a distant murmur. Magna risked a glance.

The corridor was now empty, and her brows knitted with a severe expression. Turning one corner, then another, Magna tried her best to stay on Rumlow's toes.

— Magna, here. Rumlow is currently on thirty nine, southwest corner, headed up. I'm right behind him.- she spoke with confidence, cracking her neck on the right, then on the left and stretching her fingers. — ... and he's in a hurry.- Hill frowned, rolling her chair to another monitor. She scanned the screen, tabbing through each floor, noticing Rumlow running on the footage.

— Falcon?- he hummed in acknowledgement as Maria called for him. — Rumlow's headed for the Council.- the command was implicit.

— I'm on it.- he nonchalantly littered his vest and jogged down some stairs, already en route to Rumlow's location, courtesy of Magna and Hill.

 On my way to you, Falcon.- Magna's hoarse voice came through his earpiece.

— Roger that.- the agent clicked her intercom. With a final sigh, she headed up the last flight of stairs separating her from Falcon.

 

Chapter Text

Magna's footsteps were lost in the growing rumble, the rising, world-shaking roar from the explosions and gunshots surrounding the helicarriers. She ran to a window and saw the spirals of fire, the injured, the dead—and in a handful of seconds, Magna had rushed from the front window to the back stairs again, eager to get to Rumlow -and also to meet the Falcon character. Up they went, higher and higher; the gyrations of the stairs seemed endless, and all the while the Maria Hill's voice rang in her ear, reminding them that they were running out of time.

Wilson heard doors burst open, quickly followed by the faint sound of Rumlow's hushed voice. He kept his knees bent and movements quiet, wanting the full effect of the surprise element. He was utterly aware that the HYDRA agent was armed, so his fists were his best bet since his handy suit was down. He camped behind a door, and waited. Just as expected, said door slowly opened, and in came Rumlow. 

— I'm on forty-one, headed towards the south-west stairwell.

Sam charged towards the other man, using the momentum to land a good one on Rumlow's face, and the gun dropped out of the latter's hands. Then he aimed for his lower region, but the well-trained agent blocked the kick, breaking out of his hold, managing to knock Sam down in the process with a throbbing sensation on his forehead. Rumlow had headbutted him; the brave man noticed and glared at his opponent. Before any of them could make another move, the doors swung open again, this time revealing Magna, skin glistening with a thin layer of sweat.

She scanned the situation, barely glancing at the man on the floor, struggling to his feet. She assumed that was Falcon. Sam didn't recognize the brunette either, yet couldn't help but feel a wave of excitement. She looked angry, she looked strong. Furthermore, the way she glowered at the S.T.R.I.K.E member clearly meant they knew each other. Her muscles flexed with the intensity of her pose as they continued to stare down at each other. 

— Rumlow.- she greeted him curtly, almost bored, hand reaching for the knife in her belt. Her movements didn't go unnoticed by the man. Brock cocked an eyebrow. She was trying to distract him, saving some time so that Sam could ease his staggered breathing and stand up. — Down for a little rematch?- her emotions boiled and she felt rage ignite within her. 

Upon watching the man nod, she changed her mind, leaving the knife in place and taking two steps forward, to the centre of the fight. There was more than surprise in Rumlow's eyes, there was anger and also a perverted lust: the kind that has its wellspring in enjoyment of others' pain.

Sam was on his feet again at last, behind Magna, chest bouncing with expectation as his eyes darted between the two other people in front of him. She would have no chance if she lunged from this far; Rumlow would finish her before she made the distance. So, she let him come to her.

Textbook. Rumlow closed the distance, running to her and Magna quickly stepped back, only to find herself flattened against the wall. She waited until he was mere inches away, then she moved. Her first blow hit -colliding perfectly on his left cheekbone-, but her second one didn't. To her surprise, Rumlow caught her wrist just before she hit his face. He grabbed her elbow, snapped one hand on her wrist like a shackle, and then twisted. Marga flipped with it, pain shooting up her arm as he shoved her against the wall again. 

— Still insufficient, Magna.- he muttered behind her, a smirk of malice twitching his lips. — Just like our training sessions, huh?- he growled in her ear, one of his hands pulling her hair tighter, pressing himself against her to keep her in place. The other squeezed her hands together, tightening his grip to subdue her struggles. — But now I ain't holding back.- she rolled her eyes and flailed her head wildly.

— You mean the countless times I beat your ass? That was you holding back?- Magna took advantage of Rumlow's bragging to stall, hoping Falcon would step up his game a little. — Even when I broke your rib?- she tried stomping on his arm with the sharp heel of her boot, and the man winced, but didn't let go, so she tried again, harder. Rumlow's chuckles suddenly stopped, and Magna's laughter replaced them. — Then it'll feel ten times better when I kick your ass this time.- with all her might she kicked, missing her aim for his private part, yet landing a clean blow to his knee. 

The controlling grip on her wrist loosened, allowing her to slip out of his grasp. Magna glared at Rumlow as he backed away from her. She lunged out at him hoping to knock him off balance, but he dodged to one side. Matching the woman's speed, Rumlow lashed out and they clashed. Her determination didn't falter, delivering a two-handed attack on him, which he dodged as well. She pursued her attack, and they dueled for a fair while, filling the atmosphere with violence, displaying sheer speed and reflexes.

He dropped to the ground, falling right under her kick. As he fell, he lashed out with both his feet, connecting with Magna's balancing leg. His boot drove directly into her knee. She yelped in pain from the stinging kick, lost her balance and tumbled to one side, trying to divert the energy of the attack away from her knee. She was only off-balance for a second, but that was all Rumlow needed.

He came in a blinding rush, elbowing her face in an effort to knock her unconscious. The hit landed, but she never touched the ground. Slightly dizzy, Magna recovered from Rumlow's block, spinning around and taking a small jump backwards, catching her breath next to Sam. Nursing his bleeding forehead, Wilson scrutinised him as Rumlow stripped his vest away. 

— This is gonna hurt.- he warned the two cockily.— There are no prisoners with HYDRA, just order. And order only comes through pain... You ready for yours?the S.T.R.I.K.E soldier's cocky attitude was promptly flattened.

— Man, shut the hell up.- Sam's voice grunted across the room, ready for round two. Magna crossed her arms and assumed position by his side, shaking her head and making a clicking sound with her tongue.

— He never does.- she sighed, murmuring sourly. The gesture was scornful and full of resentment, triggering Rumlow.

 

 »»————- ✼ ————-«« 

 »»————- ✼ ————-«« 

Magna and Rumlow met again in the middle of the room, and it felt like watching two people weaving an intoxicating dance. The agents fell into a rhythmic flow, their bodies colliding in a blur of motion as they threw in kicks and punches whenever an opening seemed to appear. Rumlow broke the dance. With sweat dripping from his temples, he feigned a double left thrust and quickly reversed his attack by completing a full spin, which Magna dodged gracefully.

She noticed the opening in his defenses and used it, but he deflected one blow, reversed his momentum and dropped to the ground in a crouch. He regained his footing and reengaged with her, shoving her forcefully. A yelp whooshed out of her as her stomach smashed into the hard back of a leather chair. Heart pounding, she turned around and struck again on the stomach the man who had kicked her. On cue, Sam joined the combat, and for a while the two fought hand-to-hand. Magna stood slowly, wincing as she gathered her strength. 

Rumlow pulled back, smiling wickedly. Magna and Sam teamed up against him, backing him closer and closer to the wall. The latter's deadly precision allowed him to duck, dodge and deflect each of their attempts. Fortunately, as he focused too much on avoiding one of Magna's kicks, Sam stepped forward and swung his fist like a sledgehammer, lunging again. He used his fist, and swung his arm around at right-angles to his body so as to get every ounce of strength he possessed behind the blow, hitting the soldier squarely on the jaw. The force of the impact all but knocked the HYDRA soldier off his feet. He grumbled in frustration. That only granted them a moment, for Rumlow smoothly regained balance and lashed out one more time, full force. 

He moved in for the kill, slugging them with a barrage of punches, any of which could have floored an inexperienced fighter. Within one single swift motion, Brock managed to strike Magna's chest hard, sending her to the floor gasping for air, before focusing back on Wilson.

Sam landed another punch, a left hook that lacked potency. When he followed it with a hard right, Rumlow moved his head slightly and the punch glanced harmlessly to the side of his cheek. In a flash, Wilson's opponent threw another right that came out of nowhere and nearly put the former down again. He was able to make it through the first series of punches by bobbing and weaving, but eventually Rumlow got him, charging nimbly and landing his right hook on Wilson's left cheek.

Suddenly, Steve's coarse, almost breathless voice resounded in her earpiece, startling Magna.

— Charlie locked.- the brunette felt her face sticky with the red liquid dripping from a cut somewhere in head, and her mouth was swollen, tiny cuts all over the surface of her dry lips. 

With the upper hand during the fight, Rumlow had continued using his own slightly improved combat techniques to mantain dominance, throwing Wilson across the room, taunting him. Watching the scene, Magna's temper flared and the S.H.I.E.L.D agent ground her teeth in frustration. She pushed herself up onto her feet, wobbling like a colt taking his first steps. Her hands didn't know exactly what to hold, every inch of her body throbbed with pain.

Their battle was then cut short when Sam and Magna's foe decided to speak again. He jumped onto one of the desks, so he could look down at the bleeding and almost defeated Wilson lying on the ground.

— Don't you even try now, Dávalos.-  Rumlow tossed his head again, jutted out his chin, and his lips formed a sneer. The double agent pointed a finger at her dismissively. The condescending tone in his voice infuriated her even more, however her attention was nowhere near the HYDRA man. — You're both out of your depth, here.- he added, searching her dark brown eyes, only to find them focused on Sam's position, paying no attention to him whatsoever.

He was about to taunt her again, but then Magna gasped, catching a glimpse of the final helicarrier heading straight towards them, having been successfully reprogrammed and destroyed in the battle.

— We gotta get out of here...- her voice came out low, almost inaudible as she blinked repeatedly. — We gotta get out of here now!- she shouted, limping closer to Sam and helping him stand. 

Right on cue, he spotted the helicarrer that was about to crash into the very same floor they were on out of the window, understanding Magna's urgence. Confused at the scene, Rumlow turned and saw the danger but not until it was unfortunately too late. It crashed straight into the side of the Triskelion, directly behind the arrogant traitor. Magna heard him call her name, but she never looked back.

Using their head start to their advantage, Wilson and Magna took off, trying desperately to outrun the big ship as it ate the ceilings and floorings. Smoke filled up the entire room, debris raining on them as the two ran for their lives. 

Sam looked over at Magna, catching the worried look glimmering in her eyes. They were running out of ground to run on, and waiting for them was a drop out of the window. Sprinting away for their lives, Sam spotted the two Soldiers still trapped in the Helicarrier and Magna followed his line of vision.

—  Nice to meet you!- she panted heavily, propelling herself as fast as she could.

—  Likewise!- he yelled in response, eyes focused ahead as he brought one finger to his comms. — Please, tell me you got that chopper in the air!-  Sam cried out, feeling his lungs burning.

— Sam, where are you?- suddenly Natasha Romanoff's urgent tone in immediate response filled Magna's ears through the static.

— 41st floor, north-west corner!- he told the lethal spy, his face turning red and his veins making an appearance. His legs pushed harder and harder as he run, the building caving in behind them and Magna struggled to keep the fast pace.

— We're on it, stay where you are.- Sam heard as they desperately tried to get away from the destruction the Helicarrier was causing to the building. 

—  Not an option!- he screamed. The two turned back to see the Helicarrier catching up. Sharing a look, Magna and Sam knew that was impossible. 

Wilson sucked in air through his teeth, nodding at Magna. She responded by holding on to his arm as they jemped out of the window. They heard metal clanging and concrete unfolding behind them as Fury swerved the helicopter barely in time to catch them. They landed roughly, hitting the platform with a crash; Magna held on to the first thing she saw, but Sam wasn't so lucky and slipped from the other side of the chopper. Fortunately, Natasha broke his fall, pulling him up.

— 41st floor! 41st!- Wilson yelled, berating the pair for almost killing them with the helicopter's blades. Wasting no time to catch her breath, Romanoff immediately tapped into her comms, yelling to Maria on the other end of the line, demanding Steve's location.

— It's not like they put the floor numbers on the outside of the building!- Fury shouted in return, over the noise. Magna tuned out their bickering, her eyes lowering as a fresh wave of exhaustion washed over her. She noticed Natasha's confused gaze as it landed on her face, followed by a hesitant question.

— ... Who is this? 

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Chapter Text

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LOCATION: NEW YORK CITY

TEN DAYS POST TRISKELION FALL.

— Oh, well look at that, he can draw too!- the familiar smooth voice murmured closely behind Steve. Surprise registered in the slight lift of his brows as the latter whirled and stared up at the figure, only to find Magna's halfsmile. — Of course you can.- she joked and her eyes twinkled.

Magna's shoulder-length brunette hair flowed with the cool breeze, cascading down her maroon blazer and shining under ocasional beams of sunlight filtering through the buildings. It was a cloudy day, yet the flush of the sunset reflected off the shiny black glass of the skyscrapers.

Hands casually clasped behind her back, she stood over Steve's shoulder, glimpsing the rough pencil lines across the page. Satisfied with her inspection, the young woman darted her deep brown eyes to the street and straightened her posture. Her gaze then found his and the brunette smirked as she returned Steve his personal space. The latter's startled expression softened and he offered her a polite smile too.

There was still a visible hint of purple in some parts of his face, traces of those bruises that lingered and forced him to remember. He'd look at himself in the mirror and find everything still there. Staring back at him, his reflection showed him the helicarrier, the chaos, the fight. Steve saw it all. The pain, the water, and the aftermath of destruction. With each bruise, Steve saw Bucky.

— Magna.- he greeted her, gesturing at the unclaimed seat in front of him before closing the sketchbook.— Wanna join me?- She pointed to the empty chair next to her.

— Isn't that the point of inviting me here?- she remarked, teasing the blonde man, trying to remain calm in spite of a growing sense of apprehension. Magna walked at her own pace past his chair and to the empty one before him as Steve'd suggested, taking a seat. 

— Yeah, I guess so.- he mused, lifting the cup back to his lips and taking a sip. — Thanks for meeting me, by the way.

Between them was a round steel table, only a white mug and Steve's drawings occupying its surface, next to a napkin holder with the coffee shop's vintage logo. She looked at him for a moment, biting her lip, and then turned and beckoned over the waitress. Magna heard Steve breathe out a quiet little laugh.

She turned to her previous position, leaning back on the chair and crossing one of her long legs over the other, one boot swinging. As she shrugged, the corners of her lips curled upwards involuntarily.

— I'm not one to turn down conversation and coffee, like, ever.- she commented, humor still lacing her words. Steve shot her an skeptical glance and she rolled her eyes. — Well, maybe just the conversation. Never a good cup of coffee.- she looked across at him and her lips parted again to continue, tone noticeably lower, meant for only him to hear. — ... add some Captain America to the mix too and it's pretty much an offer impossible to decline.

A few wrinkles appeared around Steve's eyes as a lopsided grin emerged on his face. His blue irises darted from Magna's face to someone else's as they asked the agent her order. Magna told the blonde woman her choice and thanked her, handing the menu back to the waitress. Until the latter left, Steve and Magna made some small talk about the weather, small talk only, nothing personal.

While the coffee shop wasn't all that busy, every few minutes a steady stream of costumers would come in to grab a coffe or a muffin to go. The coffee shop's clientele seemed evenly divided between occasional business community, usually in a hurry (also, curt and discourteous), fierce looking elderly ladies and gentlemen in their fifties and sixties reading newspapers and playing chess or cards. When small talk eventually fell short, her fingers slowly tapped rhythmically the table, head inclined, lips drawn in a little. 

The waitress returned with her coffee, placing it in front if her, leaving only after making sure they didn't want anything else. Once the blone woman was decently far from them, Magna's features lost part of their humor. When she spoke again, her tone had turned more serious.

— If this is about Sharon...- Magna couldn't get another word out, for Steve was already shaking his head, interrupting her with a soft dismissal wave.

— I don't wanna talk about her.- he leaned back on the chair as well, mirroring Magna's posture. She cocked an eyebrow at him, surprised by his reticent gesture. Her heart plummeted.

Steve kept his head down; clearly the mere mention of Sharon's name had shattered his good mood and the observation pissed Magna off. Her face was screwed up into something between a smile and a scowl.

— Don't be that guy.- without consciously thinking about it, she scolded him as if he'd said the dumbest thing in the world. Despondent, Magna shook her head softly, all the time searching his eyes. Her words seemed to have the desired effect because Steve scoffed, glancing back at her again with confusion written all over his face.

— What guy?- he watched with suspended breath as she uncrossed her legs and crossed them again, fidgeting uncomfortably. Magna looked down at her white mug and slowly ran a fingertip around the rim.

— The guy who gets angry at a woman for just doing her job, Steve.- she told him plainly, shrugging. — Those were the orders, Fury's orders. She followed them. - the super soldier rolled his eyes and Magna clenched her jaw so tight her chin pointed out, yet she managed to steady her voice. — It's not like you don't know what that's like.- he flinched at her tone, and when his eyes returned to her they overflowed with regret.

Granted, he knew his resentment came from a very different place, and that the reason behind feeling betrayed by Sharon had little to nothing to do with her mission. His throat felt tight.

— Did you know?- the rest was implicit, and Magna understood. Again, her mouth said it all. She shook her head at him while pursing her lips, and then the pursed lips blossomed into a smirk.

— For the sake of our friendship, we made it a point to never discuss our assignments with each other.- she explained, then chuckled. — Well, and because it was also confidential.- she added matter-of-factly, earning another small smile from Steve. — She did tell me about it once her cover blew up, you know, after Fury... - she trailed off and Steve nodded; it wasn't necessary to continue, he knew. He was there. — ... So... yeah.- the ball was back in his court now and Steve got the hint.

For a fleeting moment, his gaze flitted to Magna with a swerve of a smile. Then, the blonde soldier averted his eyes, fixing them on the floral pattern of the coffee shop's foyer rug, pulling himself loose from whatever thrall had overtaken him. 

— I just wanted to thank you personally, for your assistance back at the Triskelion.- he explained, glad they were staying off the Sharon topic. — You and your colleagues, in that room, before it all went to the ground. Thank you, for your bravery, Magna.- his tone was low and calm yet carried authority.  As the words left his mouth, he sounded much less like Steve, the man, and much more like Captain America, the symbol. 

Outside the coffee shop, the setting sun cast an orange glow on the blanket of concrete covering the streets and sidewalks. She studied Steve, his strong features and his blue, blue eyes that seemed to see clear through her.

— Ri-i-ight.- she drew out the sarcasm. — So everyone else, my colleagues... - she lifted her face, biting the insides of her cheeks to hold back a smile. — ... they also got their thanks with a private customized meeting with you?- she inquired wittingly, narrowing her cynical eyes in suspicion.

The brunette had a good bullshit detector built into her which she used to measure the strain on a suspect who was either telling the truth or covering up. Magna propped her elbows on the surface of the tiny table and steepled her fingertips under her jaw. He detected her stare and chuckled, the sound pleasant. Steve held her gesture, then slumped his shoulders and sighed, holding up his arms in mock surrender. 

— Okay. You got me. I have a proposition for you.- the super soldier announced, his voice rippling with warmth and a hint of hope and Magna held her breath. Whatever it was... it was important. Her eyebrows shot up and her lips twitched with repressed questions.

Steve didn't open his mouth. Instead, a sudden metallic scrapping noise made them both jump. It was a chair being moved across the floor, as a third person plopped down in the seat, next to Rogers and interrupting their conversation. Startled, Magna's eyes widened slightly as she recognized the man's familiar face. His mouth quirked, stopping somewhere between a smirk and a smile.

— 'Sup, Secret Squirrel?- his deep voice broke the silence, and Magna chuckled; her excitement palpable - giving the two men hope- though somewhat cautious.

— The Man with the Million Names.- she greeted him a somewhat cautious smile, narrowing gaze.— Wilson... Sam... Falcon... yadda yadda yadda.

 

 

Chapter Text

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LOCATION: SOMEWHERE IN ITALY

SIX WEEKS AFTER THE TRISKELION TRAGEDY

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A woman stood at the cash register, in the process of ringing up a sale for a costumer- an old man with hair standing straight like he'd slept hanging upside down, talking about something. The rest of the stationery shop was quiet, except for a slight volume of an Italian pop song resonating from the sound system. 

"Voglio restare tutto il giorno in una vasca, con le mie cose più tranquille nella testa, un piede fuori come fosse una bandiera, uscire solo quando fuori è primavera..."

Black cap pulled low over his forehead, he nodded hello to the woman as he walked by, scanning the aisles to see if any other people were around, so he could avoid them. There were none. He had acted in this fashion for so long it'd become ingrained into his habits. He'd watch for enemies out in the streets and swivel his neck to study random people.

After a few moments he busied himself looking for blank journals; the last notebook of the many he now owned had ran out of pages the previous night, after a nightmare. Just as he'd been doing frequently for the past few weeks, he selected a black leather hardcover one and carried it to the counter without shopping around for anything else. He didn't have a lot of money on him, and even with that single purchase, it was going to be close. Besides, he didn't intend to make the trip to that shop again. While it saddened him to leave the city, he had no choice. He'd already stayed an extra week and he knew he had to keep moving. It was time.

Amazingly, the other guy was still paying, so he got in line behind him. He felt anxiety about the whole thing when he realized the simple task might take more time than he was willing to spare. It unsettled him, not following his own plan. For the past twelve days he'd tried to never leave his hideout unless it was important. He took a deep breath and glanced down at the journal in his glove-covered hands.

The old man smelled like he'd been mowing wet grass, and the woman at the counter looked familiar but she didn't seem to recognize him or even acknowledge him. He thought she owned the shop with her husband - vaguely recalling seeing a man next to her during some shifts. Patiently, he waited while the old man counted out exact change. He kept spilling more coins out of a felt sack that advertised a kind of liquor, and the woman seemed like she wanted to get it over with.

Standing in line at the stationery shop gave him the unsolicited chance to focus on his mind. Flicking through the notebook, he stared back into those blank, impenetrable pages, being just as enigmatic himself. 

The headache was back. 

He felt it coming long before it ever manifested, and he knew that soon it would be only blackness. The pounding in his head, the banging against the inside of his skull. Then the throbbing ache pulsated throughout his head, like somebody had hammered it for hours, then down his neck, and into his shoulders. 

The old man eventually got his receipt and left without saying anything further; the bell on the door jangling when he stepped outside.

— Buona sera.- as he finally met eyes with the woman, one corner of his lips tipped up. — Hai trovato quello che cercavi? (Good evening. Did you find what you were looking for?)- the woman startled him, a hopeful note in her voice. He could feel his legs shaking. Hoping she wouldn't notice the trembling, he held the notebook out to the cashier, and with a polite nod she extended her hand to grab it.

He started to answer, but the pain made him clutch the edge of the showcase for support. Closing his tormented blue eyes, he stood for a long moment with his head down until the aching eased its punishing grip. When he opened them again, he noticed that the left sleeve of his jacket had rolled up, a glimpse of silver glinting where the black glove finished and skin was supossed to be.

Quickly, he rolled the sleeve down, but it was too late. Seeing the metal, the woman snapped up the notebook from the counter and higged it against her chest. With eyes as big as saucers and face turned suddenly bloodless, she began to back away from him.

Seeing her frightened look, he raised his hands to signal he meant no harm but she kept backing away, and before he knew it, she disappeared into the back room. However, in her haste to leave she accidentally dropped the notebook. He could hear her dialing and knew he had to get out of there. He'd done nothing wrong -this time- but he couldn't find it in him to feel offended. He deserved it.

Sprinting towards the notebook, he shove it inside his backpack and dropped the money on the counter before heading for the entryway. When he got to the front door he glanced back. The woman was watching him from the doorway of the back room, the same panicked expression on her face. With nothing but a sigh and a blank stare, he edged out of the shop and stumbled off in the direction he'd come from.

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FOUR HOURS LATER

 

When he woke, he found himself lying on the floor of his hideout place. He opened his eyes to the darkness, his mind a bit dazed, thoughts muddled by confusion and pain. At first it was almost impossible for him to focus his gaze because it hurt like hell; He blinked and rubbed his face hard, then opened his eyes again. His brand new journal was still were he'd left it, on his bare stomach. He stared at it, wondering if he'd even moved at all.

He squinted painfully around the room; the sunset blazed through the windows, striking his now sensitive eyes with a vengeance. He felt he was on fire, his throat was all dried up. Reaching out for a water bottle, he gulped down its entire content.

His hideout was an old abandoned church that the owners once used for storage. He'd come to the steps of the church, staring at the huge double doors, the old oak bound in iron and carved with flourishes, contemplating whether to stay there or not. The grass was high and the steps cracked with vines, the door was beginning to rot on its hinges; it looked unoccupied, so he took a chance.

The building was half demolished and formed two triangular shapes; half salvaged on the perfect diagonal. That's why the structure was given the name triangolo della morte (triangle of death) -not that he knew any of that when he found it. The open-air triangle section was cleared of debris and used for various purposes during the last couple of years. For a really long time, the roofed section was a gang's home, used for sleeping, meetings, deals, eating, parties and so forth. Under the remnant part of the church were five or six car seats, the bench type, some old magazines and a terracotta velvet couch which was littered with stains and gashes.

Trying to ignore the discomfort, he kicked his legs off the thin mattress -its springs so exhausted that his spine touched the floor when he laid down. Then, he got up. It was a painful process, and he had to pause for a moment. His head in hands, he pressed his eyes into his cool palms and quickly picked up his clothes off the floor and put them on. A second later he felt Dog brush against his legs, and spread his fingers to look. The dog had come to sit between his feet and was staring up at him through his splayed fingers.

A striped blanket hid the mattress, there were no sheets. No closet, of course. Someone had driven nails into the walls instead. Three copper nails, green with rust. Still, they served as a place to hang his jacket and his cap. Plaster had tumbled from the ceiling, exposing joists of blackened wood and, over by the door, he could see between two floorboards down into the basement below. There were also two chairs backed up against the wall, both as weak on their legs as newborn calves. He pulled one towards a window. It wasn't bad, really. 

He had known worse. 

— Why are you still here, Dog...?- he murmured sadly. The animal whined softly and wagged his tail. He'd been calling him that since the animal arrived to the church, merely a few days after he'd come across the hidden place. The dog looked hungry and freezing, so he took care of him.

He refused to name him anything other than "Dog", though. He'd have to leave soon, he couldn't afford to give him a name. 

— Come here, it's dinner time.- Dog cocked his head, his soft brown eyes studying his as if he were trying to understand.

Their food waited on the floor by the couch where he'd left it; he managed to keep his balance, walking a slow, unsteady path to his backpack, the animal close at his heels. 

He crouched down and the hood fell over his face. Pulling out a pair of bananas, he stripped off the yellow peel and tossed Dog the fruit before repeating the process; taking small bite, he tested the sweetness on his tongue, then chewed the fuit slowly. Then, he took a large bite of the banana, eating half of it at once. That was the last portion he had left. He only had two more, and those were for Dog. He knew the animal would manage just fine without him and that he'd be able to find food somewhere else, but still, he couldn't leave him with nothing to eat.

He straightened up and pulled his hood back, running his hands through his tousled hair and searching the room for his black baseball cap, for later. Near the backpack was Dog's stick. The dog pranced expectantly, holding it in his mouth before dropping it at his feet. Smiling slightly, he gave him a gentle pet and grabbed the object. 

Soon he lost himself in the game with the dog as a way to clear his head. Dog was an extremely intelligent animal, that much he'd noticed. He restructured the game to suit himself, and Fetch became keep-away. He obligingly stalked the animal through the dirty church; Dog took the antics seriously, but whenever he found his hiding place, the dog was so pleased that he wriggled all over. They played for an hour.  It seemed they both were trying to delay goodbyes.

Grabbing all his stuff was easy and painfully quick, since he wore pretty much his entire wardrobe. The utter reality was, he was both a practical person and -of course- running for his life, so he couldn't own many things. After switching his only hoodie for his long sleeve red henley, he ran through the mental list of things to take while he changed into his well-worn trail low brown shoes. 

Then he zipped up his jacket and slung the heavy backpack over his shoulder. He turned around, meeting Dog's eyes.

 It's time.- he said lowly, adjusting his baseball cap over his chin-length, brown hair before scratching the dog behind the ears. 

Dog sat down to enjoy a good scratched, his tongue lolling from his mouth, his sides heaving from the exertion of their play. He extended a paw in his direction, which made him chuckle. 

 What's this? You want a handshake, sort of seal the friendship?- he took the offered paw and gave it a little pump. 

— Okay, Dog.- the animal wagged his short, stubby tail. 

— Ready?- he knew what would come next, and it made him feel like the monster he believed himself to be. Dog gave a single, low-pitched bark, watching the stick on his hand.

He looked at Dog regretfully, took aim and swung his arm back to get a good distance, throwing the stick forward as far as he could, applying extra force. And off Dog ran. He watched the animal disappear, trying to find the object, but he knew it'd take him a while. And that was his window of opportunity. Dog's food was already by the door, there was nothing else for him to do.

Bucky looked around and when he was satisfied everything was in order, he turned around and left the church with the silence and stealth worthy of the dangerous creature he was. He glanced at his watch, checking the time for the next train quickly, leaving the building behind without looking back.

 

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Chapter Text

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LOCATION:  FIRENZE (FLORENCE)-  TUSCANY,  ITALY. 

1 P.M - McDonald's, Piazza della Stazione.

SIX WEEKS AFTER THE TRISKELION DISASTER

— Seriously?-Magna groaned aloud. Sam watched her from the corner of his eye as she got into the vehicle. She huffed under her breath and turned away to avoid his gaze, looking up at the threatening sky through the window. 

Sam's car smelled like it'd been cleaned recently. The strong aroma of cheap vanilla floated in the air, and it instantly overpowered Magna's senses. She scrunched her nose. Cars and shops streamed past in a blur of color. The gray back of Wilson's vehicle slewed in and out of sight among the traffic ahead. He gave her a quick glance before turning his attention to the traffic ahead.

— Steve's very busy with his own research, covering more ground.- he pulled into the parking lot of a famous red and yellow-building. —  And the guy's also, you know, avenging stuff.- she shot him a cautionary glance, humming.  

— How macho...- Magna said with mock seriousness, staring . — ... but we've been doing this for a month now and found nothing. It's getting ridiculous.- she protested, head tilting with annoyance.

— What happened to "an offer impossible to decline?"- he openly mocked her, whining as if to imitate Magna's voice. She gave him a look that warned him off.

— That was for the coffee, not a Missing Persons case.- Magna rebutted curtly. — And this... this is another cold lead we're chasing.- she let her voice trail off, blinking her eyes slowly. Sam shook his head patiently.

— What, teaming up to track down our guy isn't your definition of vacation? I'm shocked. Can't relate at all.- he goaded in his familiar sarcastic way, and Magna snorted.

— I think the lack of success speaks for itself, Sam.- said the former S.H.I.E.L.D agent, her glare aflame.

— I think you're having fun and you don't wanna admit it.- that got him a stubborn, rebellious scowl which he ignored.— What is it going to be, Mags?- Sam asked as he looked at her, to the drive-thru menu and back again. Magna scratched her cheek hesitantly.

— ... Small fries and water.- she answered begrudgingly.

— Very well.- was all he said. He turned from her, hiding his look of smug triumph and faced the red and yellow speaker.

A squelching noise came over the airwaves of their police radio as Sam started yelling their order in questionable Italian. The poor drive-thru guy would be lucky to have eardrums left by the time he finished. No matter how many times Magna tried to explain he didn't have to shout at the speaker to be heard, Sam insisted on doing it.

However, his voice was nothing compared to the type of guy she hated when she worked the drive-thru as a teenager. It had been the shortest job she ever had, and the only one she'd walked out on. Some asshole had shouted his order at her before pulling forward to discover his fries weren't quite ready yet. She'd forced her politest smile while she asked him to please wait in the parking lot and informed him someone would run his fries out to him as soon as they were ready. 

He'd replied by calling her a stupid bitch. Still smiling, Magna'd squeezed his strawberry shake until it exploded in his face and tossed the empty cup into his lap. He'd still been sputtering and shouting obscenities at her as she calmly untied her apron, pulled off her hat and walked out the door. 

— Raising your voice won't make it sound more Italian, Sam.- she murmured as Wilson sat back in his seat, snorting. 

— Oh, so you're an expert now?- Magna ducked her head with fake modesty.

 ... No, ma capisco l'italiano più di quanto pensi. (No, but I understand Italian more than you think.)- she grinned teasingly and Sam rolled his eyes at her cocky behavior, not unterstanding  a single word anyway.

— Smart-ass...- he mumbled quietly to himself with a smile on his face. — ... I wasn't yelling.- he then huffed and began grumbling under his breath.

For the past month she'd kept telling him to get his auditory perception checked. Too much time listening to gunfire and explosions had probably damaged his hearing, or maybe his ears required a good cleaning. And it wasn't far-fetched, Clint Barton himself struggled with it on a daily basis. Either way, Sam refused to have them checked, and Magna wouldn't nag him about it.

The radio made a loud squelching sound again as they pulled up to the first window. The pimple-faced teen leaning out to collect their money winced at the noise and instinctively jerked back. He stayed a safe distance away and stuck out his hand for Sam to pay him. The kid took the money and turned to push the buttons on the register. 

Magna leaned over to turn the Italian police radio down a little, but a frantic burst of words spattered the airwaves like gunfire before she could touch it. She froze as she listened to the rushed words; explosion, multiple victims and ambulances needed. Her stomach rumbled in protest, but before the next words came out, she already knew Sam's overcooked burguers were going to have to wait. Wilson muttered a curse, jamming his key into the ignition, and the kid snatched his hand back so fast the money tumbled to the ground.

— Torneremo dopo! (We'll come back later!)- Magna leaned over Sam and shouted out his window, as he expertly whipped the car around the van idling at the window in front of them. — Shoudn't we use that?- she asked, pointing to a small screen below the dashboard.

— Yeah, can you turn it on?- Sam nodded, urging her to take over the task. Magna bobbed her head and pressed a button on the dash and the screen came on, showing a road map with little red dots scattered in various areas, moving fast.

They pulled out of McDonald's lot onto the road. Once on their way, the two passed other vehicles the best they could on the narrow and crowded Florence old streets.

— You do realize it's not him, right?- Magna pointed out the obvious.— For all we know, and according to the tip, -our only tip, I may add-, he was allegedly spotted somewhere at least an hour away from Piazza Santa Trinità, let alone on the other side of the bridge...- Sam simply shrugged. 

They glanced up briefly, watching masses of dark clouds scudding across the grey sky. When the thunder started up again - a low, continuous throb that seemed to last forever. 

 — What are those red dots, anyway?- after a moment she broke silence and voiced her confusion, frowning as Sam pulled out onto the freeway. In answer, he touched one of the dots on the screen. Numbers and letters appeared below the dot. — YA 032AK... A license plate.- she guessed and Sam nodded.

— That'd be the Polizia locale. Zoom in.- he told her and Magna obliged. The screen zoomed closer to show only the area around the red dot. She could now see individual street names and boxes that represented buildings and Magna whistled, impressed. — It's sort of an advanced GPS thing. It picks up on police radar and lets us know that a cop is nearby.- when Sam met Magna's canny gaze, he rolled his eyes, shrugging. — Stark.

The closest license plate to the incident was one labeled "FM 452AA", positioned near one of the small buildings on the other side of Ponte Santa Trinità.

— Impressive.- she observed, clicking her tongue, and Sam's expression shifted to wary entertainment. Tiny wrinkles of real amusement softened Magna's impatient features. — For the record, this is not a vacation... at all.- Magna brought up the topic again and glared at Sam, shaking her head sternly. 

His stare darted from the rearview mirror to the road ahead and back to the mirror, showcasing a smug look; Magna sighed and defeatedly stared out the window at the buildings and the business-lunch crowds bustling along the busy sidewalks. Even in the heat and unpredictable weather Florence was busy with people window-shopping, deliberately ignoring the clouds above their heads.

— Well, you're not working and the government is still paying until you do it again. Sounds like a hella good deal to me.- Sam commented, keeping his eyes on the road.

They reached Via delle Caldaie and its traffic lights just as they turned red yet again. Sam sighed, audibly, as they waited. The red light seemed to be stuck, its glow washing over his fingers tapping impatiently on the steering wheel. The GPS screen moved over slightly, continuing to show the same two dots, which were moving very quickly.

For a moment, they silently calculated their options, listening to the voices of the police radio. The italian forces kept talking about a violent incident, however the rest of the description remained very vague.

Magna's fingers tapped the touch screen keyboard, inspecting the mega-detailed representation of the surrounding streets, looking for an alternate route. However, the moment for demanding better directions had passed and the two were stuck. Staying in the car meant a great waste of time, but ditching the vehicle would be even worse.

The traffic lights changed four times without a single vehicle moving. Magna watched the jam flow slowly along the street. When the lights finally turned amber and then green, the car moved forward, indicating Sam wanted to turn right on Via Mazzetta. 

— It's called contractual indemnification, not "paid time off."- Magna corrected him, huffing and staring at the dots on the screen. — I'm currently unemployed. The building we jumped out from?-  she added, pointing at her hairline, finding the faded scar by her temple. — I worked there.- she stared at him unamused, speaking a slow, pleasant, somewhat monotonous voice. He acknowledged her sarcasm with a smirk.

— Right.- Sam mumbled teasingly before he turned to face her for a moment, eyebrows jerked toward her. — That was fun.- the snide remark provoked her irritation, however she just pursed her lips, trying her best not to smile.

They followed GPS instructions and turned left. The traffic behind them was heading for the bridge as well. Cab drivers, tour buses and vehicles lined the streets; honking horns. Accents from visitors to the island from all over the world echoed around -but the Italian accent was most prominent as cabbies tried to sway tourists to their vehicles to meet their daily quotas.

— ... And I don't even know If I'll join Sharon in Berlin yet. After D.C my parents were... freaked out. Wasn't pretty.- momentarily slipping between clouds, the sun shone faintly through the window and weakly gleamed off Magna's brunette hair, almost giving the appearance of a halo.

The car then passed through the Piazza de' Frescobaldi, with Ponte Santa Trinità to the left, and the important axis of Via Maggio to the right. Then, she spotted the fountain of Bernardo Buontalenti, and Magna smiled at the artist's nickname, 'good talents.' Indeed.

Magna and Sam crossed the bridge and the latter sped up. Then, the car veered, shooting down a side street that led to a quaint cobblestone lane surrounded by houses with exterior walls painted in various tones. Turning again, he accelerated down and more colors of the neighborhood came into view—the wooden houses painted sky blue and mustard yellow, emerald green and salmon pink. Magna glanced up the balconied homes, and noticed clothes hung out of windows and on thin lines dangling over the road. There were also one-story concrete residences- she noted- with wooden verandas painted in warm colors, such as ivory, yellow, peach, rose, tan and beige. 

A sudden loud crash of thunder made both Magna and Sam wince. A storm was coming. Great. Just what they needed. He sighed, his hand went back to the gear shift, resting on its rounded top.

— Let's go do our good deed for the day.- Magna's breath went out of her in a snort, raising an eyebrow at him. He pulled a face at her, watching her as she lounged back in the leather seat, putting her feet up on the dashboard and wiggled her toes to the cadence of her speaking.

— I already did my good deed by being here.- Magna taunted with a smile. — So yeah, I'm good.- she wasn't being sarcastic but Magna was sure he would take it as that.

— Shit, Mags, guess I should thank you for the noble work you are doing.- he commented, with a mocking widening of his eyes. His low voice a knife edge between sincerity and cynicism. 

 — You're welcome.- she replied with equal sarcasm. — Well, go faster then!- she urged Sam, poking him in the shoulder. — Let's pass that kid on the bike!- he shrugged her off, cocked his head and narrowed his eyes at her.

— Never touch the driver,- he said sternly, rolling his eyes upon hearing her chuckle. — You're an idiot. -then Magna turned her head to smirk at him. As the car moved forward, Sam shifted into second gear, then into third to race down the narrow street. — ... And take your dirty feet off my dashboard. - he shoved her boots off of the dash and accelerated, giving her a lopsided grin.

 

Chapter Text

LOCATION:  FIRENZE (FLORENCE)- TUSCANY, ITALY.

53 MINUTES LATER

Once back inside the car, Sam pulled out of the congested lane, and the vehicle ground to a halt in front the traffic lights. Magna turned to face Wilson as the light immediately changed and soon enough they were moving again along the street. She sighed dramatically, flipping on the radio and swaying in time to eighties classics. Kokomo by the Beach Boys suddenly started playing and Magna bit the inside of her cheek, holding back a chortle. 

— I hate to say I told you so...-she gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder and Sam narrowed his eyes, shaking his head. Her sigh resounded of feigned remorse, as if she really didn't want to have to say it. Bullshit.

— No, you don't.- he muttered warily as a small smile claimed her mouth.. — You love it. You love to say it.- she winked one of her sparkling brown eyes, then turned her attention to the bridge they were slowly crossing.

— I do love to say I told you so.- she admitted with a wide grin that dimpled the corners of her lips. — I so fucking told you so.

"Oh I want to take you down to Kokomo, we'll get there fast and then we'll take it slow, that's where we want to go, way down in Kokomo..."

The emergency had taken place at a warehouse, causing extensive damage, impending loss of business, and widespread major damage to surrounding buildings and residential properties. The warehouse's deposit consisted of cocoa beans, and copra, which somehow caught fire in the storage area. Rules prohibited all smoking except in the outdoor cafeteria, which was also where the workers' lockers were, the bathroom, and where they took their break; someone must have ignored the warning signs. It was certainly a miracle nobody died. All material loss aside, everyone working at that warehouse should be glad they'd dodged what could have easily become a tragedy. 

By the time Magna and Sam arrived there, employees had already managed to get out of their burning workplace before the building exploded. However, over fifty people got injured while trying to escape the flames. Firefighters helped them get to the ambulances because medical personnel was overloaded with victims to aid and their backups were taking too long. Police officers then chimed in and transported more victims to the nearest medical facility.

A group of firefighters jogged around the side of the building, checking out the corrugated tin that lined the roof and sides. Metal would help stop the flames outside, but the group figured the inside would be mostly flammable wood. When they reached the back door, the firemen felt the heat of the blaze as more smoke oozed out around the door and windows. The interior was empty, or at least it looked that way. No one had been left behind, which was good. Coughing from the smoke, they quickly pulled up their face masks and eased on thick gloves, eyeing the back door before entering the blazing building.

For Magna and Sam, their options again were limited, as most of the work had already been done, fortunately. They simply inspected the perimeter, checking the fire hadn't spread from the original area. Once sure the situation was stable enough for them to leave, Sam turned right, gripping the steering wheel tighter as the vehicle tilted around one corner.

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The smell of rain was already thick on the air. The first drop fell fat and hard on the top driver's-side corner of the windshield. Sam saw it there, shaking and being pushed by the oncoming wind to the top of the windshield, then out of sight. The street was in total quietness except for the tires of an occasional car and the jarring, super-neon flashes of lightning; Desperate hands were gathering hanging clothes. Another bolt arced across the sky, and the day outside seemed to leap as the murderous current jolted through it. As if on cue, the next three raindrops hurled down on them from the hot afternoon sky onto the windshield of the car, spattering on the dusty street. Sam swore softly.

— Oh, hell no.- he turned on the wipers. Magna opened her window and put her face out in the rain. Sam yelled to her to shut the damn window, but she laughed and then turned to him, raindrops running down her face. She chuckled, finally shutting the window. — Did you tell them?- Sam's voice was calm and low and she knew he was still talking about her parents. Her grin faded slowly. Unconsciously, she raised her chin to a challenging angle.

Rain started to fall gently, and the glass misted up so Magna had to wipe it off as Sam drove. Then the downpour began, heavy and constant, large, heavy raindrops pounding the windscreen; the noise rose to a crescendo as the rainfall turned into hailstones. Sam scowled. He switched the headlights on and the windscreen wipers on to fast speed.

— Well, Natasha released everything online...- she stated forthrightly as a preface, looking down at her black ankle boots, emotion seeping back in. — ... So there wasn't much to tell by the time I finally convinced the hospital staff to discharge me.- Magna clenched her jaw as she ground out the words layered with a generous dose of involuntary sarcasm. Sam wondered at the slight melancholy in her expression. — But yeah, now they know.- she admitted. 

— You've been protecting them all this time from too much, Mags.- he reminded her kindly, his tone softening considerably. Above the wipers, he heard the rasp of her heavy breathing. Upon their heads, the sky darkened even more.

— I don't know about that. -she responded feelingly, her voice just a soft whisper, wondering how much to tell Sam. — I, I... forget it.- she ran a hand across her face, not sure what she was going to say. — I don't really want to talk about it.- she finished quickly, squaring her shoulders but it was just a momentary act of bravado and then she drooped again.

The world beyond the glass was quiet and still. For a moment, the only sound in the car came from the windshield wipers whup-whuping back and forth against the rain. Then the quietness was gone, the wind roared and the trees shook, branches snapped.

— That's okay.- he said hesitantly. Magna wasn't quite sure Sam understood the kinds of things she'd been worried about hearing from her parents, so she chose to say nothing. — A road trip is the perfect cure for stress, anyway.- he rolled off down the street with "Shining Star" blaring, tapping the wheel in time to the music. Magna snorted, obviously finding his declaration amusing.

— Said who?- he shrugged as if to say, "this is it, this is all there is", apologetically. She said nothing and stared out of the window. Sam turned to her and patted her lightly on the knee.

The car's engine was overtaken by the crashing sound of the torrential rain on the roof, windscreen wipers thrashing backwards and forwards. The cloudburst was punctuated by claps of thunder; even though the wipers were going full blast it was still hard to see, and each time a thunder shattered the rhythmic noises of the wipers, Sam gripped the wheel tighter.

Another flash of lightning illuminated the whole area, and a couple of seconds later a loud rumble of thunderclap could just be heard above the noise of the rain. The wipers slapped across the windscreen. Traffic was at a standstill,  cars crawled forward another ten yards. Their destination was only three quarters of a mile away and at this rate it felt like they would not be there until midnight. Up ahead they could catch a glimpse of the jam.

— C'mon now, Secret Squirrel.- he leaned forward and nodded toward the wet driveway ahead of them, the slick tires creaming the water. A mischievous smirk tugged one corner of her mouth. — Who knows? We might find Tinman this time.


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17 MINUTES LATER

The rained had eased significantly to a drizzle, which seemed to annoy Sam even more than the downpour. He slowed the car to a crawl and Magna's eyes prowled the fronts of all the houses and shops.

— Should we even bother with coordinating house-to-house?-Sam asked in a deathly quiet whisper. Blinking his eyes several times, he looked around intently, gaze sharp and focused. Next to her, Magna was going through the same routine checks as he was, her eyes scanning their surroundings, searching for something out of place.

— I don't think so. Wrong neighborhood...- she frowned and shrugged slightly, finally looking at him. Nodding almost absently, Sam hummed agreement to that.

— There's no way he's living here.- their guy was undoubtedly trying with all his might to stay off grid, most likely living under a new identity and the busy sidewalks they were surveying didn't exactly scream "low-profile". 

— I mean, it's.. too crowded.- she said, biting her lip as she grimaced, glancing out the car window again. Her phone buzzed for the eleventh time that day. — What kind of stationary store needs police vigilance?- she asked, shooting a dubious glare at the uniformed officer guarding the front doors of the shop.

The drizzle finally paused, for the moment, leaving the city glistening. People were coming out of their homes to do errands or work in their gardens, already fumes from the traffic were filling the air. 

— Well then let's go check it out.- Sam unlocked the car door and took the keys from the ignition in one swift move as he opened and slid himself out the vehicle.

— Please let it not be another dead end.-Magna whispered to herself. Her mobile began buzzing on the dashboard, reminding her she had an unread text. — Fuck's sake.- she grabbed the phone off the dash and sent a message as she was getting out of the car.

The humid, heavy air felt even worse now than before the rain. It wasn't just a mild humidity, but a thick and moist humidity thatclung to the skin. Magna's face glistened and her dark hair clung to her cheeks.

She did not berate herself for talking aloud to herself. Her mother was a selftalker as well, walking about the house chattering on, carrying on very complex conversations with herself, which often contained two or three contentious points of view.

Standing by the car's opened door, Magna's gaze searched the narrow, busy lane, between the trees, over the tables of the restaurant in front of her. Inside her pocket, her cell vibrated, again, signaling yet another incoming message. Rolling her eyes, she opened it up and read a variation of the same type of text she'd been receiving the past month. It stood out, shouting at her through the pale irrelevance of all the other messages. After reading through his increasingly concerned attempts to contact them, Magna was flooded with guilt. 

Sam's voice brought her thoughts back to the present as he came to stand next to her, where he remained with his arms crossed over his chest, his weight on one hip. 

— You know, Stark should do something with that thing.- he nodded toward the GPS system inside his vehicle. — Turn it into a super drone or something.- he suggested and Magna raised a curious eyebrow. Sam nodded proudly, his eyes lit up with sudden excitement. — My own idea.- he added.

— A bird for another bird.- she taunted him, head bobbing up and down. She leaned her hip against the hood of the car nonchalantly. — But yeah, you should totally bug Stark to do it. Pitch this stuff to him and take all his money.- that earned her the low chuckle she'd been hoping for. — Also, could you maybe check in with Steve so he stops drowning my phone with texts?- Magna pleaded. — It's your turn anyway.- she concluded, teasingly.

Pulling his phone from his pocket, he scrolled through his inbox and soon enough, Steve's messages for Magna stopped immediately. No one doubted Captain's intentions were good, iin fact, the texts he sent were filled with tips he'd found and potentially helpful information which, -in his mind-, could facilitate Magna and Sam's task to find his best friend. 

Distance was hard for Steve, and he hated feeling powerless. He had his own world, responsibilities and missions to conduct, yet he still wanted to take a more active part in the extensive search for Bucky's whereabouts. Unfortunately, every single one of his cold leads had ended up nowhere lately, which made the three of them feel miserable.

Sometimes the tip was right. The signs sort of pointed out towards probability, and chances that Bucky had been staying, at one point, in a particular location seemed substantial enough, so they chased on that lead. However, by the time Sam and Magna had gotten to every spot, they'd all been unoccupied for a while. Their timing was wrong, that much was obvious, but Bucky was professional at staying invisible. On other occasions, -the most frustrating of circumstances, and the most frequent scenario too- the intel had been erroneous the entire time and there was nothing to find. Not even a slight trace. 

Sam pocketed the device and marched off toward the officer protecting the cordon, ready to fish for information about the "weird" situation. Picking her purse off the front seat, she was about to close the car door when movement at the corner of her eye diverted her attention. Thirty yards away, at the road junction and close to a garden hedge, someone dressed in a grey hoodie and jeans was looking her way. She watched him warily with narrowed eyes, sensing something strange but not quite able to pinpoint what it was. Her initial thought was that it was a slim built man, but because the hood was pulled way over their head and a mobile phone held in front of their face, she wasn't sure. What Magna was certain of was that the person was either photographing or videoing her.

Bucky Barnes jumped into her thoughts and a mix of nervousness coupled with fear overcame her. It took her a minute to realize the stranger's physical contexture was noticeably different and didn't match Bucky's at all, but the discovery only brought more questions to her mind. Magna looked around for Sam, wondering if he'd noticed the man in the hoodie too, but Wilson was already inside the store, with his back to her, and the uniform officer guarding the cordon was facing the other way as well. 

Magna decided she had no choice but to challenge this stranger and took a couple of steps towards them. The person instantly reacted. Magna increased her pace and so did they. Then, eyes firmly set on her target, she exploded into a sprint, putting in a burst across the road. The person turned and did the same, making a dash for it and disappearing from view. 

Meanwhile, with a muttered curse, Sam had edged out of the store and stumbled off in the direction of his car, glancing around. Magna was nowhere to be seen. 

In the three seconds it took her to make the corner, the stranger had vanished. She stood, trying to catch any sound that might lead her to where the stranger had scarpered. They had to be in one of the nearby gardens but all she could hear was her own heaving chest. As she cussed, her mobile started ringing. 

Sam.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

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LOCATION:  BERLIN - GERMANY.

7:50 A.M.

EIGHT WEEKS AFTER THE TRISKELION DISASTER

— Well, I bet Australia is nice.- Magna watched the cloudy sky as she stepped outside her new apartment, shivering slightly as a cool breeze greeted her and whipped her wavy brunette hair back from her face.  — This is a secure line, by the way.- she snugged her dark blue jacket closer around her. Hunching her shoulders against the cold wind, she tucked the folder under her arm like a clutch, hugging herself with her free arm.

After taking her time to really think about her next move, Magna had finally agreed and was immediately stationed in Berlin with Sharon, under the commands of Everett Ross. J.C.T.C had granted her with a place in a private building which was owned by the Agency. The first thing she noticed upon moving in there was that there was a startling lack of anything decorative or subtle about it; just three huge layers of gray brick and four tall arched windows. However the young woman couldn't complain at all; she had an entire floor to herself, with three luminous rooms, a thirty-foot-high ceiling and large two story windows, -matching the glassless exterior ones-, which graced the double door entrance.

 It'll be nice if we actually find him this time.- Steve's voice was laced with an edge of sarcasm and frustration. — It's been dead end after dead end for months now.- he breathed deeply and continued.— He sure is doing all he can to keep us out of the loop.

Magna had wanted to try to call her parents again before she started her day. She thumbed through her contact list and pressed the call button. As she held the device close to her ear, hoping that they would pick up the call, she felt the emptiness around the ringing of the phone. There was no one at home, apparently. They had gone missing on her once again. She began to relive the horrible arguments days before her departure, which only seemed to increase upon the news of her moving to Berlin. She perfectly recalled the reluctance and uneasiness her parents felt around her whenever she visited them, but despite knowing the atrocities she'd partaken in, Magna was still their daughter and they still loved her; furthermore, they were still deeply concerned. 

The line continued to ring, but nothing; so she sighed and hung up. The fall of S.H.I.E.L.D had undoubtedly changed everything. Minutes later, the mobile rang and she expected Julia on the other end. Instead, it was Steve. Magna stared at his blinking contact name numbly for a moment before accepting the call. She swiped the green button to accept the call, desperately hoping for good news. Maybe they'd finally found him?

— I'm shooting my shot here but...- she continued tentatively in a whisper, utterly aware she was treading on sensitive ground, but something made her persist.  — ... Have you considered that maybe he doesn't want to be found?- Magna grimaced, waiting for his reaction.

 I have to keep trying, Mags... especially now. He's back. He needs me.- he lowered his voice. — I can't just abandon him, he's had too much of that.

Magna wasn't trying to be skeptical or make him feel like he'd made bad decisions, but that's how it came across, at least partly. Fearing she might hurt Steve's feelings, she tried to talk to him as tenderly as possible.

— Are you sure about that?-  she lowered her eyes and watched her boots, hoping for some divine inspiration to shine forth from them. It took Steve a moment to relieve the suspicion of mockery in Magna's voice and accept that she was genuinely concerned.

— What is that supposed to mean?-  he asked, still rather defensively. His voice was steady but Steve felt as if he was shaking inside.

— I mean, how?- she questioned gently, a minute later, her words tinged with uncertainty. — How can you be sure that he's back, that he knows who you are?- on the other end of the phone, she heard Steve sigh and could easily picture him shaking his head stubbornly. When he spoke again his voice was pitched on a lower key.

— He pulled me out of the water. He knows, Magna. At the very least, he must remember something.- a quiet hesitation filled the phone line. Then her soft, rueful reply came through.

— Or, he remembers what he's supposed to know. I read the file, Steve...- she caught her breath and her voice trailed off. "Hope for the best and prepare for the worst" was the sentence that she kept replaying in her head over and over again.

— No. I know what you're going to say, but it's him. It has to be.- he said, his frustration replaced by a matter-of-fact tone of voice laced with steel. Magna was blown away at the strength of his care for his best friend, so she just held the phone, and there was dead silence again. 

— Are you still there?- he asked with concern in his voice on the other end, gripping the mobile tightly.  A pensive quietness stretched between them and Steve rolled his eyes.

 — I can hear you breathing, Magna.- this time he sounded calm and mildly scolding, as a disappointed father would to a child.

Silence. Steve was intrigued by now and mildly amused, so he continued.

 It sounds like a buffalo. Do you have asthma or something? Are you all right?- he continued teasing. Magna could hear the distinct sound of his lips curving up into a smile. She didn't need to see his face to know it was one of his funny half smiles.

He tried to speak again but she finally hushed him. 

— Shh! I'm thinking.- she hissed at him, switching sides and leaning to try to hear the rest of the conversation with her right ear. 

— Does that hurt?- it was obvious Steve was just trying to ease his own anxieties by poking fun at her. She rolled her eyes as she anticipated the obvious punchline.

— Does what hurt?- she asked coldly but then started to grin. Ah, heprobably was so proud of that one.

— Thinking.- she really wanted to laugh, but couldn't find the energy to. Sadly, Magna was in no mood for Steve's sudden smartass attitude. She heaved a sigh and hushed him again.

Silence. This time Steve waited, and she took in a great big old breath of air to get myself prepared to speak, before coming back on the line.

— I'm going to give you my unsolicited opinion right now, so you better listen up.- she announced dourly, and her mouth suddenly felt full of sand.

A pause. He must have caught the serious tone in her voice and closed his eyes to stop his first reply, a classic snide remark.

— I'm listening.- he said cautiously and Magna realized he was; he was offering her the full focus of his attention. After a full minute she finally cleared her throat and plunged ahead.

— Bucky is gone, Steve.- she murmured earnestly, and he automatically flinched at the statement.

 Magna...- Steve began protesting but didn't have time to finish. Magna interrupted, cutting him off. She let loose a long, exasperated sigh.

—  Just let me finish, okay?- she demanded keenly, rocking back and forth on the heels of her boots. 

— Sorry.- he blinked twice, and his heart raced. — Please, continue.- Magna took a deep breath, wishing she could start over. 

— Bucky is gone. Gone as in... a concept, memory and idea that you have of who that is.- she rushed to explain, because between the anxiety welling inside her and the tension spinning around the two of them through the phone line, Magna was desperate to get her point across. — The Bucky you knew died when he fell off the train. This individual you're looking for is not him...- her voice lowered with sadness. — ... But he's also not the Winter Soldier.- she added quickly, hoping to ease his mind. — Not entirely.

— So you're saying...-  Steve trailed off and frowned, not completely sure he understood her concept.

— I'm saying he's a brand new person. Look I get it, okay?- Magna went on, her tone as soothing as warm honey, and as Steve listened to her words, everything fell more into place, or at least it began to. — It's unnerving. The not-knowing part. But if it's overwhelming for you... Imagine what it must be like for him. Keep in mind maybe he needs far more than we can give him, Steve. He needs to learn to cope with what he's done.

Silence.

— Steve?- the latter then realized he was nodding, but not speaking. 

— I'm listening.- he repeated, taking a deep breath. A small leap of faith was all he needed, something distinct and real that he could grasp and hold on to. Meanwhile, Magna continued her pep talk.

— Maybe he remembers, maybe not... maybe he remembers that at one point he knew stuff, remembered stuff, and that's it. Regardless, that possibility shouldn't be ruled out. Not yet. -she urged him, her voice low and crooning – as that of a mother to her babe.

 I'm not sure I'm ready to.- the desolation in his admission startled her. Magna's mindless pacing halted, and she stood like a statue, slightly overwhelmed, as her mouth hung open in mild anguish. 

— You will need to be.- she simply told him. — If I'm right, he is just trying to figure out who he is, not through whoever he was in the forties, or the person he's meant to be...- her voice was strangled with discomfort, but the right words had emerged nonetheless. — ... But through whom ever Bucky chooses to be from this point forward.

— You don't believe his memories are back, then?- Steve couldn't help but feel disheartened by her words, and it was a sensation that was altogether too familiar and unpleasant. She took a moment before answering.

There was no good way to answer that question.

— I think... whatever memories Bucky might have, he will most likely not recall experiencing them.- Magna chose her words carefully, determined to speak honestly. — Considering the depths of the brainwashing HYDRA performed on him, anyway.

 They wiped him off.- he bit out irritably, his tone increasing in sharpness. Magna nibbled her bottom lip.

— I don't think so.- she shook her head, even though he couldn't see her. — HYDRA took who he was, perhaps. But Bucky is alive, and he's out there.- she assured him. — Which is enough. Plenty, in fact.

There was yet another beat of silence.

— You know, I told him I'd be there with him through everything, until the end of the line. I can't imagine not being part of his life...- he spoke again flatly, the voice of a man lost in his own thoughts. — But for all I know he probably doesn't remember that promise anymore.

— Just... remember that if this hurts you, then it hurts him a hundred times worse, for a hundred extra reasons he can't even begin to understand.- Magna was still confused about how to handle the conversation. She did not want to give him any false hopes, so she tried to give him the truth and get him to relax. — Imagine how confusing it must be. There's these glimpses of memories, assuming he has them, that belonged to another man, a stranger. Then the horrors, the lives he took... You told me he mentioned he remembers all his victims. Beneath all of that, there's a man. A man with a clean slate.

 I can't wrap my head around it, Mags. All I know is I'm not... I'm not..- although she heard his flaring temper, it didn't bother her. She understood the cause, even felt empathy for him. Steve hesitated, taking a breath before finishing his statement.—  I'm not done trying. Not until I know who's in there.

— I know.- she mumbled and bit the inside of her cheeks in frustration.

They were heading toward dangerous territory if they didn't switch to a different topic of conversation. The line grew quiet again, and he waited, but she didn't add anything. When Steve spoke again his voice was light. 

— Should I even bother trying to convince you to tag along with us? Again... we could definitely use the extra help.- her lips parted but Steve interrupted her excuse. — ... Plus, Sam here seems to like your presence for some reason. But that is beyond my comprehension.- he gave his best shot and put the phone in speaker, as Sam yelled in the background something about 'obvious' reasons. Magna smirked, checking her watch and heading for the stairs.

The cold sky above her was gray, muddled, threatening rain as she crossed the quad of the building. Making her way to the reception, she instictively cuddled her cheeks into her collar and stared at the cobblestone path to the residence's lounge. 

— Isn't everything beyond comprehension when it comes to you?- she taunted him and Sam yelled "Burn", whistling approvingly before approaching the phone speaker. He heard her sigh and say, — Besides, I can't just take a leave, I just got this job.- she pointed out, as if their suggestion was ridiculous. For the third time,she declined their offer to join in by way of a measured chuckle.

Her first briefing meeting was for half past eight and she was eager to leave. She didn't have to leave for another fifteen minutes, but much to her surprise, there was a black Audi already waiting for her outside the building.

— Right. What would the C.I.A think?- Sam commented teasingly, taking over the conversation while Steve went to the cockpit and checked their flight path. The autopilot was on, steering a course towards the Australian coastline.

The quinjet moved a little.

— There's also the small matter that I don't want to go.- she added. His familiar voice crackled on the other end of the line as he groaned in feigned indignation.

— C'mon, but we had so much fun in Italy!- the tone of his voice began to change and grew more excited as he talked. — We bonded! Our friendship blossomed!- Magna rolled her eyes at his fake accusatory voice.

— The only thing that blossomed was a new level of annoyance.- she retorted wittingly. —  But you should feel proud, you triggered it.

— Steve, she has no heart!- his voice trailed off when Sam walked away. Magna heard fast steps growing louder as they got closer to the phone. The rumbling and hacking behind them, however, was also growing louder and closer, and for a moment she felt tempted to ask what was going on. Steve strolled to the back and left Sam to keep the course.

— ... I wouldn't be so sure.- Steve's gentle sincerity returned and Magna grinned. — Anything new?- his tone suddenly was even more serious than usual, with a tinge of alertness. 

 — Oh, you mean Hoodie Guy? No, not since Italy.- she told him, her voice rose melodiously on the stillness, bearing her heart's harmony on every tone. — I'm more curious than freaked out, honestly. I'm okay.- she said, but she didn't sound like she was okay at all. Her tone was far away, just like her thoughts. Steve's muscles started to bunch up in his shoulders.

 I'm sorry.- he whispered with a mix of fear and anxiety. The concern in his tone nearly undid her, but Magna pushed through and tried to downplay it, like she usually did with... well, everything.

— Hey, nothing happened.- feeling her mouth suddenly dry with consternation she hoped he wouldn't notice. — I've always known the risks, I can take care of myself.- Steve did hear the thread of anguish in her tone, though.

— Still.- he persisted, undeniable regret infused his tone. — I just wish I could have been there to help you look for him, guys.- Magna then chuckled lightly.

— You fight for the safety of literally everyone, on a daily basis... That's enough on anyone's plate. - there was no criticism in her tone.— A creepy teenage stalker is not something Captain needs to worry about.- she chuckled. — It's totally fine, Steve.

 I hope you know that includes you too, by now.- Magna went silent, and knowing there was no answer forthcoming he grew more determined to breach those barriers of hers. — As your friend, worrying about you and your safety is my job too.- he rectified and she sighed.

— Then that makes two of us.- she concurred and quickly brushed off the emotion in her voice with a breathy laugh. — Okay, too sappy.- she murmured, her voice still slightly shaky. — Just go ahead and thank me for the introspection, so I can go to work.- she changed the subject; slowly her volume started to grow as the snide demand dropped from her mouth.

— Thank you.- the shock in his usually calm voice told Magna he wasn't ready for the shift in the conversation, but she was done with that sentimental path for the moment. — Thank you for the unsolicited splash of reality, Magna.- he added quietly, but she could tell he was smiling on the other end. 

His answer was immediate and sincere, which made Magna wish she could see his face and the lines that deepened at the corners of his eyes whenever he smiled. Steve was always so tense, so worrie... he deserved better.

— Yeah, well. That one's for free. The next one, though...- she trailed off, with a hint of excitement in her tone.

— Oh, a next time, huh? C'mon...- he feigned insult. — Do I really seem that clueless?-he scoffed, his tone dripping with sarcasm. In the background, Sam barked a laugh, reacting without delay. She chortled.

— Yes you are.- Sam yelled, beating her to the punch.

— Okay, boys... I gotta go now.- Magna said sheepishly. — Good luck, Steve, Sam...- the latter shouted his goodbye and Steve sighed the way a father would. — ... I really hope you find him soon.- she said truthfully.

— So do I...- he replied softly, detesting the uncertain tone in his voice. — Goodbye, Magna.

— Goodbye, Steve.- she said gently. He ended the call, feeling the same twinge of disappointment that came every time she said goodbye to him. 

A soft click sounded in her ear as Steve severed the connection between them. Still smiling, Magna pocketed her mobile and politely waved goodbye the woman standing behind the reception desk as she walked past her. Moments later, she finally made it outside.

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Chapter Text

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She emerged from the building to find the early morrning fog had dissipated into wisps that parted like lace curtains. There seemed tobe anunusual amount of noise at this time of the morning, and she belatedly recalled it was market day -or at least that's what she'd read on the news that morning upon waking up.

Magna hastened down her building's entryway. Her limbs felt numb from lack of rest, product of jet lag. Tendrils of anxiety wound their way into her stomach at being gone from her parents, -both physically and emotionally-, but also, for not knowing a single soul in Berlin -besides Sharon. Never before had she so desperately needed sleep, to just, for a few hours, escape the heavy burden of her responsibilities and memories. But how to do so? 

Glancing briefly over the list of helpful names and addresses in the folder, she took in the information she'd need to use for work. It seemed to be a full agenda, despite being her first day on the job. She felt the prick of disappointment at the thought that she would not have time to walk around and get familiar with Berlin.

Her legs were slightly shaking under her as she walked down to the car. She sat huddled into a corner of the rear passenger seat, staring out at the busy Berlin morning with eyes that saw nothing. 

The vehicle moved soundlessly quite a long way across the city, Magna silently studying the open file on her knee one more time. Every few seconds she watched the people and cars rushing past the fogged up window glass. As they got near the headquarters of the Joint Counter Terrorism Centre, the roads started to widen out, and the buildings took on a more monumental air. At one point the usual gray brick and concrete gave way to a long, wide boulevard flanked by high sand-coloured buildings with an ornate system of arches on top. Running down the middle of the road was a long row of fountains splashing tall columns of water into the air.

Suddenly the road opened into a huge square with a central, circular fountain around which Maghna was carried with the stream of traffic. Flanking the sides were areas of sun bleached grass, with bright blue painted benches and rubbish bins. And all around, the same impressive, white brick blocks, but now with advertising hoardings mounted high up on the top of them; Coke, Pepsi, Berliner Weiße. An enormous blue and white banner hung from the side of a department store advertising Deutsche Bank. They seemed to be the only things which gave color to the paleness of the scene.

Coming around to the far end of the piazza, Magna could make out the facade of what could be nothing else than the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre facilities. Its dimensions were as impressive as it was intimidating; the building's very size was monstrous, like an over-ambitious wedding cake begging for admiration.

As if reading her thoughts, Mr. Wagner, the driver caught Magna's eye in the mirror and said "We're almost there, Ma'am", nodding his head with a cautious expression of sad resignation. The man looked to be in his mid fifties, red-faced and a little overweight, with dark-brown hair and graying around the temples. And he'd called her "Ma'am". Magna grimaced internally, feeling slightly old. She looked up from her papers and made some comment about the building looking quite impressive. They arrived in a narrow side street off one of the main squares. Eventually, the car swung through the Agency's main gate and drew up to the entrance of the facilities, slowly driving down the first of three security checkpoints.

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LOCATION: BERLIN - GERMANY

8:02 A.M -  JOINT COUNTER TERRORIST CENTRE (C.I.A Headquarters)

EIGHT WEEKS AFTER THE TRISKELION DISASTER

Mr. Wagner activated the first gate with his ID badge and continued his way. Upon reaching the final security post, he pushed his electronic key out the window, swiped the pad, and drove downthe steep ramp into the darkness, beneath the high-rise building and into the secure underground parking garage. The car entered at a slow pace, and Magna took note of the alleyways and surrounding emergency doors in case she had to escape the facilities for some reason. Because of her... recent experiences and all.

The car parked in one of the two bays reserved for Sharon and Magna. The other was already occupied by a black Audi A4 used by the blonde. Magna would be granted with one within the week, which made her incredibly relieved, given the whole driver situation seemed too unnecessary for someone like her.

Mr. Wagner stopped the car, walked around the vehicle and pulled open her door, politely offering Magna his hand, which she kindly took. 

— The lift is here, Ma'am, you press the button '5', for control room, 'G' for the garage on your return. Mr. Ross will arrange for me to be waiting for you here by the lift gates.- he informed Magna in English, but with a super-thick German accent which she'd already noticed when he spoke to her earlier. 

As she slid out the vehicle, Magna forced a smile and murmured her thanks. Again, too unnecesary; but given she couldn't Uber her way inside the Join Counter Terrorist Centre just like that, she accepted it nonetheless.

Magna walked slowly to the lift, followed closely by Mr. Wagner, who shifted into his most accommodating demeanor and strode quietly with his arms folded behind his back.

— Thank you, again, Mr. Wagner.- she told him, dimpling as she smiled, straightening her clothes, the folder still firmely clutched under her arm. — I guesss I'll see you later.- she flinched one brow, corroborating the arrangement.

— Oh, no need to thank me.- the man shook his head grinning lightly, his green eyes wrinkling in the outer corners. — Yes, Ma'am. I'll be here to meet you later.- he confirmed so that Magna could verify she'd understood correctly.

— I'll meet you later, then.- this time, it was Magna that nodded her head with a cautious expression, already preparing herself mentally for the meeting. — I don't know how long I'll be here today but I assume someone will contact you throughout the day, I guess?- she sighed. — I don't know. Anyway... please, Mr. Wagner, don't hesitate to do whatever you need to do in the meantime.

For a second, the German driver seemed startled at how considerate she was being despite not knowing him, even if it wasn't exactly up to her to give such authorization.

— Yes, Ma'am, thank you ma'am, goodbye ma'am.- Mr. Wagner said, nervously taking his leave. As he turned, she claimed his attention one last time, pausing the man's retreat.

— Oh, and Mr. Wagner!- she blurted out. — Please, there are no "ma'ams" here. They are making me feel twice my age!- she grinned across at him. The man frowned in confusion, as if silently wondering how he was supossed to address her now. Her smile faded immediately, replaced by a blank expression and a cautious tone. She cleared her throat. — My name is Magna, you can call me that. Or, Miss Magna? I believe that is formal enough... don't you?- she queried lowly. Still slightly puzzled, Mr. Wagner nodded his agreement. — Then it's settled. See you later, Mr. Wagner.- she dedicated him one final small smile and turned to face the elevator digital panel.

She pressed the button for the control room. The doors automatically slid shut, and the young woman was swept smoothly and swiftly to the top floor of the building. As she speedily ascended, Magna closed her eyes for a second or two, gathering her thoughts. 

The elevator ride was short, interrupted by someone claiming its presence, forcing the suspended box to halt. Moments later the doors opened, revealing a young woman dressed for success staring at her cell phone. She could have been anything from a company executive, to a rising attorney on her way to a trial court. The almond brown Versace two-piece suit she wore complimented her hazel eyes. She had on a pair of Cole Hann off white leather ankle boots with matching purse and wore no makeup. Her dark ebony skin glowed naturally, and instead of lipstick, she graced her lips with a shiny lip-gloss. Magna looked down at her own attire. She was dressed to get paid, barely. 

She barely glanced at Magna and entered the elevator to stand beside her. The latter allowed her eyes to roam the current floor before her until the doors shut again. The entrance, at ground level, consisted of a heavily guarded Plexiglas sliding door. There were many agents moving around, minding their business. In the front of the building was a very spacious lounging area, which contained a reception desk, a few 42'' TV screens, lounge chairs and a sofa. 

From the ground the two climbed up to the last. At the ding the elevator doors opened, showing the marble floor of the fifth floor. Lifting her chin, she stepped boldly forward through the sliding doors, leaving the woman still engrossed with her texts.

Magna found herself in a vast room, confronted by a huge picture window offering sweeping views of Berlin by night. On the right side of the room, two women in neat black pencil skirts and white blouses were flipping through documents and exchanging them, sliding the papers across a circular table gleaming with silver and crystal. On the left side, three dark leather sofas had been arranged around a small glass table, illumined by the glow of a digitalized map with all continents. Along the far side of the room there was a glass sliding door leading to an outdoor small patio which presented two concrete benche occupied with a few smokers; The light snuck in, making the entire floor bright.

With a sigh, Magna headed for the small bit of exterior, holding the door for the two agents who returned inside at the same time she walked inside the patio and ran into them. With a curt nod, they thanked her and she slowly made her way towards one of the benches. She was glad to sit, her mind still reeling from the pending conversation with her parents. 

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LOCATION: BERLIN - GERMANY

8:15 A.M -  JOINT COUNTER TERRORIST CENTRE (C.I.A Headquarters)

EIGHT WEEKS AFTER THE TRISKELION DISASTER

The smoking area wasn't big, in fact, it made Magna feel claustrophobic. Covered with glass panels and equipped with ventilation, the square room had very little green and too much steel. Granted, it probably was one of architecture's wonders, but to Magna it felt way too corporate; cold, impersonal.

Cigarette in hand, she resumed eyeing her folder, waiting for Sharon to text her back. Distractedly glancing around at her new surroundings, Magna then noticed one long corridor stretched out before her, on the other side of the glass, and seemed to bend around a corner far ahead. 

A few minutes later, Magna caught movement out of the corner of her eye, -a quick glimpse of blonde hair through the transparent window. It was Sharon, descending a shallow flight of stairs at the other end of the carpeted corridor. As Magna watched Sharon approaching her, she noticed the latter carrying two cups of coffee. Sharon threw her a wink after noticing the brunette smoothing down her pants, a nervous tell of hers. The latter had left her new honey-blonde hair loose, framing her face and Magna thought it suited her. She greeted her friend with a pursed smile and nod of her head, a slight breeze playing lightly with her brown locks.

Claiming the seat next to her, Sharon handed Magna the warm cup, who accepted it with a bow of her head. Then, the two gave each other a quick once-over, gaze lingering on their inscrutable expressions. 

— Here we are...- Sharon murmured, unable to keep her eyes off the busy hallways inside the building. — For the record, I'm glad I get to keep working with you. - finally, she turned to face Magna, brushing her hair out of her eyes and tucking it behind her ear. She could see a hint of a smile on the brunette's face. The latter took a glance at her friend as she friend went on, and the blonde leaned closer, her voice low and confidential. — We've always been a team. We stay a team.- she said after a moment, and gave her a playful nudge in the side with her elbow.

Her mission partner wasn't a big fan of public displays of affection, -which was another thing they both had in common; so the small gesture warmed Magna's heart, as the latter recalled how reserved and cautious with emotions and vulnerabilities Sharon had always been. Magna's lips quirked into a smug smile.

— ...Danke. (Thank you.)- she murmured demurely, but her eyes were twinkling with mischief at her as she added, teasing gently. — Does this mean you're going to boss me around?- she wondered, with a crooked smile that grooved a dimple in one cheek. — ... Because I'm not having it.- Sharon hummed as a contemplative expression passed across her face. She hesitated for just a moment, slightly apprehensive.

— ... I think we both are gonna be bossed around this time.- when she spoke again, Sharon made sure she kept her tone calm and her expression neutral. — But at least we get to do what we know best.- she shrugged, her expression wistful as she darted her eyes from Magna's. The latter studied her, puzzlement and fascination mingled in her features. She shrugged at last, and took another sip of coffee.

— Well at least the beer is good here.- she commented, shrugging nonchalantly. Sharon's expression lightened, and a slight grin curved the latter's lips upward when she simply nodded in response.

After a simultaneous sigh and without another word, the two clinked their cups together in mock celebration and sipped more liquid, standing up. When they finished their drinks and threw their coffee cardboard cups into a nearby trash can, they took a shortcut path leading to the briefing room. 

The pair walked through several transparent office spaces and then took a sharp left that led down a wide hallway. Sharon and Magna arrived to the second level doors. Once inside, they strode past a reception desk and made it to the busy room without anyone questioning their presence. A tall, long-nosed man hustled out the doors of a very sophisticated looking office and beckoned the two agents to follow him without a word. Sharon and Magna exchanged a curious look and complied, exiting the conference. He stood, silently keeping the sliding transparent door open for them.

There, seated behind a large glass desk and talking to someone (whom Magna identified as the same woman in the Versace outfit from the elevator) was Everett K. Ross, impassive and busy as ever, tilted slightly backward in a massive leather chair. In the commander's office, the backdrop of the radiant city in its vaulting window frame served to emphasize the sweep and size of the scene. 

— Sit.- he commanded shortly without looking their way, -drawing the words out slowly,- and pointed at the pair of seats in front of his desk; only one of them was empty. 

Sharon and Magna didn't move, unsure which of them he was talking to. Upon the silence that filled the office, Ross looked up from the pile of briefing folders crowding his massive desk. There were shadows under his eyes, showing the effects of several long days and as many sleepless nights. He nodded toward the chairs in front of the desk. With a wry, welcoming smile, he repeated his command. 

— Please. Take a seat. I'll be with you in a second, Helena was just leaving.- after that he handed the woman, two six-inch-thick bound folders with "Top Secret" stamped in bold blue letters across the front. Ross nodded toward a red folder lying on the corner of his desk as well, and Helena stood up abruptly, collecting the files before letting herself out. 

The two obeyed, the sound of their boot heels clicking against the marble floor was drowned out by typing noises and faint murmurs of the continuous hallways. They sat down, watching in silence while the ex Air Force pilot finished skimming a memo. Ross came to the end, snorted in disgust and stuffed the document back into one of the folders. Seconds later, the tall agent who brought them in strolled briskly past Sharon and Magna's seats. He stood next to the commander, extending one hand out. 

— More trouble?- he asked carefully, with a tentative tone. Magna's shoulders squared. She glanced briefly at her friend, only to find Sharon mirroring her posture. 

— There always is with these assholes.- Ross ran his hands distractedly through his gray hair, and then indicated the folders stacked in front of him. — Riggs, make sure MI6 gets this...- his voice drawled out with exhaustion. Large, bold red letters stamped across the top indicated that it included confidential intelligence obtained from U.S. spy satellites. The tall agent Riggs left, looking quite distressed.

— Care for a cup of coffee?- Ross suddenly asked, still not looking at the two women in front of him. He instead pointed to two aluminium carafes and four mugs with the C.I.A logo set in a cluster, on the middle of the table, along with a wooden tea box.  — ... Or maybe tea?- again, as the words left his mouth he sounded bored out of his mind. Sharon tilted her head to one side and contemplated her answer for several moments.

— Sure, I'll have some coffee.- Magna eventually replied, deliberately ignoring Sharon's warning stare and helping herself to one of the carafes. The blonde followed her, picked up the other carafe labeled "Hot water" and selected an Earl Grey black tea from the box.

— How was your flight? How are you settling in to the apartment?- Ross asked without glancing up from his documents. He sounded uninterested, carrying on the conversation out of politeness. She rolled her eyes and poured coffee into another mug next to hers.

— Long, but uneventful.- Magna waited for a response from Ross. He didn't even look at her. He was humming to himself. Was that Sinatra? She felt her own throat tighten with rage. Sharon had warned her to keep it simple. This was why. What Sharon had meant was "lower your expectations." Her eyes darted from the mugs in front of her to Ross, and back to the coffee, focusing on the task at hand. Sharon was already sitting, waiting for her, one of her legs bouncing barely noticeably. — ... And yes, everything is perfect. I have to thank you again for letting me use it.

— That's good...- he commented, still not looking at her; still sounding as uninterested as a man married for twenty years. Why bothering with small talk? Magna closed her eyes for a moment to get her frustration under control. She prided herself on being professional with unfamiliar authorities, but sometimes, like now, it was hard. 

Sharon continued to watch her, and Magna continued to avoid looking back at her.

— Milk and sugar? Black?- she casually asked as she poured him a cup of coffee. His pen stopped moving across the page, and Ross finally looked up, blinking in surprise. Then, he lifted a brow. Sharon had trouble reading her friend's face, her features crinkled in confusion. Magna stood by the carafe, holding the two mugs coolly as she waited. — I couldn't help but notice your mug was empty.- she forced herself to keep the explanation casual, her tone light; then she watched Ross deciding how to parry her question and felt quite suddenly impatient, almost angry. The man's eyes narrowed ever so slightly before nodding once.

— Black. One sugar.-he tilted his head and watched her prepare his coffee before darting his bored eyes back to the desk.

After what seemed like an eternity, she set down his coffee cup next to him and slowly made her way around the desk, walking towards her seat. She held the hot drink tightly, her whole body tense. Without taking a sip, Ross opened the folder in front of him. The chit-chat was over. He was ready to get down to business.

— So let's get on with this. First of all... I'm sorry about what happened in D.C. You had a rough time. You both did.- he added, glancing at Sharon, who pressed her lips in a thin line and nodded tensely. Magna simply blinked. — S.T.R.I.K.E team field commander, Brock Rumlow. Was he a colleague of yours?- he questioned, tapping his fingers on the edge of the desk. Ross already knew the answer, he knew exactly Magna's place in S.H.I.E.L.D -Magna knew this too, but couldn't  help but taste bitterness as the words left her mouth.

— Hardly.- she answered grimly. Were they in an interrogation? or was it merely standard procedure? Sharon looked uncomfortable as hell, so Ross probably didn't pull that crap on her when she arrived. Clearly, he had been saving it for both of them.

— Right...- Ross said, as he decided to ignore the sharpness of her reply. — Any status updates on our database?- he demanded, tone more curious than cutting. Sharon cleared her throat, straiightening her sleeves. 

— After the building collapsed over him, Brumlow was checked into the nearest medical facility. The magnitude of injuries was... substantial.- Ross gave her a pointed look. — He's currently hospitalized, under surveillance at all hours.- she was holding her tea mug with her left hand, a pensive look plastered on her face. Redirecting his focus back to Magna, he tilted his head as if waiting for her to elaborate. 

— ... It was a big building.- Magna only commented, nodding to herself. With the mug pressed to her lips, Sharon nearly did a spit- take. The drawl to her words didn't go unnoticed by Ross, but the commander didn't inquire further.

— These contain your orders for the next week.- there was an undertone of ice in his tone, the lack of acknowledgment to Magna's words didn't go unnoticed by her either. — When we complete these set of forms, you will make your way to the training facility and begin immediately. We need you to catch up.- Magna saw that the tall guy called Riggs had returned. He passed the two female agents folders with their names stamped across the front, above the C.I.A logo. Ross carried on, looking at Sharon. — I hear you are a killer shot.- his voice was strong, confident as he talked. The question implicit throughout his speech was: "Is this true?"

The blonde's posture remained neutral. But her face. In the slightest crease of her the blonde's brows, barely perceptible, it was there. Doubt. She opened her mouth but closed it again quickly, realizing she didn't know how to respond, a shadow of suspicion crossing her face. Yes, she was good. Not perfect, though. Upon her lingering silence, Magna glanced up at her from her file and rolled her eyes.

— She is.- she answered bluntly for her, confirming it. Ross bobbed his head again, his fingers back to tapping. The blonde, who humbly pursed his lips but said nothing else, took a sip of her warm drink.

— Good. I need you two at the shooting range, daily.- he declared, moving his eyes to the screen of his computer. Then he began typing once again.

Sharon and Magna exchanged confused looks. The latter's eyes fell on the open files in front of her, the ones she didn't have clearance for. She raised an involuntary eyebrow as the brunette snuck a glance at her boss before focusing back on the secret papers.

Ross pulled open a large side drawer. He withdrew a file and placed it between them on the desk. It was a plain manila folder with a red TOP SECRET stamped on the outside lay on the surface of the desk. There was a psychologist trigger warning stamped on the front and back cover of the folder as well: "KEEP PHYSICALLY RESTRAINED."  With a discrete glance, Magna craned her neck, trying to get a peek. The brunette frowned slightly as she tried to read what was scribbled on the edge, but failed.

His eyes never looked anywhere but to the file as Ross spoke, slowly and with a suggestion of boredom when he broke her not-so-subtle perusal.

— Find anything of interest?- Ross called her out before sipping his coffee, eyeing his screen. He looked unimpressed rather than suspicious, almost as if was it was a recurring situation for him. — Perhaps I missed something...?- he added more sternly. She felt the blush hot on her cheeks and all down her neck, knowing that he had caught her spying nonetheless. When she looked up she caught his hostile stare.

She looked away immediately and swallowed, as if almost embarrassed to have been caught looking. Ross stared her down. silently. Raising one eyebrow, Magna crossed her arms and faced him again, shaking her head. Her earlier nervousness seemed gone. But he and Sharon noticed that her foot started swinging. She wasn't as calm as she wanted them to think she was. Still, Ross went on in his high voice, his attention back on the file.

— Take the rest of the day off, both of you.- he commanded without looking up and waved his hand in clear dismissal. — Real work starts tomorrow.

 

Chapter Text

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LOCATION: BERLIN - GERMANY

2 MONTHS LATER  ( F OUR MONTHS AFTER THE TRISKELION DISASTER.)

SHARON

 

 

The lanky agent ran through the doors, panting and wiping sweat off his forehead. He had to tell her. It was his mission. his responsibility. Everett Ross himself had commended him to brief her, to share the news with her. He could not fail. Frantic, he allowed his eyes to scan the room, looking for her. 

JCTC had a generic gymnasium facility where Sharon and Magna built up their strength daily. They had shooting ranges deep underground where the two worked on their aim, reaction time, and motor skills in the use of all sorts of firearms and other weapons. There, against only men who were far larger and stronger than they were, the pair drilled on certain close-quarter combat techniques, some of which Magna herself had employed to subdue HYDRA members in D.C.

There were five ranges in total. The first range was for knife throwing, the second range, Magna's personal favorite, was for bow and arrow shooting. The third one was for pistol shooting and the fourth for rifle. The fifth range was for sniper shooting. 

The firing range itself looked like a movie scene, only dirtier. Stalls like horse stalls from a barn were lined up in a row, agents with guns pointing at the concrete wall thirty feet away, the paper targets all set up.

Sharon demonstrated some agents she was meant to oversee for a a while how to load and unload the gun, the cartridge snapping up and in, the upper part of the gun sliding forward to indicate a bullet in the camber. The blonde didn't mind the teaching, in fact, she kind of enjoyed it. She made them repeat the motions, loading, unloading. Some of them were handling it gingerly, all the time struggling not to flinch every time they heard that dark, deep, gunshot crack. 

— It's a gun.- she said, indicating the correct double-handed stance. — It's not going to bite you. I mean, gun safety is good -watch the end of it- but it's not going to do anything you don't tell it to. If you're here, means you have potential. You don't have to be so cautious.- she took the gun back and set up a paper target, the mechanism carrying the thing all the way down the range from them. — Loosen up, you'll aim better.

And then she kept going. She adjusted her stance, and for the first time the agent could see the muscle tension behind the movement, like she really was expecting it to hit her hard. Then she squeezed the trigger three times. Meanwhile, the whoomp, crack, crack of the gun range kept burrowing into the brains of her trainees. The lanky agent watched the way Sharon handled her gun, easily, despite knowing the way it killed people. She was at ease with that in a way he couldn't be, not yet at least, as if the gun was a secret, sad part of her. 

When Sharon puller the target up, there was a tight cluster in the center body. Kill shots. It was almost as if the people in the room didn't exist to her. The deafening noise didn't bother her. The sight of shells on a damp field didn't bother her. Even the recoil of the gun, the action of tattering the target -none of it bothered Sharon. 

Magna used to joke and tell her she was on easy street. 

Sharon reset and handed the gun to a female apprentice, commanding her to try with a soft "your turn." The shot went wide, nearly hitting another guy's target down the range. The gun was loud, and  had leaped in the woman's hand like a rabbit on speed. She laid it down and looked down the range at the target.

— Did I hit anything?- she didn't sound sad. She didn't sound hopeful. She sounded exhausted. Sharon ignored her question at first, staying deep in thought about something else. Then, the blonde helped her, adjusting the hands of the agent on the gun, setting the nervous woman's arms in front of her. 

— Target through the sight at the top of the barrel. And did you even open your eyes when you shot?- the young trainee cut a strange grimace, half-embarrassed, half pensive.

— I don't remember.- she reluctantly admitted with a tone that almost hinted at embarrassment, scratching herself behind the ear with a wry frown. Mika felt her face flush, which embarrassed her more. 

— Mhm...- Sharon murmured as she nodded. — That means no.- Mika's eyes went down to the floor. She looked sad, and it was almost as though her eyes had just changed color, from the engulfing midnight blue to a sad, cloudy grey. — You can do this, Mika. Use your sight. Take a deep breath and try again and squeeze the trigger gently.  Hit the target this time, if you can...- something about the teasing comment hit her trainee like a burr on the butt, and adrenaline was already pouring through her system. After one deep breath, a very intimidated agent Mika shot again, and hit the target. To the right of center, but she hit it nonetheless. 

Mika then squeezed off another round, and another, the shells flying off the gun and onto the floor as the gun made that strangely visceral crack sound in the small space. She shot a perfect card the next time, almost as good as Sharon. This earned her a satisfied nod from her blonde superior. Sharon emptied the clip of the Glock 19 she was testing into the target without turning around, and the lanky agent got distracted, lost in thought. 

While he was still agonising on the best way to approach her, she suddenly looked over her shoulder to the panting agent, without his notice.

— Learning something, Eastwood?- slipping off the goggles, Sharon brought the attention of the observant young agent back to her fand away from the line of tough-looking men and women. The sound of his name startled him into absolute stillness. When their eyes met after she turned around, the blonde acknowledged his presence with a polite nod. — Adam.- he nodded quickly in return, but the effort made his heart pound. Silently, he cursed himself.

— Damn, Shar...- he said, delaying telling her the difficult news. — You hit that target dead center!- his smile was genuine.

— I'm just a good shot.- she just shrugged, making a dismissive gesture with one hand.

— You aren't a good shot. You're a great shot.- she shrugged off the compliment again, as if it was no big deal, but he sensed appreciation for his words.

— Thanks, Adam.- she said, fixing him with a suspicious gaze. Sharon felt an eerie alarm slide up her spine. — Is something wrong? You look agitated.

Adam's hands flexed and fisted again, and he swallowed audibly, making Sharon brace herself for whatever would come out his mouth. 

— Rumlow.- he finally said, releasing a long breath, and the blonde's expectant expression changed to a wince. 

— What about him?- this time she cocked her head and regarded him for a moment questioningly. He was pale.

— ... He, he managed to escape from the hospital he was being treated in.- Adam spoke like he had to bulldoze the words one syllable at a time.

— Can't say I'm surprised.- she mumbled and ran the fingers of one hand through her hair while sighing tiredly. Her thoughts raced on, piecing everything together. It took a moment for Adam's words to sink in, but eventually, recognition dawned. — Uh, okay.. Does Ross want us to set up a team?- she asked casually and slowly placed her Glock back in the holster, eyes still fixated on Adam.

— Uhm, no. I, I don't know yet.- Adam frowned, distracted by her logical question. Adam saw the flash of worry in Sharon's face before the blonde could conceal it. — ... There's, there's something else.- Sharon looked at him dead in the eye; her expression was grave. She held her breath when he looked right at her ruefully and sighed. — You are friends with Agent Dávalos, right?- Sharon said nothing, waiting for him to drop the bomb on her. There was no confirmation whatsoever needed. Both Adam and Sharon both knew the answer was yes. Adam swallowed with an audible gulp, and continued. He had to close out this conversation. The air in the room was thick enough to slice. — Something terrible happened.

The terrible news came as a devastating blow. Sagging, Sharon just listened intently to every word. Feeling uncomfortable, ill, she closed her eyes in defeat, a tear escaping and cutting down her cheek.

 

 

END OF ACT 1

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

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« This job... we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn't mean everybody. But if we can't find a way to live with that, next time... maybe nobody gets saved. »

Steve Rogers

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

2016

LOCATION: BERLIN, GERMANY.

A YEAR AND A HALF LATER

JOINT COUNTER TERRORIST CENTRE GYM

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When Steve got to the gym, he paused in the open doorway. The sounds and smells of hard-core training at the Agency's city gym were pretty much like any gym in the world. It smelled like gladiator sweat and a bucket of dirty disinfectant water. The monotonous, upbeat drone of techno music thumped from speakers hidden in the grey concrete walls and kept up a jackhammer pace to move, move, move. He entered, his blue eyes taking in the two large boxing rings in the center of the room where men and women sparred, and then the weight equipment lining the walls. 

The metallic crash of free weights often echoed through the cavernous, well-lit space, and grunts of exertion, as loud as any attention-seeking pro tennis player on the Grand Slam circuit, punctuated maximum effort. The whir of overhead fans helped disperse the odors of sweat and warm human flesh, along with the ever-present ammonia undertone of cleanser that the housekeeping staff used after the agents honed themselves into the lethal weapons they needed to be. Said ammonia scent was the most prevalent in the mornings, permeating the hangarlike space buried beneath the smoked-glass administrative offices of Joint Terrorism Task Force. The place was of public access, however Steve could only identify agents training. 

Mornings were Magna's favorite time of the day to work the finely tuned machine that was her body. She had a specific routine that had evolved over the years. To warm up, yoga was her regimen of choice before doing a quick five-mile run on the treadmill. Then came her absolute favorite part: boxing. The sound of fist hitting flesh or boxing equipment echoed in the thick, musty air of the facility. The black paint on the exposed brick walls was peeling. Flyiers announcing upcoming boxing events were haphazardly hung. No frills, no fuss. Just working out through boxing. Magna loved it.

Steve intensely observed every musclehead's routine and sponged information like a freshly baptized cult member. There was a tiny U.K flag hanging somewhere, which Steve though was kind of odd. His eyes eventually landed on his friend, just as she was called by someone else.

— Dávalos.- Magna had just exited the locker room and looked up to see her trainer, Matthias, motioning for her from the front ring. She moved toward him; her initial plan was first to get out her raging emotions by getting some work on the treadmill and then one of the spreed bags. — You feel like a quick sparring match?- he asked, giving her a playful wink and another wave. Magna eyed the woman in the corner of the ring ajdusting her gloves and gave Matthias a friendly smile that didn't reach her eyes, shaking her head. 

— Find me somebody with some good fight in 'em, Matthias.- the woman in the ring said in a thick German accent, turning to lightly pound her gloves against each other. — She don't want to fuck with this.-  "Oh no", Steve thought, watching the way Magna's eyes were narrowing. 

— You sure you want to do this?- Magna taunted, and her face turned sour as she continued moving forward and climbing up into the ring with ease. Frieda shrugged and Matthias cleared his throat, introducing them.

— Magna, Frieda... Frieda... Magna.- they gave each other a head nod in greeting. — Just a little lightweight spar, ladies.- he said, handing Magna her gloves. The two squared up in the ring with Matthias standing between them. 

Meanwhile, Steve leaned against the doorframe and observed with the attentive air of an interested spectator, ignoring the kick of adrenaline the prospect of Magna fighting in that ring produced. He had never realized how small Magna was until he'd seen her there, next to the tall German woman with the buzzcut. His interest mutated into a mixture of anxiety and fear, worried about her getting hurt.

All of a sudden he was startled by the gym janitor, as the man tried to walk past him, finding his path completely blocked by his tall, broad-shouldered frame; he looked like he was about to ask for permission, and Steve immediately moved out of the way, and muttered a quick apology for obtruding. With a nod, the man greeted Steve politely.

— You're in for a good one.- the janitor nodded towards Magna. He spoke swiftly out of the corner of his mouth. — Miss Dávalos is a powerhouse in the ring.- he commented as Steve frowned slightly. 

He had no idea what to expect, he had never seen her fight before. He vaguely remembered the bits Sam had told him about their common Triskelion experience during the HYDRA uprising in D.C. According to Wilson, Magna could kick anyone's ass and Steve felt intensely curious to witness what she could do. Granted, Magna was a tough agent. Her record showed her abilities and Steve'd read it thoroughly at the time, but he was about to finally see it in person, so this was different. 

— I bet she is.- he mused, briefly turning his attention to the janitor as he spoke. — How long has she been here?- he asked, the blonde soldier's concerned eyes never leaving his friend. The janitor thought about it for a moment and chuckled lightly, shaking his head in disbelief.

— Nearly three hours now.- he told him. The tall dark-skinned man looked at Magna with a hint of amusement and Steve blinked with surprise. He wasn't exactly shocked at this, though. — That's the fourth time this week she's been in the ring.- his smirk turned into a somewhat fascinated expression. — Told ya, a powerhouse!- Steve didn't answer, for the fight was about to begin and his mind was already focused somewhere else, all the way across the gym.

The room suddenly became silent. As soon as Matthias stepped out of the way, Magna swung and delivered a feather-soft blow to Frieda's shoulder. 

— Good, Magna.- Matthias called from somewhere outside the ring. Magna didn't know and didn't care. She was focused. And she didn't miss the spark of anger in Frieda's eyes.

After a nod goodbye to the janitor, Steve approached the ring slowly, with arms closed in front of him and a sharp gaze. He felt the thrill of watching her limbs move, her muscles skate, her skin shine as Magna paced around the ring to throw off her opponent. Like the movements of a cobra, she kept her body tight, more stationary, and ready to strike. 

His friend had a talent Steve was in awe of. He really enjoyed watching how focused and in the zone she was, bobbing and weaving around the other woman's jabs. Magna brough one hand up to block a right punch Frieda threw, and followed with a right of her own that her opponent leaned to the left to avoid. A blow to her right side caught Magna off guard and she released a stream of harsh air at the pain she doubled over. Shit.

— You all right, Magna?- Matthias called out to her, and Steve shrugged his shoulders to ease them of tension. 

—  Perhaps you're not awake yet?- Frieda snarled at her. — Shall I try to awaken you?- the woman said with utterly smug satisfaction and then glared at Magna. At the last second the brunette managed to avoid her roundhouse, then flowed with the momentum and tried for a spinning kick. All she managed to do was fan Frieda.

— It's the sight of your beautiful face that's got me distracted, Matthias, you know that.- Magna teased and relaxed her shoulders, conveying a blasé attitude which made Steve smirk.

— Flattery? You must be feeling desperate then, little one.-  Matthias rebutted, chuckling lightly upon seeing her lip curl back over her transparent mouthguard. Steve flinched. He knew how she hated to be called that, and apparently, so did her trainer Matthias. As for Magna, she did love a good challenge; so she straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin as though she were the Queen of England.

— Stand still so I can knock you into next week, Frieda.- she taunted her with confidence, but Magna's tone was dead serious. She landed a blow, and her opponent roared with pain, her lip curling in a snarl like a cornered beast.

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The men at the gym stopped speaking idly to one another and approached the ring, wrapping their hands around the bottom rope. They loved seeing Magna's muscles and Frieda's tattoos on display, sweat covering their bodies as they beat the hell out of each other. Apparently, it was one hell of a turn on. 

— Ah, wouldn't it be wonderful if all your opponents would docilely stand still while you took care of them? Sadly, this will never be the case.- Frieda jabbed, feinted, jabbed again, her toned body a never-ending symphony of movement that searched for weakness. In one instance Magna stopped in a corner where Frieda hit her head against the ropesjoint. That didn't stop her. 

— You talk too much.- Magna replied with a tiny grunt as she adjusted her position to face Frieda more directly, her fists clenched in the thick black gloves.

Steve could see Matthias mirroring his reactions at the other side of the ring, his pale face intent, flinching with every blow landed on Magna. The latter again went for a kick, this time managing to catch her just under the protective elbow Frieda kept tucked against her ribs. A satisfying expulsion of her breath made Magna grin. 

Magna launched a flurry of combinations, but a blurring sweep kick came out of nowhere. Before she knew it, she was on her stomach, staring down at the blue mat and wondering how she got there. Her opponent leaned over her with an expression of profound disgust, which only made Magna angrier.

— I used that move to take you down a year ago. It hasn't worked on you since that time. Until now.- the voice of a very disappointed Matthias scolded her from somewhere behind her. "Crap" she muttered, well aware that Matthias as her trainer had every right to be insulted. Magna grimaced in her shame. 

— Sorry.- she told him, groaning. In the other corner Matthias stood still, arms hanging at his sides, and stared at Frieda.

— Don't be sorry. Be better.- he simply answered. Magna's face turned serious as she forced her body to stand up. Easier said than done. 

Frieda's bare feet whispered on the sparring ring's mat as she tried to dance around to Magna's left side. Aware that the woman had high aspirations of squirming around to her weak side, Magna pivoted with her while distracting her with a shot to the throat, which Frieda blocked. She cut her eyes up at her as she slowly straightened her body. Then, Magna's opponent tilted her head to the side in silent challenge. With a nod of understanding, the brunette took another deep breath before she delivered a roundhouse kick to her side that toppled the woman off her feet and down onto the mat with a loud thud. She slammed one knee down on the blue mat and swung her forearm under Frieda's chin, placing her opponent in a choke-hold and wrenching her backwards.

— Shall I try to awaken you?- Magna mocked her opponent, repeating words earlier spoken to her by Frieda. The brunette released her and Frieda jumped to her feet and came running across the ring at her. 

"Shit", Steve thought. However, Magna had already seen the move coming, so she locked her left leg and swiftly raised her right, catching Frieda midstrike with a kick against the side of her head. Matthias jumped between the two just as Frieda swung. Her blow landed against Magna's right temple. Things were getting out of control for a little lightweight spar.

— La-dies!- he exclaimed in disbelief. Matthias hadn't seen her fight so fiercely before, never with such anger and rage as she was under now, not even when she hit rock bottom a few years back. He didn't like seeing it now. — What the fuck?

Magna's S.H.I.E.L.D instincts kicked in. She dropped down to a squat and leveled a leg sweep to Matthias that laid him flat on his back with a look of surprise. Then she rose, jumped over him and delivered a round of blows to Frieda, with a swiftness that caught the woman off guard, who cried out in pain. Magna shut the woman's mouth with an uppercut and then landed three kicks, one to her thigh, then her hip, an then her upper arm. 

Watching them was like watching two alley cats fight over a pot roast. Frieda looked close to collapse; the groans and gruntscoming out of her mouth soon became whimpers of pain, her blue eyes glazing with weariness. 

Steve saw then what he had never seen in her before, the raw anguish of torment. Magna finished Frieda with a gut punch that sent her thumbling back onto the mat again. The contents of the latter's stomach forfeited their privacy and divulged themselves with a splat sound that turned every head. The gym's owner, Gustaf, heartily laughed in the back of the room and proclaimed "Whoever heaves it cleans it."

Magna was about to land dead on Freida's ass and fuck her up some more when someone caught her from behind, locking a strong arm around both of hers. She tried a couple of moves to break free but each challenge was met with ease.

— Stop it, Mags.- only shock at the sound of his voice in her ear stilled her, sending Magna's heart pounding like crazy in her chest. She hadn't heard that voice in almost two years.

Steve.

Her entire body felt a new level of awareness. Every fine hair on her body stood on end and her pulse raced. She wanted to let her body go slack in his arms and just be held by him, but her anger came back full force.

— Let me go, Steve!- she barked, as he dragged her out of the ring.

— You alright, Frieda?- Matthias murmured, helping the woman to her feet where she whobbled back and forth like her focus was shot to hell. 

— That was fun! Let's do it again sometime!- Magna called over her shoulder just before Steve carried her toward a long hall at the rear of the gym. — Put me the fuck down, Steve.- she hissed, and he complied without a word. 

Magna angrily spat off her mouthguard, tossing it on a chair with her gloves and stormed off without a word to Steve. When she stepped inside the girls locker room, he halted by the doorway, a hesitant expression on his face. Rolling her eyes, Magna's sore hand held the door open for him as she beckoned Steve to follow with the other one.

— It's empty.- Magna could taste something hot and metallic in her mouth when she spoke. — Let's go.- she snarled at him in anger.

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Chapter Text

The minute they were in complete privacy her eyes flared and she hit Steve in the chest with her bare hands. Then she hit him again, and again, shoving him forcefully against a wall. His face contorted with sadness, but he let her do it. Releasing a breath filled with all his aggravation, he grabbed her wrists in each of his hands and pushed them behind her back.

— Stop.- he said, with his voice low and head bowed. Magna hated the tightness in her throat and the tears filling her eyes. Biting her bottom lip, she fought against him again. — Stop, Mags. Please.- Steve repeated, and the pleading note in his voice made her look up at him. Their gazes met and she chuckled bitterly at how disappointed he looked.

— So what, you show up after nearly two years and expect me to welcome you with a smile?- her voice filled with resentment and hurt. — So much for friends.- love, friendships, caring about others, she had come to learn, could strengthen or weaken you and in that moment Magna felt utterly defenseless. She composed herself though, steeling her anger against her pain.— Whatever, I knew it. This is bullshit.- Steve looked incredulous.

— Don't you ever get tired of telling me you don't need me, that you don't need us?- he was talking about Sam. 

She hadn't seen Steve and Sam since...

She looked away from him. The truth was hard to face,and she clung to her independence like a motherfucker. Steve tightened his grip on her wrist, as if he was afraid to let go of her—and at the moment, maybe she was, too. Still, she needed her arms.

— Can you let me go now?- she asked, her voice barely above a whisper, her mouth dry.

— Depends.- Steve said without hesitation, head dipping forward in a nod. — Are you going to push me again?- he teased her and she glared at him; then, a tiny smile cracked the corners of her mouth. Magna closed her eyes and her long lashes lightly brushed the top of her cheeks as Steve released her arms. She turned around immediately and reached for her jacket and the apple she kept inside her backpack. — I have something to tell you, Mags. And I need you to brace yourself.- he tilted his head the way people do when they're about to tell you bad news. Without facing him, and her whole body went still.

Magna swallowed the bad memories and nauseating feeling of deja vu. A wave of sadness crashed into her chest, tightening it so hard with dread she struggled to breathe out. The brunette stared down at the untouched apple she was holding to ground herself, trying to escape the situation, distracting herself from the pain. With a sigh, she placed the healthy snack back inside her backpack, masking her anxiety with a fake expression of playful amusement.

— For what? Are you going to punch me, old wreck?- she teased, finally walking up to him again. Flashing him a sad smile, Magna dropped her head against Steve's shoulder, hiding her face. She knew he would see right through her anyway. When he didn't say anything, she carried on, letting her guard down for a moment. — You know, I was so pissed and so fucking hurt you weren't around after...- her voice trailed off, and he slowly put his arms around her frame, even willing for them to be slapped away. She didn't move.

— I'm really sorry.- he whispered, tightening his grip unconsciously as remorse hit him with a force that almost doubled him over.

Magna took a deep breath when the tears won, and chose not to answer. Steve said nothing more, waiting and holding her until at last the sobs subsided and she was calm. Only then his lips parted again to speak. 

— I..- but a long yawn interrupted him midsentence. Her face shot up, as her puffy eyes searched his, scanning his face in the process. — Sorry Mags, I'm beat.- he admitted, holding her gaze with a tired, lopsided grin. On cue, he yawned again, his mouth opening wide. That's when she actually noticed the bruises and cuts on his face. — ... Came straight from Lagos.- she knew those words were supposed to mean something, but for the life of her, Magna didn't understand.

She frowned and somehow forced the question past the fear and shock that clogged her throat.

— Steve, what the hell happened?- she asked with worry, a sense of urgency in her soft voice. Her trembling hands moved and found his shoulders. He sighed wearily, both out of exhaustion and sorrow as she brushed a runaway piece of his hair back off his forehead. His eyes closed for a fleeting moment, savouring her light touch.

— It's Rumlow.- he admitted with a stern expression, switching back to his Captain America heavily serious tone. Her eyes were strained wide as if she listened to some inner voice, and she let her arms drop to her sides, backing up automatically. — He's dead.- Steve instinctively reached for her, afraid she might fall, but much to his surprise Magna sidestepped his touch. 

A curious mixture of emotions—relief and disappointment—flooded through her. A flush of recognition brought tears to her eyes. She blinked furiously, then brushed her fingers roughly across her face, wiping away the moisture. And suddenly, she was able to identify that empty feeling she'd been living with for the past few years. She was lonely. She was just so, so lonely. Sure, she filled her time -with missions, trips, one night stands-, but there was always something missing. She had her job to keep her busy, Sharon and people from work to keep her company, but it still didn't fill the emptiness Rumlow had brought upon her life. 

Wrapping her arms around her midsection, Magna swallowed, as if trying to push down a reaction. When she glanced up again, the emotional pain he had seen a moment ago had disappeared, replaced by a fragile shell of hardness. She had become more adept at hiding her feelings, he realized, as she easily withstood his searching look. The turmoil behind her eyes told a very different story, though.

She focused her gaze away from him, unable to look at her friend without fearing she might fall apart completely at his feet, just like everything was falling apart around her. When she spoke again, her tone had turned cold.

— Okay. Can I go enjoy my workout now?- she asked flatly, still refusing to look at him. Her fingers harshly combed through her hair to remove her boxing braid hairstyle, letting the riotous waves fall freely about her shoulders and back.

— Mags.- he pleaded. His face took on a gloomy expression and his sadness bothered her for some strange reason. — We spent the last six months waiting for this opportunity. And now..- she snapped, interrupting him with an exasperated sigh.

— Now what, Steve?- her chin was trembling. With a huge effort she held back the tide of wonderful, terrible words that threatened to flood from her and hid them behind a small, bitter smile. — I heard you. You killed him.- she sounded unimpressed and too matter-of-fact to be prevaricating. — Congratulations.- her tone was so distorted by pain, her throat so damaged, that she didn't recognize her own voice. It was harsh, full of rage, backed by an uninhibited desire to destroy herself, end the life that had caused her so much agony.

Two years ago, and shortly after assaulting his nurse and escaping the hospital, Brock Rumlow recovered items from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s research and development labs, and set up an arms sale in an attempt to draw HYDRA out of hiding. Upon learning of their arrival, he opened fire on them as a way of telling their superiors he was no longer a member of HYDRA. Taking up the alias "Crossbones", Rumlow went on the run and subsequently aligned himself with a faction of foreign mercenaries, unaware that Captain America and the Avengers were trying to track him down.

Rumlow had then started his own career in terrorism using the specialized battlefield armor that he had built. Over the years, through his criminal exploits, newspapers had cited him attacking and robbing various locations with the armor, including police stations. Said armor consisted of a standard black tactical combat suit and a black suicide vest with an insignia representing a white crossbone. Accompanying the suit were a helmet, -to cover up his facial scars-, and multiple hand explosives, including grenades and gauntlets -with large retractable blades-, which significantly improved the wearer's strength to match that of a super soldier like Captain America.

— I figured it wouldn't, revenge never does. But, Mags, you took care of the house, the loss, and your work. Now it's time to take care of you. Now you find... closure. Maybe.- Magna shrugged dismissively at his annoying optimism and tried to walk past him but Steve blocked the locker room door, standing between Magna and her freedom. The latter's heart raced and tears streamed down her face as she realized she was trapped.

Start over? Closure? No. She wanted to go back. Or forget. But start over? And carrying the weight of loss with her? No way.

— Steve, please. No.- this time she begged him, exasperated, but Steve knew she had to hear it, ready or not. 

That's when he pulled out his phone and showed her the news, which were quietly broadcasting  footage of Nigeria. 

 

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Something inside Magna broke watching the red glimmer coming out of Wanda Maximoff's fingers as she saved Steve's life and ended Rumlow's in the blink of an eye.Then came the subsequent explosion, the destroyed building. She took in the horrifying images of injured and dead innocent people, the desperate, dirty, tear-stained faces of those who survived.

Silence. 

For endless minutes Magna said nothing. The brunette stood, staring at Steve with empty eyes. Eventually, Magna drew in a slow breath, reaching for the rest of her clothes. She threw her jeans on over her boxing shorts without a word, not giving a damn about her friend's presence. Then, she picked up the backpack and quietly slid the zipper closed. Sliding it on over one shoulder, Magna headed for the door and faced Steve. Her lower lip was trembling and tears were running down her face.

— Look, I'm not running away.- Magna whispered in a low, unconvincing voice, unable to gather the strength to face the situation. That's exactly what she was doing. — I just need some air.- she gripped the doorknob tightly, whitening her knuckles. Steve dropped his arm and reluctantly sidestepped to avail her of opening the heavy locker room door.

A day ago she would have accepted that, when it came to weaponry, tactical training and hand-to-hand combat, she was one of the best at what she did. That wasn't conceit; it was a hard-earned fact. Though judging by her performance today, she had no doubt she wouldn't be able to hold her own against a grumpy kindergarten class that had missed its naptime. And damn it, it was all her fault. 

What the hell had happened back there? She could have killed her Frieda. 

Magna walked quickly down the hall toward the two main rings. "Sorry" she shouted to Freida, who was on the treadmill, as she sprinted past and headed straight out the door. With one glance over her shoulder Magna confirmed Steve was following her, as she spotted him strolling with a cautious expression. She hit the exit and burst through the thick wooden doors, which flew open on their hinges, and slammed shut behind her with a loud noise. Breathing in sharply as the cold air hit her face and burned her cheeks, she gladly welcomed the feeling, feeling radiant with pleasure.

The hedgerows sparkled with a thick frost that the morning sun would not thaw for hours. Horns blaring at the traffic jam that had taken shape in a near intersection were a beautiful distraction, and Magna focused on the sounds as she pulled a cigarette from her bag and brought it to her lips. She lit it up and leaned back on the wall. Mere moments later Steve reached the exit too and pushed through the doors, which opened again. If only she could now disappear in a puff of smoke.

Speaking of smoke...

— That's the opposite of air.- Steve curtly pointed out, glaring at the coffin nail she had in her mouth. She sucked in her mouth at that, inhaling deeply on her cigarette just to spite him. — Those'll kill you, Mags.- she rolled her eyes and pulled the cigarette away, exhaling and nodding her head at him, her voice already way too low.

— But so will a lot of things.- she shrugged. — My lungs, my problem, Steve.- she countered turning her face away from him, aware that she was now on the defensive. He wanted to object, but opted for staying quiet, resisting the temptation to fall into a childish squabble, which Magna appreciated. — How long are you staying?- she finally built up enough courage to ask, trying not to sound too hopeful. Steve's eyes darkened and landed on the floor. 

— Not long.- Steve murmured, guilt creeping into her eyes. — The quinjet leaves in a few hours.- her disappointment was as palpable as the air she was breathing. — I needed to tell you personally. You deserved that much.- the admision pushed the air from her lungs, her stomach folding in on itself.

Magna was tired of crying, but hell he made it difficult to stay calm when he looked at her like that. But she wasn't dropping her shields for him; she wasn't going to expose herself to that kind of pain. The idea of letting him in, of putting her feelings out there, was a stupid one.

— I uh, I appreciate it, Steve...- she spoke with gut wrenching honesty, even though it hurt like a bitch. Her voice faded, and she forced a smile, though the trembling of her tone told him there was a lot going on behind those guarded eyes.

Magna wanted to say something tart, to lash out at him, but her throat was too raw and her head hurt. She wouldn't risk revealling that to Steve. 

She felt like there was a wall between them. A wall she'd been building up the moment he'd mentioned Rumlow's name. Magna wanted to scream at him, but that wasn't really fair. To be angry at him for ending the life of the man she'd been dreaming to kill for years. Yes, she'd been stripped away from her revenge, but at least he was dead now. It really didn't make sense that it should hurt so much.

But it did.

She watched Steve as he approached her slowly before taking the spot next to her, leaning his back against the wall. She breathed in deep, let out a long sigh and looked at him. His eyes landed on her face as well, a strange weight settling in his stomach. She looked upset, but that was an understatement. 

Now that they both were outside, she saw the bruising on his face in a different light. Magna noticed how he had difficulty in standing straight. Not only were the bruises and cuts on his face painful to see, but she felt responsible for them.

The sound of cheering inside the gym saved them from the awkward pause in the conversation. Steve and Magna heard loud, excited voices coming from the rings. Perhaps Freida had won. After a few breaths, she spoke again. 

— Where are you headed off to, then?- taking a drag, Magna stared down at her boots. She pulled her jacket closer and crossed her arms over her chest to keep the heat in.

— The compound. I...- his voice faded. There was something else clouding his mind, his heart, and Magna read his face like a book. — I need time. Those people...- he shook his head and stared at the sky.

— Those people...- she repeated calmly, nodding in understanding. — ... You tried, Steve. It sucks, trust me, I know. But forgive yourself.

He parted his lips to speak, presumably to say something, but no sound came forth to identify his thoughts. He realized he had nothing to say. He wanted to apologize, but somehow felt as if they were past that, as if it were too late for words, so he closed his mouth and pursed his lips instead. Steve leaned forward and, after only one small, eloquent hesitation, pulled her to him. His arms encircled her, though his touch was tentative, distracted. He breathed against her ear, nearly choking on his emotions. 

Magna took in a big breath and hugged him back, but he pulled away quickly. She released him and searched his face for a hint about what was going through his mind, but he gave her none. The edges of Magna's lips curled up into a barely-there smile and she shook her hand.

— What the hell was that?- she asked as the fragile hug came to an end. — What a lame hug. Steve, I think you can do better.- the brunette said with a chuckle as she took a step back. She was merely teasing him, of course, but he took her words to heart.

He then reached for her and pulled her to him again, this time in a fierce embrace, the sort of hug he would give his sister if he'd ever had one. Magna was startled by his action, but then she understood. That same force drove her to wrap her arms around his shoulders, face pressed against his chest, feeling the smoothness of his shirt. 

Pushing her gratitude to him, she pulled him against her hard, breathing in the scent of his freshly washed hair. Magna realized she probably smelled terrible, but he didn't seem to care. Steve tightened his grip on her and Magna pulled her head back and looked up at his serious face, investigating him with her puffy eyes.

— What about that one? Any feedback?- he asked her. He kept a straight face but put a humorous tone to his words. She chuckled lightly as she took the last drag of the cigarette and stubbed it out on the ground. 

— Better.- there was something else she wanted to say, something she wanted him to know before he left. — Thank you, Steve.- she said in a small voice, eyes fixed on hi. Magna looked at him with such intensity, Steve felt the hairs on the back of his neck begin to stand up.

He must have understood that she meant more than the hug, because he let go of her, took a small step back and waited, studying her eyes, head tilting to the side. His soft smile touched her heart to the core, letting her continue without interrupting. After a moment, Magna stepped away from him.

— For saving me from myself and my desperate thirst for revenge.- said Magna, suddenly sounding somber. He felt a chill run down his arms at her admission. 

Months of keeping her emotional distance from the world had worn down her self-control. She collected herself quickly and flashed him an adoring grin, one that was probably as reassuring as it was strictly sincere. How easily she handled affection when she wanted to. She continued in a beat.

— I'll never get my vengeance on Rumlow for what he did to me, and that's the point. I saw red because of my grief. I was obsessed. You were right, death changes the living, too.- Steve inhaled slowly, her candor easing the tenseness inside him.

Of course everything still hurt, and something told her it would always hurt, but Magna was tired of pretending she was okay. She was tired of distractions. The brunette closed her eyes and gave a big sigh of contentment, looking all around. After a long, deep breath Magna turned around and began a steady stroll. Steve took a hesitant step forward, after her.

— Are you coming?- she called over her shoulder, walking away. — My car is right here.- she added, pointing across the street at the parked black Audi. Magna adjusted her backpack and walked faster and he started following her lead.

Steve raised a brow in her direction, but there was a hint of amusement about him as he spoke.

— Where are we going?- his eyes squinting with internal smirk-itude. Magna turned around and walked backwards so that she could talk to him.

— For coffee, what else?- she said with a nonchalant shrug; her chin up defiantly, mouth struggling with a mischievous grin. Lastly Magna gave Steve a wink, before she turned around.

— Oh, coffee. An offer impossible to decline.- he murmured, lips threatening with a smirk. She gave him a teasing sideways glance as he approached; Magna unlocked her car, and motioned for him to get in.

When they got to Magna's apartment, they sat on her balcony and shared a beer. 

Closure. 

What a loaded word.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

 

»⚘ CHARACTERS PARALLEL FOUND: Both Magna and Bucky keep fruits in their backpacks. lol

Chapter Text

2016

ONE MONTH LATER

 LOCATION: CHELSEA, LONDON - U.K.

Saint Luke's Cathedral

THE U.N RATIFIES THE ACCORDS IN VIENNA: TODAY

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»»————- ✼ ————-««

 

Her eyes focused on the great cathedral before her.

It was vast, and every bit as intimidating as she had feared. Magna felt the anxiety growling within her, hungry and she considered walking around the block once or twice to calm down, letting the nerves build before setting them free. She knew better. Steve needed her. A quick glance at her watch confirmed she was barely making it on time. The funeral was about to start.

Agent Peggy Carter had left her Washington D.C nursing home and gone back to her home country, where she died in her sleep. The morning sky was a strange shade of grey, mirroring everyone's emotions. In a way, it was almost as if the clouds covering the firmament were Nature's mourning over her death.

A shudder rippled down from her neck through her shoulder blades to the base of her spine. Her mouth opened in quick breaths, and Magna whispered soothing words to herself, loosening the buttons of her black coat. The wind played lightly with her dark hair as she quickened her pace for the front of the cathedral. Her hands slung in her pockets, shoulders down, a look of melancholy in her stance.

Magna stopped for a moment before entering and closed her eyes. Her own image appeared in her mind's eye in soft focus; her image two years ago, the hair down, the flirty smile, the ease. Releasing the breath from her lungs, she mounted the stone steps and moved herself into the building to the smell of candles and light incense and was startled by the crowd in the church's lobby. She scanned every surrounding figure -Steve's wasn't among them- and then moved through the sea of unfamiliar faces to the coat rack in the rear. As she slowly removed her coat and hung it she looked at herself in the small mirror on the wall. A tired, sad face looked back at her, certainly not the face conjured moments before. Turning, she noticed a long line of people streaming into the pews along the aisle. Her emotions rang together like church bells and she realized that she may not be prepared for what was to follow.

After waiting for the organ music to swell and the muted rustle of everyone rising from the pews to mask her movements, she slipped into the very last row.

— Honey, look at all the people. I didn't expect so many..- a woman whispered to her husband. Her British accent was thick and she spat when she spoke, and she was struggling desperately to try to keep her old black straw hat from falling down around her face. 

The dress Magna had on wasn't any easier to wear either, but for other reasons. The latter took a quiet, deep breath and tucked a wayward strand of rebelious long hair behind her ear. She hadn't been this nervous in a church since...

The cathedral was, in fact, packed with sleek-looking mourners, the scents of the flowers and their perfume thick and strange. A boys' choir began to sing one of the saddest sounding songs ever, taking the upper lines and a treble soloist in the Pie Jesu as one of the world's fiercest protectors was laid to rest. Magna noticed Steve was one of six pallbearers and watched him walk past her, with Peggy's coffin draped with the Union Jack. They handled the remains in a dignified, reverent and military manner, ensuring the casket was carried level and feet first at all times. 

Steve swallowed, but the lump in his throat wouldn't go away. His eyes were red from crying, and it hurt Magna to know that he was hurting. Since Bucky was not in the picture, he had lost his one connection to his past. 

By the time they made it to the head of the church and placed the casket down, the blonde soldier was breathing heavily and barely had time to compose himself before taking a seat in a pew at the front, next to Sam; upon hearing the sad news of Peggy's passing the two wasted no time getting to London.

At the altar, a candle burned by a framed photograph of young Peggy Carter in a military uniform; its label read "Margaret 'Peggy' Carter" and Magna's heart fluttered with pride. Even if she didn't work for S.H.I.E.L.D anymore, she had a deep respect for Agent Carter. It wasn't just for her essential role within the agency's birth, as a strong leader with both power and conviction, but for the part she played in Magna's own development, helping her become better as both an agent and a a woman.

Blinking her stinging eyes, Magna peeked again over the rows of people and finally caught a glimpse of the back of Steve's head, way up in the front by a casket covered with red, white and blue flowers. Seeing him up there, surrounded by people but still looking completely alone, it left her unsettled. He seemed to be looking down at something, possibly his hands.

 After what felt like an eternity of respectful silence, the priest addressed the mourners. Her heart beat filled Magna's ears and his deep voice brought the sounds of the room back to her as time resumed in slow motion.

And now, I would like to invite Sharon Carter to come up and say a few words...

A familiar blonde stepped up to the podium and Magna watched her friend walk up to the microphone. It took Sam a few seconds, but he recognized the woman in front of them to be Agent 13, Steve's "neighbor" from D.C. He nudged his friend, and the latter looked up at Sharon with confusion -and curiosity- as she cleared her throat before starting her speech.

Margaret Carter was known to most as a founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. but I just knew her as Aunt Peggy.❞ - she began delivering her eulogy, blue eyes sweeping the room. Steve realized who exactly Sharon was and took a surprised breath.

Sharon had never told anyone about Aunt Peggy, not even Magna, but the latter had put two and two together rather fast anyway. However, she never mentioned Sharon that she knew about her family connections, Secrets were secrets, and Sharon clearly wanted to make it on her own. For Magna, that was very telling of who Sharon was and her integrity - that she never wanted to ride on the coat tails of her great aunt's position in S.H.I.E.L.D. 

She had a photograph in her office. Aunt Peggy standing next to JFK. As a kid, that was pretty cool. But it was a lot to live up to. Which is why I never told anyone we were related.❞- Sharon directed the end of her sentence at Steve, who glanced down in understanding. For a moment the blonde considered how to continue. There was something she really needed to say and she could only hope Steve would understand the meaning behind her words.

The news of the Sokovia Accords had broken around the same time that Peggy had passed away and Sharon didn't need to talk to him to know how Steve would react to them. There wasn't a doubt in her mind that both he and Sam wouldn't be signing them. Still, Sharon could see how torn the super soldier was.

❝... I asked her once how she managed to master diplomacy and espionage in a time when no one wanted to see a woman succeed at either. And she said: compromise where you can. But where you can't, don't. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move... it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in they eye and say: No, you move.❞- as she finished, she caught the blue eyes of Steve before quickly averting her gaze somewhere else.

As it turned out the funeral passed mercifully quickly. Magna had so much in her mind trying to keep her emotions in check that, apart from Sharon's speech, she paid scarcely any attention to the dreary vicar and his over-rehearsed sentiments. 

The ceremony eventually ended an hour later, and everyone shuffled out of the pews at an agonizingly slow pace. Magna and Sam opted to not watch the burial, giving Steve the space they knew he needed. He stood there silently, listening as final words were said, waiting while friends and colleagues placed flower after flower on the rich mahogany coffin, and then finally watching as they lowered Peggy's casket into the ground.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

— Hey.- Sharon's voice brought Magna out of her sad recollections. She composed herself properly and turned her attention to her friend. — There's still people I have to... mingle with. Some of the senior Army officials...-  Sharon made an uncomfortable face and her voice trailed off with hesitation. — Do you mind waiting for me? I mean, you can go back to the hotel if you want...- she tilted her head and Magna waved her off nonchalantly. 

— No worries. I'm not ready to head back yet, I was actually thinking about going for drinks.- she shrugged, glancing around. — I'll be here, do what you have to.- Sharon touched her arm and offered a comforting smile. 

— Thank you, Mags.- she whispered, already heading back to the private part of the church. Magna simply looked away in silence.

Alone in the empty church, she slowly wandered around, drawn to many of its marvelous details. Magna realised that that was exactly the distraction she needed. She stared in wonder at the richly decorated wooden ceiling held up with enormous marble columns, which reminded her of the columns outside the Pantheon in Rome. After the Florence fiasco, she'd dragged Sam there to do some sightseeing, which the latter ended up enjoying a lot, much to his initial reluctance.

The floor was incredible, too. Black and white mosaic tiles, set in a chequerboard pattern, stretched the full length of the cathedral, with an oval decoration in the middle of the aisle. 

Then, Magna found herself staring up quite intently at one of the church's stained-glass windows. The sun was beginning to break through the thin veil of dense clouds covering the sky and illuminated its vibrant red and blue glass fragments. The resulting ethereal glow was almost magical. Depicted in the masterpiece was a cloaked priest holding a scale, with a flat dish at either end containing a variety of objects. Its beauty captured her. There was something alluring about it, and she leaned in to study it more closely for a long moment. She let out a long, tired sigh; her body screamed for attention and Magna rubbed her lower back, making her way towards the entrance.

Once on the sidewalk she felt a little steadier, and in looking up at the church she felt her spirits rise considerably. Minutes later she was joined by Sam outside, and they agreed on waiting for Steve, who wanted to stay a little while longer and had just re-entered the building. Suddenly, the sound of heels meeting the concrete floor caught Magna's attention and she looked to her right, only to see Natasha, all dressed up, approaching them with a confident stroll.

— Came as soon as I heard.- she said once next to the two, without greetings. Sam watched Natasha as she looked around, anxiously scanning faces. — Steve?- Magna pointed to the entrance and cleared her throat.

— Inside.- Magna kept her voice carefully polite. Natasha looked at each of them -lingering her guarded gaze on her face for an extra moment- and then back at the opened doors of the church. Sam moved a little so Natasha could walk up the steps and into the holy building. The latter nodded them goodbye.

She hadn't taken more than three steps toward the entrance when she stopped and demurely turned around on her heels to face the two again.

— I'm off to Vienna.- she stated, and her green eyes sparkled teasingly at Magna and Sam, flickering between the two of them before eventually settling on the latter. He bobbed his head only once, uncrossing his arms from his chest and stuffing his hands into the pockets of his pants instead. — ... Any chance you might want to join me?- but she was already smirking. She knew his answer already. Sam chuckled lightly, narrowing his eyes and she flinched one eyebrow. — You sure, Falcon? it might suit Clint, but what about you?- he smirked as he slowly shook his head, softly declining her invitation.

Magna stood quietly, listening to the amusing exchange. 

— Thanks for the invite, but I think I'll pass.- he said calmly, rubbing his belly. — I got plans.- Natasha cocked her head in a shrug, a coy smile played on her lips. She looked at him more closely, her eyes seemed lit with a mischievous humor, as they always did when she teased him.

— Retirement plans, right. Of course.- She nodded, mock serious, but her eyes were dancing. Sam rolled his eyes and huffed as he crossed his arms over his chest again. 

Magna rocked back on her heels and pressed her lips together, glancing down at the floor. She could not conceal her gurgle of amusement. Sam noticed the smile playing at her lips and glared at her reproachfully. The brunette rolled her eyes, as she knew he was equally entertained and trying hard not to show it.

— Whiskey plans.- he corrected her smugly. She eyed him warily, silent for a moment, her expression blankuntil finally she shook her head at him with a playful smirk.

— Understood... - Natasha murmured with a slight grin and spun around . — No jumping out of buildings during my absence, please.- she teasingly called back over her shoulder and strode away from them, without waiting for a response. Sam watched as she disappeared through the doors and raised an eyebrow.

Staring at the entrance spot where Natasha had been just seconds before, Magna frowned slightly.

— She always like this with people?- Sam offered her a grin as he followed her line of sight. Nodding, he glanced at Magna.

— Only when she likes them.

Strolling through the doors, Natasha spotted Steve in no time. She made her way down the pews towards him, not only to comfort him but also to let him know that her visit was a pit stop before went to Vienna for the signing of the Accords.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

Silence fell between them.

She lifted her eyes to his face, then to his eyes which were shadowed with concern. When she noticed Sam's worried look, her gaze fell and her smile slipped from her face. He opened his mouth to ask about it, but she interrupted him.

— If you're gonna treat me with kid gloves Sam, please, just don't.- she told him sharply, sitting down on one of the steps, damn be the expensive dress. He winced at her curt tone, and Magna's mouth twitched in a ghost of a smile.

Sam walked to stand in front of her, hands in the pockets of his suit.

— I just thought this whole thing might be a little...-he trailed off, nervously staring at the floor for an instant, as if searching a moment for the right words. It was somewhat of a surprise to him when Magna smirked grimly.

— Triggering?- she said in a stoic monotone, completely devoid of emotion. She swallowed down the bitterness in her throat. A dull ache lodged inside her. — It is. I've had Rumlow's face on my mind since I threw on this dress this morning.- she spoke calmly, but her voice revealed a sourness dripping from every word that she was doing her best to restrain. Sam sat beside her and Magna cupped her chin in her palm.

Sam pressed lips in a thin line, glancing at the crowd leaving the church. He thought about insisting on following his own train of thought and then looked at the stubborn set of her mouth and gave up.

— It's a nice dress.- Sam, just like Steve, had on a smart black suit with black tie. Magna rolled her eyes and laughed, staring down at her outfit. She wore her black overcoat open in front to show the dress underneath.

Truth be told, Magna took an exceedingly long time to dress that day. Her flared black outfit was a party dress that stopped at the top of her knees. Weddings and funerals, they were the only times she would dress up. Needless to say, she had never worn it to a wedding. Magna wore black tights, some black and silver heels and put on a sober amount of make-up. The latter's long brown hair was in a twist at the back of her head, coiffed meticulously in a low bun.

— Yeah.- she offered him a slight shrug of her shoulders. — There's room for funeral food and booze.- she was making jokes about funerals now. Sam wanted to voice the observation, but opted for playing along.

— My favorite thing about funerals.- he told her and she raised an eyebrow back at him. She watched his stoic expression, wanting so badly to read his thoughts.

— Your favorite thing about funerals.- she repeated and he shrugged. — You have a favorite thing..-it had come out sounding like a statement when she had meant for it to be a question.

— Yup.- he said, popping the p and doing a headbob. — Don't you?- he shrugged his shoulders casually and she sighed. Sam knew he was walking a very thin line, but if Magna needed humor to deal with her emotions, so be it.

Her eyes went distant for a moment, brows in a light frown of contemplation. 

— Yeah, when I don't have to plan them.- she commented, staring at the floor with a lopsided grin. Sam was aghast for a second. 

He knew the exact moment when she became aware of his presence. The hand that was playing with her hair became motionless. Her body became rigid and the smile left her face. She looked as if she was staring through him. They exchanged words in silence.

"Are you okay?" 

He arched his brow in a silent question. She took another deep breath, forcing her muscles to relax and to smile despite the empty ache in her stomach.

"Yes."

"Should I even believe that?" 

Sam's stern eyes regarded her with suspicion. She was familiar with that expression. It was his impressive don't- bullshit-me face. He wrinkled his brow at her.

Magna lifted her head back to catch the gentle breeze on her face. When she opened her eyes and turned her head to look at him, she met his sympathetic gaze. He stared right back at her, searching her features, and a fleeting glimpse of tenderness came in her eye upon his interest. She answered his silent question. 

"Yes." 

She blinked, emphasizing her confirmation. Magna's big brown eyes seemed sincere, and she appeared genuinely fine. 

She wasn't, but that day was not about her. No. All that didn't matter. Only thing that mattered was that Steve shouldn't be alone. And neither should Sharon. When another awkward silence fell between them, Sam changed the subject. 

— Where the hell is Steve? I need that whiskey.- he craned his neck a little, trying to catch a glimpse of Steve, somewhere up near the altar, probably the very front row.

That's when he spotted Natasha using the side door exit. Magna followed Sam's gaze and then glanced at the cathedral, deep in thought.

— Let me go get him and we'll meet you there.- Sam stood up as well and sighed dramatically, as if the imaginary walk had already exhausted him by merely thinking about it. The bar was merely a block from there. — First round's on you.- she winked walking backwards to the church and he groaned, pointing a warning finger at her.

— Fine. Waxy O'Connor's.- he told her, then turned around and darted away. — And hurry your asses up!- he called out to her as they went in opposite directions.

Nausea began to consume her as she walked briskly toward the front door of the cathedral. Magna looked wilted, like a flower cut and left too long in the sun. She glanced at her friend, standing all the way across the church and took a deep breath.

 

Chapter Text

2014

LOCATION: BERLIN - GERMANY

JOINT COUNTER TERRORIST CENTRE BUILDING

FOUR MONTHS AFTER THE TRISKELION DISASTER

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»»————- ✼ ————-««

Three agents approached her, and one of them extended his hand and guided her through the twisting hallways without a word, only briefing her that Ross needed her ASAP. Despite the early morning, the place was busy. The other two men followed them closely behind, escorting her quietly towards the intimidating short man. Magna tried asking her company what Commander Ross wanted to talk to her about, and when they looked at each other hesitantly she knew that wasn't a good sign.

She was ushered into a narrow hallway, which led to the main elevator. As their footsteps came to halt, an uneasy feeling in her stomach kept creeping up as Magna tried to get her nerves together. Cautiously, they made their way towards the big metallic box and she flinched, expecting a bullet at any time. The confusion in her head would not go away, and Magna glanced around, noticing the agents were giving her a look of sympathy now. Why wouldn't they want to tell her why she was there? Eventually, the elevator dinged, arresting her attention.

The group stopped at the open double doors of the head office lobby where a lonely white desk sat in the middle of the room, a busy woman behind it. Magna was left alone.

In no time she stood face-to-face with the Commander's receptionist and Magna eyed her warily, as the latter greeted her with an excited, "Welcome. Please wait here." -while she buzzed someone on the intercom. A mere moment passed and she spoke again. "You can go in, Agent Dávalos. Commander Ross will see you now."

The summoned then walked through transparent sliding doors and brunette blinked, uneasy, wondering what ill this conversation foreshadowed. She swallowed and shook her head, trying desperately to ignore the awful feeling like something was wrong. Upon her arrival, Ross stood up from his big chair and offered her a kind smile and a polite nod. Yep, something was definitely wrong.

— Dávalos, please. Come in.- Ross said, beckoning her to approach with a commanding finger. — I want to talk to you.- his voice dropping down to that low tone he reserved for bad news.

— Sir. Is everything okay? What's going on?- she asked, with a worried look on her face, taking one step forward. Commander Ross studied her expression and slowly returned to his chair.

— I think you might need to sit downfirst.- he suggested in a formal but sympathetic tone, motioning for one of the two empty seats before his large desk.

— I'm fine standing up.- she replied dryly, squaring her shoulders. Ross grimaced.

— Please, Dávalos. -he insisted, tilting his head. — Humor me.- Her boss stared down at the carpet. Magna stood there for a second staring at him. "Fuck it", she thought. The need for answers was killing her.

— Fine.- she murmured, then slowly bridged the gap between them. 

After an indeterminable silence, Commander Ross cleared his throat and met her eyes as though he were uncertain of himself, the seriousness of his expression nearly making her heart stop in her throat. 

— Okay, I'm sitting down.- Magna cut her eyes as sat down and spoke again; her brain still feverishly running scenarios. — Please forgive my manners, sir. but what the hell is going on?

Ross stared uncomfortably at his intertwined fingers and contemplated them for several seconds while Magna fidgeted in her seat. Eventually, he exhaled as long as he could before continuing. 

 I'm afraid I am the bearer of some very awful news.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

2016

 LOCATION: CHELSEA, LONDON - U.K.

Saint Luke's Cathedral

Steve stood alone with his thoughts in the isle, and Magna's raspy, teasing voice echoed around the church and broke the spell holding him, bringing the blonde soldier sharply back to reality, startling him in the process.

— There's whiskey and a very cranky Sam Wilson buying first round at a place called Waxy O'Connors... I don't know about you, but for our own sake, I think we better don't leave him waiting.- she wondered how he managed to keep a half-smile on his face; a soft gentle smile that belied his absolute pain and grief.

— Mags.- he said her name exhaling. There was sorrow in his voice. — How are you?- she tilted her face with mild amusement, shaking her head in disbelief. Reaching out, she squeezed his arm.

— Nuh. Uh. You get to ask me that any other day. Today I'm the one asking.- he shrugged, glancing at Peggy's photograph for a fleeting moment. Mourners had memorialized her in a picture that depicted her in the prime of her life.

When his eyes met hers, Magna decided not to push it. She didn't want to dwell too much on how the only two people left in his life didn't remember him (though one was at least starting to again- or so they hoped). She didn't want think about the woman he loved, who only knew him in scattered moments, and then at the end, not at all. How could she even begin to comprehend that kind of torment?

But she noticed something, though. Despite the certainty of death that surrounded them Steve's kind gaze never left hers. Not for a moment. Magna inhaled deeply, and the familiar scent lent her some courage. She stared at her hands.

— I meant to ask this last time, but we both know your last visit had me...- she trailed off, wondering if she was getting in deeper than she should. Magna glanced over and saw him looking at her, a look of anticipation on his face. — ... Overwhelmed.- she arched one slender brow in a cynical lift and he winced involuntarily. Still, they pursed their lips to subdue sarcastic smiles. — How's the search going? Any leads? Do you need help? And yes, this is me actually offering help, may I point out..- she was talking too fast, her words tripping over each other in her desperate attempt to cheer him up. She tried to slow down. — I mean I'm sure Sam would love it if I joined you two anyway, and I really can't say I had a bad tim..-she stopped herself, because as soon as the words left her lips she regretted her outburst and Magna's hand flew to cover her mouth, unsure how Steve would react.

The latter only shook his head, and a low chuckle involuntarily escaped him. Great, her embarrassing nervousness was now entertaining.

— It's been two years...- sighing, his gaze darted around the chapel and landed on the floor; his hands in his pockets. — My hopes... dimmed.- there was a growing uneasiness in his eyes, as if his voice were going to break up into shreds. Her breath caught in her throat. 

Feeling as if her heart would break, she reached out and smoothed the hair carefully off his forehead in such an unconscious gesture of caring. Her hand lingered a moment before she realized the inappropiateness of her touch. Steve was like a brother to her, but perhaps her actions through a stranger's eyes would look like something else, and she didn't want any misinterpretations. Magna pulled her hand back and he blinked in understanding. Still, her gaze remained fixed on his as she listened.

— I thought a lot about what you said, Mags. Maybe he doesn't want to be found.- he shrugged defeatedly. Her lips parted, wishing to say something teasing even as she kept adjusting her thoughts, but Steve didn't give her the chance and spoke first. He raised his long hand and waved it downwards for silence. — ... And please don't say I told you so.-holding her hands up in mock surrender, she compressed her lips and drew her fingers across in a zipping gesture.

Magna watched his smile slowly fade as his eyes stared intently at something she couldn't see. It was obvious Steve had a very clear question taking shape in his mind,so she waited for him to continue.

— What do you think about the Accords?- Steve stared stoically at her. His tone low and tense, with controlled emotion. — Honestly.- he added, and tried to disguise the rising uncertainty in his voice as he spoke. Magna licked her dry lips and blankly looked back at his unhappy face. She contemplated what to say. 

Following the Battle of Sokovia, public negativity towards the Avengers and enhanced individuals increased, as people around the world demanded limitations. The previous month, after the terrorist attack in Lagos which claimed the lives of 26 people, -11 of its victims being relief aid workers from the nation of Wakanda-, the international community called for the United Nations to create a system of accountability: the infamous Accords.

There was no easy answer to Steve's question, and thhe political dilemma was frustrating for everyone involved. Plus, both sides thought they were right, which is always dangerous, no matter what the topic may be. A part of Magna knew she shouldn't even try to broach the subject because, at least when it came to her, there was no compromise... at all. 

— I wish I had the answers.- she said quietly, gently. — I don't. I've never been where you are, and I'm not an Avenger.- Steve looked at the ceiling as though searching for signs. Helplessness and sorrow squeezed her soul. — ... I know one thing, though.- her friend glanced at her, frowning. She carried on, her brown eyes focused on the past, on some distant place that only she could see. — ... Someone told me real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody's going to know whether you did it or not.- the words came out in a strangled whisper. Feeling an unfathomable sadness descend upon her once again, she found her eyes blurry with tears, welling up to the point where they impeded her sight. Still, she managed to finish, blinking repeatedly before finally looking at Steve again. — ... And that sometimes to do the right thing is not always doing the right thing.- Steve didn't care that her voice was so rough with emotion it cracked, and neither did Magna, of course.

The latter could almost hear his voice, she could almost feel the warmth of the embrace that came after those words. Her anger and grief and love all came together, a thick rope that was wrapped around her heart, strangling her. Steve swallowed and opened his mouth, gasping. He had a vague idea where that speech had come from, which meant it weighed ten times heavier on both their hearts. 

A noise startled them. It was the sound of a door closing. A rhythmic click of boot heels began striding slowly along the aisle of the nearly empty chapel, accompanied by a soft voice that echoed round the walls, steadily approaching the front. Magna turned around, only to find Sharon, distractedly strolling towards her. 

— Hey Mags, are you ready...?- keeping her head ducked down as she walked, the blonded failed to notice Magna's company. Sharon rummaged inside her purse, her gaze deeply focused inside her black Chanel slunging over her shoulder. —  I'm sorry it took so long. I swear I...-  upon Magna's silence, she glanced up curiously and stopped dead in her tracks. — Oh.- she frowned with surprise, as her eyes met Steve's. —  Steve. 

— Sharon.- he greeted her, nodding politely, and Sharon mirrored his actions, hesitantly walking closer to the two. Magna wanted to roll her eyes. "These two idiots", she thought.

— Are you...?- Steve's voice trailed off into an awkward silence, as he pointed somewhere outside the cathedral. Sharon blinked once she understood, and stuttered.

— I, uh, yeah, the hotel.- she nodded, following his unclear line of sight. — Are you...?- she tilted her head, unsure how to finish. It was painful to watch; Magna pressed her lips in a thin, amused line, utterly aware she was now invisible. Holding back a smirk, she composed her expression and cleared her throat.

— Go, go.- she whispered to him, moving her hand to his shoulder, patting lightly as reassurance before taking a step backwards. — I'll be alright.- she promised, bobbing her head vehemently when he shot her a worried look, upon noticing her retreat and their unfinished conversation. Magna turned to her friend and raised her voice. — Shar, do you mind if I go for a drink?- she didn't give her time to reply, for she already had a plan in motion. Shooting Steve a pointed look, she grinned mischievously at her friends. — Steve, can I trust you to take her back to the hotel safely...?- she asked and Sharon glared at her. Steve however, nodded immediately, which stole the blonde's atention.

With a final look at the two, Magna nodded and waved casually. Leaving them dumbfounded, she stepped back so as not to interfere with the first moments of their reunion. In return, they both understood Magna needed space and decided not to object.

Steve watched her walk away for a minute. For such a strong woman, she seemed understandably vulnerable that day, her dark wavy locks falling from the messy bun, cascading over her scrawny shoulders and the peculiar, defensive way of standing she had. Sharon stared at her friend too, with a look that seemed to mix an apprehension or fear with tender gratitude before she turned and followed Steve outside through the same side door Natasha had previously used.

 

The weight of the right thing.

 

Chapter Text

2015

UNITED STATES - WASHINGTON D. C 

FOUR MONTHS AFTER THE TRISKELION DISASTER 

There was no mistake and no escape. Reality held her in a vice and wouldn't let go. Magna didn't want to open her eyes. Out there, in the world of tomorrow, a terrible hurt waited for her. She lay on her back in the dim light of dawn, still sluggish and confused from the hefty dose of prescribed Valium, vainly hoping that if she went back to sleep the truth might go away. 

But, oh God, here it came again. 

It started in the pit of her stomach, rising in choking waves of memory until salt-laden tears erupted from tightly shut eyes, their trails drying like chalk against her sun-bronzed skin. Shuddering sobs racked her body and, in trying to keep them quiet so as not to wake Sharon, Magna snuffled and gasped, rolling over onto the pillow, keening in utter anguish and despair. 

Sharon heard her grief, though. 

It was hard too for the everyone who knew Magna, although the reasons were, of course, different; she was their friend. 

And now, there was a funeral to plan.

 

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»»————- ✼ ————-««

 

2015

UNITED STATES - WASHINGTON D. C

SIX MONTHS AFTER THE TRISKELION DISASTER 

Above all, Magna needed time to think. The cold rage that had closed around her heart was not only a welcome diversion, it was essential to her sanity. She knew she wasn't thinking clearly so, while allowing it to prop her up, she was honest enough with herself to put her desire for revenge into some kind of perspective. Brock Rumlow would die, that issue wasn't in question. Magna had to be patient, to control her blinding rage. When Rumlow died it would be the single most satisfying thing that Magna had ever done. 

Only time would enable her to reach that stage. Sharon had repeatedly suggested therapy, and at first Magna had been convinced she could handle her grief without the interference of a stranger. The thought of lying on a couch and pouring out her heart to someone who would listen with clinical detachment was totally alien to her nature. 

But then the nightmares appeared.

It was Sharon too who made the appointment and insisted Magna keep it. What the latter didn't realise was that the blonde, sensitive to her intentions, worried about her each day a little more. While she sympathised with Magna's need for revenge she wanted to be certain her safety wasn't neglected because of it. In fact, Sharon secretly hoped that the therapist would remove Magna's rage and ease away her dreadful plans. Magna went reluctantly, hoping that this Dr. Atkinson was nothing like the psychiatrist one of her foster parents had taken her too all those years ago. 

"One visit", she agreed, and Sharon nodded, relieved. She'd had some grief counselling herself, and hoped, if Dr. Atkinson was any good, that Magna would not stop at one visit. 

Once the ice was broken, in Magna's case anyway, each subsequent visit led her further along the road to confronting reality. Although this inevitably caused terrible anguish, it was a journey Magna took with increasing urgency, anxious to reach the end. 

Chapter Text

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»»————- ✼ ————-««

2016

LOCATION: CHELSEA, LONDON - U.K.

WAXY O'CONNORS

 

The front door of the pub was wide open, when she approached-a big metal sign with a logo above it- and Magna could hear music and voices coming from inside. The latter peeked her head in and saw the darkened bar was busy. Away in one corner, a giant TV screen with the sound turned down low was screening the news. 

Inhaling deeply for fortitude, she squared her shoulders, pushed the door open and stepped inside. It was somewhat darker than she anticipated, but somehow she felt a warm and cozy feeling the moment she entered. The people who were inside gazed at her with little interest as she finally walked in. Turns out the place was filled with people from the funeral. Apparently, all mourners had settled for a gathering in the pub to relax and socialise.

Walking into Waxy O'Connors Magna surveyed the room, spotted Sam sitting alone contentedly at the bar on the far side of the spacious room, with his broad back to her, tossing down a drink and looking at something on his phone. When he finally caught sight of her, he quickly raised his hand to beckon her with a smug smile and pulled out the stool beside him. Magna strode the length of the bar, spotting the empty spot next to him. Sam lowered his eyes, gaze returning to his whiskey.

As she made her way through, a few agents recognized her and grabbed her arm to talk, but she shrugged them off, not ready to mingle. Leaning into the bar beside Sam, she ordered a shot of bourbon whiskey, neat, with water on the side as Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle with You" thundered through the speakers. 

She fumbled with her hands; once or twice her lips moved, but the words did not come. It was Sam who first broke the silence that fell between them, looking to infuse some humor into the conversation.

— A sexy russian spy and a super soldier walk into a church...- Magna closed her eyes and shook her head, snorting. That one was a lame, even for Sam. The latter scoffed. — It's a joke, Mags. You're supposed to laugh.- he scolded her and she chuckled.

— Tell me a funny one then and I'll laugh.- she teasingly countered, throwing her coat on the bar stool before sliding onto it.

Without a word, she gazed around at all the signs on the walls, the old posters. In no time, the bartender put Magna's drink on the counter and she fetched it. She sat back and for a moment she regarded him silently.

— So we both have a lot of catching up to do.- he said, and Magna stiffened. She had been so engrossed in old memories all the way home, it seemed a struggle now to shake them off and reconnect with the real world. 

— We do.- she conceded as she looked sideways at him, knowing that he was determined to have this conversation. Sam was quiet for a minute, confused by her response, wondering why she suddenly gave in so easily.

— It's been almost two years, you know.- he continued and her gaze dropped to her glass. She ran her finger round the rim of the glass, staring at the clear brown. Sam was forcing calm into his low voice, as he tried and failed to conceal his umbrage and hurt. — Two minute phone calls an vague texts won't do it anymore, Mags.- the latter sipped and shrugged.

— What can I say? I appreciate brevity.- her eyes darted somewhere else, avoiding Sam's. He took a hasty sip from his whisky glass. 

There it was again. His don't-bullshit-me face.

— And I for one really appreciate honesty.- Magna took a few more sips, smoothed down her unruly hair to rid herself of a painful image and leaned back with a tired sigh. Her focus was now solely on Sam's face again. Shaking her head, she turned her attention to her hands, as she pondered how to apologize to him. Sam, however, opted for a different approach.

— Tell you what, Mags.- he began after gulping down the contents of his drink. — I'm going to ask one question, and you will answer truthfully.- she tilted her head back with amusement, her chocolate brown eyes shimmering with mild curiosity.

— You think so?- she commented and lifted a playful brow.— What are we playing to?- Sam shrugged with feigned innocence, beckoning the bartender. — You are not offering me any incentive, Wilson...- she continued with a smile, beating an impatient rhythm against the wooden surface of the polished wooden surface with her nails.

— Why is everything always a transaction with you?- Sam shook his head sternly with a dramatic expression of disapproval. Her lips twitched before she cackled into her whisky glass.

— It goes with the territory.- she simply retorted, and peered pointedly at him over the rim of the glass. After a sip, she set her drink down, leaning her elbows on the counter, her face cradled in her hands. — If I answer, you ask me no more questions about the past couple of years.- her expression was hard, uncompromising. Sam snorted.

— That is imbalanced.- he objected. — I'm only asking for one question, and you're asking for none, ever.- one of his brows rose and Magna clicked her tongue.

— It's not my fault if you set your sights too low.- Sam crossed his arms and sniffed indignantly. Then, he spun around to face her completely, a deep scowl lined his face and drew his eyebrows down over his eyes.

— Is that what i'm doing here, Mags?- he glared at her for a moment, humour was definitely in his tone. She pursed her lips and a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, then worked its way up into her eyes. 

— Thing is, I don't have to answer any.- Magna smartly pointed out. She mimicked Sam's actions and crossed her arms over her chest, triumphant.— So I suggest you take what you can get if you have hope of getting even one answer, Sam.- scowling, the latter scratched his chin and sighed.

— Fine. Whatever.- she held out her hand to seal their agreement with a handshake. Sam regarded her extended hand blankly before he pushed it away teasingly.

— How can I help?- he said, his tone softer and cautious. A flash of emotion crossed her face, but it was too fleeting for him to decipher it. When she met Sam's expectant gaze again, her expression was skeptical.

— What makes you think I need help?- she asked. She could hear her voice sounding defensive and that irritated her. Magna's eyes narrowed with involuntary suspicion.

— Hell no, you can't answer with a question.- he reminded her gently. — ... We all need help, Magna. Today was rough, I get that. You know I do.- she didn't answer; a distant memory surfaced and seemed to flicker behind her eyes.

— You can't keep edging you way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance...- she stated absently. Her voice was small, barely a whisper. Sam understood the reference and hummed. He had identified his friend's quote immediately.

— Hmm. So, you are Ebenezer Scrooge now?- Sam queried, lightening her mood. — Should I start calling you that instead of Secret Squirrel?- he teasingly questioned. She nodded confirmingly, indulging him. 

— That is two questions.- Magna pointed out, smiling ruefully as she stared at nothing in particular. — ... and no. No Scrooge.- she added, rolling her eyes. — It's just something someone said to me...- her voice trailed off with a hint of sadness, shrugging in a defensive manner. — ... but it feels like a lifetime ago.- Magna dragged her eyes off of the random spot on the wall she seemed to be focused upon and gave him her full attention.

Sam read her like a book, nodding in understanding. 

— Well, regardless of when..- he started, murmuring fondly. She didn't realize how fragile she looked. — ... You should definitely listen.- then she noticed the twinkle in his eye, the smile at the edges of his lips, and she found herself smiling as well.

Sam just looked at her and said no more; that was until a sudden realization, pressing and urgent, dawned on him. He blinked, his eyelids fluttering rapidly several times. Wide-eyed, Magna's friend turned to peer at the direction where she'd come from, and then back at her.

— Wait, where the hell is Steve?- and the moment he asked that question it was already answered. Magna's abrupt chortle only confirmed it. Then, she told him all about the awkward exchange between Sharon and Steve back at the church. — Go Cap!- Sam mumbled, speaking between deep chuckles and shaking his head.

— You know, she might kill me for it, - the brunette continued, as she wiped tears from her face which the laughing had produced.— ... it was worth it, though.

Before Sam could poke more fun at the expense of Steve, Magna's phone rang continuously as someone wanted to reach her. The latter fumbled the pocket of her coat for the device and left their conversation in a pause, nodding once at her friend before standing up to take the call.

Then, he made themistake of glancing up. 

The TV was on CNN, as a breaking story caught his attention, but Sam was unable to hear what the news anchor was saying, and his head felt slightly dizzy upon reading the words in front of him. A title card popped up, displayed on a dark-red background, stating "BREAKING NEWS" written in bold white capital letters. Across the bottom of the screen, a warning flashed brightly, scrolling yellow against red.

"VIENNA INTERNATIONAL CENTRE BOMBED."

— Could you please turn up the volume...?- Sam asked the bartender as he turned his full attention back to the television, but his voice was too low for the man to hear his request. Nervous, he called for him, this time succeeding at getting his attention. — Hey, man, can you turn the volume up?- he repeated, his expression stoic. 

— Uh, sure.- the bartender replied casually as he picked up the remote and aimed it at the screen, increasing the volume with a confused frown. A moment later the newscaster's voice filled the room.

It was breaking news about a bombing in Vienna, which showed a famous building half blown away, and the surviving structure was burning out of control. The female news anchor explained what they were seeing.

Hanging up the phone, Magna's pulse pounded so hard she could hear it in her ears. She pressed a hand to her mouth and then to her forehead, trying to digest the information and instructions just given to her. The agent turned around, noticing the audio hum emanating from the television set above the bar had changed. 

Now standing and with his back turned to her, Sam watched the screen intently, the bartender mirroring his actions. Looking up, the young agent heard as the telegenic news anchor in her late twenties spoke.

From one glance to the next, the scene changed and Magna's eyes widened, as she realized it was a broadcast being filmed live from Vienna. The coverage had been passed to a reporter at the location of the breaking event, and on the screen, she watched a man standing in front of the remains of the building, as he shared more information about the story.

The jolting video feed of people running switched to the concerned looking news anchor sitting at a desk, leafing through papers frantically. Sam cringed as he listened to the woman giving directions on how to get out of the city if the authorities ordered a mass evacuation. 

The bar suddenly turned silent, and drinks were forgotten, as the rest of the costumers rose from their tables and watched as well the heartbreaking images of the bombing of the Vienna International Centre. Some of them -agents just like Magna-, stormed off immediately, ready to perform their duties as demanded.

Suddenly, a brand new image filled the tv screen, and Magna's breath hitched, because the phone call she'd received hadn't mentioned that footage at all. The grainy video came from a security camera, and showed the man Task Force believed to be the suspect of the bombing. The image zoomed in, and her eyes darkened and remained fixed on the man's face. Sam swallowed audibly.

— Shit.- Magna mumbled, eventually meeting her friend's vacant stare.

— Well that isn't good.- he stated and she simply shook her head, slinging her purse over her shoulder and grabbing her coat. Sam sighed, paying for their drinks in a swift motion. — You okay to drive?- he asked and she bobbed her head once, shaking her keys impatiently, nodding towards the exit. — Then let's go.- he said, following Magna as she briskly made her way outside the pub.

The drive was fast and quiet, as both of them were lost in their thoughts and worries. 

On arriving back to the Hotel Magna and Sam split up. They'd agreed that Sam needed to find Steve and tell him about Vienna while she took a different elevator to her room. She needed to change and prepare a chopper before meeting up with everyone again. There were already a hundred things to do and she couldn't afford to waste any more time.

Sam checked on Sharon's room, but nobody answered the door when he knocked. He figured they hadn't returned yet. Then, after trying to reach them via call, he realized their phones were still on silent mode since the funeral. Rolling his eyes with exasperation, he returned to the elevator and decided to wait in the lobby. Upon emerging from the big metallix box, he spotted the pair standing all the way across the room, waiting for an elevator and chatting.

Sam then sprinted off, successfully dodging suitcases and people. He heard the elevator bell ring, and the faint sound of their voices as they shared goodbyes before he intercepted them, cutting their private moment off.

— Hey- he said. The poor man was panting, showcasing an obvious uncomfortable expression as he met their surprised gazes. — There's something you gotta see.- he continued grimly, words directed at the two.

 

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TEN MINUTES LATER

When Magna burst through the door of Sharon's hotel room, she was met by the sight of her friend on the phone, pacing back and forth in between orders and answers; aswers she had delivered as well, back inside her own room while quickly changing outfits.

Her friends didn't pay attention to her entrance, for they were busy listening to the news. Making a bee line towards the blonde's laptop, she sat down and began typing the arrangements for their helicopter.

 — Who's coordinating?- Sharon demanded to know. A beat of pause. The answer satisfied her. — Good, they're solid. Forensics?

Steve and Sam were watching the flat TV screen on the wall, while Sharon rapidly fired off questions about the situation. Besides the latter's voice, the tense atmosphere was only interrupted by the female news anchor broadcasting images of the tragedy.

"UNITED NATIONS COMPLEX BOMBED"

A bomb hidden in a news van ripped through the U.N. building in Vienna. More than 70 people have been injured. At least 12 are dead, including Wakanda's King, T'Chaka. Officials have released a video of a suspect who they have identified as James Buchanan Barnes, the Winter Soldier...❞- Sam turned to Steve, and they shared a meaningful look as the news reporter went on.

❝...The infamous HYDRA agent linked to numerous acts of terrorism and political assassinations...❞-  when the female anchor mentioned Barnes, Magna found herself slowly standing up. 

Her eyes were fixed on the screen, and she could barely notice the movement of her boots as she approached her friends. They were showing the grainy image of their suspect again, and indeed, he was none other than the very same man they'd spent months -and years- looking for. Standing between Steve and Sam, she crossed her arms, feeling a strange kind of weight in the pit of her stomach. 

With a loud sigh, Sharon hung up the phone and joined them in front of the TV, paying close attention to the information the anchor was supplying. When she spoke, her voice sounded strangled. Magna dipped her head down, aware of what was to come. She knew the procedure.

— We have to go to work.- Sharon said quietly, and everyone nodded before storming off the room, without a word. 

 

 

 

𝔸/ℕ: Let's just pretend there's a Waxy O'Connors in Chelsea lol

♡ 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕜 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕗𝕠𝕣 𝕣𝕖𝕒𝕕𝕚𝕟𝕘! If you like this story, don't hesitate to vote & leave a comment, feedback helps me a lot!

 

Chapter Text

LOCATION: CHELSEA, LONDON - U.K.

HOTEL

Less than ten minutes later, Magna quickly emerged from the bathroom of her own hotel room, packing her toiletries into her luggage almost violently. Then she walked towards her big window and stared out at the city of London, as she tried to come up with a logical explanation to what had happened, one which excused Bucky and protected Steve from that kind of pain and disappointment. Paying little to no attention, the brunette listened as Sharon gathered her coat and exited the room, letting them know she'd be in the lobby waiting for them, leaving Steve and Sam alone with their friend. Magna didn't move, only wrapped her arms around herself and watched the world continue down below. The traffic was still backed up; people still walked along the sidewalks holding mindless conversations; the world continued to spin. But for Magna nothing felt the same.

It just didn't make sense. 

Their exhaustive search had been cold for 2 years... no trace, no clues, nothing. And now he decided to pop back up on the radar with the worst possible action?

— It can't be him...- Magna whispered aloud to herself, shaking her head in disbelief that this was happening. For a moment the only sounds in the room were the soft drizzle beating against the glass.

Steve looked up at the light fitting on the ceiling for a moment before picking up the remote control from the sofa's armrest and turning on the tv.

— Mags, you saw the video..- Sam tried to counter. He moved his legs off Magna's bed, stood up, and made his way to her with arms crossed. His expression hardened.

One of Steve's eyebrows rose at their conversation. With his fingers he drummed the armrest on the couch he was sitting in, touring the channels. All of them were broadcasting the aftermath of the catastrophe in Vienna. 

— Sam, c'mon now.- she protested and turned around, glaring at him. Her voice held an edge of jaded impatience. — Don't you think there's something off? Isn't it strange though, how a well trained HYDRA assassin, -one of the hardest people to track down for 70 years-, would do something as dumb as look at a security camera before executing an incident of this size?- Magna laughed humorlessly, glancing at Steve. He didn't say anything though.

— Maybe he's too far gone, Mags. Maybe he doesn't care.- Sam's tone stayed calm. He watched Magna huff while packing the rest of her stuff and pulling the zipper of her suitcase aggressively.

— I'm so damn tired of maybes.- she murmured. Taking her luggage from the bedroom, she headed for the door, and her friends followed her without a word. — Let's find out.

 

Everyone's nerves were on fire the entire flight to Austria.

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LOCATION: VIENNA, AUSTRIA - VIENNA INTERNATIONAL CENTRE

TWO HOURS LATER

Vienna was warm and sunny, a poor reflection of what everyone was feeling. Upon landing the group watched fire crews hose down the building, as a red and white medical chopper flew overhead. Firemen tried to put out little flames and people below were being checked on or investigated. Sam and Steve waited across the street with caps and sunglasses on, trying not to draw too much attention to them.

Plenty of white tents had been installed around the bombing location, where intelligence officers and most of the O.P teams worked to handle the situation. Rescue units were trying to save more injured people, and crews were also operating. There were many flat screens with different television channels tuned in, and a variety of task force personnel running around. Agents, police, paramedics, press... everything was chaos. Several helicopters flew over the area and the noise made it difficult for anyone to concentrate and communicate. The two female agents coordinated a plan and split up, Sharon being immediately joined by an officer in a green jumpsuit and sunglasses.

— Call MI-6, see if we can get Micro Forensics to hurry this up...- Magna's voice trailed off as she stepped inside a white van, giving orders to the crew waiting inside.

— We need the whole team here in two hours or it's not worth it.- Sharon repeated Magna's speech and continued the command, classifying the assignment and striding through the tents, ready for satellite communication with Everett Ross. 

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

While Sharon and Magna had immediately made themselves known to the task force on the case, Sam got set up in a nearby coffee shop down the street from the complex, ready to order some apple pie. Business was still going on as normal for the establishment, though many people were in fact focused on seeing the authorities in action. The television was tuned in on a news channel covering the incident and any breaking news surrounding the event.

Magna finished her part and approached the coffee shop, beckoning Steve to follow her almost unnoticeably. The two went to check the damage, hidden in plain sight among the crowds and chaos surrounding the bomb site. Feds were all over the area, keeping people back as far as possible. The entire left side of the UN building had its windows blown out, papers still scattering out on the wind.

The brunette managed to spot Natasha talking to a man- she looked unscathed, though of course still shaken up. Magna elbowed the super soldier's side to get his attention and pointed lazily forward at the familiar red-haired assassin sitting on a bench, not too far from the panic. Steve didn't answer, however hope and relief were evident in the change of his posture, as he followed Magan's line of sight. He waited until the man Natasha was talking to walked away; when he did, Steve pulled out the phone from his pocket and dialled her number. He needed to check she was alright.

Magna took that as her cue to leave, allowing her friend some privacy.

— Anything?- Sam murmured as he felt her beside him.

Sighing heavily, Magna sat down on the stool, watching as her friend was being handed the small apple pie he'd ordered; most likely not to look suspicious, but the sunglasses and cap during summer didn't do the trick. No matter how many times she pointed that out, no one ever listened to her.

— Sharon's in conference with our boss.- the brunette mumbled, stealing Sam's fork casually and taking a few bites of his food.— And I'm off to check out some tips.- she added, her mouth full of food. — Maybe some reports are solid enough..- Sam looked over at her and raised one of his eyebrows in sarcastic inquiry.

— Thought you were tired of maybes.- he intoned teasingly, stretching out the last word, which earned him a cold glare from Magna. The latter put a hand on her hip. — You know he wants to go after him, right?- Sam asked lowly without looking at her.

Magna blinked several times. It took heartbeats to realize Sam now stared at her awaiting a reply of some kind, and her mouth was open. She closed it and licked her lips. Inhaling a long breath to steady her frayed nerves, Magna fluttered a few hesitant gestures and then appearing to think better of that, lowered her hands. Eventually, she sighed again, slowly standing up off the bar stool.

— Yeah. And we're gonna help him do it.- she pursed her lips, holding back a smirk. — Again.- with one last bite and protest from Sam, she left the café, barely glancing at Steve's figure. He was still on the phone, eyes focused on Natasha.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

 

LOCATION:  VIENNA, AUSTRIA - COFFEE SHOP

MINUTES LATER 

 

Steve was only gone for a few minutes before he walked back up to the bar, hands balled at his sides. Sam swallowed the rest of the apple pie in his mouth before speaking.

— She tell you to stay out of it?- Sam asked. He let his fork hover above the plate and looked up from the food. Steve's silence confirmed his question. — Might have a point.- he muttered.

— He'd do it for me.- Steve defended, looking around the shop. They were waiting on whatever information that Sharon and Magna could get them. The waitress placed a coffee mug in front of him, and he silently thanked her.

— 1945, maybe.- Sam argued back, the corners of his lips turned up just a bit.— I just want to make sure we consider all our options. The people that shoot at you, usually wind up shooting at me.- he swallowed and they looked at each other. 

A suited blonde suddenly occupied the empty space to Steve's right - Sharon. She held a manila folder in her hands and stared straight ahead of her with a blank expression. Magna stood on Sam's left, nonchalantly leaning her body on the counter, eyeing the latter's food again.

— Tips have been pouring in since the footage went public.- Sharon spoke softly with minimized lip movements to look like she wasn't interacting with them. — Everybody thinks the Winter Soldier goes to their gym.- she uttered, allowing her eyes to glance at the three of them from her peripheral. — Most of it is noise, except for this.- the blonde said referring to the file Magna had in her hands.

The latter made sure no one was paying attention to them as she passed the folder over to Steve in a smooth movement, without looking at it. It was surprisingly thin, and seemed to contain only a couple of slips of paper, which meant that it was fresh information from the past three hours. They knew his location and that was all. Nothing else, but still enough.

Steve hesitated, glancing fleetingly from Magna to the folder, and back to Magna, before he mirrored their inconspicuous spy moves, sliding the information closer to him without actually aknowledging the files. Sam's discreet gaze landed on his friend first, then darted to the manila file.

— Our boss expects a briefing pretty much now... so that's all the head start you're gonna get.- Magna continued lowly. As Steve watched, the barista placed a cup of coffee in Sharon's hand. She stood for a moment, pulling out her wallet to pay. As she passed the bills over, she glanced his way.

— Thank you.- Steve noticed that the blonde hesitated before nodding her head in confirmation. He watched her gather her change and drop it into the tip jar.

— You're gonna have to hurry...- she said out of the side of her mouth, her lips not moving. Sharon sensed those lightning blue eyes cut to her and more than anything else wanted to see them, but they were still hidden behind dark sunglasses.— We have orders to shoot on sight.- she gave the three a final sideways glance before turning on her heel and making her way outside the coffee shop

Cautiously, they followed her with their eyes as Sharon made her way rapidly through the agitated crowd. Magna lingered for a few extra minutes, stealing food from Sam's plate again as Steve flipped through the folder. He gave each document a cursory look at first, then went back to study the information more closely with a severe look on his face.

— Well it looks like we're alone on this one,- Sam commented, and Steve's grim expression didn't change. Magna stood up, walking towards Steve and taking Sharon's previous spot.

— We'll try to hold off the special forces as long as we can.- finally her tone faltered, a chink of uncertainty appearing in her fully armored voice. — Can't make any promises, though.

Steve closed the folder and passed it to her just as smoothly.

— I take it you're not coming?- he asked her, taking a sip of his cup and placing it back on the counter. She shook her head back and forth and then broke a slight smile, her dimples deepening. 

She paused a moment and scanned the room carefully, avoiding eye contact. Nobody gave Magna any notice, who quickly allowed herself to be distracted by her surroundings, reaching her arms around his neck and hugging Steve. The latter accepted the hug she gave him, even as he was instinctively looking over her head.

— I'm more useful on this side.- Magna whispered in his ear, her eyes roving over the faces in the busy shop. Before his emotions could be noted by any possible onlookers, Steve's face became impassive.  

It was a brief, sober embrace, and in the blink of an eye, it was broken.

The three knew the truth. Going after Bucky, saving him, would make them all criminals. Magna, however, couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't him. Granted, maybe it really was him, but the pattern, the M.O, the actions of this Bucky didn't match the Bucky which did everything in his power to keep everyone away from him for two years. She couldn't ignore that. More so, the agent in her couldn't ignore that.

Then, she turned to Sam and did the same thing, wrapping her arms around him. She hugged him tightly, and his focus slipped away from surveying for threats in the room. Magna let go and ran a hand down her tired face before turning to face her two friends.

— Please, be careful.- she told them quietly, in a breathy plea, and squeezed their shoulders. They could only nod in response. — Good luck.- she concluded, her lips in a thin line.

Magna secured the intel, keeping the manila folder pressed against her chest, and strolled out of the coffee shop without looking back.

 

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

LOCATION: BERLIN

CIA HEADQUARTERS - Joint Terrorism Task Force.

FOUR HOURS LATER

Steve, Sam and T'Challa were brought to the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre Building in an armed vehicle, while Bucky was brought there inside a containment cell. Upon their arrival at the light gray walled bunker, Bucky's pod was carried away by a forklift. Nearby, Steve got out of the SUV and glanced across at Bucky, who didn't spot him. The three men approached Sharon, who was standing with a diminutive, gray-head man and two armed guards .

»»————- ✼ ————-«« 

LOCATION: BERLIN - GERMANY

CIA HEADQUARTERS - Joint Terrorism Task Force (LOGISTICS FLOOR)

 

— I need ears!- Magna requested from the Control Room, several floor levels above Steve and the rest. Immediately, two of the techs she was overseeing typed some commands and the audio came through her headset.

The computers and large flat screens were all powered up, casting the dark offices in a blue glow. Magna listened and stared at the security camera footage intently. Her eyes were riveted to one of the monitors, their gleam casting a pall over her steely expression.

Steve walked with Sam and T'Challa by his side and faced Sharon Carter and Commander Ross with guards surrounding them. Steve glanced at the reinforced glass prison holding Bucky. The latter's eyes tracked the soldiers as they moved around his fish-bowl cell, but he wasn't actually paying attention to them, for all there was in his head was utter resignation.

— What's gonna happen to him?- Steve demanded to know, his gaze lingering on Sharon for a little too long before moving his eyes to the latter's boss.

— Same thing that ought to happen to you.- Everett Ross told him plainly. — Psychological evaluation and extradition.- he spoke to them using that sort of patronizing tone one would use on a small child. 

Sharon cleared her throat and with a gesture to the short man, she introduced him.

— This is Everett Ross, Deputy Task Force Commander.- she said, standing up straight and holding her folded hands in front of herself, glancing at her boss.

— What about a lawyer?- a slightly mocking tone could be heard in Steve's voice and Magna smirked discreetly.

— Lawyer. That's funny.- Ross smiled dryly and turned to Sharon. Gone from his voice was every hint of superiority and disdain; instead, it held a weary annoyance. — See their weapons are placed in lockup. We'll write you a receipt.- Sam watched some guards carry his uniform away, giving them a most prominent scowl of disapproval.

— I better not look out the window and see anybody flying around in that.- he warned as his wings, Steve's shield and Bucky's backpack disappeared from sight.

They followed Commander Ross, and Steve looked back and caught a brief glance of Bucky as they loaded the cage into the elevator. The blonde super soldier's face remained worried as he watched the scene. Bucky looked away without a second thought. There'd be no saving him this time. Not even Steve could change that. He sighed, bitterly aware that his time had run out.

Meanwhile, Magna glanced up from the camera monitor screen and spoke with heavy authority.

— Take over here, Felicity.- she voiced her order, taking off the intercom headset and shoving it into the woman's hand. Felicity usually helped Magna out with general duties. The former nodded, slightly startled and intimidated, taking the chair behind the desk.

Then Magna called some other names, one of the summoned special agents immediately approached her with a device in one hand, which she inserted swifly. It was a small earpiece that was linked to Sharon's channel and allowed her to hear the conversation the blonde and Ross were having as they moved about.

— You guys keep at it. Extra eyes on sublevel five.- Magna issued these commands over her shoulder as she checked her phone, reading Sharon's last text. Turning around, she took a deep breath. — Listen up, people! This is top priority now.- she bellowed. The usual office humming and movement sounds came to an abrupt halt, and all curious gazes landed on her.— I want this entire building ready to go on lockdown, if necessary.- the brunette spouted instructions to her squad to reinforce surveillance and secure all probable exits. — Get on it, you know the drill.

With one last glance at the monitor, Magna stormed off and headed for the elevator, eager to check on her friends. 

Task Force had taken Bucky down to a lower level, not unlike the places where he used to be hidden in, when his 'handlers' usually dragged him back to cryogenic suspension in the Siberian HYDRA base. He couldn't see behind him, but he suspected a machine and a cryogenic capsule were waiting for him, just like they always were. His head prickled with pain of memories past.

 

❁❂❁

 

♡ 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕜 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕗𝕠𝕣 𝕣𝕖𝕒𝕕𝕚𝕟𝕘! 

If you like this story, don't hesitate to vote & leave a comment, feedback helps me a lot!

 

Chapter Text

LOCATION: BERLIN, GERMANY

CIA HEADQUARTERS - Joint Terrorism Task Force

 (HIGH SECURITY BUNKER)

Task Force stopped their prisoner beside the truck he'd been brought in and took away his bag, carrying off his memories, and Bucky wanted to scream, because there was nothing he could do about it. Even if it was just a little, he remembered. He still held on to bits and pieces of the time before HYDRA had gotten their claws into him, and now they were leaving with what little he remembered about the man he had been.

Then, several hands moved him on, guiding him up the tailgate ramp of the truck, stopping Bucky in front of a large glass-like containment cell inside which waited for him something from his darkest past, a shiny, cold, metal chair. A steel restraint was clamped around his right arm, the metal chilling his flesh. Bucky couldn't feel the clamp around his left arm, but he heard it click into place, the heavy lock securing him, holding him still.

He didn't know how long had passed -he couldn't think, couldn't move. The eyes of the guards never left his motionless position; some of them glared at him, others kept watching as if Bucky was some exotic capture. In some ways, the latter would’ve agreed that he was.

He detected someone walking into the adjoining hallway and telling the guards to get moving. Bucky felt his body stiffen. Then, the door to his cell opened, but Barnes kept his head down. He wasn't going to look up at the bastards, he wasn't going to give in, and there was no way that he would let them have that kind of satisfaction. 

Bucky shut his eyes and every fiber in him tightened even more.

 

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

LOCATION: BERLIN, GERMANY

CIA HEADQUARTERS - Joint Terrorism Task Force 

(CONTROL ROOM FLOOR)

Steve and Sam were thrown in a separate quiet glass-walled office overlooking the control room.  The latter leant on the table, looking at all the people typing away on their computers while live CCTV footage of Bucky was shown on one of the eight screens on the wall. Outside, Magna tensely stood behind Natasha Romanoff and Tony Stark, the three facing the monitors in front of them, each of them recording the containment cell from different angles. An image of Bucky shuffled into the picure, before everyone's eyes- he was, of course, in custody, locked in a pod with his arms tightly fixed down to the chair.

His powerful shoulders were prominent, but the downward angle of one of the cameras obscured his facial expression -granted, the length of his hair didn't make it any easy either. The special sensors indicated that Bucky's heartbeat and blood pressure then begun to increase; his metabolic levels edging up as well. The evaluation was about to start.

Barnes was later joined by the hired psychiatrist who had been sent to interview the prisoner and evaluate his mental well-being. The former appeared in the doorway, his sunken shoulders blocking the soft light from the contiguous hallway. The Winter Soldier remained staring blankly at the wall between two armed guards that stood in front of his pod. Eventually, the unknown man in glasses came in, his steps slow and tentative.

— Hello, Mr. Barnes.- the soft-spoken voice of the man interrupted the silence.— I've been sent by the UN to evaluate you. Do you mind if I sit?- he asked, his English thick with an accent. To this the prisoner made no reply, and the man sat anyway. — Your first name is James?- all Bucky did was lean his head back against his uncomfortable metal chair, trying to block out his current situation.

Inside the small office Steve couldn't hear anything being said; he could stare at the small screen and watch the evaluator sit down at a desk, facing Bucky's pod. Sharon stepped inside the small see-through room, carrying more images, papers and a voucher with her too, handing it to Sam, who looked slightly annoyed.

— The receipt for your gear..- she explained and Sam glanced down, immediately frowning at the words. The blonde's eyes briefly met Magna's from all the way across the glass wall and the latter nodded inconspicuously.

 'Bird costume'?- Sam read aloud with leering disdain. He cocked a brow and let out a short scoff. — ... Come on.

— I didn't write it.- stepping towards the control buttons that were mounted into the table, Sharon pushed the "Restricted" button, which stopped the muted audio from Bucky's evaluation.

The CCTV footage of Bucky came on on the screen next to Steve's head, and the audio was louder. He gave her a quick look, but turned his attention to Bucky again as the psychologist continued.

— I'm not here to judge you, I just want to ask you a few questions. Do you know where you are, James?- the latter didn't care what the man was there for. All the prisoner wanted was to get it all over with, even if the result was him getting killed. For Bucky, death wasn't the worst outcome. In fact, he'd choose death over the Machine every single time. Barnes opted not to answer the question. 

The doctor, however, pressed further -he could clearly tell from the way Barnes held himself, tense and closed, that the former sergeant didn't want to discuss his problems and he didn't want him to talk about them either; still, Dr. Theo Broussard was persistant.

— I can't help you if you don't talk to me, James.- the man commented, shuffling through papers calmly. Bucky inhaled deeply. He needed to get his frustration under control. 

He repeated the name over and over. James. James. James. That wasn't who he was anymore. He was Bucky. Back in the forties, he'd died once as James, the sergeant, the friend, the son. This time, if it came to that, he would go out as Bucky... just Bucky. Finally, he spoke.

— My name is Bucky.- was the first thing out of his mouth, his voice coming out croaky because nobody had thought of giving him a glass of water since taking him into custody. Wasn't that against the law? He almost laughed. Everything about him was against the law. The evaluator was quiet for a long time, writing something down. 

Steve was slightly affected by his answer, his eyes still wondering on the screen as he thought.

 

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

The blonde sat the rest of the pages down. On top there was a blurry security picture of "James" after the bombing and Steve hesitantly picked the photo up off of the table. He held and studied the photographs of the man who bombed the congress in Vienna, a man who indeed looked just like Bucky. The super soldier sighed to keep from getting worked up again. He glanced at the papers one last time before darting his gaze back up to the screen.

Sharon heard the glass door open and close behind her, and from the perfume she immediately recognised the new person as Magna.

— Why would the Task Force release this photo to begin with?- he suddenly piped up, aiming his question at the two CIA agents. 

He dropped the security photo of Bucky supposedly planting the bomb that would later kill the King of Wakanda and injure countless others. It really didn't make sense. Bucky had been able to perform multiple assassinations and never once was caught by photographs. What was different about this time?

Steve turned around, but Magna's eyes stayed trained onto the screen. She was focusing on Bucky's body language, praying he would stay calm throughout the evaluation, as it maybe would save the violent reputation he had going for him.

— Get the word out, involve as many eyes as we can?- Sharon tipped her head and threw an arm out, suggesting the obvious. Next to her, Sam was sulking about his wings being taken from him.

— Right.- Steve agreed, though it wasn't friendly. His face was stern and hard-set again, and Magna knew that wasn't Steve talking. That was Captain America. His voice, almost sarcastic, told her he was onto something. — It's a good way to flush a guy out of hiding. Set off a bomb, get your picture taken. Get seven billion people looking for the Winter Soldier.- the brunette's eyes drifted up to his and they automatically narrowed.

— You're saying someone framed him to find him.- it was a question, but Sharon voiced it like a statement. Her tone didn't necessarily imply she believed Steve's theory, but the blondewasn't discarding it either. Sam brought his eyes up and shook his head, glancing at Magna.

— Steve.. we looked for the guy for two years and found nothing.- he said.

 — Because he didn't want to be found.- Magna chimed in, grimacing at the memory. She recalled perfectly how exasperating the search was.

— We didn't bomb the UN. That turns a lot if heads.- Steve insisted, avoiding Magna's gaze, probably because they were narrowed to the point that they could only see her pupils. There wasn't a trace of blue in Steve's irises either, only the shade resembling the gray of the sky in a bad storm. 

— Yeah, but that doesn't guarantee that whoever framed him would get him.- Sharon's eyes fell on the evaluator in the screen, her eyes narrow. Sharon seemed to realize something and trained her gaze onto the screen. — ... It guarantees that we would.

Magna turned to face her friend, considering her thought. Her dark eyes fixed on Sharon, and Steve looked back at the screen behind him with a frown.

— Yeah...- he mumbled. 

Without a word, Magna exited the room, her conflicted gaze fleetingly meeting Natasha's. The psychiatrist hired to evaluate James was fully on display. His back was to the camera, but it was clear by the way his head moved that he was engaging the prisoner in conversation. On the different screens, the recorded image of Bucky remained almost motionless as the evaluator talked to him. 

The lights flickered off around the control room before plunging the entire floor into darkness. Acting on instinct, Magna looked over at Steve, who turned his eyes to Sharon.

 

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

LOCATION: BERLIN, GERMANY

CIA HEADQUARTERS - Joint Terrorism Task Force 

(HIGH SECURITY BUNKER)

— Tell me Bucky. You've seen a great deal, haven't you?- he finally asked, after what felt like an hour of silence, making Bucky visibly tense up at the question.

That had to be the stupidest question the latter had ever heard. What was he supposed to say? He'd been spending the past two years trying to move on from his past. He relived it enough in his nightmares, he didn't need to reminisce now.

— I don't wanna talk about it.- there was an edge to Bucky's voice, and the sensors indicated that his heart was pounding and his metabolism had been drenched with adrenaline.

When the evaluator continued, he spoke as if his mouth was full of honey.

— You fear that if you open your mouth, the horrors might never stop.- the doctor carried on, and initially Bucky thought the man meant to make it a question that came out as a statement, -then that changed, of course, and he wanted to roll his eyes and chide that for someone who wasn't there to judge him, that sounded awfully judgemental. 

He held his tongue. 

The strange doctor got distracted again, this time by something on his tablet and Bucky didn't know why he was so scared -he couldn't do anything immediate from that cage anyway

 Don't worry.- the man said. There was an ominous, almost arrogant tone to his voice that set Bucky's nerves on end. — We only have to talk about one.- one horror, he meant. He tapped the tablet a couple times before looking back to him. Something was definitely wrong, but Bucky didn't get a chance to ponder that statement.

The power suddenly dropped, the room plunging into darkness for a moment before the backup generators started, the dimness of the cell punctuated by flashing red lights as the system tried to reboot. The doors to the containment room slammed shut, locking out the soldiers and guards stationed outside.

— What the hell is this?- he growled, turning his gaze to the man in the suit. His muscles started aching as he yearned to retreat.

He could see the guy, now that the glare from the light was gone. The only illumination was dull, flashing emergency lightning. The Doc didn't look like an obvious threat, in fact, he looked like an ordinary guy. Neatly combed brown hair, glassed perched on the bridge of his nose, expensive-looking suit... Bucky could have passed him in the street and not glanced at him once

— Why don't we discuss your home?- the man asked in return. In the darkness that soft-spoken voice sounded much more menacing. What did this guy know of his home? 

Weird Doctor reached into his briefcase, pulled out something and held it up for him to see. 

— Not Romania. Certainly not Brooklyn, no.- the man only smirked and kept showing him the object. It was a notebook that looked worn out at the edges, not unlike the ones Bucky used to record his memories, only this one was red, with the macabre star on the front. Bucky didn't recognise the book, but the Soldier did. — I mean your real home.- he finished grimly. This guy didn't want to talk to Bucky. He wanted the Winter Soldier. 

The latter woke and writhed beneath Bucky's skin, bringing him with a flood of fear, adrenaline and a deep, cold memory of painful familiarity. The chair, and The Machine. The book. They all went together, and together they brought agony.

Bucky wanted to believe that it had been enough time, that the words wouldn't do anything to him anymore. But his bones were aching to escape. The man took off his glasses, proudly displaying the red notebook with it's gaudy, black star on the front. Then, the impostor stood up, flipping to a certain page and stepped forward. The word the doctor pronounced tore into the latter's mind, opening a door to the inside of his thoughts.

Longing.

 — No...- Bucky muttered, shaking his head and struggling on his metallic restrains. He tried to breathe through the throbbing feeling that appeared in his mind.

No. 

The words weren't going to work anymore. He kept telling himself that, even as he felt the pinprick in the back of his head. It was just a word. It meant nothing to him now. 

The door was opened, and another word stepped through it.

Rusted .

Something touched his skull. It wasn't physical. Granted, he was locked up and no one could touch him, but he could still feel a strange pressure almost a drumming on his head. Each time the throbbing sensation washed over him the pain grew stronger. At first he tought he had gone into shock, but worse was the knowledge that he was about to vomit. 

He opened his eyes and struggled against his bindings. He was having difficulty breathing through his nose. He took big gulps of air through his mouth, and tried to ignore the rancid taste. Bucky felt his lips tremble with fear. 

— Stop...- he heard himself plea, tossing his head back harshly and squeezing his eyes shut. trying to block out the words. He couldn't, though. 

As the doctor recited everything good that was in his mind started to fade and Bucky could feel the currents in his brain start to take over again. Images raced through his mind, each memory sniffed out like dying candles.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

Seventeen.

He could feel everything was slipping away, as both his hands clenched to fists. How could he still not fight this? 

— Stop.- he said again, this time louder, much harsher, and his face contorted as a fierce anger built up in him. However, the man didn't stop. The words didn't stop. 

The doctor needed a flashlight to see the journal page, which had been pre-marked, and a tiny spotlight over the source of all Bucky's pain. He walked around the latter's pod as he said the next word, and the sting spread to the entire back of Bucky's head.

Daybreak.

Even as the word tried to wake the Soldier, Bucky reached out and tried to get there first, to rouse HYDRA's weapon into self-defence. He grabbed hold, taking some of the aggression, some of the raw strength, into himself. The prisoner's lips let out a scream that echoed the scream of his muscles as he strained against the metal restraints. 

Bucky, gripping the bindings in his hands, tried to break free while the man took another step in front of him. His metal wrist managed to break free from the restrain and broke his other arm from the hold.

Bucky poured everything he had into moving his arm. He heard metal screech in complaint as it gave way to his strength, and the prisoner ripped his heavy arm out of its hold. Ignoring the incredible pain as he moved away from what his body wanted to do, he forced himself to move. Bucky knew he had to get out.

The clamps over his other arm and his legs were easily removed, and he could barely hear over the pounding in his ears as the man said Furnace. Bucky roared with rage. The man who was the cause of his current bout of pain was just ouside the pod, that book in his hands, a feverish light in his eyes. 

The words were spreading, working their way deeper inside of him, trying to reach the place where the Soldier lay dormant. The pain enveloped his entire brain, sending electrical pulses down his spine and into his extremities. 

Bucky stumbled to the front of the fish bowl, grabbing hold of the bar that was there to keep him inside. He then used it as leverage, sending his metal fist into the thick glass. The man jumped back, but when the glass didnt' shatter, he spoke another word.

Nine.

He felt the pain in the center of his back, but he ignored it, continuing to hit the glass over and over and over. 

He had to get out, had to get out, had to get out 

Again and again he smashed his fist into the glass. It was only glass. Sooner or later it would have to give way. 

He was stronger than glass. 

He was... He was...

Benign .

A numbness started to settle into his mind, like the cold of cryo-freeze. There were only three words left, and he could feel as his brain started to fog over. 

A crack appeared in the glass, giving him something else to focus on. He poured every ounce of concentration into punching it, into breaking through the transparent barrier. It became the only thing in the world. 

Homecoming .

His legs no longer felt like his, they were numb and foreign. He continued anyway, but he no longer knew why he was hitting the glass. It seemed important, though. He was in a cage, and he had to get out. Get out and kill the man with the book before... before... 

He didn't know. It didn't matter. He didn't need to know. All he needed was an order to obey, and this was it. 

Get out. 

Kill. 

Rest.

One punch caused the shrink to step back, another got him worried.

One.

Soon the glass began to buckle, he felt it weaken beneath his strikes. He lashed out again, and again, and again, until the wall finally gave way, wrenched off its hinges under the force of his sustained attack. He tumbled out of the pod, landing on the floor to his knees and preparing to attack. As he stepped through, he heard the final words.

Freight car.

The man stepped back and Bucky stopped dead on his tracks, as if following an unspoken instruction. The noise receded and for a moment it was quiet, no one made a noise. Through the silence, the evaluator bent down in front of him while his eyes were tightened shut for the moment. Bucky slowly lifted his head up, looking ahead.

His face held no emotion, eyes cold and distant. The Soldier stayed in his crouched position, eyes and ears open as he performed a tactical threat analysis; there was only one person present- the man who had spoken the words. The one who now commanded him. He raised himself to a stainding position and patiently awaited his new orders.

— Soldier?- the man asked. The Winter Soldier blinked, and exhaled heavily.

— Ready to comply.- he responded as uncertainty and caution disappeared from his handler's face.

 

𝔸/ℕ: The original plan was to dedicate one of my "Ellipsis" chapters to the Winter Soldier's activation scene but it made more sense to split two different moments happening pretty much at the same time within the same chapter. It felt more real and, believe me, it was hella tense to write it.

❁❂❁

♡ 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕜 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕗𝕠𝕣 𝕣𝕖𝕒𝕕𝕚𝕟𝕘!If you like this story, don't hesitate to vote & leave a comment, feedback helps me a lot!

 

 

Chapter Text

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

 

LOCATION: BERLIN, GERMANY

CIA HEADQUARTERS - Joint Terrorism Task Force

(CONTROL ROOM FLOOR)

 

Commander Ross walked back to the screens, collecting his stoic demeanour together. Magna hung back, though she could still see the many screens clearly. The whole floor was watching as the evalutator turned his attention to a very much awake Barnes.

Suddenly, everything went dark.

In the city traffic lights failed, and at the CIA Headquarters the power went out as well. Backup lights glared in the place of the regular lighting, but even then they barely did anything. Red and blue flashed, bathing everyone with neon hues.

— Great...- Commander Ross huffed under his breath while everyone looked up at the ceiling in confusion. — Come on, guys, get me eyes on Barnes! - he ordered into a walkie-talkie as other officers scurried around. The small man crossed his arms and flared his nose, probably thinking his own people had something to do with the problem. 

Magna's eyes had just adjusted to the low lighting when she saw Steve and Sam hurry out of the control room. Ross was suddenly at her side as agents, officers and soldiers flocked the hallways. It was then that the brunette saw the chaos ensuing around her. The blackout was obviously coordinated and for a very important reason: Barnes was the most dangerous person in the building and, simultaneously, the most valuable asset. 

She cursed, watching as the staff emerged from their offices in a panic, darting down the hallways and causing a commotion. Magna's gaze lingered on Tony Stark for a moment as the latter tapped the side of his glasses, demanding to someone in his ear to get him a source on the outage. Their current floor hadn't been the only one affected - every other level was blacked out as well. The backup lighting glowed very prominently, but the only thing that it did was give Magna a headache. 

Sharon jogged up quickly to join her friend, and together they rushed to find Ross. The latter's voice was loud and laced with clear impatience and Magna's pulse was racing under her skin.

— Go..- their boss motioned the last guard to hurry into position before turning to his two special agents. Over his shoulder, Sharon spotted Natasha and Tony exchanging tense looks with one another. — I need you to take care of the mass outside.- he ordered sternly, swiping a hand across his forehead as he made a arm motion that seemed to include Sharon.

— I'll handle evac, Sir.- the blonde concluded without missing a beat. — We need to get all civilians out of here.- she spoke calmly and deliberately, adjusting her ear-piece. Ross only gave her a sharp nod and faced Magna expectantly, eyes narrowed, tone heavy with authority.

The brunette's stomach turned painfully and she could only square her shoulders before complying with a quick nod of the head to herself. When she made sure the Commander wasn't looking, Magna rolled her eyes, the gesture preceded by a miserably held back scoff.

— Get me a perimeter around the building.- she instructed the two young techs operating the computers, walking back and forth between her boss and the handful of functioning screens (which were already in the middle of the rebooting process). Magna eventually glanced at Ross and found petulance all across his face. Despite how important Bucky was to Steve, right in that moment she had no choice but to prepare to aim. — ... and gunships in the air.

Her boss bobbed his head one last time before exiting the control room floor without further word, too busy with his walkie-talkie. Magna crossed her arms and met Sharon's vacant stare. She knew that look. Her friend's mind was overloaded, just like hers.

— Remember the spot?- shemurmured, her lips barely moving. The brunette was leaning over a frozen screen and typing random commands. Magna casually scanned the floor without ever moving to make eye contact with her, face turned slightly to the side as she pretended to be busy.

— ... Yes?- Sharon snapped out of her thoughts and raised one inquisitive eyebrow, which then turned into a full frown of utter confusion. — Are you...- Magna interrupted her and gave the blonde a quick nod of her head before pulling out her phone . Carrying on with her "work", Magna scrolled until she found a contact name and brought the device closer to her free ear.

The insistent buzzing of the alarm reverberated throughout the building and spilled out onto the street, loud enough to make the two women wince.

— Go, go.- Magna urged Sharon, pointing with her chin to the two Avengers heading out. — I need to stay here anyway.- she added sourly, waiting for Felicity to answer the call and Sharon pressed her lips in a thin line. The latter nodded reluctantly, searching for her friend's eyes in-between the red flashes of the alarm.

— One hour.- Sharon muttered, keeping a blank expression as she moved towards the doors. For two or three steps she walked backwards, without stopping.

— One hour.-Magna agreed, bobbing her head knowingly before jogging to a different desk.

Sharon then stormed off in the direction of Tony and Natasha. The blonde overheard their sarcastic conversation as she ran past them, the raucous noise of the pulsing sirens becoming more and more annoying as they hurried down a different hall. 

— Follow me!- she called without stopping, gesturing the duo to follow her- which they barely hesitated to do before running after her.

— Your friend isn't coming?- Tony asked, glancing around. He deliberately ignored Natasha's curious look and caught up to Sharon's pace as it quickened. She spoke only two words, slightly out of breath.

— She's busy.- she told him, the blonde facing forward while talking as she briskly led them to the eating area of the building. Onlya stiff nod of acknowledgment was Tony's unconvincing response to her words and Natasha could only smirk.

 

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

 

LOCATION: BERLIN, GERMANY

CIA HEADQUARTERS - Joint Terrorism Task Force

(CONTROL ROOM FLOOR)

FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER

 

All operational backup generators had been brought to full operating condition and Magna was watching whatever footage the security cameras of the building had been able to get. As the minutes went by, she looked at more of the footage on fast forward and discovered nothing of interest; the latter was not inclined to anthromorphic archetypes, but she couldn't help thinking that the onscreen fake doctor had the posture of a coiled snake, his head weaving slightly. In the video Bucky was -ironically so- the small animal frozen by his words. The tapes revealed, in stark blueish images, a powerful predator mesmerizing his prey.

One number changed on the time stamp, and a new flash of movement made Felicity stop the fast-forward rewind. The latter was sitting right next to Magna, eyes fiercely wandering across the screens. 

Her fingertips clicked repeatedly across the keyboard. The computer screens were each split four ways to be able to show different camera angles or different parts of the building. Frowning, she switched cameras, scrolling through another, and another, and another. With a sigh, Felicity turned back to her computer; the camera angle pivoted, then zoomed in on the man.

— Magna, come look at his.- she played the image at normal speed for her superior, and the two ops watched footage of the evaluator making his way out the building, taking advantage of the chaos he had produced. He bypassed the elevator and went directly to the emergency exits. Then, poused outside briefly, out of focus, to later reemerge, blended with the crowds, keeping his head down at an unnatural angle. 

— Someone's obviously camera shy...- Magna muttered. — Wait. Go back.- she said abruptly as Felicity's eyes widened.

— I saw it, too!- the assistant said, tapping the keyboard again. Felicity backed up the tape at slow speed and froze the image at the moment the man had lifted and turned his head toward the emergency door. — ... Gotcha.- there were three frames of his face,- actually, just portions of it-, each a slightly different angle. They were dark, but hopefully, with some inhancements they'd be enough for Eastwood to identify him. 

Magna left the agent a voicemail as she sent the images his way, stressing how important it was to give them top priority. While they waited for his callback, the brunette and Felicity checked the video of several other cameras in the building to see if they could get a clearer shot of the evaluator. Unfortunately, the impostor's face was never visible in either instance, as he had impressively avoided the remaining security cameras.

— I need to find Sharon... please let me know if Adam calls.- Magna said to Felicity, glancing down at her hips where she wore her holster, she secured her gun. The latter tilted her head in acquiescence, watching as Magna moved toward the double glass door, but before the brunette could get there, Felicity's fruity voice stopped her.

— Do you want me to call her?- she suggested with curiosity, her delicate hand reaching for the phone. Magna's beath hitched. It was only because she'd turned away, her attention once more on her phone, that Felicity didn't see Magna'd stopped dead in her tracks; the blood had drained from the latter's face with a swiftness that made her dizzy for a moment. 

She was quick to swing around and face her.

— Uh no, no. I'll just go find her..-her tone sounded panicked to her ear, and she forced calm into her voice. Felicity's innocent gaze found hers and Magna looked at her straight in the eyes with a mixture of irritation and doubt.  — She's commanding the evacuation team, so I'll meet her outside.- she cleared her suddenly dry throat, tucking some loose locks behind her ears. Slowly, the red head left the phone back on the desk, listening attentively. — You stay, see if we can get a clearer visual, okay?

Felicity leaned back in her chair and looked away, reading something on the screen- then, turned back and gave her superior a sort of compliant smile.

— Got it.-after a moment, Magna forced one of her thin-lipped smiles that look like wincing and made her way out the control room floor. 

Magna moved as silently as she could down the hallways, in the opposite direction from which agents came. She needed to get an alibi and then meet Sharon at their secret spot. After looking down outside from a large window, the agent noticed how most of the staff were fleeing the building en masse. Adjusting her pace, she rushed down several flies of stairs and levels. Eventually, she came across the hallway she had been eager to get to. Her only detour.

She headed for the debriefing area. Next to the hut was a storage bunker in which confiscated items were kept, locked and heavily guarded. Steve and Sam's gear wasn't supposed to be placed there, but the Accords and chaos had kept everyone too busy to even consider setting up a brand new safe just for the Goverment's new property. Not many agents had clearence for the bunker. 

Fortunately, Magna was one of them. 

The sweaty guard barely glanced at her upon witnessing the brunette's ID card sliding sleekly across the digital panel. Magna knew she was in a bit of a rush but did not want to draw attention to herself, so she moved slowly, almost bored. 

Her ID was confirmed as a hiss of escaping gas sounded from beyond and the door unlocked with an audible, heavy click. Magna typed in a final code to open the door, which opened with a slight protest of hinges. With a polite nod at the guard, she pushed and entered. 

She knew she'd have to deal with the guard on her way out were the doors to the dispatch cars inside the bunker locked, but Magna chose not worry about that until it was completely necessary.

The door automatically closed behind her and she waited for a few heart-pounding momentson the other side to see of anyone would appear. At this point it would be easier to explain what she was doing, as she could lie and say Ross had ordered her to check on the confiscated items. The real problem would be sounding convincing enough so that nobody felt the need to check. However, the doors remained solidly closed, and with that, Magna was left alone in the cold, quiet storage bunker.

Fluorescent tubes above illuminated the large room, about the equivalent of three two-car garages. There were shelves from floor to ceiling, all stacked with file boxes, old computer equipment, and miscellaneous junk. 

Magna strolled slowly down the rows, looking at the labels fixed to the edges of the shelves. Each long set had numerous sections, all alphabetized as far as she could tell. Halfway down the row marked "F" and after bypassing a platform trolley, Magna stopped with a scowl.

"This is going to take forever"-she thought, -"...and they're not even here!". At the end of a secondary hallway, she found herself at the back of the huge storage room. It had row upon row of industrial shelving. And on those shelves were even bigger file boxes, all labeled with the month and year. She breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief, then quickly made her way along the cartons, following the chronology of the dates to that very day. 

Then she found them. There were two wooden boxes, the biggest containers in the whole deposit, by far. Unlabeled except for a date, each of them displayed a classic lock. A smile as mischievous as the Cheshire cat's in Alice in Wonderland lifted her lips as she noticed the items had been brought in earlier that day.

After a moment of elation, her heart sunk upon hearing voices in the distance. It took her a frozen second to jump to action and slip back behind the taller box to hide. The voices were male, and they were coming closer. She held her breath and nervously glanced to her side, but then the footsteps veered off, heading down the ramp towards the dispatch garages. Okay, so the doors were available. Good. Finally, the voices faded, and Magna nearly slumped to the floor in relief. 

Magna turned to walk around to the boxes when she noticed a backpack lying on the ground next to one of them. It was Bucky's backpack. Facing the two container wooden boxes again, the brunette pulled two bobby pins from her hair, sticking them between her teeth. She leaned forward to study the locks more closely and a lock of hair fell over her face, and she anchored it back into her untidy bun. 

— Good thing I like a good challenge...- she murmured around the bobby pins clenched between her teeth. — ... Let's see if I still got it.- Magna knelt down and stretched both bobby pins into a line, hooking the ends on each of them, and got to work.

At the formative age of twelve one of her foster fathers, a classifies-career military man had decided she could learn how to pick a lock. Now, decade and a half later, she hadn't lost her cat burglar touch. 

Magna put pressure on the lock counterclockwise with one bobby pin, then inserted the other with the hook up. She tenderly moved the upper bobby pin around until she felt the mechanism. Then, working one pin at a time, getting each to give, she turned the bottom bobby pin for the final unlock. The brunette smiled, brown eyes dancing with amusement, as if she were in on some private joke with herself.

She pulled the heavy rectangle door open and marvelled at the sight of Sam's compacted wings -or how Magna had always preferred to call it, his bird costume. With a tentative touch, she grabbedit and confirmed, luckily for her, that it looked heavier than it actually was. The brunette remembered the trolley she'd seen and went back for it. 

Steve's shield was next. It was ridiculously hefty, but Magna managed to place it and the rest of the gear inside an opaque container, far smaller than the previous one, just like she'd done with Sam's stuff. Everything squeezed in perfectly on the platform trolley, which would make it easier for Magna to carry the confiscated objects to a truck.

Rolling the boxes a few meters, Magna glanced fleetingly at Bucky's backpack before walking over and looking down at it with a nagging feeling of curiosity. As she bent down to un-zipper the backpack, Magna felt a twinge of guilt, but she pushed it away. The bag opened, revealing some clothes and an unusual set of books and notebooks. 

Magna pulled the notebook that was closest to her and looked at the inside cover. In cramped, scribbled letters, was written "My name is". Next to those three words, and with a different pen, the sentence continued: "James Buchanan Barnes." However the name had at some point been crossed out. Below, and almost at the end of the page, were another four words with different ink. 

"My name is Bucky."

She swallowed, trying to stem the sudden tears that filled her eyes. Magna shut the notebook and put it back into the backpack before she was tempted to look through it any further. As she stood up, the agent contemplated what to do with the belongings, feeling torn between constant weariness and continual worry. 

Should she? Would it even matter? She knew she had no time to ponder over such things, and something within her told her she couldn't leave it there anyway. She couldn't stand the tought of leaving behind what little information Bucky had gathered about himself over the past few years. With a defeated sigh, the brunette threw the big backpack over her shoulders and pushed the trolley towards the dispatch area.

Magna rushed back toward the ramp and pushed toward the doors with all her might, revealling the building's empty parking lot. Several cars and trucks were parked, but the place was clear of people, which was good. She looked around and tried to listen for any sounds coming from the other side. There was only silence. Magna wheeled the trolley through the doors and into the car park. Outside, she pushed it faster, feeling her heart thumping in her chest. 

The sound of her car trunk slamming shut brought her back to reality and after looking at her wrist watch she confirmed she only had twenty minutes to meet Sharon. Sliding the backpack off her shoulders, Magna promptly tossed it into the back seat and quickly got into her car. After shutting the door and locking it, her hands went to the steering wheel and she leaned on it, her head down, taking shaky breaths.

She allowed herself a moment to catch her breath, clear her head, and analyze what the hell just happened before she returned to her original intent. 

Magna put her head back, gazed at the ceiling of her car and collected her thoughts, trying to relax her posture. After counting to ten, she twisted the key in the ignition and turned the car on. Cursing through a clenched jaw, she shifted into reverse.

 

 

❁❂❁

♡ 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕜 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕗𝕠𝕣 𝕣𝕖𝕒𝕕𝕚𝕟𝕘!If you like this story, don't hesitate to vote & leave a comment, feedback helps me a lot!

 

Chapter Text

LOCATION: BERLIN, GERMANY

(UNDISCLOSED) - SOMEWHERE UNDER AN OVERPASS

TWENTY MINUTES LATER

 

— Let me make sure I've got this right.- Magna fixed Sharon with a stern look and the latter glanced at her and frowned. They had stopped in the middle of the underpass, the highway directly above them. — I steal the damn stuff but you give them to Captain America and get all the glory?-she asked accusingly, with her determined chin thrust into the palm of her hand and her elbow propped up on the window of the parked Audi.

Sharon rolled her eyes and nodded sarcastically, showcasing what Magna recognized as her patented sarcastic look.

— Well, your services are very much appreciated.- Magna's gaze narrowed with weary skepticism. — So thank you, Magna.- the latter's lips twitched in the humorous irritating way the blonde knew to be her smirking trademark.

— Yeah, yeah, whatever.- she waved off her thanks before turning away and scrubbing her hands across her face, exhausted.  — ... They should hurry now, though.- Magna commented in muffled voice, slowly peeking through her fingers at her. — Satellites are running facial, bio-metric, and behavioral pattern scans as we speak...-  tilting her head, the brunette regarded Sharon thoughtfully for a moment and the latter's eyes met hers.

— Can you believe we're doing this again?- Sharon muttered. She was sitting with her torso leaning forward, her head lying against something hard. She reached up to brace against it, pushed away, and slowly straightened herself. It was a steering wheel. Her steering wheel.

— Guess that's what happens when you're dumb enough to develop a crush on an old guy...- Magna pursed her lips teasingly, staring out the window. — I mean to each their own, obviously. I like older guys too, but World War Two old sounds a bit excessive.

Sharon shifted and a dull pain throbbed in her ribcage. Trying to straighten herself, the wounded woman cradled her torso and moved, just an inch or two, and felt agony. At her friend's hiss of pain, Magna immediately leaned to inspect her beaten side and examined the area with care, tracing the wounds. Truth be told, Sharon was collecting bruises faster than an avid gambler collected debt. When she'd gotten back to the HQ after the evacuation she'd hard a hard time walking in to her office. She'd collapsed in the chair holding her ribs and rubbing her back.

Magna lifted her shirt slightly, revealing the skin around her ribs and back was was red and angry, and a wine-colored bruise had begun to form. Frowning at the evidence of the fighting from earlier, the brunette tentatively pressed one finger on it.

— You're delusional. He's just a colleague.- the blonde groaned and hissed at the touch. — Ouch!- she exclaimed, jumping up. — Mags, what the hell?!- with a yelp of pain, she dropped her arm to pretect her already-damaged ribs, shoving Magna away with the heels of her palms and a scowl. The blonde pulled her shirt back down with determination and straightened herself back in her seat despite the discomfort. — ... It was a table.- she explained coyly and turned her head away so that Magna couldn't see what she was thinking at all.

A few minutes of silence passed, and the two women finally spotted a small beetle approaching. Magna shook her head in disbelief. Then, she turned and the tension in her broke with a snort of laughter at the absurdity of Steve's beetle. Of all cars he had to pick the smallest one possible. And the oddest-looking one, too.

— He's so dramatic.- she commented, eyes wide and baffled as she clapped her hand over her lips and tried to take on a more serious look. Sharon opened her mouth, then closed it again, unable to think of a single thing to say in return.

— Are you staying?- she questioned, turning around to face her. The blonde's hand was already on the car door handle.

The beetle pulled up not far from their vehicle, both cars hidden behind the hulking cement pillars holding up the highway above them; the buzz of traffic whizzed by overhead.

— Obviously...- a smug expression puckered her lips upon watching her friend open and slam the door behind her before walking around the Audi, her injuries be damned. Despite the pressing situation, Magna was surprised to find amusement bubbling up. Turning her attention skyward, she pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed deeply. —  ... I'm so fired.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

 

Sharon stepped out of the car, the clack of her heels on the concrete soothingly familiar as she made her way to Steve. Her knees didn't wobble, but that was because she put every ounce of her focus and energy into walking around to the rear of the car confidently, striding as though she had not a single worry, like she wasn't gripped by the ridiculous but powerful need to see assist whenever the Super Soldier needed her help. More cars whizzed by above them. With windows halfway open, the three people inside the cars could hear Sharon and Steve's soft conversation.

— Not sure you understand the concept of a getaway car.- she commented only half teasingly, glancing at the small vehicle behind him. He simply shrugged.

— It's low profile.- Steve defended, walking over to her. His voice was low, and his tone humorous yet mildly uneasy, given the circumstances. When they stood before her trunk, she turned around.

— Good, because this stuff tends to draw a crowd...- she muttered without glancing at the soldier. After an unnoticeable hesitation, she quickly popped it open, Sam and Steve's gear that Magna had collected for them barely poking out from the trunk. 

The signature blue, red and silver colors of Captain America's shield sat neatly propped against his suit in the back of the car, Falcon's wings and equipment right next to it. Sharon and Steve looked down and back up at each other. Back in their respective cars Bucky, Sam and Magna sat quietly, watching the entire thing unfold.

— I owe you again.- Steve admitted. The loyalty of the two women was both overwhelming and heartening.

— Keeping a list.- Sharon smirked, placing a hand over the vehicle and he glanced curiously into her car.

— What about her?- he asked, nodding at his friend. Steve attempted to catch Magna's gaze in the rearview mirror, but his friend was engrossed in something out the window. — Do you thinking she's keeping a list too?- the two paused for a moment, contemplating it, then spoke at the same time.

— Yes.- Steve laughed a little, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiled fondly at the ground. 

— Absolutely.- Sharon conceded between soft chuckles before glancing back into the Volkswagen Beetle, only to catch sight of Bucky sliding over to the other side and Sam raising an eyebrow. It was hard to believe that was the same human who'd trown Sharon into a table hours earlier.  — You know, he kinda tried to kill me.-  the latter pointed out fairly, and Steve nodded.

— Sorry, I'll put it on the list too.- he sighed and the corners of the blonde's lips curved up. Her eyes looked at him with such warmth that his gut hurt, and Sharon bit the inside of her cheek with humor.

— I think she already has.- she mumbled and Steve glanced at the rearview mirror again, briefly locking gazes with Magna before the latter turned her attention back to her lap.

He could tell by the look on her face that she was trying to keep it together. She was Magna, after all. He knew her. The meaning behind the warning glare she sent his way was clear:

"If you die, I'm going to kill you", the expression on her face then immediately softened, and when her deep chocolate brown eyes gentled, the look she gave him was so achingly sweet that it made his heart flutter.

"Be careful", now said her eyes. He quickly blinked twice and gave her a look of complicity and compassion as if to acknowledge her message had been understood and taken to heart.

— They're going to come looking for you two. -he continued, the humor fading from his voice as he warned her earnestly. 

The super soldier faced Sharon again, just to make sure they both knew what they'd gotten themselves into. Shw simply nodded, taking Steve by surprise. The latter's gaze stayed on her for a moment.

— We know.- she said, sounding completely sure about it. Granted, she'd already accepted that, so had Magna. Both agents had come to terms with the rewriting of their histories and their identities. 

He searched her face for any sign of lingering hesitation or regret and, finding none, he breathed a soft sigh of relief.

— Thank you, Sharon.- he whispered, feeling better knowing that helping them wasn't a burden.

The two looked at each other with obvious eagerness. She gazed into his ocean eyes, imploring him to make the next move and Steve acquiesced, leaning in for a passionate kiss, to which Sharon accepted by throwing her arms around his neck.

Steve's strong grip held her firmly as Sharon kissed him back. The latter first ran her fingers through his hair and then allowed her left hand to slid to the nape of his neck, demanding more from the kiss and pulling him closer to her. Again, all her injuries be damned. Magna's jaw dropped, Bucky's eyes grew wide, and a grin split across Sam's face.

"Aw..." Magna cooed mentally, smiling at the sight of the two through the rearview mirror. " 'Colleagues' my ass", she thought.

It took a few moments before both of them realized they were standing there on the sidewalk, locked in each other's arms in front of their friends. When at last their lips parted, Sharon appeared slightly dazed, while Steve sighed deeply as his nose brushed against hers. He smiled and dipped his head.

— That was...- Sharon wondered when they pulled away, her voice barely a whisper as she tried to find the right words to describe their little moment.

— ... Late.- Steve finished the sentence for her, making her laugh.

— Damn right.- Sharon smiled, dark eyes sparkling as her hands ran over his shirt, shoulders and down his arms. — We should go.- she finally sighed, fighting against every fiber in her body begging her to just stay and ignite the fire again.

— Okay.- Steve bobbed his head softly, feeling glad they would not be taking any part in the fight which was to come. —  We're off to Leipzig.- he added, his chin pointing at the two grinning idiots back in the small car. 

— Be careful.- upon hearing Sharon voice Magna's orders out loud, Steve pressed his lips in a thin line, nodding once but making no promises. He cleared his throat.

— Tell her I said thanks. - the super soldier's expression softened, his voice was caring.

Bucky's eyes narrowed at that. Who was 'she'? He didn't mean to eavesdrop on Steve's conversation with his lady, but the whole enhaced hearing thing made it difficult for him not to. They'd been talking about a woman, that was for sure, but who?

Sharon only smiled lightly and walked back to the driver seat of her vehicle, waiting as Steve retrieved his belongings.

Out the corner of his eye Bucky could vaguely distinguish a female figure sitting on the passeger's seat of Sharon's car. He paid attention to the beat of her heart, which was pumping like crazy.

She was nervous. He couldn't see her face from that angle, not even through the side mirror, and that made him uneasy. But Steve trusted Sharon, and Bucky trusted Steve.

The latter gathered all their equipment before walking back to the car and putting the stuff in the small trunk. He returned to the driver's seat only to be greeted with cocky grins. Steve didn't say anything at first, blatantly ignoring all the eyes on him as they waited for a response, or an explanation. When he eventually turned his attention back to the dumb looks on Sam and Bucky's faces, he just rolled his eyes.

— Shut up.- was all he said, and the exchange was enough to diffuse the tension for a brief moment. His tone was stern, but a playful smirk could be seen edging it's way onto the super soldier's lips.

He started the car, the engine roaring to life and in a matter of seconds, they were speeding off to the airport.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

 

LOCATION: BERLIN, GERMANY

FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER

— You're awfully quiet.- Sharon's hesitant tone interrupted Magna's sad thoughts.

The latter didn't understand why the simplest of displays of affection had made her so over-emotional, sending her mind on a sickening spiral into chaos. It was just a kiss. It was just a kiss and it had been triggering enough to cause a sentimental reaction. It was just a kiss. She hated it. She was happy for her friends, but she hated it. Perhaps she just felt lonely and jealous that's where the bitterness came from, or perhaps she recalled too vividly what it felt like to be near that kind of affection, witnessing it closely and massively. Perhaps it was both. Bottom line, she was sad, and nervous.

— Didn't realize that was wrong.- Magna retorted. Feeling the effects of a very long day, she tried to muster a smile for her, but her lips refused to cooperate yet.

— It isn't. It's just... uncharacteristic of you.- Sharon cocked an eyebrow, regarding her while taking a turn. — Considering I've just provided you with an endless source of jokes for your own amusement, that is.- Magna finally forced her lips into a smirk and glanced at her cheekily. Her expression was unreadable, but her silence was more telling than she realized.

— Oh, so you wanna talk about that kiss?- the blonde sighed as she pretended to think about it. Eventually, she clicked her tongue and shook her head, refusing her friend's offer.

— No, not really.- Magna chuckled, as she'd already predicted that kind of response from her. — Where do you want me to drop you off?-  her smile then faded. —... They'll come looking for us.- Sharon echoed Steve's words from earlier, reminding her of their current circumstances.

— Yeah.- Magna sighed. Her legs were crossed and she was bouncing her top leg viciously. — The airport. - upon hearing that Sharon's brows shot up in surprise but her eyes remained locked on the road ahead as she listened to her friend. — I'm going to catch a flight to D.C, so pull up as close to their ticket counter as possible.- she continued. — My burn bag is in a locker there.

The nearest airport was Tempelholf, but the two women knew that that mid-town terminal offered mainly short-haul, domestic flights. Magna couldn't afford to take the risk of getting caught while making a connection en route. So they decided to drive to Tegel Airport, which was served by several international carriers with non-stops to other countries.

— Why didn't I know about your burn bag?- she questioned with a smirk, taking a sharp right. Given it was a twenty minute drive they were facing, they had plenty of time to talk and calm themselves down.

— That's kind of the point, Shar.- Magna pointed out, trying to keep the smugness out of her voice. The blonde flipped her off before glancing at her out the corner of her eye.

— You sure everything's there?- it was a valid question, as she hadn't been to the airport in a long time. Magna thought for a second, silently counting with her fingers as she went over each thing she kept in that briefcase.

— Fake passports, IDs, wigs, makeup, gun, currency.- when Sharon shot her a stern look Magna raised both hands in mock surrender. — The gun stays here, obviously.- she scoffed, looking down. — So does this one...- she muttered to herself, taking off the gun from her hip holster and placing it inside the glove box.

— So... Washington, then?- Sharon asked cautiously, barely looking at Magna. After dropping her off, Sharon was to leave her Audi at the airport's parking lot. She was sure they would eventually find her car there, not that she really cared whether they did or not.

Magna took a deep breath. She knew where her friend's question was coming from, but chose to ignore what it implied.

— Never broke my lease.- she shrugged nonchalantly. — I made a deal with my landlord before leaving instead, keeping a different one, under a different name.

— Good thinking.- the blonde bobbed her head in approval. — Don't think they'll be able to trace it back to you.- she added. Magna leaned her forehead against the cold window and watched the car's shadow skate over the weeds on the highway.

— I'll see when I get there.- she tilted her face, smiling faintly as she murmured and tried to turn away from Sharon's intense scrutiny.

— ... Your landlord sounds fun...?- the latter commented, half distracted by a road sign. Unconsciously the end of her statement came out in an interrogative tone, a very dumb thing which surprisingly got her friend to laugh.

There was a flight departing within the next two hours for New York, and Magna bought a business class round-trip ticket with her phone. Both Sharon and Magna owned two devices, one of them provided by the CIA, and a private one. Before the two agents met up under the overpass, they'd intervened their CIA phones to make sure the tracking devices had been properly deactivated.

One-way tickets looked suspicious to the passport inspectors at the exit gate; something Mags had learned the hard way on one of her early missions. She also knew better than to buy a ticket to her final destination. In New York she would get another ticket, perhaps to Pittsburgh, with a "stopover" in Virginia Beach.

Agent Eastwood called Magna two hours after he received the images (in his defense, it'd been a busy day). The brunette put him on speakerphone so that Sharon could listen too, and then he continued providing his superiors with the information they needed.

— The UN dispatched Dr. Theo Broussard from Geneva.- he told them and swallowed. —  Now, that's not the real Theo.- he continued and then fell silent. The two women exchanged amused looks.

— Yeah, we figured that much, Adam.- Sharon smirked and veered her car to the side, towards another exit. — What else?- he began flipping through pages. Then, the young agent hit something on a keyboard that made his computer screen flicker to life, and began clicking as he studied various tabs.

— Yeah. - on his end of the line, agent Eastwood brought the mic of his headset closer to his mouth and spoke in urgent, clipped tones. — A man was found dead in a Berlin hotel room, according to our police contacts. And he resembles the real doc. I'm trying to get them to release their statement, but so far no luck.- he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.  I'll keep trying though.

— You do that.- Magna then chimed in. — Anything else? A name maybe?- she questioned and Eastwood's eyes flew open, remembering one last piece of vital information.

— Uh, yes.- he frowned, clicking the last tab. — Colonel Helmut Zemo.- he said, pronouncing the foreign name in a weird way.

— Let me guess, I'm feeling lucky today. Sokovia?- the brunette asked through gritted teeth as the two gave each other a concerned look.  Next to her, Sharon's grip on the steering wheel tightened.

— Nailed it.- Eastwood's voice came immediately in confirmation, and the latter nodded despite Sharon and Magna couldn't see him.— I checked the name against an international-flight database from the past month without luck.- he told them.

— Fake passport.- Sharon muttered. The road was clear in front of them now and the wind had died down. She pressed her boot down slightly harder on the accelerator.

 Uh-uh.- Eastwood confirmed again, massaging his own scalp with one hand, twirling the headset on the fingers of the other. — Then I did a broad search of news reports and found him all suited up, running a Sokovian covert kill squad.

— Well, shit.- Magna clenched her hand into a fist. She sat there, uncertainty flickering across her face as she stared at her friend. Her lips parted to speak, but Eastwood's dubious voice interrupted her.

— Uh, should I get this to Commander Ross?- he queried, slowly rising from his desk.

— Yes.- Sharon and Magna both replied at the same time. The call disconnected and both CIA phones were thrown out of each car window. Magna shook her head as if she was shaking off ghosts, and turned to her friend. — So, what's it like to kiss a 100 year old man?

 

❁❂❁

♡ 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕜 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕗𝕠𝕣 𝕣𝕖𝕒𝕕𝕚𝕟𝕘!

If you like this story, don't hesitate to vote & leave a comment, feedback helps me a lot!

Chapter Text

LOCATION:  BERLIN, GERMANY 

 BERLIN TEGEL AIRPORT

30 MINUTES LATER

 

The two were aware they would not contact each other for a really long time, which made their farewell extra difficult. They had been seeing each other at least five days a week for the past six years. They counted on each other and trusted one another with their lives. Sure, there was a chance they would definitely find ways to cross paths in a not so distant future, but for now, it was goodbye for good.

Magna looked at her friend steadily for a moment. As the two women hesitated, tears came into Sharon's eyes -the only time Magna ever saw her so moved, leaving the passing of her aunt aside. Almost accidentally, they parted ways with a hug just outside the airport.

— Have a nice flight and be safe.- Sharon muttered as she threw her arms around Magna, her lavender scent wrapping around the latter. 

— You too.- Magna sniffed. When her arms kept squeezing her back tighter and tighter, Sharon winced.

— Mags... I'd like... to... breathe...- Sharon said, flinching. Her protest broke Magna's concentration, and she relaxed her grip without breaking the hug. — Ouch.- frowning and pulling back, yet holding tight to her friend's upper arms, Magna looked Sharon straight in the eye.

— It's just a bruise.- she dismissed her concern with a shrug of her shoulders. However, Magna's unimpressed expression never changed.

— Right.- the latter cocked her head to one side and looked at her friend for a second with an ironic face befor enodding very sarcastically. — Just a bruise.- Sharon scrunched her face, feeling slightly embarrassed.

— ...  I think I've a cracked one.- she admitted bashfully. Magna then released her and took a step back to cross her arms over her chest. A grimace slipped onto her lips as she stared hard at Sharon.

— Sorry.- she apologized sincerely. Her friend let out a soft, breathy laugh and raised her voice.

— Don't worry about it.- rubbing her ribs, the blonde assured Magna; her eyes suddenly very intense. After a hesitant second, she sighed and shrugged nonchalantly. Meh, why not?-  Sharon thought to herself, sighing slightly. Warmly, the latter smiled and threw her arms around Magna again, deliberately ignoring her body's protests.

— Ugh...- the brunette groaned as she made a disgusted face. — Saying goodbye sucks.-  Magna added hoarsely near her ear. Defeated, Sharon nodded in agreement, smiling with utter sadness.

— You'll be fine, Dávalos.- she whispered into her hair. Magna said something in reply but her voice was muffled so Sharon couldn't hear her clearly. Sensing her distress, she broke away and mustered a half smile as she prepared to leave. — You better get going; you don't want to miss your flight..

Magna wriggled herself out of the hug, wiping her nose and blinking back a few tears, feeling guilty now for having invoked them. Adjusting her purse strap which had slipped from her shoulder, she bit her lip as she squared her posture and lifted her chin, getting into character for the show.

Sharon waved at her one last time with her free hand, the other busy as she subconsciously rubbed at the sore spot on her lower back through her shirt. Glancing over her shoulder, the brunette's chin instinctively quivered upon watching the blonde dissappear in the distance, but she held back the new flood of tears and walked through the airport doors. It was time to go. 

The emotion really hit them when the two finally were alone,– Magna entered the airport and Sharon took a cab. Just like that she was gone, and Magna had no clue when she would see her friend's face again.

Saying goodbye sucked.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

There were heaps of people rushing around here and there trying to catch their flights, and Magna saw the board where the planes were scheduled for taking off and landing. She walked over and stood in front of it, organizing her thoughts and making a plan. Instead of going towards the gate, she went to the lockers where she had a case already established from earlier years. She only hoped that the case and the burn bag were still there and they hadn't had to remodel that area and took out the old lockers.  

She sighed, moving toward the rows and stacks of metallic storage boxes. The pounding of her heart timed perfectly with the steps she took; the thudding blocked out all the airport sounds around her. Although adrenaline was coursing through her vains, Magna had a strange sense of vertigo. She moved forward and the lockers moved farther away. Taking a deep breath, she shook her head a little and the visual effect vanished. As she approched, Magna searched for her number. She found it and then glanced over her shoulder to make sure she had no unwanted company. After a deep breath Magna took a key out of her wallet, put it in the locker and it turned, unlocking the small green door which popped open with a slight metallic click.

Magna slowly opened it, stopping when the locker was open about three inches. She slipped her hand inside and removed a wire that was attached to a small weight. Once the wire was free, she opened up the door the rest of the way and took out its contents: the black briefcase and the burn bag. 

The first thing to come out was a small glass vial that was located directly beneath the weight. Inside the vial was a form of acid that would spread over the contents that were beneath it and destroy them. There was also a poison mixed in that would be absorbed through the skin and kill anyone who attempted to stop the process. 

The case contained several different passports from the US, Italy, France, Russia and Brazil as well as plenty of international currencies; Also, there were eight credit cards, a few drivers licenses and international medical insurance cards, two set of color contact lenses inside their respective cases, a gun with a silencer, one box of ammunition, a picture, an old watch which she put on immediately by impulse and a bank compliment slip with Magna's account number.

She threw the vial of acid away and grasped the burgundy knapsack, slamming the locker door shut. As she pulled it out, its weight nearly caused it to slip from her sweaty hand. Slinging the sack over her shoulder, she turned, licking her lips as she glanced at the watch again. She didn't dare take the gun with her, for airport security would find it in minutes anyway. Magna walked through the crowded entrance and spotted one of the many clothing shops. 

Next stop: the makeover.

Taking her chances at the airport meant that she had to begin the process of forming a new look as soon as possible. Magna rummaged through the racks of the foreign brand store, pulling things out and trying them on, only after studying each garment. Then, she browsed the boutiques.

Thirty minutes later she took the purchased items into the women's bathroom, items needed for a quick getaway should such a situation arise as she now found herself. One of her passports dated back several years and had several stamps already on it. It would make it appear the woman went on international trips every couple of years and therefore would not raise suspicion to the average custom agent. The rest of the contents of her shop bag were things she needed to help herself resemble the picture on said passport.

Magna came out of the handicap stall of the restroom, looking nothing like she did when she went in. The hair of her wig was dark red and short, barely brushing her shoulders. She then changed her clothes to match her appearance, wearing a fake leather miniskirt with fishnets, a halter top with a some band's logo on the front. She was also wearing several pairs of earrings on each ear and a large cross hanging between her breasts. She dabbed a tiny bit of the powder of her brown eyeshadow all over her eyelids and under each eye, smearing it gently and applying mascara afterwards. Looking at herself in the mirror, she barely recognised herself, the results making her very happy. Then, she deposited the plastic with the clothes she had worn to the airport in a trash bin and headed for the lounge.

As she walked she noticed all the looks she was getting, not looks of admiration but of sorrow, which was what she wanted. Magna needed to stand out so much she would be ignored because of the way she looked.

On the other side of the masive glass window/wall, the jeeps, airport buses, planes, porters milling around, people rushing madly to the wrong gate and returning to the benches, people wandering around with soft drinks in paper cups... and then there was Magna, sitting at the smoking patio, looking outside as she tried to ease her nerves.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

LOCATION:  BERLIN, GERMANY

BERLIN TEGEL "OTTO LILIENTHAL" AIRPORT

She had no problems at the airport with her false documentation. The border control officer scanned her fake passport and stamped it without looking at her.

— Gute Reise! (Safe travels!)- he mumbled in German as he turned to the next passenger in line.

Wind. Purple skies. Distant pink clouds. More people rushing through the usual idiot process, the stamping of passports and boarding passes. Magna sat on one of the benches with her eyes closed, while all around her people were coming and going, rushing to and from their flights. She was sitting in the waiting lounge with everyone else, alone among the crowd, hearing nothing but her heartbeat. It felt like she had to be extra tough on herself, because she'd had to learn to live with that feeling that seemed to be multiplying and there to stay. 

Her stomach was beginning to get hungry, and she was about to get up to have something to eat when her flight was called to board the plane. A lady showed her to her section and the brunette confirmed the cabin wasn't very full yet. Plopping down on her seat with exhaustion written all over her face, she watched person after person board the plane. There was only one other female passenger on board yet, a girl in her early twenties. The rest were mostly businessmen, some of them whistling at the woman in the smart grey suit as she walked down the aisle to her seat. Magna rolled her eyes, fighting the urge to punch them all in the face. She felt like flattening their faces when she saw they were also hungrily looking at her, but knew that bringing that kind of attention upon herself wasn't something she could afford given the circumstances.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

The long flight to New York gave her ample time to prepare for her confrontation with those memories responsible for her nightmares from hell. Magna was aware she chose to come home to try to pull herself together, but it was very hard. 

The plane took off, and that's when she finally allowed herself to break down in tears; the burden of the long journey ahead had at last taken its toll.

 

»»————- ✈ ————-««

LOCATION: QUEENS , NEW YORK

JOHN F. KENNEDY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT  

NINE HOURS LATER

Wearing a hat and oversized sunglasses, Magna kept her face from being photographed by the surveillance cameras at the airport so they couldn't later recognize her. She'd ditched the wig and allowed her natural waves to cascade over her shoulders. Head lowered she walked away from the restroom, zigzagging through the crowds of people. Then, she disposed of the plastic bag with the clothes she had changed into back in Germany in the nearest trash bin.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

»»————- ✼ ————-««

With yet another of her fake passports, she bought plane tickets to Argentina. Ross would check the tickets she booked and discover she didn't get on the plane, and Magna suspected it could take some time for his team to find all the clues. Her former boss needed to get permission to check the passenger list of who boarded, agent Eastwood had explained that to her before -there would also be no trouble getting said permission. She was a traitor of the Agency, after all, but at least it could give her the time she needed to get miles away. At that point was a good place for her trail to end. 

Her path had to end with no further trace.

 

»»————- ✈ ————-««

LOCATION: NORFOLK, VIRGINIA.

NORFOLK INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

SEVEN HOURS LATER

The terminal was mobbed with people and Magna had to twist around through the groups of passengers and others seeing them off. She scurried, avoiding the security cameras and went outside. With fast walk and bent slightly, she entered a cab and instructed the driver to take her to the nearest hotel.

During the ride she made no conversation unless extremely necessary and kept a sly watch behind and around them. Trying not to be obvious, the exercise was futile. Ross would not be following yet, how could he? The Commander couldn't possibly recognize her in the disguise and she did move fast, too swift for anyone to get a good look. Magna refused to worry. Her plan was already in motion and she intended to continue.

At the hotel she inquired about the room rates avoiding eye contact and timidly admitted she couldn't afford the price. The clerk seeming sympathetic recommended a more convenient hotel only a few blocks away and Magna thanked him and left. She boldly walked the two blocks to a large hotel with thoughts of aspirin and a long bath. 

She would think then. 

The brunette paid in cash and charged up the stairs with boots pounding up and down on each step like a jackhammer.  She slammed her room door after entering. Breath came in short puffs and her lungs refused to hold air. Magna made circles and bent over, holding her knees, trying desperately to take in air. The nerves dissipated and she could, at last, take inhales and exhales without difficulty.

Even after her bath the self-criticizing prevailed as she slung her clothes to the opposite wall. Pulling on the green cotton pajamas she'd purchased back in Germany, she blamed herself for everything that had gone wrong in her life. She grabbed the bed covers and slung them so hard they flew off the foot of the bed.

— Shit.- she grunted, shuffling angrily across the thick carpet and pulling the covers back in place.

Crawling in bed Magna curled up on her side, in a fetal position, burying her head into the pillow, as if she wanted to hide. Keeping her arms wrapped tight around her legs, she cried silently. Magna abhorred crying like that, but in such situation, she felt lost, and lonely. Her mind was full of words and thoughts which tossed and tumbled and she couldn't get them to go away. The questions pounding at her provoked a confusion of what action she should pursue. None were obvious and she went on waiting, and each minute seemed an eternity not knowing if she would be found or not. 

Eventually she must have drifted into a zone between sleep and awake because the blare from the digital clock on the nightstand took a minute until she realized what and where the sound came from. Shaking her head to clear the haze, she gathered strength and got up from the bed.

For two days Magna lounged in her hotel room, waiting. She did take a few excursions to shop and lay by the pool. The diversions had left her restless and she chouldn't enjoy them. Waiting in a single location sent the brunette to near frantic with a nervous flutter inside. Nothing she tried could eliminate the nagging inside her head, the fear of being found. Back and forth, every scenario she mustered between freedom and jail only sent her nerves on edge.

When her cab drove her back to the airport twelve hours later she found the place swirming with people, as expected. 

 

»»————- ✈ ————-««

LOCATION: ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA

REAGAN NATIONAL AIRPORT

THREE HOURS LATER 

 

Straight after landing, Magna went straight to the women's restroom. Inside was as crowded as out and she chose the last stall when her turn came and entered. From the bag she took a plastic one and the clothes she had bought earlier that morning. Removing what she wore she stuffed them in the plastic then pulled on a brown skirt with a length to her ankles. A beige t-shirt slipped over her head and a non-descript pair of brown leather shoes with thick two-inch heels slid easily on her feet. After removing the green contact lenses she slathered cream on her face and wiped every bit of make-up off and removed her earrings. Next was the medium blonde wig. Magna pulled it on her head and adjusted the snug fit and then waited a few more minutes with the hope than those in the restroom had changed to a different group. Her intent being that they would not remember who went in the stall since she emerged as someone else. 

At the large mirror she smoothed the shoulder length wig and combed the hair and then washed her face. Not one woman paid her any attention, for they were too busy and content with their own agendas. Stepping back, she scrutinized her disguise. The hair parted in the middle looked unkept and the bangs straight with the image stringy and dull. Pleased with her conversion, Magna picked her way through the women and headed out. 

With her nearly empty luggage in tow, purse and burgundy knapsack, she left the airport and followed the sidewalk walkway to the nearest cab-rank.

Next stop: home.

❁❂❁

♡ 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕜 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕗𝕠𝕣 𝕣𝕖𝕒𝕕𝕚𝕟𝕘!

If you like this story, don't hesitate to vote & leave a comment, feedback helps me a lot!

 

Chapter Text

On her journey back home Magna couldnt' stop crying. Somehow, while she gestured the vehicle she had managed to rein in her emotions, but the second the young woman slid into the backseat and watched the airport disappear behind her, she'd burst into tears. From this moment on, she'd need to be on constant guard again. 

Looking stunned, the taxi driver handed her a small packet of tissues them promptly ignored her, fiddling with the radio dial as an awkward silence suddenly resonated through the car. His finger kept stabbing back and forth across the panel until it landed on something that pleased him and he turned up the volume. Magna leaned back, listening. 

Her tears were blurring her vision so badly she barely noticed when they approached the 14th Street bridges. Despite the tears fogging her eyes she noticed the man shooting her strange looks in the mirror. Apparently it wasn't every day that a brokenhearted woman in tears rode in his cab. And brokenhearted was the only word she could come up with to describe how she felt; and it seemed accurate enough, given her heart was aching so badly it felt like someone had scraped it with a razor blade. All she wanted to do was go to her place, crawl under the covers and allow the world to fall apart around her.

... She probably had no covers, though. 

As the sound of some old Lady Gaga song filled the air, Magna wiped her cheeks and stared out the window at the Potomac as they drove above it. The music wasn't very succesful at drowning the silence, and the short drive felt so much longer than it really was. The driver seemed to be just as uncomfortable as Magna, so he took it upon himself to clear the air. 

— Rough day?- he asked, probably just trying to be friendly. The man had a square face, blunt nose and a scraggly beard. He looked like he was in his late fifties, but might have been older. His wrinkles had wrinkles, yet his blue eyes still sparkled. — Young lady, if you don't mind me asking, is everything okay? You're too pretty to cry!- she forced a nod when he glanced in the rear-view mirror with genuine concern. The driver shifted in his seat and ran one hand through what was left of his gray hair. — You know what? I've noticed you look just like that model... uh... what's her name..- he searched for the right name and Magna knew the person the driver had in mind. The latter wanted to roll her eyes, wishing for once things would be a little more comfortable for her. — ... Or was she in a rock band? 

Magna nodded with a sigh. Maybe she could have a little harmless fun with that.

— Yeah..- she muttered, and the driver perked up. Tears had stopped cascading down her face, and Magna focused on keeping it that way.

— You're in a rock band?- with a guilty smile, Magna nodded, and the driver perked up again. —  Really?- he beamed, glancing in his mirror as he drove. 

— Yeah.- Magna sighed casually. — Just got back from a tour. Headed home.- she thought for a minute how strange it was to say she was headed home and how ironic. That city was the place she avoided and feared for so long, yet she said she was going home. 

—  That is so cool!- he seemed genuinely impressed, and Magna suddenly got a devilish idea. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out her phone and searched for an album by the band The Regrettes called "Feel Your Feelings Fool!"

— Here.- she said, holding up her phone after clicking on a song called "Seashore". What was a day without a little amusement? A very dark one indeed. She'd had enough of those already.  —  This is us.- she announced. Why not have a little fun?

The driver listened a few minutes, his head moving to the rythym of the upbeat song and then turned to her for a brief second.

— Wow! You're good!- he gave her a thumbs up. Magna shrugged, trying to act modest and the driver sneered a little at her. — Is that really you?- he asked, which made her smirk.

— Oh yeah!- she insisted, placing the phone back in her purse. — I wouldn't make it up,- she swore, andplaced her other hand on her chest, over her heart. — We take our band very seriously.- she nodded repeatedly, and then changed the subject.

After their conversation died and Magna looked calm enough, the driver was quiet for the rest of the ride, which the brunette appreciated. Stifling a yawn, she stared out of the window, wondering if perhaps she'd made a mistake in coming home.

 

»»————- ✼ ————-««

30 MINUTES LATER

The city offered many types of places to live, from rental homes to brand new condominiums, but Magna had preferred the small apartment complex that she'd found in the same area of one of her previous foster homes back when she was a child.

The cab stopped a few blocks away from Magna's apartment building. She couldn't take any risks. There was a handicap parking space in front of a mall and the driver parked there. As she waited for change from the man, she cautiously glanced at the tall estructure before her. The driver quickly jumped out of the car and ran around to assist her out of the car, carrying the bags for her.

Magna walked quickly toward the building, nerves making it hard to breathe. She didn't want to go in and rummage through the memories waiting for her inside boxes. As she took every step, the short distance still dragged on her frazzled nerves and weary muscles. Huddling in her coat, Magna hurried her pace, more anxious than ever to be inside and hidden.

As she crossed the street her apartment building finally came into view, but the sigh of relief died on her lips. Blue lights from half-a-dozen police cars bounced off the sides of her apartment complex and reflected in long weavering beams down the dirty street, capturing Magna in a frail azure glow. 

She stood frozen for the longest moment, one word rambling over and over in her mind. No, no, no, no! 

They'd found her. 

Her first instinct was to turn and free, to disappear into the shadows before anyone noticed her. But as she stared at the lights the more the doubts flooded her brain. The policemen weren't outside her building, it was the adjoining one. Stay calm, check your surroundings, find out what's going on, she ordered herself, burying one of her trembling hands in her pocket as the other carried her bags. Now was definitely not the time to panic.

Head down, shoulders hunched against the wind, Magna hurried along the sidewalk. When she drew near her building, she could see the area was cordoned off with yellow tape. Several policemen, uniforms and plainclothes, clustered around something in the street, almost directly in front of the entry of the building adjacent to hers.

Magna's heart rocketed against her ribcage. Bile rose in her throat as she strained to see through the wall of policemen. Almost running now, she saw one of the officers step out of the way, and for the first time, she glimpsed the body lying on the pavement, motionless at the officers' feet. Slowing, Magna hung back from the policemen, hoping they hadn't seen her. The cold air frosted their breath as they talked and laughed and went about their grisly business with the same disconnection Magna had for her own working.

Teeth chattering from the cold and from nerves, Magna walked past them, ready to head back to her place, her head still bowed. But as she approached the stoop, one of the officers spotted her.

— Hey you!- she halted and looked over her shoulder. — Yeah, you, come over here.- her heart still pounding, Magna turned and slowly descended the steps. 

The officer met her at the bottom. He was one of the uniforms, middle-aged and heavyset, his face puffy and lined beneath the bill of his cap. He lifted a flashlight in her direction, and automatically, Magna turned her face away, but before he could switch on the beam, another car drove up and someone shouted "Gallagher's here!".

— About damn time...- the man before her muttered. Magna hoped the newcomer would distract the officer so that could slip away, but he turned to stare down at her. — You live in this building?- she swallowed and shook her had. — Then what are you doing here?- Magna hesitated.

— I live next door.- she bit her lip, trying to control the chattering of her teeth, gesturing the other building with her free hand. Why was she so cold? — What... happened?- the man shrugged.

— Someone took a dive off the roof.- the officer told her dispassionately. — What's your name?- that was a tricky one. She could lie, but if he checked the name on the database in front of her she'd be in trouble. Then again, telling him her real name was just as bad of an option. She opted for the latter. Either way I'm screwed, she figured.

— Magna Dávalos.- she said calmly, and the man carefully noted the information in his book. She expected more questions, but the officer seemed to lose interest as the lights on the unmarked car that had just driven up were killed. They both watched as a man --Gallagher, she presumed- got out.

Gallagher was tall, and his shoulders beneath the heavy overcoat looked enormous. With grim deliberation, he surveyed the scene, his gaze raking the whole area -including Magna- before he walked toward the body. There was no mistaking who was in charge now. The crowd of officers parted for him, and Magna got a clearer view of the victim. As expected, there was a lot of blood. Magna knew her reaction needed to be believable, so she staggered back a step, pretending to find the horrific sight too gross.

— Are you okay?- the policeman caught her arm, and one of his eyebrows flinched with wariness.

— I'm fine...- she said, pretending to be choking of disgust. She scowled.

But she thing was, she wasn't. In spite of what she did for a living, violence and death still hit too close to home, but as ashamed as she was to admit it, her main concern was how to disentangle herself from the police. She couldn't get involved, she had to be invisible. Magna felt sorry for the poor woman lying on the street, but she couldn't afford to get caught up in a police investigation.

Trembling, she watched as Gallagher knelt and examined the body. He didn't touch the victim, didn't disturb the crime scene with so much as a stray glance, but for a long moment, he remained there, studying her face as if her last thoughts might be lingering somewhere on her frozen expression.

— Wait here.-said the officer beside Magna. He walked toward Gallagher and the two took a few steps away from her.

Almost inadvertedly Magna's gaze followed Gallagher's to the roof of the building as they discussed the case and shivered at Detective Gallagher's grim countenance. His eyes traced the angle of the building, studying the windows that faced the street. He turned and observed the street again, watching for a few minutes as the crime-scene unit finished taking pictures and then began scouring the ground around the body for trace evidence. Gallagher glanced at Magna and then back at the officer.

— Who's the bystander?- he asked. His tone was deep, authorative. Not cold exactly, but a voice belonging to a man Magna had no wish to confront. 

His features stood out starkly as well; the angle of his face, the broad nose, the full lips. The eyes of the detective were blue, which surprised Magna. The latter thought they'd be black, like his hair. The light color was particularly striking against his grave features.

Gallagher wore a suit beneath the overcoat, as if he'd taken the time to dress properly before coming out. But his cheeks were roughened with stubble, giving him a sinister appearance that made Magna's stomach quiver in tension. 

— She lives in the other building. I think she was just curious.- the officer told him and his superior nodded vaguely. 

— Well, might as well chalk the site when CSU finishes, I'm going up to the roof. Let me know when the coroner gets here.- the officer nodded and took off, leaving Magna standing alone to face Gallagher. She hoped he'd just go up to the roof and forget all about her, but when he turned and started toward her, she saw in his eyes that he had no intention of letting her get away so easy. — Hello. I'm Detective Gallagher.- his gaze was direct, penetrating. — And you are?

His regard was steady as he waited for her response, and Magna forced herself to maintain eye contact as she spoke.

— .... Magna Dávalos.- she said in a one-toned, monotonous voice and the man glanced at he building.

— Officer McGowan here says you live next door, is that right?- she simply nodded, and the detective's piercing gaze met hers. — You weren't home tonight?- he asked, glancing at her luggage. — ... Oh, you've been away? a little vacation?- shit. 

— Just moved in.- Magna smiled, correcting him as she shoved her hand deeper into her pocket. She shouldn't lie about that, it was the easiest fact to check. The man bobbed his head almost absently. 

—  I wonder if you'd mind taking a look at the body... See if you can identify the victim?- the request was corteous enough, allowing her to decline if she wanted to, but Magna knew she had no real choice there. — Even though you're new here, perhaps you'll recognise her?- no matter how badly she didn't want to look at that unknown dead woman, she couldn't do or say anything that might make Detective Gallagher pay extra attention to her. 

She nodded and followed him over to the victim. The woman was lying on her back, her face surprisingly unscathed from what must have been a horrendous fall. But as Magna looked more closely, she saw the cuts and the terrible bruising that gave the body an almost ghoulish appearance. Her arms and legs were at strange angles, too, the bones undoubtedly shattered. 

— I've never seen her before.- Magna admitted sincerely. However, Gallagher pressed.

— You sure?- she could feel his gaze on her as she tried to suppress a scoff. 

— Yes, I'm sure.- Magna paused, then couldn't resist asking.— Do you really think she committed suicide?- that was the curious agent in her speaking, not Magna, of course. She glanced up at the man. His gaze narrowed slightly on her at the question, and the brunette thought for one heart-stopping moment he might have recognized her. 

— It's a possibility.- he said curtly. —  We'll know more when we've done a thorough search of the area. Right now you should get home, Miss Dávalos.- he continued. — We'll be in touch if we need you.

Magna cursed silently when she realized he and the other officers would begin almost immediately the grueling work of talking to everyone in the buildings, searching for potential witnesses. But she wouldn't think about that now. She only wanted to get to her apartment. She needed it. 

The young agent had become an expert at compartmentalizing her emotions under situations such as that one, and all she would allow herself to concentrate on was getting away from Detective Gallagher without arousing his suspicions and before he could ask any more questions. Magna was desperate to go inside.

She took the card he handed her, trying to control the trembling of her hands, but he noticed it.

— It's rough when you're not used to it.- he said softly and she almost snorted a laugh. If you only knew, Magna thought. Instead, she pressed her lips in a thin line.

— I'm okay... I just need to be inside, out of this cold.- she told him, and the detective nodded and said goodbye.

Magna stuffed his hard deep into the pocket of her coat, knowing all the while Detective Gallagher would never get a call from her, no matter what. He was a cop, and that was all she needed to know about him. 

His badge made him one of the enemy. 

— Warm welcoming.- she muttered to herself. With one last look at the crime scene, she hurried up her own steps.

Looking up at a very low-rent apartment building, Magna sighed. The lower floors were barred, dormant air conditioners locked behind metal grates. Graffiti marred the walls and benches, the curb itself, anything and everything that could be tagged up. The ground was cracked and pot-holed; needless to say, the place was a gem.

With the help of her landlord, Magna'd gotten the apartment cleaned and repaired upon her imminent arrival, and installing new locks while she lived in Berlin. Her place had a small living room, one bathroom, a tiny kitchen and a dining area that was just big enough to fit a narrow table and some chairs --not that she would ever need them. No visitors were expected any time soon.

When the elevator stopped on the fourth floor, Magna scurried down the hall until she got to her apartment. Standing in front of the door, she listened intently for any sounds inside but heard none. Only then, she warily entered, after a big breath. The brunette rolled her bags across the wooden floor and into the living room, kicking the door closed behind her. 

The space was obviously in rough shape and too big for her solitude. As she moved into the living room area, Magna finally turned on the lights. It took her a second to remember that all the furniture in the space was hers. Everything seemed the same as she'd seen the last time she'd visited the place and decided to rent it. The young woman moved everything just before leaving for Berlin- she hadn't had much choice; since Magna had to leave for the Agency so soon after signing up, she hadn't gotten a chance to appreciate any of it.

Sitting down on one of the chairs, she leaned back, settling in. There were at least 15 cardboard boxes marked "stuff to go through" sitting on the floor, all around her. She picked one up and began rifling through it. Most of it was paperwork she had no intention of dealing with. At the very bottom of the box was an 8x10 photo of Magna. It was taken on her 20th birthday. She stared at the people in it almost uncomprehendingly, amazed that the person who had that life was the one sitting there now. 

Most of the furniture had come with the apartment, so a few years back she'd rented a simple van and loaded up her personal belongings. She'd barely taken stuff with her to Berlin. There was something freeing about that place, though. Everything -the new furniture, the lack of personal mementos (because they were all inside boxes), even the strange building she'd chosen belonged to her. She had a fresh start. Well, sort of.

Magna stretched out, allowing her muscles to relax after all those long flights on the tightly packed planes. This apartment was hers; she could eat pizza on the couch and leave the box lying around without worrying about the Agency complaining. Not that she was the type to do that, but the point was, she could.

The thought of pizza made her get up and checked the fridge. Not only was it empty, it wasn't even turned on. Only then she'd remembered she'd left it that way, not seeing any reason to pay for the electricity if she was going to be gone indefinitely. She plugged it in and decided to make a grocery run first thing in the morning.

Magna kicked off her boots and fell onto the sofa/bed, thinking of her friends, wondering if she'd ever see them again, and if they were safe. There was no way of finding out if everything had gone well, if all had been worth her irrevocable treason to the Agency. Had Steve and Sam made it? Was Bucky with them? And Sharon? Was she safe? Of course doing the right thing was always worth it, she knew that still, but not knowing whether they'd succeeded at all was driving her crazy. Magna closed her eyes and let the events wash over her. 

If only things were different, she thought, right before exhaustion claimed her.  

 

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LOCATION: WASHINGTON D.C - UNITED STATES

10 DAYS AFTER THE AIRPORT BATTLE

The sky looked golden as the sun rose above the rooftops. The day seemed unusually bright and promising, and the sunlight filtered through the smog-covered windows of each apartment, revealing paint-chipped ceilings and piles of unwashed dishes. 

It traveled down the hallways of Magna's apartment building, exposing graffiti-covered walls. On the outside, the rays of light squeezed through the alleys, lighting up everything in its path, from paper litter to empty beer bottles, exposing broken glass on the floor. It shined over telephone poles where the birds flew back and forth. It scattered onto the apartment playground where children made their way to school. It lit up every dark corner and side street.

There were no sounds of gunshots piercing the air that day. There were no high-pitched whistles of police sirens echoing in the distance. The usually crowded corners around the buildings were clear, there wasn't a drug dealer in sight. There was stillness in the air. The noise of arguing and screaming adults was replaced by birds chirping.

The calm before the storm, something within her warned, but she shook the thought.

Closing the tap, and hanging her face towel back on its place, Magna gazed at the woman staring back at her from the bathroom mirror, barely recognizing her. She'd changed so much in two years, but the events from the previous few months had undoubtedly taken a toll on her as well. Her hair was still long, with wavy chocolate locks cascading past her shoulders, and her eyes were still dark brown. But there was pain and cynicism in those eyes that she knew hadn't been there before, although Magna could barely remember that was like. Her face had always been thin, but now it was gaunt and pale. Closing her eyes, she wrapped the towel around her and left the room, snapping off the light behind her.

In two steps she was in the living room --which was also her bedroom. She crossed the small room, removed her robe to reveal the thin, short nightgown beneath, and crawled onto the old iron daybed that sat against the far wall. It doubled as both bed and sofa and she'd covered it with a quilt she'd bought years ago. All her art and valuables were on the floor, kept inside labelled boxes, still, after ten days. 

The kitchen window faced the alley in the back of the building, as did the kitchen windows of the building next to hers, and those of two other estructures whose entrances were on the opposite side of the square block these buildings shared. There were no trees or bushes or grasses of any kind in the alley - only concerete, wire fencing, and wooden poles. 

A few hours later, after changing into regular clothes, Magna went to her assigned mailbox cubby and collected the mail sent to her previous apartment, which had been forwarded by her landlord; an unspoken agreement they'd come to. The greatest thing about her landlord was that he never really asked questions, all he cared about was that she paid her rent on time, which she'd always done. Sharon was utterly right: Magna's landlord was fun. Besides the latter, no one -not her work colleagues, not her friends, not even her adoptive parents- knew about her current address. As Magna'd told her blonde friend, she'd rented the apartment but her name was nowhere on the agreement and there was no paperwork connecting her to the building.

Once she grabbed the mail, which consisted of a few bills and one package -that inevitably sparked her curiosity- Magna hurried across the hallway, passed through the empty maintenance manager's office and walked up the tight stairwell that opened onto the back hallway of the main floor before rounding rounded the corner to the vestibule with the bank of elevators. There, she could hear Jimmy the doorman and Fred the security guard amiably chatting with a resident in the front lobby.

They didn't know her, but she had done a proper background check and both were nice guys. Fred was a former highway patrolman who had retired early after a bad on-the-job motorcycle accident. It left him with a limp and a large scar on his left cheek, but that didn't stop him from constantly joking around. Jimmy, in his mid-twenties, was a sweet, earnest kid, using that job to pay his way through college.

She moved past the vestibule to the elevators, which wasn't visible from the lobby, pressed the button and waited anxiously, hoping she hadn't been spotted. Magna knew the chances were remote but that didn't stop her from shifting nervously from one foot to the other until the elevator arrived.

The amount of times Fred and Jimmy had seen her so far were only a few, only because Magna couldn't allow to be considered the "weird woman living on the fourth." Not that she cared at all what any of the residents thought of her, but acting strange or being too evasive would only be counterproductive. So, in spite of her discomfort, she forced herself to make small talk with them whenever they spotted her, smiling a lot and showing a warm, friendly face to her "new woman in the building" role.

Taking a moment to catch her breath, she studied her door: on first glance it looked as nondescript as all the others on the floor. But Magna'd several upgrades added a few days after she moved in. First, she stepped back so that she was three feet away from the door and directly and directly in line with the peephole. A dull green glow that wasn't visible from any other angle emanated from the rim around the hole, an indicator that the unit hadn't been forcibly accessed. Had it been, the rim around the peephole would have been red.

In addition to the doorbell camera she'd installed, there were also multiple hidden cameras in the corridor. One had a direct view of her door. Another focused on the hall facing back to the elevator and the adjoining stairwell. A third pointed in the other direction of the second set of stairs. Magna had checked them all on her way down to pick up the mail and found no suspicious movement around her place today. 

The next step was entry. She used a traditional key to open one bolt, then swiped her card and heard the other sliding bolt open as well. She stepped inside as the motion sensor alarm warning went off, dropped the package on the table, and ignored the alarm as she rebolted both doors and pulled the sliding security bar across as well. Only then did she punch in the eight-digit code.

Only then did she allow herself to breathe. She rarely left her apartment, and if she did, every single trip to the grocery store felt like taking a ticking time bomb with her everywhere.

— Eight digits seems a little paranoid, - a deep, familiar voice came behind her — ... Don't you think?- in the blink of an eye Magna spun around, reaching for the gun she'd stuffed in the back waistband of her jeans and swiftly pointed it where the sound came from. — Dávalos.- he nodded once, greeting her with with a unreadable demeanor. 

Magna pressed her lips together as she looked at him, sitting there so easily, his legs crossed, one arm stretched out across the back, as if breaking into apartments was the most natural thing in the world.

— That would be me.- her voice came firmly. Even in the confusion and shock of the events swirling around her, she could find a strange calm deep within, a sense of certainty she couldn't explain. He shifted on his seat and opened his mouth. — Step back.- she said quietly, her voice a sharpened blade as she cut him off. — ... Boss.- she concluded through gritted teeth.

— ... but I'm sitting on a sofa.- Nick Fury pointed at the seat as he responded in a low voice, laced heavily with sarcasm. The intimidating man blinked once as he stared at the gun pointed right at him. — You are still pointing a gun at me because...?- he asked sternly. For a moment, the man contemplated taking the gun from her, as it'd be too easy, but then he read her expression.

— Look, I don't know why you're here but...-she gruffed softly, eyes roaming around with suspicion. However, Fury interrupted her. His voice hardened, and when she looked at him again, his gaze was stony and angry.

— Well, I've been trying to get ahold of you, but you're a hard woman to reach apparently.- he stated and rose off the sofa, walking coolly to the bookcase without looking at her.

Magna clenched her jaw, inhaled sharply, and said nothing, returning him a glassy stare. She fought to calm the shaking of her hand; to ease her grip on the weapon.

— Do you do this often? breaking into people's places?- she asked in an annoyed manner, and Fury's eyes gleamed with a hint of mischief. Magna had no idea what he was doing there or what he could possibly want from her. He was dead, after all.

The last few months at work had been hell, and some of her dearest friends were probably dead. She didn't need any crappy reminders from her past literally staring her in the face. Not to mention he seemed too nonchalant about breaking into someone's apartment it was insulting.

— Only when I have to.- he told her without darting his eyes from the books, and Magna's nostrils flared.

— How did you get in?- she demanded to know, ignoring his answer, as her expression turned thunderous. Fury simply tilted his head to the side in her direction, raised a scraggly black brow and cast her a "bitch, please" look. Then, the man's gaze returned to the books. — So you've been tracking me down.- Magna continued, more a statement than a question, as she narrowed her eyes at him.

— I have.- he answered curtly. With his large hands clasped behind his back, he scanned the bookshelf again and stared at a framed photo of Magna on her birthday.

In the picure, she was smiling, surrounded by her loved ones. Before her there was a huge two-tiered birthday cake, pink and sparkly with flowers and bows all over it. The delicacy also included a large pink-and-white birthday candle with the number "20" on top of it.

— Okay. Why?- she said, keeping the gun trained on Fury. Magna gave him a look that could only be classified as glacial. Fury, however, answered her question with another one.

— How's the job search going?-  the sound of his deep voice rang throughout the room. Fury plucked a book down and looked carefully at its cover.

She hesitantly glanced at the weapon for a fleeting moment and sighed. It looked right in her hands. It looked as right in her hands as a scalpel looks right in the hands of a surgeon. Then, Magna reluctantly put the gun back in the waistband of her jeans and tossed the mysterious package on her table for later.  

She pulled a strand of hair away from her face. Leaning her side on the frame of her kitchen archway, Magna stood with arms crossed, gaze narrowed at Fury.

— Could be better.- she admitted softly and lifted her slender shoulders in a shrug. — I heard there's an opening for management position at McDonald's, though.- he could hear the pride in her voice; indifference was obviously the last thing the woman felt when it came to her current circumstances. He glanced at her briefly, sensing her buoyancy. — Might give it a shot.- her tone was wry. Magna pursed her lips in hesitation and cocked a hip impatiently.

Fury's lips twitched in what could (kind of) be defined as a smirk --which was about as close as he got to smiling, ever. He slowly turned on his heel and looked her in the eye. Magna backed away from the man as he tossed something quickly into the air toward her-which turned out to be the book he had in hand. With a swift motion, she caught it smoothly and eyed the title. The novel Fury had tossed her was "Red Sparrow" by Jason Matthews. When their eyes finally met, he spoke vaguely.

— Oh, I think I can top that.

❁❂❁

♡ 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕜 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕗𝕠𝕣 𝕣𝕖𝕒𝕕𝕚𝕟𝕘!

If you like this story, don't hesitate to vote & leave a comment, feedback helps me a lot!

 

Chapter Text

PART 1

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LOCATION: HYDRA SIBERIAN FACILITY - SIBERIA, RUSSIA. 

8 DAYS EARLIER

Bucky reached out an arm for Steve to help him up, the two grimacing in pain at each movement. Taking as much of his old friend's weight as he could, the blonde soldier brought Bucky to his feet. Half carrying, half-dragging the wounded man, Steve picked his way past the snow and dark hallways of the Russian HYDRA facility, taking his best friend away from the chaos.

They pried open the steel doors at the top with difficulty, coldness washing over them as soon as the two stepped outside. The frosty Siberian air that flowed paralyzed Bucky to the core, almost like it was poisonous, but he pulled through. Upon emerging, Steve spotted a dark figure in the distance, walking in their direction. 

T'Challa.

He'd found them. He'd found Buck.

T'Challa wore his Black Panther uniform, though he did so without the feline head piece; the vibranium enhanced suit clearly protecting him from the weather. At the sight of potential trouble, Steve halted and swallowed. A defeated sigh escaped Bucky's bloody mouth as the tired sargeant took a deep breath of resignation. With every muscle tense for action, Steve stepped hesitantly forward, towards the King. He didn't know what T'Challa's intentions were, and to his own displeasure, he'd just unknowingly delivered Bucky right at his feet, facilitating his best friend's arrest. 

It was only when he caught movement with his peripheral vision that he realized they were not alone. Steve turned to see Zemo staring at him with a blank expression. The criminal was tied to a rock, his wrists and ankles bound and his mouth gagged. Much to Steve's surprise, despite having been caught, Zemo looked completely calm.

— T'Challa ...- Steve's frost blue eyes turned on the man with wariness, calmly warning T'Challa to not move. However, the King surprised the two soldiers and nodded amicably before speaking.

— Do not worry, Captain. Zemo will not be going anywhere.- T'Challa's tone was formal and laced with a hint of shame as he glanced at the Sokovian criminal. Then, he approached slowly, focusing his solemn gaze on Bucky's face. — Sargeant Barnes... I wanted to apologize to you for all that has happened.

T'Challa pursed his lips in a gesture full of regret and all Bucky managed to do through the pain was return an attentive gaze. 

— I believed you to be responsible for my father's murder, but I now know his death was the result of Zemo's machinations. -shaking his head dissapprovingly, the King's eyes lingered on Steve's face for a moment before continuing with his apology to Bucky. — It was you and Captain America who led me to uncover this truth. And for that I wanted to offer you my assistance. -Steve looked at Bucky and at the King, eyes wide with wonder, a puzzled frown on his brow, confused as to how T'Challa could help them. — The mental programming you were enforced to endure, transforming you into a HYDRA assasin...- his voice trailed off, and for a fleeting moment the man's gaze turned distant. — ... I may know of someone in Wakanda who can assist in purging your mind of it.

— I.. I don't know what to say.- he muttered, his voice sounding both raspy and dumbfounded. Relief washed over Bucky in waves, who immediately showed his deference by gently bobbing his head. — Thank you.

Bucky didn't want to get his hopes up. He appreciated T'Challa's benevolence and good intentions, but erasing the damage HYDRA had done to his mind seemed rather unlikely to him. Even if that truth saddened him to an unbearable amount, deep down Bucky believed to deserve such curse. He was guilty of so many things... he needed punishment. He needed Hell. Maybe that was it.

T'Challa smiled lightly at the soldier and tilted his head at Zemo, as if suddenly remembering he was still there. Then, his expression turned serious once more.

— First, I must deliver Zemo to receive the world's justice for his crimes against the United Nations.- the Wakandan King told them as his fingertips slightly touched the Kimoyo bead bracelet on his wrist.

— Understood.- his breath came hard and Steve could perfectly see the misty huff he pushed before him with each exhale. He nodded appreciatively, shaking T'Challa's hand before glancing at his old friend. — Bucky and I have a few last loose ends to tie up ourselves.- he added. 

King T'Challa smirked briefly and touched his bracelet one more time; moments later, his empty black quinjet began to descend from the air. With a final jolt that rocked the jet as it landed on autopilot, the engines then fired down.

— You should take the Royal Jet, then. Commander Ross is on his way.- Steve hesitated, so T'Challa insisted and motioned at the jet waiting for command. — Please. It will get you there faster.- he explained and led the two soldiers to the sophisticated airship.

— Are you sure?- Steve asked, momentarily letting go of Bucky's arm as the latter shifted to lean on a wall and catch his breath, wiping some blood off his face with his hand. 

All the three men could hear was the wind that was getting stronger; and so was the snow. The Siberian sky spread like a white swan's wing from which feathers were falling all over the territory.

King T'Challa had insisted on getting Zemo into custody before anything else because he was worried the man would either escape or find a way to kill himself before he could be brought to justice for the bombing he'd framed Bucky for.

— Absolutely. - T'Challa bobbed his head firmly and lowered his voice, making sure they were still out of Zemo's ear-shot.— There's a Royal Talon Fighter already on its way to take me home after this.- the bracelet on his wrist beeped and he glanced at the glowing beads. Pressing one of its symbols, the King expanded with his hand a digital map of a live-tracking which displayed the C.I.A's aircrafts flying their way. — You better hurry now.- touching one final symbol, T'Challa watched as the jet's loading ramp lowered to the ground for Steve and Bucky to enter. — I have just set the coordenates to the Raft.- he informed the duo.

— Thank you, Your Highness.- Steve and Bucky both kindly thanked him at the same time, which made T'Challa smirk.

— I'll be in touch.- T'Challa's simple reply came out gingerly slow, as the latter kept walking away with his eyes already fixed on Zemo again, giving the criminal his full attention.

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LOCATIONTHE RAFT - ATLANTIC OCEAN 

24 HOURS LATER

 

Steve and Bucky were at the prison within twenty-four hours, only after planning and going over the rescue mission in very detail. They'd managed to clean up and patch up a little as well, finding changes of clothes in the quinjet that they were flying. Steve was in a black hoodie with matching sweatpants, no red, white, and blue in sight, and what Bucky wore was much the same. As he stared at Steve dressed so uncharacteristically in black, Bucky wondered if it was meant as a bigger statement to his friend than just a change of clothes, but he wasn't about to point it out to him. Not when Steve was about to break into a highly secure facility.

Flying over the Raft, Bucky decided to stay on-board and keep watch as Steve infiltrated the prison to free his friends. He felt he was a liability due to his injuries; because of the arc reactor on Tony's suit, he was down to one arm, the metal one having been blown off, which put him at an obvious disadvantage. Super-soldier or not, Bucky was used to using that arm to get the upper hand, and now he didn't have that. Steve couldn't afford to deal with that kind of disadvantage during his rescue mission.

As the jet landed fully, Bucky rose to his feet, coming to stand with his old friend.

— It is time.- he announced, using his usual Captain America serious voice as he squared his shoulders with resolve and began to walk towards the lowering ramp. Bucky nodded, glancing at the keys he was meant to press before smiling softly at him.

— Go get 'em.- he encouraged, watching his friend leap from the ramp with the stealth of a sneaky cat.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

The fight was quick and unrelenting, the stunned soldiers not having enough time to go on the offensive before they were barreled through by Captain America. Within minutes, the latter outmatched all of the men easily.

He'd worked his way through every U.S Marshal that had come at him,- one of which triggered an alert to Thaddeus Ross-, knocking his way to the control room. Once there, Steve checked the readings on the various digital panels, including the screens which showed heat signatures. Aside from the ones in the room he was in, there were four others moving around... all of them in the cells.

So Steve headed for the middle of the building, where the cages would be. He heard Sam say something about it taking long enough, which made him chuckle.

— Told ya...- Sam teased Clint, crossing his arms and smiling upon watching Steve as he stepped into the light.

— Well, ain't you a sight...- Clint muttered, casually leaning against the bars of his own imprisonment box. He stuck his hand through the bars that isolated their cells from the outside and shook Cap's.

— Sorry I couldn't make it sooner.- Steve murmured, throwing Clint an apologetic look as he walked slowly to Scott and Sam's cells, shaking their hands as well.

— We'll try not to hold it against you!- Barton called out from his cell. Steve laughed and went up to Wanda's cage, making sure she was okay. 

It was quite miserable in everyone's cells, but Wanda definitely had it worst. She was forced into a straight jacket and had a shock collar put on so she couldn't escape. The latter was huddled into the corner of her small dark containment cage, silent, white as a sheet and barely moving. She managed to smile lightly at Steve, but it didn't ease his nerves at all.

The cold swirled around Wanda, nipping at the small parts of exposed skin that weren't covered by the frustrating straight jacket or the collar that had already left bruises. Her arms were long numb and she avoided moving because the last time she had, she was shocked into a state of blackness.

— Uh, Steve...- Sam pointed his friend's attention to a big, gray box on the wall. It was locked, but Steve used his super strength to open it. The box housed switches for the cell door locks. He didn't have time to figure it out, so he threw them all. — Nice technique.- Sam commented with an arched brow. 

Red lights flooded the room as the cell doors unlocked and swung open. Everyone rushed out, gathering outside Wanda's cage expectantly. Hers had a different system, but Scott managed to effortlessly pick the multiple confusing locks inside the big, gray panel on the wall.

— ... Finally.- Wanda whispered, watching the doors of her special confinement cell slide open as well.

Steve and Clint immediately rushed to Wanda's side. She looked up at the latter when he dropped to his knees in front of her. 

— Hey, kid. Wanda?- finally, her dazed eyes found the warmth of Clint's. — Wanda, we're going to get out of this, can you help us a little?- he asked her gently, in spite of the pressing situation.

Steve nodded quickly at Scott one silent command, urging him forward. Sam lingered for a moment, locking eyes with his friend.

"Show Scott to the jet and get back here.

Followed closely by Scott, Sam started off at a run towards the quinjet where Bucky anxiously awaited. Wanda weakily sat up and Clint continued to undo the straps that buckled up the jacket. Steve got down to her level on the ground too and immediately reached for the straightjacket-like contraption that they had her in.

— We're gonna get you out of here. We're getting you out of here - he repeatedly told her as he and Steve tugged at the straps, undoing some and simply breaking the others. The jacket eventually came off and Steve threw it to the other side of the cell. 

Wanda's arms hung loosely at her sides as Clint stared at the collar on her throat, fighting down the nasty string of curse words that wanted to make their way from his mouth. His hands clenched in fists and Steve noticed it.

— Clint, let me do it.- he said lowly and Barton only nodded, moving out of his way. Steve couldn't blame him, because he was feeling the same way himself. — Wanda, I'm so sorry.- he whispered.— I'm going to get this off you, okay?- he asked in a low, soothing voice and waited for confirmation. Wanda's tired eyes found his and she gave a slow, careful nod.

Steve grasped the device, searching for the weak spot near the lock, then ripped it in two. The collar let out a spark of current as it died, but the soldier didn't feel a thing. Anger bubbled up inside Clint as his gaze lingered on the burns on Wanda's neck. The archer instantly pulled her up as gently as he could. Sam returned, jogging towards the three.

— Can you get her back to the jet?- Steve said and Clint nodded. Sam was glancing around, looking for one particular door. — We still have to get the suits and gear.- he continued. Clint bobbed his head and waited for Steve and Sam to ease back out of the cell before getting to action.

— Come on, Wanda. I'm getting you out of here.- he told her, wrapping his arm around her waist, pulling her with him. Loosening his grip, he waited to see if she was steady on her feet. It took her some effort, but Wanda managed to walk next to him. She nearly fell down a couple times, her weight falling against him as he held onto her, but they both pulled through.

Clint could feel her trembling, but he knew he couldn't dwell on it now. They all needed to get out of here and head somewhere safe. 

There'd be time to worry about everything else later, that was certain. 

Shifting his grasp on Wanda, Barton straightened up and her grip tightened around his shoulders instinctively. While Steve and Sam headed off to get the rest of the job done, Clint moved through the prison with ease, making his way toward the jet. He carried Wanda up the ramp, barely paying attention to Bucky on his way to the seats. Carefully, he set her down, making sure that she was close enough that she could just sit down and not fall to the floor.

Behind Bucky stood Scott, nervously watching the young woman slowly come to her senses.

— It's okay, kiddo..- Clint told her, keeping his voice low. — We're good now. The others will be here in just a minute, and then we'll leave.- Wanda forced a smile and Clint sighed, bobbing his head and walking to the front, likely to co-pilot.

The young woman's vacant stare then landed on Bucky, and instantly narrowed at the spot where his left arm was missing. He looked down and decided to stay out of her hair, aware of the sounds of the others getting closer. Before he could turn away from Wanda completely, however, he heard her small voice, claiming his attention. 

— You came back for us...- she blinked a few times, fighting her exhaustion, and Bucky looked down at her, his brows furrowed. Wanda took a deep breath and opened her tired eyes again. —  You. You... came back, and you rescued us. Thank you for that...-she said slowly, too slowly, her accented voice soft and sweet as Bucky took in her words. 

He opened his mouth, though the truth was, he wasn't sure what to say. He didn't know what to say to that. So he pursed his lips and gave her a simple nod. Then, Wanda's eyes finally closed and she fell asleep within seconds.

Bucky was saved from the awkward feeling by the return of Steve and Sam carrying an array of things with them that were likely Scott's suit, Sam's wings and Clint's bow and arrows. Stupid of those in charge to leave them locked up in the prison with their prisoners, where they could so easily get them back if they broke out.

Steve went to the front, stating that they would be taking off shortly and the others piled into various seats. Bucky sat behind his old pal, deliberately ignoring the odd looks Clint and Scott were giving her, and the constant glares from Sam.

A few minutes later, they took off fast.

— Well,- Clint broke the silence in the jet, leaning back casually on his seat and watching Wanda as she slept peacefully. — This has been "fun", but believe me when I say that I am officialy retired now.- he announced to no one in particular and Sam rolled his eyes. Steve continued flying the Quinjet above the ocean and Bucky quietly sat behind him, staring off the window, pretending he wasn't listening.

— Thank you.- Steve glanced at the archer, his tone as low and tactful as sincere. — You've got to enjoy the time you've got with the ones you love while you have it. Go take care of your family, Clint. - he added, nodding solemnly. — You deserve it.

Bucky looked down at his lap. Those people had put everything on the line by choosing their side, and despite he knew they'd fought for Steve and not for him, Bucky couldn't help but feel glad to witness the loyalty they had for his old best friend.

They trusted Steve.

Steve trusted them. 

Bucky trusted Steve.

— I wonder what happens if I...- Scott Lang murmured, still in awe. He sat in the middle of the Wakandan aircraft, looking around and taking everything in --particularly, the advanced technology surrounding him.

— Man, don't touch anything!- Sam's deep, scolding voice called from behind Scott, just as the latter's hand was midair about to press a random thing on the screen closest to him. With a defeted sigh, Lang dropped his hand and returned to sitting with his hands on his thighs, his fingers draping over his knees. 

Within seconds he started tapping the fingers of his hands rhythmically against his knee, the movement quickly changing as he slapped his hands harder against his thighs, redirecting his nervous energy into a driving beat to a song only he seemed to be able to hear.

Sam groaned in exasperation, reaching out and snagging Scott's arm, interrupting the latter's rhythmic motion.

— Seriously, Tic Tac?- he looked at Scott in disbelief. Lang smacked his hand away and when Sam let go of him, he continued drumming. 

— Yep, - Clint murmured to himself upon hearing the two adults bickering like kids in the back. He stretched out his arms, put his hands behind his head, relaxed. — ... I'm officialy retired.- he concluded and quickly slipped into a state between sleep and wakefulness, his head lolling back against the padded headrest.


And they were soon far away from The Raft and each hour closer to home. 

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♡ 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕜 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕗𝕠𝕣 𝕣𝕖𝕒𝕕𝕚𝕟𝕘!

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