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Call Me Void, Uncle Phil

Chapter Text

The Asset did not question orders. He carried out his orders given to him in Russian without a second thought, until it is time to go to sleep again. Not once has he hesitated, nor shown any remorse towards any of the targets he was sent to eliminate or capture. Never let their begging sway him from the mission, never blinked when a mother cried for her child and he definitely never had any other thoughts about his targets apart from the mission parameters.

That was until the mission he was now on.

Stalking his target through the shadows, he was simply put confused. He had been woken up and given strict orders for a capture mission. He was to be sent to Beacon Hills and capture Mieczysław "Stiles" Stilinski, age 17, alive and unharmed. He had been told that if any harm came to the target, he was to be punished, put in the chair for an unspecified amount of time. That had sparked an interest in the Asset, for the target to be so valuable to his masters, yet he could see nothing remarkable in the mission file he had been handed about the kid.

He had been following the boy around for a week in order to establish his routine so that he could be taken with the minimum force and he could not seem to find one. The boy skipped school, drove around town seemingly randomly and wandered around the woods till odd hours of the night. The only constant thing about the boy was that he was always alone. He was avoided by other teenagers and the people who did try and talk to him were ignored until they left him alone.

Over the course of the week, he had learned that the boy in front of him was not the same one from his mission file. The file has shown that the boy was intelligent, yet sarcastic as suggested from his schoolwork. That boy was full of life and energy, mainly from his ADHD and was highly uncontrollable and unable to keep still. However, watching his target stumble through the woods, he could see that he boy was spiralling into depression from the lifeless, dejected look in his eyes. The stoic way he would sit in his car for hours just staring at random places such as the hospital and police station, contradicted the manic energy his file had implied. The target was a mystery and was causing strange thoughts to float through the Asset’s mind.

What had changed from the time the file had been created to now?

But a mission was a mission and the Asset could tell that his handler was getting annoyed with his lack of progress in securing the target.

Watching from afar, the Asset saw the moment that the boy collapsed by a large tree stump, as if he had lost the will to keep going. Deciding now was the best moment to strike, he pulled out the sedative that had been given to him to take out the target. Stealthily moving over the leaves that had fallen due to it being Autumn, he approached from behind the target, moving closer with each passing breath. This was almost certainly one of the easiest missions he had been sent on and the target would not even be aware what was happening until it was too late.

Yet when he has 10 feet away, the boy stiffened and said in a cold, detached voice that froze the Asset in place with shock.

“If you’re here to kill me then just make it quick, I don’t have it in me to fight anymore.”

Frozen in place the Asset stared at the boy’s back in confusion. What 17 year old just sat and waited to be killed? How had the boy even known he was approaching? He wanted to leave the preserve in order to regroup his thoughts, to decide how best to carry out the mission. Yet he was unable to move, fighting the urges to either gather the boy in his arms and shake some life back into him or to stick the needle in his neck and finish the mission.

The target turned around and stared at him with dead eyes that seemed to be waiting for him to act.

“Are you going to get on with it then?”

The Asset shook his head and stepped closer, unknowingly bringing the sedative into view.

Seeing the sedative in his hand the boy simply took a breath and asked, “That for me?”

A nod and the boy stood, walking to the Asset until he was arm's length away. Without a flicker of fear, he looked into the Asset’s eyes, searching for something.

“That look in your eyes, the one that says you’re haunted by your action. Does it ever go away?”

The Asset flinched slightly. He could understand it a bit better now. The boy had the same look in his eyes. For what reason he did not know, but now he understood that the boy had seen or done things that he felt guilty for. Shaking his head slightly in answer, the boy let out a humourless laugh and seemingly deflated, as if the will to live had truly been extinguished.

“Do it. I can’t stay here anymore. I’m a monster and deserve whatever punishment or treatment necessary. No one here will even notice I’m gone and even if they did I won’t be missed.”

Moving forward the Asset plunged the sedative into the boy’s neck and released the contents, causing the target to slowly lose consciousness. Catching the target before he dropped to the floor, the Asset watched as his eyelids started to flicker and began to turn to leave before he hears the simple phrase that pierces his heart.

“Thank you.”

Walking to his rendezvous point, the Asset stared at the boy’s face, wondering how someone so young could be so broken. How had the target gotten under his skin when no other has? Causing him to hesitate during a mission and allow him to communicate with him. Why was he feeling such protectiveness towards this boy?

One thing was known for certain though was that the Asset was not going to remember the boy in a couple of hours.

Yet he didn't want to forget.

Chapter Text

Phil Coulson remembered the day that everything changed in his life in a way that he never expected. April 8th 1995, the day his sister Claudia gave birth to her son, his nephew. When he entered Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital, he immediately headed to the maternity ward where he found a young blonde nurse at the reception who gave him Claudia’s room number. Taking slow steps towards room 114 he prepared himself to give a quick hello and congratulations before taking his leave, he didn't want to be given any reason to stay. He knew how dangerous it could be if people found out about his family, considering his work wasn't exactly the safest. Entering the hospital room as quietly as he could, he took in the medical equipment pushed to the side, the pale yellow walls, almost feeling a calming effect go through his body and the two figures sleeping peaceful in the middle of the room. Using his training he slipped quietly across the floor trying not to wake any of the sleeping occupants. Approaching the bed his sister was occupying, his eyes kept straying towards the cot containing a little bundle of blue blankets, unable to distinguish any features from his position. He hadn’t walked into the hospital with any other purpose but to make sure his baby sister was okay and yet when he walked closer to the cot his breath had been taken away. Lying in the cot beside his sleeping sister was the most beautiful baby boy he had ever seen with breath taking hazel eyes wide open. Leaning over the cot he saw the moment that the baby fixed his gaze upon him and he couldn’t resist picking him up and holding him close.

“It’s his eyes isn't it, they’re just like mom’s,” a voice cut through the haze in his mind. Looking over, he could see Claudia watching him with a fond smile on her face, not even looking like she had given birth 12 hours earlier. She didn't even look like she still had any semblance of a bump left!

Phil just glanced down and chuckled softly. “I just wanted to come by and congratulate you before leaving, I didn't expect to be drawn into holding him without you having to even ask. What’s his name?”

“Mieczysław,” Claudia replied with a smirk on her face.

“You know no one is going to be able to pronounce that, poor kid is most likely going to change his name when he turns 18.”

Laughing in response, Claudia just watched as Phil slowly rocked back and forth with the baby, a contemplating look growing on her face, one that Phil recognised with a slight groan.

“Do I even want to know what you're planning right now or should I leave before the plan comes to fruition?”

Claudia shook her head. “If you leave now, I will hunt you down and saddle you with diaper duty until you’re begging to come back home with me.”

Knowing that in no way was she joking Phil murmured an okay and took a seat, showing he had no intention of leaving.

“I know that because of your job, it’s difficult to have any type of relationships, especially romantic ones, which is why in conjunction of being Mieczysław’s uncle, John and I would like for you to be his godfather too.” Phil opened his mouth, ready to list all the reasons why that would be a bad idea, but Claudia stopped him with a raise of her hand. “I understand that it can be dangerous, but if anything ever happened to John and I, then I want him to be raised by family. I trust you Phil. This isn't just for him, but for you too. I see how you’re slowly cutting yourself off from people, only looking forward in terms of your job and that isn’t healthy. I want you to be a part of my son’s life Phil, I want you to take him out on trips, spend lazy Sunday’s around the house, play catch and most importantly I want him to be able to say to his friends that he has the best uncle in town who will protect and love him to the best of his ability. Can you do that for me? Can you be a part of my son’s life?”

Mouth wide open in shock, mind running a hundred miles an hour, Phil had no idea how to respond to his sister's speech. Never in his dreams had he imagined that he would be asked to be anyone’s godfather. To be given that responsibility, that trust, was different from the responsibility given to him by his job. All the reasons why it would be a bad idea to accept were running through his mind. The baby could be used against him, how would he feel if he let something terrible happen to the child because of him. The most reasonable thing he should do was put the baby down and walk out the hospital in order to protect them.

Yet he was unable to do so. He was physically incapable of denying himself a chance at happiness, perhaps because he was starting to realise that he was becoming lonely, cutting himself off from his family, incapable of forming friendships. He hadn’t known how recluse he was becoming until he saw the opportunity to change his life around and become someone other than Agent Coulson. Looking at the sleeping face in his arms, that was 100% Claudia, Phil found himself uttering words that he didn’t expect to say.

“I would be honoured.”

 

Over the years, Phil had come to both rejoice and regret ever agreeing to Claudia’s offer. Stiles, as he now likes to be called, was a little firecracker that just would not keep still and why this wasn’t usually a problem, the days when he took him into SHIELD Headquarters since the babysitter had cancelled on Claudia were a little problematic to say the least.

When Stiles was four, he had spent three hours in the air vents pretending to be a rat, freaking out the new recruits.

When he turned five, he introduced and forced Phil to take charge of a man whose mission it seemed was to create Phil endless paperwork.

At seven, Stiles drank something from the science lab, turning him blue and the whole day had been spent with him running around pretending to be the mischief smurf. There were definitely days when Phil would much rather deal with a group of terrorists than his nephew trying to turn the lab rats into his army of blue smurfs. He had been banned from the labs since then.

After the death of Claudia, Phil gained temporary custody of Stiles as John was seen unfit due to his drinking problem. So, Phil had to bring Stiles to work every day as he just couldn't leave him with a stranger, since Stiles had started to think people were leaving him on purpose and with his nightmares, no babysitter was equipped to handle him. There were serious thoughts of taking him to a psychiatrist, but Phil was optimistic that he could handle whatever Stiles needed right now.

One day Stiles just disappeared from Phil’s office, sending Phil into a panic. He searched the whole place top to bottom, ordered all the quinjets to unload as Stiles had a habit of crawling into tight spaces and yet they couldn't find a single trace of his nephew. Just as he was about to send out a red alert to find him, which would send the whole base into lockdown, he received a short message from Fury asking to see him in his office.

Sprinting to Fury’s office, he was stopped by Fury standing in the doorway with a finger to his lips, missing his customary leather jacket and silently beckoned him forward, stopping when they reached the large oak desk in the centre of the room.

“Sir, I don’t understand what’s going on.”

“Look down Coulson,” came Fury’s soft reply.

Flicking his eyes down Phil let out a sigh of relief. Lying fast asleep under the desk was Stiles using Fury’s favourite leather jacket as a blanket. Fighting the urge to take a picture, he looked at the Director and started to apologise profusely, saying that he would have the jacket returned in perfect condition.

“Shut the hell up Coulson and leave the kid alone. He looks like he hasn't slept in days and while I don't usually condone this I can’t deny the kid this. Go back to work and I’ll keep an eye on him and send him back to you when he wakes up.”

Hesitating just slightly as he hadn’t left Stiles on his own since the tragic event he just sighed and said to Fury, “Thank you Sir, I’ll be in my office until the end of the day.” With that he turned on his heel and made his way out of the room, pausing at the doorway in time to catch Fury taking a picture on his phone. Smirking to himself, Phil left Stiles with the Director of SHIELD, who became Uncle Nicky that day.

 

It had been six months since the battle of New York. Six months since everyone whoever mattered to Phil had been told that he had died. In those six months, Phil kept tabs on everyone he loved to make sure that they were okay in his absence, although Phil knew that this wasn’t the same and wished not for the first time he could just reach out to someone. He was reminded of how he was before Stiles was born, becoming detached and recluse and compared himself to then, not finding many differences. Shaking himself out of those thoughts, because he did not want to start spiralling down that path again, he walked into his office and looked around making sure that everything was in its proper place. Force of habit after all these years he thought grimly, especially since Barton was a well known prankster. Coming back from a week long mission in Cuba, where he had been cut off from all forms of technology, Phil was relieved to sit at his desk and start checking up on his loved ones.

The relief quickly turned to dread when he saw the missing person’s report. Not thinking twice about it Phil dialled the number of the phone only two people knew about. After three rings, it was picked up and the first thing Phil heard was John demanding who the hell this was.

Taking a deep and not very calming breath, Phil replied, “It’s me John, I know that you think I’m dead but I’m not and you need to get over that fact pretty quickly and tell me where my nephew is.”

John let out a strangled cough, “How the hell do I know it’s you Phil? I’m gonna need some goddamn proof here.”

“October 23rd 1996.” was Phil’s only response.

“Damn. Right. Only you would know what happened that day,” said John his voice a few degrees warmer than before.

“So now that we have established I am who I am, would you kindly tell me why there is a missing person’s report for my nephew that has an unknown date for when he actually disappeared?”

“I don’t know what to tell you Phil, I came home from work one day to find that Stiles jeep wasn’t at home and the house looked like he hadn’t been home for a few days. I called his cell and received no reply to which I called his friends and they said that they hadn’t seen nor spoken to him in weeks. I drove around town to see if he had just gone for a drive and found his jeep left abandoned on the edge of the preserve. We’ve combed through the woods and haven't found any sign of him at this moment.”

Phil bit back the urge to start ranting at the man, “How do you not know where your son was John? It’s one thing for his friends not to have seen him, but how did you miss the fact that your own son was not at home?”

John sighed. “Things haven't been great here recently. I’ve been slightly blindsided by some things and am now only coming to terms with it, whilst trying to help my town recover from events, so excuse me if I’ve been a bit busy!”

“So busy that the picture you put into the missing person’s report is over two years old, he still has that buzz cut that no one could talk him out off!”

John chuckled humourlessly. “That was the only picture that I could find of him. He seems to have destroyed all recent pictures of himself, which I suspect he burned them in the fireplace.”

Phil shook his head in disbelief. “Why would he do something like that John?”

“A few weeks ago, Stiles had what I would call an identity crisis and my guess this was one of the results of that experience.”

Hearing the hesitation in John’s words, Phil tonelessly asked, “An identity crisis? How did you go about in helping him deal with that then?”

“We, his friends and I decided that it would be a good idea to give him time and space so that he would be able to feel more comfortable to be able to come and talk to us,” John admitted, sounding almost guilty at the admission.

“And did he come and talk to you?”

“I’ve been a little busy due to other events so I haven’t had the chance to reach out to him.”

“Well looks like you’ll be able to carry on doing all the things that helped you to ignore your own son’s disappearance as I will be taking over the case and before you argue I have better resources at my disposal, which will be needed since we have no idea how long he has been gone for!”

“Don’t you dare do that to me Phil! You left him first, you broke your promise to him and I dealt with the fallout of that action. Do you remember what you promised him because I do and most importantly so does he. You promised him that you would take him to Coney Island for a belated birthday treat, the same thing you've done every year since he was four. Except this year when he got to the airport you weren't there to pick him up, so he took a cab to SHIELD thinking that you were just working. Nobody has told us of your supposed passing so you could say it was a shock when he got there and people were offering him their condolences. Finally, a young man named Barton I believe took Stiles to Stark tower for some absurd reason and explained what happened. I don't know what happened at that tower but when he came home a week later, he wasn’t the same. He was sleeping less, eating less, staying out to odd hours of the night and coming home with bruises and scratches from doing god knows what. I may not be father of the year but I have done my hardest in trying to fix the young boy that you broke first.” came John’s scathing reply, each word louder than the last until he was shouting at the top of his lungs.

Phil felt like he couldn’t breathe. He felt as if the walls were starting to close in on him and oxygen was becoming low. How did he not realise what the last thing he ever said to his nephew was? He had never broken a promise to him before and yet he broke one and didn't even realise it. Trying to clear his mind Phil tried to concentrate on the situation at hand. There would be no use in focusing on the past at the moment, the only thing that mattered was finding Stiles.

“I may have made some pretty big mistakes, but I now have the opportunity to find him and make things right, something it seems that you were incapable of doing even though he was right there in front of you” came Phil’s resigned voice, no longer in the mood for fighting.

“I just, okay, please find him for me Phil. The way that things left off between us wasn’t desirable, I need to be able to clear the air and look after my son.”

“I’m not going to find him for you John, I’m going to find him because he needs to know that not everyone in his life just forgot about him like it seems you’ve all done” was Phil’s scathing response before he hung up the phone. Phil stared at the phone for a few minutes, internally debating the best way to go about finding his nephew, wincing when he realised that he only had one course of action. Unfortunately, that course had a few obstacles standing in the way. Making sure that he had all the facts from the report even though all the information they had was what John had just told him so not a lot, noticing that all of Stiles friends had the exact same statement word for word.

We haven't seen or spoken to Stiles since the night of Allison’s death. We thought he needed space and decided to respect his boundaries. Phil thought that was very strange and wondered why this Allison would have such an impact on Stiles though her death. Putting that to the back of his mind for the moment along with a mental note in looking up the events that have kept John unable to look after Stiles, Phil gathered his thoughts and sent a silent prayer that the next hour went how he needed it too.

Marching towards Fury’s office, every agent that was in his path quickly scrambled out the way once they saw the look on his face, some even squeaking and pressing themselves flat against the walls. Entering Fury’s office without even knocking he silently closed the door and crossed the room in four long strides, taking a seat at Fury’s desk and waited until the man acknowledged his presence.

“Sir, I request permission to contact the Avengers to request their help. I strongly believe that they can help me in a serious situation.”

Fury’s eye twitched dangerously. “Why the fuck would I allow you to undo the hard work that I have put into bringing the Avengers together? It hasn't been easy keeping you dead to them Coulson.”

“Stiles,” Phil responded calmly, watching how Fury’s impassive exterior flinched slightly, knowing he was playing a dangerous game here Phil quickly carried on. “He’s been missing for an unknown amount of time, with no leads and you know what he means to me and to them. You know they would burn down the world for different reasons to keep him safe and I need their help, but he needs their help more.”

Silence followed as Fury digested the news, with Phil wisely keeping quiet. He knew Fury had a soft spot for his nephew ever since that day in his office, had even caught him playing pirates with Stiles more than once. Though Coulson would never admit it even under torture, that was a secret he was taking to the grave.

After 5 minutes of silence, with Fury staring at a blank space on the bland grey walls of his office, Phil started to get a little bit twitchy, unable to stop from picking the wooden arms of his chair, knowing that he needed he Directors support to save his nephew. Fury clearly trying to keep his emotions in check, said in a clear level voice, “If you do this Coulson, then I cannot control how they react. It will be up to you to reach out to them and to decide how to deliver the information. I can give you the full support of SHIELD but you know Stark has all the fancy toys, but we will back you up. Be prepared for the fall out though Coulson.”

Smiling minutely with no trace of humour, “Trust me Sir,” Phil whispered. “I don’t care what they do to me, all that matters is Stiles and I believe in them.”

Chapter Text

With ACDC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ blaring in the background of the workshop amongst the noise of Tony taking apart the engine of his silver Audi R8, Tony actually thought that today was going to be a pretty fine day. Or night. He kind of lost track of the cycle of the sun sometime around fixing the recall error in Clint’s arrows a few projects ago. Damn bird almost himself killed jumping of a six storey building two days ago fighting Doom since he didn't deem it necessary to inform anyone that he had run out of arrows. Luckily Thor saw Clint’s free fall and caught him before he brightened up the sidewalk with his insides, although Tony was certainly ready to use the bird for painting before being needed to calm down the Hulk who was upset that there were no more robots to smash.

He was eyeing the dismantled pieces of the engine in front of him critically, trying to find the source of the rattling that he had noticed on his last outing when he was jolted out of his musings by JARVIS’ cool British voice.

“Sir, you have a call from an encrypted SHIELD line. The caller has stated that it is urgent and insist that you answer immediately.”

“Decline JARVIS, if Fury wants to talk then he can march his leather clad ass to my tower, otherwise I am occupied with several pieces of sophisticated tech,” came Tony’s reply, already losing himself to the mechanics.

“Very well,” JARVIS said with a slightly nervous edge to his voice. “Sir I feel that it is my duty to inform you that you have not left the workshop in just under three days and whilst this is not unusual behaviour, I fear that the team might take action to bring you back to society.”

Tony sighed. It was great having the Avengers move into his tower, although convincing Bruce to move back to New York wasn't the easiest thing Tony’s ever done. In the end Bruce had caved after he made Tony promise that he wouldn't let anyone release the Hulk, to which Tony had implicated protocols for Bruce and the population of New York’s safety. Now the man was enjoying the high-tech labs that Tony had provided and even though the brunet spent a lot of his time researching a cure for the Hulk, Tony still saw it as a win. The downside of having a live in team was that they seemed to want to know his every move and they seemed to have deemed themselves his keepers. This had resulted in many unexpected visits to the workshop from them checking on his wellbeing, especially from Steve who Tony then convinced to stay and draw in the corner on the ratty old couch he still had from college. Deciding that he wasn't going to be able to locate the problem right now, he hoisted himself to his feet using the edge of a table, only to pause a few seconds as a wave of dizziness passed over him. Shaking it off as he moved towards the elevator, he made sure to give instructions to DUM-E to leave the engine exactly where it was, since the bot would surely try and take pieces for his collection that Tony could still not find. He received a sad beep in response.

Upon entering the elevator that he assumed was going to the communal floor, he was once again informed by JARVIS of a phone call.

“Sir, I really do insist that you take this call, they refuse to stop calling until the reach you.”

Tony huffed in annoyance.

“Send a message J saying that if it is that goddamn important then they can come to the tower and speak to me in person. I refuse to talk on an encrypted SHIELD line, I mean do they actually know the meaning of encrypted, because I haven't seen it yet.” Exiting the elevator just as he finished his message he missed JARVIS’ reply due to the sight of Thor trying to place the toaster in the microwave. Looking around Tony saw the team sat around in various positions on the coach’s in the living room missing Thor’s little experiment, since their backs were to the kitchen.

“What the fuck do you think you're doing Point Break?!” Tony shouted from across the room, just as Thor eagerly pushed the button resulting in a very loud boom and thick plumes of smoke to engulf the kitchen.

Whether or not the occupants of the living room jumped at the sound of Tony’s voice or the mini explosion was unclear. Surprised looks passed over their faces and Steve’s face almost seemed to light up when he caught sight of Tony.

“Any of you leave this room,” Tony started after seeing them start to edge towards the elevator, “and I will set up your rooms to play the Avengers theme song all day long.” As one they all stopped and stared at him slightly horrified. “J can you take care of the smoke and order replacements for the kitchen?”

“Already done Sir.”

“Thanks, now can someone tell me what just happened?”

Thor stepped forward looking like someone had dressed a kicked puppy in a cape. “Friend Tony forgive me, I became impatient for the pop tarts as they weren't cooking fast enough so I thought that if I put the toaster in the microwave they would cook quicker.”

Already regretting his earlier though about what type of day it would be, Tony just blinked and released the breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. “As a rule, on Earth we tend to not put electronics within one another in the kitchen, most of the time you just ruin the food and subsequently the kitchen. Okay big guy?”

“Indeed. I must admit that Midgardian technology is still so new to me even after all these moons,” Thor’s slightly chagrined voice replied.

“Months Thor, it's after all these months,” came Tony’s suddenly exhausted voice, pinching the bridge of his nose he slowly exhaled. Even though they were all doing their best to help integrate Thor with Earth’s technology and idioms, there were still certain things that he couldn’t quite grasp. “It’s okay big guy how about I make you a toaster that can cook your pop tarts quicker and we can avoid this from happening again.”

Thor’s smile lit up the kitchen. “Thank you, Friend Tony, for your generosity and understanding.”

Moving past the other Avengers that had gathered around the kitchen island stationed in the middle of the kitchen, Tony tried his hardest to avoid the stare of one certain super soldier. Making his way to the coffee machine that was the result of one too many hours awake on energy drink, he pushed a multitude of buttons that would make the perfect coffee that he was suddenly in desperate need of.

Turning around after a minute with the nectar of the Gods cupped protectively in his hands, he let his eyes wander around the room surveying his teammates scattered around the room. Nat, Bruce and Clint had returned back to the living room, each taking a different couch whist watching some news report about mutant uprising. Thor had started scavenging around the kitchen cupboards presumably looking for some more pop tarts to devour and Steve was currently-.

Well Steve was standing at the entrance of the kitchen gazing at Tony with a conflicted expression, making Tony feel slightly uncomfortable in his tank top and sweats covered in oil and who knows what else. After the battle Steve had apologised for his derogatory comments aboard the Helicarrier to which Tony had just waved off saying that they were both under the influence of the sceptre and it was water under the bridge. Following that conversation Steve and Tony had steadily grown closer over the passing months, spending quite a large amount of time in each other’s company. Tony had taken it upon himself to teach Steve the important milestones in history that he had missed since going under. Steve became the primary culprit in bringing Tony out of his workshop and fixing him a meal before sending him off to bed.

Tony knew that Steve was just being a good friend and teammate, making sure that the team was kept in tip top shape for any alarms. Yet during this time Tony felt himself start to develop certain feelings for the buff blonde, resulting in him second guessing his action around Steve lest he gave away his emotions. Could you imagine the embarrassment? Steve was from the 1940’s for goodness sake, there was no way that he could be interested in men.

“Tony,” Steve started, interrupting his thoughts with a voice that sounded as if it had scrounged up every last inch of courage to start talking. “I was wondering if later you would like to-” before Steve could finish the sentence, he was interrupted by JARVIS’ slightly panicked voice echoing around the room.

“Sir I’m afraid that there’s been a security breach and someone has made their way into the elevator and is currently on their way to you. I am unable to stop their ascent and estimate their arrival to be in 15 seconds.”

Following JARVIS’ statement the Avengers sprang up into fighting positions, taking cover behind objects around the room with Tony finding himself being pushed slightly behind Steve. Knowing that he was a less capable than the other outside of the suit Tony fought down the wave of irritation and waited for the elevator doors to open. Whoever had breached his home and interrupted his coffee time were going to regret that decision in a couple of seconds he thought murderously.

Before he could formulate much of a revenge plan, the elevator doors opened with a soft ping and Tony found himself with the strangest sense of deja vu.

"JARVIS, how many hours have I been awake for?" Tony quietly asks.

"68 hours Sir and might I add that in that time period you have only consumed coffee and gummy bears," came JARVIS cool and slightly disappointed response.

"Right, so I'm experiencing some sort of hallucination due to lack of sleep because there is no way Agent Agent is standing in my tower alive and well." Tony's voice started to take on a hysterical edge. He knew he should have stayed in the workshop, the Avengers were going to think he was going crazy and certainly kick him off the team. It was a nice run whilst it lasted Tony thought bitterly.

"No Tony," Steve choked "We all see him too.”

Shared hallucination then Tony though, although by looking around the room and seeing the range of emotions playing out on his teammates faces, he was already dismissing that idea, with a faint tinge of relief.

"Well damn," he murmured softly.

There in the flesh and (maybe?) alive was Agent Phil Coulson, although Tony knew that wasn't possible because the man had been DEAD. Looking the man over Tony could see the lines of tension in the rigid set of his shoulders, the way his eyes kept dancing between each of the Avengers and the sad curve of his mouth. The man in front of them sure looked like Phil Coulson but there was only way to tell in Tony’s mind.

“J would you mind checking your memory banks to see who the man in front of us is?”

“Already done Sir and I can confirm that the man is one Phillip Coulson. My scans match all previous DNA data from his previous visits and I took the courtesy of double checking with SHIELD’s files as well.”

No sooner are the words spoken does Clint rush forward and lands a solid right hook to Coulson’s face, making the man stumble a couple of paces with the force of the blow. Tony didn't know whether or not he should be cheering Clint on and getting some popcorn or intervening before things got bloody. Luckily Steve shook out of his shock first and moved forward, grabbing Clint’s arm before it could land another blow.

Tony watched as Steve managed to calm Clint down with a few words before gently manoeuvring him so he was standing next to Natasha. Natasha angled her body towards Clint, ready to intervene if he decided to attack Coulson again.

The super soldier briefly closed his eyes before opening them and turning around to face Coulson, revealing he had slipped into the Captain America persona.

“I think that you need to explain to us why your standing here alive and well when we were informed of your death six months ago,” Steve said.

Coulson nodded his head in agreement. Tony suspected Coulson had expected the need for information, Coulson gestured towards the couch’s and relaxed minutely when everyone moved in that direction. Taking the middle seats of one the couch’s, Tony watched as Coulson took the armchair in front of him with Steve and Bruce taking the rest of the couch. Thor and Natasha took the other couch whilst Clint remained standing, leaning against the bookcase with Coulson in his direct eye line. Someone, presumably JARVIS had turned off the TV so that everyone’s focus was on the recently undead man in the room.

Keeping his gaze trained on each of the Avengers and his hands folded neatly in his lap, Coulson hesitated slightly before explaining what had happened in the moments after the attack on the Helicarrier.

“I was technically dead for a few minutes after Loki’s attack but due to SHIELD’s medical breakthroughs I was brought back by a drug that started cell regeneration in damaged areas and placed in a medically induced coma for a few days. The drug is no longer in my system, so I’m back to being a regular human being with no extraordinary abilities. During that time, you were told about my death as Fury gambled that it would bring you together as a team, which it certainly did.” A slight frown graced over Coulson’s face, suggesting that he perhaps wasn't pleased with that decision as it would seem. “When I woke up a week after the battle, I was informed of the events that had transpired and ordered to not make contact with you for fears that the deceit would break you up as a team. I know that this hasn’t been easy for you but Fury believed it to be for the best and so did I to an extent.” Following Coulson’s statement a pin could have dropped and it would have been heard. Nobody seemed to know how to respond to the cards that had just been laid bare.

Tony shook his head slowly. Mind racing back to that day, staring at the red bloodstain drying to a dull brown on the wall in the containment room and thinking how he could have done something more to avoid a good man’s death. Wanting nothing more but to go up to the penthouse bar and pour drink after drink until he passed out and put this situation down to a crazy dream he resisted. He had been sober for five months, after the team had caught him drunk of his head after he had a nightmare about the battle. Instead he released a mirthless chuckle which drew everyone’s gaze to him, Tony turned his head to the left and looked Steve in the eye.

“I guess we did march to Fury’s fife after all.”

Steve’s eyes darkened, a silent promise passing between the two that Fury would not be allowed to get away with messing with their team. Fury wouldn't know what would hit him until it was too late.

“So why did you decide to come back and grace us with your presence then, since you apparently know what’s best for us,” Clint damn near snarled. Tony once again wondered if there had been something more going on between the two than had been let on, since Clint seemed to have a lot more anger than the rest of them.

Watching as Coulson reached into his pocket and pulled out a memory stick and held it out towards them, Tony snatched it greedily and plugged it into the back of the TV. JARVIS then took over and displayed the information stored on the stick for them to see.

A missing person’s report was shown on the TV screen in all its HD glory. Thinking that he had to be misreading the report, he scanned it again, definitely reassessing his earlier guess about what kind of day it was going to be.

Phil gave them plenty of time to read and assess the information displayed before continuing.

“It’s not just myself who needs your help, its him. I know how you helped him after New York when I was unable to do so and I’ve seen how he’s impacted your lives in such a positive manner. I’m here because I couldn't let Fury’s plan stay in the way of finding my nephew and bringing him back home.”

“The police report says that they don't have any idea how long he's been missing for, why wasn’t he noticed missing until now? Doesn't he have friends and family that would be wondering where he was?” Natasha said not showing any indication of how much the report affected her, except for a small furrow between her perfectly maintained brows.

Coulson’s eyes narrowed and an angry expression passes over his face, reminding Tony of why he never pissed Coulson off during the whole palladium issue.

“Not a single person in that town can remember the last time that they saw Stiles. His own father only realised that he was missing two days ago and last spoke to him two weeks ago. He hasn’t been seen at school for a while and since Beacon Hills has just suffered through some serious tragedies, the town has been focused on rebuilding itself. You all know Stiles and can say with certainty that he would never just leave town without letting someone know so my conclusion is that he has been taken by an unknown hostile.”

“Would there be any reason in some us going to Beacon Hills, since there is a substantial lack of information in the file and since that’s all you've provided it isn't a lot to go on,” Bruce asked with a slight green tint to his eyes.

“I’m not sure,” Coulson responded. “Some of the information doesn't quite seem to fit but I’m not sure how welcoming residents will be too outsiders snooping around.”

“I’ll go,” said Natasha, “If there’s any information being withheld then I can find it without anyone being the wiser. Besides I want to talk to Stiles friends, something about their statements seem off to me and I would bet that they’re hiding something relevant to the disappearance.”

“That thought occurred to me too, if it was only one or two of them with the same statement then I would put it down to coincidence, but five of them who are meant to be Stiles’ friends is setting off some alarm bells.”

“I can be there and back in a couple of days if Tony’s is okay with me borrowing some of his toys” Tony waves a hand is confirmation, knowing she wasn't going to break anything he couldn't fix. “I’ll also take a look around the woods and see if the local authorities missed anything from looking at his last known location.”

Coulson nodded gratefully looking to Steve to make sure it was okay with him first, knowing that this was still the Captain’s team and he had no right in ordering them around.

“Go,’ Steve ordered, “We’ll stay here and see if we can work other angles. Make sure you stay in contact everyday as we don't know if there are still any unknown hostiles around that could deliberately be interfering with the investigation.”

With that, Natasha rose gracefully not wanting to waste any more time. With a pause, she glanced at Clint who stared right back. Seeing something that Tony did not, Natasha turned on her heel and left seemingly satisfied with Clint’s nonverbal answer to her unspoken question.

“I do have security footage from cameras around town from the time that he could have gone missing and I also have the footage from the time the tragedies took place. They could have something to do with his disappearance.”

Jumping back into the conversation Tony makes grabby hands towards Coulson for the footage.

“I’ll take it and have JARVIS run through the footage to try and find anything that could point us in the right direction. JARVIS can run through it much quicker than any of us and it allows us to have more hands free following other leads. That okay with you J?”

“I would be most happy to Sir.”

“I’ll also need access to Stiles and perhaps his ‘supposed’,” at this Tony uses exaggerated finger quotations “friends phone records. Maybe I can find something that will help with the search or give Natasha a one up over the locals and the kids.”

Steve stood slowly and walked a few paces until he was in front of the tv. Tony leaned back in his seat, allowing Steve the floor to ask the question that was bugging Tony slightly.

“What role are you going to take in the team in finding your nephew? You know that any trust you had with us is gone and it doesn’t matter what Fury or anyone else says, we are a team and no one is going to be able to undo the bonds that we've formed. If you had truly known us, then you wouldn't have felt the need for such deceit. As it stands I can't force you to take a back seat, but I do need some assurances before we can continue.”

“I’m not here to step on anyone’s toes or to inhibit any progress. I know that I’m on a dangerous playing field but I can take your hostility and lack of trust as long as we can find Stiles and bring him home.” Phil replied with everyone remaining in the room staring critically at the man that they had all thought was dead and had subsequently mourned. Tony turned to look at Bruce and Thor who were respectively barely hanging on to their anger at the situation, Bruce was starting to look a faint shade of green all over and Thor was curling his fingers as if he wanted to be gripping Mjöllnir. However, they both just nodded their affirmation in response to Tony’s silent question.

“I can’t trust you right at this moment, so don't expect much from me Coulson, but I will help find my little hawk and we will bring him back to the tower first. Considering the kid doesn't know your alive I can’t imagine that he would want to go anywhere with you if he feels an ounce of what I do right now” Clint stated coldly, almost daring Coulson to disagree. When he received no disagreement he just nodded sharply and stalked out of the room, mumbling something about finding a quiet space for ten damn minutes.

Turning back to the others, Tony found himself gazing into the clearest blue eyes he has ever seen and wishing he could voice his compliments out loud to the owner of the eyes. Mentally shaking his head, he focused back on the topic at hand.

“You know I’ll follow your lead Cap,” came Tony’s soft voice.

Lips quirking upward in a small smile Steve nodded his agreement and gave the confirmation to Coulson.

“We’ll help,” was all he said and Tony could see when the words registered in Coulson. He visibly deflated as if the words had helped to relieve most of the tension from the past couple of days.

With that Tony stood up and clapped his hands together.

“Let's go find us a Stiles.”

Chapter Text

He had just been getting his life back together after the events of New York. Being mind controlled and then finding out that due to his said mind control Phil had died. Murdered really. After all that was what Clint did best. Kill. People had tried to tell him that it wasn't his fault, he couldn't control his actions but that didn't lessen the guilt taking up residence in his stomach.

The day that he had found Stiles wandering around SHIELD looking for Phil had been a stroke of luck. Clint was just coming to the base to pack a bag to move to the tower due to it being easier to help with the relief efforts when he saw the teen. When he quickly realised that no one had even told Stiles that Phil had died since the kid had a huge grin on his face, clearly excited to see Phil had been a punch to the gut. So he took the kid to the tower and explained what had happened. Every last detail because Clint wanted someone to shout and say it was his fault. That he had no right to be sitting here a free man when people had died. Stiles absolutely refused to do that and instead with tears in his eyes proceeded to hug the crap out of Clint, both of them clinging to each other.

That past week with the team and Stiles was when he realised that he couldn't have changed how things happened. He had been as much of a victim as others and now needed the time to heal. Once that had been realised he started to take back control of his life with the holes in his heart slowly starting to repair themselves.

Then Phil had to come roaring back into his life, alive and well and subsequently ripped the holes in his heart wide open again. To find out that he had grieved for nothing, had given a damn condolence speech to Stiles made his blood boil. Phil was lucky that it was him that had pulled that stunt, anyone else and Clint would have made sure that they were dead as a doornail after revealing themselves.

So after giving his confirmation to Phil along with a thinly veiled threat that he knew the other man would understand Clint made his way to the vents. He had made sure to mentally map out the vents during his first couple of weeks in the tower, hiding stores of weapons, ammunition and food in safe places should the worst ever happen. Removing the grate in front of the vent Clint crouched down and slithered into the vent, making sure to replace the grate, habit forcing him to cover his tracks. He started to make his way through the vents, which were surprisingly big enough for him to easily travel around especially with his muscular frame. Clint didn't particularly care which direction he went as long as he could be guaranteed a quiet place to reorganise his thoughts for ten goddamn minutes.

When he finally reached an intersection that was far enough into the system that no one would find him, he stopped and flipped onto his back, staring at his reflection from above him. Clint wasn't sure what to think after that great revelation Phil threw down. Dealing with the fact that Phil was alive (and was definitely going to be getting a shout down from Clint very soon if the rage he was feeling was any indication) but also that Stiles had gone missing with no one being the wiser had left Clint a mess. The knowledge that the teen had been left behind, abandoned by the people he had trusted reminded Clint of his life before Stiles and Phil had barrelled into it.

Losing himself to the memories that were coming hard and fast, Clint let himself be consumed by the memory of the day that everything in his life had turned upside down.

 

Summer 2000

He had a solid exit plan, now all he had to do was execute it without anyone noticing and raising the alarm. It was easier said than done, especially since Clint suspected that the red head in charge at the moment had better eyesight than himself. She seemed to know what he was planning before he knew it and had begun threatening him with restraints to keep him in the room that he was currently occupying.

It wasn't like he intentionally tried to get caught by his captors, but accidents happened and they took you before you could defend yourself from their grabby hands.

It was hell. That was the only word Clint could think of that aptly described the tiny room, guarded by people in white coats who seemed to make it their mission to poke you with things. Clint could say for absolute certainty that the infirmary was someone’s sick idea of hell. His captors wouldn't let him go after they had brought him in yesterday on a gurney, stating that his injuries needed to be monitored carefully for a couple of days so that meant he actually had to stay in the stiff lumpy bed. He personally didn't see what the big deal was with a broken left leg, sprained right wrist, several bruised ribs, a concussion and more scrapes and bruises than he could count. He was still alive so he counted it as a win.

He leaned his head back with a sigh and began spitefully muttering curses at his ex-handler as of yesterday since she was the reason he was in this position. She had forgotten to provide him with an extraction plan during his mission gathering intel from a suspected terrorist cell in France so he had to improvise. Running through the abandoned office building in Paris with over a dozen enemies pursuing him hadn't been fun. Even less fun was when he had to jump out a three storey window onto a moving truck to escape them. To say Clint was pissed was an understatement.

The woman had been his fourth handler in this past year alone and each one ended up with a progressively worse infirmary trip. If he had known that joining SHIELD would have resulted in so many injuries then he would have stayed solo. Maybe he should just hand in a resignation letter. He could make it sound like a break up because that’s what it was right? It isn't you, it’s me or we had a good run but I think that we should start seeing other people you know, expand our horizons. Yeah, he could imagine that one going down well with Fury. The imagery made him chuckle softly as he carefully sat back up and was greeted to the sight of a small brunet head peering at him over the foot of his bed with pale skin and wide eyes.

He hadn't heard the kid approach his room, let alone his bed so was slightly impressed with that the kid had snuck up on him. The kid stood there blinking at Clint, not saying anything whilst he watched him. Clint decided that he wouldn't say anything either. Clint did have a lot of patience when it came to waiting, he didn't become a high class sniper for no reason. The boy started fidgeting after a few minutes and reached his left hand up to play with the blanket covering Clint’s legs.

“Why doesn't anyone stop you from getting hurt?” It was said in a soft voice, alluding to Clint thinking that the kid was no older than five.

“What do you mean kid?”

“I’ve seen you in here a lot over the past few months, Uncle Phil says that everyone should have someone to look out for them so why don’t you have anybody to keep you from getting hurt?”

“Well kid it’s complicated,” Clint replied carefully. “You see I’m a force of nature and it’s hard for people to keep control of me, so it results in me landing in here trying to escape the evil clutches of the red head nurse.”

The kid grinned in response to the last part. “That’s Lacey, she gives me lollipops if I tell her anyone is trying to leave without her permission. That’s how I’ve seen you in here so much, you're mainly the reason why I have a stash of lollipops.”

Clint laughed, finally being able to figure out how his previous escape attempts had been foiled. All by a tiny five year old who was in it for the candy. The kid was good if Clint had never noticed him around before today making him wonder why he had made himself known now.

Hearing that the boy had gone quiet, no sounds of fidgeting, he looked over and saw that the boy was biting his bottom lip, well more like trying to chew it off really. Clint could see the serious expression on the brunet's face, much too serious for someone so young too be sporting.

“But I think you’re lying to me. It’s not that people can’t control you, it’s that you won’t let anyone in to help you so you put on a mask to keep people away.” The kid paused at that, piercing Clint with his bright eyes, getting to the root of the problem that Clint had tried to hide for so long. “I know someone that can help you but you have to promise to take care of him as well or you’ll regret ever hurting him.”

Words seemed to fail him. The boy looked so calm and collected at his statement, seemingly unaware at the impact of his words, yet Clint could see the determination and fierce loyalty in the boy’s sharp eyes. The boy would not hesitate to protect the mystery man he was talking about and Clint took a second to appreciate the loyalty and love in front of him, wishing he had that for himself. How on earth did a five year old see what Clint needed when most of the trained spies didn't even notice?

Before he could say anything, a strong male voice rang through the infirmary.

“Stiles?”

“What the hell is a Stiles?” Clint murmured to himself. Receiving a slight glare from the brunet who had just started to open his mouth to respond when he was interrupted by a man in a seriously fitted black suit. Damn he thought, mouth going dry at the sight of those sculpted shoulders and mind running in a dangerous direction with a kid around. Barely resisting the urge to drop something on the floor in order to get the man to bend over, Clint kept quiet, thinking that the day couldn't get that much stranger.

“Stiles,” so that’s what the kid was called “Why are you bothering Agent-” A pause as the man waited for Clint to provide a name.

“Barton Sir, Agent Clint Barton.”

The man appeared to do a double take and his eyes slowly travelled up and down Clint’s body as if he was re-assessing him for some reason.

“I found him here Uncle Phil, he hasn't got anyone to stop him from getting hurt and I think it’s time for someone to take action. You mention how I was able to help you so now its your turn to help someone else. Can you help him? Pretty please?”

And there went the naughty thoughts in Clint’s head as he straightened up, finally recognising the man in front of him. Uncle Phil must be Agent Phil Coulson, third most important person in SHIELD next to the Director and Deputy Director. Who was currently gaping like a fish out of water at Stiles question.

Clint jumped in then deciding to save Phil the trouble of slowly letting the kid down.

“Hey, Stiles was it? It’s okay buddy, you don't need to do that, your uncle is a pretty busy guy and needs to concentrate on more important issues, right? I’m sure my next handler will keep me safe. Lucky number five, right?!”

Turns out that was the wrong thing to say to the kid as Clint watched tears start to form on the lashes of the boy's hazel eyes. Luckily Coulson stepped in before Clint could make the situation even worse, kneeling down beside the boy and murmuring a few words to the kid which was too low for Clint to make out. When the boy responded with a vigorous nod Coulson just chuckled and raised himself back to his feet and directed his next words to Clint.

“Well Agent Barton I’d like to see you in my office as soon as you’re discharged, it appears as though we have some business to attend to regarding your position within SHIELD. ”

“Uh okay sir,” and now Clint suspected that he was getting fired, well it was a good run while it lasted he thought. Clint watched as Stiles gave a cheerful wave and left holding Coulson’s hand.

What the fuck had just happened?

 

A week later and Clint was finally released from the infirmary and made a vow to himself to never make an enemy of Lacey, that woman was scary as hell. She made four agents cry with just the words sponge bath. Never the less Clint was free to leave provided that he stayed on the crutches given to him for a further five weeks. He was ready to leave at that point, since spending a week with in bed with only a basic tv that fitzed all the time and he was ready to agree to anything.

Deciding that he would follow orders straight for once in his life, Clint hobbled to the elevators down the hall from the infirmary. Pressing the button for the twenty third floor as that was where Coulson’s office was, he started to mentally prepare himself for whatever was about to happen. Once the elevator arrived at his position on the ninth floor, he entered and began humming Stairway to Heaven since the higher ups had deemed it unnecessary to install elevator music. He carried on humming once the elevator had reached its destination and stepping out of the elevator he made a left.

Setting off along the depressing hallway, wondering not for the first time if the colours were meant to suck away all the emotions in this place, making them all like robots following orders. Chuckling at the imagery, he really was a child sometimes, he stopped when he realised that he had reached Coulson’s office and taking a deep breath he knocked three short raps at the nondescript door.

Hearing a muffled enter, he opened the door to see Coulson sitting at the cleanest desk he had ever seen. Seriously. There was no clutter at the desk, no paperwork or personal items except for a framed photo of which he could not see of what from his position at the door.

Coulson flicked his eyes towards Clint and beckoned him forward with a short wave of his hand to which he then used to remove some paperwork from his desk. Clint was just sitting down in the seat in front of the desk when Coulson placed the paperwork in front of him.

“What’s this for sir?" Clint asked not quite sure what was going on.

“That is the paperwork that officially makes me your new handler,” he replied tersely. “Either you sign the papers or you will be dismissed from SHIELD since no one else is willing to be your handler.”

Brown eyes quickly skimming through the paperwork, his gut saying that Coulson wouldn't try and hide any secret agendas in the fancy wording. The whole situation was seriously confusing Clint, maybe he had stepped into a weird mirror universe because there was no way this was actually happening to him.

He was basically an undesirable at SHIELD, a lone wolf with a chequered history. No one in their right mind had ever chosen to put up with Clint. He had always been passed along to the next person as soon as he had make a mistake, resulting in him creating his cocky, smart ass personality. By acting like the rejection didn't affect him then eventually the pain lessened and people were unable to see the real him under the masks. The person who craved acceptance because of who he was, not because of the skills that he possessed. Everyone had a hidden agenda whether or not they realised it. That was why due to his past he looked at this situation with a critical eye. There was no way one of the most important people in SHIELD would want to be saddled with Clint’s sorry excuse of an ass.

“Why?” was the only thing that made it through his mouth, trying to project an air of calm. He knew that the next words out of Agent Coulson’s mouth would decide if Clint had to fight his way out. Coulson didn't even blink at the question suggesting that he had expected it and knowing the man’s reputation he probably had ten different scenarios planned. Coulson’s next words shook Clint to the core.

“I’m not going to sugar coat it for you Agent. I’ve read your file and seen the colourful history you have behind you,” Clint ducked his head at that remark. “I know that you haven't had a place to call home since you were nine and given to the circus. You mask your pain and loneliness well, but I can see through the cracks in your mask, because I used to see it every time I looked in the mirror. The person that changed it all for me, that brought me out of the pit of depression that I had fallen into wants me to help you. To provide you with that stability that has been denied to you for so long.” Coulson smiled softly before continuing. “I don’t know how this is going to play out but I’m willing to find out. I trust Stiles judgement about you since he saw something in you that everyone else failed to see. Only you can prove to everyone and most importantly yourself that you aren't a flight risk and you are worth it. I’m offering you the keys to the car but it’s your choice if you take it and run.”

Coulson’s eyes did not flicker away from Clint’s for a single moment during the speech, allowing him to see the sincerity off the man's words. Clint took a moment to blink away the tears threatening to spill over as he felt a strange emotion pass over him. Safe. Wanted. For the first time since he could remember Clint felt that being wanted not for his skills but for himself. In that moment Clint knew that he wouldn't need any more convincing so he picked up the pen and scribbled his ineligible signature in red across the bottom of the page. Coulson quickly scooped up the paperwork and checked over it, giving Clint the illusion of privacy whilst he quickly regained his composure. Throwing on his trademark cocky smile he glanced at Coulson who looked at him sadly for a moment before putting on his Agent face.

“Are you sure you know what you’re getting into sir? I can be a bit of a handful or so I’ve been told,” Clint cheekily asked, sincerely believing that there couldn't be anyone worse than himself.

Eyes glittering with some unspoken joke, “Trust me Barton, spend an hour with Stiles and you’ll see that you are a piece of cake.” Coulson’s tone held amusement and a hint of challenge as if he didn't believe Clint could last that long. Challenge accepted Clint thought smirking inwardly.

Coulson was unprepared for the scenario in which Clint and Stiles would team up, soon becoming known as Hawkeye and his Little Hawk around SHIELD. The Director decided to use them when recruits first came into SHIELD. Nearly half quit before the first ever training session.

 

Present

Feeling himself shaking within the vents, Clint quickly wiped away the angry tears streaming down his face. He had trusted Phil with his life, his feelings and yet just like everyone else Clint had met he had ripped him apart and left him in the dust. Clint grimaced slightly at the remembrance of the one person who had yet to become like the others, instead they were in trouble and he would be damned if he let his emotions get in the way of the mission.

Using the sides of the vent he pulled himself forward to make his way to his bedroom, mentally beginning to prepare what would be necessary with dealing with Phil. Clint wouldn't let Phil interfere with his mission, but he would let him help in rescuing his little hawk before kicking him back to the black hole from which he crawled out of. Dropping from the ceiling to land in the middle of his bedroom, Clint stalked to his dresser next to his bed and picked up the picture of the day Clint turned thirty five. He had celebrated that birthday with Phil and Stiles. It had undoubtedly been one of the best days of his life. That was the day that Clint finally felt like he had become part of their little family, like he had actually belonged.

Staring at the picture, he could only watch as the tears fell freely on the smiling faces.

Chapter Text

Voices. That was the first thing that he registered as he started to regain consciousness. Harsh male voices that were saying things to each other that he didn't understand.

“I believe that we have found it Sir, with the right stimulus we should be able to bring it back without any complications.”

“Excellent news, do you have the necessary equipment?”

“Most of it Sir, the rest of it we can make and should be ready in time.”

What were they talking about? What was the thing that they had found and why did they need to bring it back?

Stiles tried to raise his arms to rub at his eyes that seemed to be taped shut but found that his arms met some resistance. Frowning he also realised that he had something stuck across his forehead, some small circles by the feel of them. As he started to struggle against the restraints, he failed to notice that the voices had gone quiet.

After a few seconds of struggling, he let out a shout at a sharp pain in his elbow. Immediately he began to feel the same sluggishness rush through his body as the same night that he had met the man with the eyes. It wasn’t long before he was unable to struggle anymore and just before he lost consciousness he heard a mans voice whisper directly into his ear.

“Soon you will not struggle against what I have planned for you.”

With that comment ringing in his head, Stiles fell into a dreamless sleep due to the sedatives in his system.

 

The second time that Stiles woke up, he noticed that he could open his eyes and was no longer strapped down. Pushing himself slowly into a sitting position, he started examining his surroundings. He was on the concrete floor of a large domed room that was circular in shape. The walls were grey and made out of concrete with some areas dripping water onto the floor. The room was lit with a few bulbs dotted on the walls that cast a gloomy aura in the room, which wasn't helped by the fact that the lights seemed to flicker at random moments making it seem as though he was in a horror movie. As he looked around the room he observed that he was in one of eight cages that were in a circle around the edges of the room with equal distance between each cage. Stiles gave the bars of his cage a cursory look, not recognising the metal. The cages themselves weren't very big, about seven feet tall and roughly six feet by six feet, barely big enough for a frown man too lie down fully extended. In the middle of the room was a large object covered by a black tarp that made the object undistinguishable.

Deciding to try and stretch out the soreness in his body, as he didn’t know how long he had been lying on the ground, he tried to stand but quickly fell down again. He hissed at the cold sensation of the floor touching the soles of his feet realising that he was no longer dressed in his own clothes. Instead he had no shoes or socks and was wearing white hospital scrubs that were almost perfectly tailored to him but did nothing to stop the chill of the room from making him shiver slightly.

The cold in the room though had nothing to do with the numbness that he was feeling deep inside. The feeling that he had been carrying with him ever since that day when he had agreed to letting the darkness in. He kept thinking back to that day, how if he had been stronger like Scott then countless people would still be alive and he could look his friends in the eye without any guilt. It didn't matter that he had done it to save Malia, in Stiles’ mind it only proved that deep down he was a monster, because who else would let something so evil use them for it’s own purpose. Glancing at the bars that surrounded him, Stiles reflected how it was about time someone had locked him in a cage like the creature that he was. Perhaps now the pack and his father could get back to some semblance of a normal life without having to worry about Stiles messing it up.

He was suddenly jolted out of his thoughts by the sound of a large metal door opening, the only way in and out of the room, giving way for a single man to enter. Stiles felt a faint sense of unease pass through him at the man’s entrance for reasons that became apparent as the man moved closer.

The man himself was unremarkable, average looking, roughly 5’8 with mousy brown hair and a straight almost militaristic posture in plain black clothes under a standard looking lab coat.

Yet it was the predatory look in the man’s eyes that set alarm bells ringing. The way his eyes were lit up in triumph as though Stiles was prey that had finally been caught and was now proudly being displayed as a trophy. Hoping that the man was there to make notes on him and leave quietly, Stiles focused on the water droplets running down the wall in front of him, trying to stem the flow of feelings the man was stirring. Monsters didn’t have emotions after all.

“Mr Stilinski, let me be the first to say what an honour it is to meet you in person. I have heard all about your exploits and have been waiting to meet you for some time. It isn’t everyday that you get to meet someone who has experienced what you have and lived to tell the tale.” The man spoke in a thick German accent that made it clear English was not his first language.

Stiles kept his eyes firmly fixed on the wall, not having any idea what the man was going on about. He decided to wait and see if the man was going to enlighten him, although it wasn't as though Stiles could do much with the information.

“Forgive my bluntness but you don’t look all that remarkable. You’re pale, freckly and not much too look at in all honesty which is strange given what I’ve heard about you. I was expecting someone more imposing with some kind of spark after reading about you history.” At this the man began to pace aggressively an arms length away in front of Stiles cage, as if the sight of Stiles was a disappointment.

Stiles counted the steps that the man took, seventy four, seventy five and on the seventy sixth step, the man stopped and faced Stiles cage again. His face was alight with manic glee and his body vibrating with excitement.

“Well we’ll see about getting that spark back, because here at HYDRA-” at the Stiles flinched recognising the name and it’s reputation. He had been bit of a Captain America fanboy thanks to his Uncle Phil. “-we care deeply about our assets and you my dear boy will be the biggest thing to join our ranks. That is one we’re through with you, but don’t worry we still have to wait for our guests to arrive before we can begin the initiation.”

The man’s words caused Stiles to inhale a sharp gasp. The man sounded certifiably bat shit crazy. Stiles may be a monster but there was no way that he was joining a crazy nazi cult, he wouldn’t let himself be used as a weapon against people again.

His mind whirring at the information, the first time that it had been active with a possible mystery since… since the identity crisis as his dear old dad had described it. Stiles tried to connect the pieces, not being able to understand why HYDRA would want an ADHD riddled boy, who was broken beyond repair to become their biggest asset. Who were the guests that they were waiting for? Were they part of HYDRA, perhaps some top officials come to see this initiation through or maybe he was going to get some friends in the unoccupied cells.

Noticing that the man was still staring at him, not moving an inch as he stood by the bars, Stiles forced himself to voice his thoughts, fighting the urge to fall back into the numbness. It was a hard struggle but he eventually found his voice.

“Who are you? his voice rasped croaky from disuse since he hadn’t spoken since the night the man with the eyes took him. The memory of those eyes sparked a sense of kinsman ship and fascination for some absurd reason. That was part of the reason why he had let himself be taken. He had only met the man once for a few minutes and yet he felt as though he had known him for a lifetime. Stiles wanted to meet the man again, to figure out why we was drawn to the man, because he could sense that there was something inside him that reached out to Stiles. Almost like a spark.

Deciding not to dwell on the strange man right now, he switched his attention back to the other strange man in black in front of him. The brunet’s face lost it’s gleeful look, having it replace with look of surprise, letting Stiles know that the man hadn’t expected him to talk.

“I am the leader of HYDRA and soon to be your master. I am Baron Helmut Zemo, son of Baron Heinrich Zemo who was murdered by the American scum Captain America. It has been decades since HYDRA and my father were superior but I have patiently waited for my time to come and have found the key to avenge my father and bring HYDRA out of the shadows.” Zemo’s voice rose until by the end he was shouting, his arms gesturing wildly whilst looking at Stiles with bright eyes, his implication clear.

Dread began pooling in Stiles stomach at Zemo’s words, his chest tightening as the full impact of the speech hit him.

“No,” he gasped, shaking his head so fast that he almost passed out at the wave of dizziness that hit him like a tonne of bricks. “I may have let myself be taken but that was too prevent anyone else from getting hurt by my hands. I will never help you or your crazy organisation you crazy bastard. I’d rather die than be used as some weapon in someone’s arsenal.”

Zemo chuckled darkly, stalking forward towards Stiles until his face was just inches away from the bars.

“That’s where your wrong Mr Stilinski, we don’t need your consent to use you. In fact by the time we’re through with you, you won’t even be yourself.”

At that Zemo turned on his heel and made his way to the door, calling over his shoulder to Stiles.

“I’ll leave you to your thoughts Mr Stilinski, whilst they are still your own. Also I hope you don’t mind if we turn of the lights in here, budget cuts you see and as I hear it, well you aren’t a stranger to the darkness are you? Auf wiedershen Mr Stilinski.”

Slamming the door shut with a resounding bang Zemo disappeared from view. Ten seconds later the lights flickered a few times before failing to come back on.

Stiles shuffled into a corner of the cage, curling his body tightly with his arms wrapped around his knees. He tried to take deep breaths, but could feel the panic rising within him. He hadn’t been in pitch black darkness since the identity crisis and could feel himself start to hyperventilate. Remembering the last time that he had succumbed to the darkness, Stiles started to shake in terror, trying to cover his ears from the voices that he knew weren't there.

“Please don’t,” he whispered to nobody before blessedly losing consciousness.

 

Beacon Hills.

They were all sitting in Scott’s living room, the first time that they had been together as a pack since the Nogitsune. Derek and Danny were sitting on one of the couches, whilst Kira and Scott took the other one. Lydia herself was sitting on the only armchair in the room, directly in front of Scott and Kira whilst Isaac was leaning against the wall near the door since there were no more seats available.

It was strange to see the pack so small after losing some of it’s members.

Lydia took that moment to reflect over the reasons why the pack had diminished. The past couple of weeks certainly had something to do with it. Hell the past couple of years really. Erica, Boyd, Allison, Jackson and now possibly Stiles. All had been lost in one way or another because of the supernatural that had entered their lives and sank it’s claws into them, dragging them into the darkness to never be heard of again.

She wished that she had never been involved with the supernatural drama that had infected her life. Ever since Peter had bitten her, things had gone from bad to worst if that was even possible. Suffering from the losses that no teenager should ever have to experience combined with the unimaginable horrors she had been forced to endure, it was a wonder she hadn’t gone insane, locked up in Eichen House.

Now wasn't the time to dwell on the things that she couldn’t change no matter how much she wanted to. This was her life and she was going to make the most of it because she was Lydia Martin, she didn't back down to anyone or anything. There were more pressing matters that needed her undivided attention right now. The most pressing would be Stiles disappearance. The pack member that they might be able to save from being lost to them forever. Worry for the pale teen knotted her stomach, which was something her fifteen year old self would never have said. Oh how the times have changed she though bitterly.

Realising that no one had spoken in twenty minutes, Lydia raised her head from where it had been staring at her perfectly manicured hands in her lap.

“So what’s the plan then?” she asked the room, her question not directed at anyone in particular.

“For what?” Scott replied with a frown.

“For finding Stiles, your best friend. It’s been three days since the Sheriff noticed him missing so we don’t know how far behind we are. The last time I saw him was after we defeated the Nogitsune so the first week of November, it’s now the fourth week so we have a timeline of roughly three weeks to fill in. If everyone could write down-” before Lydia could finish she was interrupted by Scott’s roar, flooded with anger. He glared at her in a mixture of anger and disbelief as though he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

“We aren’t going to get involved with the investigation. We don’t need to find someone who isn't wanted.”

“What are you saying Scott, of course we need to find him. He’s your best friend and a member of this pack. How dare you say that we don’t want him? He’s my friend so that would be at least one person who does want him!”

‘No!” Scott snarled. “He’s a monster Lydia, he’s killed people, innocent people, if it wasn’t for him then we wouldn’t be in this position. Allison and countless others would still be alive.”

“He was possessed Scott, he wasn’t in control of his body. He’s just as much of a victim as the rest of us, so don’t you put the blame of the past couple of weeks on his shoulders. ”

“I’m not just talking about the latest catastrophe Lydia,” Scott shouted his body tensing with the anger that he was feeling. “I’m talking about how it was him who convinced me to go into the woods that night two years ago. If he had let me stay home then I never would have gotten bitten and the past two years would have been spent as normal teenagers.”

At that Lydia stood, marched over too where Scott was sitting and slapped the petty Alpha in front of her with all of her might. When he raised his head back to face her, she felt a faint sense of satisfaction at the sight of the bright red hand print glowing on his face. It looked like someone needed to knock some sense into pretty boys head and it was going to be her.

“Take responsibility for your actions Scott. You could have refused to follow Stiles that night. You’ve dealt with Stiles for over a decade so you know how to say no. So put on your big boy pants and own up to your mistakes so we can get to finding Stiles. Besides who’s to say that things wouldn’t be worse if we hadn't gotten involved. Who would have stopped Peter because Derek wouldn't have been able to do it on his own.” Out of the corner of her eye she saw Derek nod slightly in agreement, since the younger beta would have been no match against both the older alpha and the Argents combined.

Lydia took the moment to look around the room to see if any of the other occupants of the room shared her opinion.

Isaac still looked grief stricken over the loss of Allison, the past month not enough to dampen the overwhelming emotions stemming from her death. The blonde beta would most probably oppose Lydia’s plan as he had been taking every opportunity to bash Stiles to anyone willing to listen since he blamed Stiles for the Allison’s death.

Danny appeared conflicted since he had only been told the full story of events after the Nogitsune. The teen had actually already started to piece together some of the events before he had been told but since he hadn't been directly involved, it was clear that he wasn't sure who’s opinion he supported. Lydia wouldn’t be mad at Danny if he refused to help since he didn't have any obligation to the pack and in all honesty she would prefer it if he stayed as far away as he could and live a normal life, but she was afraid that the option for him to do so had already been snatched away.

Derek’s face was impassive as always, not revealing any of his thoughts. The man was most likely weighing his options, although Lydia had an inkling of what he was going to do.

That then left her with Kira. Lydia felt a bit for the young kitsune. Not even two months ago had she even known about the supernatural and here she was, a fox who had defeated a thousand year old spirit with a boyfriend who was grieving the loss of his ex girlfriend who was also his first love. Talk about awkward.

The turned back to Scott who had stood up during her observation and took an unconscious step back. Scott’s eye were flickering from red to brown as he visibly vibrated, trying to keep his wolf under control. His gaze looked murderous as he turned those flickering eyes on her. She glanced down at his hands and saw that they were clenched into fists by his side so tightly that they were turning white. It looked as though he was a mere few seconds from striking out at her which scared her more than anything she had ever seen before. This was Scott, the adorable puppy eyed teen who refused to hurt anyone unless in dire circumstances and yet it seemed he would not hesitate to strike her down if she said another word.

“There will be no more talk about this. We only help people, not monsters. We will go back to our lives since I believe that were deserve to have some peace and quiet after the past couple of years. Maybe with him gone there won't be anymore issues and we can get on with being normal teenagers and finishing high school. If the police want to waste their time in looking for something that shouldn't be find then I for one am happy to let them.”

With that Scott turned and marched over to where Kira was seated, shoving a hand out for her to take. Lydia watched as Kira sent an apologetic look in her direction before taking Scott’s hand. The two of them left the room, heading to the stairs where they were most likely going to go to Scott’s room. Isaac followed them, smirking as he glided forward, no doubt pleased with Scott’s order.

Lydia fell gracelessly into the space that Scott had previously occupied, glancing at Derek and Danny who had yet to interject anything into the conversation.

“I can't do this on my own. I can help the Sheriff but the more people that we have the better,”

Danny was the first too reply. “Stilinski and I may not be friends but I think that this town has suffered enough losses for once. From the tales you’ve told me, Stilinski is normally the person who comes up with the plan to save the day. It would just be our luck that something comes along and shakes everything up and Stilinski isn't here to save the day. Besides I may not have been a member of your group for long but I can tell that it isn't the same without him here, it’s like your missing the heart of the pack.”

Lydia smiled in relief, already planning how she could use Danny’s computer skills that he had already provided to help them cover up the Nogitsune attacks.

“I’ll see what I can uncover in the preserve if thats the last known place of Stiles. Perhaps there are some clues that the officers missed since they don't have a wolf’s senses.” Derek spoke calmly as if he was casually mentioning the weather or something, startling Lydia out of her planning. She had thought that the brooding werewolf was going to play no part in finding Stiles, since it was obvious to anyone who could see that Derek barely tolerated Stiles on a good day.

Sensing her surprise Derek smiled faintly, transforming his face from attractive to downright handsome.

“Stiles and I may have had our differences but at the end of the day he’s saved me more times than I care to admit. I fear that it’s because of our neglect that he’s missing and I can’t leave that on my conscience.”

Silence followed Derek’s statement, Lydia digesting the reasoning and the rare show of emotions that the werewolf was revealing. The evening had certainly not gone as she had expected but perhaps that had been for the best.

She had honestly thought that Scott was going to step up to the plate and take charge in finding their lost pack member. Instead he had all but denounced Stiles as pack and couldn't even bring himself to say his name once in the entire argument. She couldn't dwell on that now though, mentally making a note to get Kira alone and perhaps convince the young kitsune to get Scott to see some reason.

“We’ll rest tonight and then regroup in the morning at my house. Time is off the essence here because-” at the she closed her mouth with an audible snap, mentally cursing herself for slipping up.

“Because what?” Danny asked curiously.

“Because if we don’t find him soon then I fear we’re going to be facing something worse than anything we’ve ever seen. Death will come and there will be no escaping it.”

Chapter Text

Natasha was sick of this town.

She had only been here for two days and yet she wanted to burn this town to the ground. To watch the flames purge the taint of death until there was nothing left.

She had never particularly liked small towns to begin with, preferring the bustling cities such as New York or Tokyo. In places like those it was easy to become just another face in the crowd, another person going though the motions. In her line of work she had always had an alias, a name to associate with a pretty face but on the crowded streets of New York no one cared about your name or how you looked. People were more focused on their own day to day worries that you hardly ever got a second glance and she loved it.

Natasha loved that she could go out in public and become just another random face in the crowd with no name or reputation. It helped her to let go sometimes and unwind when the stress of being the Black Widow got too much for even her to handle.

But there was something about Beacon Hills that got under her skin and it wasn't because it was a small town where everyone knew everyone’s business.

No. It had something to do with the energy of the town. The air felt electrified, dangerous even, sending goosebumps running up and down her arms. There was something lurking in the shadows of which she was certain as she could feel eyes watching her but every time she turned around there was nothing, leaving her to chalk it up to her imagination.

She wanted to leave this town and never look back. To scrub her skin raw until the crawling sensation that she felt had been completely erased.

She still had a mission to complete though and her feelings about the town were going to have to be compartmentalised until she had what she was looking for.

Her time in Beacon Hills hadn’t been wasted whilst she was having an internal battle with her emotions, having already gathered plenty of information in the two days that she had been in town.

Natasha had arrived in Beacon Hills exactly one day after Phil’s return, Tony’s car having no trouble in shortening a usually lengthy journey. That made it three days since Stiles missing person’s report had been filed.

The first thing that she had done once she had crossed the town’s border was to check into a local motel located in the middle of town. She had payed cash in order to keep herself under the radar, giving the man at the counter enough for a week stay even though she had a feeling that she wouldn't even be around for half of it. As she entered the room she found that it wasn't the cleanest of places, although there wasn't much to expect when you stayed in a motel. She wasn't planning on spending much time in the room that she was occupying anyway so she didn't really care about the condition of it. Most of her time would be spent around town working various angles to achieve her goal.

Once she had checked in and dropped her bags in the room, she had gotten straight back into the car and made her way to the police station. She had planned her actions on the drive over and had decided that she needed to know what had happened in this town before she could question the inhabitants. She figured that way she could decide who would definitely need a visit and she could send the information to Tony straight away allowing him to start working on his own investigation.

Parking her car a few blocks away from the station, Natasha subtly began scoping out the layout of the station, making mental notes of the entrances and exits and the rotation of shifts. The assassin noticed that the station didn't have the full rota of staff at the moment so only a handful of officers were present. She decided that a break in would be the best option rather than pretending to be from a federal office. That way no one would know that someone had been snooping around and it saved her from any uncomfortable situations.

Glancing at her watch she decided that the break in would be better executed at night since there would be less people around to interrupt her. Following that decision she made her way to a diner down the street and found an empty booth that had a perfect view of the station. Checking her watch she saw that she had a little over two hours until sundown so settled in for a long wait, ordering cups of coffee in order to keep the booth.

Her watch released a vibration against her wrist a few hours later, alerting her that it was time to act. Natasha relinquished her hold on the booth, moving through the dinner time rush and exiting past a couple of officers making their way in.

The spy casually made her way to the station, double checking her surroundings before ducking behind the back of the building where she found an open window at street level. Smirking at her good luck, Natasha quickly widened the opening and silently slipped in. Turning around she found herself in an office that had the lights switched off, the light from the street lamp the only way she could make out the room.

Before making her way over to the computer that sat in the middle of the desk, Natasha moved towards the door to make sure that it was locked before she settled in. Satisfied that she would be able to hear if anyone tried to access the office the spy glided across the room to sit at the desk.

Turning the computer on Natasha huffed at the box blinking for a password and easily bypassed it since Tony had spent an entire afternoon showing them several hacking techniques lest they ever be in a situation with technology without him. Without hesitation she clicked on the stations database of files and made several search inquiries to find her starting point. Anything that had the mention of Stiles Stilinski, Scott McCall or Unsolved Murders were brought up to her attention.

What she found shocked her to the very core. The words causing her heart to clench at the thought of what her mały jastrząb had gone through.

Staring at the screen in it’s pixelated glory, Natasha could only gape at the mess this town was in.

Animal attacks, murders, fires, ritualistic sacrifices, missing people never to be seen again. The list seemed to go on and on with the most recent incident occurring only a month before Stiles disappearance.

The deaths in this town rivalled her own ledger, the town almost drowning in red.

Every thing seemed to have began in force back in 2011 with the mutilated body of a young woman being found in the woods. Eyes skimming through the report, Natasha furrowed her brow when she read that Stiles had had the brother of the victim arrested for murder before it had been deemed an animal attack.

There was something about the animal attacks that caused her mind to flash back to her time in the red room. The way that the reports mentioned how people had seen an animal walking like a person and yet the results had come back as a mountain lion caused Natasha to flinch at the sharp spike of pain as she tried to remember all those years ago.

She knew that she had heard of something like this before, her superiors mentioning about a new line of assassins that no one would stand a chance against. The only problem that she was having was that it seemed the specifics of those plans had been erased, the memories blurred that she couldn't remember why she had seemed to link it to these animal attacks.

Natasha returned her attention to the situation at hand, hoping that maybe something in the files would help the block in her memory to vanish.

A common theme began to emerge the more she dug into the files. The same names kept popping up, most of the time as witnesses but becoming more frequent as participants as time went on.

Mentally shaking out of her stupor Natasha pulled out her Stark phone from her pocket and tapped a few commands to wirelessly begin downloading the relevant information to Tony. Once the download was complete did Natasha erase the history of her search before shutting down the computer and exiting the office the same way she came in.

She promptly returned to the motel with her mind too stimulated to even begin to contemplate finding any sleep for the remainder of the night. Pacing across the floor Natasha tried to piece together what she had found. None of it made much sense to be honest, a lot of it screaming cover ups from the police force. She didn’t know how she was going to tell Phil that his brother in law had essentially abused his power as Sheriff.

Her gut then clenched as she thought of how Phil and Clint were going to react to her findings as they had known Stiles for the longest. No doubt one or both of them were going to blame themselves for not knowing what had been going on.

The night dragged as she was left alone with her thoughts.

The next day after the sleepless night Natasha dressed up in respectable clothing making herself look like what she hoped was a reporter and headed out determined to start getting answers that made sense.

After a long morning of ‘interviewing’ people at the hospital and school did she begin cursing under her breath in Russian, frustrated at the lack of cooperation she was receiving. No one it seemed wanted to talk to her, all of them stammering that they didn’t know anything before hightailing it away from her as quickly as they could.

Walking back to the motel since she had decided to leave the car behind today, did she begin to think that this town had nothing to offer but the files. As she was beginning to admit defeat, something that wasn't usually in her vocabulary, her ears picked up the shrill tones of a group of women.

The loud voices of the group had carried over to her side of the street and Natasha heard mention of a certain pale teen that alerted her to a possible gold mine of information.

That was how she found herself at this particular moment in a salon with the group of women subtly questioning what they knew whilst they received manicures. One lady in particular was very eager to sprout her mouth off to Natasha, excited to ramble about anything and everything to a ‘reporter’.

The woman seemed determined to point out the weird occurrences in the town which on any other day would intrigue Natasha but this was already information that she knew. Not wanting to waste any more time after sitting here for half an hour Natasha was just about to thank the woman for her time when the woman suddenly piqued Natasha’s interest.

“Teenagers you say,” Natasha simpered playing to the woman’s weakness. ‘Is it always the same group of kids or do they change around?”

“Mostly the same.” The woman pounced on Natasha’s interest, her eyes lighting up in smug satisfaction. “There’s a Scott McCall, Lydia Martin, Isaac Lahey and Stiles Stilinski I do believe. Oh and Derek Hale who is much too old to be hanging around teenagers along with that Allison girl who passed at the start of the month, rest her soul.”

Seeing her opening at the mention of the teens name, Natasha struck quick and fast just like her namesake.

“Stiles huh? That's an odd name.” Natasha said making her voice sound confused knowing that the woman wouldn't resist the bait.

“That’s for sure but not as odd as the boy himself. He wasn't that bad before only having his ADHD playing up but after that mountain lion attack two years ago he seemed to get a lot more rebellious.” The woman seemed to turn up her nose at the memory of the boy causing a slight rage to roll through Natasha’s body as the woman openly expressed her distaste.

Keeping her hands by her side to stop her from reaching for the knives that she had hidden on her, Natasha made sure to keep her tone intrigued, although she couldn't stop the slight coldness from seeping through. “I read about that during my research into the town. How would an animal attack make a teen more rebellious? I thought that he didn't even know the victim.”

“I don’t pretend to understand it myself dear but he started to stay out until odd hours of the night, showing up at crime scenes. I think he even witnessed some of the deaths himself. He changed in noticeable ways too, became a lot more serious and troublesome until a few weeks ago were he seemed to do a complete one eighty and cut himself off.” The woman paused to take a deep breath before continuing. “I saw him a few time you know, driving around town during school hours and then all off a sudden he’s missing. I think it’s drugs personally. Young kids get caught up in drugs and end up running away to fuel their lifestyle.”

Natasha thanked the woman for her time at that point and left quickly, checking her surroundings to make sure that she was heading in the right direction. The woman had provided her with some useful information in Stile’s change of personality that she began to link with what she had read in the police reports.

There was no doubt in her mind that Stiles had become involved with something dangerous and that in the past few months it seemed to have gotten out of hand. The question it seemed to be at the moment was what was the thing they were involved in. She doubted it was drugs since Beacon Hills didn't have a whole lot of drug related arrests and the teenagers displayed no typical signs of being in a gang or drug users.

Approaching the McCall house after a few minutes of walking, she rang the doorbell and took a step back to wait for the door to open. When the door swung open she took a quick second to assess the young man in front of her, noting the golden skin, crooked jaw and very well muscled and toned body.

Putting on a slightly sheepish look, Natasha made sure that her voice sounded slightly apologetic at having bothered the young man.

“I’m very sorry to bother you but I’m a reporter for the county newspaper and I’ve been sent here to cover the Stilinski case. I’m under the belief that you and he are best friends so I was wondering if you had any insights or statements for the paper.”

McCall’s face quickly became contorted in anger, his lips pulling back in a snarl at the mention of best friends. She quickly realised in that moment that her approach had been the wrong way to go about questioning McCall.

“I’m afraid that you have your facts wrong. He and I aren’t best friends and I have no idea where he is, nor do I particularly care. Now I would greatly appreciate it if you would leave and respect my privacy, things are finally getting back to normally and I will not have him coming back and messing it up!” At that the door slammed shut inches away from Natasha’s nose, leaving her confused and slightly pissed. Stiles had loved to tell her, Clint and Phil all about the fun adventures he and Scott had gotten up to when he visited and yet Scott had acted like he resented even being associated with Stiles.

Needing to know whether this feeling extended to the rest of Stiles friends, Natasha made her way to Lydia Martin’s house receiving a very different statement.

“I wish I could give you some help but I’m just as much in the dark as you are. My only hope is that we can get him home and safe” the other red head said sincerely.

“How is it that no one noticed he had gone missing if I may ask since he seemed to have friends and family that would have noticed?” That had been something that had been bugging Natasha since Phil had come to them and thankfully the Lydia was willing to answer albeit slightly vague.

“He does have friends and family that care about him but it just so happened that at that particular time period we all had our own lives keeping us busy. His father is also the Sheriff as I’m sure you know so he had been focused on helping to get the town safe again after the latest incidents.”

It was almost like Lydia had played right into her web at the mention of the incidents.

“Can you comment on the strange occurrences that have happened since 2011? I noticed that yours and several other names kept popping up. Do you think that these events contributed to his disappearance?”

Lydia lost her welcoming demeanour, instantly becoming rigid, her tone becoming frosty. “Those were terrible tragedies that we had the unfortunate pleasure of witnessing, I don't know if he's gone because of them but I sincerely doubt it. Now if you'd excuse me I have an appointment to get ready for.”

As Natasha left after being politely dismissed did she run over the words in her head, knowing that the girl had just lied to her face.

The spy knew that the town and it’s occupants were hiding secrets that were detrimental to people’s live and yet they seemed to determined to keep them no matter the cost. Too bad the cost this time turned out to be Stiles, she thought bitterly.

She knew that she didn't have all the pieces yet and that the town was not going to offer up much more. With that she decided that she only had one more destination left before she could make her much anticipated get away.

Natasha returned to the motel, immediately going to her room to put her bags in the car. Once she had finished her task Natasha slipped into the car and putting it in drive, began to make her way towards the preserve, planning to give it a quick sweep before leaving.

She had to drive straight through the middle of town to get to the part of the preserve where Stiles jeep had been found, the GPS saying the drive would take 25 minutes following the speed limits.

As she passed a row of shops she caught sight of a child running towards a shop window, the boy pressing his face against the glass. The sight of the child caused a favourite memory of hers to come to life in her mind.

 

June 2004

Black Widow didn't know why she had agreed to go with the man sent to eliminate her. A highly trained assassin named Hawkeye who had taken one look at her in the hotel room in London and gave her a choice. She could either come with him and start a new life or they could fight until one of them was no longer breathing.

There hadn't been a doubt in her mind that she could have taken the man out since she wasn't called the Black Widow for nothing, but he had been the first person in her life to give her a choice. To give her the chance to make her own decisions regarding her life and not have it dictated minute by minute by people who only saw her as a weapon and nothing more.

This was her chance to start making amends for all the terrible things she had done. To start wiping out the red in her ledger even thought there would never be a day that goes by where she wasn't haunted by those acts.

Without saying a word to Hawkeye, Natasha had nodded her agreement, wordlessly passing her gratitude at the man who she later came to learn was named Clint.

Once they had gotten back to his base in America Natasha had immediately been placed under armed guard and escorted to a glass cell, which was where she found herself now. Lying on the cot in the middle of the room Natasha contemplated all the various scenarios that could play out now she was locked up.

Would she be killed, tortured for information or perhaps made an agent just like Hawkeye had suggested? The last one was laughable although she didn't crack a smile. They would never trust her enough for that, her reputation pretty much guaranteed it.

During her contemplation Natasha heard the door click open and someone shuffle in before closing the door behind them. Not moving a muscle as the footsteps came closer, she kept her eyes closed and set in to wait for the person to make the first move.

Once two minutes had passed Natasha found that she couldn't keep her eyes closed mainly due to being in a potentially hostile situation.

What she saw surprised her.

A boy no older than ten was on the other side of the glass, his face pressed so close it was almost squished who was staring at her in obvious excitement. Natasha wasn't sure why the boy was excited to see her since she didn't spend much time around children unless it was needed for a mission. Maintaining her silence Natasha lifted an eyebrow as a slightly menacing way to scare the boy away.

However her usual move which normally sent grown men running did nothing to deter the boy though since he began eagerly filling the silence with his rambling.

“You’re going to fit right in.”

Giving Natasha little time to absorb the boys words, he jumped right back into talking taking no notice of how her breath started to hitch during his following speech.

“I mean that was a given if Clint brought you in since that means he saw something in you that said you were alone. Now that your here though you don't have to worry about that anymore. Clint and I already begged and pleaded to Uncle Phil for him to become your handler so he’s gone to argue with a group of stuffy old people. I hope you enjoy movie nights, you’ll definitely be learning the lines to all the Star Wars films in the years to come. Oh and if Clint does anything annoying just punch him or join in since I bet you have a wicked sense of humour.”

By the end of the long winded statement the boy was taking large gulps of air, either from excitement or the fact that he hadn't taken a single breath during his speech.

“I don’t think that you understand kid. I’m the Black Widow. I’m not in this cell because I thought it was fun, I’m in here because I’m dangerous,” Natasha interrupted, her voice pitched low to convey her seriousness.

The boy stared at her for a few long seconds before shrugging. “And I’m Stiles nice to meet you, I hope that you name isn't Black Widow because what parents would name their child that! So do you like curly fries. It’s an important thing to know for movie night.”

The boy carried on rambling at her as if mere mention of her alias didn't bother him, as if the fact that she was in a cell didn't bother him!

“You shouldn't be in here kid, I’m not a good person to be around okay. I have a reputation that involves hurting people and sometimes do much worse than that. If you knew what was good for you then you would just leave okay.” She was almost pleading to the boy at that point to follow her words. His words were like a knife to her heart as she didn't believe someone like her could be involved in something so normal like movie night.

Yet a deep sense of longing filled her at the idea of doing normal activities that regular people took for granted.

“I don’t care if you have a reputation Miss since I’ve never met you before and I’m not going to judge you on who you were but rather who you are in this very moment. Clint saw something in you that made him gamble his whole career so if he believes in you then so do I. Now do you like curly fires?”

The normally emotionless assassin was stunned into disbelief. The boy was looking at her with no fear in his eyes, reinforcing the fact that he didn't care about who she had been. Taking a deep breath and with it the plunge into a new life, Natasha smiled weakly.

“Yeah kid I do like them and my name is Natasha by the way.”

 

Present

Clint may have given her the choice to take control of her life and Phil may have batted for her, protecting her from the higher ups but it had been Stiles who had helped her make the biggest changes in her life. From that very first meeting Stiles had treated her like a normal person, never showing any fear in something simple like giving her a hug even though she could have snapped his neck in a second.

He had helped her to realise that there was more to life than being an assassin, instead showing her that there were people who would welcome her with open arms for just being Natasha. It hadn't taken long for Natasha to become part of the trio’s little family, fitting in comfortably, almost as if they had been waiting for her to come along. The biggest change in her life had come from something so simple that it was easily overlooked most of the time.

The innocence of a child.

Realising that her GPS had been beeping at her for a few good thirty seconds to let her know that she had arrived at her destination did Natasha shake out of her reminiscing.

Pulling into the carpark she stepped out of the car and started to make her way to the tree line, eyes already searching for any possible clues.

Natasha let her senses take over at that point, honed by years of practice and began heading in a straight line keeping an eye and ear out for any disturbances. Stepping over fallen logs and exposed trees roots she saw a faint figure in the distance, the shape not recognisable as man or woman from her position.

She stealthily began making her closer to the figure, noticing as her steps carried her closer that it was a man, quite tall with broad shoulders and dark brunet hair. The man was wearing dark jeans and a black leather jacket standing in front of a large tree stump that gave Natasha the chills just by being near it.

Natasha recognised the man as Derek Hale from several photos in the police report and smiled at her good fortune for once. She hadn't been able to find an address for the man so to find him in time before she left town was quite good luck in her opinion.

Derek’s ears twitched at Natasha’s approach, something she noticed with detached curiosity as she made her footsteps heavier so she didn't spook the man with her appearance.

When she was only six feet away from him did she stop making sure that she was in his peripheral vision. Derek slowly turned around to face her, his face blank except for a single raised eyebrow in question. The way he raised his eyebrow reminded Natasha of herself when she used the action to try and intimidate someone. Smirking inwardly to herself she immediately slipped into the reporter role she had been playing earlier, the eyebrow having no affect on her.

“Sorry to disturb you Mr Hale, I wasn't expecting to find anyone else in the woods at this time of the day. I’m a reporter for the county paper reporting on the Stilinski case and thought that visiting the presumed disappearance sight would help with my article. Would you perhaps mind answering some questions while your here?”

Throughout her introduction she watched at his nostrils flared, reminding her on an animal sniffing, his face become progressively darker as the words flowed out of her mouth.

“No comment,” was all that came out of his mouth in a gruff voice, brushing past her to leave.

Natasha sensed that she was about to lose an opportunity at answering some of the questions that kept nagging her so in a desperate move that was very unlike her, she flung a question at him that stopped him in his tracks.

“So you don’t think that it’s strange that ever since your sister died this town has experienced many deaths to which your name has been associated with along with several teenagers?”

He flinched at the mention of his sister, the move so minute that had she not been trained in reading people’s body language she would have missed it. Without turning around Derek raised his voice loud enough to give a warning to her.

“If you knew what was best for yourself then you would let this all go. Don’t let a story get in the way of you keeping your life.”

With that parting advice he left before she could ask him what he meant, vanishing from view almost immediately.

The usually composed assassin began kicking angrily at the fallen leaves on the floor, her frustration getting the better of her before she slowly reined it back in. She turned to leave but a glint on the floor attracted her attention. Bending down at the knees she pulled a tissue from her pocket to pick up the object that had been uncovered during her little meltdown.

It was a syringe that seemed to still have a few drops of clear liquid inside it. This was definitely not something used for hunting. Natasha suspected that the only reason why it would be here was if it had been used on a certain teenager whose jeep had been found only fifteen minutes away from this spot.

With the syringe held carefully in her hand Natasha began to backtrack through the woods to reach her car. With all the possible leads exhausted for the time being she was ready to get back to more comfortable footing, the town having knocked her off balance in ways that she had never expected.

Unknown to either Natasha or Derek a man in black tactical gear had been watching them from afar. Pulling out a disposable phone the man dialled a number from memory and waited for the other person to pick up.

“She found the files and the syringe. She’s now on her way back to New York.” A pause as he listened intently to the person on the other end. “Yes sir I don’t believe that it will be much longer. Hail HYDRA.”

Chapter Text

There wasn't much for Steve to do whilst Natasha was in Beacon Hills. Everyone else in the tower seemed to have found ways to keep themselves occupied during the waiting. Clint had spent the past few days avoiding everyone by hiding in the vents, Coulson was scouring SHIELD reports to see what he had missed, Thor was making sure that Bruce didn’t get too agitated so that the Hulk made an appearance and Tony was. Well Tony had taken too sorting through the files that Natasha had sent him so he was unable to spend anytime with Steve.

He had been so close to finally conquering his nervousness that morning Phil had come back, as he had mustered the courage to finally ask Tony on a date. It had taken Steve three months to get to the point where he felt confident enough to put himself out there. So that morning Steve had spent a few hours in the mirror giving himself a pep talk only to have it been wasted as more important things than his love life popped up.

Maybe it had been for the best that Coulson had interrupted his dating attempt due to the fact that he was unsure whether or not the mechanic in question reciprocated his feelings. On the other hand though he would have had his answer there and then, even if it had led to embarrassment. Now though he was stuck in some sort of limbo as he waited for his next opportunity to find out.

Cursing his bad luck at dating, first at not having the chance with Peggy and then not even getting the chance to even ask Tony, Steve doubted that he would ever get a date before he turned one hundred.

That was how he now found himself in the gym at nine in the evening with the reinforced punching bags Tony had made for him. Tony had taken one look at the bags that SHIELD had made, snorted un-politely and proceeded to spend the next day making the bags that Steve was currently using.

With nothing to contribute to the investigation and everyone else busy with their own things, he had started to spend a lot of time here down here by himself trying to get rid of the nervous energy that kept building up inside him. Before he knew it the bag went flying across the room, beans scattering across the cement floor in every direction. At the sound of the beans bouncing on the floor, Steve was transported mentally back to the day when a certain teen helped him remember who he really was.

 

August 2011

And there went another bag Steve thought absently as it went flying to join the other broken bags of the day, already moving to grab another one to hang. Bag number seven already and it wasn't even noon yet.

It had been two months since he had woken up confused and alone in 2011. Two months since the world as he knew it had changed, leaving him as a forgotten war hero, whilst everyone he had ever cared for were either dead or too old too remember him. Following those revelations, it had been difficult for him to grasp those first couple of weeks in a new century and he had even been ordered to go and see a therapist to help him get through it emotionally.

The lovely female doctor had helped to an extent as he had slowly but steadily gotten past the shock of waking up and had begun to move onto acceptance. His therapist had suggested that he leave the SHIELD base he was currently staying in to go and explore the new world but he had yet to do so. It was great that he had the permission to leave as long as he came back to the base but he wasn't ready to see how the world had carried on without Captain America. He was scared that if he saw everything with his own eyes, then he could no longer pretend that the world hadn’t changed.

“Mr Rogers?” a voice cautiously called out, causing Steve to pause in his tracks and look over to the gym door that he could swear he locked. The voice seemed to belong to a young man, a teenager really that was sporting an unfortunate buzzcut and wearing a graphic tee under a red plaid shirt.

When Steve failed to respond, the boy frowned slightly and stepped further into the room making sure to keep his hands in plain view.

“Steve Rogers right? My name is Stiles and before you ask it’s a nickname. I was wondering if perhaps you had a minute of your time that you could spare?”

“Sure son, let’s go take a seat in the locker room.” Steve curiosity was peaked since he hadn't spoken to anyone outside of SHIELD since he had woken up and there was no way that this boy was an agent.

Once they were both sitting on opposite benches facing each other, Steve took control of the situation, trying to get a hold of all the facts.

“So what can I do for you?”
“I just wanted to say that you need to take control of your life back” Stiles answered bluntly, wincing when he registered his own words.

“Excuse you young man but I am perfectly in control of my life!”

“That came out wrong,” Stiles grumbled. “Let me clarify, what I meant was that you need to take back control as Steve Rogers, not Captain America. I’ve seen you around a couple of times and not a single agent here has ever acknowledged you as Steve Rogers, it’s always been Captain or Captain America. I understand that’s how people remember you but it’s gotten to the point where you won't even go outside because you’re afraid if people have forgotten the Captain!”

Steve could only gape at the boy in stunned silence. He had of course noticed that people had yet to call him Steve but he had gotten so used to being Captain America that he had just rolled with it.

“You’ve lost your identity Mr Rogers,” Stiles gently said, “and the first step in order to rejoin the world as you now know it is to realise it.”

“But I’m Captain America, people are going to be counting on me to keep them safe” Steve whispered.

“Captain America is just a costume sir. The real hero is you, Steve Rogers. You need to realise that Captain America wouldn’t exist without you, but now you’ve merged yourself and the suit together that you don't know where one starts and the other ends. Separating yourself from the suit and putting your foot down is the only way you’re going to be able to take control and direction of your life.”

“Why are doing this?” pleaded Steve, his eyes finally opening to how blind he had been. He had been so taken with the Captain America mantle that he hadn't realised there was no longer any distinction between himself and the costume.

“I’m doing this because history was going to repeat itself. You were going to get so caught up in being Captain America that you would forget that Steve also existed and would end up missing out on life just like you did the first time. Being only Captain America already took away your first chance at happiness, don't let it happen again.”

“What would you suggest then? Captain America is all I’ve known since the war, it’s not as easy as turning off a switch between the two.”

Stiles smiled softly at Steve’s question, most likely hearing the emotion threatening to overwhelm him.

“Well first we’re going to…”

 

Present

After that meeting Steve had found it easier to involve himself into the twenty-first century, Stiles being with him every step of the way. That young man had transformed Steve’s life in such a way that he owed everything to him. Stiles had only treated him as Steve and that helped Steve to find his voice again. He had informed Fury that he was moving out of the SHIELD base to gain new perspective. He didn't take no for an answer and proceeded to pack up his meagre possessions and leave, using his money from the army days to stay in a hotel.

Stiles had been unable to stay long in New York but had kept in contact and helped Steve navigate the modern world. Everything from technology such as phones and computers to social etiquette such as modern slang and expectations.

It wasn't until the Loki incident that he had taken up the Captain America mantle again. Except this time he noticed a difference in how he felt. Being able to separate the two allowed him to concentrate fully on what he needed to do as the Captain but still maintain that he was his own person. That was why when he had met Tony the first time they had clashed so badly, since it seemed Tony only saw him as the Captain. Then when Tony had made reference to Steve only being an experiment, it hurt emotionally just like a physical blow to the stomach did. That comment had almost blown all of Steve’s progress in finding himself since he knew he had so much more to offer than being a super-soldier.

Of course it was only after the battle that he had realised all of the comments in that room had mostly been made because of the sceptre and he too had made some unsavoury comments that had sent Tony reeling. Steve had immediately apologised to the mechanic and following that slightly uncomfortable talk, the two had become fast friends, becoming nearly inseparable at times. Tony unknowingly began following in Stiles footsteps, treating Steve as Steve and only referring to him as Cap in missions or serious circumstances.

The fact that Tony acknowledged and wanted to be friends with Steve because of Steve and not Captain America only made him fall harder for the man. He wanted nothing more than to show Tony the full extent of his feelings, that they far extended what a friend should feel.

During his musings, Steve had been going through the motions at hanging up another punching bag when JARVIS’ voice rang through the gym.

“I’m sorry to interrupt Mr Rogers but Miss Romanoff has returned from Beacon Hills and is requesting everyone gather on the communal floor to share the findings.”

Finally Steve thought, his muscles tense in anticipation as he quickly changed into less sweaty clothes and made his way to the elevator. Perhaps now there could be be something for him do.

Exiting the elevator he found that he was the last team member to arrive, everyone else had taken up residence on the couches with the only remaining seat being next to Tony who was occupied with his tablet.

Steve nodded in greeting to Natasha who was sitting next to Clint and Bruce, looking vaguely uncomfortable. If Natasha looked uncomfortable then that meant the situation was bad which sent warning bells ringing in Steve’s ears. Keeping a cautious eye on Natasha, he slipped into the seat next to Tony. Not wasting a moment Natasha quickly began the meeting.

“First of all let me just say that Beacon Hills is hiding a lot more than it is showing, however it appears that only a small group of people know about said secrets. That groups consists mostly of teenagers and a few adults who are Derek Hale, Lydia Martin, Scott McCall, Jackson Whittemore, Isaac Lahey, Allison Argent and Stiles as the main members.”

Seeing that several of the men in the room were about to interrupt, Natasha help up a single hand to stave off the comments. “I know you have questions but it would be best too hold off on them until you get more information.”

Having no disagreements she nodded to Tony who tapped a few times on his tablet before the TV came on displaying various police reports and newspaper headlines.

Natasha didn’t look at the TV, instead keeping her eyes firmly on the men while they read the screen. Steve couldn’t quite make sense what he was reading, half the stuff sounding like it had come straight from a crime show. He hoped that Natasha was able to enlighten him on how these reports had anything to do with Stiles disappearance. Thankfully he didn't have to wait long before she launched into the explanation.

“The strange events that have been mentioned in Beacon Hills started way before last month. They seemed to have started in 2011 when the bisected body of Laura Hale was discovered by Stiles and McCall. That then resulted in Stiles having Derek Hale, her younger brother, arrested before it was deemed a mountain lion attack.”

“That doesn't seem too strange and Stiles would have a pretty good reason for accusing someone of murder,” Clint defended, although his tone wavered slightly in uncertainty.

Tony grimaced. “Oh it get’s weirder, believe me.”

“Following that a bus driver and video store clerk were mauled and killed by a mountain lion with the latter having been witnessed by Whittemore and Martin.”

“How old were they at the time?” Steve asked, horror beginning to settle into his bones at the thought that this was only the beginning.

“Fifteen/ sixteen respectively and I wish I could say to got easier for them.” She paused to take a breath before continuing. “Carrying on from that Stiles, McCall, Argent, Whittemore and Martin were trapped in the school at night with a supposes serial killer. A janitor was murdered but the kids were physically fine.”

Steve felt as though he was going to throw up. Even Bruce looked slightly green but Steve didn't think that it was because he was feeling ill. He hadn't missed the way that Natasha had stressed the word physically, silently communicating that the teens were in fact hurt that night, just not in obvious ways.

“Then during the Winter Formal, Stiles and his date Miss Martin went missing, after a short while they were found with Martin being attacked by a-”

“Let me guess,” Clint interrupted, “a mountain lion.”

“Got it in one bird brain,” Tony snarked, ignoring the various glares sent his way as he continued to fiddle with his tablet.

Sighing slightly Natasha carried on. “That same night Peter Hale and Kate Argent were found murdered by some of the teens on the old Hale estate. He had been burned alive with a molotov cocktail and her throat had been ripped out.”

“Wait, Argent and Hale, are they related to the group?” Coulson questioned, his body tense as he listened to Natasha. As hard as it was for Steve to sit here and listen to the information, he could only imagine how difficult it must be for the Agent who’s whole world essentially revolved around Stiles.

“Yes” Natasha replied, seemingly giving up on stopping the interruptions. “Peter was Derek’s uncle and Kate was Allison’s aunt. It was also suspected that she started the Hale fire ten years ago that killed the majority of the Hale family and left Peter in a vegetative state.”

“So how did he get to the estate then?”

“Unknown at the moment but the body of his nurse was found in the trunk of a car so there are suspicions that she was involved somehow.”

“Jesus,” Steve whispered at the growing number of deaths, with a sinking feeling that he hadn't even heard half of it yet.

“I don’t think he’s been there for a while,” Tony joked trying and failing to lighten the situation. Steve appreciated the try and any other circumstance he might have smiled but he couldn't find the humour in such senseless killing.

“The killings don’t stop there I’m afraid. Lahey’s name begins to pop up after his father was murdered by a ‘creature’.” Natasha didn’t use any finger quotations but they could all hear the emphasis that she placed on creature. “Then a mechanic is crushed to death by a car lift with Stiles being the only witness.” Even with the horror story that she was painting, Natasha began to smile fondly at the next bit of information before she continued. “Then a restraining order was filed against McCall and Stiles after kidnapping Whittemore and locking him in a police van in the woods.”

Clint snorted loudly at that, receiving a disapproving stare from both Steve and Coulson. “What? He’s done much worse than that although I’m slightly disappointed he got caught, I thought I trained him better than that.”

Natasha intercepted before Clint could get a scolding from Coulson, although Coulson’s expression suggested that Clint wasn't getting off the hook for his comment.

“There are more deaths from this strange creature at the beginning of 2012 which led to a massacre at the police station to which Stiles, his father, McCall and his mother were held hostage by a Matt Dahler. He confessed to the murders that were committed after Hale and Argent’s deaths but before he could be arrested, he was found drowned in pond shortly after.”

“If he murdered them, then why has it been reported as a strange creature?”

“The popular theory is that he trained an animal to commit the murders,” Tony answered, his voice and expression betraying his scepticism. Steve had to agree with Tony that the idea of a teenage boy training an animal to commit murder was a little far fetched but then he had seen stranger things. Heck some people even considered him to be a strange thing most of the time.

“Was Dahler murdered as well then or was it an accident?” That question came from Bruce speaking for the first time since Steve came into the room. He looked like he was holding together remarkably well considering what they were hearing.

“Police suspect murder but that too remains unsolved,” grumbled Tony, which caused Bruce to frown at the lack of answers and explanations that seemed to keep popping up.

“Then during the final lacrosse game of the season Stiles went missing and Whittemore was found dead on the field.”

“What?!” exclaimed the men in the room, whether because of the death or the disappearance was unknown.

“If you let me finish,” Natasha glared, nodding in satisfaction when various apologies were muttered. “Stiles returned a few hours later, beaten up, blaming the losing team for his disappearance and Whittemore was found to be alive and well although he then moved to London the following week.”

Clint crossed his arms. “There were so many things wrong with that statement. I mean I would ask how someone dead could come back to life but people like to keep that a secret these days don't they?” Silence followed Clint’s vicious dig at Coulson, who in question shifted uncomfortably in his seat but made no move to defend himself. Steve made a mental note that he needed to have a little sit down with Clint to make sure that he was okay with everything that had been thrown at him.

Thor thankfully was the one to break the tension in the room with his booming voice. “Indeed. Am I to take it that now is not the first time that Friend Stiles has gone missing?”

“No,” Natasha admitted, “but the current disappearance is a lot more serious.”

Steve agreed silently with her assessment since the teen had been missing for weeks, not hours.

“After the lacrosse game came summer and with it a brand new school year. That seemed to have started off the death of a teenage girl that Stiles knew. She had been bludgeoned, strangled by a garrotte and had her throat cut. Two more murders followed her, all committed in the same way. By the third one it was deemed that they were being done as ritual sacrifices.”

Thor frowned in confusion. “I am well aware of sacrifices and find them quite distasteful but I thought that on Midgard they were no longer practiced.”

“They aren’t big guy,” Tony answered, no hint of teasing in his voice at Thor’s question.

“Well someone clearly didn’t get the memo because five more people were found murdered this way until the Sheriff, Melissa McCall and Chris Argent were kidnapped. It was believed that they were to be sacrificed but were found by Stiles, Lahey and Argent. The killer was never found.”

“I’m beginning to notice a disturbing pattern emerging in the town,” Steve remarked, a heavy weight settling in his chest at the thought of so much death and destruction with Stiles being involved in such tragedies.

Tony snorted but not in a demeaning way, more like he was in on a joke that no one else knew. “Wait until you hear the next part, the previous eighteen months have nothing on the past six months of this year.”

A throat cleared causing both men to turn towards the source. Natasha sat there with an eyebrow raised as she patiently waited for them to finish. Steve apologetically ducked his head whilst Tony turned his attention back to the tablet. Steve wasn't sure why Tony kept fiddling with it but it seemed important if Tony’s little grunts of annoyance at times meant anything.

“William Barrow” continued Natasha “was a mass murderer that escaped from surgery and kidnapped teenager Kira Yukimura. He was found electrocuted in a power plant after Yukimura had been rescued by Stiles and McCall.”

Bruce and Thor both smiled slightly at the fact that Stiles had helped save a young girls life. Coulson’s face betrayed none of his thoughts, the man barely making any movement that Steve forgot he was even in the room. Steve himself felt a faint sense of pride at the boy’s actions although Clint had the most vocal reaction of them all.

Clint pumped his arm into the air. “That’s what I’m talking about! I mean they saved the girl and a baddie died, it’s a win win situation right?”

Shaking her head sadly Natasha continued on with her somber tale, bursting Clint’s little bubble of happiness. “Two weeks later Stiles went missing again although he was found in a coyote den and it had been deemed that he was sleepwalking.”

“Has Stiles ever sleepwalked before?” Steve directed at Coulson, who’s eyes seemed to be glued to the TV screen although he had already read through the information more than once.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Coulson answered, his voice bitter and dejected. “Although I don’t think that I’m the best person to ask on Stiles considering I didn’t know about any of this.” Coulson’s arm waved to gesture at the TV before he placed it back in his lap, a slight crack in his voice could be heard at the end of his statement.

No one in the room knew quite how to handle the Agent as he seemed to be in some form of distress. Steve turned to Natasha and Clint to see what they were doing since they knew Coulson the longest. Clint kept his gaze averted from Coulson and Natasha just took a deep sigh before shaking her head at Steve’s silent question.

“Stiles was taken to the hospital were it was discovered that he had frontotemporal dementia-” Coulson sucked in a harsh breath as if he couldn't get any oxygen into his lungs. “But it was later discovered that it had been faked.” Coulson released the breath he had been holding in relief as a frown began to appear on his face.

“Stiles then went missing again from the hospital after a cut electrical wire killed several people. He reappeared three days later in the school’s basement after which a bomb went off in the Sheriff’s station killing several officers. Stiles checked himself into a metal hospital for reasons unknown but disappeared after a day.”

Steve hesitantly interrupted. “That’s the fourth time he’s gone missing in a year right?”

“Correct. During that missing period Allison Argent was stabbed in a mugging gone wrong, the hospital and Sheriff’s station were attacked by masked figures and Stiles was found.”

“How long was he missing for then?”

Tony jumped back into the conversation, putting his tablet down onto the coffee table to give the conversation his full attention. “A day.”

“Okay then, so what happened next?” Bruce asked nervously, his fingers twitching in fear of more deaths.

“Then nothing,” shrugged Tony.

Steve shot a bewildered glance at Natasha, who responded with her hands out in front of her in defence.

“He’s right. That was the beginning of November and when I talked to the residents they said that Stiles had become distanced before his most recent disappearance.”

The room fell into silence as the occupants tried to digest the bombardment of information they had just received. None of the could imagine or understand the horrors that their bright eyed teen had suffered through.

“I sent Tony the files from Beacon Hills and he found some footage of the last few events that should shed some light on the situation,” Natasha said, passing the spotlight over to Tony who hesitated for a second before leaning forward to grab his tablet.

Before he could enlighten the team of his findings, a muffled sob could be heard escaping into the room from Coulson’s chair. As Steve turned to look at the Agent, he was shocked at the appearance that greeted him.

Coulson’s usually carefully composed face had come undone, the mask he used to hide his emotions had shattered, his emotions laid bare for all to see.

Steve had never seen such grief and shame come from one person and hoped that he would never have a reason to experience it. Coulson’s face had tears streaming from eyes that reflected the broken man beneath. Turning away from the TV screen that displayed Stiles smiling face from a lacrosse team photo, Coulson briefly made eye contact with each Avenger.

“I failed him,” he choked out before he became overwhelmed with the sobs forcing their way out of him.

Chapter Text

A minute passed after Coulson’s breakdown during which none of the Avenger’s knew how to react. Sure give them an alien attack from outer space and they were ready to jump in with no complaints but a full grown man crying his eyes out? Send the X-Men instead.

Coulson was usually so composed and steady that most of the team had never seen this side of the Agent before and those who had were still angry with the spy to do anything other than sit there. Should they let him cry it out? Chuck him out of a window and pretend it never happened? Should one of them go and comfort him?

Tony swivelled his body round to face Steve, subtly making a move with his head to indicate he should intervene before Coulson flooded the room. The super soldier’s eyes widened in panic as his body tensed up in what Tony assumed was a fight or flight response. Tony watched as Steve finally released a sigh of resignation as he realised that as team leader he would need to take charge since no one else seemed willing.

However before Steve even began moving off the couch, Clint had crossed the room during the two’s silent conversation and had stopped in front of Coulson. Coulson didn't register Clint’s presence in front of him since he was so absorbed in his distress. Clint proceeded to once again hit Coulson in the face, this time though instead of a forceful punch, it was a light slap to snap him out of it.

Shocked silence followed Clint’s action as he stood there with him arms crossed, patiently waiting for Coulson to look at him. Out of all the people in the room who would have taken it upon themselves to intervene, Tony had thought that the archer would be last in line due to unresolved anger he held for Coulson. Although thinking about it from another angle, it did kind of make sense since Clint had known Coulson for years and the two did have some weird relationship that Tony couldn't quite define at this point in time.

“Stop the breakdown,” Clint instructed as soon as Coulson raised his red rimmed eyes from his lap, “and man up. You didn’t fail him okay, he survived all these events that I bet most SHIELD agents couldn’t! He even visited us during these! Remember he visited for a week during the summer after the lacrosse game. He didn’t have any bruises that we could see but his ribs were still hurting him and when I asked him he said that it was an accident during lacrosse practice. Did he ever say anything to anyone?” A pause as no one spoke up before he continued. “If you had really failed him then I guess we all did too since we did nothing as well!”

“But I didn't even know that he was involved with these things! I work for the biggest spy agency in the world and yet failed to notice that my own nephew was in danger for two years!” Coulson was shouting back at Clint, anger mixed with disappointment colouring his tone.

“That’s because someone hid it from you,” Tony interjected, his tablet still laying flat in his hands from when he picked it up just before Coulson’s lapse of composure.

“Excuse me?” Coulson demanded.

Realising that he now had the floor, Tony cleared his throat and began tapping out commands to JARVIS before swiping the information onto the TV screen. Displayed for everyone to see were lines upon lines of computer code.

“I do not understand, what does this have to do with Agent Coulson?” Thor asked and nobody missed how he addressed Coulson so formally.

“That is a computer programme, a very sophisticated one if I do say so myself. I found it in the police files that Nat sent to me. After a few hours and with some help from JARVIS, we determined that it’s main purpose is to analyse each report created and stop certain ones from reaching SHIELD.”

The programme did have other purposes although Tony hadn't quite cracked what they were yet, even with J’s help. He hadn't been wrong in saying that it was sophisticated, it was most probably one of the best programmes that he had ever seen next to JARVIS’. In fact the two were so similar that Tony had briefly played with the idea that the programme was another AI before dismissing it. Yes there were similarities between the two but unlike J’s, the one he found seemed to have something different. It wasn’t an AI, yet there seemed to be some sort of intelligence within the programme since it appeared to be rewriting itself in places. Not even JARVIS had that ability just yet and he was an AI. It was simply put baffling as to what the code actually was.

“Why would someone make that?” Steve exclaimed.

“Because of me,” Coulson whispered, something having clicked into place for him. “That’s why I never knew about Stiles’ horrors isn't it? I mean I've had a system in place for years that alerts me if he gets into trouble.”

“Unfortunately yes,” confirmed Tony, not happy at all to be the one delivering the news to Coulson when he saw how the Agent’s face fell in despair. “It’s programmed so that if Stiles name ever came up in police reports or any kind of law enforcement situation, it would place a block around said files. That means that your alert would never be triggered since the code interfered with it and subsequently it prevented any other agency from finding the files, including SHIELD.”

Bruce caught on to what Tony was implying faster than the others, grimacing slightly before he spoke. “So what you’re saying is that someone has been interfering with Stiles life for years already. Someone with the abilities to create a sophisticated programme whilst keeping under SHIELD’s radar since I’m guessing this person isn’t known if they've been able to pull this and a kidnapping off.”

Tony snapped his fingers at Bruce. “Exactly, whoever is behind this most certainly didn’t want anyone to get in the way of what was happening in that town, especially the things that were connected to Stiles. JARVIS is currently working on trying to backtrack the signal coming from the programme to find a possible location but I don't know how long that will take.” Or if it was even possible he thought silently to himself. Tony had been trying to backtrack the signal for a couple of days without much success as it kept bouncing from server to server, the speed much too fast for him to keep up with. JARVIS did seem to be having better luck but it was still slow going.

“What’s so special about these events then that makes someone go to such lengths?” The question came from Clint who had moved back to his position on the coach next to Bruce and Natasha.

“That my feathered friend is an excellent question. I can tell you that the mountain lion killings were not caused by a mountain lion for one,” Tony said.

Clint furrowed his brow along with half the room. “Then what were they caused by?”

“I’m not quite sure. The closest match that J could find was wolves but they haven't been seen in California for seventy years.” At the mention of wolves, Natasha’s body jerked like a marionette puppet, her eyes briefly losing focus before snapping back. Seeing that he was the only one who had noticed as the others were busy looking at the pictures of claw marks to see the difference between the two animals, Tony sent Natasha a questioning glance. She responded to him with a small shake of her head, mouthing later to him before she turned to the pictures.

Before he could think too much about what could be bothering the assassin, Coulson continued the conversation. “Okay so we have animal killings that are wrongly diagnosed. Anything about the murders that we can use to find a connection?”

“Well the ritual murders are still unsolved, no evidence was left behind at any of the crime scenes and there are no solid leads in the case. It’s possible that the killer could still be at large and targeted Stiles as revenge for saving the parents.” Steve didn't sound too confident as he voiced his idea but it was better than nothing.

“I doubt it,” Bruce responded, eyes skimming the files that JARVIS had pulled back up. “It says here that after the parent’s kidnapping the sacrifices stopped and the Sheriff put the case on the back burner. He wouldn't have done that if the killer was still at large since it would take priority. My guess is that the killer had been dealt with but the Sheriff hadn't made it official.”

Natasha, Coulson and Clint nodded at Bruce’s assessment, however Steve frowned in confusion.

“But that doesn't make any sense!” Steve called out, causing Clint to scoff under his breath, muttering something about how nothing made sense anymore which everyone ignored for the time being. “If they caught the killer then letting people know would be the best thing to do so that they could start to feel safe again.”

“Not if it incriminated someone he cared about!” Tony exclaimed in realisation as a puzzle piece fell into place although the picture was still far from complete. “Think about it, Stiles and his friends are involved with nearly ninety percent of these cases, if one or more of them had something to with it then the Sheriff would do anything to protect them.”

Coulson appeared to ponder that train of though for a moment before he let out a small chuckle. “That actually fits. John would do anything in his power to protect Stiles, especially after Claudia died, even if that meant abusing the power of the law to do it. What are these kids involved in that causes an officer of the law to abuse that power?”

“Drugs?” Clint offered.

Tony snorted, not in any way mockingly since it wasn't a bad idea. “If what I uncovered in the footage has anything to do with drugs then I will happily give away my fortune to Hammer Tech.”

“Would you care to enlighten us then Tony as to why it isn't drugs?” Natasha asked slightly impatiently and Tony remembered that she didn't know what he had uncovered in the footage.

He took a deep breath to calm his nerves before putting on a large grin. “Hold onto your horses kids because it’s about to get crazy.”

“I do not have a horse,” Thor boomed, beginning to get up from the coach to presumably go and find a horse.

“It’s an expression Thor,” Bruce explained wearily, “it just means to get ready and be patient.”

“I believe,” Tony started making a mental note to get Thor a pony and convince him it was Earth’s largest horse one day, “that whoever is behind Stiles kidnapping only acted due to the occurrences that took place after Barrow’s escape.”

Natasha pursed her lips at Tony’s idea, no doubt recalling what happened. He did have to admit that without the footage it would be a pretty far fetched assumption but when they saw what he had then he knew they would understand where he was coming from. “What makes you say that?”

“Don’t get me wrong, the past two years most probably contributed to it because of the presence of the computer programme but the footage basically throws everything else out of the water.”

Coulson gestured for Tony to continue, gripping the arms of the chair like his life depended on it.

“I first checked to see if there was any footage of Stiles sleepwalking by using street cameras and found nothing. Following that I had J go through all footage captured on any type of camera and make a file of all the videos that Stiles showed up on. Now this is where it gets interesting and slightly disturbing to be honest. A hospital camera caught Stiles cutting the wires on the roof shortly after his diagnosis that resulted in several people being electrocuted.”

The team stared at him after he delivered that piece of information, seemingly waiting for him to say he was only joking. When nothing came, they all started talking at once, loudly proclaiming that Stiles would never do something like that.

Tony sighed and placed his fingers in his mouth to whistle loudly. Everyone’s mouths snapped shut at the piercing whistle noise and Steve winced due to his close proximity to Tony.

“If you let me finish then I can explain properly okay. Not another peep.” Receiving slight glares as answers Tony carried on. “Now I managed to find footage from Argent’s mugging and you can clearly see Stiles standing to the side of the incident, not intervening and walking away from the crime.” JARVIS helpfully played the accompanying footage alongside Tony’s words, the team witnessing the slightly cold smirk Stiles conjured up as Argent was killed. Tony had to admit that seeing that smirk had sent chills down his spine, something which had never happened before, not even when they were dealing with Loki and the Chitauri.

Continuing before anyone could protest the footage, Tony spoke hurriedly. “A few hours later came the attacks on the police station and hospital that Coulson mentioned when he came to us. Now when I searched for the footage, it had been mysteriously deleted.”

“So you’ve got nothing then,” Coulson whispered, his tone suggesting defeat.

“Ye have little faith in me. Whoever tried to delete the footage wasn't too bad, a teenager I’m guessing but they forgot that the hospital had a back up system. This is what I found.”

The TV screen started to play the footage. Stiles appears once again on the screen standing before a reception desk before two masked figures blink into existence from nowhere. One figure stabs the man in the abdomen and the trio walks away.

Everybody in the room apart from Tony seemed to have lost the ability to speak once the screen faded to black. Tony knew what they were all thinking, that there was no way that the footage was real. The first time that he had seen the clip, he had spent half an hour trying to convince himself that it wasn't real before JARVIS had finally given him the cold hard facts that the footage hadn't been tampered with.

“You’re shitting me,” Clint exclaimed. “That can't be Stiles! He would never do anything like that.”

“That is where you’re right Clint. That wasn’t Stiles.”

“If you don’t get to the point soon the I will stab you,” Natasha threatened.

“Well if you all stopped interrupting me then I could,” mumbled Tony, receiving a deadly glare from Natasha that he was certain was the last thing seen by many men before they met an untimely end.

“So JARVIS tracked through the footage to find where he went next and that turned out to be the high school.” Pointing at screen that showed four figures at one of the entrances of the school, Tony started to elaborate. “Here you can see Stiles, McCall, Martin and Yukimura entering the school at eleven forty seven pm. Note Stiles appearance, he can barely walk on his own and his clothes have changed.” The footage then fast forwards a couple of minutes until it starts to play again as another figure makes their way to the same entrance.

“At eleven fifty one pm you can see that Stiles once again enters the school, dressed in different clothes and having a completely different appearance. Before you ask, JARVIS checked and found that at no particular point did Stiles leave the building prior to this.”

“Are you implying that there were two of them?” Steve questioned, his voice suggesting that he wasn't totally on board with Tony’s explanation.

Tony harrumphed. “I’m not implying anything. The evidence is right there. You saw it with your own two eyes. How else would you explain the footage?”

Before Steve or anyone could offer up an alternative, Coulson began laughing hysterically, calming down fairly quickly compared to his earlier breakdown.

“On the phone John mentioned that Stiles had gone through an identity crisis. I thought that he meant it was a teenager phase, you know them trying to figure out who they were, but this actually fits. If someone was going round committing heinous crimes with your face, then I’m sure you would go through some sort of crisis as well.”

Bruce nodded thoughtfully and Tony took a second to wonder if he was comparing it to how he sometimes felt with the Hulk. “Did Stiles have a twin that you weren't aware of?”

“No,” Coulson responded quickly, shaking his head vigorously at the same time. “He was an only child, Claudia would never have separated them if there was two.”

“Then how is it possible that there are two Young Stiles? I have only seen something similar to this with Loki’s magic and even then any doubles were not flesh and blood.” Tony could feel the air becoming slightly static as Thor annoyance started to make itself known. Thor wasn't really known for his patience in most situations. The pop tart incident a few days ago proved just how patient the Asgardian actually was.

“We don’t know big guy but the fact that there are two Stiles could be why he’s gone missing,” Clint said, trying to soothe the Thunder god. “It could be that perhaps Stiles wasn't the intended target but the other person wearing his face was. This could be a case of mistaken identity and they took the wrong person because Stiles and imposter Stiles look identical.”

Tony contemplated that idea for a moment. It certainly did make sense as to why someone would have a reason to kidnap Stiles, but something about it felt wrong. He was certain that whoever had kidnapped Stiles hadn't made a mistake and had gotten the right one. He wasn't going to voice his thoughts just yet though since he didn't want to crush the hopeful looks on his teammates faces.

Thankfully Steve stepped in before he could accidentally dash everyone’s hopes. “It’s possible but for know I agree with Tony that what we just saw is the main reason. When we find Stiles, we can get him to explain his role in everything prior to Barrow but I don’t think they are why he was taken.” Steve twisted his body round to face Natasha. “Did you get anything from Stiles friends?”

“McCall was hostile from the get go, not a single care about Stiles. He even said that he was happy he was gone.” Coulson frowned deeply at that, the lines between his eyebrows and around his mouth becoming more and more pronounced as the day wore on. “Miss Martin was marginally more helpful until I mentioned the attacks at which point she shut down. Hale though was much more intriguing. I found him in the woods during my search and he warned me off with a thinly veiled threat. There was something about him that I couldn’t quite put my finger on,” she admitted which was something that never usually happened. “I did however find him only feet away from a syringe that I believed was used on Stiles.”

Steve blinked at the mention of the syringe. “Where’s the syringe now?”

“In my lab,” Bruce interjected, “there were a few drops left so I’m running several tests on the liquid to identify the substances.”

“What about the sword wielding ninjas at the hospital? Did they just appear out of thin air?” questioned Clint who was shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

Tony answered with a sigh. “We don't know their identity and they haven't been seen since. As for the vanishing act well I’m putting my money on a camera glitch.”

“Sir I’ve already told you that there is nothing wrong with the footage to suggest that,” came JARVIS’ exasperated voice at reminding Tony for the sixth time. Until Tony saw something to dissuade him of the notion of a camera glitch, that was what he was sticking to.

Thor roared in anger. “This is pointless! Our findings are creating more questions than answers and nothing makes sense as to why Young Stiles is missing!”

Thunder rumbled outside, the sky darkening as Thor lost control of his power, consumed with his anger that had started to manifest in the beginnings of a storm.

“We know Thor,” said Natasha, her voice calm and steady compared to the raging winds outside the tower. “But with the questions we can figure out how to get the answers. It allows us to search every possible avenue in order to get on the right path. Now we have more information than before and I’m sure that with our combined skills, we’ll figure it all out. You aren't the only one that’s frustrated by this but we need to stay calm to get to the bottom of everything.”

Within seconds of Natasha’s speech, the sky started to lighten back to it's usual pale blue as the wind calmed. The blonde Asgardian nodded in acceptance of Natasha’s reasoning, slightly mollified at his loss of control but no less frustrated.

Tony understood where Thor’s outburst had come from. It was so frustrating trying to save someone that you loved and the only thing that you were getting for your efforts were more obstacles. Hell, he himself wanted nothing more than to throw an epic fit of frustration, perhaps blow up some terrorists to vent his anger to cope with the mounting stress of the whole situation.

“So to clarify we have mysterious animal killings, ritual murders, cover ups, Good and Evil Stiles and the fact that someone has been spying on that town for at least two years,” Steve summarised. Didn't it sound like sunshine and rainbows when he put it like that Tony thought darkly.

“I think that we need to proceed with even more caution if someone’s been involved for so long already. We don't know how far their reach extends.” Steve threw an apologetic look at Natasha as he continued. “I’m not doubting your skills but there is a chance that they saw you in Beacon Hills since there is no knowing what they know about Stiles. They were smart enough to stop Coulson’s system so they could know that we’re a part of his life. Our best chance at the moment is that syringe and computer programme.”

Tony nodded at Steve when he looked at him, agreeing that if they were going to have any chance at finding Stiles, then it was going to come from one of those two.

“If I may interrupt Mr Rogers,” JARVIS announced, his voice holding an edge of desperation that was unusual for the AI. “I believe that I have uncovered the creator of the computer programme during my attempts at trying to trace the signal.”

Tony made a get on gesture with his hand that he knew JARVIS could see, trying to keep a calm exterior. The disturbed tone that JARVIS had spoken out with had spooked Tony since he had never heard JARVIS sound like that in all his years of being. “Well spit it out J, we don't have all day.”

The AI hesitated briefly. “Very well Sir. It appears that the programme was created by HYDRA.”

Chapter Text

The room erupted into a chorus of voices following JARVIS’ revelation, everyone trying to talk over each other. The spies in the room were arguing with Tony that something must be wrong with JARVIS to which Tony was vehemently defending his creation, saying that there couldn't possibly be anything wrong with JARVIS, it apparently wasn't possible. Bruce was calmly trying to diffuse the situation, keeping his voice low and soothing but failing as the noise continued to rise and he too ended up shouting. Steve appeared to be switching sides of the argument, keeping his approach gently as he too argued that perhaps JARVIS had made a mistake but also defending Tony when the spies became too sharp.

In fact the only one in the room not speaking was Thor.

It wasn't that he didn't feel excited about knowing the identity of the perpetrator. He felt a great relief in the knowledge that they were one step closer to putting an end to all of this.

It was the fact that he didn't quite understand the implications of the programme being created by a Hydra. He was fairly certain from his studies as a young boy that a Hydra was some kind of monstrous beast. A beast that if legend was correct could regenerate two heads for every one that was cut off. How a beast was able to create a computer programme was beyond Thor’s studies. Hopefully one of his teammates would enlighten him on the capabilities of their foe.

A tingle ran through Thor at the possibility of facing such a creature, his body thrumming with the desire to go on a hunt with his comrades in arms and rescue Young Stiles.

Raising his voice to levels that he used before coming to Midgard, he began speaking over his friends, easily cutting off any further arguments.

“My Friends, I’m afraid that I don’t understand why you are all so agitated about this Hydra. Surely defeating such a beast is an easy task for us as long as we avoid cutting of it’s head.”

Stunned disbelief followed Thor’s admission, mouths hanging open in surprise before Tony let out a choked laugh that earned him several glares. Thor felt his bushy eyebrows rise in confusion. Perhaps this monstrous creature would be harder to defeat than he thought.

“Not a Hydra Thor,” Bruce explained patiently when no one else spoke up, “but HYDRA. A Nazi terrorist organisation that Steve fought in the 1940’s.”

Steve took over from Bruce, diverting Thor’s attention. “The Howling Commandos and I spent most of the Second World War trying to take down HYDRA. We finally accomplished it near the end of the war when their leader Schmidt tried to take over the world using weapons of mass destruction. I managed to stop him from using the Tesseract to kill millions of innocents but was unable to safely land the plane that the weapons were hosed in. It’s the reason that I was in the ice.”

Thor listened carefully to Steve’s story, silently noting the way his voice cracked towards the end. He of course knew that their leader has been encased in ice for seven decades but he had been unaware of the circumstances that led to that unfortunate tragedy. Steve had a hard time in explaining to Thor what had occurred that Thor had never once pressured Steve to reveal what had happened.

He strongly suspected though that there was something else about HYDRA that caused Steve to choke up. That there was something more that HYDRA had taken away from the good Captain other than the past seventy years of his life. There was too much pain, disbelief and anger in Steve’s eyes to believe that there wasn't anything else hurting him with the mention of HYDRA.

“What I don’t understand is how it’s possible they could be behind this?”

Everyone turned to look at Tony, clearly expecting him to have the answers since it was his creation that had found the information. Tony frowned at the team for putting him on the spot.

“J are you sure that the programme is from HYDRA?”

JARVIS’ reply was instantaneous this time, no hesitation in answering his creator. “I am one hundred percent confident that the programmes’s signature correlates to data that SHIELD has from HYDRA seventy years ago. The only difference is that the programme is more advance than before. Furthermore results from Doctor Banner’s tests on the syringe has turned up with an eighty percent match of compounds that used to be used specifically by HYDRA.”

Tony checked his tablet and passed it to Steve who began looking at what Thor presumed was more detailed information of what JARVIS just said. As Steve was double checking the facts, Coulson, Clint and Natasha shared a strange look with each other that set alarm bells ringing.

Thor was not unfamiliar with certain looks that Clint and Natasha shared with each other at times. He often caught many of their looks during occasions when they thought no one was looking, secretly communicating to each other things that they wish to remain unheard. However he had never seen this look quite before. It was a shameful, angry, fearful but also questioning expression that caught Thor off guard. Natasha subtly but vigorously shook her head in some form of disagreement as the other two in sync, quirked an eyebrow in surprise.

He hesitated once they seemed to have finished their secret communication, none of them looking happy. Thor wondered whether or not he should inform the other of what had just transpired. If they were hiding something that would be of benefit to the investigation, then he felt that it was within his rights to make them share.

Fortunately Tony caught the look as well, saving Thor from having to point it out to the rest of the team.

“What’s with the super secret spy look huh?”

A guilty expression crossed the three’s faces as they realised that they had been caught out. Steve stopped staring at the tablet and instead focused on the spies who looked like they were trying to blend into the couches.

With a hefty sigh that filled the room, Coulson began to talk. “After the end of HYDRA, SHIELD was created and there were a lot of scientists locked up who they were unsure what to do with. Instead of keeping them locked up, it was decided to give them an option. Either they could join SHIELD and continue their research or they would be locked up for the rest of their lives.” A wry grin touched Coulson’s lips before disappearing. “Predictably most of them chose to join and become part of SHIELD. However some of them managed to escape and were never found. It was assumed that they had been eliminated by rival terrorist groups who didn't appreciate their beliefs.”

Coulson kept his eyes averted from anyone else’s. Clint and Natasha following suit whilst their employer’s history was being absorbed by everyone else. Their postures conveyed shame, heads hunched as they failed to meet anyone’s eyes, although Thor didn’t know whether or not that was because of the history or that they had kept it hidden.

The Asgardian felt a rage begin to burn in his chest at the sight of his teammates, the fire building as he assessed their deceit. The fact that they hadn't felt it necessary to inform their teammates of this at the start of their partnership made Thor clench his fists. He had thought that he was done being lied to by the people closest too him. But no matter the anger and betrayal that he felt, it didn't compare to their leader’s obvious upset at being kept in the dark.

Steve’s usually expressive face had gone completely impassive, not a hint of emotion showing through the mask that he had thrown up. Thor knew from looking at Steve that the Captain was deeply affected by this secret. His body was tense, the muscles quivering as he fought to hold himself back from exploding into a rage. The crystal blues eyes that usually shined with joy were screwed up tight, his mouth drawn into a straight-line.

Tony scooted closer to Steve, closing the distance between their bodies with hardly any room in between the two. Placing a hand on Steve’s shoulder, Tony began to softly murmur calming words, his voice level as he slowly but surely helped their leader to wind down.

Seeing that the Captain was incapacitated by this turn of events at the moment, Thor felt the need to voice his displeasure at the agent’s on Steve’s behalf.

“It seems that your assumptions have proven deadly once again,” he intoned, his voice stone cold, causing the hardened SHIELD agent’s to flinch. “Now we have a powerful foe to defeat that is due to SHIELD’s inability to keep control of things that they have no understanding off.” Thor couldn't hide his scorn, remembering the consequences of SHIELD’s last attempt at controlling things beyond their power for their own goals.

“We were going to tell you Steve!” Clint exclaimed, ignoring the abort motions from Natasha. “The full history of SHIELD was going to explained to you after you had adjusted to being in the future. By the time that you were deemed ready, well New York occurred. SHIELD became occupied with staying afloat with all the political and media backlash. There was never any intention to deceive you Steve. Believe us on that.”

Clint spoke earnestly, Thor detecting the truth in Clint’s words and tone. After spending hundreds of years hearing Loki’s clever lies, it became easy to pick up on the notes of deceit from people less quick tongued as his brother.

He truly believed that the spies hadn't meant to betray the good Captain, it had really come down to bad timing.

The option to forgive the agents though was not down to the Thunder God. Instead the choice came down to Steve who was hands down the most affected by the revelation. Thor knew that he, Tony and Bruce were also impacted by the news as they had effectively been mislead but they wouldn't hold it against the other three if Steve was able to accept it. They would follow the lead of their team leader, confident in whatever decision he came to.

Facing back to Steve who had opened his eyes during Clint’s speech, he could see the emotions flicker across his face as the mask was taken down. Disbelief to anger, pain and fear to determination, resignation to acceptance. It was honestly like watching a story flit across the screen.

Thor knew intimately what Steve was feeling, having felt a similar type of betrayal and deceit from someone close to him as well. It hurt so much to have someone so dear to you suddenly turn your world upside down. Twist it so much until it’s nearly unrecognisable. Make you question everything you ever knew about trust and relationships as you wonder if you’ll ever be able to see the good in people again.

He could only hope that Steve wouldn't make the same mistakes he had when it came down to forgiving. Sometimes carrying the pain of being too late to fix the wrongs was worse than suffering through the betrayal itself. Thor wished that one day he would be able to correct his mistakes with Loki, putting them both out of the misery that they had wound up in.

Steve took a moment to take a deep breath, his eyes traveling over the faces of the agents’s. Their expressions conveying what their words would fail to do.

“I can’t say that I’m not upset at this deceit especially as I thought that we had gotten past the point of keeping secrets.” A pause as Steve swallowed hard before continuing. “That being said, I can’t find it within myself to hold it against you since you didn’t hide it for malicious reasons. I would though like to speak with you individually at a later point about the full history of SHIELD.”

The room seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. Coulson, Natasha and Clint nodded enthusiastically to Steve’s request as they let themselves relax with Steve’s pardon. Bruce and Tony kept quiet, their faces holding smiles at the outcome, although Tony’s eyes were slightly narrowed at the spies. The whole team knew of the mutual attraction between the Man of Iron and Captain America, waiting patiently for them to both realise that they were perfect for each other. It seemed that Tony may harbour some slight resentment at how the SHIELD agent’s had unintentionally hurt Steve. He hoped that it would pass quickly and Tony could take Steve’s point of view.

Thor himself was happy at Steve’s ability to look past the betrayal and be the better man. He did make a mental note to keep an eye on the spies for the foreseeable future, lest they have more secrets that they try and hide. For now though he would rejoice in the knowledge that their make shift family wasn't going to be torn apart by internal strife.

“Well now that we’ve established how it’s possible the multi headed terror is still alive and how forgiving Steve is, the next logical step is to figure out HYDRA’s plans with Stiles.” Tony effectively brought the conversation back to where they began, trying to find Stiles.

“HYDRA have always been about becoming superior, usually by scientific and technological means.”

Clint shook his head. “That’s good to know but what could they possible want with Stiles then? He’s just a teenager!”

He may be just a teenager Thor thought bitterly but Young Stiles had sone more for Thor than he could ever payback.

 

May 2011

Sitting on the chair in the white walled room with a mirror, Thor began to reflect on the rejection from Mjöllnir. It had only now begun to sink in that his actions back on Jötunheimr had been the actions of a spoilt, petulant child. That his attitude had caused him to lose everything that was actually important to him. Not his throne or title, but his family. His friends. His home. All were gone because of his inability to listen to anyone but himself.

The only door to the room opened, making Thor puzzled as a young teen slipped into the room, checking over his shoulder before he closed the door.

The teen took one look at the former Thunder God and nodded to himself as if the mere sight of Thor had answered an unspoken question.

“You’re beginning to figure it out aren't you? That’s good, means I don’t have to waste time getting you to understand.”

“What have I figured out?” Thor croaked, his voice hoarse from his earlier roar of frustration.

A pitying smile was sent in his direction. “That you’ve hit rock bottom. From your earlier show with the hammer, it’s apparent that whatever happened to land you here was your fault.”

“You’re very perceptive young one. Did you come inhere to remind me of my current situation?”

The boy shook his head. “I came in here to give you some advice. It’s up to you whether or not you listen.” When he received no objection, the boy continued. “You need to put aside your selfishness and grow up. I know who you are even though everyone else out there refuse to even consider it. I bet where you grew, you never had to take responsibility for your actions due to your title right?” A nod from Thor confirmed his deduction. “Here on Earth it doesn't matter who you are if you do something wrong, you have to pay the consequences no matter what.”

It was strange how someone so young, who he hadn't even met before had figured out Thor’s problem so quickly when it had taken Thor hundred’s of years and banishment. He wasn't going to waste this opportunity though, realising that he needed to listen to other people than himself.

“I find myself agreeing with your world Youngling but I also find myself unsure of how to proceed with the consequences I’ve been dealt.”

The boy’s face lit up with an illuminating grin at Thor’s admission, something that pained him to admit. “If you’re prepared to listen and follow my advice then I can help you to become the person that people would gladly call friend. Would gladly call King.”

“I would gladly accept your help but I’m afraid that I shall never be called King,” Thor said glumly, the eagerness that he had been starting to feel fading at the reminder of the lost title.

“I think your going to be pleasantly surprised,” the boy commented slightly mysteriously as a sly smirk worked its way onto his face. “Besides we have a saying here on Earth, never say never.”

Thor cocked his head as he complimented the saying, finding that he liked the meaning of it. “Well then Young Friend, it seems as though I am in need of your words of wisdom.”

The boy snorted. “My names is Stiles goldilocks.”

 

Present

That night Thor had taken Stiles words to heart, his world having changed for the better in that meeting. When he had faced the Destroyer, he remembered Jane and Stiles words that had ultimately helped him to prove his worthiness when Mjöllnir accepted him again.

The subsequent change in Thor’s attitude had been noticeable to all those in Asgard when he returned. He was calmer and more approachable, willing to listen to Asgard’s citizens when advice for a hunt or diplomatic meeting was given. Many people had outright asked him what had occurred on Midgard to change his ways that had been set in stone for hundreds of years. All they received in response was a secretive smile and an unanswered question.

Yes Stiles may have been just a teenager but in less than a single night, he had helped to drive through the error of Thor’s ways and how to make amends.

“A teenager who seems to have been subjected to unimaginable horrors and come out the other side still alive,” Natasha pointed out. She seemed to have regained her composure from the earlier upset, no traces of guilt left to see.

“Maybe it was HYDRA who was responsible for the double of Stiles” said Bruce, throwing out seemingly random ideas. “It’s possible that if they’ve remained hidden for seventy years and have been able to work without any interference from outside forces, then they could have had major breakthroughs.”

Coulson pursed his lips. “What kind of breakthroughs could they have created that would explain that?”

“Cloning, nanobots,” Tony explained, checking the options of with his fingers. “Anything computer based, the list is endlessly really when you really delve into it.”

“So what they create some kind of new technology and decide, hey, lets go and test it out on a teenager in a town instead of say our enemies? That sounds highly unlikely,” Clint scoffed, not aware of the sudden impact of his words.

Thor watched as Coulson paled, his face falling at the realisation that HYDRA had indeed made a move on their enemy. They just didn't attack directly.

Clint winced as he seemed to pick up on what he had said. “I didn’t mean it like that. I highly doubt-” He was forced to stop as Coulson raised a trembling hand.

“I think we all know that Stiles was most probably targeted for his connection to me, there’s no point in pretending otherwise.”

No one dared to argue with Coulson, knowing that he was right. Instead Steve cleared his throat, diverting the attention away from Coulson.

“At this point I think that HYDRA’s involvement in Beacon Hills is highly likely due to several connections.” Everyone tried not to look back to Coulson. Thor noted the plural use of connection, making the leap that HYDRA could possibly know about Stiles involvement with the Avenger’s as well. A sick feeling took up residence in Thor’s stomach at the thought that he could be part of the reason why this cowardly organisation had taken a defenceless teen.

Natasha pursed her lips. “It could explain why there was an increase of deaths in the town if HYDRA was running experiments, creating the strange creature that was reported.”

“It’s all well and good speculating the extent of the slimy bastard’s involvement,” Tony harrumphed, looking decidedly unimpressed for some reason. “But until we actually find them, then this does us no good.”

Clint sneered at Tony’s down putting comment, spreading his arms wide like he was giving him the floor. “If you have any better ideas Stark, then please share them with us.”

“Okay you two,” Steve called out, stopping Tony from offering up a biting retort. “There’s no need for any fighting, I’m sure that within time we can find their whereabouts, we just need patience.”

As if by magic, JARVIS’ voice penetrated the tense atmosphere that had risen due to Clint and Tony’s minor confrontation. “If I may interrupt Captain Rogers but I believe that I have successfully traced the signal emanating from the programme. It appears that signal is originating from an area in Russia. Satellite images have confirmed the presence of a base in this location.”

“Well how about that,” Thor grinned, using a human phrase that he had heard once before.

 

In Russia.

The lights suddenly turned back on, erasing the darkness that had plagued him for what seemed like an eternity. Blinking rapidly to try and help his eyes adjust to the change in brightness, he missed the sound of the door opening. As his eyes finally cleared away all the bright spots from his vision, did he jerk in surprise at Zemo’s grinning face inches away from the bars.

“It seems that our guests have received their invitation my dear spark.” Zemo’s voice sounded a lot more pleased than his previous visit, the joyous tone making Stiles shiver in fear for what was going to come. He knew that once Zemo left and he was plunged into the dark again that his mind would start to create all sorts of scenarios until it became too over run and passed out.

Zemo continued, his eyes never leaving Stiles face whilst he talked, lest he miss a reaction. “All that needs to happen now is for them to accept and soon the party shall begin.”

Chapter Text

He had fallen into an uneasy sleep following Zemo’s taunt, the lights having stayed on this time for some reason. He wasn't going to complain though since the lights partially helped with the nightmares that the darkness had inspired. His stomach had started to cramp uncomfortably from the lack of food and water though.

Stiles had absolutely no idea how much time had passed since his capture. His captors hasn't thought it necessary to provide a clock so there wasn't any way to track time. The pale teen hadn't been eating regularly anyway before his capture so the lack of food wasn't a big issue right now since he was used to it but he knew that he needed to eat something before it became serious. He was pretty sure that the last thing that he had eaten was a burger from a fast food joint that he had picked up about five hours before he was taken.

Suddenly a loud bang followed by scuffling and grunting echoed in the large domed room causing Stiles to jolt out of his fitful sleep. Blinking blearily a few time before rubbing his eyes, Stiles observed as thirteen men in black entered the room, dragging in seven unconscious people by their arms. Six of the unconscious were dragged in by two HYDRA agents whereas the seventh was only dragged in by one. Stiles caught a few glimpses of blonde and red hair as the people were dumped unceremoniously into the unoccupied cages. The agents were blocking Stiles view of what he assumed were prisoners so he wasn't able to get a clear look at any faces as the cage doors were locked with resounding clicks. Not a single glance was given to him except for the man who had single handedly carried his prisoner into the cell to Stiles right. Stiles immediately recognised him as the man who had taken him, recognising the eyes above the mask with no difficulty. The man seemed to frown at him slightly in concern before his eyes glazed over and he turned, leaving the room without a backward glance.

Once all the cages were locked, the other men began to leave the room, skirting around Zemo at the door. Before the last agent could could leave though, Zemo’s hand shot out, grabbing onto the agent’s sleeve.

“Keep an eye on our soldier, his reaction to the boy should not have happened.”

The agent mumbled out a confirmation to the order, satisfying Zemo enough that he released his grip on the agent who made a hasty getaway. A smug smile stretched across Zemo’s face as he took in the scene of the full cages.

“Well isn’t this a lovely family picture?” Zemo called out casually, as though he was talking about a Christmas card photo.

Stiles frowned in confusion. There was no way that HYDRA had gotten a hold of his dad, he wouldn't be of any use to them. As far as he knew he didn't have any other living relatives since his Uncle passed roughly six months ago.

Sensing the confusion, Zemo chuckled in amusement and pointed at the cage to the left of Stiles.

“Take a closer look Spark.”

Not particularly wanting to follow the instruction but found his curiosity won out over the need to disobey, Stiles shuffled forward on his hands and knees to the edge of the cage. Pressing his face against the bars, he took in the disheveled appearance of the man lying sprawled out on the floor on his back. The man was dressed in a well fitted black SHIELD mission outfit that Stiles had seen countless times although this one was currently dirt ridden with rips in the fabric where blood could be seen peeking though. Stiles cringed slightly at the sight of the blood, the stark redness casting unwanted images across his mind. Trying his hardest to ignore the images of death, Stiles flicked his eyes up the man’s body, finally landing on the man’s face to which he let out a choked gasp.

It was impossible. There was no way that he could be here. Stiles knew that the man in front of him had died six months ago, leaving him with an empty gap in his heart. There was no way on Earth that his Uncle Phil was alive. Nope. Nada. Not possible.

Yet sitting there, watching the steady rise and fall of Uncle Phil’s chest, Stiles could not deny the sense of familiarity that arose. The feeling that he only got when he was around his Uncle, the feeling of love and safety even though he knew they were far from safe right now. Yep, there was absolutely no denying that the man was indeed Uncle Phil. That now left two questions that he could immediately think of. How was he alive and what was he doing here? Sure there were plenty of other questions but right now those two seemed more prevalent. He did want to know though why he wasn't informed of his Uncle’s wellbeing since he was his blood relative and SHIELD had known him since he was a baby. Maybe his Uncle had figured out well before everyone else just how despicable and dark Stiles was and decided to cut himself off from the evilness before it infected him.

Stiles reluctantly pulled his eyes away from Uncle Phil, although could he really claim him as a family member anymore when it had been made clear that Phil wanted nothing to do with Stiles anymore. He turned his eyes to survey the occupants in the rest of the cages. He could now recognise the vibrant red hair belonging to Nat and the long blonde locks spilling across the floor belonging to Thor. In fact all the cages now held the unconscious forms of the Avenger’s. Starting from Stiles and moving clockwise, it went Phil, Clint, Bruce, Tony, Thor, Nat and Steve who was to Stiles right. The super soldier was starting to stir within his cage, his fingers beginning to twitch, his face starting to crease as he moved towards consciousness.

“You see,” laughed Zemo, interrupting Stiles observations. “I told you that we would be having some guests and they’ve arrived just in time for the main event.”

“What are you going to with them?” Stiles mumbled, trying to get some useful information that could help the team.

Zemo let out a full bodied laugh, his body shaking with the force. “Oh I’m not going to do anything. You will.”

With that the mad man turned on his heel and practically sauntered out of the room, passing by Bruce and Tony’s cages where the door was located.

Stiles took a moment in the silence to regain his breath that had sped up without his knowledge. His lungs started to burn with the lack of oxygen, his head starting to grow dizzy as his breaths continued to speed up. Willing himself to fight against the growing blackness, Stiles latched onto a male voice that suddenly filled the room.

“Stiles? Hey, hey, hey, listen to my voice okay? Breathe in, hold, release. Breathe in, hold…”

Following the instructions with all his determination, his breathing slowly but surely returned to regular speed.

“There we go,” the voice cooed, Stiles recognising it as Steve who was now awake and watching Stiles with concern. There were no visible injuries on the super soldier, yet he had been dragged in unconscious. How had HYDRA been able to get the upper hand on Steve and the rest of the Avengers?

“Steve-” Stiles began, only to be cut off by the man’s persistent questions.

“Are you okay? Have they hurt you? Do you know who took you? Why did you get taken? Does it have anything to do with Beacon Hills because we looked into it and know about everything.”

Stiles wanted to scoff in response to Steve’s last question. If he did in fact know about everything that had happened in that town, then there would be no way that he would be concerned about Stiles wellbeing. “You know nothing Steve, just leave it alone and don’t get involved.”

Steve shook his head in fierce disagreement. “Just like we already did when you were dealing with all those deaths. We already lost you once, we aren't going to do it again.” He spoke with such finality that Stiles almost believed his sincerity before he remembered that if anyone found out what he had done then they would drop him like a sack of potatoes.

Heroes didn't protect monsters, they fought them.

Ignoring the pleading look from Steve and damn could he put Scott’s puppy eyes to shame, Stiles pulled his gaze down to begin fiddling with his fingers.

“What are you doing here?” Stiles asked, trying to change the subject. Steve’s sigh of annoyance let him know that he wasn't pleased with the change.

“We’re here to rescue you. You see Phil wasn't de-”

Stiles put up a sharp hand to stop Steve from continuing. “I’d rather hear from him the circumstance regarding his ‘death’.” Not that he was looking forward to hearing why Phil had decided to abandon him. “How about you tell me how you all got captured on a stupid mission.”

“Rescuing you isn’t stupid,” Steve grumbled under his breath and Stiles didn't have the energy to correct him. “But in answer to your question, it seemed that they were prepared for us.”

 

12 HOURS EARLIER

Steve watched as Coulson sprang from his seat and practically started sprinting to the elevator.

“JARVIS lock down the elevators” Tony mumbled. The elevator door slammed shut in Coulson’s face, barely inches away from snapping his nose off.

Coulson banged harshly on the door before spinning back around. “Open the door Stark! I have to go and get him!”

The agent was practically pleading, his face open in desperation. Steve could understand the man’s plight since he had gone through it when Bucky had been taken. As soon as he had heard that Bucky was gone, he hadn't hesitated in jumping out a plane over enemy territory when he had been informed of where Bucky could be.

Yet it hadn't been enough to save him fully.

The memory of Bucky always brought Steve close to tears due to that terrible mission on the train. He wished he could have done more to save his best friend or at least have had the chance to say goodbye.

So he could safely say that he understood the desperation and fear Coulson was experiencing and he wanted to join Coulson in rushing to Russia to rescue Stiles but rushing in would do no good.

They needed a plan of action first.

It seemed that Tony had already thought that which is why he had ordered the lock down.

“You need to take a minute Coulson and think. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we want nothing more than to get Stiles back but rushing in guns blazing is going to do us no favours.”

Tony’s surprisingly gentle but firm tone seemed to get through to Coulson who calmed down enough to retake his seat slightly sheepishly.

“JARVIS, what can you tell us about the base? Location, size, any aerial photos?” Steve asked, slipping into Captain America tactical mode.

The AI’s soft British tones filled the room as satellite photos of a long grey building filled the TV screen. The image showed the building smack bang in the middle of a snow field, no other buildings or trees in the vicinity.

“The base seems to be located in the Sakha Republic, close to the Morkova river. Records indicate that it was a Cold War facility, although it was never used and has supposedly remained unoccupied since it’s construction. However using Stark satellites, I can gather large amounts of heat signatures around the area which are located beneath the surface. I would be confident in saying that there is some sort of underground structure which was not recorded in any official documents.”

Natasha nodded at the AI’s words, not in the least surprised at the hidden infrastructure uncovered by JARVIS. “Is there anyway to distinguish the heat signatures into a number of enemy forces?”

“I’m afraid not Miss Romanoff,” JARVIS sounded faintly apologetic at being unable to fulfil her request. “But I can give a rough estimate of the size of the underground complex.”

A large green circle spread out from the base.

Clint whistled sharply at the size. “That’s pretty big.”

“Indeed Mr Barton, I estimate that the underground structure is as wide as two SHIELD heli-carriers and three storeys deep.”

“We’ve dealt with worse,” shrugged Tony, seemingly not impressed with what they were up against.

“Please enlighten us as to what is worse that trying to infiltrate an unknown HYDRA base that we didn’t know existed until a few hours ago, no idea of the number of agents and weapons and the fact that they’ll see us coming within miles due to the open landscape. Oh and don’t forget that we have to find Stiles, get back out with him and we don’t have a clue as to what kind of state he’s in or if he's even there. What could possibly be worse?” Clint cast him an incredulous look, imploring Tony to come up with something.

Fixing Clint with an unimpressed look as Coulson groaned at the sound of the impossible mission, Tony raised an eyebrow.

“New York.”

Those two single words shut down any further arguments from Clint, who looked slightly embarrassed at having forgotten that event in the heat of the moment. Everyone else appeared to be remembering their own version of events that day. They all remembered clearly though that day when everything seemed to be too much for them. When it seemed that New York would fall and everything the loved would soon follow.

Then the impossible happened when Tony had flown that nuke into the wormhole and destroyed the Chitauri. The fact that they had all survived, even Coulson although they hadn’t known that at the time, had been the icing on the cake.

Steve had to agree with Tony’s optimism, they had certainly dealt with worse odds.

“So how are we going to do this then?” Bruce asked, puncturing the silence that had fallen with determined words.

“Approaching the base won’t be an issue since I fitted a quinjet with retro-reflective panels which will allow us to get close.”

Natasha quickly turned her head in Tony’s direction, her sharp features conveying a suspicious look. “SHIELD is the only organisation in the world where that technology exists. How did you get your hands on it?”

“Please,” Tony snorted, “technical genius and I did have JARVIS hack into your files during the locating of the sceptre. I saw the schematics and tweaked them in a few places to suit my needs.”

The assassin didn’t seem entirely happy with Tony’s answer but didn’t comment. Steve suspected that Fury would be hearing about it at some point.

“Okay so the approach isn’t going to a problem,” stated Phil, bringing the conversation back to topic as he started to look more hopeful. “What about getting to the underground base? The entrance in the building will most certainly be guarded and we can’t risk a guard raising an alarm before we find Stiles.”

That aspect of the mission seemed to stump everyone in the room until Steve leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he looked close at the satellite image. A small, single spot on the screen seemed to capture his attention.

“Can I borrow that?” he asked Tony, gesturing to the tablet in the mechanic’s hand.

Tony wordless passed the tablet to Steve, watching carefully as Steve manipulated the image to zoom in on a patch of land to the north of the building.

“JARVIS, is that what I think it is?”

The AI took a few seconds before answering, during which Steve panicked slightly as he thought that he had wrongly interpreted the image. “I believe you are correct Mr Rogers. There appears to be a thin layer of snow compared to the surrounding areas covering a hatch that leads down into the underground portion of the base.”

Steve felt a grin spread across his face at the confirmation, a look that was slowly matched by the other occupants of the room.

“If we land the quinjet a few metres from the hatch then there is a very good chance that we can enter unnoticed as it looks like its been a while since anyone’s used it.”

Bruce raised a hesitant hand in the air to capture the room’s attention. “What about when we actually enter the base? We still have no idea about the size or the number of enemy forces.”

“Way to be Debbie Downer Bruce,” Tony muttered. Thor sent a confused glance between Tony and Bruce.

“I was unaware that Friend Bruce had a female side to him. How have I never met this Lady Downer before?”

Clint and Tony both bursted into peals of laughter as Bruce sent a murderous glare to the two before explaining to Thor what Tony actually meant. Coulson looked on unamused at the distraction whereas Natasha had a faint smirk that for Natasha was basically a full on smile. Steve could feel a few low chuckles make their way out of his chest, glad that they still had the opportunity for a good laugh before things became more serious. Remembering what they were discussing before the impromptu comedy break caused Steve to pull himself back into tactical mode as the humour dried up in the room.

“Bruce is right,” started Natasha after Tony and Clint had wiped the tears from their eyes. “We’ll be going in blind with no idea what will be waiting for us.”

“Actually Miss Romanoff, once the Iron Man suit is inside the base, I will be able to do a complete scan as there shouldn't be any interference from the surface. That will give you the specifics you require and your com units should work underground due to Sir’s improvements. This means that I can provide you with all the locations of the enemy forces.” JARVIS sounded quite confident about his ability to gain the information that the team would need that Steve couldn't find any reason to doubt him.

“I have gone into many battles with worse odds than these,” Thor informed them and Steve was inclined to believe that the nearly immortal demi-god had indeed dealt with worse.

“Nat and I managed to survive Budapest. I’m sure this will be a piece of cake,” Clint added, grinning at Tony’s moan.

“One day,” he said whilst pointing a finger at the two spies, “I am going to find out what happened in Budapest.”

“We’ll be waiting right here for when that day comes,” Natasha shot back, her tone teasing, clearly meant to rial the inventor up.

Before Tony could utter his comeback, Coulson smoothly stepped in. “If we get Stiles back alive and well, then I will personally give you everything you need to know about Budapest.”

Then ignoring Clint’s squawk of outrage and Tony’s smug grin, Coulson turned his attention to Steve, looking directly into his eyes as he directed his next words solely to him.

“The decision is up to you Steve,” Coulson began, his voice neutral and somber, like he knew that the next words were crucial. ‘I’m not going to sit here and beg you all to risk your lives on a mission that doesn't have the greatest odds. If you wish to stay safe then I will not judge you for it. I will wish you well and take my leave to Russia.”

The decision as Coulson had said did indeed come down to Steve as team leader and even though he had made up his mind, he wouldn't voice it until he received unanimous support from his team.

Natasha, Thor and Clint had already pledged their support to the mission which just left Bruce and Tony. Bruce was continuing to look over the image of the base, avoiding everyone’s gazes until he turned around to face Steve.

The gamma expert gave him a wry smile. “I don't know how much help the Hulk will be but I’m in.”

Four down and one to go Steve thought as he turned around to Tony who was leaning back in his seat. He barely caught himself from gasping at the sight of the billionaire.

The mere sight of Tony never failed to steal Steve’s breath away but in this moment with the sun shining though the windows to reveal the hazel highlights in his hair. The way his lips were parted ever so slightly that let Steve know he was running though all the various scenarios that could play out so he could be slightly more prepared. His dark chocolate eyes were roaming the screen as Steve sat there stunned into silence.

He could barely believe that such beauty existed and that it was sitting mere inches from him.

A cough suddenly broke through the silence causing the super soldier to snap out of the daze that he had slipped into. He could hear the snickers from his team mates as he felt a heat creeping up his neck which creeped onto his face as Tony turned to quirk an eyebrow at him.

Trying to fight through the rising blush and his brief distraction, Steve quirked an eyebrow right back, the two having become so close that they didn't always need words to communicate.

Seeing the answer that he knew he would find, he sent a quick nod of his head to convey his gratitude that Tony was willing to follow his lead. Steve smoothly manoeuvred his body back around to face Coulson who looked like he was about to start chewing his arms off with how nervous he was.

“If you think that any of us are going to let you go by yourself to rescue one of our own, then you’ve got another thing coming. We will do this as a team and only as a team.”

Steve took a pause to figure out the teams next steps. “JARVIS, how long will it take us to reach the base?”

“A normal passenger plane would be roughly ten hours,” replied JARVIS, “but with the speeds the quinjet can reach, I would estimate travel time to be five and a quarter hours.”

Steve looked at his watch and saw that it had just passed eight am, quickly calculating the differences in time zones, he decided the best time to leave for the mission.

“You all have an hour to get ready before meeting at the quinjet at nine sharp. Bring whatever you think will be necessary but remember that this is a rescue mission first and foremost.”

Steve’s command was met with various affirmations, everyone sans Tony and Coulson leaving the room to prepare for the mission. Steve’s hearing picked Thor proclaiming about what it would be like to fight a real hydra one day as he entered the elevator.

“Coulson,” Steve began with Tony seemingly ignoring them for the most part, “you need to realise that we all count ourselves as Stiles family as well. It’s a great thing that you care for him so much but we do to. I can safely say that we would do anything for that boy so please stop acting as though you are the only one entitled to freak out and become obsessed with the situation. You came to us for help, so please let us provide it.”

Coulson stared at him in confusion, as though he hadn't realised how he had been coming across.

“I apologise,” he said stiffly. “It’s just that he’s all I have left and I cant afford to lose him.”

Steve smiled sadly. “That’s not true Phil, you have us even if it doesn't seem like it right now. It’ll take a while but I think that in time you’ll realise that you’re not alone.”

“Captain,” Coul- no Phil began before pausing. “Steve you’re right. That boy has been the centre of my universe for so long that I don’t think I could survive losing him. Its hard to forget that you’re not alone when you’ve been so focused on one person for so long.”

Steve knew that feeling intimately. The way your whole world seemed to shrink until all you could see was that one person. It wasn't until they were gone that you realised just how focused you had become.

“We’ll get him back Phil,” Steve promised, even if he had to take his last breath to make it happen.

Phil acknowledged Steve’s promise with a slight tightening around his eyes before he left in the elevator to get ready.

“You did the right thing in telling him that,” Tony complimented, his full attention on Steve.

“Which part?” Steve asked.

“All of it,” Tony replied easily, darting his eyes down to his lap briefly before bringing it back up to Steve. “But especially with making him remember that he isn't the only one that cares about Stiles.”

Steve shrugged as if it wasn't that big of a deal even though he and Tony both knew that it was. “I only told him the truth in order to get him to accept that we will actually do all we can to help save Stiles.”

Releasing a soft huff, Tony nodded and began biting his bottom lip, hesitating at continuing the conversation. The super soldier tried not to watch as the lip disappeared between Tony’s teeth, instead trying to focus on anything else in the room.

“Do you really think that we’ll get him back?” Tony blurted out after a few agonising moments.

Any flirtatious thoughts of Tony flew right out of Steve's mind at the question, quickly sobering up ay the idea of what would happen if they failed.

“We have to,” he answered sombrely, “even if we have to die trying.”

Tony had no complaints.

 

A FEW HOURS LATER

The atmosphere within the quinjet for the past four and a half hours had been tense to put it mildly. As soon as they had all arrived at the quinjet, Clint had immediately stated that he would be the one flying, stating that he needed to keep his hands busy. Natasha had taken the co-pilot seat, Bruce had placed a pair of headphones on to keep himself in a tranquil mood because the Hulk was close to the surface. Thor was doing some kind of Asgardian pre battle ritual involving Mjöllnir that nobody dared to interrupt and Phil had taken a seat in the back, doing some paperwork that he claimed helped to calm his nerves. Steve had taken as seat with Tony in the middle of the aircraft, their heads bowed together as they worked on finalising a few mission details.

“Guys,” Clint called out from the front of the quinjet, “we’re fifteen minutes out from the base. I’ve had the cloak engaged for a while and don’t detect anything on the radar so now would be a good time to reveal your grand plan.”

Steve briefly looked at Tony who shrugged. “It’s your show.”

Phil moved from his seat to tap on Bruce’s shoulder, letting him know that they needed his attention. Thor had finished his ritual and was waiting patiently for Steve to give out the plan.

“When we land near the hatch, Tony is going to be the first one to enter, allowing JARVIS to analyse the surroundings. Once that’s completed we’ll then make our way down, dividing into pairs for each level.” Steve paused to send an apologetic smile to Bruce. “ Bruce you’re going to stay in the quinjet and monitor above ground as we can’t risk the Hulk in an underground bunker at this point.”

Bruce gave no objection to his role, a look of relief passing over his face before it was gone in a blink of an eye. He still had some hang-ups about the Hulk even though he could now refer to him by name but Steve suspected that Bruce didn’t want to risk the rage of Hulk around Stiles. Steve wasn’t sure how or when Bruce and Stiles met, all that he did know was that it involved a coffee shop and a green teddy bear.

“Since there are three levels,” Steve continued, “we’ll be staying in pairs. Thor and Nat will take the top level, Tony and Phil the middle level with Clint and I taking the lowest. We’ll all have our coms so that we can keep in contact and JARVIS can inform of us of any enemy forces.”

Tony took over at that point after Steve received knowing glances from the spies in their company. Of course they noticed that the pairings were a heavy hitter with a spy. Steve had decided it to be that way as he thought that the blend of skills from each half would be the best way to go about finding Stiles. That way no pair would be at a disadvantage.

“Each pair is going to also have a memory stick. If you find a computer terminal, plug it in and JARVIS will take over. J and I estimate that he needs roughly two minutes to download any relevant data.”

“Is that really necessary?” Phil asked, frowning at the idea of going into the base for any other reason than to find Stiles.

Steve himself had asked Tony that himself during their conversation since he hadn't thought it had been a priority during a search and rescue mission. Tony had vehemently argued that they needed to get any information they could if they were going to be working on taking down HYDRA in the future. After a lengthy discussion Steve had agreed that if any of the pairs had the opportunity to collect information then they would take it but they wouldn't go actively looking for any computers.

Stiles came first.

Tony had pouted as he conceded the middle ground, which had caused Steve to shift uncomfortably in his seat for embarrassing reasons.

“It is,” Steve confirmed. “It’s not a priority like finding Stiles is but if it helps us to bring HYDRA down in the future then I’m all for it.”

“Besides,” Tony added from his seat to the left of Steve, “we may get useful information that can help you take revenge against these assholes. Take away what they care about just like they did to you.”

Steve could practically see the moment that the idea took root inside Phil. An almost manic shine glazed over his eyes and Steve didn't think he wanted to imagine the types of revenge that the spy could come up with.

“Five minutes guys,” Clint informed to the rest of the team and Steve could see the faint outline of a building in the distance. Luckily for them the weather was pretty mild today so there was only a few flakes of snow whirling about in the wind.

Everyone apart from Clint took that as their cue to get ready. Tony stood up from his seat to distribute the memory sticks to each pair. Natasha took hers with a roll of her eyes before tucking it away into one of her pockets, not a bulge to be seen on her skin tight catsuit from the memory stick. Steve took his with a small thanks and proceeded to place it into a compartment on his belt.

Phil quirked an eyebrow up when Tony failed to give him one. Tony took one look at Phil and gave a grin as he made his way to the armour near the back ramp.

“You and I are a pair Coulson and I have the armour which has JARVIS programmed inside. Also you aren't going to be thinking about computers when we’re in there in all honesty.”

All Tony received was an amused glance in response before a sudden jolt caused them all to jerk for a second.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have now arrived at Hotel HYDRA. Please exit the quinjet via the back ramp and we hope you enjoy your stay. Thank you for flying Hawk Airlines today and if you have a complaint about the flying then you can shove it where the sun don't shine.”

A muffled snort could be heard following Clint’s commentary and Steve tried to repress his own grin as he got mission ready. He hoped that there would be one extra passenger on the return flight.

The snap of the Iron Man face plate seemed to echo in the suddenly confined space of the quinjet, all traces of humour erased with the snap.

Standing up with a small sigh, Steve reached into an overhead compartment to grab his shield. The familiar weight of the shield helped to reassure Steve that they could do this, the confidence surging though his body making him stand to his full height.

The super soldier nodded to Clint who pushed a button on the controls to release the ramp. A soft hiss as the ramp lowered caused the tension to ratchet up as the temperature dipped with the biting winter winds.

Once the ramp had lowered did Tony exit, leaving the quinjet first and immediately striding forward a few feet to uncover the hatch whilst everyone else apart from Bruce followed behind. The Iron Man suit had no trouble with the large metal covering, easily lifting it up to reveal a deep dark opening that appeared to have ladder rungs built into the side.

With a thumbs up from Steve, Tony jumped into the hole, his thrusters picking up roughly halfway down before the lights disappeared from view.

Agonising seconds passed as the team anxiously waited for confirmation that it was safe enough to enter. Horrible scenarios of Tony being captured before they even set foot into the base ran amok through Steve’s head, so many that he began to regret his decision to let Tony go first.

He could see how the silence that was only punctured by the howling wind was getting to the rest of the team. Fingers were twitching on weapons, feet were shuffling in the snow as the suspense kept building. Just as Steve was about to throw the plan out of the window and rush in to save Tony, did the latter’s voice ring loud and clear though all of their coms.

“JARVIS has completed the scan. It looks like the base is mostly empty at the moment as I’m only registering twenty life signs.”

“Twenty enemy forces can be a lot you know,” Natasha commented, her hair whipping across her face. It looked like she had blood running down her face. Steve barely repressed a shudder.

Bruce’s voice still inside the quinjet floated out to them. “Actually looking at these scans, I’d say Tony’s assessment is right. For a base that size there should be more personnel.”

“Perhaps they do not believe that the base needs protecting. They might not have expected their location to have been found so they did not think to spare more forces.” Thor sounded confident, his hammer clutched tightly in his hand as he prepared himself to advance.

However something about the whole situation felt off to Steve. It all seemed to easy. Tracing the programme. Finding the base. Hardly any personnel to fight. The whole thing screamed trap at him but for some reason he ignored his instincts telling him to turn back. There was no way that the team were going to leave without looking for Stiles.

“Whatever the reason is, I suggest using extreme caution. If you come into contact with anyone, you incapacitate them but do not kill.” Small grumbles of unhappiness reached his ears but he stood firm. “We may be able to question them at a later date and then pass them on to SHIELD for imprisonment.”

Steve took a moment to look at each team member still on the surface. He could see in all of them the fierce determination that they would not allow themselves to fail.

“Regular check in’s every fifteen minutes. Let’s move out,” he ordered and everyone snapped to it.

Thor and Nat went in first, calling out on the coms when they had reached the first level. Next went Phil who let them know that he had met up with Tony on the middle level. Last but not least went Clint and Steve, the former going in first as Steve gave a thumbs up to Bruce before joining Clint.

The tunnel had plenty of room to manoeuvre and Steve made quick work of the ladder, exiting on to the lowest level in just three minutes.

A quick tap to the com in his left ear and a beep was sent out letting everyone know to check in fifteen minutes from now.

Looking at where they had exited, he could see that there were three corridors branching off. One to the left, one to the right and one straight in front of them.

“Which one do you think?” Steve asked, keeping his voice low in case of an echo.

Clint glanced at each corridor, an evaluating expression on his face. “Eenie meenie miney mo?”

Steve plastered a disapproving frown on his face although most of it was hidden by his mask.

“If I may offer my opinion Captain,” the soft tones of the British voice interrupted at the right time, saving Clint from a telling off. “But down the corridor to your left are several large sized rooms and I am currently only reading one life sign in any of them.”

“Thanks JARVIS,” said Steve, silently asking Clint if he wanted to go down the corridor that could offer up the least resistance.

Clint pursed his lips and readjusted his grip on his bow. Gesturing for Steve to take the lead, Clint mumbled something about it being a starting point.

Both men started down the corridor, the archer only half a step behind the super soldier. Their steps were quiet as their training kicked in instinctively, the base remaining quiet. They passed a few doors along the way, briefly taking a peek inside before determining them not to be important as they only contained boxes of old electronics.

Finally they reached the last door of the corridor, the room being the only place where the life sign could have come from.

Steve reached out and placed his hand on the handle, turning his head to Clint who looked deeply unsettled.

“What’s wrong?” Steve mouthed to the archer, not wanting to alert anyone in the room to their presence just yet.

Clint pointed to his stomach. “Bad feeling,” he replied.

Steve hesitated. The feeling that something was wrong flooding back along his senses.

“Turn back?”

The archer assessed the situation, his eyes flicking from the door handle to Steve’s face. “No,” he declined, “just keep your shield up.”

A quick nod and Steve started counting. “On three. One.” Clint raised his bow, an arrow nocked and ready to be fired.

“Two.” Steve’s grip on the handle tightened.

“Three.” Flinging the door open, Steve raised his shield to protect his chest and face whilst rushing into the room, Clint hot on his heels.

The sight in front of him was disappointing. There was indeed a person inside the room but it wasn't the one that they were looking for. Instead it was a man that looked like he was in his thirties, dressed in a full black suit as he stood facing the door, his arms clasped behind his back.

Pure anger distorted the man’s average features when he caught sight of the white star on the shield.

“How fitting,” the man growled in a german accent, not seeming perturbed by the arrow pointing at him.

“Where’s the boy?” Clint demanded.

Ignoring Clint’s question the man continued to stare at Steve. “After all this time I had expected something more from the ‘great’ Captain America but with you here in the flesh, well I can say that I’m very underwhelmed.”

“Answer his question,” Steve ordered as an odd sensation began to take residence in his chest.

The man shot him a sneer. “I do not take orders from American scum. In fact I don’t think anyone should take orders from you, especially not that so called team of yours. That’s why I removed their ability to do so.”

Steve realised with a jolt that they had past the fifteen minute check in, a sinking feeling clenching his gut as he placed a hand to his ear.

“Black Widow?”

Nothing.

“Thor?”

Nothing.

“Coulson? Bruce? Iron Man?”

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

No replies came, the com line staying quiet as everyone failed to respond.

Steve shared a grim look with Clint, noticing how Clint’s bow seemed to be lowering to the ground. The archer was swaying on his feet, his eyelids taking longer to open before he collapsed bonelessly to the floor.

“Clint!” Steve called out, racing forward to check on his team mate when he stumbled and fell to his knees. A light headed feeling took up residence in his head as he began to feel drowsy.

“Wha’ ‘appenin’?” Steve slurred, unable to raise his shield up as the man glided towards him.

The man spared him a glance, crouching down within arms length.

“As soon as you opened the door, a gas was steadily pumped into the room to render whoever entered unconscious. It didn't affect me since I have been inoculated against it.”

So it was a trap, Steve thought uselessly, no longer being able to open his eyes. A hard push against his chest and he was falling to the ground, his left shoulder slamming hard against the concrete floor.

The last thing that he heard before falling into oblivion was the man calling out commands to someone near the door.

“Take them and the others to the cages and make sure all final preparations are made. I don’t want to waste any time for the procedure to begin.”

Chapter Text

Tony’s head was pounding. Pounding so hard that he swore there was a marching band competition going on in his head. He tried to remember what had caused the annoying ache behind his eyes, which remained shut as he attempted to recollect the actions that led to the monster of all headaches. Although as hard as he tried to remember, he could only draw a blank of that event.

Okay, so he was going to have to go back a bit further in his memory to fill in the gap. He distinctly remembered going down the shaft, meeting with Phil, searching the rooms that had all been empty until the last one that had held a single agent. There had been some talking, well more like demanding from Phil and Tony as the agent stood there looking smug whilst keeping quiet. Then the agent had suddenly lost the smug expression, a confused look quickly flitting it’s way across his face before he barked out a sharp order in german.

Suddenly agonising pain jolted through Tony’s body, concentrated mainly around the arc reactor whilst the suit shut down around him. Falling to the floor with his hand pressed hard against his chest, Tony could only watch, gasping for precious air, as Phil tried to defend himself against five agents that appeared out of nowhere. Even a seasoned agent like Phil had trouble fighting off five attackers at once and one of the punches being thrown at him made it through his defence and he went down like a tonne of bricks. As soon as Phil hit the ground, Tony’s attempts turned even more desperate in trying to rise and do something but the suit stubbornly refused to co-operate.

There was also the little issue of the shrapnel moving closer to his heart, each small movement causing sharp tearing sensations to burn through his chest. Couldn’t forget that right?

Then came the darkness as he passed out gratefully.

With a gasp, Tony sat up quickly, his head spinning wildly at the fast movement, hands frantically patted down his chest as he noticed the dull ache of the reactor. His hands encountered nothing out of the ordinary, the arc reactor remaining a steady blue glow as he reassured himself that his heart wasn't going to be torn to shreds today.

Although he didn't quite understand why that was. By all rights he should be dead since no villain he had encountered had ever been able to resist taking his lifeline. His golden egg as some described it. Yet here he was sitting in one relative piece with nothing more than a few aches and pains to remember the experience. HYDRA really wasn't living up to the standard that he had envisioned for an evil nazi organisation. Then again he hadn't really had any standards until a few days ago.

“Shellhead’s awake at last,” a voice called out, echoing slightly as Tony recognised it as Clint.

“Shut up Clint,” Tony replied, quickly assessing the state of the team that were locked in similar cages to him. No one looked hurt except for Phil who seemed to be the only one still unconscious.

Tony’s wandering eyes landed on the cage next to Phil and Steve (and thank Thor he was alright, Tony guiltily thought for a second), and sitting right there was the kid that had encouraged Tony to keep fighting. Tony cast a critical eye over Stiles tense form, noting that there didn't seem to be any physical injuries on the boy. However the dark, almost black shadows under his eyelashes that were made more apparent by the unnatural paleness of his skin tone, suggested to Tony that it was more likely a mental injury that had been dealt to Stiles.

Stiles raised an eyebrow at Tony’s gaze, the act should have been natural for the kid and yet it came across stilted and wrong. It was as if Stiles wasn't quite in tune with his body, the action appearing as though it was performed by someone wearing his body.

“See something you like?” Stiles snarked, his tone lacking the usual sarcastic bite. Yep something was definitely wrong with the kid.

“Just reassuring myself that I’m still the most handsome one in the room,” Tony quipped back, ignoring Clint’s muttered ‘yeah right’.

Instead of the usual snort that passed as Stiles laugh, a slow blink came before he turned his head to stare at a wall, effectively cutting of the conversation.

Bewildered, Tony gingerly sat up properly to see that same confused expressions on his fellow Avenger’s faces. Glad that he wasn't the only one thrown into the deep end with Stiles behaviour, the mechanic kept his left hand on the arc reactor whilst he examined the bars of his cage. Something about the metal tickled Tony funny but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

Natasha’s voice broke through his concentration. “So how did you and Coulson get taken out?”

“Hmm?” Tony murmured as his attention was diverted back to his team who were looking at him expectantly. “Uh, some random agent was waiting for us in a room, seemingly waiting for something to happen. When nothing did he looked confused before he gave out some orders. One of those orders resulted in an EMP that disabled the suit whilst Phil held his own against a handful of agents. Next thing I know I’m waking up in a cage.” Tony paused for a moment. “Not sure what he was waiting for though.”

“He was waiting for you both to fall unconscious from a gas being pumped into the room,” Steve answered, a dark expression crossing his features as he took in how Tony was protecting the arc reactor. Tony sent a small nod to Steve to convey that he was okay and Steve’s face relaxed minutely.

“It’s how they got me too,” Bruce added from his cage next to Tony’s. “They pumped the gas into the quinjet somehow and within a minute I was out.”

“If this gas is powerful enough to knock out a super soldier, a demi-god and a hulk, then how the hell did Tony and Coulson not succumb to it?” Clint asked, looking vaguely worried that Phil was still unconscious.

That seemed to stump everyone before Tony clicked his fingers. “The suit has an air filtration system so the gas would have been filtered out before it could reach me.”

“What about the Son of Coul?” Thor pointed out, “he has no such defences as you.”

And wasn't that a damn good question. How on earth did Phil manage to escape the effects of a gas that could take out enhanced individuals? The only thing that he was certain of was if there was something that Phil was hiding from them, then it wasn't going to go down well.

The room fell into uncomfortable silence when no one offered up a viable explanation, no one quite sure how to proceed. Tony found his attention being diverted back to Stiles, trying to get a read of the kid. However all he could get from him was a sense of dread, especially when he managed to catch a glimpse of his eyes. Stiles eyes held the exact same expression that Tony had experienced over the years and experienced daily during the palladium incident until a buzzcut teen with moles had set him straight. It was an expression that he hoped he would never have had to see again.

 

May 2010

Tony tried to avoid his reflection at all costs these days. Partly to avoid seeing the effects of the palladium poisoning ravaging his body. The toxic network of his veins creeping onto his face, accentuating the paleness of his skin as his body desperately tried to fight of the foreign substance that was keeping him alive whilst slowly killing him.

No the main reason why he was avoiding any reflective surface was that he couldn’t bear to see his eyes. Eyes that had once sparkled with mirth and innocence during his partying days had turned dull and lifeless, his guilt at his actions, or lack of really, shaming him whenever he accidentally caught sight of them. The chestnut eyes with flecks of hazel in them now showed a lack of care about dying. Almost as though he had subconsciously accepted that there was nothing he could do about dying.

Perhaps it was fitting. He had spent years doing nothing when his weapons were out there killing thousands of innocent people and when he had finally changed his ways and became serious, all of his efforts proved fruitless.

He really was a failure like Howard had screamed at him over the years.

It wasn't as though he was really needed anymore anyway. Pepper no longer needed him now that she was CEO. Rhodey no longer needed him since he had the suit. The world didn't need him since he was pretty sure that Iron Man was making things worse is really the world would be better of without him. Hell SHIELD were only trying to help him because they wanted his technology and not him so in reality what did he actually have to live for?

“You are my greatest creation.” Howard’s final comment forced him out of his zoned out state.

Creation? Some things really never changed. Even when it seemed that Howard was giving a compliment, it turned out to be a backhanded insult. Good old dad, Tony thought bitterly, always having to get in the last word, even when he had been dead for nearly twenty years.

“What a douche,” came a young voice from the doorway, making Tony startle in surprise. He had specifically remembered Agent Super-nanny saying that he was to remain undisturbed whilst he searched for a replacement and that he would only be observed from a distance. Not from the doors of his workshop. Although it wasn't an agent that had violated his sanctuary.

Nope. It was a gangly teen who looked as though he had yet to grow into himself, wearing a black graphic tee that Tony hugely approved of under a red and gold plaid shirt. The teen was wearing a cringe worthy buzzcut that had Tony wincing at how weird it looked on the kid. Seriously, the kid needed to grow his hair out stat and wear a wig whilst it happened. It would do him a lot of favours.

“I mean seriously,” the kid continued, walking into the room and flopping down onto the chair opposite Tony. “Creation? He’s basically trying to take credit for you and your actions by using that word, as if you’re just a machine that worked better than expected so he needed to lay claim before anyone else. Please tell me that he didn’t treat you like that when you were growing up?”

The kid stared at him expectantly, waiting for him to deny that Howard Stark had been a bad father and in fact was loving and caring. Someone who had treated Tony like the son they had always wanted instead of a waste of space that couldn't compare to Captain America. Who encouraged his only child with patience and nurturing instead of alcohol fuelled rages and a firm hand.

Tony was so used to defending his father from countless interviews over the years that he opened his mouth to automatically answer how good Howard was but paused before the first word made it’s way out.

He was so tired of pretending that Howard was actually worthy of the title of dad. So tired of pretending that the taunts and criticisms over the years hadn’t affected him. Tired of pretending that things were going to be okay when the obviously weren’t.

Tony was quite simply tired of everything.

“I think you and I both know the answer to that kid,” Tony replied tonelessly, slumping further down into his chair like the will to fight had left his body.

The boy’s face grew dark at the admission, eyes critically analysing Tony’s sprawled out form. “So that’s it then? A backhanded comment from your father and you give up. Some kind of superhero you are.”

Tony snorted humourlessly. “No, the old man’s comment is just the icing on the cake. I’m giving up because I’m tired of everything. I try and make things better and all I do is screw up the situation for the people I’m trying to help. The world would be better of without Tony Stark.”

The boy stared at him with wide eyes and his head cocked to the side before he burst into laughter. He wrapped his arms around him middle as he rode out the wave of giggles whilst Tony watched on shocked.

Seriously? He had basically just said he wanted to die and the kid’s response was to laugh? Maybe Tony wasn't the only with issues.

Eventually the teen stopped laughing, wiping away the few tears that had fallen during his laughing fit. “I’m sorry, it’s just that it sounded like you, Tony Stark, said that the world be be better off with you gone.”

Tony frowned, not quite seeing how that had warranted such a strange reaction. “That’s what I said. It’s not as if there’s anything positive that I’ve brought to the Stark name with the death and destruction my weapons and legacy has left in their wake.”

A few seconds passed as the as the boy registered Tony’s words, his expression turning from humorous to incredulous. “Nothing positive?” The boy rephrased, continuing on before Tony could confirm.

“I don’t think that the soldiers who were able to come home to their families because of your inventions would say that. The people that you saved in the war torn countries once you finally stepped up and took control. Don’t forget the countless civilians who celebrate what you represent, a future with peace in the horizon. You can sit here and feel sorry for yourself but there are millions of people out there who thank you because they care. Life isn’t easy, it’s hard and scary but now, the name Stark is a beacon of light in the darkness. Don’t throw that away because you’re stuck in the past, fight for the future.”

Wow, Tony thought breathlessly, the kid sure didn't like to hold back. Tony heard what the kid was saying but he was having a hard time in actually acknowledging the words. He did understand that he was so fixated on the past and the mistakes that it contained that he was being deliberately ignorant of what was ahead of him. He had never actually taken a moment to think about the positives attributed to his name. Never stopped to think about the people who had been saved by his inventions or himself.

“I don’t know how to fight for the future when I can’t even fight for myself anymore.”

A small smile graced the boy’s face, the edges tinted with sadness but also a sense of pride. “Then we’ll take it one small step at a time.”

 

Present

Somehow that day, Stiles had turned Tony’s life around. It hadn’t been a click of the fingers and all of Tony’s problems had gone away but rather it was the laying of the foundation that Tony had been able to build upon. The two had spent hours talking until Tony had finally registered what Stiles was saying. That his father may have built the Stark name on weapons and money but Tony had furthered it to mean hope and peace. From that moment, he realised that he did have something to fight for and he chose to fight past the fog that was bringing him down. It hadn't been easy and he had to take small steps in order to take back his life but he had done it and come out of it with a group of people that he would happily call his family.

So Tony knew exactly what the look in Stiles eyes was and he knew that it was possible to fight past it. Especially when you have a team of superheroes to help because there was no way that they were letting him out of their sights for, say the next ten years.

Unfortunately there wasn't much that they could do to help whilst they were all trapped in cages and as harsh and it sounded, they needed to get out before they could help Stiles deal with whatever was on his mind.

“Thor, Bruce,” Tony called out, capturing the two’s attention doom where they were watching Stiles, “any chance of you guys busting these cages open?”

Thor shook his head sadly. “I’m afraid not, the metal is much like our Captain’s shield. I doubt even Mjöllnir could place a dent in it.”

“It’s made of vibranium Tony,” Bruce confirmed from his place next to Tony, “somehow HYDRA managed to get their hands on a substantial amount.”

Tony frowned, noticing that Steve copied the motion. They both knew that it was next to impossible to get vibranium from Wakanda without consequences. For the small amount that Howard had appropriated, he had been banned from Wakanda for the rest of his life. Who knew what kind of consequences HYDRA would have faced taking such a large quantity?

Clint shifted his body as close to the bars as he could, trying to get close to Stiles. “Stiles, do you know why they took you? Was it because of your connection to SHIELD?”

A small scoff escaped Stiles lips as he kept his gaze trained on the wall. “You can’t take someone for something they don’t have.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Natasha asked, confusion written across her face.

Stiles turned his head to look at Phil before he looked at Natasha. “I’m pretty sure that once Phil faked his death and stayed out of contact, that any connection or relationship can be considered gone. Although I can’t blame him for choosing to stay away, it’s what I would have done if I knew.”

“There was so many things wrong with that statement that I don’t even know where to start,” Tony drawled, silently cursing Phil and Fury for having left the kid hanging. “We’re gonna let Phil explain his whole resurrection fiasco but don’t think for a second that any relationship between you two is gone. If it wasn't for Phil then we wouldn't be here to rescue you. Secondly what the hell do you mean by not blaming him for staying away?”

All eyes returned to Stiles, waiting for some sort of answer as to what was going on in the kid’s head. However Stiles refused to answer.

Steve broke first in the silence that followed Tony’s question. “What happened in Beacon Hills Stiles that would make the idea of us rescuing you absurd?”

“You wouldn't believe me if I told you.”

“Well,” Bruce began, cleaning his glasses that Tony could now see had a crack in them, “we know about the history of deaths, murders and kidnappings in the town which also included you and your friends. We just need you to fill in the missing pieces for us such as why are you and your friends involved will almost all of these cases with such twisted people and what happened in that school following Allison’s death that caused your change in personality?”

Stiles breath hitched at the mention of Allison, his eyes tightening in pain before he composed himself. “Like I told Steve, you know nothing of what happened in Beacon Hills.”

“How so?” Thor questioned.

Stiles hands clenched at his knees, his expression becoming conflicted before resignation took over. “Because you’re still going on the assumption that the crimes were caused by people.”

“And what were they caused by?” Natasha asked slowly, her tone coloured with disbelief as she figured out something that the rest of them had not.

“Monsters Miss Romanoff,” a voice interjected from the doorway, nobody having noticed the door opening since they had been so absorbed with Stiles.

The man the voice belonged to strode into the room and even though there was nothing special about him, Tony could recognise that the man was in charge just by the confidence projected. He had seen that confidence too many times in the mirror to not be able to recognise it in someone else.

Stopping in the centre of the room next to a large cloth covered bundle, the man turned in a full circle, slowly savouring the sight of the Avenger’s caged like animals before turning to look straight at Stiles. “Fortunately for you, we caught the biggest monster of all, isn’t that right Mr Stilinski?”

“If you caught the monster then why did you take Stiles?” Clint demanded, misunderstanding what the man was implying.

A dark chuckle preceded the man’s next comment. “I didn’t realise that I was going to have to be so blunt. Mr Stilinski here is the monster. It was hard for me to accept to but when I saw the results of his destruction, well there was no doubt that the boy was filled with darkness. A true monster indeed.”

A pin could have dropped in the room and it would have been heard perfectly since none of the team were capable of speech at the moment. None of them could believe that Stiles was guilty of any destruction, so why did the man seem so certain?

“Don’t call my nephew a monster,” Phil said coldly, his eyes filled with burning rage as he sat up gingerly, mindful of his injuries. “Don’t you dare call him that.”

Chapter Text

Waking up in pain wasn’t really Phil’s favourite thing in the world. Usually when it happened, it signalled that something had gone very wrong and usually that something worse was going to follow. There hadn’t been a time in his life when a situation had escaped this trend and this time was certainly no exception. Waking up to hear his nephew being called a monster meant that there was most certainly going to be more pain to follow and Phil wasn’t planning to be on the receiving end.

“Don’t you dare call him that.” Phil could see everyone’s attention turn to him as his voice cut sharply across the room. Everyone’s attention apart from Stiles that was.

The teen was keeping his head firmly away from Phil, his body tensed up and shaking minutely as if he was using all of his will to avoid looking at Phil.

It pained him to have Stiles refuse to even look at him, but it wasn’t as though he blamed him for the reaction. The kid most probably hated him for leaving him alone to deal with Beacon Hills and for lying about his ‘death’. If their roles were reversed, then Phil would most probably have had the same reaction.

It hurt a lot but really who was hurting more?

The HYDRA scum who had dared to insult his nephew in the presence of Phil and the Avengers began to smile cruelly at the addition of Phil to the conversation, not a single worry crossing his face at the warning.

“And what would you rather I called him Agent Coulson? Hmm? A beast? A savage? Or how about a void? A black husk of humanity? Yes! You’re right, I shouldn’t be calling him a monster when void is a much more apt description of what he is. Wouldn’t you agree Mr Stilinski?”

Every word out of the man’s mouth pulled a flinch from Stiles but the last name caused a more intense reaction. His nephew’s body jolted and tensed up so quickly that it had Phil wincing at how painful it looked. But the most worrying part was the look of horror on Stiles’ face, a look that Phil wished he had never seen.

Stiles breathing started to pick up in speed as he quickly worked himself into a panic attack, something that Phil unfortunately had had the pleasure of witnessing and stopping due to the frequency of them after Claudia’s death.

Before he could intervene in stopping the attack though, Steve cut in and began murmuring reassurances in working to calm Stiles down. Phil gave it a few moments to see Steve’s gentle, soothing voice working to bring Stiles back to himself, with his breathing slowly but steadily becoming more regular with each inhale and exhale.

Reassured that Steve had the situation under control, Phil turned to the man who had dared to continue the tirade of insults despite the warning.

“Who the hell are you and how dare you have the nerve to call my nephew that?!” Phil shouted angrily, the combination of the tension from the past couple of days and the smug, slimy smirk on the as yet unidentified man causing Phil to explode in anger.

The man pretended to act shocked at the display of anger from Phil, his eyes mocking him as he took a step closer into the centre of the room. “Ah yes, I have been remiss in introducing myself, haven’t I? Allow me to rectify that mishap and formally introduce myself Agent Coulson. I am Helmut Zemo, son of Heinrich Zemo,” at that revelation, several of the Avengers reacted but most of all Steve. Phil remembered that history between Steve and Zemo and couldn’t begin to fathom how Steve must be feeling with the news. “And I dare to call your nephew that because I have seen what he has done. I have seen the aftermath of his chaos and I am going to harness that power to the secure the rise of HYDRA out of the shadows and finish what my father started!’

Silence followed in the echoes of the information released. Phil was boggled at the revelations and frankly absurd claims that were being made.

Clint managed to regain his composure first. “That’s just insane. Stiles didn’t commit any of those things that happened in Beacon Hills! Tell him Stiles!”

Phil watched as Stiles flinched under the gazes of all the occupants in the room landing on him, so unlike the carefree, young boy that Phil remembered loving the attention.

“What he said earlier was right. Monsters are real. Monsters were the reason for most of the deaths and destruction that Beacon Hills suffered over the years. Monster such as werewolves, kanimas, kitsunes, hunters and- and nogitsunes.” On the last word, Stiles voice cracked, his eyes going dark at the mention of whatever a nogitsune was.

Phil froze. Not at the revelation of the supernatural actually existing because in a weird twisted way, the deaths fit, and he could the see the Avengers realising this too through rethinking the incidents with information. It was most definitely going to take some time to process and gather more information on yet another threat but that was a problem for later.

No, he froze at the fact that he had unknowingly subjected Stiles to what was probably the worst set of circumstances he had head of during his career as an agent.

If only he hadn’t let Fury and the Council back him into a corner with a losing hand.

May 2012

It had been two weeks after his ‘death’ and he had spent the first half of it in a medically induced coma before being woken and continuing to recover by resting in amidst requesting to see Stiles and Clint, to which every request was denied by a higher authority.

Phil knew that the only person who had higher authority than him was Fury. What he didn’t know was why he was being denied his request and why Fury was refusing any direct contact with him. That was until the man finally visited him after two weeks of staying away.

“Nick,” Phil greeted neutrally, watching his boss standing at the door as he reclined against the mound of pillows for his still sore chest.

“Phil,” Fury greeted in return, his tone betraying nothing as to why he was there.

A few minutes passed as both men stared at each other in silence, both waiting for the other to crack first.

“Should I be worried as to why you finally graced me with your presence after numerous attempts at contact?” Phil phrased the question as a joke and wasn’t surprised in the slightest at the way Fury’s eye flickered in resignation before hardening in determination.

“I have a new assignment for you that will begin as soon as you are fully healed, which if the doctors are correct, should be in the next few weeks thanks to the serum.”

Phil frowned at the information. “I’m afraid that’s not possible. My assignment is with the Avengers as their handler and I was under the assumption that once I was healed, I would be heading back and working to help the come together as a team.”

“That was the original plan before Loki came and shoved his spear through your chest. You may have been only dead for a few minutes, but it was long enough that certain changes now have to be made.” At this Fury grew quiet, seemingly unwilling to carry on.

“What did you do Nick?” Phil sighed, preparing himself for what was about to come. He had become used to his boss pulling the strings to suit his needs that he was pretty sure that whatever was about to be said wouldn’t be that surprising compared to the past.

He was wrong.

The bald man took a deep breath though his nose before releasing it slowly. “The Avengers needed something to work towards in order to defeat Loki and the invasion. Whilst I would have preferred something else, your death provided the right incentive to get them working together. To tell them now that what they fought for was a lie would do more harm than good. They’re in a precarious situation at the moment, that one wrong move could make or break them as a team.”

Phil was smart enough to fill in the blanks that Fury was deliberately leaving out. “You want me to stay dead for the team to fully come together which is why you’re reassigning me and I’m guessing also ordering me to refrain from any contact with the Avengers until you deem that me being alive wouldn’t cause them to split. Did I leave anything out?”

“It’s not only the Avengers that you are restricted from contacting.”

Phil’s insides twisted at the hidden meaning beneath those words. Rage threatened to overwhelm him at how calmly Fury stood at the door whilst he delivered the orders that would tear Phil away from everyone he loved and cared about.

It would have been hard enough to go forward hiding his existence from Clint but to add Stiles to the mix too? That was impossible to even comprehend, let alone carry out.

“No.”

Fury let out a sigh at the single word response. “Phil-,” he began, before being cut off sharply.

“No! I’ve given a lot to SHIELD over the years, sacrificed blood, sweat, tears and moments in life that I will never get back. I’ve done many things that I am not proud off and will regret for the rest of my life, but this? This is too far. I can’t let Stiles believe that I’m dead, not after everything that he went through after Claudia died. You can’t ask me to do this.”

“You’re right,” Fury replied in a sombre tone that instantly had Phil’s alarm bells ringing. “I can’t ask you to do this, but I can order you too.”

“Then I resign effective immediately.”

A humourless chuckle escaped Fury before he clamped down on it. “I told the damn Council that you would say that and if that is to be the case then I myself have orders to take you into custody and lock you away under whatever charges the Council deems fitting.”

Fury paused for a moment to let Phil understand the corner that Fury was backed into.

“There is no easy option Phil. The world needs the Avengers to come together in order to ensure its survival, in that I believe wholly. If you accept your new orders then you at least have a chance to once again make contact with them and Stiles, otherwise you’ll be locked away with little chance of seeing sunlight again and no one will be the wiser because no one is looking for a dead man. The choice is yours.”

“Doesn’t seem like much of a choice,” Phil snidely responded.

Fury smiled sadly. “No, it doesn’t, but these are the cards that have been dealt and until a better hand comes up, we just have to play with what we have.”

The way that Phil saw it was that all the cards were a lose-lose situation. There wouldn’t be any good outcomes from either choice but erasing any chance Phil had of his life returning to a semblance of normalcy that he had before.

But at least one choice gave him the smallest possibility of at least reconnecting with the people that he loved. Would it hurt that he would be knowingly allowing his family to live with the pain of his death whilst he was away somewhere? Yes. But it would hurt more if he was locked away indefinitely with the knowledge that he at least had the opportunity to reach out.

With that in mind, Phil looked up from where he had been staring at the floor, his eyes meeting Fury’s with an emptiness that he felt deep down inside.

“You may tell the Council that I conditionally accept these new orders and will firmly accept once all paperwork and documents are sent to me to review and ensure that promises will be delivered.”

At the conclusion of his acceptance, Fury’s shoulders dropped minutely in relief. “For what it’s worth, I believe that this will work out in the long run and that I believe you’re doing the right thing even if I don’t agree with the way that you were forced into the decision.”

Phil wished that he could find some comfort in those words, but all he felt was a coldness in his chest that had nothing to do with his injury. “It had better be worth it or else I will ensure that my sacrifice was not in vain.”

Present

In retrospect, it wasn’t fair to place the blame on Fury as he too had been backed into a corner as well when he had come to see Phil in SHIELD medical.

Phil had made his choice and now he and others were paying the price.

“Monsters may be real,’ he began, not missing the way that Stiles avoided looking at him. Damn, he had really screwed up. “But that doesn’t make you one Stiles. You are the furthest thing from a monster and I would bet my life on that.”

In the corner of his vision, he could see the Avengers nodding in agreement with his words, some more vigorous than others but the silent agreement meaning more than words could.

However, Phil’s words seemed to be the wrong thing to say.

“Then you’ve lost your life, again.” Stiles finally lifted his gaze to lock eyes with Phil. Contained within them was pain and betrayal that turned the usually whiskey coloured eyes darker.

Several members of the team frowned at the statement, whilst Zemo stood quietly to the side, watching the scene with sick fascination.

“I don’t think so. I know you Stiles. I know who you are, and I know for a fact that you would never hurt anyone or anything in any way to warrant you being labelled as a monster.”

What Stiles said next would stick with Phil for the rest of his life, however long that turned out to be at this rate. “You did know me, and you saw what I was capable of before anyone else which is why you choose to fake your death, isn’t it? You knew that I was going to become something else and you decided to cut your loses lest you be tainted by the darkness that lives inside me. You chose to leave on purpose.”

Phil felt as though he was being stabbed with the sceptre all over again. He could only stare at Stiles in shock as he tried to understand what he had just said.

Stiles thought that he had purposely left because he thought he was evil in some way? That was absurd and completely untrue! There was clearly something that Phil was missing, and he was fairly certain that the missing puzzle piece had to do with what happened in the weeks leading up to Stiles kidnapping.

He took a brief moment to compose himself, knowing that what he said next would be crucial in their relationship that was hanging on barely by a thread.

“That’s not at all what happened. I didn’t want to leave you, any of you in fact,” at that he gestured to the Avengers, noting that they were fully watching Phil and Stiles but gratefully not intervening. “I was planning on coming back but the Council needed to ensure that the team came together and felt that the only way that would happen was if I stayed dead. I tried to resign and was threatened with indefinite imprisonment.”

Several curses followed Phil’s admittance in various languages as he realised that this was the first time the team were hearing the full explanation as well since he had given them the general version when he came to them for help. Phil could see Clint staring at him stunned as he came to the realisation that Phil hadn’t abandoned him like all the other handlers had in the past.

“You didn’t leave on purpose?” Stiles asked, his voice small but with a sliver of hopefulness winding through it.

Phil shook his head firmly. “It wasn’t on purpose. It was either accept new mission orders and have the possibility of reaching out to all of you in the future or being locked up indefinitely with no hope of ever seeing the people I loved again. I chose to go with the option that gave me hope that I would get to see you all again. I just didn’t think it would be under these circumstances. Believe me when I say that I didn’t leave because of anything you did. Once we get out of here, as long as you’ll have me, I promise that I will always be with you from now on no matter what life throws at us.”

Stiles took a few moments to come to terms with the fact that Phil hadn’t meant his deception to be malicious, before opening his mouth to respond.

Just before he could say anything though, the doors to the room flew open and a steady stream of people dressed in lab coats entered the room, bringing with them several carts of equipment. Without any hesitation they began setting up wires and monitors around the tarp covered object in the middle of the room.

Following the scientists were many armed soldiers, all of them dressed in identical uniforms who took up positions around the edges of the room. They seemed to spread themselves into pairs, with each pair standing behind each cage of an Avenger, leaving Phil and Stiles the only two cages with no guards. Phil felt as though he should be slightly offended that they didn’t view him as much of a threat, but something told him that the oversight might come in handy very soon.

The last to enter was another soldier, except this one was different. He wasn’t dressed in the identical uniforms the other soldiers had, as this one had the lower half his face covered with some type of mask, whereas all the others were unmasked, and he had what looked like a metal arm hanging by his left side as he carried no visible weapons that Phil could see from his position.

Instead of taking up a position at the edge of the room, the masked man moved next to Stiles cage and took position, his gaze directly on Stiles instead of straight forward like the other soldiers were exhibiting. Stiles turned and made eye contact with the man, a small smile on his lips as his body released any tension that it had been holding as the two locked gazes.

“Finally,” Zemo crowed, as he stepped back into the centre of the room and garnered everyone’s attention except for the masked man and Stiles. “Now it is time for HYDRA to come out of the shadows and with the power of the Nogistune, no one will be able to stop us.”