SHIELD Base, outside Puente Antiguo, New Mexico
"Our orders are to secure the area, follow up on any reports of alien tech discovered by civilians, and keep an eye on Doctor Foster and her team," Agent Chris Larabee, leader of SHIELD Team 7, told his gathered agents in their ready room at the makeshift base that had been established during the Thor incident.
Chris Larabee had seen some crazy things during his time in the Marine Special Operations Regiment, and even more since joining SHIELD, but nothing had prepared him for the events following the discovery of Mjolnir in the New Mexico desert a week ago.
Buck Wilmington, Larabee's second, slid down his chair a little farther, long legs outstretched. "Goddamn it, you and me grew up not a hundred miles from here, joined the Marines to get away from the place. Who'd we piss off to get permanently assigned to exciting podunk New Mexico?" he asked, rolling his eyes.
"Well, damn, Buck, it anyone pissed anyone off, you'd be the one to know about it," Vin Tanner said with a wink.
Wilmington sat up straight. "Hey, that thing with Romanoff, I was kidding! Can't take a joke," he finished, muttering under his breath.
All eyes in the room shot to their CO, then to Buck, as Larabee stalked over to him, fixing him with a glare. "Thing with Romanoff, Buck? What the hell did you do?"
Buck gulped, quickly realizing that Larabee hadn't known anything about it. Next to him, JD Dunne chortled, and Buck reached out a hand, shoving his shoulder. "Shut it, kid."
JD shoved him back. "Hey!"
"Knock it off!" Larabee shouted. "Buck, now!"
Sighing, he shrugged. "I may have said she was the prettiest little personal assistant ever, and that she could get me a cup of coffee any old time."
"You said that, to Agent Romanoff?" Chris asked, needing confirmation he'd just heard what he had.
Buck nodded sheepishly, before protesting, "It was a joke!" He elaborated, in case they didn't understand, "With her working undercover at Stark and all."
Larabee shook his head, looking heavenward for patience. Then he asked, "Just what exactly was Agent Romanoff's reaction anyways?"
Buck grimaced. "She explained in detail where I could put that cup of coffee—and the pot." As his gathered teammates began to laugh, he added, "Left me believing she wasn't just using her imagination in the describing."
"Looks like he can handle himself," Buck said of the big bear of a man sitting at the table. "But is this the guy we want? Can he be trusted?"
"The Director seems to think so," Chris said, flipping through the personnel folder in his hands. "And he knows his way around a computer—we need that." He waved away Buck's reply. "We'll talk to him, and then decide. I'm not being ordered to take him on as a member of the team."
"Fine." Buck pushed open the door.
"Mr. Sanchez," Chris said as the man stood. "I'm Agent Larabee, this is Agent Wilmington." He stuck out his right hand, Sanchez grasping it for a firm shake.
"Agents, thank you for taking the time to talk to me."
"HQ suggested we should," Chris said, laying the folder in his hand on the table in front of him.
"So tell me why I need you on my team, Mr. Sanchez." Chris and Buck sat down across from the other man. "Why I should trust that you'd show me any more loyalty than you did to Tony Stark." Chris asked the question coolly, with no emotion, the tips of his fingers resting on the tabletop.
Sanchez dropped back into his chair with a thud, eyes blinking rapidly. "Working for Mr. Stane, I thought I was being loyal. Running his security, protecting him, by extension, I was protecting Mr. Stark."
Chris leaned forward, looking at the man intently. "Come on, Sanchez, are you really going to claim you never suspected Stane was up to no good? You were his head of security; you ran what amounted to corporate black ops for the man. Do you honestly expect anyone to believe that you didn't know Stane was behind Ten Rings taking Stark prisoner? That you didn't know what was happening to him in that cave?" His voice never rose, which made it all the more frightening in its intensity.
Fists clenched, Sanchez shook his head. "You don't have to believe me, but that's the truth. Yes, I helped Stane carry out some questionable activities, I admit that, but I never knew how far he'd gone, not until I was arrested after his death. I was interrogated by SHIELD for days; it's all in that file." He pointed.
This time, it was Buck who answered. "Oh, we know what's in the file, Sanchez. What we don't know is if we can trust it—trust you."
"The agents who interrogated me did."
Buck responded with a snort of laughter. "We aren't them. We're kinda special, elite even. Choosey, some might say."
"I know that, and that's why I want to be on your team. Give me a chance to make up for my past actions—past inactions—to atone, to belong to something bigger than myself. I can be an asset, agents, and you can trust me, I swear to God."
Chris looked at Buck, who shrugged one shoulder. He turned his attention back to Josiah Sanchez, both the hope and fear apparent on his large, craggy face. "Welcome to SHIELD Team 7, Sanchez."
The man's shoulders sagged. "You won't regret this."
"No, I won't—" Chris fixed his new team member with a decidedly unfriendly look "—because you'll be dead."
A few minutes later, Chris and Buck walked back to the team's ready room in silence, Buck looking sidelong at his oldest friend. Finally, he said quietly, "You were in a cave, just like Stark, more'an a year. Think you can lead a man who might be responsible for doing that to someone?"
Chris didn't immediately reply. Stopping in the corridor, he stared out at someplace in his memory. "I think that just might be exactly what I do have to do, Buckling."
"Nathan, it was crazy! That guy, the one from the ER you told me about? He turned out to be a freakin' god!" Darcy Lewis gesticulated wildly, eyes wide and more than a little drunk.
"God, Darce?" Nathan Jackson laughed at his friend. He'd missed hanging out with her, so when she'd called, asking him to meet her for a drink in one of the few buildings not damaged in town, he'd immediately agreed.
"It's true! What do you think happened? You don't believe the story they're putting out, do you honestly?"
Nathan had been working his shift at the county hospital, the next town over from Puente Antiguo, during the incident that had destroyed a chunk of the downtown area. They'd been told that a military training exercise had gone wrong, the resulting explosions releasing toxins that had caused hallucinations. It had seemed plausible enough. He was just relieved no one had been killed.
"Makes more sense than a Norse god and his friends defending the town from his whacked out brother." They'd said the effects of the toxin were short lived, but Darcy seemed to still be under its influence. Or maybe it was the influence of something else. He looked at her empty glass. "Just how much have you had to drink, Darcy?"
"Not that much! Not enough. Listen, Nate, I'm telling you the truth! They found mumue in the desert, Thor tried to get it back, because he's like totally cut and heroic and stuff, and Jane totally loves him, and then his friends show up, and this giant killer robot. There's a big fight, then Thor gets his mojo back and saves us all!" She stopped for breath, picking up the fresh drink the waitress had just set down, shooting the contents.
Nathan held up his hands, laughing. "Okay, okay, whatever you say."
"Pardon me," a voice said from behind him. "Did I hear you mention Thor?" The owner of the voice came around to stand next to their booth.
"You did!" Darcy answered with enthusiasm.
"I'd be most interested in hearing more," the new arrival said. "Might I buy you a drink?" Not waiting for an answer, he signaled the waitress before sliding into the booth next to Darcy.
"Hey, mister," Nathan said, irritated. "She didn't say yes, and neither did I." The man's green eyes flicked across Nathan before dismissing him, and Nathan felt his hackles rise. "Hey, I said—"
Darcy interrupted. "Sure, you can join us." She glared at Nathan when he began to object, mouthing, 'he's cute'.
"Thank you, Miss…?"
"Lewis, Darcy Lewis." She beamed when he took her proffered hand, kissing the back gallantly. "So polite, just like Thor."
"Ezra Standish, at you service." He flashed a smile, one gold tooth glinting. "Delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss Lewis."
"Oh, and this is Nathan Jackson. He's a nurse practitioner over at the county hospital."
"Nurse Jackson," he drawled in acknowledgment, his tone making Nathan want to punch the smirk off his face.
His attention once more fixed on Darcy, Standish said, "I believe you were telling me about Thor?"
Next to him, Vin chuckled. "Seems like you're going to have to put the fear of God into her, pard."
JD had called them to fill them in. He'd gone to Jake's for a beer, discovering Darcy Lewis, very loudly telling another man about Thor and what had really transpired in Puente Antiguo last week. When they'd arrived, there was a second man in the booth with her, someone whom Darcy seemed very intent upon.
"Take care of it," Chris directed his agents.
"Let's go do some damage control, boys," Buck said to Vin and JD, the three setting off towards the booth where Darcy was holding court. Chris stayed where he was, watching it play out.
"Darcy girl, what have I said about hitting the bar on Saturday night?" Buck asked, sliding in to sit next to Nathan, JD and Vin flanking the table.
"Aww, come on, Buck, it's been a hell of a week." She looked at him entreatingly.
"Yes, yes it has. And, darlin', I'm sorry to say it isn't getting any better."
Buck joined him. "Guy checks out. Nathan Jackson, works at the county hospital. He was in attendance when Thor was admitted to the ER last week. He and Lewis are friends. Was a medic in the Army, did a stint in Fallujah."
"What about him?" Chris pointed at the screen. Vin was sitting across from the other man, running the interview. If they didn't like the results, the interview would become an interrogation.
"Ezra Standish. He's had some run-ins with the law. Petty stuff: grifting, illegal gambling. Did a nickel in Wyoming, released two months back, skipped out on his parole last week."
"Last week? And he turns up here? That can't be a coincidence."
"No, it surely can't," Buck agreed.
Chris shook his head. "Dig deeper. I want to know everything about Standish, down to what his mother ate for breakfast yesterday."
"Will do, sir."
"This is news?" Chris asked, raising an eyebrow.
"No, I mean, he isn't what he seems." Vin shook his head. "There's something…different, about Standish. Just can't figure out what."
Chis exhaled a sharp breath. "Buck's doing a full background on him."
"Whatever it is, I don't think we're going to figure it out from a background check."
"Let's go talk to him."
"You're in violation of your parole," Chris pointed out.
"A misunderstanding, I assure you." His left thumb pulled at the ring on his finger.
"I must insist that you either charge me or let me go. I am aware of my rights."
"You don't have any rights here, Standish. If we determine you're a threat to this country, this world, you won't see the light of day for a very long time," Chris said, leaving no doubt he was deadly serious.
Vin's eyes seemed fixated by the ring on Standish's left hand; the one that Standish suddenly couldn't seem to stop toying with. He slammed his palm over Standish's hand. "That ring. Where'd you get it?" Vin demanded.
The other man seemed startled. "Why, it was my grandfather's."
Vin pulled the ring from off his finger, studying it. "The marks—" he held the ring up "—they're like the ones the Bifröst left in the desert."
"You're sure?" Chris asked sharply.
"Course I am!"
Chris held up his hands in apology. Vin Tanner was ostensibly a sharpshooter, but his most valuable skill was his gift of language. He had an uncanny ability to decipher and translate written symbols. If Vin said the writings matched, they did.
Focusing his attention once more on their unwilling guest, Chris asked, "Care to change your cock 'n bull story, Standish?"
Maude Standish hummed to herself as she walked up the steps to her bedroom. She'd heard from her darling boy only this morning, telling her he was investigating what had really transpired in New Mexico. If there was an answer, her Ezra would find it.
Sitting in front of her vanity, she undid the pins that held her blonde hair coiled to the back of her head. At the sound of his voice, her hands froze in place. It had been a century and more since she had heard that silky sound.
"Dearest cousin Magnhildr, how low is your station here on Midgard. It is quite sad."
"Loki," she whispered on an intake of breath.
The voice took shape, reflected in her mirror. "What must it be like for you, niece of Odin, exiled to this world, stripped of your powers." His impudent grin set her teeth on edge.
"If you have come to mock me, Loki, then be gone!" she snapped.
"But you misjudge me, Magnhildr." He put a hand to his heart. "Like you, Odin has wronged me. Cast me to the blackest depths of space with the aid of my brother. I, who should be king!"
Looking over her shoulder, she saw no one there. So, an illusion cast by Loki. Once more, she looked into the mirror. "My apologies, my prince; it has been long years since I was cast out by my kin. I had lost hope."
"Hope has found you at long last, Magnhildr, lady of Asgard. This, I promise you."
"You have a plan?"
Loki laughed. "I have a plan."