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missed connections

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**

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We shared a cab, you hit me in the face. - m4w

**

“You know, I heard that Eli from Counterterrorism just broke up with his girlfriend,” Natasha says as you sprint to the hangar doors, gunfire thundering in the distance.

“And? I don’t follow,” you say, punching the code that will open the hangar into the keypad. Recently single Eli from Counterterrorism is possibly the last thing you want to think about while being chased through an abandoned airfield in Casablanca, during a highly sensitive joint mission between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the CIA.

The aircraft in the hangar is heavily guarded, as you expected, so her next words are muffled by the grunt of the armed assailant she’s just kicked in the stomach.

“He’s cute. If you asked him on a date, I doubt he would say no.”

“First of all, we’re really going to do this now?” you respond, twisting another guard’s arm in a way it should (probably) never be twisted. It dislocates, popping out of its shoulder socket, and he screams in pain.

“And second, even if I had the time—which I don’t—” You pause to jab a quick strike to your opponent’s face, and something in his nose makes an ugly cracking sound. He crumples to the floor. “The guy has an ego the size of a football field.”

“It’s not as big as a football field,” she says, dispatching the final guard. The ground is littered in a sea of unmoving bodies. “I’d compromise and say it’s as big as a baseball diamond.”

You wipe an errant smear of blood off of your cheek and say nothing, clearly declaring the matter closed.

“Too bad,” she says, letting it go with a rueful shake of her head, but you notice her lips quirking up in silent laughter.

You successfully secure your package and arrive at the extraction point. It’s only on the way home, buckled tightly into the seat of your aircraft, that you start to have some misgivings. Natasha never gives up a plan to set you up that easily (you’ve been roped into at least 5 disastrous dates since you met her), and if she’s doing it now, it only means that she’s discovered a better method of attack.

**
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You gave me the finger. Coffee? - m4w

**

“What about Aidan, from Engineering? He has that kind of hot professor look that you like,” Natasha says archly two months later.

You’re both standing on the roof of City Tower, the tallest building in Prague, dressed in full tactical gear. The wind is blowing so fiercely that for a second, you think you’ve misheard her.

(Nat does have a gift for bringing up sensitive subjects at the most inopportune moments.)

“Should I be concerned that you seem to know so many of my coworkers’ classified identities?” you ask her.

When she shrugs, you feel the need to defend yourself. “And I don’t like nerdy professors. I just appreciate men who seem like they actually know how to read.”

“Really? What about that philosophy professor you were so enamored with when you were undercover as a student at Columbia? I seem to remember you earning a little bit of extra credit after class,” she drawls.

“Oh, please. Part of my job was to get close to him.” You attempt to play it cool.

“You know, it’s funny, because I read the mission report.” She grins at you as she puts on her harness. “And it never said you needed to get that close.”

As you sputter and fumble for words, she tugs on the rope attached to her waist, checking to see if the line will support her weight. Apparently finding it satisfactory, she jumps off of the roof before you even have a chance to respond.

You sigh and vault off of the roof after her, rappelling into the vacant 19th floor offices. Miraculously, you manage to avoid smashing into the partly-constructed drywall dotting the space.

Half of the floor is still under construction, while the other half houses the lab that you’ve come to destroy—the main manufacturer of a series of highly dangerous strength enhancers being funneled directly to various large criminal organizations. While ostensibly the drugs give the syndicates’ enforcers the strength to roll open bank vault doors and rob armored cars, they’ve mostly been used as new weapons in wars for territory. Every time, mass casualties ensue.

Although the criminal organizations are done jockeying for power, it’s inevitable that they’ll begin to turn their focus outwards, using their addicted employees to destabilize more than their rivals: governments, or power grids, for example. It’s the reason why your backpack is filled with explosives, and Natasha is carrying an armory’s worth of weapons.

Although you still can’t fathom why a lab manufacturing highly illegal drugs would choose such an indefensible and public location for its headquarters. You’d rolled your eyes to the heavens when your boss had given you your mission briefing.

“Why are these things always in fancy office buildings?” you’d wondered aloud. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand it.”

Now, you shake your head again at the impracticality of it all as you take in your surroundings with a measuring eye.

Natasha has already unhooked her rope and reclaimed her weapons. She pulls a gun from one of her thigh holsters as you take a charge from your pack. You walk together, soft-soled boots padding softly on the concrete floor, out of the empty offices and down the hallway that leads to a heavy steel door.

“I’m pretty sure their landlords didn’t approve that installation,” Natasha murmurs under her breath, quietly enough that only you can hear it.

“I guess we’ll be doing them a favor, preparing their place for the next tenants and everything,” you breathe back, and begin to place the charges.

When you finish, you motion for her to step back and silently count down from three. On one, a little off from your count, the door flies out of the wall with a loud boom and a sharp clang, landing on the floor in front of you. While the door itself was reinforced, the walls around it hadn’t been—so you’d decided to remove the door.

You and Nat step carefully through the breached doorway, ready to fire if necessary. You catalogue your surroundings, noting small details with a practiced eye.

You see nothing unusual—for an underground laboratory, that is. Two lab technicians are standing dumbstruck, mouths wide open, and through the door behind them, a storeroom full of boxes ready to be shipped. The drug comes in serum form, and among all of the lab equipment you hear the whir of a huge centrifuge, which you speculate might be used to remove impurities or detritus from the solution.

Before you can instruct the techs not to move, one presses what looks like a panic button under the lab bench. An alarm starts to blare. A voice crackles through the speaker, telling the techs that reinforcements are on their way.

You glance at Nat, finding your surprise mirrored on her face.

She’d disabled the alarm herself two days ago, tampering with it in a way that was virtually undetectable. Even worse—another strike team had been tasked with removing the guards from the lab. Something is very, very wrong.

You’d planned on confiscating the drugs and taking the techs into custody. But with backup coming, you don’t have the time.

Plan B? your gaze asks. She nods and stays in the room, holding a gun on the techs. You go into the storeroom, take two vials of serum, and tuck them into a cushioned pocket in your vest. Then, you begin to set more charges, bigger this time, around the boxes.

Plan B: blow the lab to hell. It will set the supply chain back at least a few months. It does, however, require a very careful setting of charges so that the structural integrity of the building isn’t damaged. Which unfortunately takes time.

You carefully place charges around the storeroom and the main room. They’ll blow in about five minutes, enough time for you to make your escape.

As you set down the last explosive, you hear a rumbling noise. Backup has arrived, and it’s not great. You’ve prepared for the possibility that there would be guards, most likely guards who had taken the strength enhancer. But nothing could have prepared you for the sight of them.

Their bodies are warped, muscles popping in places that they never should have been. Their skin is oddly translucent, and their faces have the twisted consistency of melted wax. They charge at you and Natasha. She empties a full clip into the first man’s chest.

He doesn’t stop moving. Unfazed, she pulls out a small circular object and tosses it at him. When it makes contact, he slumps to the ground, high-voltage electrical current running through his body.

You don’t shoot the second man to kill—you doubt it would stop him. Instead, you shoot to maim: hands, feet, legs. He falls to his knees, grasping uselessly at you.

Natasha says something brief and urgent into her wrist communicator that you can’t make out. Then she turns to you. “Head to the vacant offices, before they get up. We’ve got an extraction planned.”

“Get up?” You gesture at the two men on the ground. But surely enough, as you back towards the door, they begin to stand up. One swipes at you, his massive hand barely missing you in a lightning-fast strike.

You and Natasha sprint down the hallway, into the empty offices. A sleek jet hovers outside of the building, with an open gangway just close enough for you to jump onto. Nat leaps onto the gangway and you prepare to go next.

A fist as large as a sledgehammer smashes into your temple and you topple to the ground. Drifting in and out of consciousness, you feel yourself being dragged backwards, towards the lab. Then, the pressure on your ankles stops. Someone scoops you into their arms.

A voice that sounds like Natasha’s calls, “Steve!” In a brief flash of awareness, you see a pair of blue, blue eyes.

At that moment, the explosives detonate.

**
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community > missed connections > best of

You: gorgeous with blue eyes. Me: in your dumpster. - w4m

**

You wake up far, far away from Prague, in a medical facility in Langley. You’re covered in bandages, and panicking, you begin to pull at your restraints.

A hand touches your shoulder.

“Calm down,” Natasha says. “You’re all right. You’re fine.”

“What happened?” you croak. She hands you a glass of water, and you sip it gratefully.

“A few of the charges blew too early, and triggered the rest of them. We got you out in time—the serum too. Barring the fact that you nearly got blown to pieces, everything turned out okay.”

You heave a sigh of relief. “The techs and the guards?”

“Techs escaped. The guards…well, I assume they were killed in the blast.”

You’re silent for a few minutes, processing. “Something wasn’t right about that mission, Natasha. The alarm. The guards. The explosion. Nothing went the way it should have.”

“Sometimes it happens like that,” she replies, but her expression says, Not here. Not now.
“I’m going to let you rest now,” Natasha says abruptly, and turns to leave.

“One more question, Nat.” She stops. “Who carried me out of that building?”

She breaks into a small smile. “I called in some backup of my own.”

Chapter Text

**

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community > missed connections > best of

To the guy I only see when I am late for work. –w4m

**

It doesn’t take you long to recover, a fact that the doctors and nurses at the facility in Langley discuss in hushed tones in the hallway outside of your hospital room.

“When she came in she was in an induced coma. How is it possible that all of her major injuries are mostly healed after a few weeks?” one resident (female, dressed in scrubs and ugly orthopedic sneakers) whispers loudly to another after checking your vitals.

“I don’t know. Dr. Schiller says she’s never seen anything like it,” the other resident (a man, lanky and sandy-haired) responds.

“And that’s not even the oddest part. I heard Schiller talking to an agent that stopped in to check on her—“

“What did she say?”

“That there was something strange about her injuries, and that Dr. Lyman agreed.” The female resident lowers her voice, leans in closer. “Apparently, the gashes and burns she sustained during the explosion could have been a lot worse, but someone else was there.”

“Acting as a human shield?”

“Yeah,” the resident says, incapable of keeping the excitement from her voice. “But the thing is, that person would have taken so much damage that they’d have to be dead. And a person with those injuries never showed up in the hospital.”

“So? It’s possible they could have been taken straight to the morgue. It’s not procedure, but sometimes it is done.”

“That big of a blast had to have been in the news somewhere, and the only place that matches the description is in Prague. Dr. Lyman called in all of his favors, and he found no one. Hospital or morgue.”

“That means they survived? Well, shit.”

“That, or Operations made the body disappear entirely.”

Their voices grow fainter and fainter as they move away from your room, stopping you from hearing any more.

You’re drifting in and out of sleep to the sounds of a daytime soap opera, the afternoon sun shining through the blinds, when a tread over the threshold of your hospital room jolts you into full wakefulness.

“David!” You blink and smile cautiously at your boss, who looks immaculate in a perfectly pressed suit, not a single strand of his white hair out of its proper place. “What are you doing here?”

“Just checking up on you, kid.” He walks, with his distinctive shuffle—the result of a gunshot wound he took to the knee in Beirut, early in his career—over to the chair next to your bed.

As he settles in, he sighs in relief. His bad knee must be more sore than usual. You feel a stab of concern. “It seems like I should be checking up on you. Did you go see that specialist like you promised me you would?”

David grunts. “It’s nothing. Just a change in the weather, making my bones ache.”

“As soon as I get out of here, I’m going over your head and getting Marcus to make you an appointment. And if you don’t go to that one, I’ll drive you to the specialist myself.”

Your mentor rolls his eyes, but lets it be. He’s the strong and silent type, not one to demonstrate affection easily, but he’s trained you since your first day at the Farm, and been your handler on several missions since then. You know he sees you as something like a surrogate child, and you have a mutual respect between you that makes him willing to entertain, if not follow, your advice.

“So.” His tone turns sharp as he gets down to business. “What happened out there?”

Is the room clear? You mouth to him, tapping your ear.

“I had it swept thirty minutes ago, while you were asleep.”

You hesitate, your instincts at war with one another. You trust David, and it would be great to unload your problems onto him, but every nerve in your body is screaming with suspicion.

You’ve had considerable time to mull over all of the details of the Prague mission. The series of misfortunes that you experienced were too well-timed to be a coincidence.

It’s growing increasingly likely that you were never expected to make it out alive, and you can’t afford to share details of exactly how you survived with anyone until you discover who tried to schedule a hit on you, and why.

So you tell David a heavily edited version of events. He listens intently, brow furrowed in concentration.

When you finish, he frowns. “So the bombs detonated early. And Natasha called for backup?”

You stop short.

“Yes,” you manage, heart beating in double time.

Joint missions between the CIA and S.H.I.E.L.D. have a very specific protocol. To protect their operatives from blown covers, both agencies are blind—that is, no one but the agents assigned to the mission and their handlers are supposed to know identifying details about their partners.

That David knows Natasha was with you in Prague is…concerning. You consider the implications. Is he trying to warn you? Or was it an accidental slip?

Since the knowledge is classified, someone is leaking information in one of two places: S.H.I.E.L.D. or the CIA. Either way, you’re not safe in this hospital bed.

You feign tiredness, yawning loudly.

“David?” you ask, “Can we finish this another time? The medication that I’m on makes it hard to stay awake for long.”

He hesitates, but stands up, brushing imaginary dust off of his suit jacket.

“Sure,” he says. “I’ll come back tomorrow.”

The door shuts behind you. You close your eyes and slow your breathing, feigning a gentle, natural descent into sleep. When you’re sure you’re alone, you swing your legs around the side of the hospital bed, bringing your bare feet onto the floor. You wince at the pain, your body protesting every motion.

Figuring out where to find clothing is a tad more difficult than it seems in the movies. There are no conveniently stocked storage rooms nearby, so you duck into another patient’s room and grab a loose cardigan from a chair back and slippers, which you find set neatly next to the bed.

From there, you find a locker room, obviously intended for use by doctors who need to change out of their scrubs. You pick the lock on one of the lockers and outfit yourself in the clothes you find there: a t-shirt, a pair of jeans, boots, and a suede jacket.

Finally, the hospital doors slide open with a hiss and you walk out into the twilight.

In addition to clothes, you’ve scooped up the unfortunate owner’s wallet, phone and keys. When you click the button on the key remote, a grey Mercedes beeps gently from across the lot.

Once you’re seated in the sedan, you think for a moment. Where should you go? Where can you go, without being seen?

You use the phone to make a call, then throw it out the window. Your tires roll over it with a loud crunch.

**
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Looking for girl in my apt who saw me fall down my stairwell naked. - m4w

**

“Here’s the thing,” Natasha says, as she tosses you a set of clean sheets and a blanket. “The leak isn’t coming from S.H.I.E.L.D.”

“How do you know?” you ask.

“I talked to Director Fury. He’s received a tip that someone is killing off high-level CIA operatives under deep cover. Only a handful of people have clearance for their cover information, and they’re CIA. No S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives, and no other agencies.”

You look at her, long and hard. “Can I trust you on this, Nat?” Her motivations, as always, are foggy at best. Maybe even more so now than they were in the past.

She grabs your arm and turns your wrist over, then traces the long, wickedly curved scar that runs lengthwise across the underside of your forearm.

Flashes of memory scream at you from the recesses of your mind, where you’ve buried them in a locked box and thrown away the key.

Worn ballet slippers. Your hands, chained to the bedframe. Needles and bandages and silence.

“You’re the closest thing to family that I have,” she says quietly. “Let me help.”

You close your eyes briefly, patching yourself back together. “Okay.”

“You’ll be safe here for a while.” Nat prowls the room, checking to see if the windows are locked. You sit down on the bed in the small, well-appointed bedroom of the apartment she’s provided for you to camp out in.

“I’m working on erasing your tracks and making it look like you’ve left the country. But don’t leave the building unless you have to. Get your groceries delivered. Don’t make friends with the neighbors. We’ll come up with a better plan once we have more information, and once you’re healed enough.”

You gesture at the bland, featureless décor of your new apartment—made boring purposefully, you suspect, to prevent anyone from analyzing its occupant too closely. “What did you tell Fury about me? To make him give me this place?”

“Your reputation precedes you, just like mine precedes me,” Natasha says as she heads for the door.

She pauses at the threshold. “But all I told him was that you were my friend. It was enough.”

When Natasha shuts the door behind her, you feel lonelier than you’ve been in years. You open the fridge and see nothing but empty shelves. You turn on the TV, only to be greeted by a news story about a mysterious bombing in Prague. Finally, you settle in with a glass of water and a paperback, dusty as if it hasn’t been picked up in some time, only to be distracted by faint voices from the hallway.

A man and a woman—you can hear her laugh all the way from your couch. You can’t help but be curious whether there’s any normal people in this building, or whether Fury is hiding them all from something.

For lack of anything better to do, and telling yourself that it’s better to be observant than surprised by your new neighbors, you peer through the peephole curiously.

You’ve always been an apt observer of body language, and the couple standing in the hallway is more interesting than most. They don’t know each other very well, but both are leaning towards each other, attracted despite their awkwardness.

He offers her his laundry machine (cheaper than the one downstairs), and asks her for coffee, which she declines, smiling apologetically. She explains that she’s just finished a rotation in the infectious disease ward and that he probably wouldn’t want her to wash her scrubs in his machine.

Her eyes dart to the side. A lie. Why is she lying? you wonder to yourself, and then realize that you’ve obviously become so divorced from normal life that you ascribe ulterior motives to a nurse trying to dodge a date.

You feel briefly protective towards her, wondering how many times the man, who stands with his back to you, has asked her out before. But she looks like she can take care of herself, and he backs off politely.

“I’ll keep my distance,” he says.

“Hopefully not too far,” she responds.

Then they smile goodbyes at one another. The man turns to unlock his apartment door, and it’s hard to see his face from this angle, but you do catch a glimpse of a pair of puzzlingly familiar blue eyes before you retreat.

Chapter Text

**
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community > missed connections > washington, DC

I had a dream of you – m4w

**

“No, devushka. Like this.” He positions your hands on the handgun, shows you how to grip and where to aim. He folds your finger over the trigger and squeezes.

The shot is muffled as it pierces flesh. He does not let you look away, and so you do not, even when blood starts to pool on the floor.

Even when it stains your shoes and your tights, and mistress tells you later that you are eight and ought to know how to kill a man without getting dirty.

You jolt awake to gunshots—real ones, not the remnants of a dream—and spring off of the couch where you’ve been drifting off, book crushed underneath you.

On reflex, you check the windows, but both your internal clock and the darkness outside let you know that you’ve been asleep for less than an hour. You sprint to the bedroom and grab the bag Natasha packed for you (a go bag, filled with essentials should you need to escape quickly).

It, of course, includes an arsenal. Nat is thorough in all the ways that count.

You hear the sound of glass shattering in the apartment next door and arm yourself quickly but carefully, slotting guns into two side holsters that will be invisible under your jacket, slipping knives into your boots, winding a garrote around your wrist, and affixing a stun baton to your belt. Then, you slide the window in your bedroom open and climb down the fire escape. Although you suspect that the shooter isn’t here for you, a quick escape is the most sensible option.

Glass crunches under your feet as you drop from the ladder and walk to the front of the building. An ambulance wails loudly, and paramedics rush in to the apartment complex through the double doors, busy as worker bees. People in official uniforms flood the street, including local police, and you realize that you have to slip past them now or risk being caught.

They pay you no notice as you walk past, focused on a gurney being rolled towards the ambulance. On the gurney is a body you recognize, with some shock: Nick Fury, chest red with blood and barely breathing.

Alert now, you linger in the shadows of a neighboring building, watching as the nurse from earlier speaks urgently into a radio. It seems, however, like calling her a nurse would be a misnomer. She’s directing agents—S.H.I.E.L.D., from what you can see from their uniform insignias—to examine the apartment for clues about the identity of the shooter and to find Steve Rogers.

You’d chalked it up to paranoia, but maybe you should have listened to your gut when you’d eavesdropped on her conversation earlier.

You watch for just long enough to catalogue the entire scene, fixing the details in your mind, then turn and walk away.

You don’t have time to waste.

**
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community > missed connections > washington, DC

Hey! – w4w

**

You’re halfway across the city when Natasha finds you in the early hours of the morning, haggling about the price of a used Jeep with its owner.

“Never mind,” you say as her low-riding sports car pulls up to the dealership. “I think my ride is here.”

You suspect she would have found you earlier had you not been virtually unrecognizable, voice changed into a hoarse rasp and hair covered by a baseball cap, with a pronounced limp from the strain of your still-healing injuries.

“Fury?” you ask her, fastening your seatbelt. She doesn’t say anything, just shakes her head, face an expressionless mask.

“I’m sorry. He was a good man.”

She stares at the road, accelerating to a dangerous speed. “How did you get out?”

“Climbed down the fire escape. Whoever it was—they were there for him, not for me. And they were a lot more talented than the people who tried to kill me.”

She’s silent for a long while, likely turning over possibilities in her mind. Finally, she speaks. “What do you know about the Winter Soldier?”

Thrashing against the leather straps of the surgical table. A needle the size of your arm, filled with liquid. Your throat, raw with screams.

“Soldat? Hold her down. And for God’s sake, shut her up.”

Then pain. Endless pain.

Your throat has gone dry. You swallow tightly. “Soviet slugs? No rifling?”

“Three.”

“Then I know he was your killer.” Almost unconsciously, your hand travels to the scar on your arm. “And I know that you’re probably better off not finding him.”

“You’ve met him? Where? When?” She focuses intently on you.

You smile sardonically in reply. “Where do you think?”

“Could you find him?” she asks, pulling into the hospital parking lot.

“Maybe. If I had more time and my old contacts. But I buried all of that years ago, just like you did.” You’re clutching the door handle so tightly that your knuckles have turned white.

You don’t celebrate birthdays, where you are. You know from your training that they are something some girls have, but never you.

Madame, with her razor-sharp smile, praises you for your excellent work and tells you that you will graduate on your fourteenth birthday. It’s a cruel trick, because you have no idea when your birthday is, and graduation is not a gift.

It involves pain—you know that much—and while it means you will never return, it also means that you will have to leave the younger girls to the mercy of their trainers. Like you were left, many years ago, by a red-haired girl with desperate eyes.

Nat doesn’t press you any further, and you’re grateful for it. “Look, there’s this flash drive, and this guy I have to meet. Do you have any more cleaning to do?”

“I spent the morning erasing my identity. What do you need me to do?”

She hands you a burner phone—top of the line tech, untraceable, with Stark Industries engraved on the back. “Just back me up. I'm not sure I can trust anyone at S.H.I.E.L.D. anymore.”

And because she’s Natasha, you say yes.

Chapter Text

**

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Our Intentional Community is Looking for Members!

**

By the time your burner phone buzzes with a terse message (S.H.I.E.L.D. compromised. Meet us here, with a D.C. address attached) you’re at a cheap hotel in Bethesda, drinking watery coffee and looking out onto a blazing red sunrise.

When you arrive at the address—a nondescript home, small but beautiful and scrupulously cared for, in a decent neighborhood—the sun is high in the sky. You head around the back and knock on the glass sliding door.

You’re greeted by a man who glares at you suspiciously. “You Natasha’s friend?” he asks.

“Hi,” you say, and wait patiently on the stoop while he calls her over to verify your identity. Her hair is singed and she looks a little worse for wear.

“Run into some trouble?”

Nat rolls her eyes at you. “If you call a short-range ballistic missile fired by S.H.I.E.L.D. trouble, then yes. You can let her in, Sam.”

He steps aside to let you in and offers his hand to shake. “Sam Wilson. Nice to meet you.”

“You can talk in the kitchen,” Nat calls before you can give him your name in return. “Sam made pancakes.”

The inside of the house is nice, too, if a bit too indicative of Sam’s apparent bachelorhood: there’s a gym bag resting on the floor of the kitchen, and you suspect that if you turned the enormous flat screen TV in his living room on, it would be tuned directly to ESPN.

Natasha is leaning against the counter, managing to look perfectly at ease, although her “trouble” with the missile was likely a bit more damaging than she lets on. Sam (bless him) is fixing you a plate of pancakes and bacon. And your eyes are locked on the final occupant of the room.

Once his familiar blue gaze had met yours, you’d begun to put it all together. His presence in Prague as Natasha’s backup. The apartment complex. (Of course S.H.I.E.L.D. would put one of their biggest assets where they could monitor him.)

Which means that you owe the man in front of you your life.

“Captain Rogers,” you drawl as if you haven’t been knocked completely off balance. “Nice to see you again, though I can’t say these are better circumstances than when we last met.”

It comes out prickly, a defensive reaction to the gratitude you can’t help but feel towards him. You’ll work with him and Sam, do anything Natasha needs you to do, but you can’t afford to like either of them too much.

So your heart doesn’t flutter at all when he inclines his head at you, mouth quirked with a hint of a smile, and says, “I’d tell you the third time’s the charm, but I don’t think either of us is that lucky.”

And you willfully ignore the evaluative look in Nat’s eyes as she glances between the both of you.

They brief you in full about Hydra’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., Zola’s algorithm, and the missile strike. Natasha paces like a restless cat, only stopping to emphasize a point or clarify an explanation. Sam butters a piece of toast, looking nonplussed. You listen intently, chewing on your lip.

“We think S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised, and that at least part of the C.I.A. is too,” Nat muses, nodding at you. “So the question is, who at S.H.I.E.L.D. could launch a domestic missile strike?”

“Pierce,” Steve responds, almost immediately.

“Who happens to be sitting on top of the most secure building in the world.”

Steve is sitting on the couch, elbow on one of the armrests, and as he responds to Nat, his brow furrows in thought. “But he’s not working alone—Zola’s algorithm was on the Lemurian Star.”

“So was Jasper Sitwell.”

And it all comes together. You see Natasha and Steve share a loaded glance, as if they’ve come to a decision.

“So the real question is, how do the two most wanted people in Washington kidnap a S.H.I.E.L.D. officer in broad daylight?”

Steve’s question hangs for a moment. Then Sam tosses a manila folder on the table and says, “The answer is, you don’t.”

“What’s this?”

“Call it a resume.” Sam’s eyes are steely.

“I can’t ask you to do this, Sam.” Steve shakes his head in response. “You got out for a good reason.”

“Dude. Captain America needs my help. There’s no better reason.”

You can’t help but respect Sam’s determination, and you almost envy him his righteousness. You glance at Natasha briefly, and realize that although your reasons are different, you’re just as committed to seeing this through as Sam is.

“Where can we get our hands on one of these things?” Steve asks, tossing the folder labeled “Exo-1 Falcon: CLASSIFIED” on the table.

“The last one is at Fort Meade. Behind three guarded gates and a twelve-inch steel wall.”

Steve looks at Natasha. Nat shrugs and looks at you. You raise an eyebrow in answer to the unspoken question.

“Piece of cake,” you say. Neither Steve nor Sam looks convinced, and you roll your eyes. “What? You want a resume from me too?”

**

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Wow, I must be hot if you want to kidnap me

**

It only takes you ten seconds to decide that you don’t like Jasper Sitwell. The grin on his face is smarmy, and after he pulls Senator Stern in to whisper a secret in his ear, you’re almost relieved when you get to aim the little, glowing red sight on your gun directly at his expensive grey tie.

You’re even happier when, from your lookout point on top of the neighboring building, you get to watch Natasha kick him off the roof.

After Sam scoops him up (at the very last moment, of course), you hear brief snippets of the interrogation continuing through your comms. “Zola’s algorithm is a program for choosing Insight’s targets…anyone who’s a threat to Hydra…now or in the future…the helicarriers scratch people off the list a few million at a time.”

Your stomach drops, and through your earpiece, you hear Natasha tell you to meet them at the car immediately. Hydra’s plot is larger than any of you expected, and you have almost no time to stop it. Sam unceremoniously shoves Sitwell into the car and guns it, speeding towards the helicarriers. Your mind races with possibilities, plans that might help you stop the impending murder of millions of people.

Then Sitwell is pulled out of the car by a metal arm.

“He’s here,” you try to say, but your mouth is dry and no noise comes out. You clear your throat and say it louder. “Natasha, he's here!”

As she slides into the passenger seat to cover Steve, Steve jerks the car into park, throwing the soldier off of the roof.

Catlike, he regains his balance, using his mechanical arm as a brace. You feel panic starting to creep in. Breathe once, twice, three times to collect yourself. When the car is rear-ended and the soldier punches through the room to grab the steering wheel, you feel suddenly, unaccountably calm.

They conditioned you like this, when you were young. Taught you to turn off the part of your brain that felt fear. So as Steve gathers you and Nat into his arms and pushes against the car door, releasing it from the rest of the vehicle, you grab Sam and pull him with you.

The door lands in the middle of the highway, and you barely have time to sprint to cover before you’re getting fired at from every direction. The soldier makes quick work of cars and a bus using a rocket launcher; they fall off of the highway and onto the street below as collateral damage.

You see Natasha, caught in a blast, fall over the side of the highway and catch herself with a grappling hook. Knowing that your body will absorb the shock, you follow her, vaulting over and landing softly on the asphalt.

You aim at the soldier together, shooting with eerie precision. Sam joins you, picking off the remaining men with a machine gun that he’s found God knows where. You’re forced to run for cover as despite your impeccable aim, the soldier advances.

For a few moments, everything is silent.

You’re crouched behind an overturned vehicle, catching your breath. You hear an explosion and the muffled sound of a bullet hitting flesh, then a clang of metal against metal, and you move out from behind your cover to see Steve fighting hand-to-hand with the soldier.

You train the sight of your gun on him, but realize that you won’t be able to get off a shot without the possibility of hurting Steve. Agonizingly helpless, you watch as the two soldiers—evenly matched—swing at one another.

Then they stop, exchange words, and you don’t hesitate—as soon as Steve is clear, you squeeze the trigger. At the same time, Natasha fires a rocket launcher. Suddenly the soldier has fled, and everything is over.

You hear the whining of sirens, and you’re surrounded by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents with guns. They handcuff the four of you, shove you into an armored truck.

Steve’s eyes are haunted as he stares blankly into the distance. “It was him. He looked right at me.”

You don’t—can’t—say anything.

Natasha, fading in and out from the pain of a gunshot to the shoulder, slurs, “Not your fault, Steve.”

“Even when I had nothing, I had Bucky,” Steve says lowly, obviously racked with guilt.

You instinctively want to put a hand on his shoulder, but the handcuffs prevent it. So you can do nothing but be silent, locked in your own unpleasant memories.

They make you watch.

Behind the glass, the soldier groans in pain. His chest, bare, blooms purple with bruises, and the bandage wrapped around his thigh is wet with blood. He’s sitting in a chair painted scarlet by old wounds, with men crowded around him. They bark commands. He resists. They turn the voltage higher. He screams, and screams, and screams.

“You see this, girl?” The guard supervising you has an iron grip on your arm, and he pulls you close enough to him to smell his sour breath. You bite back a scream of your own as it jars your shoulder, still tender after it was purposefully dislocated the week before.

You school your face into a blank expression as he leers at you. “It will be you next.”

Chapter Text

**

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Build a New, Rational, Primitive But Free Life w/ Me in the Alaskan Wild

**

Despite a lacerated spinal column, perforated liver, and collapsed lung, Nick Fury is as intelligent and forceful as ever. He’d arranged your rescue from Rumlow’s S.T.R.I.K.E. team, and as he explains the elaborate series of deceptions he’d used to fake his own death, you can’t help but admire him.

Once, Natasha had told you his motto: Trust no one. You’re starting to think that he might be right.

You slip quietly out of the room when you see Fury begin to tire. The secret base is sparse, just a few blocks of concrete and unidentifiable steel doors, but Maria leads you to a common room of sorts, with a worn-out couch, a table and chairs, and a copy of the board game Clue (untouched, so you assume it was placed there as someone’s odd idea of a joke).

You’re filthy, exhausted, and aching, both from old injuries and new bruises. Your leather jacket and sturdy jeans are torn and burned in at least ten different places. There’s a blood stain on your upper thigh from a laceration that you’d barely noticed—now it oozes pus and hurts like hell.

Bypassing the couch because it looks dangerously soft (you can’t afford to sleep, and you worry that once you sink into it you might not be able to get up) you sit down on the floor with your back to the wall and your head in your hands.

You hear footsteps, and then a soft thump as someone settles their weight next to you. You look up to see Steve, cerulean eyes crinkled in concern. He’s tired too—his face is careworn, and the bags under his eyes are a deep grayish-bluish-purple. A small cut slashes harshly through one cheekbone, breaking up the statuesque perfection of his face.

You idly wonder what would happen if you reached up and smoothed the wrinkles of his brow. Instead, you give him a small smile and keep quiet. If he wants to break the silence, he will.

He looks down at his hands, clasped together between his knees. “If I’d known all of this would happen, I think I would have decided to stay in the ice.”

You exhale and respond, recognizing it for the overture to conversation that it is. “And miss all of the luxury of the twenty-first century?” you say, gesturing to the nearly empty room around you.

“Maybe.” His smile is slight but there. “Everything seemed a lot simpler then. Just had to fight the bad guys and go home.”

“Nothing is ever that simple,” you say, a little ruefully, adjusting your position on the ground and letting out a tiny gasp of pain as your muscles shift. “Things have consequences, even when you don’t see them. People always get hurt.”

“Besides,” you add, trying to sound light-hearted, “how many times have you saved the world again? I think we need you here.”

He sighs and runs a frustrated hand through his hair. “People needed me back then, too. Bucky…”

Without thinking, you set a hand on his knee. “Steve. I promise you that there was nothing you could have done.”

Your tone is flat and hard and serious, and he must notice it, because he turns tortured eyes towards you. In them is a silent question.

“How much do you know about Nat’s past?” you ask.

“Not much,” he admits. “She’s not really a sharer.”

You let some of your old accent, forgotten from years of being forced to speak in broad American syllables, slip back into your voice. “I was with her in all of the dark and bloody places. Horrible things were done to us, and we did some horrible things right back.”

“Neither of us ever put a toe out of line for a long, long time.” Your voice is choked with regret. “But they thought I was more malleable, easier to manipulate. So they sent me somewhere worse. Made me something worse. There wasn’t anything Natasha could do about it.”

You avert your eyes, suddenly afraid of him learning too much from your expression. “I obviously can’t speak for Bucky. But I know he wouldn’t want you to torture yourself rehashing a past that can’t be changed.”

“Thank you,” he says, and your face warms at the sincerity of it, how truth rings through the sound like a bell. Some of the agony has bled from his face after all.

Not wanting to see the pity in his face, you abruptly leap to your feet and stride towards the door. “We should find out what’s going on in Fury’s room.”

He stares at your retreating back for a moment, contemplating you, then follows.

**

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To the Woman I Accidentally Punched — m4w

**

This is only the second time that you and the soldier have been in the same room. The first, of course, had been your operation, when he had been ordered to hold you down, his arms like steel cages around your struggling limbs.

You back away from him, pressing on the wound in your side, your quick breaths almost solid in the freezing air. The old warehouse in Novosibirsk is littered with remnants of the corn and barley that used to be stored there, which softens the noise your used magazine makes as it clatters on the concrete floor.

You reload quickly, carefully, retreating into the quiet, snowy depths of your mind, where there is no such thing as pain or fear, only focus.

He has no gun, only a knife, which means he’s been instructed to make you suffer. So you have to end it. Quickly.

You aim for the head and fire off everything you have. He puts up his metal arm to block; the bullets glance harmlessly off of it, thudding into the exposed metal of the support beams all around him.

He’s meters away. You take out your own knife, pretending that you’re not backed almost up against the wall, like a cornered rabbit. It’s your strength against his own, and even your desperation won’t prevent this from being a fight you’re not likely to win.

He’s close enough that you can see his eyes: storm-grey, with the color and blankness of an iced-over lake. You know that he’s a rational creature—that he reasons, can make incredibly clever split-second decisions. It’s in the glowing way that the men talk about him. Zimniy soldat. The winter soldier, they say in awe.

You suppose it might be glamorous, in Hydra, to kill as much as he does. But there’s no warmth behind those eyes, no spark, no memory. It’s almost sad, you have time to think, before he slashes at you.

He lands a few shallow swipes to your neck and chest, going for the jugular. You manage to slice deeply into his flesh arm, but he registers no pain.

Then his metal arm catches your hand in a crushing grip, forcing you to drop the knife. He kicks it far out of reach and slams you against the wall. You hear a bone crack.

The knife is pressed to your neck, deep enough for streams of blood to trickle out around it and for lights to begin to flash in your field of vision.

“Please!” you manage to beg, despite the blood quickly filling your mouth.

“You disobeyed a direct command from your superiors. You abandoned a mission. I have orders to terminate you.”

You take a ragged breath. When you speak, it’s barely a croak. “I couldn’t be Hydra anymore. I never wanted to be at all. Please. Let me go.”

“Hydra has no mercy for traitors.” He recites the line from memory, but this time he doesn’t sound as sure.

“I had no choice but to leave. I have things that I want to remember. That I need to remember. Don’t you?” you choke out.

His eyes cloud over for a second, as if there’s a memory just within his grasp. The pressure of the knife decreases ever so slightly. You hold your breath.

Then he draws the knife away from your neck entirely. “Go.”

You sprint towards the doors as fast as you can, blood flowing in rivulets down your body like a gruesome fountain. You know that he’ll be forced to follow. But a beacon of hope lights within you. He’s given you the opportunity to escape.

Chapter Text

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.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

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.

**

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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.

“Hail Hydra.”

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.

Shit.

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.