Nick Fury didn’t realize it was the day before Thanksgiving until he was leaving the White House and someone wished him a happy one. That someone hadn’t been the President, which was no coincidence at all – the President was somewhat angry with him, and a lot more angry with a lot of other people, so the man wasn’t going to be wishing any of them a happy anything for the foreseeable future.
But of course, that’s what happens when one of your longest-running multi-agency covert operations blows up and splatters itself all over the leader of the free world. Who hadn’t known a thing about it until it showed up on YouTube, which meant the entire Internet had known before he did. By the time the President had seen it for himself, it was everywhere and some parts of it had already become memes. And it had already been joined by an official video showing Max’s execution at the hands of the Argentinean government, because he’d killed a planeload of children there and blamed it on the Special Forces team who’d been trying to rescue said children from a drug kingpin.
The same Special Forces team who had been ‘sacrificed’ by everyone official involved to cover their little pet rogue’s tracks and declared dishonorably dead even though everyone official involved had known they weren’t either. The same Special Forces team who were reportedly now back in the States and no doubt basking in the warm afterglow of the President’s heartfelt public apology to them and their families. Wherever they were in the States, that was, because nobody had any clue where that might be.
And theirs wasn’t even the worst of the stories that had come out – nowhere near it. Fury was thankful that most of those stories didn’t have anything to do with him, or with SHIELD in general or any of his agents in particular. Most of them. One particular story did, and the President had made fun of him for it. “Your HR director, really?” he’d chuckled. “You didn’t realize that Human Resources is the only part of any given company that has federal backing and oversight, because they’re enforcing federal laws? You’re lucky this woman cared more about saving your organization from itself than she did about sticking it to you, she could have taken the whole thing down without ever leaving her office. Which I’m given to understand has plush maroon carpet and soundproof walls – even I know what that means, and I’m disappointed that you don’t.”
Fury had stewed over that the entire flight back to New York. Commercial, because although his budget problems were now fixed – because the World Security Council had been disbanded by the UN with extreme prejudice – he’d been warned that the extra money was for his agents, not for jet fuel. By his accounting department, who were still hyperreactive after being audited even though the auditors hadn’t found anything to complain about. Another thing to be thankful for, or maybe that was actually two things.
Back at SHIELD headquarters, he’d gone to sulk in his office with the door closed. Hill wasn’t there, her mother had demanded that she come home for the holiday. Half of the staff wasn’t there, actually, and while he’d been wondering about that and checking his email he’d found the reason in a memo he hadn’t bothered to read: Thanksgiving was a federal holiday, everybody who wasn’t mission-critical had two paid days off. Guidelines had even been included in an attachment to help employees determine if they were actually mission-critical or not, and Fury was surprised to find that he wasn’t – at the present time and in present circumstances, anyway. People who couldn’t take advantage of the holiday were being given an equal amount of paid time off hours to use whenever they were able to. Fury was even more surprised to find out that this had apparently been company policy at SHIELD for several years and had won them a figurative gold star from the Department of Labor, which had caused other large critical-function organizations to adopt similar policies. Which had come to be informally referred to in labor-law circles as HSRs, or Holiday Shield Rules, even though most of the people using the term had no idea that the ‘S’ actually stood for an organization’s acronym and not just the word ‘shield’ as in ‘protection.’
One of those companies was Stark Industries. That threw him. SHIELD had actually done something that Tony Stark’s company had adopted for its own use, amazing. Fury made a mental note to rub Stark’s nose in that the next time the billionaire mocked SHIELD in front of him. The White House had adopted the HSRs as well, but Fury didn’t feel quite as smug about that – he had a feeling the President already knew what the ‘S’ stood for and had quite possibly held off on gutting the organization because of that. Yet another thing to be grateful for, now that he thought about it. The man certainly hadn’t held back on disciplining the CIA, and he’d ordered the Army to clean their own house from the top down if they didn’t want him to do it for them. Several generals were officially retiring because of that order, although sadly Ross wasn’t among them. But Fury could very easily have been joining them if his HR and Payroll departments hadn’t colluded on a cutting-edge piece of critical-function employment reform.
What little good mood that had put him in evaporated, however, when he came across the message about the latest monster attack on New York – which had apparently happened while he was flying to Washington and no one had cared enough to tell him about it. Or rather they had, but the message hadn’t been flagged as urgent and he’d only been sporadically checking his messages for the past two days. Gritting his teeth, he went online and Googled the incident. Iron Man, War Machine, Johnny Storm, Captain America and Black Widow had beaten the thing back – and what was it with sea monsters this year, anyway? – very handily and with minimal property damage, and then the Fantastic Four’s minijet had come out with a hook and dragged the carcass outside the bay to where some kind of large fishing vessel sporting the National Institute of Science logo was eagerly waiting to get hold of it. He also found video of people watching the action from the tops of nearby buildings like it had all been engineered for their amusement, wonderful – the city being attacked by monsters was considered entertainment now. And he found several articles, not all of them by crackpots, speculating about possible causes for the apparent proliferation of sea monsters in their area and what that could mean environmentally.
Sadly, only two of the article writers had been able to refrain from mentioning Godzilla, and those were both crackpots with conspiracy axes to grind and very loose grasps of actual science. Wonderful. And someone had tried to interview Reed Richards about the subject, and he had referred them to his ‘colleague Dr. Banner’ who was apparently at that very moment studying the most recent dead sea monster himself and could be expected to release a paper on his findings soon. His findings on both of the sea monsters and whether or not they were related, no less. Dr. Richards even very helpfully gave them an email address (not published) to send their questions to, as, “Dr. Banner rarely comes out in public, due to certain individuals who want to capture and vivisect him in order to re-create his condition for their own use. Or those who want to trigger his transformation to prove that he’s a danger to society – most likely the same people.”
More Googling revealed that this quote had spread all over the national news networks very quickly, and that public perception of Dr. Banner and his ‘condition’ had taken a definite swing towards sympathetic and supportive. The Army had refused to comment, but the Air Force had been happy to make a statement saying they ‘weren’t sure about the general’s exact plans for Dr. Banner,’ but that his similar designs on Captain America were known to them and they had ‘taken immediate steps to resolve the situation’ as soon as they’d heard about it.
Fury stopped reading after that and left his office so he wouldn’t throw his computer at the wall, going down to the cafeteria to look for something that would make him feel happier. Meaning he wanted hot chocolate and some strawberry Danish, which someone obligingly produced for him before he even asked for them, admitting that they’d held a few of the pastries back for him at breakfast because they’d known he’d be getting back from the Capitol later that day. Which Fury had thanked them for, sincerely, because having his auxiliary staff anticipate his needs was something he was entirely comfortable being openly thankful for.