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The Man From S.H.I.E.L.D

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Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie, 1963.

 

James Barnes approached the military checkpoint with his business smile in place, each step measured, precise. He counted the guards off in his head out of habit – three behind, two in the booth itself, four on either side of the checkpoint. American soldiers, barely paying attention to him as he approached. Just the way he liked it. Someone, however, was paying too much attention to him. And it wasn’t one of the soldiers.

 

                Suitcase in hand, he fell into line at the booth. Sunglasses giving the illusion of him looking ahead, he scanned the area again, trying to find the source of the gaze he could feel, itching at the back of his neck. James stepped forward when he was called, removing his sunglasses and setting his suitcase on the bench, opening it and presenting it to the guard with a polite smile.

 

                “Passport,” The guard requested, and James handed it over, answering the identification questions as the man checked his paperwork, before giving his bag a cursory inspection.

 

                James tilted his head, turning slightly, and heard the rustle of a newspaper being folded. Movement caught his attention, reflected in the camera flash on the desk. A man, blond hair, tall, stood from his seat across the road, heading away from the checkpoint. James watched him for a moment, before turning back to the guard, accepting his papers back, tucking them in his jacket pocket again before taking his suitcase.

 

                James strode through the checkpoint without looking back, sliding into a taxi on the other side with a smile. He held out his map, pointing at the street name he was headed to, and the cabbie nodded, starting the car. They headed off, and James settled back in the back seat, suitcase carefully tucked between his feet.

 

                The drive was short, maybe ten minutes at most, and James paid little attention to the streets as they passed. Berlin was Berlin, and it looked the same on either side of the wall. Most people still spoke German, no matter who was in charge, and they went about their daily lives without care for who was in charge. A flash of blond on a tall man caught his eye as they sped past, and James jerked around, staring out the back window, searching the street for the person it belonged to. He didn’t see anything, and frowned slightly, cautiously settling back against the seat.

 

                “Everything alright?” The cabbie broke the silence, his German crisp and clear, carefully enunciated. Easier for tourists, James supposed.

 

                “Yes, it’s fine. Thought I saw someone I knew,” James replied in perfect, if accented, German, eyes still narrowed. “Must have been mistaken,” he sighed, before glancing at the street name as they passed.

 

                “Here’s fine,” he said after a moment, smile back in place, and the cab pulled over smoothly.

 

                “You’re sure?” the man asked, looking around the empty neighbourhood with more than just a touch of concern. James smiled, leaned forward slightly, and placed a hand on the man’s arm in reassurance.

 

                “I’m sure. How much do I owe you?

 

                James waited until the cab pulled away to head into the path, following it under the road, then back up the stairs. Another man brushed past him, pressing a brown paper bag into his hand. James’ mouth twitched, and he fought a smile. Simple, effective, discreet. Sometimes, the C.I.A actually managed to fit the bill. Down the street, he ducked into another cab, gave the address of a small mechanic.

 

                “Best mechanic around,” He said with a smile, waiting until the driver was focused on the road again. “Wouldn’t want anyone else working on my baby, and the wall isn’t going to prevent that.” The cabbie laughed, agreed, and James used the sound of laughter to mask the noise of paper. He checked inside the small bag, making sure everything he needed was in there, then settled back again, running over his plan in his head.

 

                Peggy Carter worked in a small repair store, a chop shop really, in one of the poorer districts of East Berlin. A stunning mechanic really, and a stunning woman to boot if the pictures did her any justice, but that wasn’t why James was interested in her. No, Miss Carter had connections, family ones, and that made her rather important to James’ employers. Abandoned by her father at four, she hadn’t maintained contact, or her relationship, with the man, but she and her paternal uncle had remained close.

 

                The mission wasn’t her, no, but she provided a link to her missing birth father. A link James had been sent to exploit.

 

                James felt the car start to slow, tuned back in to his surroundings as they pulled to a stop outside the shop. The lights were still on, and soft music crackled out of one of the radios despite the late hour, and James smiled. That made things easier, especially if Carter herself was still on site. He paid the cabbie, slid out of the car, and headed for the shop with a parting wave to the car pulling away.

 

                James walked into the shop like he owned it, shifting past half-build cars and weaving through the shelves full of machine parts. The sound of a wrench led him to the back area, where an absolute beauty of a car waited, hood up. A pair of legs stuck out from under the car, shapely under the coveralls protecting them, and one foot tapped the air along with the faint music. He leaned forward, taking advantage of the hood being up to scan the engine with interest.

 

                “I always thought the original engine was underpowered for the design,” he said conversationally, lips twitching in amusement as the foot stopped tapping for a moment, before resuming. Setting his suitcase on the ground, he tucked his hands in his pockets, careful of the material. “This looks like quite the upgrade.

 

                James leaned forward, reaching out with his right hand to shift the fuel injection lines, eyes running over the engine with interest. “Stick wings on her and you’d need a runway.

 

                He glanced at his hand, grimacing slightly at the grease on it, and glanced down, spotting a grease rag resting over one of the legs still partly under the car. He swiped it, rubbed his fingers clean on it, and then held it out as the woman finally emerged.

 

                “Your accent is pretty good, for an American,” she commented, and James got his first look at the woman that was Miss Peggy Carter.

 

                She was beautiful, just as the pictures had indicated, but they hadn’t shown the intelligent gleam in her eye, or the faint purse to her lips that signalled more than just mild annoyance. They definitely hadn’t indicated that this woman was an absolute spitfire, and yet James could pick that out within seconds of meeting her.

 

                She reached up, snagged the rag from his hand, and stared at him for a moment, before reverting to English. So she was observant too, James figured. “You look important,” a pause, and James could almost see the smirk she was trying to hide. “Or at least, your suit does.” She disappeared back under the car and James fought a laugh. It had been less than a minute. He liked this woman. It was almost worth being pulled off the mission in Bucharest to trade words with her.

 

                “Well, I can get you over the wall,” James began, once he had control of his voice again, making himself sound as dispassionate as possible. Bland. His words were enough on their own to garner her attention again.

 

                “Would you consider that important, Fräulein Carter?”

 

                “A smart mouth to go with the suit. Statements like that could get you into a lot of trouble around here,” Peggy deadpanned as she kept working, refusing to look at him again.

 

                “Or,” James continued, moving around the small desk and rifling through the papers scattered over it, looking for something all mechanics should have. He assumed Miss Carter would be no different. He paused, lifting a stack of receipts, and he internally grinned when he found a stack of weathered photos. “They could get you out of it.” He flicked through the photos, scanning the figures. Peggy featured in many, smiling, with her adopted family, posing with her friends, but one caught his eye – a photo of her with a stout man, his arm around her waist, her arm over his shoulders. They were smiling at the camera, and they looked like they had been in deep conversation before their attention had been grabbed for a photo.

 

                This was the man James was looking for, at least at the moment.

 

                The noise of the wrench stopped, and Peggy appeared again, sitting up and wiping her hands on the rag as she regarded him. “Make yourself at home why don’t you,” She drawled, eyes flitting over him, and the photos in his hand, before she pushed to her feet, kicking the roller platform towards the car, out of the way. James waited for her to speak, ignoring the look she was giving him as he peered at other photos lined up along the desk top.

 

                “Alright, Mister Important Suit, who are you and what do you want,” she said finally, setting her tools away in their proper places before turning to face him, hands on her hips.

 

                “I’m looking for your father,” James said without preamble, dropping into the chair and setting his suitcase on the desk.

 

                “Well I’m afraid you’re a bit late for that, he died two years ago,” she responded turning back to the car as if expecting that to be the end of it.

 

                “I don’t mean your late adopted father, Miss Carter. I mean your real father. Doctor Abraham Erskine. Hitler’s favourite scientist.”

 

                That got an interesting response. Peggy froze, fingers clenching on the edge of the bonnet for a moment, and James heard her breath catch. “That doesn’t sound very friendly.” There was a pause, and James shrugged, not bothering to respond. He just waited for her to continue. “Good luck with that,” she said finally, closing the bonnet with a firm thud, pressing down on it until it clicked shut. “I haven’t spoken to him in eighteen years.”

 

                “After the war ended, he came to us. Operation Paperclip, as it was known,” James said easily, reaching for his suitcase and clicking it open. “The American nuclear program could use bright minds like him. He had a nice house in the suburbs, a steady job, he got along great with his neighbours. Adopted a miniature poodle, named her Elise.” James fed her that bit of information, knowing full well that was the name of Peggy’s late mother, who had died not long before Erskine had up and left. She’d been a Carter, and Peggy had obviously chosen to take her maiden name rather than be associated with the man who had abandoned her. She visibly tensed, but didn't react any further, so he continued.

 

                James looked through the contents of his bag, sighed, and flipped it, reopening it and uttering a soft hah, when he found what he was looking for. Withdrawing the photo, he paused, noting something that shouldn’t be in his bag. He looked back at Peggy after a moment, leaning forward and showing her the photo. “Then, he up and vanished two years ago, smoke in the wind. We haven’t heard from him since.” He set the photo on the table, pulled out the small bit of tech that was sitting on top of a neatly folded shirt. He rolled it between his fingers, thinking back, and sighed, realising that it must have been slipped in at the checkpoint. It was the only time someone else had handled his bag.

 

                “Not, until now, that is.” He continued after a moment, nudging the photo closer to her. “This was taken a week ago, in Rome. Your father is the man behind the car, here,” James pointed to the man in question, a wizened looking man with a shock of hair and a gentle face. Odd looking for a nuclear scientist, if he was honest, but he’d never admit that. Either the thought, or to being honest.

 

                “I’m told, if your father’s knowledge gets into the wrong hands, things could get a little … messy.” James took the photo back, eyes on Peggy as she moved across the small area.

 

                “Oh, you’re told are you? Just a lackey, I see.” She scoffed, and James could almost picture her eyes rolling.

 

                “Not a lackey, Miss Carter, but neither am I a nuclear scientist. But, a nuclear weapon in the hands of the unsavoury types that probably have your father would be bad. End of the world, bad.”

 

                “What makes you think I can help you find him?”

 

                James leaned forward slightly and resting his elbows on his knees. “We’re not expecting you to be able to tell us where he is. But, you can help us find someone who will be able to.”

 

                She glanced over her shoulder at him, raising an eyebrow as if asking oh, and who might that be?

 

                “Your dear old Uncle Zola. Your father’s brother. I’ve also been told,” James narrowed his eyes, dropping the small bit of tech in the half-empty cup of cold coffee and standing, buttoning his jacket. “That your father wasn’t actually a Nazi. He was forced to work for them. That makes us believe foul play is involved.”

 

                James tucked his hands in his pockets again, subtly checking that his gloves were still on. “So, I’m here to help. If we’d had fifteen minutes we could have done this properly – sit down with tea and biscuits, I talk, you laugh, I get what I need and we go our separate ways. But, we don’t. So your options are these.” Dropping his chin slightly, he met the gaze of the smaller woman, who stared back defiantly. “Come with me, we’ll stay at a chic little hotel in West Berlin in less than an hour, or, stay here and meet the Russians,” James pointed out the small window, to where the blond man from the checkpoint was standing, talking with uniformed men. “And spend some time hanging from a pipe getting your toenails removed- that is what I was looking for.” James stepped past Peggy, unclipping the map of the surrounding area from the poster board and scanning it, before folding it neatly.

 

                Pulling a pen out of his breast pocket, James pointed it at Peggy, who was watching him carefully, almost like one would watch a wild animal, which highly amused him. “Would you mind terribly if I borrowed your car?”

 

                Peggy stared at him for a moment, as if trying to work out the reason for the sudden topic change, before sighing, nodding. “I guess I don’t really have a choice in the matter,” She said with a small frown. “Do not scuff my seats.”

 

                James tipped his head slightly, giving her a look that said do you really expect me to? before grabbing his suitcase again and heading for the car.

 

                “Just follow my directions,” he said as he stuck his suitcase in the front passenger seat, then slid into the bench seat in the back. He lay down, head just behind the driver’s seat, as Peggy got in after opening the garage door, and made an appreciative noise when the car started up.

 

                Uncapping the pen, he craned his neck and started to plot a route, saying conversationally, “Are they still following us?”

 

                “Yes,” Peggy said carefully as they pulled to a stop, and James sighed, patted his pockets, before reaching out with a foot and unrolling the window opposite him.

 

                “Could you pass me the brown paper bag in my suitcase please,” he requested softly, and accepted it as he heard another car pull up beside them at the intersection. “Eyes ahead, is there only one of them in the car?” Peggy went to open her mouth, and he added, “Just hum if there are.”

 

                She hummed softly, and he frowned. Probably the blond, he decided. “Is he looking at us?” She hummed again. “Does he only have one hand on the steering wheel?” There was a pause, and James sighed, screwed the silencer on the small pistol. “When you hear something that sounds like a gunshot, drive,” he said calmly.

 

                There was a moment of tense silence. James checked his gun one last time, and plotted the trajectory, focusing on the roof of the car next to them.

 

                He sat up swiftly, gun at the ready, and fired two shots through the window at where the driver’s head should be. James fell back as the car took off, then pushed himself upright again, quickly checking his pistol over. He bumped the safety on and tucked it in his pocket, before grabbing the map again.

 

                “Did you get him?” Peggy sounded only mildly alarmed, and James took that as a good thing. A freakout on her part would make this whole thing that much more difficult.

 

                “Let’s hope he doesn’t drive as fast as he moves,” he said by way of answering, picking up the map as he did. James scanned his route again, before looking up in surprise as Peggy spoke again.

 

                “Well I’ve got news for you,” she started, and James swore internally, knowing exactly what she was going to say next. “He does.”

 

                James gritted his teeth, placed their location on the map, and said “Turn right,” instead of answering as the other car pulled alongside them. He braced his foot against the door, swaying as Peggy yanked the wheel. “Then an immediate left,” he added, and they slid, tyres squealing against the asphalt as they turned again, the other car in synch with them. She was really a talented driver, James noted as they sped down the street. That was proven when he heard the crank of the handbrake, and the two cars spun, just shy of touching each other, before lining back up. Peggy shunted closer to the other car, and it moved to compensate, then she yanked back, just as a fence appeared between them, and they were separated.

 

                “Nicely done,” James said with a nod, before adding, “Right, here.” He opened his mouth again, but Peggy cut him off, her words making him lean against the door and brace his hand on the opposite seat.

 

                “Hold on.”

 

                The creak of the handbrake sounded again, and they spun, coming to a stop between two cars on the other side of the street. He reached out a hand, pushed Peggy slightly to get her to lie prone, and did so himself, barely breathing in the quiet. The small car pursuing them shot past, and James made an approving noise.

 

                “Is he gone?” Peggy sounded hopeful.

 

                James hummed slightly, straightening as he said, “Y’know, I don’t think so.” He scanned the map again, before tucking it between the front seats, sliding out of the car. “Reverse down the sidewalk, and drive around the block.” He closed the door, looked at her, adding “and meet me back here,” with a raised eyebrow. At her nod, James pulled his pistol back out, thumbing the safety off, and headed for the sidewalk himself, hiding himself in the shadow of one of the other cars.

 

                There was the sound of a reversing car, and James stepped back slightly, pressing himself against the car behind him as Peggy started to move, squeezing down the narrow space as their pursuer pulled abreast. There was silence again, and then the pursuing car moved forward. James sighed, stepping out onto the road and raising his gun. Almost a shame, really. This guy was good.

 

                He fired once, paused, then fired again, and the car swerved, heading off the road and hitting a power pole, shuddering to a stop. James didn’t lower his weapon, watching for any sign of movement. After a minute, he stepped back, left hand still tucked in his pocket, and lowered the gun, hearing Peggy approach. He stepped back, then jerked out of the way as she nearly hit him, and he raised an eyebrow at her. When she simply raised one back, James sighed, sliding into the car and grabbing the map. Peggy started driving, and for a moment James thought they might actually not have any more problems, until he heard a gunshot. Instinctively ducking, James caught himself on the seat in front of him as the car shuddered and swayed, and he swore under his breath. Asshole shot the tire out, of course he did.

 

                James glanced back, seeing the blond man take off running after them, and swore again, fingers clutching the seat as Peggy wrangled the car back into shape and turned in the direction he had been in the middle of indicating.

 

                “I think you should look out the window,” Peggy said shortly, sounding just a little strained, and James raised an eyebrow, turning his head.

 

                A note of incredulity snuck into his voice as he watched the man run across the field beside them, coming right at their car. “You have got to be kidding me.”

 

                He was catching up, the car struggling with a tyre missing, and he latched onto the boot, starting to tug back. “He’s trying. To stop the car.” James said, disbelieving.

 

                “Well, it’s working,” Peggy snapped, and James glanced at her, before looking back at the man. He was handsome, James realised as they passed under a street lamp, the light bringing their pursuer’s face into focus. In a classically American way, he was handsome. Strong jaw, tense, pouty lips, tightened, bright eyes, narrowed. The shock of blond hair was falling into his face, and James had the odd stupid urge to brush it out of the way. He ground his teeth, berating himself for the thought, as Peggy said, “Why don’t you shoot him?”

 

                “I dunno,” James replied smoothly, though he knew exactly why. “It just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.”

 

                There was a groan of metal, and James tensed, thinking that the man had actually succeeded in stopping the car, before there was a pop, and the boot panel came clean off. The car shuddered, speeding up without the dragging weight, and James flinched slightly as the man tossed the now useless hunk of metal in their direction, falling behind again.

 

                James knew he wasn’t giving up though, and grabbed his map again, quickly tracing the route they had taken. “First left, immediate right,” he instructed, and the car slid sideways as Peggy yanked the wheel. He caught the sound of sirens and fought a grimace, leaning forward slightly as they headed down a swiftly narrowing alley.

 

                “This road isn’t going anywhere,” Peggy said, sounding confused, a little worried. Bucky mouthed the words back at her, knowing she wasn’t looking at him, then tapped his map again.

 

                “It’s taking us exactly where we need to go.”

 

                “It’s getting narrow-”

 

                “It’s all part of the plan,” James cut her off, settling in his seat and leaning back slightly, bracing his knee against the seat in front of him. “So put your foot down and drive a little faster.” This wasn’t going to work if she didn’t, so he really hoped she had enough sense to-

 

                The car sped up, and he let out a relieved sigh. The ground dropped out from under them as the alley turned into stairs, and the car kept barrelling forward, walls closing in and dragging them to a stop just shy of the exit, suspended a few feet off the ground.

 

                “All part of the plan,” Peggy mocked, head tossing back slightly in annoyance as she caught sight of the wall in front of them. “Good plan, now all we have to do is get over two twenty foot walls and a mine field.” She sighed, rolling her head back slightly and looking over her shoulder, more than just a little mad. “Now what?” she snapped.

 

                James sighed, leaning forward, reaching across her and unwinding her window. When the squeaking stopped, he raised an eyebrow, and said “An immediate left, through the window,” pointing at the window in the alley wall, perfectly aligned with the car window.

 

                After a tense moment, Peggy growled under her breath and crawled through, nudging the window up and sliding into the house. James followed lightly, tugging his jacket straight as he did, and glanced back down the alley, frowning as he spotted the man running towards them. “Follow me,” he said quietly, heading off through the small apartment, pulling the chain off the front door and heading out. Without hesitation, he headed up the stairs, ignoring the confused noise from the woman behind him.

 

                They didn’t pause until he held up a hand, unlocking the roof access hatch as Peggy caught her breath. He climbed through, giving her a hand up, then shut it firmly, glancing around. Spotting a piece of piping, he slid it into the latch of the doo. Turning away from it, James walked to the edge of the roof and pulling a flashlight out of his pocket. Pointing it across the wall, he flicked it on a few times as Peggy snapped “What are we doing here?”

 

                “Looking. For Agent Jones,” James said abruptly, before glancing at the roof hatch. It rattled as something heavy hit it, then there were a few soft pings, and bullet dents appeared in the metal, making James frown.

 

                Something whistled through the air, making Peggy jump, but James didn’t blink, watching the hook lodge itself in the chimney behind him. Reaching up, he tested the wire, before pulling a hook off his belt, clipping it to the line.

 

                There was a noise behind them, and James turned, eyes narrowing as hands appeared on the side of the roof. The blond man pulled himself up, and James held out an arm to Peggy, gesturing her forward. “Hug me.”

 

                She did so, without the argument he was beginning to expect was a normal state of being for her, and he wrapped his left arm tightly around her waist. Ignoring the look she gave him when it touched her, he grabbed the line connecting them to the main wire and stepped forward, off the edge of the building.

 

                As they flew down the line, James looked back, scowling when the man hooked his own jacket over the line and followed. They hit the truck on the other side of the wall with a thump, and he called out, “Jones, reverse,” as they steadied. The truck lurched backwards, and James watched with an arched brow as the line sagged, the man on it slowing to a stop. On the wrong side of the final wall.

 

                Herding Peggy aside with a hand, James stepped close to the grappling gun that held the wire in place, and yanked out a bolt. The line snapped, shimmying as it flew out of the truck, and James saw a momentary panic on the other man’s face before he dropped into the mine field. There was no explosion as the truck shifted into gear, so James assumed it was the man’s lucky day, stepping in close to Peggy as she stumbled.

 

                “My name is James Barnes, and you, Miss Carter, are now in protective custody.”

 

                She spluttered at that, and James ignored her, leaving the other agent to placate her as he moved to his equipment bag. He dismantled the pistol quickly, then swapped his heavy gloves for the thinner leather ones, refusing to look at his left hand as he did. James settled on top of one of the crates and leaned his head back against the canvas walls with a sigh, knowing the night wasn’t over yet.

 

                It wasn’t.

 

 

                Talking to his boss was irritating on a good day, but James had been shot at, chased across East Berlin, and shoved in a safe house instead of the nice hotel he had been looking forward to all day.

 

                On top of all that, Peggy had been sassing him all night, calling him out on his promise of a ‘chic hotel’, and complaining about the smell of his food – though she had shut up pretty quickly when she actually tasted it, and had polished it off pretty quickly.

 

                Bracing his hands on his hips, ignoring the fact that he was still in a floral apron, he stared at his mission chief, Peter Sanders. Who wasn’t even paying attention to him, the ass, and had his gaze fixed on the image of President Kennedy as the man gave a speech about nuclear warfare. Fitting, really.

 

                “I trust Miss Carter was helpful?” the man finally spoke, and James sighed, knowing exactly how this conversation was going to go.

 

                “You were right, the uncle is our way in.”

 

                “That’s it? That’s all you got?”

 

                James grit his teeth, hiding his annoyance as he continued. “He’s in Italy, Rome. Works for a shipping company called Pierce, and now you have Miss Carter. My work here is don-"

 

                “We already knew all of that,” Sanders drawled, and James raised an eyebrow. ”Your job is done when I say it’s done.”

 

                “You told me,” James said, a hard note entering his voice. “That this was going to be a simple extraction.”

 

                “It should have been, I didn’t ask you to light up half of East Berlin.”

 

                “They were waiting for me.”

 

                “Don’t flatter yourself, they follow everybody.”

 

                James ground his teeth, eyes narrowing slightly on his boss. He couldn’t do or say anything that could get him too deep into trouble, or risk longer at the heel of this irritating man. But he wasn’t about to let the man walk all over him. “What was waiting for me was barely human, you should have seen it run,” He drawled, only exaggerating a little.

 

                “Grow a spine, Barnes. Contrary to what you may think, we are not in the haberdashery business,” Sanders said, eyebrows raised in mild annoyance, disbelief on his face.

 

                “I don’t think you understand, it tore the back off my car.”

 

                “Remind me, Barnes, how long was your prison sentence?” James grit his teeth at the reminder, knowing what was coming next. “And how many more years on top of that do you owe for that?” Sanders gestured to James’ arm, and James curled his left hand into a fist to stop himself strangling the dick.

 

                “You owe me five more years,” Sanders said, standing and approaching carefully. As soon as he was close enough, the man leaned in, speaking softly. “Now, I know you’ve been … taking care of yourself on the side, wetting your beak, so to speak. We don’t pay you enough to put truffles in your risotto, Barnes. But don’t ever make the calamitous error of mistaking my deliberate short-sightedness for blindness.” The man stepped back when James didn’t respond, and walked towards the door.

 

                “Now you’ll report for duty at nine am sharp tomorrow morning, and with a better attitude,” Sanders said firmly, and James smirked, knowing well enough that that was never going to happen. Sanders knew it too, but he never stopped trying.

 

                James stayed where he was as the man left, making the two agents that followed walk around him in a petty moment of spite. When the door closed behind them, he let his smile fall, scrubbed his right hand over his face, then sighed, tugging the apron off and leaving it draped over the back of a couch. Man he hated that man sometimes.

 

                Tugging the glove off his left hand with his teeth, James flexed his fingers, watching the dim light play over the metal, then headed for the bedroom he was using, calling out to Peggy.

 

                “I’m taking a shower, don’t break anything.”

 

                There was a scoff, and the obvious and deliberate clatter of a fork hitting the ground, before the kitchen went quiet again.

 

                There was no such thing as simple, he realised, and it was his own fault for thinking this mission would be.