As a general rule, Steve Rogers didn’t talk about It. Life was better for everyone he managed to surround himself with – few though those people were – if he pretended that he hadn’t seen what he’d seen in Iraq during his days in the service. After all, it wasn’t as if his story was a rare one. In fact it wasn’t, and that was the point. He’d gone, he’d served, he’d seen terrible things. But that wasn’t special when you were a soldier, so he didn’t whine; he just tried to pretend that it didn’t happen.
Unless Maria called him in.
The instances were rare, but when Maria Hill, the director of SHIELD, told him that they needed him “back in the office” for a few days, he went. She had the courtesy to give him every bit of information possible every time he went into the field, and she’d saved his life more than once, so he went when asked.
It wasn’t as if he knew anything better than he did war and fighting, after all.
His only rule was that he worked alone these days. After seeing his wingman and best friend fall to his death on Steve’s orders, alone was a comforting way to be. So far Director Hill had tried her best to abide by those terms as often as possible.
But knowing all of that about the director – how much she tried to work with him and how urgent it really must be whenever she called him in – didn’t stop him from tensing when her number came up on his phone.
“Director,” he said by way of answering the phone.
“Are you at the VA?” she asked, getting straight to the point – just the way he preferred it.
“Yeah.” Steve stared up at the dull white ceiling of his VA apartment from where he was reclining on the couch. “Why?”
“There’s an Officer Carter coming up to speak with you. She’s got information on a case of SHIELD’s that she’s stumbled onto. Play nice with her, Cap.”
“I’m always a gentleman,” Steve pretended hurt, stared up at the ceiling some more even as he tensed for battle, asking, “What am I supposed to do with this intel?”
“Drive her to headquarters, ideally, while she tells you what she knows. When you get here, it’ll be to meet with our undercover agent who was assigned to the case when we got it.”
“So… why does this involve me if those two are already going to be on the case together?”
He caught himself praying that this didn’t translate into what he thought she meant, only to have Director Hill dash those hopes as she declared, “Because you, and the cop, and our agent are going to be working on this case together.”
He sat up sharply, his tone just as sharp as he objected, “Director! All due respect, you kn—”
“I’ll ask less nicely if I have to,” Director Hill interrupted. “I let you stay out of most things, but you are still on SHIELD’s payroll, and I am still director. I need you on this, Rogers. This cop – Officer Carter – just isn’t letting go of the case, and these women that they’re chasing down…” she hesitated, and Steve heard her blow out a breath on the other end of the line before she said, “I’ll let Carter explain the basics to you, but I’ll say it one more time, and I mean it as much as I ever have: I need you on this case.”
“Fine.” He drew in a breath, let it out slowly. “Roger, will co, boss.” On principle, Steve did his best not to cuss at women, but he’d been around the director enough that she almost counted too much as a brother – or sister – in arms for him to care. Still, he hung up first before muttering, “Damn you, Maria Hill…”
He barely had time to shove his phone – a flip phone, thank you terrible pension – into his pocket before a knock sounded at his door. As a general rule, he didn’t have visitors; it had to be Carter. He shoved to his feet, squaring his broad shoulders as he shifted his mindset towards going to work.
Peggy Carter had a spring in her step and a to-go cup in her hand as she stepped out of Ana’s Attic, a hole in the wall coffee shop slash bookstore. “See you tomorrow, Ana!” she called over her shoulder before slipping into her cruiser.
She had places to go and people to see, and finally she felt like she was headed for more than just a day of prank calls and parking tickets!
Without her partner in the car beside her, she had no reason to talk, and instead mentally ran through the fact that she would need to relay once she reached the VA and the only semi-retired Captain Rogers. Ten minutes later, she was parking in front of the VA. Tossing her now-empty to-go cup into the trashcan by the door, Peggy found Rogers’ room and knocked on the door.
Here went nothing.
Still mostly distracted by her internal rundown, she was startled when Captain Rogers opened the door. Not by the action itself, but by the man. When she’d heard the term “VA,” she had pictured meeting a stubbly, middle-aged camo-wearer. Whatever he was, Captain Steven Grant Rogers wasn’t that.
He was, frankly, gorgeous.
No matter, she reminded herself firmly. She hadn’t gotten where she was even now by getting caught up by the pretty – mostly male – faces in the room.
“Captain.” She extended her hand for him to shake. “I’m Officer Peggy Carter.”
Maybe it was a little old-fashioned of him, but over the years Steve had learned how to judge people by their handshake. Tiny though she was in comparison to him, Officer Carter shook his hand as firmly as any man might have. He wondered if she hadn’t read his war record yet, or if she just didn’t care. In either case, he was left suspecting that this was going to be an interesting case to work.
“So…” she jabbed her thumb backwards over her shoulder. “We’re talking in the car, right?”
“Are you ready, then?”
No; he’d just heard of this case two minutes ago. Reminding himself that wasn’t the pretty officer’s fault, he grabbed his jacket, answering, “Sure.”
“Angie?” Ana poked her head out the kitchen door and into the dining room of her café shop. “I’m going out. I’ve got business to attend to across town.”
Angie eyed her with a dry smile, pointing at her with one of the books she was re-shelving as she answered, “One of these days, you’re going to have to spend an entire shift at your own shop, you know.”
Ana shrugged. “Hazard of working two jobs, I suppose.”
“No offense, Ana, because I – the aspiring actress – definitely get it, but being a struggling painter hardly counts as a second job. Your real income’s here.”
No offense, Ana thought to herself. But you have no idea. “You’re probably right,” she agreed – and slipped out the back door anyway.
She wasn’t really in the mood to contend with, or spout off lies to, Angie Martinelli. She had to meet a couple of people Director Hill had told her to bring in on a case, and she was already dreading it. She’d always hated the idea that her real life and her cover identities’ lives might intersect, and now it was being forced upon her.
Not wise in Ana’s eyes, but the director swore Officer Carter would be nothing but professional about it in the end. Ana doubted that, seeing as she and Officer Carter had already become friends through her café – not her real work – but it wasn’t Ana’s call to make. Unfortunately.
At least Captain Rogers had no idea who she was in any capacity, and she shouldn’t have to worry about him. Instead, given his reputation – the part of it that was whispered between trusted coworkers and grumbled about over after-hours alcohol – made her wonder just how willing to work with them he would be for an entirely different reason. She’d heard he’d turned into quite the lone wolf since coming back stateside.
And yet Director Hill thought they could all three come together and bring down a duo of con artists who had recently managed to get their perfectly manicured hands on a pair of deadly bombs.
Thus were Ana’s thoughts as she stepped into the NYC SHIELD building, disguised here as a no-name tech development company.
Oh well. Ana squared her shoulders and did her best to shrug off her misgivings. Seven years ago, she had been smuggling intel and occasionally people out of active warzones; she could wrangle one people-shy soldier and a street-smart cop. And apprehend a crime duo in the process. Absolutely. Just another day at the office.
After making her way through the usual security measures at the entrance, she marched to the conference room where she’d been informed Captain Rogers and Officer Carter were already waiting. She stopped in the hall when they were within eyesight through the glass doors. She couldn’t hear them and they hadn’t yet noticed her – probably because they were so caught up in what they were discussing.
Someone had brought in a whiteboard for the duo and pictures of Dorothy Underwood and Whitney Frost had been hung up on it – rather like the case boards used in Officer Carter’s place of work, Ana assumed. Simple but useful, even if it wasn’t the usual, sleeker way of going about things at SHIELD. Carter was standing in front of her board, articulating some point to the captain as she pointed at Underwood’s photo. Rogers was sitting at the conference room table, his eyes tracking Carter’s every move before he turned to a map of the subway tunnels that ran underneath the city. He said something, and Carter moved to lean in close over his chair as they studied the map.
They were clearly already hard at work using the information they did have. And they seemed quite comfortable with one another already.
It made her wonder how well their car ride over here must have gone. It made her hope that this collaboration would go smoother than she’d thought it might.
There was only one way to find out.
Striding the rest of the way, Ana swiped her key card and slipped in as the door slid open. Both of them looked up as she entered, and Carter noticeably froze.
“Hello,” the redhead greeted them simply, explaining, “My name is Agent Hajnal, and I’m the SHIELD agent who’s been assigned to this case alongside you both.”
Carter blinked. “Ana?”
She nodded. “SHIELD Special Agent Anastasia Hajnal. But, yes, you, Officer Carter, know me as Ana. The café is a part of my cover pertaining to this case, actually.”
Carter was still blinking, trying to process, as Rogers asked Ana, “How does a café have anything to do with these two?” he gestured to the photos on the whiteboard.
“There’s a movie studio next door to the café. Conveniently, Miss Frost frequents the studio for her… more legitimate business endeavors.”
“Sounds entertaining,” Rogers muttered as Carter sat down in the chair beside him.
“Not as much as you’d think, actually,” Ana remarked, moving to a cupboard on the other side of the room. She pulled out a trio of iPads, booting them up quickly.
“I always thought there could be more to you,” Peggy Carter remarked, just as Ana turned around.
Ana smiled hesitantly at her friend, setting an iPad down in front of both her and the good captain before she asked, “Does that mean that you’re… okay with working with me on this case?”
Not that she particularly had a choice at this point, but still – working together willingly would make this entire investigation easier.
“Yes, I suppose so. I mean, why not? You certainly seem competent to me. It’s not as if I ever really suspected you, at least, and apparently neither have Ms. Underwood or Ms. Frost.”
“That would, in part, be because Ms. Underwood, at least, has never even laid eyes on me. Nor I her, which I would very much like to change. So. Now that we’re all assembled together, let’s get started, shall we?”
Officer Carter grinned, and Captain Rogers relaxed back into his seat. Both of them picked up a tablet, and Ana took that as her cue to get on with it. And suddenly she couldn’t wait to see the end result of their endeavor.