When the Triskelion fell Dr. Amanda Newbury was on the twenty second floor, in the infirmary, running a stress test on an agent. When the intercom crackled to life and Captain Roger’s voice echoed in the room they all stopped and looked up, even the agent on the treadmill hopped his feet to the side so he could listen.
Don’t let control take the place of freedom.
The silence in the infirmary was deafening. Amanda scanned the other people in the room. Two nurses, one she’d known two years, the other new to SHIELD. The agent on the treadmill. Two in beds, one being stitched by her veteran nurse, the other recovering from a blood draw. They were all eyeing each other with a mix of suspicion and dread. It was an awful moment. Not the worst of her life, not by a long run. But terrible, nonetheless.
There was the rattle of gunfire in the distance. The sound broke the spell. The agent getting stitched glanced at the one recovering from his blood draw, whispered, “Hail Hydra,” and reached for the instrument tray next to his nurse. Amanda dropped her clipboard, grabbed the gun of the treadmill agent off his pile of clothes and shot the Hydra agent before he could touch her nurse.
The man on the treadmill vaulted over the handles and tackled the third agent to the ground before he could reach the doors. When he was subdued he turned back to Amanda, who was aiming his gun at him. They had a second tense moment, eyeing each other. Amanda didn’t consider herself a warrior. She was not a field agent. She stayed in her lab or infirmary and dealt only with the aftermath of violence.
But she had learned, a very long time ago, to trust her instincts. It went against everything she had ever learned about logic and evidence and facts. But guts had saved her far more often than thinking ever had.
So she took her finger off the trigger and put the gun back on top of the agent’s clothes.
He smiled and stepped towards the pile, pulling his shirt back on. “I need to get out and help the Cap if I can. Will you be all right in here?”
She nodded, glancing at her nurses. “We’ll stay and offer medical help for as long as possible.”
“I would suggest locking the doors and hiding out, ma’am.”
That was probably good advice. Logical. But again, she had to go with her gut. “I’m a doctor. People will need help.”
The agent studied her. She wished briefly she remembered his name. It was at the top of his chart, on the clipboard she had dropped. She did half a dozen stress tests a week and had never really taken note of the agents’ names. She wondered how many of them had been Hydra.
She wondered how many of them were now dead.
The agent seemed to come to some sort of decision and nodded. “Good luck, ma’am.”
“You too, agent.”
He gave her an odd little salute and left, closing the door firmly behind him.
Her nurses were staring at her. Amanda swallowed hard and walked to her desk, opening the drawer that held her own side arm. “You can leave. My decision is not yours. He was right, it is likely safer to run.” She checked the magazine to ensure the gun was loaded, then slammed it back into the butt. “I think it’s safe to assume that SHIELD no longer exists. We no longer have jobs. There is no reason for you to stay.” She forced herself to look over at the two women. “You’re both excellent nurses. If we survive, I will be happy to write glowing recommendations for you both. I’m sorry this is how our working relationship will end.”
Without a word, Stacey, her nurse for two years, ran to the door and fled. Amanda wasn’t terribly surprised. Stacey had only recently gotten engaged. She had a great deal to live for. She looked at her remaining nurse, Tiffani Myers. She’d come on board all of four months ago. A decade younger than Amanda, she was pretty, blonde, and looked like she should be named Tiffani.
The girl tipped her chin up. “Granddad was an agent under Peggy Carter. He’d tan my hide if I ran now.”
Amanda felt a brief smile cross her face and nodded. “Right. Pack a supply bag, focus on wound care. I want to be able to bug out at a moment’s notice. If you have a weapon, arm yourself.” Without a word, Tiffani went to the supply cabinets to obey.
In the end, they left before any wounded made their way to them. Once the helicarriers started coming down it was obvious the building was no longer safe. The race through the halls was terrifying, especially with an unarmed Tiffani at her heels. But everyone else they saw seemed more interested in escaping than attacking.
They set up triage a few blocks away, on the grass of a park. They had only the two go-bags they’d packed. Emergency crews brought wounded to them and ambulances lined up on the street to take as many as they could. EMTs resupplied her as best they could, in between taking wounded away. Amanda took charge early on, running between the rows of bodies on the lawn. Tiffani held her own, even pressing water and granola bars into Amanda’s hands when she could.
They were still there when crews found Captain Rogers by the river. Amanda was the first to examine him, ensuring he was stable for the drive to the hospital. He was just another patient in a long, long line of wounded she saw that day. Looking back, she was sure some were Hydra. Would have tried to kill her had they the strength. In the moment, though, it didn’t matter. She was a doctor and people were hurt. She fixed them and sent them on their way.
She spent the next three days in her apartment, television off, ignoring her phone. She was probably in some sort of shock, but felt she’d earned it. She was in no mood to watch the Triskelion fall over and over on the news. Nor did she want to talk to her sisters or father about what had happened. She’d left them all messages the night of the fall, letting them know she was alive. She felt that was sufficient until she was ready to rejoin society.
She gave herself a week. A week seemed like a reasonable amount of time to handle such a thing.
On day six, someone knocked on her door. Which was odd, because she lived in a doorman building that required one to buzz visitors up. Thinking it was a neighbor, she opened the door to find Maria Hill on the other side.
Her initial reaction was to close the door in the woman’s face. She was no longer a SHIELD employee and no longer took orders from her. They weren’t friends by any stretch of the imagination. Amanda had met her less than a dozen times in the five years she’d been with SHIELD. Two of those had been hiring interviews.
Hill put a hand on the door, as if sensing her intent. “Give me ten minutes and a cup of coffee. I won’t need more than that.”
Amanda stared her down another moment, then stepped back to let her in. “I only have tea.”
“If it’s black and caffeinated I’ll pretend not to notice.”
She sat Hill at her kitchen table, not bothering to clear off the several days accumulation of take-out boxes, and set the kettle on the stove to boil for tea. She rested her butt on the edge of the counter and crossed her arms, watching Hill expectantly.
“I’ve secured a job with Stark,” Hill said with no preamble. “I’m here to extend you. . . an umbrella. As I’m doing with other former SHIELD agents I know and trust.”
Amanda wasn’t sure she’d ever actually qualified as ‘agent’ given she hadn’t attended the academy or finished her field training. That was not the surprising thing about that sentence, though. “You barely know me. How can you possibly trust me?”
“You worked eighteen hours in a field triaging and treating wounded after the carriers fell.” Hill’s gaze was steady. “That’s not the actions of a traitor.”
She wasn’t entirely sure Hill’s instincts on such things were reliable, considering the frankly staggering number of high level agents in the Hydra files. But, as she wasn’t a traitor, it was probably a moot point. “I’m a medical doctor. What use does Stark Industries have with me?”
“Are you familiar with the Avengers Initiative?”
“No. I’m illiterate and have lived in a box the last two years.” The kettle whistled and she took it off the heat, pouring hot water into two mugs. She dropped tea bags into the water. “I assumed it was as dead as SHIELD.”
“Mr. Stark has decided to keep it running. Out of the Tower. We need an in-house physician.” Amanda set the mugs on the table and went back for milk and sugar. “Dr. Banner has been doing it up till now and would like to remind us all that he is not ‘that kind of doctor.’ You are.”
Amanda sank into the seat across from Hill and wrapped her hands around her tea mug. “No offense, but are we expecting that to be a full time job? What am I supposed to do with myself when no one is saving the world?”
“The Potential Uses of Super Soldier Serum in Chronic Disease Treatment.” Hill rattled it off like a child reciting a rhyme.
“My thesis?” She added sugar and a healthy dose of milk to her tea. “If you actually read it, I’m flattered.”
“I didn’t. Banner did. He thinks you’re onto something. Well, twenty-something you was onto something. We’re not interested in creating super soldiers. Rogers wouldn’t let us even if we were. Curing auto-immune disease? Easing symptoms of childhood malnutrition? Everyone is very interested in that.” Hill was watching her intently. Whatever she saw made her smile. “You’ll get a state of the art infirmary and lab. Assistants. Nurses. Almost unlimited funding. All you have to do is patch up superheroes now and then.” She sipped her tea. “There are all kinds of ways to save the word, Dr. Newbury.”
It was an odd sensation, having your dreams handed to you quietly over tea. If she had to compare it to something, it was very much like Christmas morning as a child. Coming out to see the tree lit up, presents spilling out from underneath it. It wasn’t a sensation one often felt as an adult.
She managed to sip her drink, despite her shaking hands. She put the mug down firmly and looked at Hill. “I have a nurse I want to bring in.”
Six Months Later
“We are not a halfway house for brainwashed and crazy people, Rogers.”
“Really? Because a good chunk of our roster kind of meets that criteria.”
Amanda ignored Hill and Captain Roger’s heated whispers, focusing on the file in her hand and the man on her table.
Sgt. James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier. Captain Rogers had spent a great deal of time trying to find him since the fall of SHIELD. Somehow, he had coaxed his old friend to return to Avengers Tower with him. And now he was sitting on an exam table in her infirmary, while Rogers and Hill had a debate about redemption and safety.
Amanda decided to go about her work as if everything was normal. First order of business for a new recruit of unknown condition was a full physical and work up. She didn’t think there was much point in putting a partially cybernetic super soldier on a treadmill, but she could at least get the basics.
She put together what she needed for a blood draw and stepped towards him. In a move too fast for her to follow, his arm - the left, metal one - snapped forward and his hand closed around her wrist. His grip was tight and she staggered, moving with the motion of his hand so he wouldn’t break her arm.
Behind her, Hill cursed and Rogers cried out, “Bucky!”
Barnes glanced at them and his hand tightened a little. She waved at the others to be quiet and miraculously, they obeyed, though she was certain Hill had her sidearm out.
She glanced down at her arm, the metal fingers completely encircling it, just above the knob of bone at her wrist. She’d never considered herself particularly delicate. She’d been a chubby, asthmatic kid and a tall, awkward teenager with too wide shoulders. Her father’s hearty farmer genes had run strong, making her big boned and sturdy. With one sister pretty enough to be on TV and another built like their delicate, bird-like mother, she had generally felt like the ugly duckling who never quite reached swan, but merely a relatively nice looking duck. And all of that had been before she’d acquired glasses and a facial scar worthy of a mob enforcer. Dainty and feminine she had never been. It took a cybernetic hand on a ninety year old super assassin to make her feel fragile.
Her mind went back to med school and a discussion on the tensile strength of bones. Almost every anatomy class she’d attended, someone had asked some version of “How much force does it take to break a bone?” Like so much in medicine, the answer was usually, “It depends.” Depends on the bone, the kind of pressure, the position of the breaker and the breakee. Depended on the health of the person. So many variables for such a seemingly simple thing.
She didn’t know how much force he could exert with that arm, but she’d heard he could punch through car doors and rip out steering wheels. She was fairly confident he could crush her radius and ulna if he really wanted to.
“Sergeant Barnes,” she said quietly. His gaze snapped to hers. Blue eyes, she noted. Pale and very focused, like a predator. “My name is Dr. Newbury. I’m sorry I startled you. The needle is empty, I’m not trying to drug you. I need to take a blood sample, two vials.” She lifted her left hand to show him the vials, one with a blue top, the other red. His gaze flickered to look at them, then back to her face. “I want to run a standard blood panel to assess your general health. I also want to run a more complicated panel to try to determine what you were give by Hydra to alter your physiology.”
She thought his hand had loosened slightly. “I know people in white coats have done terrible things to you for a long time. I’m not like them. I’m the physician here. If you get hurt or ill I’ll treat you. But I can’t help you if I don’t understand you.”
It might have been the word ‘help’ that reached him. Or the attempt at empathy. Maybe she just had an honest face. Whatever it was, he slowly released her and held out his other arm, palm up, so she could precede.
Behind her, Rogers blew out a breath. Amanda heard the distinctive sound of a gun sliding back into a holster. She ignored everyone in the room but her patient. He sat perfectly still as she tied on the tourniquet and took the vials.
“I’d like to take more vitals,” she told him, carefully labeling the blood. “Nothing invasive. Blood pressure, temperature, heart and lungs. If you’re not up for it I can forego it.”
“I don’t think it’s a good-” Rogers started.
“It’s fine,” Barnes interrupted, still watching her. His voice was soft, a little rough, not at all what she’d expected. For some reason, she’d expected him to have an accent. He sounded very. . .normal.
She completed the rest of her tests with as much speed and efficiency as she possessed. He sat still and silent as the tomb for it all. She paused to make notes on her clipboard and found herself glancing at his left shoulder, where flesh transitioned to metal. It looked remarkably seamless, with minimal scarring. “Is there any pain?” she asked him quietly, voice pitched so Rogers and Hill couldn’t hear.
He looked at her sharply, a flicker of surprise registering on his face. Then he simply shook his head. She wasn’t entirely sure she believed him, but she just nodded and looked back at her notes. “That’s everything then. You’re free to go.”
Without a word, he tugged his shirt back on and slid off the table. Rogers stepped back so he could pass him on his way to the door.
Amanda debated internally a moment, then called after him, “Sergeant Barnes?” He stopped and turned his head slightly, but didn’t look at her. She plunged ahead. “I’m here seven days a week and am on call when not in the office.” The members of the Avengers had floors to themselves near the top of the Tower, but Stark had also designated a couple floors as temporary housing for employees moving from other areas. Amanda had moved into one of the apartments six months ago and had, so far, found no reason to leave. Having her nearby was convenient. Superheroeing, she’d learned, didn’t happen on banker’s hours. “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to come by. You won’t have to start over with a stranger.”
He didn’t respond verbally, just gave a little nod and continued walking. The look Rogers gave her, however, redefined gratitude for her. Hill just shook her head and followed the men out, leaving Amanda alone.