Tony glanced over the dozen screens in front of him again, trying to make heads or tails of the serious shit that seemed to be going down in Washington. Fury was dead, Camp Lehigh had been destroyed, and there were three helicarriers launching behind - but also ahead - of schedule based on Tony's delivery times. Not for the first time, he considered pulling out the suit and flying down there, but there was so much more he could do here... maybe. He could see the suit, standing silent and waiting in the corner; he kept telling himself he didn't need it, but he was starting to doubt it.
"Sir, we have a massive bandwidth usage spike on the private Avengers servers," JARVIS said, and Tony spun to where JARVIS was pulling up the data. He'd put the server in place to provide a secure - or as secure as possible - line between all of the Avengers if it was ever needed. Natasha's account was dropping what must have been terabytes of information onto the server.
"Please tell me she's streaming porn," Tony answered, but he doubted that was it, and he grabbed a file at random: S.H.I.E.L.D. shipping manifests, classified Level 3. Another proved to be an Agent duty roster, classified Level 6. "J..." There were millions of documents here: scanned memos, audio and video files... "Data mine this, ASAP. What the hell is Natasha thinking...?"
Tony pulled up a dozen more documents, each one seemingly random with little connection between them, before JARVIS had his answer. "Based on some preliminary analysis, it appears that what Agent Romanov was thinking was: S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated by Hydra, since its inception, at the highest levels. Budgetary allocations in the trillions, operations with long-reaching effects to sow discord, assassinations, regime collapse - all designed to benefit Hydra."
"So what you're saying is I graduated from selling weapons to terrorists to selling advanced propulsion systems to Nazis." Pepper would say that was his tendency to make things 'all about him' and she was right, but Tony was having a hard time processing the fact that the helicarriers launching out of Washington right this second had StarkTech and might very well be used to sow war and terror. "J, tweet something pithy and anonymous, string together a paper trail and get it trending."
"Might I suggest #paperclipd?"
Tony just waved his hand in the usual 'you know best, JARVIS' way. "And while you're at it, what the hell did Natasha just dump out there about me?"
Yet another screen filled with information: his Avengers psychological profile, details about the palladium poisoning, hundreds of hours of media profiling, dozens of hours of found footage of his time in Afghanistan, and… rudimentary attempts to backwards engineer his suits. "Fuck."
He'd known Ten Rings had had him under surveillance, but the idea that S.H.I.E.L.D. had eventually recovered hours of footage of him there left his skin crawling, to say nothing of the data about his suits.
"Sir, there is a more pressing issue." JARVIS brought up over two hundred faces. "These are deep cover S.H.I.E.L.D. agents whose cover has just been compromised. Some are without any outside communication and will not be aware of their compromised status."
"Prioritize them," Tony answered, voice hard. Moscow, Kabul, Congo... S.H.I.E.L.D. had feelers everywhere, and some of them were going to be a bitch to extract. "Where are my international Stark Industries production sites?"
JARVIS answered with several dots glowing on the screen.
More flared to life.
Some of them would be almost easy.
He used the console to dial the first number. "Better tell Pepper I won't be home for dinner."
"I imagine she already knows, Sir," JARVIS answered. "As a reminder, you and Ms. Potts have been broken up for several months."
Tony ignored the response.
"Reeves," Tony said before the woman had a chance to even answer the phone beyond 'go'. "Consider yourself burned, your cover is compromised. Code Black. Authorization Code: HS-62159, Get out before local intelligence puts the pieces together. Your extraction point is a Stark Industries production facility sixteen clicks north of your current station. Good luck."
"Did you really just use your father's authorization code, Sir?"
"They left it in there. It's not my fault." But Tony's mouth hardened even further, pushing away things he didn't want to think about right now. "Fire up Vision, and Iron Man. We have a lot of work to do, and not a lot of time."
That was about the time three helicarriers started shooting at each other over the Potomac River.
"And... ah... see if you can allocate some resources to that... Whatever 'that' is."
Tony tried to put it out of his mind, he had more on his plate than Washington now.
"S.H.I.E.L.D. has now been officially disbanded," Tony said, in case there was any doubt. "Director Fury is dead, the World Security Council is dead, all S.H.I.E.L.D. active case files are burned and out in the open. The dirty laundry has been hung up for the world to see. You need a good job reference, leave your name with Vision on the way out. Some of you will no doubt be called before Senate subcommittees or the Department of Defense to discuss who knew what, when. Stark legal can advise you if you request it."
JARVIS, or 'Vision' as he was called when he was controlling the specially tooled suit Tony had made for him, stood at the back of the room; a vision in green, red, and gold that almost worked, Tony's eyes and ears to the world when he was stuck inside.
Tony raked his fingers through his hair, and turned back to his screens. Vision joined him several minutes later.
"Over one hundred of them requested a job," Vision said. "They are under the impression that your speedy rescue suggests you will be looking to fill the power vacuum left by the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D."
"Privatizing world peace, huh?" Tony answered. "Been there, done that, been to the other side of the known universe. Penny for your thoughts?"
"You bill your own thoughts at a considerably higher compensation rate," Vision answered, but he slid next to Tony, leaning his own back against the console. "I believe it may be necessary. The Avengers are now unfunded, intelligence resources are gutted. There are lessons to be learned with the failure of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the dangers are real."
"And leaving the vacuum plays right into Hydra's hands. 'The future we deserve'." Tony clapped his hands together, and then rubbed them. "Alright, back to basics, S.S.R... Stark's Sexy Reservists..."
"That name is--" Vision began.
Tony waved it off. "Later."
The next few days were hell. JARVIS continued to data mine the S.H.I.E.L.D. reserves, socking away useful information for later use, cataloging sites for later recon, looking for facilities that needed to be shut down or relocated. Tony glanced over the projects, threw most of them under Banner to have the man assess their value and their potential harm. Apparently accidentally turning yourself into a giant green rage monster gave you a keen insight into the value of scientific ethics.
Steve Rogers had just gotten out of intensive care at Andrews AFB after surviving several bullets to the back and stomach, near drowning, and a variety of other injuries. Tony ignored that part, he had other things to worry about.
The Department of Defense hearings were just as much of a bloodbath as Tony always remembered, too many questions, not enough facts, and all the accusations in the world. Natasha probably handled it better than Tony ever had, but, then again, sassing and walking out was his specialty and he'd mastered it before she was even born.
"Ms. Potts is on the line," JARVIS reminded him. Tony ignored it.
"Not now, Dear, revenue streams," Tony may or may not have been continuing to cover the trail of his embezzled money from secret S.H.I.E.L.D. accounts... there were massive amounts of black bag money sitting around for the taking. It wasn't his fault no one else had capitalized on the opportunity. "And people think what I did was criminal," he said, under his breath. "Let's get us some corporations set up, buy me some nice ones, J."
"Of course, Sir. The decommissioned New Jersey manufacturing yards have been re-purposed for training yards, Floors 80-90 are now dedicated to R&D under the auspices of Dr. Banner. The Security Office has filed three complaints about the increased workload for the last three days as they process security clearances for new personnel."
"Whine whine whine. I haven't slept in four days," Tony answered. "What's the longest a human body can go without sleep? You always remind me of this."
"You should have slept yesterday, Sir. And the day before. Additionally the day before."
"Yes, mother." Tony ignored JARVIS as well.
"Agent Romanov is in the lobby requesting to meet with you."
"Is she armed?" Tony asked, more out of curiosity than because he thought she wouldn't be.
"Of course, Sir."
"Let her up. Keep data mining targets. Figure out who's training our first recruits. And who--" JARVIS flashed up another image... Maria Hill, inside his HR department, sitting for a preliminary polygraph as required, by Tony, for all new personnel. "Get her up here when she passes, JARVIS."
Natasha entered his office, more his interconnected series of a thousand panels all processing every single different permutation of the data he could manage. "Hey, Stark..." She said, voice sing-songy and slightly teasing.
"Here to assassinate me?" He asked, only half teasing. She didn't answer. "Nice work," he said, finally. "But you did realize you don't actually upload things 'to the internet' as though that actually lets people see it, know where it is, and process it, right?"
"Thanks for the help in that," she answered. "The hashtag was inspired."
"Blame JARVIS." Tony tapped a few more buttons, mindless, just trying to sort out all of the information cascading through his systems. "Seriously, have a world to sort out, what do you want?"
"A job." With no preamble she took another step forward. "Turns out I don't really know who I am when it's all peeled away... my lies have lies, and it's all gone, and there's no one I can find under it all."
"So you come to the self-obsessed narcissist who's arrogant enough to think he's going to privatize world peace less than a week after the biggest spy organization explodes? Blind leading the blind, Widow. Still..." He glanced back at his screens. "We had 201 deep covers blown last week, Vision and I extracted 186. Thirteen died, two are unaccounted for, one of them is this chucklehead."
Barton's picture came up on screen. "He's in Madripoor, you're going in, basically no cover, but I do own a casino there, so... as my personal assistant, no one will punch you in your face." He handed her back her passport, her one from her time as Natalie Rushman at Stark Industries not so long ago. "They'll just stab you in the back. There's a jet in Flushing Meadows, it will be ready to leave by the time you arrive."
"Thanks, Stark," Natasha answered.
"One question, before you go."
"I've tagged Barton, you, I know where Banner and Thor are. Where'd Rogers run off to?"
"Chasing his past," Natasha answered, and then shrugged. "Winter Soldier, James Buchanan Barnes... one and the same."
Tony stood for a moment, allowing himself surprise for probably for the first time in a week. Tony knew about Bucky, everyone did; he had a whole wall in the Cap exhibit down at the Air and Space museum. If Steve had that opportunity to connect to his past... well, Tony could understand that more than anything. "He alright?"
"He's got a great wingman."
Tony snorted. "If you see the bird brain tell him another Falcon suit's in the works for him, just stop by the big tower in Manhattan with the bright, shiny A on it."
"Anything?" He asked Sam as the two of them sat in an internet cafe in Washington the day after Fury's funeral.
"You just exploded the entire US military intelligence complex and you're hoping I can google one lost soldier?" Sam answered, smiling, but with a sort of 'you're hopeless, Steve' look on his face as well. "What about you? You know him better than anyone, and he knew you, he knows you. There was enough surveillance to prove he was the one who pulled you up onto Roosevelt Island. What's going on in his head?"
Steve wished he knew.
"Bucky's direct," Steve answered, finally. "Focused. Front line, sniping, anything between, he knew how to get the job done." He'd saved Steve's life more than once, and not just on the battlefield. "He's confused, though. He knew me, but he didn't know me, not all the way."
"Just enough to know he had to save Steve Rogers?" Sam asked. "I know what that's like. So he's confused, probably half out of his mind, brainwashed... ah..." Sam looked away, uncomfortable. "He's going to have a hard time, Steve. What you heard in group doesn't even begin to cover what it's like to be held like that, to be remade that hard... and that's just human nature, not even whatever science Hydra could use on him."
"I know." Steve did, he wasn't a fool. "But there's enough in there to start. That's what matters." That was the only thing that mattered. When Steve needed him most, Bucky was there, and Steve had already failed Bucky once, he wouldn't fail him again.
Sam's phone beeped; Steve glanced up at it, so used to having his own phone report and having it be Natasha with a new mission, but there would be no phone messages and no new missions, not without S.H.I.E.L.D. Steve wasn't quite sure what to do with himself now, he had nothing but Bucky again... not quite true, he decided, as Sam glanced over to him, but that just meant the road might be a little easier.
"I just got a text message..."
"From who?" Steve asked.
"Restricted number... but it said we should go to the Air and Space Museum, Security Office... and that you should apologize for battering priceless historical artifacts... and damaging the suit, too..." Sam laughed. "Natasha?"
"Maybe." Steve stood and left a tip for the bus boys. "Come on."
They metroed into the city and stepped out onto the Mall; Steve slid his sunglasses back on. Little bits of wreckage still pocked the spotty grass, a scrap here and there. There were thousands of them all over the place, and more on eBay. The fires on the Triskelion were long since extinguished, but every once and a while something sparked and a little half-hearted 'boom' came from the direction of the river.
"Who's supervising the clean up?" Steve asked, realizing he'd missed a huge chunk of the politics of what he'd done. He hated politics.
"Stark," Sam answered. "Remote controlled search and rescue vehicles are a major part of the SI arsenal Post-Diversification."
Steve had been in the government long enough to hear the capitalization that Sam had put on the words. After Afghanistan, then...
"Not sure how I feel about Stark taking the reins there," Steve admitted.
"He's your team mate."
He was, but Steve had just seen how much power could corrupt those in power, and Stark was... Steve didn't know him well enough to judge. "I don't like how quickly he's stepped in to fill the void left by Pierce."
"And Fury," Sam added.
Sam didn't have anything to say to that, but the two of them had gotten to the Museum and the two of them slid inside. They headed towards the front desk, and when they got there, Steve leaned against the desk. He gave the receptionist his best cheerful smile.
"Hi," Steve said. "Security Office?"
The woman seemed to recognize him a moment later, glancing over to the huge posters with Steve's face on them, and then back to him. "I'll... call... could you sign this for my son?"
Steve scribbled a signature down across the program for the exhibit, before he beat a hasty retreat in the direction Sam dragged him.
"Can you even turn that off?" Sam asked. "Does it just... go? Is it in your pores?"
"What?" Still, Steve stood in front of the office only to have a very old, very distressed looking man answer the door, along with a few younger security staff.
"Oh my word."
"Sorry for borrowing your exhibit," Steve said, giving his best USO grin. "Ahh... National Security?"
Behind him, Sam snorted.
One of the younger men, towards the back, stepped up and offered a hand. "Sir. Well, thankfully the owner won't be filing a claim against our insurance for it, assuming it is returned..." Steve heard the undertone of 'please return it, Captain, Sir'. "So, no harm done."
"Have there been any other problems with the exhibit?" Steve asked, curious, now, why he'd been sent here at all.
"No, Sir. The uniform has been replaced with a replica prototype, and has continued to operate."
Steve frowned, again, and glanced at Sam. "Can I see the security tapes?"
The two of them ended up left alone in the feed viewing room, Sam taking the console and shaking his head. "You know you could steal candy from babies with that smile."
Steve glowered at the back of his head. After an hour, Steve was bored, even as they watched it on sixteen times speed - or, more accurately, Steve watched, Sam's eyes glazed over - after two, he was beginning to think this was a waste of time. But then---
Sam started, and then hit the stop button.
Sam did, and then back some more.
"There." He tapped the image of a man, standing in front of the Bucky part of the exhibition. He then tried to pinch-expand it, the way Natasha had taught him. When that didn't work, he tapped it again. "Can you make it bigger."
"This isn't CSI," Sam groused.
Steve looked at it again, and then again, trying to decide if he was reading what he wanted into it, if the man with the baseball cap was who his heart was telling him he was. Why else would the mysterious texter tell him to come here... who else could it be, but Bucky? He'd stood there for at least two hours, staring, looking at the short, repeating reel of him and Bucky during the war, reading the short biography on the wall, listening to the reports about Bucky's own death, watching the little 10 minute documentary about Steve and his life... and then he went back to the front and did it all over again.
"When..." Steve heard his voice crack, and he cleared his throat. "When was this?"
"Yesterday," Sam answered, before he put a hand on Steve's shoulder. "I'm going to see if they can tell us more about who might have bought the ticket to the Cap exhibit."
"Should have been free," Steve groused, under his breath.
"Exhibitions cost money. Museum's gotta pay the bills somehow, you know how underfunded these... don't even get me started." Sam levered himself up. "Take all the time you need."
Steve carefully reached out and took the little toggle switch that Sam had been operating, slowing it down to regular speed, watching the lost way the man circled through the exhibit, over and over, looking at the words about Bucky as though he could burn them into his mind, watching the video on repeat with Steve laughing, the two of them so happy...
"That's you, Buck. Come on." He could tell the man was still lost, though, that it wasn't fully connected. Steve knew that feeling, knew it from when he'd first looked at his new body and known it was him but not him... "Come on."
No spark of revelation came, though. Bucky stayed until the end of the exhibit; whenever he was ushered out to make room for more people, he was back not ten minutes later with a new ticket. Steve felt the beginnings of tears prickle his eyes, as he covered his mouth, watching, watching... "Come on," he said, in silent prayer. "You can do it. I'm here with you."
Sam came back, maybe an hour later. "Reginald Thames, Reggie, to his friends." Sam put the list in front of him, the name highlighted six times. "He visited the exhibit six times yesterday."
"Who is he?"
"S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent, Security, died on the helicarrier, Hydra goon. About half his body was found washed up on Roosevelt Island about a quarter mile from where you were found."
"Can you... ah... back... trace his credit card? Find out where else he's been."
"Still not CSI," Sam answered. "We'll see what we can do with the contacts you still have."
Steve wanted to stay, wanted to keep hoping that Bucky would somehow see, that he would look at his face and recognition would push through, but this lead was even hotter than the Air and Space one, time was of the essence, and they needed to move.
"Security's making us a copy of the day's tapes," Sam assured him, as they walked out together into the sun.
"Natasha?" Steve asked into the phone, knowing it was her, but still needing to be polite. "Do you know how to back trace a credit card? We need to find out anywhere it's been used the last week or so."
"I'm not actually a computer hacker. You know that, right? All the tools we used to hunt down Zola were using already designed S.H.I.E.L.D. utilities, on servers that are now down. You'll need to find someone with actual law enforcement ties if you want to do that, now. You're basically a well-respected vigilante."
Something that sounded like music from a club continued on in the background. "What's that music?"
"I'm on assignment!" Natasha shouted back.
"Look," Natasha continued to shout. "Call Stark."
Steve wasn't quite able to contain his snort, but apparently Natasha didn't even hear it.
After everything, he really did have to, but as he hung up and stared at the phone he realized one small problem.
"Do you know Tony Stark's phone number?"
"Really?" Sam sighed. "Did he give you an email address? Anything?" Sam tapped on his tablet for a moment. "Here's the New York branch's main line, but I'm not sure how long it'll take you to get to Stark like that."
None the less, Steve dialed. It took two minutes to even get to the operator.
"Stark Industries, how may I direct your call."
"Tony Stark," Steve said, knowing what was coming.
"I'll forward you to media relations."
"This is Steve Rogers. Please, I need to speak to him." He waited for about two minutes, hoping he wouldn’t just get hung up on.
"I've been presented with a challenge question for you to prove your identity," the receptionist said, when she returned to the line. "Which is better: Star Wars or Star Trek?"
"Did he seriously...? Look, Star Wars is sweet, I don't care if he doesn't like that actress who looks like Thor's girlfriend, it's a good story, and..."
"One moment. I'll redirect you."
"Cap!" Stark's voice came through the phone, and he pulled it away from his ear, moving it to speaker while he and Sam sat together on the Mall. "A little spider said I might expect you. What do you need, Spangles?"
"I need to run a credit card."
"I thought you had the future all sorted out, swipe plastic, receive goods."
"A credit trace!" Sam corrected, next to Steve, and he rolled his own eyes, making Steve feel a little better.
"Birdman? Is that you?" Stark didn't wait for an answer. "Look, I figured you'd be more tech savvy, so I set you and Rogers up with a pair of accounts on the Avengers back servers. You'll have email, access to our criminal databases, all that jazz. Your username is swilson at sword dot gov, password 'pajamas number four life with a y'. I've pushed the app to your tablet and upgraded your data package. Four gigs, seriously? How are you going to stream Breaking Bad like that?"
Sam pulled out his tablet and punched the app there, a sword insignia crossed over a shield. Steve felt even more uncomfortable.
"What's 'Sword', Stark?"
"Oh just a little something I snapped up a few years ago."
"Sword dot gov, it's a government address."
"You're learning DNS, I'm so proud. And yes, I decided, in a proactive spate of planning, that I wasn't interested in continuing to leave the bulk of the national and international intelligence in the hands of a 'security council' whose first resort was nuking Manhattan, so I've been putting out a few feelers, writing a few billion lines of code, analyzing even more documents, and when Widow aired S.H.I.E.L.D.'s dirty laundry I decided it was time to step up."
"Strategic Worldwide Organization and Response Department."
"That sounds an awful lot like what I just tore down, Stark."
"It's a dangerous world, Cap. We need to respond, but if you think I'm down with rampant and wanton destruction that endangers the lives of billions of civilians, then I'm afraid you're looking at me circa new millennium, not now. The future is now, we’ve just gotta make it better."
Steve didn't know if Stark knew how close the words hit to a lot of things he'd been hearing the last few days, but it, surprisingly, did the trick. "Stark?"
"What's my password?"
"TheFreedomIsTooDamnHigh," Stark answered. "srogers, of course. Pushed the app to your phone, and set my private line as a contact. Come to Manhattan if you find your ghost."
His ghost. So... Stark knew what this was all about. He didn't know if Natasha had told him, or not, but... "Thanks, Stark."
The name didn't work, not for Steve, not yet, but he supposed Bucky wasn't the only ghost he was carrying with him, and at least that one he needed to let go. "Tony. Thanks."
"He last used the card two hours ago," Sam said. "Bought six different train tickets out of Union Station."
"Do you think he knows we're following him?" Steve asked, hanging up on Tony before the man could add anything else, and make Steve regret thanking him.
"He definitely knows someone could." Sam looked down at the purchases. "He might not be trying to get away from you, maybe just his handlers. Pittsburgh, New York, Newark, Atlanta, Chicago, Richmond... Anything sound familiar?"
Steve shrugged. "New York, sure. A lot of those places have airports, right? International ones."
"He'd need a passport, and honestly if he's brainwashed and frozen between missions like Natasha's dossier says... he probably knows less about the modern world than you do."
"So he's lost..." Steve tried to push down the pain at that though. Bucky was out there, more lost and alone than Steve had ever been, because Steve wasn't right there for him, wasn't next to him, couldn't help him... "If he's trying to go home, New York. But he's killed people in Pittsburgh and Chicago recently... I don't know. If I chose wrong, I'll lose him again, he'll get a new credit card, we won't be able to track him."
"He'll steal one on the train, whichever one he takes," Sam agreed. "And the trains might be a diversion."
"Bucky was never much for diversions..." Steve answered. It was Steve who usually had to reel the man back in, reminding him that they could go around sometimes. "But does he even know what he'd be diverting us from? Or to? Let's go to New York. Stark's expecting us and that's where Bucky's from. If he's really trying to remember himself, us... me, that's where he'll go."
"Traffic's a mess," Sam said, glancing down at his phone map. "It's going to take us almost an hour to even get on 95 right now."
"And Bucky booked a commuter express... Do you think anyone would notice if we borrowed a quinjet?" Steve asked, feeling guilty for even asking.
"Do they even have quinjets anymore?"
They needed to at least check, even if the Triskelion was a smoking mess. Of course, as soon as they got anywhere near it, a robot rolled up. "Area access restricted." It didn't look anything like Stark's other bots.
"We need to get in," Steve argued.
"It's a robot. It doesn't talk back," Sam said. "We'll have to call--"
"Ahh, I'm an authorized user," Steve said, frowning. "Ask... ah... Jarvis? Can you ask Jarvis?"
"My apologies, Captain Rogers," Jarvis's voice came out of one of the robots. "Bandwidth requirements make keeping them up to date on authorized users is a lost cause. What can I help you with?"
"Are there any quinjets I could... ah... 'borrow'?"
They had a quinjet in under a half hour.
"Who the hell is Jarvis?" Sam asked.
"Stark's adaptive AI," Steve answered, carefully entering his password in and changing it to something more suited. "He runs the Tower, Stark's data stuff, his suit, parts of his company..."
"That is some serious SkyNet level shit," Sam paused. "That's from a movie, where there's a robot from the future..."
"I do watch television, you know," Steve groused and pulled the phone closer. "They shouldn't have canceled the TV show."
"Maria, could you introduce Wilson to his new wings and debrief them of anything I should be made aware?"
"On it." Hill raised an arm and directed the two of them farther in.
Tony was still standing at the console.
"Hey, guys," Tony said, holding out two cards as they walked by. "Here are your badges, 24 hour access to the building, biometrics are still being installed, place your left thumb to the picture to initialize them. I'm re-appropriating the quinjet, we have a situation brewing in Hong Kong."
Steve took the card, pressing his thumb there, before he realized what Tony had said. "Situation...? What--?"
But Tony waved his concern away. "You're on leave," Tony answered. "And you..." He glanced at Sam. "You don't even work here, why would I order you around? Nope, I have no idea what you're doing, get out of here, don't let Hill kick you on the way out, bye. Bring back two forms of ID so HR can fill out your I-9s later!"
"Stark... Tony, if there's an actual situation in Hong Kong..."
"I'll dispatch Vision, or go myself. I can hold down the fort for a few more days."
Steve tried to take Tony at his word, and he watched, silently, as Hill patted a backpack hung up on the wall. Sam nodded, and tugged it over his shoulders, giving it a pleasant little jostle. "It's light..."
"New Avenger, takes most of my field duties," Tony answered. "You'll meet him later, I have him headed over to Brussels."
The three of them climbed into an elevator and it started to descend. "Is Stark alright?" Steve asked, shooting a worried glance to Hill.
"He hasn't slept since the data hit the internet. I think part of it is avoiding... well, the talk shows will get to him eventually. He's also trying to found a basis for the Avengers, for a different sort of S.H.I.E.L.D., for a way to keep everything in balance... to continue to avoid thinking about the fact that he's feeling overwhelmed and his solution to that is to keep working and isolate himself more... you didn't hear that last one from me, though." Hill glanced over at him. "Don't worry, Banner and I are going to drug his coffee if he doesn't sleep in the next twelve hours. How are you doing? I'm supposed to debrief you."
"We're tracking The Winter Soldier, he bought a train ticket to New York... and a few other places. Could you look and see if we might have missed him?"
"Saw your request on the server. I'll keep an eye out."
"Did you send me the tip about the Air and Space?" Steve asked.
Hill then glanced down to her pad, which had chimed. "Stolen credit card from one of the passengers on the New York train. I'll keep the credit card company from declining it and send you the particulars. Stay in touch."
"Thank you, Maria," Steve said, holding a hand out, they shook. "Let's go."
The problem with the credit cards was that they didn't post until minutes after Bucky had bought something, some clothes... a new hat, a hot dog from a street vendor, and Steve couldn't quite put the pattern into place. He was bouncing all around Midtown to start, almost aimless, and Steve wondered if he couldn't get his bearings, but Bucky was never the same place when they reached wherever the card had been used.
"We're not getting anywhere!" Steve growled before he leaned his back against one of the buildings and stared off into the middle distance. "My amnesiac friend is walking around New York City and no one's even noticed!"
"And if you put out a BOLO, you'll spook him, at best."
Steve nodded, miserable, before glancing down at his phone as it pinged again. "Flowers?" Why was Bucky buying flowers?
Bucky always had dates, always bought them flowers, but that didn't seem quite right. Bucky didn't have some hot date, probably wouldn't even be confused into thinking he did.
"Flowers..." Steve shook his head again. Everything else had made sense, clothing, food, transportation, but flowers were the first thing that was extraneous, the first thing that a soldier didn't need. That was enough to give Steve a little hope, if Bucky's mind wanted something it didn't need, if it was groping for some connection... "I... Brooklyn, please be in Brooklyn."
"I bet both bridges are as messed up as 95 would be..." Sam came up behind Steve. "Hopefully these wings are as good as Stark's reputation."
They were better. They made it to Brooklyn in a matter of minutes, and as Steve touched down in the cemetery where his mother was buried, he couldn't help but hope. "There's no way he made it here before us."
"If he's coming here," Sam reminded him.
Steve checked his mother's grave. Sarah Rogers... no flowers, and then Bucky’s parents, George and Winifred Barnes, also no flowers. He gave the headstones a squeeze before finding the nearest tree, with Sam ducking behind a mortuary.
A text came through a moment later from Sam: Hope you're right, Man.
Steve didn't answer. What was he supposed to say? He hoped this link to the past could be salvaged? He hoped Bucky would show up here, against all odds? Of course he did. He wasn't going to be the same until he knew Bucky was safe, until they were back, side by side. He waited, he waited for what felt like hours, but the credit card was silent, no more purchases, and he waited in that dusty old cemetery where his mother still rested, when he'd been left all alone in the world save for Bucky.
He heard a twig snap, and he glanced over to Sam... to see that the man had actually snapped the twig himself. Another glance, back towards the graves, and he saw Bucky... dressed all in black, arm hidden under the hoodie, his good hand holding flowers... but he was scouting the distance, looking for whoever had made that noise.
Now or nothing...
He stepped out from behind the tree, hands raised. "Bucky?"
Bucky drop the flowers and ran, Steve chased. He was pretty sure he heard Sam swear, but the man also gave chase, skimming close to the ground on his wings, using his movements to corral Bucky back into the cemetery, giving Steve the opportunity to cut him off as well.
"Bucky! Please! Stop! Just let me talk to you."
"I'm not your friend," Bucky answered, growling, and Steve's heart broke just a little bit.
"Yes you are!" Steve held out his hand again, and Bucky didn't back away, but he was still too far away for Steve to grab. "James Buchanan Barnes, my best friend."
"I'm not him," Bucky protested again. "He wouldn't have hurt you, he wouldn't..." Bucky brought his hands up to his head, pained, and Steve hated himself for it but he dashed the rest of the way, dragging Bucky into his arms and not letting him go.
"Stop." Steve clung to him. "Just stop. I've got you. I'm with you 'til the end of the line."
The words twisted a wracked sob out of Bucky's throat, and Steve brushed the man's hair out of his face, but Bucky stopped; he didn't fight Steve's hold, but he did melt into it, slowly.
"I've got you," Steve promised. "I've got you. I'm gonna take care of you, we'll... get you fixed up, we'll... make a pillow fort like when we were kids," Steve started to cry himself, clinging even tighter. "Please, just stop running, we'll find you the answers you need."
"I... I killed... I killed so many people..."
"I know," Steve said. "I know. It's alright, Buck. You-- it's alright. You're still the world to me, please."
"I don't deserve this," Bucky answered. "Don't deserve you...your..."
"Yes you do." Steve dragged him even closer. "Yes you do. Please, Bucky, let me be the strong one right now."
But Steve was falling, falling apart and breaking even as he clung to Bucky. The world was so damn confusing, it didn't make any sense, everyone and everything was so broken and twisted the wrong way and here was Bucky... his Bucky, same as the day he'd first died, physically, at least... and they could get the rest back, they could... he could have this one thing that was right.
Bucky didn't answer, not right away.
Finally, he nodded. Steve felt like he could let go, and he did, and Bucky stayed long enough for Sam to help the two of them up.
"Alright, Cap," Sam said, falling, perhaps unconsciously, to parade rest. "Where, exactly, are we taking him."
For a tactical thinker, he probably hadn't thought this all the way though.
"I'm going to sleep," he told Hill, glancing at her surprised face. "What? I do know how to sleep. Four hours, I think... I'll want a situation report, if we're still green I'll take another four. Unless it's Hulk green, wake me if we're Hulk green."
"Yes, sir," Hill answered. And for one brief second Tony thought she was being lippy, and sarcastic, and then he felt even worse when he realized that she wasn't being lippy, she was being serious.
"JARVIS, do all those things you do that make daddy love you."
"Of course, sir."
Tony didn't bother with the shower, he'd scrub when he woke up. Then he collapsed, face first, into the mattress before the wires in his chest started to ache and he was forced to roll onto his back. "Four hours, J."
Tony blinked, and when he opened his eyes again he had the distinct impression that a great deal of time had passed, if only because the sun seemed to be in a different place.
"What time is it, J?"
"Three twenty five," JARVIS answered, crispy. "You have been asleep for four hours and twelve minutes. I did not disturb you as you appeared to be coming out of REM sleep on your own."
He groaned and rolled onto his front. "We still green, buddy?"
"There has been no further degradation of the current geopolitical climate while you slept. Sub-Director Hill has prepared the briefing materials as requested."
"Sub-Director Hill, huh? Did she print business cards?" He didn't wait for an answer, instead rolling onto his feet and stripping off his boxers as he padded to the bathroom. "Send it to the wall, I'll go over it while I shower."
JARVIS did as asked, and reviewed the terse mission report from JARVIS... Vision's mission to Brussels to extract a pair of scientists deep in a Hydra-S.H.I.E.L.D. occupied lab. Mission successful. They were currently debriefing with Banner. The situation in Hong Kong was heating up, but no one was throwing any punches yet. Three S.H.I.E.L.D. battleships were making what could be aggressive gestures, or could be nothing, and Tony was trying to decide if he should play Battleship with them or not. Report of 'nothing to report' came from Romanov a little over an hour ago. No Clint, no sign of a dead Clint, so for now it was all good news.
Tony scrubbed, shampooing his hair and soaping away the funk that he’d no doubt built up since the last time he’d showered. He hadn’t neglected food and hygiene the way he had his sleep, but he didn’t look like much of a prize and he knew it. When he stood in front of the vanity, brushing his teeth, his eyes were drawn to the hole in his chest and the white, puckered mess that was the remains of his reactor. The site itself was mostly healed, but the skin grafts had probably been a lost cause from the start. It was yet another reminder that in so many ways he was no longer the man he’d been before Afghanistan. That was a welcome change on many fronts, but not nearly so much on this one.
After he’d dried, he pulled on another undersuit before he headed up to the control room.
"Sir," Hill said, as he entered. "Situation green, but Captain Rogers called just a few moments ago. I took the liberty of answering."
Tony waved his hand, yeah, yeah it would happen.
"He and Falcon have acquired Sergeant Barnes. They're asking if he can come into the Tower. They're out in Brooklyn."
Tony considered, long and hard, assassin in the Tower... a brainwashed one, but this was Steve they were talking about, the man would just run off and hunker down in some 1940s bunker with shitty music and bad canned beans. "Pull up everything we have on the Winter Soldier, code words, that sort of thing. Tell Rogers he can bring Barnes to the service entrance. I want to vet Barnes before he goes anywhere, and have Banner prep Hulk's playpen just in case."
Hill gave him a look that Tony interpreted as disapproval.
"Permission to sass me, Hill."
"No sass... just are you sure that's the best move?"
Tony shrugged. "We've got to deal with him somehow. I'd rather a controlled environment, with Steve there, so we can sort out how much is still in there and where we have to go."
Tony pulled up a very long list of code words on his tablet, and went back to work.
"Ms. Potts called," Hill said, tone inviting comment. Tony ignored her. "When's the last time you talked to her?
Tony continued to ignore her.
"She was a little irritated you created a paramilitary government contracting agency within the auspices of S.H.I.E.L.D. without her knowledge or approval."
"I asked legal," Tony answered, before he pulled up more of the data that JARVIS had been sifting through for him. "I made sure certain parts of my work product remained as my intellectual property."
"I'm sure that's the part she's really worried about."
"Look, what do you want me to say? I lost her because I was working on S.W.O.R.D. without her knowledge. I put in sixteen hour days with nothing to show her for it, and now she knows why, and it's probably even worse, because I promised to focus on her and then..." Tony took a long breath, and glowered at Maria, because she knew all this, Tony knew she did. "I gave you guys advanced propulsion systems and communications systems, and Fury understood why I wanted a finger in the pie. I'm wasn't going to let the Avengers become government attack dogs. I lied to my girlfriend, and my CEO, and she's rightfully mad at me. I lost her, and I knew that would happen as soon as Fury and I shook on this deal."
Tony... Tony was just so... irritated with Hill. She knew why they were like this, she'd watched, she wouldn't have come to him the very hour S.H.I.E.L.D. shut down if she didn't think this was where she needed to be.
"You think I don't need to be here, standing in front of these monitors, say the word, Hill, you'll get a huge promotion."
She didn't say anything for several long seconds. "You should probably head downstairs, sir. Captain Rogers is here. And... you should at least talk to her."
"Later." Tony was going on adrenaline and fear. He wasn't sure he could face down Pepper, though.
Barnes was at the loading bay with Wilson and Steve. Tony waved them in to the cargo elevator and then brought it to a stop. The man looked... blank, there was almost nothing there, but he still followed Tony's gaze and seemed... curious if not quite cognizant.
"I realize he's your friend, but I'd appreciate it if you kept him from killing me." Tony then pulled out the StarkPad, pulling out the list of dozens of code words he'd been able to cull from the Winter Soldier files. "Zola. Paperclip. Romanov. Khrushchev. Red Skull. Sin. Stark. Shield." He then headed off into the truly bizarre, 'peanut butter', and all that, but he'd rather look like an idiot now then regret it later. "Sputnik."
Barnes was on him in an instant, faster than Tony could even blink, hands around Tony's throat, grabbing and twisting. If Steve hadn't moved as fast as he had, Tony was pretty sure his neck would have been snapped before he could even think about it.
He collapsed on the floor, choking and sputtering, trying to breathe. "That would have been an embarrassing way to die..."
"Bucky, Bucky, it's me, it's Steve. Come on..." Barnes continued to struggle against Steve's inspired grip, and Steve found himself forced to put him in a sleeper hold, and Tony reached out to check the man's pulse as he slowly came down.
Steve looked down at the unconscious form of his friend, head buried in his hand, shoulders shaking.
"He's going to have to stay on Hulk's floor until we run him through some more tests, and probably every psychologist known to man," Tony said. "There's a TV and everything, it's very humane."
Steve nodded, but he still looked miserable.
Tony pressed his thumb to the control panel "JARVIS. Floor 84." And the elevator began to move. "Alright, that's enough fun for the hour. I'll get some folks to come in and give us some medical opinions, don't give him any sharps, he should be alright when he wakes up. And I wasn't kidding about the TV, both of you can make yourselves comfortable. Debrief in six hours."
Steve checked his phone clock. "Debrief at 2215?" He asked, sounding confused.
Tony just shrugged and let them off at Floor 84. "After you go in, you can't get out without command authorization, which is currently limited to Banner and myself."
Steve nodded. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Didn't think you were," Tony answered.
He groaned and waited for the elevator to start ascending again before he let out a small - pathetic - little cough.
"Tell Hill I'm going to take five hours this time. I feel like crap."
He took a heavy seat next to the couch, and sighed. "Shit."
"Wasn't sure you could swear."
Steve chuckled. "I am a soldier, fly boy."
Sam headed over to the kitchen, and pulled down what looked to be a rugged plastic cup, before he filled three of them with water and brought them over. "You alright?"
Steve took the glass, but shook his head. "Hopefully... hopefully Stark knows some folks."
The second glass, Sam placed over near Bucky's head, and then he took a sip from the third. "Well, I can't say the VA is used to dealing with the Manchurian Candidate..."
"Is China working on...?"
Sam chuckled. "Sorry, man, you got the Terminator but not the Manchurian Candidate? It's a movie... just... brainwashed assassin." Sam waved a hand over his face as though to illustrate it somehow. "Psychological triggers, hyper-vigilance, that sort of thing is normal, whatever they did to your friend... It's science fiction."
Steve thought about Zola, preserved on thousands of miles of storage tapes, and nodded. "Zola figured it out, there must be records somewhere. And whatever's in there... it's not all gone, he recognized me, they couldn't take that away from him, not all the way."
He had to cling to that, he had to remember that. Bucky had remembered him, and had saved his life. Bucky, his Bucky, was in there somewhere.
On the couch, Bucky winced and then coughed a little, clearing his windpipe. An instant later, his eyes shot open.
"Easy, soldier," Sam said, coming up beside Bucky and not touching. "You're safe. Steve's here. We've got you."
It seemed to calm Bucky, but only slightly, so Steve came up beside Bucky as well. "Hey, Buck. You alright?"
"That man..." Bucky seemed to be straining to remember.
"Stark," Steve answered. "Tony."
"Why did I...? Why did I attack him?" Bucky levered himself up, and Sam handed over a glass of water; Bucky took it, and then a long drink from it. "What did he do?"
"He used a trigger word," Sam answered. Steve wanted to wince, because he didn't want that burdening Bucky, didn't want him to be burdened by that knowledge. "You've got some memories implanted, and it's going to take some time, but you're going to start to get better."
"When are you putting me on ice?" Bucky asked, eyes dead now as he looked down into the water and didn't drink it.
"We're not," Steve answered, more forceful than he'd meant. "Stark... Tony is going to get you some help. You're going to stay unfrozen, you... you're not going to have missions, no targets, just... you. We'll get you back together, as long as it takes, I'm here with you."
Bucky looked back up at him, and his face was so lost and scared and confused, the corners of his mouth turned down, his brows furrowed. He was confused, confused by the idea of being out, not frozen, and Steve knew how that felt.
"You'll stay here, on this floor, as long as it takes," Steve assured him. "I'll be here as often as I can. There's... all sorts of stuff here, you can relax, watch a movie, work out..." All the things Steve had done as soon as he'd been thawed himself. "I... I was on ice for a long time," he admitted, softly. "I... I've only just started to get it worked out. You will too."
Steve dragged Bucky into his arms, tugging him close and wrapping him up the way Bucky used to do for him when he was sick or just feeling so miserable that he would allow himself to be taken care of.
"You know... ah... when we were kids, we used to sneak into the movies because our moms wouldn't give us the nickel..." Steve set his chin on the top of Bucky's head, thinking. "We'd sneak in the back... and I always felt so guilty about it afterwards, I worked four times as hard on selling papers to get the nickel and I'd sneak it into the till the next time we went..."
Steve laughed, and Bucky seemed to relax under his arms as well.
"I'd sneak a nickel back in your pocket," Bucky answered, and Steve thought he'd cry, because that was something, it was. "Always... always knew when you were being an idiot."
The two of them hugged, tight, and Steve finally let his arms relax. "How about a movie?"
"We can't go out..." Bucky said, not sad, but concerned, because he knew how dangerous he still was and Steve could hear he was terrified.
"It's the future," Steve assured him. "It can come to us! JARVIS?" Steve waited for the soft response from the AI. "Could you play us something old? Something fun?"
A few minutes later, the three of them were engrossed in Snow White, and Steve could almost pretend things were the way they used to be, and that was what Bucky - and he - needed right then.
Tony glanced over his shoulder, and then over to Maria. "Hill, you're off duty for the next 12."
She nodded, and closed down whatever it was she was working on, before leaving the office with a nod to Sam and Steve as she went. "Captain, Lieutenant."
After she gestured them to the table in the corner, and indicated the coffee maker, Steve went to work on making coffee for himself and Sam, while Tony continued to do... something. Mostly it looked like he looked at the console and then pressed a few buttons, before doing it all over again.
"Gentlemen," Tony said, before blanking the consoles and walking over to the coffee maker and getting his own cup. "Let's get one thing straight, right off: you don't work for me. I mean, you can, but from a practical, military and former S.H.I.E.L.D. hierarchy standpoint I have no standing to tell you to do anything." He waited a moment for that to sink in. "Alright, now, S.W.O.R.D.. You're welcome to listen to the DoD Hearing when they drag me down there next week, but here's the executive summary:"
Tony cleared his throat and pulled up a tablet, before flicking it and bringing the presentation to one of the walls. "I wasn't pleased with a World Security Council whose first resort to an alien invasion was to try to nuke Manhattan, bad form. I... had a thing, for a few months, but after thinking about it I realized the most productive course of action would be to focus on first responding to any worldwide crisis so that politician idiots wouldn't have the chance to decide nukes and guns were the answer to all their ills. To that end, I approached Nick Fury with a proposal: I design the propulsion systems for the new helicarriers I wasn't supposed to know about, and he'd sign the paperwork to allow me on as the head of a subcontractor: S.W.O.R.D.."
Some paperwork, things that looked like a contract between Tony and Fury came up on screen. "Basically the original goal was to fund the Avengers under my purview rather than S.H.I.E.L.D. and the WSC. When S.H.I.E.L.D. imploded... well I was one of the few apparatuses directly linked into their servers and data streams with the processing and man power to make heads or tails of their intelligence fast enough to do anything with it. We extracted almost 200 compromised undercover assets and another 500 or so scientists who were working behind enemy lines. But in the last week we've gone from a nominal strength of about two to a strength of close to a thousand. Hierarchy and organization have been... strained.
"Which is basically my way of saying: you don't work for me, but I'd like you to."
Steve considered. "I'm not comfortable working for an agency with no parameters, no... no limits. There were problems with Insight from the get-go, it never should have been approved."
"We have a Charter..." Tony punched another button. "Emailing it to you. All Avengers will be asked to sign it. We serve the world, the people. S.W.O.R.D. will function under a similar Charter, but that's still in legal and public relations because I didn't think I'd need it."
Steve started to read: Be it known... that we, The Avengers, have banded together to protect and safeguard the Planet Earth, its inhabitants and resources, from any and all threats - terrestrial or otherwise - which are or might prove to be beyond the power of conventional force to handle...
"You've been thinking about this for a while..." Steve said, not sure if it was an accusation or surprise.
"So S.W.O.R.D. will be...?"
"An intelligence agency," Tony answered. "We're without a major apparatus of world intelligence and peacekeeping right now. S.H.I.E.L.D. was originally conceived of as a peacekeeping force, a group dedicated to stopping the looming problems of the Cold War, and all that jazz. There were good... good ideas at the heart of it."
Steve realized, slowly, exactly what Tony was talking around, Howard. His father. His father had founded S.H.I.E.L.D. on an ideal.
"Back after the War, my father had a few choice quotes," Tony continued, not meeting Steve in the eye, looking at Sam instead. "Peace means having a bigger stick than the other guy."
The words were a knife in the chest. Howard had said that?
"Well then the Reds got the Bomb and..." Tony waved his hand, brushing away the rest of the story that Steve desperately wanted to hear. "When he died, he was looking at ways to create limitless clean energy, reduce or eliminate power scarcity, which would hopefully lead to eliminated pure water scarcity, then food scarcity... Well, it's easy to see why Hydra wanted him dead. Arc reactor technology, more dangerous than weapons... Anyway. Come on in, ground floor. I can think of worse people to approve of a Charter to Operate than Captain America, or Steve Rogers."
"Full transparency," Steve said, locking his eyes with Tony. "No lies, no half-truths, no telling me to jump and expecting me to say 'how high'. I may be a soldier, but I'm not an idiot."
Tony held out a hand. "Welcome aboard." Steve grabbed it in return. "And send your damn suit back to the Smithsonian so I don't have to keep getting frantic calls from their insurance carriers. You can wear the one I had designed for S.H.I.E.L.D. for a few weeks, right?"
Steve sighed. "Wait... you own my suit?"
"I thought you said you weren't an idiot," Tony answered. "The one that was in the Smithsonian was your spare, Dad owned it, the one you went down in is still being restored. And you, Lieutenant Wilson, your service record is impeccable. You want in, you're in. Either way, consider the Falcon system, Mark II, a gift."
"I'm in," Sam answered, no hesitation.
"Steve, your apartment contents were in lock up on the Triskelion, so my bots have recovered that and they're on their way to the Tower. Wilson, your things are... in your house, so they are still in your house. We're going to be operating out of the Tower for now until we can get a more uniform presence."
"Ah... and the Winter Soldier... Bucky. What happens to him?"
"He's not going anywhere until he's had some serious psychoanalysis. I haven't had the opportunity to go over Zola's research, but we have a pretty large section of it." Tony pressed a button and Steve heard his phone ping. "You can review it. You find someone who knows what they're doing when it comes to this stuff, I'll sign the checks myself, but for right now he stays in the Tower, under surveillance, and on the Hulk floor for the next day or two at least."
"But he can stay?" Steve asked, feeling like he needed to hear it, in small words, from Stark... Tony.
"He can stay."
Steve sighed in relief.
"Now get some sleep, you look like hell."
Steve and Sam exchanged a glance, right in front of Tony, that said they were thinking the exact same thing: Stark looked like hell. Tony then stood up and went back to his console, Steve and Sam huddled together at the conference table, out of direct earshot.
"If you don't need me for a day or two, I'll head back to DC, pack up..." Sam said, clearly wondering if Steve did need him.
"Yeah... I... I suppose I should trust Stark. His father was killed by Hydra, Zola wanted to kill him this time around... he's a threat to their order." Steve glanced over to where he was standing. "I want to be here, though, make sure it all gets done right. He... knows what he's doing, I guess, more of a politician than me."
"You know he told a Senate Subcommittee meeting where to shove it, right?" Sam answered. "He knows the dance but he's still... Tony Stark, almost everyone over in the Middle East would trust him with our lives. He might have run away from the reputation for guns, but he still builds the battle armor."
Steve nodded. "I'll make sure things stay good on this end. You have my number."
"I guess I should... put in my notice?" Sam asked, looking a little lost for a moment.
"Whatever," Tony said. "You came in after CSRS got discontinued, your retirement benefits are shit anyway."
"Or you could put in for a transfer to the Bronx VA, they need social workers, use my name, for some reason they love me over there..." Tony shook his head, and Sam headed out, giving Steve a bit of a raised eyebrow as he left.
After a few moments of leaving his head spinning, Steve came over to stand beside Tony, looking over the dozens of screens and not really seeing whatever Tony was. "What's going on in the world, Stark?"
"Lots of everything," Tony said, clearly dismissing the question.
"I thought we agreed: total transparency."
Tony sighed, and drew up sixteen map positions. "There are sixteen S.H.I.E.L.D. cruisers, each armed with conventional missiles and other armaments tooling around in international waters. Their compositions were largely Hydra, but based on our satellite feeds they are still trying to figure out what to do. They will need to be neutralized, but I don't have the manpower to task people to that."
Another dot flared to life, centered over Madripoor. "Clint was one of the assets burned by Natasha's tell all book all over the internet. She's now in Madripoor trying to extract him. He's not dead, as far as we know, but she's having a bitch of a time finding him. She's there on the paper thin cover of being my personal assistant to keep them from arresting her on sight."
Hong Kong. "The US embassy has been overrun by extremists and several S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel both clean and dirty are part of the hostage situation. We believe Hydra is responsible for trying to light that powder keg."
Brussels. "Bioweapons facility with mixed personnel tried to go hot, Vision stopped that and made the extraction."
"And who is Vision?" Steve asked, anxious to have that opening again since Tony had brushed it off hours ago.
"JARVIS, in a suit. He did so well a year ago we've been practicing."
"As long as he doesn't... ah... 'go SkyNet'." Steve said, trying to decide if he was making a joke or just teasing.
"This is JARVIS we're talking about. He's way more ethical than me." Tony sighed, scrubbing his fingers through his hair. "And those are the hot issues. We extracted the aforementioned burned agents and scientists, they're getting set up here. I'm acquiring some corporations and their facilities to move the science back out into the field as soon as everything settles in a few months."
Steve nodded, still hesitant but... "Do you need me in Hong Kong?"
"I would love you in Hong Kong," Tony said. "I'd love me in Hong Kong... Come on, we're going to Hong Kong. Bruce can run S.W.O.R.D. for a few hours."