Todji Wong sat at his desk in the HR department’s secure back office, doing imaginary paperwork. He didn’t actually have any papers in front of him; what he had was a graphics tablet and a stylus, and the forms were on one of the two monitors on his desk. Forging someone else’s handwriting was a skill you’d lose pretty quickly if you didn’t practice, so Todji spent a few hours every week making sure that particular skill stayed sharp.
It was only one of his many skills, you could even say it was one of his lesser ones, but it was highly valuable to his team all the same. He smirked. Being an extraction team – one of SHIELD’s top extraction teams, no less – had meant that the finer points of ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ hadn’t really applied to them all that much when they were working.
His smirk reversed itself, and he flubbed an entry and had to erase it. It had been years now, but it still hurt to think about losing the job he’d loved, the job they’d all loved. Until that one last mission had gone pear-shaped on them – not really an uncommon occurrence or necessarily an unexpected one, in their line of work, but that time it had put them nose to nose with the corruption that had taken root in SHIELD, specifically in SHIELD’s HR department. Someone higher up the food chain had decided that Allison’s highly-successful team had gotten a little too successful, a little too dangerous. That last mission had apparently looked like a winning lottery ticket to the then-director of HR, and the bitch had tried to burn them.
Tried being the operative word. Allison had been suspicious of HR for a while, they all had. Rules and regs were enforced inconsistently, paperwork tended to disappear or turn up altered, claims and complaints were either ignored or used as ammunition. It hadn’t just been them, SHIELD’s internal politics could be brutal, but the fact that the people in charge had picked the aftermath of that particular mission to make their move…
Rhonda had said, afterwards, that if Allison hadn’t already had plans in place to cover their asses in just such a situation, she probably would have declared the entire upper ranks of SHIELD targets and taken them all out. Todji himself had countered that if Allison had died – which had come all too close to happening – they should have just blown SHIELD headquarters up and then blown up all of their satellite bases immediately afterwards. It wasn’t like anyone could have stopped them, since Amanda had the security override codes for all the bases in her head at all times.
Luckily for everyone, Allison hadn’t died. She would never be able to speak normally again thanks to their target and the HR-related delay in getting the necessary medical treatment after they’d gotten her away from him, but she was alive. And if she now had to pitch her voice into Disney princess range in order to speak clearly…well, they’d all gotten used to it. Allison, being Allison, had practiced until the new fake voice sounded natural in a creepily dangerous sort of way, and had then proceeded to use that to her advantage at every opportunity. Most people in SHIELD either didn’t realize or no longer remembered that back in Badger Team’s active days she’d talked just like any other normal person.
Of course, they weren’t Badger Team anymore, because the Badgers had been burned and had come back a hell of a lot more vicious as a result. They’d taken over SHIELD’s HR department – after burning it the fuck down first, because Allison’s contingency plans tended to be of the scorched-earth variety – all sporting brand-new pink dolphin tattoos leaping over the tops of the badger tattoos they’d already had. They were Boto Team now, devouring the piranhas in SHIELD one bloody bite at a time.
Director Fury had apparently forgotten that, so the person they’d bitten most recently had been him. Todji signed Fury’s name to the form he’d been working on with a characteristically angry flourish – Fury had surprisingly nice, flowing handwriting – snickering in spite of himself before he wiped the form and started again, this time filling it out in Hill’s more clipped, utilitarian style. Fury had been detouring around the HR department’s territory for a while now because he didn’t want to run into Allison. Not because he was afraid of her, Todji didn’t think Fury was actually afraid of anyone, but because he was ashamed of himself and didn’t want to face her. Because she’d not only called him on his considerable pile of non-HR-approved shitty personnel-related decisions that day not quite two months ago, but she’d also let her voice drop out of its artificial register as he’d been leaving their office, making sure that he would not only remember their conversation for a while, but that he’d remember why they’d had it in the first place. “Never again, Director,” she’d rasped, and the rest of the team had been gratified to see the man actually shudder; Allison’s ‘real’ voice sounded like something that had been hiding in the shadows so it could kill you as soon as you thought you were safe. “Never, ever again on our watch. Remember that.”
And Fury had jerkily nodded his head and left the office without another word. They knew he wouldn’t stay cowed forever, but at least for the time being he wasn’t making new plans to screw over any of SHIELD’s other employees: Boto Team counted that as a win. And Amanda was monitoring him more closely now, even though it would probably be a while before he got back up to speed on what Rhonda called the ‘evil shithead track’ again. It wasn’t that Fury was a bad man, they all knew he wasn’t, but power does corrupt even good men, after all. And nothing pulls someone down the long slide into darkness faster than a sincere conviction that they’re serving ‘the greater good’, coupled with the power to do anything they think is necessary to bring that good about.
Boto Team themselves had that conviction and a lot of that kind of power, of course. But they also had something Fury didn’t have: They had each other. One of them might start to slip – and at one time or another every one of them had – but it was a given that the other three would be right there to stop that slide before things went too far.
And if they ever all slipped at once…well, that didn’t happen very often, and if it did their target was probably going to deserve whatever happened to them anyway.
Todji was smiling at how nice and perfect Hill’s version of the medical leave authorization form looked when one of the open laptops on Amanda’s desk beeped, then beeped again, and he peeled himself out of his chair to go turn whatever alarm it was off until she got back. When he wiggled the mouse to get the screen visible and saw what had triggered the alarm, though, he forgot about turning it off and pulled his cellphone out of its holster, speed-dialing 2. “’Manda, that search you were running just got a double hit,” he said urgently when she picked up. “Get back here, it’s a problem: Our tigerfish is back.” Rhonda came to look over his shoulder and gasped when he pointed at one particular part, hurrying off to get Allison. Todji went back to his desk, killing the pretend forms and pulling up real ones that were digitally connected to the personnel network. Forms he’d be signing for Allison as soon as he had them filled out, authorizing sick leave for the entire HR department, effective immediately. They had just come down with the flu, all four of them.
Boto Team was about to go into a controlled slide, and given the circumstances they would probably ask the Avengers and the Fantastic Four to slide with them. Best of all from Todji’s point of view, though, since the whole thing was going to be unofficial in the extreme…there wasn’t going to be any paperwork to do afterwards.