[personal profile] jaye_voy
Title: Reverberation, Chapter 1
Author: Jaye (Copyright December 2016)
Code: Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), PG-13

Summary: After Captain America: Civil War, what happens next?



Disclaimer: Captain America: Civil War and all related characters and concepts are the property of Disney, Marvel, et al. No infringement is intended or profit made. This is PG-13 for adult themes, violence, and language. If you aren't interested (or aren't old enough), don't read it.

Archive permission: No. (But I am also posting to AO3.)

Feedback: Yes, please, positive or negative, especially suggestions for improvement.

Note: I don't usually post such a long author's note, but I noticed that there are some very intense folks who read stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

To avoid pointless debates in the comments, these are the premises of this story:

* Everything seen in Captain America: Civil War (CA: CW) is story canon, except for the mid-credits Wakanda scene. (Bucky does not go into cryo.)
* The Accords are as stated in Agents of Shield, covering everyone who is enhanced, foreign or domestic. This includes the mandatory registration, assessment, and tracking of all enhanced individuals. Because the cover of the Accords seen in CA: CW included both Registration and Deployment, the signers of the Accords have agreed to all provisions within it.
* Based on RDJ’s take on the pen scene and the fact that Ross presented the Accords as a “take it or leave it” proposition, Tony was exaggerating the Avengers’ ability to change the Accords in order to get Steve to sign. (Tony was talking about filing motions—there’s no guarantee those motions would be accepted.) According to RDJ, “[Tony’s] really trying everything from great earnestness to outright manipulation, emotional manipulation to try to get Cap to just make this, to swing the vote.”
* Steve was suggesting the possibility of signing a revised Accords, not ready to sign on the dotted line in the pen scene. (If nothing else, it would have been physically impossible. The pens in the box looked like the kind you need to dip in ink. And there was no paper in the room.)
* From what I’ve read of the CA: CW commentary, Tony would have gone on a murder hunt for Bucky regardless of when and/or how he was told about his parents’ deaths.
* Based on the number of folks swarming around the Avengers compound at the end of Age of Ultron versus the ghost town of CA: CW, I’m guessing Tony sent everybody home for a few weeks after Lagos to let the Avengers deal with the fallout.

Please don’t attempt to argue the premises. If you disagree with them, then "Reverberation" is simply not the story for you.

Chapter 1

The bomber’s body slackened to unconsciousness. T’Challa nudged the man’s gun farther away and eased his grip. Not indulging in even a moment of brutal imaginings. Of how easy it would be to end this life within his grasp…

His father’s killer would not die by his hand. His vow of vengeance would remain unfulfilled. But T’Challa could not believe his father would greet this decision with disappointment.

The end to T’Challa’s quest brought no satisfaction, no relief. The flame of rage burning so hot within him had guttered out. Leaving his soul as empty and barren as the snow-cast land around him.

How welcome the sudden interruption of his thoughts.

Footsteps approached like declarations, the firm and steady cadence belying any attempt at subterfuge.

T’Challa laid the unconscious bomber upon his side and shifted to a crouch. As T’Challa pivoted to face the concealing slab of rock, the footsteps stopped.

“My weapons are in their holsters. Permission to approach?” A woman’s voice, clear and crisp as the mountain air. How curious.

A brow lifted as T’Challa considered. “Permission granted.”

The footsteps resumed at a faster pace. Within seconds the interloper appeared. A gray parka enshrouded her figure, belted with twin pistol holsters and diagonally crossed by the strap of a small black duffel bag. Scarf, gloves, hat, and goggles rendered her anonymous. Her head jerked to indicate the bomber. “He down, or done?”

“He will recover.” T’Challa lowered his heels and rose to standing. “I must inquire: Who are you and what is your interest in him or this…incident?”

He did not abandon his ready stance. The woman was either an ally—to Stark or to Rogers—come to offer aid, or an enemy seeking to profit from the conflict. More likely the former, but at T’Challa’s feet lay a most painful lesson on the folly of assumption.

A gloved hand pushed up the woman’s goggles, pulled down her scarf to hang around her neck. The move revealed blue eyes set in a face of somber beauty. A sharp gaze, but assessment rather than aggression. “Maria Hill. And that’s…complicated.”

She gestured to the bomber. “May I?”

T’Challa stepped back with a nod. With deft moves Hill pulled a thermal blanket from the bag slung across her torso and snapped the material flat. She knelt and rolled the bomber onto the surface, then swiftly searched the man’s clothing. A small pile of personal effects was soon unearthed—including another gun. She leaned over to retrieve the weapon T’Challa abandoned and added it to her gleanings.

With a huff Hill touched fingertips to her ear. “Zemo’s clean. I’m gonna prep for transport.”

A snicking sound and the dull shine of metal accompanied the closure of thick cuffs around Zemo’s wrists, binding them behind his back. Hill then lifted Zemo’s head with a certain gentleness as she used an eyemask and padded headphones to effectively isolate Zemo from his surroundings.

Blue eyes sought T’Challa’s as Hill came to her feet. “As far as I’m aware, neither of us actually got clearance for this little jaunt. And your craft looks more like a fighter than a passenger jet.”

Another nod was all T’Challa offered. These were facts that required no answer. He had no answers. Would not, until he had time to reflect upon the hidden truths of the Accords that this breach of them revealed.

A wry quirk of Hill’s mouth shared her own opinion of their current predicament. “So with your permission, your majesty, I’d like to be the one to convey Zemo to the authorities.”

Hill’s arrival and offer seemed a boon from Sekhmet herself. If Zemo dwelled in silence, T’Challa’s own unsanctioned presence here may remain concealed. “I can assure you, Ms. Hill, I have not a single objection.”

The creak of metal spun his attention to the widening maw of the door.

Who had won the fierce battle waged within the depths of this secret base?

And what was the price of that victory?

***

The soldiers reacted to their audience before their first steps onto the snow. Captain Rogers released Barnes, straightened, and moved forward. Shifted to put himself between Barnes and any threat offered by Hill and T’Challa. Yet his lifted hands were spread palms down. Not surrender, but perhaps an appeal for calm, for a delay of further battle. With Rogers’ helmet hooked on his belt it was easy to see the blood drying from various wounds, the bloom of swelling bruises upon pale skin.

Barnes seemed in a similar state of injury and weariness. Yet he chose to afford his friend a subtle form of protection, staying back but stepping clear of his brother-in-arms. Offering T’Challa a path to vengeance that would not endanger Rogers. Resignation weighed upon Barnes’ face, in his voice, in his eyes as his gaze sought T’Challa’s. “I didn’t kill your father.”

Both men looked somehow naked in the absence of their signature possessions—the shield and the arm.

T’Challa felt the first, faint flicker of embers within. But warmth. To see this bond of warriors. In actions that conveyed a depth and devotion that T’Challa had never known. “I am aware.”

He gestured toward where Zemo lay behind the rock. “The architect of this misery did not escape.”

Rogers nodded, affirmation and gratitude. But his watchfulness remained unabated as he glanced between T’Challa and Hill. “I can’t let you take Bucky in. Not after what happened. It’s not safe—for him or anyone else.”

Hill’s mouth quirked again. “That isn’t the mission.”

A kind of puzzled welcome flickered across Rogers’ expression as Hill confirmed her allegiance. “Good to know, Maria.”

He gestured for Barnes to rejoin him, frowning as he once more slung Barnes’ arm over his own shoulder. “The others?”

Hill shook her head as gloved hands lifted to enclose the duffel strap. “Total blackout. They surrendered, then disappeared.”

“I know where they are.” T’Challa let their attention rest upon him a moment as he weighed intentions, choices, consequences. As both king and warrior. “I can supply you with coordinates. Your team was transported to a facility currently secreted deep beneath the ocean waves.”

“They’re on the Raft?” Hill’s brows lifted, then lowered as her mouth tightened into a grim line. “I thought that project was scrapped after—”

She interrupted herself as she lifted fingertips to her ear. “Acknowledged.” Jerked her chin at Rogers and Barnes. “We don’t have much time—are you ready to go?”

“Where?” Rogers glanced back at the door as if that held the answer to why.

Hill returned her attention to Zemo, speaking over her shoulder as she knelt to confirm his condition, then gather his possessions into the duffel. “Safehouse. Good for a few days. After that, undecided. Maybe one of the countries that didn’t sign the Accords—”

“Wakanda.” T’Challa’s own spine stiffened along with the others’. Not with surprise, but with purpose. Although he did indulge in a small smile at the shocked expressions. “It would surely be one of the last places your pursuers would look, would it not?”

“Not if that guy talks.” Barnes had no free arm to gesture at Zemo, but his point was clear enough.

“True, but that does not change my offer.” T’Challa found the risk acceptable. Zemo may speak of these events, but T’Challa did not believe it would be so. The man already seemed as one with his silent dead.

And offering sanctuary would provide some small measure of recompense to T’Challa’s own part in their current misfortunes. His head lifted. In this decision, he truly accepted the mantle of king.

“Thank you.” Rogers paused, shook his head at some internal debate. Then seemed to draw himself to attention. “But this might: We’ll do what we can within the system—but if this becomes an extraction…”

T’Challa acknowledged Rogers’ honesty with a single nod. “Your team acted in the service of the greater good. I will not allow any of you to simply ‘disappear’.”

Especially in light of T’Challa’s own growing disquiet. Now that the haze of rage had dissipated, he could sense that something was not right with recent events. Beyond Zemo’s revenge-fueled deception. But T’Challa—and the others—would need time to discover it.

Rogers’ expression warmed as he accepted the offer with a murmur of thanks. Then he glanced at his companion, brows raised. “Buck?”

Barnes, it seemed, possessed a more suspicious nature. Narrowed eyes assessed T’Challa for a handful of breaths before Barnes offered his own nod of agreement.

The soldiers’ pivot toward their craft was halted by Hill. “Uh-uh. I’m keeping the jet.”

She pointed over her shoulder toward the left side of the formation holding the bunker’s entrance. “Your ride’s that way, Cap. Don’t leave without your pilot.”

Rogers stopped. “It’s just Steve, now.”

Hill swiveled on her knees to face Rogers. She swallowed. “And your shield?”

T’Challa’s breath paused, muscles taut and poised. For what? The question posed no danger. Nor would its answer.

A complicated array of expressions ghosted over Rogers’ face, ending at peace. “Tony needs it more. You’ll make sure he gets back OK?”

At Hill’s nod, the men resumed their weary march. T’Challa found his gaze following them, held by the image of friendship and burdens shared.

Hill continued her pattern of timely interruption. “You better get going yourself, your majesty.”

When he turned she was standing. One outstretched arm held a small notepad and pen. “Whatever you can give me—coordinates, phone numbers, a contact frequency…”

T’Challa accepted the offerings and flipped open the notepad. Unsurprised that he was met with blank lines—this woman seemed to hold her secrets in steady hands. Swift notations covered several pages. “You will no doubt be able to differentiate between the middle of the ocean and the middle of Africa without labeling, yes?”

Hill huffed as she retrieved her belongings and waved him on his way.

Halfway to his vessel T’Challa realized the lightness of his steps.

***

Bucky slumped against the ramp of a jet almost identical to the one Steve and he arrived in. His eyes swept the landscape, the only patrolling his depleted body could sustain. His right hand—his only hand—warmed the grip of a pistol fully loaded, safety off.

The day—this long day—stripped him back to essentials. Watch. Wait. Fight. Flee.

No scent on the breeze. Sounds of Steve preparing for takeoff. Sky, snow, rock. Two sets of tracks at the base of the ramp. One trail overwritten by Steve’s and his journey to the jet. The other tracks heading west. Bootprints provided no intel other than short-to-average, likely female.

The sound/vibration of Steve’s footsteps against the metal floor plates straightened Bucky to attention.

“T’Challa’s gone. We’re ready for takeoff. I set the perimeter alarm.” Steve hopped off the edge of the ramp without jostling any of his supplies. Bottles of water, protein bars. A machine gun slung across his back instead of the shield. “Trade you.”

At the sight of him Bucky dropped shoulders, breathed deeper. Watched Steve open one of the bottles. Exchanged the pistol for the water, drank. Watched Steve unwrap the end of one of the protein bars. Exchanged bottle for bar. Bit, chewed, swallowed.

Bucky accepted another bar and settled into the sounds of their chewing. Settled into the wash of memories that Steve’s presence made deeper, broader, swifter. Flashes of other times of waiting, other rations, the aftermath of other battles.

When the ripples faded he shifted. Still trying to figure out how to compensate for the loss of the arm. And yet, and yet… The arm had been Hydra’s. The fist. He’d been Hydra’s Fist. Memories he didn’t welcome. The arm and all of the violence. The arm and all of the deaths.

He remembered them all. Spent the last few years drowning in their faces, their eyes. And yet…

Even if Hydra’s words remained. Even if the memories remained. Hydra’s arm was gone. Bucky sensed a kind of release, a freedom.

But he wouldn’t, couldn’t ask how Steve felt, without the weight of the shield.

“Do we need to wrap this or something?” Steve’s question jerked Bucky’s head toward his friend.

Steve’s eyes were focused on “this”—the stump. Bucky reached back years to decipher Steve’s expression: worry, sorrow, apology.

In the midst of this fuckup, he’d caught one break. No phantom pain from the ripped off—burned off—wires and sensors. There was just…nothing. A kind of peace. “Nah. It’ll keep.”

Steve’s forehead crinkled, the ever-present eyebrow furrow deepening with a frown. But he just nodded.

Didn’t insist on taking action. Didn’t ask again. Damned creepy, how Steve didn’t ask again. The stubborn punk had kept his trap mostly shut all the way to this hellhole. Fat chance Steve didn’t have a hundred questions log-jammed in his throat about the where, when, how of anything, everything. Of Bucky’s current thoughts. About his life since the Potomac.

And of course the why. Why Bucky didn’t make contact, reach out to the only person who’d seen him fall. Who’d known him for all the years before it. Bucky turned his head to catch Steve’s gaze. Hold it. “You haven’t asked.”

Steve stared back, blue eyes somehow brighter in the shadows beneath the jet. Then his frown smoothed out as he breathed a long sigh. “Figured if you wanted me to know something, you’d tell me.”

Bucky dropped his head, looked away. What did he want Steve to know?

A beep from the jet’s interior delivered a spike of relief. Bucky crouched to peer around the ramp.

Steve dropped the trash, handed back the pistol. Swung his own gun into position.

Ready for company.

***

From his angle, Bucky could see their visitor approach. Definitely female. Wool coat, fur hat, knee-high boots. All black. A grade-school textbook illustration of Russia come to life, except for the duffel slung along her back and the weapons in her belt.

A grunt brought Steve’s attention to the sight. Steve straightened, released the gun to swing on its strap. “Nat.”

Bucky stepped beside him, muscles tightening, fingers spasming against the gun. Nat was the woman at the hangar, who’d shot her own teammate to help their escape. Nat was the Black Widow, catsuit-clad and deadly. Nat was the woman on the table, his metal hand gleaming around her throat. Nat was the obstacle in the sniper scope, variable to be calculated before making a fatal shot.

Nat was red hair and sleek lines. But this woman…she was familiar.

Her face was familiar, pointed chin and wide cheekbones completely framed in black fur. Green eyes lifted to his, lifted the distance from child’s height and the face fuller, paler, framed in fur… “Dancer.”

The word turned both Steve and Nat to face him. Bucky said it again, eyes on the woman. “Dancer.”

Dancer’s—Nat’s brows lifted. Then she gave a short nod, her hinting smile a subtle way to go/knew you could do it, pal. “You remembered.”

Steve’s head swiveled between the two of them. Hands clenched and released. “You know each other?”

“Knew, kinda.” Bucky shook his head, but that didn’t bring the memory into focus. “Years ago?”

“January 1992.” Nat looked to Steve, now. Apology in her spread hands. “I wasn’t sure. It was a long time ago, my first days in the Red Room.”

Her expression hardened. “Days I don’t like to remember.”

Steve did one of his little internal talks, sighed and shook his head. “OK. We don’t really have time to discuss this, right? We need to get out of here.”

“Actually, we have to wait a few more minutes.” Nat strode closer, gestured them toward the ramp. “Tony’s on his way to the surface. I rigged the place with explosives while doing a little scavenging. We have to make sure he and Maria are clear before we bury it.”

She rested a gloved hand on Steve’s forearm. Steve’s other hand grasped her elbow. The touch—delicate, deliberate—flashed Bucky to Steve’s awkward dread at handling glass and porcelain, back in the day. And the way Steve sketched the edges of shadows.

After a long moment, Steve let go and stepped back. “Thanks, Nat. I know this cost you.”

“Not as much as you might think.” Nat shrugged, but her gaze drifted to Bucky, who stilled under her stare. “And it was worth it—for this.”

She reached into her coat and withdrew…Bucky swayed.

“Easy, Buck.” Steve a sudden anchor beside him, grip firm around Bucky’s bicep. Bucky leaned into solid, into warm. Eyed the book in Nat’s gloved hands. Red leather, black star. Pages of agony.

Bucky breathed. Jet, snow, rock. Steve. Nat. Book. He nodded—shocked, grateful, afraid—then stepped away and up the ramp, footsteps ringing.

Drowning out the echoes of his screams.

***

Steve held back a moment to gather up the trash. Glanced over as Nat lingered. “Dancer?”

He kept the question gentle, curious. Understood more than anyone why Nat may not have wanted to pull on that particular string, stretched more than two decades.

Nat’s lids swept down for a deep breath, then she regarded him with those eyes that were so much older than her years. “In the Red Room, we didn’t get outside much. Playing was for children—not assassins in the making. But I was still too young to truly understand what I’d become a part of.”

Her jaw clenched. “I thought I was in ballet school.”

A pang shot through Steve for the innocent girl Nat had been. For the man Bucky once was. Both so transformed, and neither asking for the changes. He nudged Nat’s arm with his own. A reminder of the here and now. And that she wasn’t alone.

Nat flicked a small smile in reward. “I snuck out one night, after it snowed. So beautiful…and not so cold that I couldn’t enjoy it. I danced, by myself. For myself. And then I saw him.”

Steve managed to hold still, to give Nat her moment to reminisce. Held back an anxious demand for the rest of the story.

“He was watching me.” She shrugged. “Just standing there, staring. In a shirt, no hat, no coat, nothing for the weather. He probably wandered away from his keepers and nobody noticed.”

“So it wasn’t deliberate? He wasn’t part of the Red Room?” Steve released the question with the tension built along his shoulders. Some part of him had dreaded hearing that Bucky was part of the horrors that filled Nat’s past.

“No, I only saw him—spoke with him—the one time.” Nat sidled closer, voice hushed as she shared this secret. “He approached and said to me, ‘Little dancer. Never forget. You’re more than what those bastards make you’.”

Steve swallowed. Couldn’t blame the cold for the sudden sting in his eyes.

The moment broke when Nat stepped back, her lips twisting in a rueful smirk. “It was gibberish to me. I had only started learning English. I didn’t know what he said until later. But I remembered him, his fierceness. And that at least one person thought I could be more than just a weapon.”

“Until Clint, and Nick.” Steve lifted a hand to her shoulder, willing the brief touch to say And me.

Message received, from the dimple that flashed and faded.

Steve’s gut twisted as he stepped back and braced himself for a less-than-pleasant revelation. “I don’t know when you came in, but Tony…”

He grimaced. “Zemo had proof of that rumor Zola showed us about Howard Stark. Graphic proof…that the car crash was no accident and that the Winter Soldier was the assassin.”

“Figured it was something like that.” Nat closed the distance again, wrapped an arm around him. Her grip as always surprising in its strength. “I’m sorry, Steve.”

He let himself lean, just for a moment. “So am I.”

A few breaths later she tightened her hold, then slid free, fingertips trailing. “Come on. Let’s see if we can blow this joint—as you oldsters used to say.”

The duffel swung with her turn up the ramp. Steve followed and dumped his trash before flipping the switch on the hydraulics. The ramp started to rise, closing out the cold and snow.

He paused to share a nod with Bucky—so much to say, but no words to offer. Not yet.

Steve stifled a weary groan as he slid into the co-pilot’s seat. “So what exactly is the mission, Nat? I’m grateful that Maria and you are here, but you’re taking a huge risk, violating the Accords.”

He swiveled his chair to face Nat. Could only hope that she still understood. Was still willing to understand. “And I’m more against them than ever. Especially after we’ve seen them in action. How we stay together…it matters.”

“Yeah.” Nat tapped a few commands into the console, then leaned back to rest her heels along the edge. “We backed the wrong play, signing. I thought the Accords were like a car…turns out they’re a bullet train. And Ross is dragging the rest of us along as clueless passengers.”

“Or cargo.” The bitterness in Bucky’s voice winced along Steve’s spine.

Nat sighed, nodded. “Only way to change direction on this thing now is to get ahead of it and throw some switches, shift over to a new track. But priority goes to finding the rest of the team.”

Steve ran his fingers through his hair, grimacing at the pull of dried blood. “T’Challa said they were on something called the Raft.”

“What?” Nat’s boots dropped as she spun the pilot’s chair. Shock dissolved into a frown. “That explains a lot.”

“It’s some kind of floating prison? How do we not know about this?” Frustration clenched Steve’s jaw, his fists. Didn’t want to imagine what kind of treatment would be delivered in a place literally sunk in secrets.

“It’s not supposed to exist.” Nat’s brows drew together as she paused, likely searching her memory for the relevant info. “Fury mentioned it, back in the day. Ross designed the Raft after the Hulk made his debut. But the project was scrapped in favor of the cell aboard the helicarrier.”

Steve grunted. “At least we know where it is. We’ll need to get eyes and ears in there, in case we need to pull everyone out.”

“If Maria’s got the intel, she’s already making that happen.” The flash of a message on one of the console screens caught Nat’s attention. “Here we go.”

She pulled a small tablet computer from her pocket. Tapped once, twice, thrice.

The muffled sounds of explosions echoed the vibrations shuddering through the jet. Then they were lifting off and into the gray skies as Nat set their destination. Steve felt his breaths ease as they made their escape.

“Next item on the agenda?” Steve offered a small smile, so damned grateful. For what Nat and Maria had done. For being the friends they were.

“Get you lawyered up. And cleaned up.” Nat’s wrinkling nose paired with the smallest of smirks.

Steve’s smile held as he glanced back for Bucky’s nod.

They were safe. For now.

***

The elevator ride seemed a hell of a lot shorter on the way down.

Tony leaned against one wall, staring at the shield. It lay where he’d flung it, gleaming dully in reproach. Red, white, and blue-fucking-hoo.

His thoughts looped and loped and jiggered. Primary systems offline—backup systems directed to servo-motor assist and internal heating—fucking cold down here—like cryo—creepy cryo corpses—dead as doornails—did they really nail doors, back in the dawn of whenever?—almost nailed that fucker—both those fuckers—goddamn weeble-wobble whack-a-mole Cap always popping back up—butting that giant spangled ass where it didn’t belong—keeping Tony from—keeping him from—

He almost murdered a man.

Tony shuddered, watched the metal grating flicker past as the elevator kept rising. Breathed in, breathed out. Kept his hands from scrabbling against armor that was too close coffin-like.

He’d killed people, sure. Hell, Ross would probably say that the Accords were built on the bones of Tony’s not-so-honored dead.

But this—this was—this was too close. This was—not something to think about right now.

Not when there was so much more to think about. Like Ross, and keeping the Secretary of the State of the Avengers Disunion Address in the dark about this little trip into Violationville.

Like Zemo, squirrelly bastard escaping out some bolt-hole during the battle royale.

Like what came next.

The elevator doors opened. He picked up the shield, so much heavier than vibranium should have been.

Like how to get the hell home.

Tony blinked. “Huh.”

Maria Hill leaned against the ramp of a quintjet, arms crossed and head cocked. Zemo was laid out on a thermal blanket—practically hog-tied at her feet. “Hey stranger,” she called. “Need a lift?”

“As a matter of fact…” Tony let the words trail off as he crunched his way across the snow, trying to guess what the hell was going on. Hill was as much of a cypher as she’d always been.

Remembered his note to himself after a particularly painful game: Never bet against the maybe-ex-agent. She had a poker face that rivaled Mount Rushmore—or Natalie Rushman aka Natasha Romanoff—for inscrutability.

And where was the Widow? In the wind after the clusterfuck in Leipzig. Leaping into air—falling—Rhodey falling—

Hill uncrossed and gestured at the far end of the blanket. “Can you give me a hand?”

Tony tossed the shield into the jet, grunted as he picked up his end of the makeshift sling.

Resisted the urge to bash the Zemo-hammock into the walls as they stepped aboard. But tempted, so tempted. The fucker had to have something coming to him for the wrecking ball he’d smashed into Tony’s neatly organized world.

Fake world. Make-believe world. But neatly organized.

“OK, Tony, you can let go now.” Hill was giving Tony a side-eye that had him snapping to. He watched her shift Zemo’s cuffs to the front, heave the bastard into a seat, and lock him down.

“What’s with the cone of silence?” Tony didn’t have the energy to gesture as he dropped into the co-pilot’s seat. God, he could sleep for a week. Or seventy years, when maybe this would all make sense.

“What he doesn’t know, he can’t report on.” Hill’s shrug didn’t stop her from pulling off her gloves, firing up, and lifting off. “So where am I dropping you?”

“In the boondocks of wherever you’re headed. I can make my way home from there.” Could call a chopper or a jet or a suit. “Remind me of your excellent retrieval skills come bonus time.”

Hill’s grimace clenched Tony’s guts. More bad news in a banner day for it.

“Sorry, Tony, but this is just pick-up and delivery duty.” Blue eyes held his. “I’m heading out after this.”

Tony slumped further in the seat. He should really take off the armor. Or think about taking it off, at least. “Was it something I said?”

“More like what will be said to me.” Hill’s mouth quirked a hint of her sly grin. “I’m sure it was on my resume, but I helped smash oh, two, three very expensive helicarriers not too long ago. It makes me unpopular with certain segments of the D.C. population.”

“One segment named Ross?” Yeah, dropping that much military-industrial complex money and Capitol Hill ass-kissing in the Potomac probably didn’t leave the best impression.

“Believe me, the feeling’s mutual.” With a quick tug, Hill pulled off her hat and goggles. “Nick Fury was a secretive bastard, but a good man.”

She gave Tony a onceover. “And being able to work with you and the others—that was an honor and an opportunity I’ll always be grateful for. But…I won’t take orders from Thaddeus Ross.”

Tony took a moment to bask in the glow of the nice and shiny Thanks before he stretched out a foot to nudge Hill’s ankle. “C’mon, I won’t let the big bad wolf bother you. I’m gonna need your help getting the band back together.”

He sure as hell couldn’t do it alone.

Hill sighed, set the autopilot. Shifted her chair to show a face full of—Tony didn’t know what, but it wasn’t good.

“Tony, the band—” Hill huffed and corrected. “The team is done. It was over the moment that you signed the Accords, knowing that the others wouldn’t agree to the terms. Those problems aren’t going away anytime soon.”

Well, of course. He knew that. Maybe. Tried not to think about that. Definitely. But had to ask. “So, the Accords. You think changing—you don’t think it’ll be that easy.”

The lights reflected in dark hair as Hill shook her head. “I don’t think it can be. The UN ratified their final version, so they’re not looking to make changes. Plus, you’re at a disadvantage.”

Hill’s hands lifted as if showing him the picture. “You try coming at this as Tony Stark, tech billionaire, and you’ll be accused of corruption or extortion—or worse. And as Iron Man…”

Tony didn’t think he could get any tenser. Surprise, there were a few notches left to go.

One hell of a big sigh ruffled Hill’s bangs. “Tony, if none of the Avengers had signed the Accords, that would have sent a powerful message—it would have given you some leverage. But as it is, I mean, you can try throwing your lawyers at it, but you read the terms and you agreed to them. Hopefully you’ll be able to abide by them.”

Tony snorted. “You mean, outside of this current flagrant violation.”

“Yeah.” Hill glanced at their prisoner. “Look, we’d better go cabin silent—I don’t trust Zemo not to wriggle out of something. And I don’t want him to have any more info than he’s already got.”

She reached over to give Tony an armored-arm squeeze. “Why don’t you settle in back and get some rest. I’ll let you know when we’re close.”

“Yeah.” But when Tony shifted, his wrist didn’t move under Hill’s suddenly bulldog-like grip.

She offered a small smile. It wasn’t particularly happy, but that meant that she meant whatever message she was delivering. “Tony, be careful. Don’t forget what Ross did to Bruce. The Accords are changing things, causing gaps. And the gaps are where dark things slither in.”

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jaye_voy

January 2017

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