You’re uncharacteristically slow to wake. After returning to Fury’s war room to figure out how to take down Project Insight, you’d passed two hours in uneasy sleep, drifting through violent memories. Sometimes you were the one holding the gun—and sometimes you were being hunted through dark corridors, screaming for help.
The room where you’ve been napping is intolerably stuffy. You throw off the blanket covering you—wondering briefly where it had come from, as it hadn’t been there when you’d fallen asleep—and rush out into the cool air. Outside of the compound is miles of unoccupied forest, bisected by a concrete walking bridge.
Clutching at the bridge’s railing, you stare out at the landscape. It’s early morning, and the mist turns everything a featureless grey. Birds wheel and swoop through the sky in front of you, and you envy them that freedom. You’ve always been the hunter, or the hunted; you’ve never quite known what it’s like to feel the wind on your face, unencumbered by danger.
After the Winter Soldier had let you go, he’d disappeared for years. You’d suspected that Hydra had punished him by putting him on ice. God only knew how angry they’d been that one of their greatest assets had vanished into thin air.
But that didn’t mean that you had escaped. Instead, the hunt had begun in earnest. Every year, Hydra would send their newest recruits on a mission to kill you. The bodies had started piling up, and you choked on bile every time that you had to defend yourself.
The first time they’d ambushed you had been in a hotel room in Istanbul. She was young and vulnerable, and while you fought she spat curses at you in Russian.
You’d won easily—it was cruel, how woefully underprepared they were for you—and when she came to, tied to a chair, she’d thrashed violently, screaming, “Bitch! Whore! There was a team of us—they’ll come for me!”
“Tell me something, little girl,” you’d said. “Did you volunteer for this, or did they force you to come here?”
She’d lifted her chin, pride filling her gaze. “I earned this. I was top of my class. They told me I could kill you.”
Your face had been impassive, and it must have frightened her. She dropped her gaze, turning her head as far as her limited range of movement would allow.
“Then let me ask you this. Why did you want to?”
Her face had twisted, the expression on it venomous and ugly. “Hydra picked you. Brought you straight from the Red Room, gave you everything, and you threw it away. Now you are nothing.”
You’d looked down at yourself in mock surprise. “Really? Because I don’t feel like I’m nothing.”
Then you’d left her there, confident that she wouldn’t escape the ropes for at least a few minutes, and slipped out of the hotel’s service entrance. Later, holed up in an abandoned apartment, you’d turned on the radio you’d stolen and listened in on the team’s communications.
“She’s gone! Dammit, Anna, you let the Raven escape!”
“She can’t be that far from here. Search the area. Don’t let her go!”
When they came for you, you shot to injure, not to kill. But you’d never forgotten the accusatory look in the girl’s eyes when you’d put a bullet in her thigh and she’d started to bleed, an arterial wound that shot bright red spray. How could you do this? her eyes had said. Once, you were just like me.
Gravel crunching on the bridge jerks you out of your thoughts. Your hearing is so exceptional that you can often tell who a person is by the sound of their footsteps. Steve’s footfalls, for example, are strong and precise—sure, like he always knows exactly where he’s going.
He comes to stand next to you. Neither of you speak, but you stand there together as the sun begins to peek out from behind the clouds.
Steve glances at you when you break the silence, gauging, you think, how much he wants to say.
“Sam snores. I’m a pretty light sleeper—the serum means I hear every little noise.” He smiles, but it’s wry and self-critical, and it doesn’t reach his eyes. “You?”
“Too many memories.” Too many nightmares. You trace the railing with a finger absent-mindedly.
“I know the feeling.”
Silence falls again as you both stare into the distance, eyes fixed on pasts that neither of you can quite get rid of.
“Don’t give up on him,” you blurt out a few minutes later, turning slightly to look at his profile, limned in morning light. “Bucky, I mean.”
You don’t quite know why you’re saying it, given your issues with the Winter Soldier, who would have (and still might) murder you gladly within seconds of you seeing him again. But it’s suddenly become immeasurably important to you that he isn’t written off as a lost cause.
(In the back of your mind, you know why. If Steve thinks he’s worth saving—no matter what he’s done—then maybe you’re worth saving, too.)
You think about how the Winter Soldier had lifted his knife from your neck, expression confused, a memory just beyond his reach. “No matter how much of a monster Hydra might have made him, the real Bucky is in there somewhere. Get him out.”
With that, you push back from the rail and walk towards the compound to get dressed. You have a long day ahead of you.
community > missed connections > best of
Nemesis required, 6-month project with possibility to extend
“If you could just initial here, here, and here, Mr. Pierce?”
Pierce, despite being one of Hydra’s highest-ranking operatives, doesn’t recognize you from the many files bearing your name, although you’re sure he’s skimmed them at some point. Instead, he gives you nothing more than a cursory nod before initialing the documents and returning to the task at hand.
You’re playing Pierce’s attaché today, smoothing the way for Natasha, who’ll be masquerading as one of the members of the World Security Council. Sam, Steve, and Maria Hill will be taking S.H.I.E.L.D. by force, hoping to reprogram the Insight helicarriers before they reach cruising altitude.
You’ve got the job with the least physical danger—play nice with Pierce, monitor him until Natasha arrives, try to find out if Hydra has any plans Fury isn’t expecting—but you couldn’t bring yourself to mention that it’s significantly more dangerous for you than for anyone else. Your name and face have mostly been forgotten; Hydra had found it impossible to pursue you as the years dragged on. But the risk of recognition has your adrenaline spiking with every new person that enters Pierce’s office.
There’s a knock at the door—quick, cursory, impatient—before it opens and Brock Rumlow strides in.
“Sir,” he greets Pierce. You hold a breath as his gaze darts to you. After a few seconds, you realize that he’s not staring at you intently because he recognizes you as a former Hydra assassin.
He’s leering, staring at your chest and the curve of your hips in your skirt suit. You feel rage start to boil in your stomach.
Clenching your fists around the papers in your hands so tightly that your knuckles start to turn white, you make a promise that if it comes to a fight, Rumlow is the first person you’ll hurt.
Pierce lowers the report he’s reading and takes off his glasses. “Your report?” he asks.
“Everything is running as scheduled,” Rumlow responds.
“And Captain America?”
“No sign of him or his accomplices so far, sir.”
“Hmm,” Pierce says, “I don’t like it. Put extra S.T.R.I.K.E. teams on every floor, anticipate him if you can.”
Rumlow nods and turns to leave. Before he reaches the door, however, Pierce stops him. “Rumlow. Get the Asset, too.”
Pierce turns to you next, after Rumlow leaves. “Is the rest of the Security Council here?”
“Yes, sir,” you say, “they’ve just arrived.”
“I guess we should be going, then.” He smiles at you, and it seems kind, fatherly, but something about it makes your stomach turn.
Maybe it’s the thought of what you’re going to do next.
You escort Pierce out of the door of his office, juggling a briefcase and stacks of various bureaucratic forms. In the elevator, you make sure that the two of you are alone before saying, “Oh, and sir?”
“Yes?” As he straightens the lapels of his suit and fiddles with the pen in his pocket, you say it so softly that it’s barely audible.
His eyes sharpen, looking you over again. His features relax, and you realize he’s slipped seamlessly into trusting you. “Well, well, well, we’ve got an excellent day ahead of us, don’t we?”
“We do, sir.”
“I know the road hasn’t exactly been smooth,” Pierce says, holding a glass of champagne, “and some of you would gladly have kicked me out of the car along the way. But finally, we’re here. And the world should be grateful.”
Chills roll down your spine as Pierce makes the toast, high above the rest of the world at the top of the Triskelion. You’re the only one in the room—barring Natasha, who is here somewhere in disguise, and any of the council members that might also be Hydra plants—that seems to know the true meaning of his words.
It’s not the wall-to-wall glass windows in the conference room that are giving you vertigo, then. The thought that the murder of millions of people is something that the world should thank Hydra for hits you like a punch to the stomach. (You wonder how you’ll ever be able to atone for your part in making Hydra what it is today. Will you ever be able to?)
You look out the window as the council members drink to a massacre, and although you’re expecting Steve to come on the PA system, his voice booming through the speakers makes you jump.
“Attention all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. This is Steve Rogers. You’ve heard a lot about me over the past few days. Some of you were even ordered to hunt me down. But I think it’s time you knew the truth.”
His voice steadies your nerves. Maybe it’s the tone, or the timbre. Maybe it’s the solidity of it, something that you always seem to feel around him. Maybe, although you’d die before you’d admit it, it’s because Steve Rogers is steady, and he makes you feel safe.
“S.H.I.E.L.D. is not what we thought it was,” he continues, “It’s been taken over by Hydra. Alexander Pierce is their leader.”
At that, you reach for the gun hidden in your waistband, but you wait to pull it out. All of the council members turn towards Pierce.
“The S.T.R.I.K.E. and Insight crew are Hydra as well. I don’t know how many more, but I know they’re in the building. They could be standing right next to you. They almost have what they want. They shot Nick Fury. And it won’t end there. If you launch those helicarriers today, Hydra will be able to kill anyone that stands in their way. Unless we stop them.”
You’re spellbound, and the rest of the room is too, is hanging onto Steve’s every word.
“I know I’m asking a lot. But 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.”
Everything happens quickly after that.
In a fraction of a moment, an entire S.T.R.I.K.E. team is amassed within the conference room, guns pointed at the council members. No one, rather tellingly, points a gun at you.
“I guess I have the floor,” Pierce says smugly. There’s an ominous rumbling, a loud one, and from the large bay windows, you see three giant aircraft begin to rise into the sky.
For a few seconds, no one dares to move. Then, the councilwoman glances meaningfully at you.
There you are, Nat.
You blur into motion, jamming your elbow into the throat of a S.T.R.I.K.E. agent hard enough to make him fall to his knees. He’s still wheezing when you slam the barrel of your gun into his head, knocking him out.
Letting out a hiss from between your teeth, you swing around, just in time to catch the man behind you with a rattling punch. He slumps to the ground. You incapacitate four others in short order, and when you’re finished, Natasha is holding a gun on Pierce. You focus yours on him too, for good measure.
“Sorry,” she drawls, “did I step on your moment?”
Five minutes later, Nat is disabling S.H.I.E.L.D.’s firewalls, preparing to put all of Hydra’s secrets into the open. Your mouth is dry. Somehow, when you’d talked about all of this last night, you’d managed to willfully ignore this part of the plan.
“If you do this, none of your past is going to remain hidden,” Pierce tells her. “Are you sure you’re ready for the world to see you as you really are?”
It’s an insidious question, and Natasha’s hands pause briefly on the keyboard. Your hands are trembling, however, and Pierce notices.
He studies your face again, puzzle pieces clicking together.
“Well, well, well. I didn’t realize that we had another traitor in our midst.” His grin is oily. “Where’ve you been hiding all these years?”
“Oh, you know, here and there and everywhere.” You try to make your voice light and airy, but you don’t quite manage it.
“You haven’t aged a day.” His tone is full of wonder. “That’s why I didn’t recognize you at first.”
“It’s unfortunate that I can’t say the same for you, Alexander.”
He tries to take a few steps towards you, but stops when he sees you adjust your aim so that the barrel of the gun is pointing directly at his heart.
“Now, my darling Raven. I know exactly what you’ve done. Are you sure you’re going to let Natalia put all of your past into the world?”
No, you’re not. A tiny part of you is screaming that you need to stop her, for your own protection. It will blow the anonymity that you’ve been cultivating for years, ruin every chance you have at ever living a normal life. Your past will haunt you forever—not that it doesn’t already.
But most of you remembers the millions of lives at stake, and the millions more that might be saved if Hydra is exposed. And that gives you the strength to smile widely at Alexander Pierce and say, “Yes, I am.”
“Done,” Natasha says. “And it’s trending.”
Now that the files have leaked, now that Fury is back, you think that Pierce is well and truly defeated. He slumps a little, deflated, and it’s exhilarating. Maybe now you can see if Steve and Sam and Maria are safe.
But then Pierce smiles, and the pins on all of the council members’ lapels explode. They drop to the floor instantly, dead.
“Unless you want a two-inch hole in your sternum,” Pierce says to Natasha, “I’d put that gun down.”
All three of you reluctantly lower your guns.
In the minutes since the helicarriers have launched, the others have been busy: muffled booms in the distance have been your signal that another aircraft has been destroyed. Finally, finally, as Pierce is telling you to stand down, you see all three helicarriers explode, and your heart leaps.
They did it.
“What a waste,” Pierce scoffs, and walks Natasha out with the gun to her back. Before he can leave, however, you see her reach for her lapel and willingly take the shock, crumpling to the floor. In the millisecond before Pierce can react, you and Fury have your guns trained on him.
There’s nowhere left for him to go, and when you see the desperation in his eyes, you don’t think. You just shoot. Two bullets punch through his chest, and you barely wait to see the light leave his eyes before you rush over to Natasha.
Fury shakes her. No response.
Your heart stops. “Come on, Natasha. Wake up.”
You wait, and wait, and wait, until she groans. Then you hug her gingerly. “Don’t do that to me again. Not ever.”
“I won’t,” she says as you help her to her feet. “Those things really do sting.”
Outside, the burning hunks of metal that used to be helicarriers are crashing into the river—all except for one, which is hurtling directly into the Triskelion.
“Time for us to go,” Fury says, and you leap into the waiting helicopter.
Sam’s voice rolls frantically over the comms, and minutes later, Fury is doing a barrel roll to catch a man tumbling out of the 41st floor window. You and Natasha catch Sam by the hand and drag him into the cockpit.
All at once, you seem to realize what’s wrong, or rather, who’s missing. “Hill, do you have eyes on Rogers?” Natasha screams into her headset over the drone of the helicopter’s engines.
“I don’t see him,” Maria says. “He was—he was on the ship.”
The ship that just exploded into an unrecognizable horror story of metal. Oh. Oh, no.