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Men do not live only by fighting evils

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On the day of the worst hangover of her life, Sharon Carter writes an essay titled, Does S.H.I.E.L.D Membership and Participation Violate the Constitution of the United States? in which she primarily just says “yes” and then futzes with the margins for thirty minutes before falling asleep physically cuddling a bottle of red Gatorade.

It doesn’t matter until years have gone by, she can finally see the words “white Russian” again without gagging, and she’s nearing the end of SIGINT training in Warrenton. 

She is called into a private meeting where that essay is waiting for her on the conference room table. The room has been seated interrogation-style, with two men sitting at the other end and her alone with a paper she can barely remember writing, for which she received a C. One of the men bears a strong resemblance to Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction, if he had worn an eyepatch and had no hair. The other one resembles no one; he seems to share the powerful “nondescript white guy” gene that runs through many of her colleagues, and literally everyone at the DOD.

“Good morning, Agent Carter,” he says. “I’m SHIELD Agent Coulson.  This is Director Nick Fury. And this,” he pokes the essay, “isn’t your finest work. Do you stand by it?” 

She spins the paper around and flips through. It barely makes five pages. “Yes,” she says, and basically she does.

“You can see why that might be hurtful, though?”

“No,” she says, which is also basically true.

“And you don’t think the CIA violates the Constitution? Ever?”

“With respect,” she says. “I think that paper is mostly about sovereignty.”

“I’m asking what you think now, and keep in mind we pay more,” says Coulson, but Director Fury interrupts him:

“We want you to come work for us,” he says.

“I already have a job,” she says.

“Do this one instead.”

“With respect --”

“You heard of Steve Rogers?” Fury asks. “Captain America. He works for SHIELD now. Does a lot of good, for a lot of people. And we need to keep him there. That starts with a personal protection detail, one he doesn’t know how to throw off,  twenty-four-seven, deep cover. It’s a hard job, and we’ve turned down a lot of good resumes from people who don’t say we’re an illegal organization. We thought of you. What do you say? Want to save Captain America’s star-spangled -- well, the whole guy is star-spangled, head to toe. You’re an old-fashioned model of spy, Agent Carter. You speak one language and you’ve never tried to jailbreak your iPhone. But we need old-fashioned -- and we’re not asking you to serve your country, we’re asking you to serve its greatest hero. You're in?”

She ignores the cosmetics-salesperson pitch, exploit her insecurities and then her vanity, and focuses on the part that matters: Captain America needs someone like her to stay safe. She doesn’t answer for a minute.

“You’ve already passed vet,” Coulson adds. “Interesting anecdote: You know one of your parents’ neighbors, Mrs. Who Knows, didn’t trust you with her dog? What went wrong there? Dogsitting was a big part of my childhood.”

“With respect, this is why SHIELD is vulnerable to the accusation that it’s unconstitutional,” she says.

“So was the Louisiana Purchase,” Coulson replies.

“I don’t think I’ll ever have to consider a job offer from the Louisiana Purchase.”

“Never say never,” says Fury. “Not once you work for us.”

“You’re presuming that I’m going to work for you,” but she knows her answer already.

“And I’m right,” says Fury. “See you in two weeks, Agent 13.”

 ---

Deep cover means living in a two-bedroom apartment in Dupont Circle that she actually still can’t afford, but SHIELD subsidizes rent as a work expense, though they refuse to pay for a unit with a washing machine.

Her pay stubs are routed through a hospital in Georgetown that lists her as nurse resident, and when she makes friends in D.C. she tells them anecdotes from her job pulled wholesale from The Mindy Project.

One night at a bar in Columbia Heights, she meets a guy who is physically incapable of not bragging that he works at SHIELD, has she ever seen that building off of Rosslyn, it’s full of some next level shit.

“Have you ever met Captain America?” she asks.

“Nobody’s met Captain America,” he says. “You want to see him, go to the damn Air and Space Museum.”

When she gets home that night Captain America is fiddling with his keys, and it’s not the Air and Space Museum.

“Hey, neighbor,” she says. He looks tired, but it doesn’t make his hair duller or his pecs less -- she gets her own keys out and tries to table her crush on him for a universe where she doesn't bug his apartment and listen to him sing in the shower.

He smiles at her. “Long night?”

“Weird night. Why is it that people in D.C. can’t shut up about their jobs?”

“Lack of imagination,” he says, and gets the door open. “Well, this is me.”

---  

Another night he comes in with his lower lip split in half and a dark bruise on his chin. He looks sad, again, and tired, and the part of Sharon that took notes for the first time in Social Studies in sixth grade never wants Captain America to feel sad.

She wonders if the twenty-first century has failed him, and specifically how.

“Ouch,” she points to his lip, holding a basket of clean clothes and grateful that he doesn’t ask her why she does laundry five times a week.

“You should see the other guy.”

“I probably did,” she says. “I was in Emergency tonight. Had to throw out a whole set of scrubs.”

“Yeah,” he runs a hand through his hair. It’s stiff from dried sweat and it sticks up, making him look cute and beat up, confusing the absolute shit out of sixth-grade-social-studies Sharon, who had wanted to be Captain America and never considered that as an adult she would want to maybe have a sleepover with Captain America. “Question for you,” he goes on. “How do you -- you see a lot of people die, right? What do you do?”

It’s so naively-put, especially for a war hero, especially when Sharon actually has seen nothing and no one die. She doesn’t want to be lying when she gives Captain America advice, but here she is. Then she remembers that his mother died when he was in his twenties, that he lost his best friend off a speeding train in the Alps, and that he was the first guy off the boat at Omaha Beach and she feels like an idiot.

“I call my mom,” she says. “Tell her I had a bad day.”

Captain America laughs at her. “Maybe I should talk to your mom.”

Sharon’s mom knows she works for SHIELD, so it’s categorically not an option.

“She’d probably pass out with shock. Put some ice on your face before you go to sleep -- it’ll feel better in the morning.”

--- 

When Captain America is on assignment in Serbia she tries out his jogging route, and the rising sun turns the tidal basin pink. She runs by the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument; she heads back up in time to see the Capitol Building shining white at the top of a hill, far enough away that she doesn’t seem to be able to move past it.

She spends the rest of the day in a tub of lavender Epsom Salts, watching House for more medical jargon.

In December she receives an email from Coulson telling her that she isn’t invited to the SHIELD holiday party because Captain America will be present.

In March she discovers her horrifying and disgusting allergies to cherry blossoms, and buys so much Claritin that she’s told that she’ll be put on a watch list.

In May, she’s preparing her nightly check-on-Steve laundry when someone knocks on her door.

It’s Director Fury, bleeding from the head and leaning against the jamb.

“Oh my God,” she opens the door and moves to let him lean on her, but he waves her down.

“Not here for you,” he says. “I need your spare key to number four. Give him a heads up when he gets in. ”

As she runs inside to get it, and her gun, from inside the tampon box where she’s stashed them, she does the math and she’s been here a year without ever doing something like her job.

When she shoulders in Captain America’s door she thinks that this is exactly how the twenty-first century has betrayed him; even his neighbors are spies, even people without washing machines can have guns, and the first home he’s had in seventy years is well on its way to becoming a crime scene. 

As she takes Fury's pulse, kicking herself that it's actually in a way she learned on an episode of E.R from 1999, she wonders if there's a even a right team to be on.