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Close Encounters of the Sewer Kind

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Nick Fury had been in his share of sewers in his time. He'd hidden in them in Rio de Janeiro, explored them in Paris, hidden a few bodies in them here and there. He'd hardly call himself a connoisseur, but he'd been around, and there was just something unique about the sewer system in the nation's capital. Something wafting its way up under the chemical smell of people's obsessive need to clean it away. Something strong, something strange, something undeniably funky. And not in the James Brown sense either.

...funny where his brain went under the combo of pain, morphine, and massive amounts of adrenaline.

The assassin... robot... thing that had nearly punched his ticket could have been working for any number of organizations, but he had a strong suspicion that if he popped its hood he'd find HYDRA written all over it. Which meant he was not out of danger, even if his flight below ground had thrown his pursuer off the scent for now. Oh, yes, HYDRA still existed - he'd even caught a few of their spies worming their way into SHIELD - and they were tenacious little shits. Fanatics always were.

Pot, kettle - oh, shut up.

His arm throbbed dully, bringing him back to the present. Nick leaned against the wall - gingerly - and tried to take stock. He'd fled... eastward, he thought, east and maybe a little south. Which would put him in the vicinity of the National Mall. Great, wide open spaces and tourists. And little kids flying kites. Of course, he could be completely wrong about where he was. By design, all these tunnels looked alike, and he hadn't been in the best headspace for orienteering when he'd started running. The only way to be sure was to poke his head above ground. And risk getting it shot off.

He was injured, possibly lost, being hunted, armed but vulnerable, far from his home ground. And now... now he could hear voices.

*

"So - New York sewers or DC sewers. Which do we like better?"

There was a general flurry of 'ugh, whatever' from his brothers, but all three nevertheless gave due consideration to the question Donny posed. "DC," Mikey piped up. "Less smelly."

"Still smelly," Raph argued. "They just hide it better."

"Duh, that means you smell it less."

"Yeah, but then you get surprised by a whiff of it right to the face and it's even worse than if it was just always there."

Those two. Donny left them to it and trotted to catch up with Leo. "What about you?"

Leo didn't answer right off, and Donny thought he was doing the Ninja Situational Awareness thing he did sometimes. Then his brother's shoulders lifted in a shrug. "It's certainly cleaner," he admitted, "but there's something about it that creeps me out a little."

Interested, Donny turned to peer at him. "Yeah? Too quiet?"

"Too clean, too all-the-same." Leo waved a hand to indicate the tunnels as they passed. "It's like a Stepford sewer." He paused, and added in a whisper, "Raph's right about the smell."

Donny grinned, made a zip-lips motion across his beak. Leo gave him a tolerant smile in response.

Behind them, Mikey squawked; Leo and Donny thought Raph had him in a headlock until he blurted, “Dude, where’d you come from?”

*

Son of a bitch.

There were four of them; they were armed; and they were definitely Not Human. Nick could have taken one of them if he’d had surprise on his side, but so much for that now. The only saving grace he could see was that they seemed as dismayed to see him as he was to be seen. Whoever or whatever they were, HYDRA hadn’t sent them.

Probably.

“So,” he croaked, because the spasm of pain that had betrayed him in the first place still had its claws clamped tight around his arm, “what say we pretend we never saw each other.”

The creatures hesitated; one of them bent, getting a better look at him without actually getting closer. Cagey things, whatever they were. “You’re hurt,” it - he - observed. “We’ll get you to a hospital-”

“We don’t know where one i-is,” muttered the one behind him, his face-mask a slash of red in the dim light.

Nick huffed a laugh. “Not an option for me right now, thanks anyway.”

The gears seemed to be turning in their heads. “You’re in some kind of trouble,” asked the one who’d spoken first. “Aren’t you?”

“Dammit, Leo…”

“Nah, I just hang out in sewers for the atmosphere,” Nick answered dryly, as meaningful glares flashed between the two most talkative ones. Leo, apparently, and the red-masked one, clearly second in command.

“Hey, us too!” crowed the one who’d spotted him first, which landed him on the receiving end of a double Look from the talkative ones. “What?”

Nick grunted as he straightened up a little, amused despite himself. See, this I can work with. After wrangling two superhumans, two damn-stubborn agents, a god, and Tony Fucking Stark (that was his name forevermore) into working as a team long enough to stave off an alien invasion, four lizards with the attention spans of teenagers wouldn’t even be a challenge. “You’re not from around here, are you?” he asked, letting a grin start to show on his face.

“We’re not aliens,” the one wearing purple piped up. Nick raised an eyebrow. “Sorry. We get that a lot.”

Nick made a peaceable gesture with his good hand. “I am conspicuously not asking.” More than one set of green shoulders relaxed at that - not all of them, he was interested to note. “Look, I got a buddy who lives in the area. You get me to his place in one piece, I’ll clue you in to the spots the tourist guidebooks don’t tell you about. Deal?”

The lizards glanced at each other, clearly weighing their better natures against their desire to not get stuck in a zoo or something. Better nature won out. “Where does your friend live?” Leo asked.

Nick tilted his head. “Dupont Circle. North of the White House.”

Leo glanced at Purple, who pointed down a tunnel that looked indistinguishable from all the others. “Not too far out of our way,” he offered.

“Let’s go.” Leo led the way, the other three falling into a loose formation around Nick as he hauled himself upright to follow, and noted with interest the solid shell on Leo’s back. Humanoid turtles, then. Good thing I didn’t call them lizards to their faces.

The one in the orange mask caught up with him to peer enquiringly at his face. “Hey, aren’t you that guy from that movie…?”

Nick huffed a laugh, and immediately winced as his ribs protested. “No, but I get that a lot.”

*

The hole burned into the asphalt was a black mark marring the perfect icescape of his mind. Muscles tightening, he let the SUV fall, hitting the street with a crash that set his teeth on edge: self-punishment.

A civilian held his smartphone up, recording him from across the street. The Soldier swung his rifle in his direction; the civilian dove out of sight. The Soldier let him go. If his commander wanted that leak plugged, he would order it.

The men sent with him approached cautiously. One of them had a cell phone, open and lit in indication of a call. The Soldier held out his flesh hand, neither welcoming nor impatient but with the same stone-faced acceptance as a statue, until the cell was dropped into it.

“Target’s in the wind,” he reported in his mother tongue, ignoring the commandos’ fearful mutterings.

The voice on the other end gave him an address. “He’ll hole up there. Inform the men they’re dismissed. You’ll do this alone.”

“Understood.” The Soldier closed the phone up and tossed it back to the man who’d handed it to him. “Orders. Dismissed,” he said in unaccented English.

“You’re going after him yourself?” the commando demanded, but the Soldier was already turning away. “Uh… okay then. Happy hunting, man. Hail Hydra.”

The commandos filtered away, doing what the Soldier could not: shed their uniforms and weapons, re-assume civilian identities. By the time the Soldier had chosen his route and committed to it, climbing up the fire escape to the roof of the nearby building, they’d filtered out of his mind as well.

Only his target mattered.

*

Leo silently traded places with Donny so he could watch the man - Nick, he said his name was - and observe for himself as Mikey quizzed Nick on the best places in the city to get pizza. Nick strode rather than walked, despite the injury he couldn’t quite keep hidden, head up and single eye scanning their environment like he expected an attack. The other eye had a patch over it; Leo didn’t want to ask what had happened, but the impressive scars crawling out from under the patch hinted at some violent mishap.

Leonardo of all people knew better than to judge by appearances, but the words ‘criminal underworld boss’ did cross his mind, and he’d be kicking his own shell if he and his brothers wound up having to face this guy in battle some time in the future. He took a deep breath - full of D.C. sewer-surprise stench, and oh god Raph was right about that - and tried to center himself. There were lots of ways someone could lose an eye. Maybe he was a secret agent; maybe he was a pro MMA fighter. Maybe he was just unlucky.

Admittedly, there were fewer above-board reasons someone would need to hide in the sewers and refuse to go to the hospital, but that kind of desperation wasn’t something Leo could ignore. What he really wanted was to pull Raph aside and ask his opinion. Paradoxically, Raph was the reason they had any human friends at all. He was the one who’d rescued April. He was the one who’d befriended Casey.

Leo was amending that thought with a “...sort of” when Donny held up a hand to halt the group. “We should be near Dupont,” he reported. “I’m going to pop above ground and take a look.” He nodded to a ladder leading up to street level.

Nick waved him off. “You let me do the popping-up, young man. You’ve got reasons to stay hidden.”

“With that arm?” Donny asked, the voice of skepticism. “Manhole covers are heavier than they look, you know.”

“I’m stronger than I look, you know.” Despite the smile Nick flashed his way, his voice promised that arguing the point would get them precisely nowhere. Leo shook his head at Donny’s flummoxed glance as Nick went up the ladder.

For an injured man, he was quick, not even his breath betraying his pain. He hovered at the top of the ladder while Leo and his brothers huddled below, half expecting him to pull out a Captain America style feat of strength and shove the manhole cover aside like it was made of cardboard.

“...yeah,” Nick admitted grudgingly, “I’m gonna need some help with this.”

Mikey spluttered a laugh before Raph knocked him over the head, just on general principle. Leo grinned in relief. “Come on down, we’ll handle it. We’re used to this.”

*

Safe - for now.

Nick ghosted through Steve’s apartment, examining his varied glasses and tchotchkes he’s scattered on the shelves: relics of past decades forming a timeline of sorts. Betty Boop and Little Orphan Annie shared space with Nickelodeon and Star Wars - in the latter he detected Natasha’s sly hand. Nick wondered if Steve had actually seen Star Wars yet.

Well, after this was over, he’d have to ensure someone took care of the Star Wars virgin. Assuming he survived. Which he fully intended to do.

Choosing a record at random, Nick filled the little apartment with music and claimed a chair, back to the wall, to await Steve’s return.

How’d you get in my apartment, Director Fury? - Well, Steve, I had some help from four giant talking turtles.

Nick Fury, director of SHIELD, terror of evildoers across the globe, leaned his head back and giggled.

*

“Do you think he’s gonna be okay?”

Leo’s rumble of guilt wasn’t helped by Mikey’s question. “He didn’t seem worried,” he answered, and the protestation rang hollow in his ears. “Besides, we still have our own mission.”

“Right, that stuff.” Mikey folded his hands behind his head. “Think we’ll ever see him again?”

Leo glanced up one last time at the dark window. “I doubt it,” he admitted. “But I wouldn’t mind meeting him again, under different circumstances.”

As long as it wasn’t on the wrong side of a battle.

Unbidden, and with that thought still in his eyes, Leo glanced at Raph. His brother glanced away, searching his own feelings, and lifted a hand in a silent back-and-forth gesture. Maybe, maybe not.

Fair enough. Leo nodded and turned his attention away from the window. Nick had a friend to look after him now; that would have to be enough.

“Guys, we’d better get going,” Donny called from further down the alley. “Museum closes soon.”

“Sewers again?” Raph asked. “Or roofs?”

Leo glanced up, weighing risks against rewards. “Sewers,” he decided. “We don’t know this city well enough yet. No telling what we’d run into up there.”

*

Target acquired.