"Hello, Sharon. I'm afraid I don't have much time today--"
"That's fine," Sharon interrupted before her mother could elaborate. It always boiled down to the same thing anyway: meetings. Very important, world-changing meetings, of course, but still meetings. "We don't have to talk long. I just wanted to tell you that I got offered a job at SHIELD."
The silence that followed her announcement was both expected and unpleasant. Sharon tried not to wince at the memory of her carefully upbeat tone. She'd done her best to sound enthusiastic without crossing the line into too cheerful, but each silent moment that passed made her voice seem chirpier in retrospect.
"I assume you've accepted it," her mother said at last.
"That's right. I'll be moving to D.C. at the end of the month."
"Your Aunt Peggy will be pleased."
She almost certainly would be, both that Sharon had chosen to follow her footsteps and that Sharon would be moving closer to Aunt Peggy's nursing home in Virginia; that knowledge made this accomplishment all the sweeter. Unfortunately, there was a sour note to be found in the obvious subtext of that sentence: Sharon's mother was not similarly pleased.
Sharon had known the score going in, though. She forced a smile so that her mother would hear it in her voice and said, "I'm going to call her next."
"I'm sure she'll be glad to hear from you." Another silence fell--a more surprising one. Sharon had thought her mother would leap at the opportunity to bid Sharon a semi-graceful goodbye. Instead, she continued, "Before you begin working at SHIELD, you should know that there are rumors of troubling developments in the organization. I can't tell you the source or the target of these rumors, of course. But I would urge you to be very cautious of...cowboy tactics. And those who adopt them."
Hearing that phrase in her mother's precise accent made Sharon smile for real, even as her mind whirled. She'd always assumed that her mother's faint disdain for SHIELD was no more than a somewhat understandable reaction to continually butting heads with them in the course of her job, and perhaps a little lingering interdepartmental competitiveness. (Sharon's mother had been in MI5 back in the day.)
But anything that concerned her enough that she felt the need to warn Sharon--even in carefully inexplicit terms--wasn't likely to be petty or unimportant. "I'll be careful," she promised.
Aunt Peggy was having a good day, the receptionist told Sharon, so Sharon didn't do more than give her a quick kiss hello before demanding, "Have you seen the news?"
Most of the nurses were great about making sure Aunt Peggy was able to keep up with current events, but there were a couple who kept trying to conceal the more...alarming events. The near-destruction of New York City by a Norse god and his interdimensional alien army would certainly qualify.
"I have," Aunt Peggy said, her eyes bright, "though I assume there's much more to the story that hasn't been released to the public."
"You could say that," Sharon said bitterly. "Starting with the fact that the WSC tried to blow up New York City."
Aunt Peggy's interested expression sharpened. "Explain."
Sharon summed up what had happened quickly, concluding, "I never expected to hear my mother talk about the nuclear option and mean it literally. She ordered a strike on New York!"
"You mean, she ordered a strike on a device powering a portal that was being used by an invading alien army. It's just that the device happened to be in New York at the time," Aunt Peggy corrected.
"Is that supposed to make it better?"
Aunt Peggy gave her an exasperated look. "Well, do you think it makes it worse?"
Which, no, when Sharon considered the situation for a moment, it didn't. It just made it cold and calculating and half-a-dozen other things that her mother had been for as long as Sharon could remember.
Aunt Peggy's exasperated look softened. "I entirely agree with you that it was the wrong call, you realize. There are lines that shouldn't be crossed, and bombing a civilian population--even as collateral damage rather than the main target--is one of them. If your mother ever took the time to phone me, much less visit, I'm sure we'd have quite the row about it. But your mother's job is very different from ours. I've had to make calls in the field, in the heat of the moment, that led to people's deaths, but I've never been responsible for the fate of the entire world when I did it. Not like this."
"The Avengers were on the ground already. She could've given them a chance."
"She could have," Aunt Peggy agreed. "But your mother's always been distrustful of superheroes. And I can't say that she's entirely wrong."
Sharon blinked. Aunt Peggy had told her stories of the super soldier program since Sharon had been a little girl; she'd never even hinted at ambivalence regarding its results.
"Not about Steve, of course," Aunt Peggy said, and Sharon's slightly rocked world shifted back onto its axis. "If any man could be trusted with that sort of extraordinary power, it would be him. Though the same can't be said for everyone."
"The Hulk," Sharon said.
"Among others. And from what I've heard, it was more than just a stroke of good luck that the Hulk was willing to fight for Earth; it was a modern day miracle."
"Miracles happen every day?" Sharon offered.
Aunt Peggy smiled wryly. "Oh, my dear. Only the little ones. The bigger ones tend to be sadly few and far between."
The sound of Captain Rogers's motorcycle snapped Sharon to attention. Someone--she'd assumed it was Rogers at the time--had entered his apartment at...she doublechecked the log for the motion detector attached to Rogers's door, 5:52. She didn't have eyes and ears in his apartment, of course, but the walls were thin. She'd heard water running in his bathroom, a record being played on his phonograph: nothing out of the ordinary. No one had exited the apartment since then, by either door or window. So where was Captain Rogers now, in his apartment or just getting off his motorcycle, and who was the other person involved?
Best case scenario, Captain Rogers had loaned his motorcycle to a friend who'd come to return it. Second best was that he'd given someone a key to his apartment; it would make Sharon's job a lot harder in the long run, but in the short term there'd be a greater chance that this unknown person wasn't a hostile. All of the other possible scenarios were varying levels of unlikely and/or very bad news.
She took a position by her door, an artfully arranged laundry basket full of scrubs in one arm. Director Fury had instructed her to be as hands off as possible, but if Captain Rogers wasn't in his apartment already, she could at least drop him a subtle warning that someone else was.
The safehouse was nondescript, though Sharon knew enough about how SHIELD operated to feel certain that its glass front door was bulletproof. "Councilwoman Hawley," she called when she let herself in, more to announce her presence than to demand a response. There was only one place her mother could be.
Indeed, when she made her way to the living room, she saw her mother in front of a TV airing footage of the helicarriers' crash (they made a more dramatic visual), while the announcers discussed certain gems from the server upload.
"Agent...Thirteen," her mother said, just enough of a pause between the two halves of the title that Sharon was forced to wonder whether her mother had genuinely forgotten for a moment. She probably had; if there was ever a time to not needle her daughter, this was it.
"Project Insight is officially terminated. Or maybe the opposite of 'officially,' considering that SHIELD is also terminated." Sharon took a quick, fortifying breath. "And the World Security Council is...severely depleted. You're the only Councillor we have left."
Her mother looked briefly shocked at that, as she hadn't regarding the fates of Insight and SHIELD. She must have expected their dissolution after watching the news, but under ordinary circumstances, the members of the WSC should have been among the safest people in the Triskelion.
"I don't know how much Agent Romanov told you," Sharon began.
"She sedated me and left me here without telling me anything," her mother interrupted. Sharon hid a wince. It had been an understandable precaution, given how far HYDRA had spread within SHIELD, but it would also have infuriated her mother like nothing else. "What about Pierce?" she continued urgently.
Sharon shook her head. "He was HYDRA. Its leader, I think, or at least the one calling the shots at SHIELD. There's a lot to work out still." She shook her head again. "Not that I even know who's going to be working it out. That's supposed to be SHIELD's job, and now it's gone." Her voice cracked slightly on the last word, and she pinched her mouth shut.
After a moment, her mother put an arm stiffly around Sharon's shoulders. "This is a time for building up, not for breaking down," she said...the closest thing to comfort that Sharon could expect.
She swallowed hard and reminded herself that if her mother didn't care at all, she wouldn't have bothered to say anything. "I know, Mom," she said.
"And while SHIELD might be gone, you and I are not. We'll rebuild together."
Sharon turned to look at her in some surprise; her mother raised a sardonically questioning eyebrow. "You're right," Sharon said, feeling steadier than she had in quite a few hours. "We will."