If you are reading this on any website that isn't archiveofourown, then please know it was stolen and reposted without my permission. This entire fic is freely available, for non-commercial use only.
Tamara Miller didn't know what hit her. Or who.
She didn't get a phone call, or a text, didn't have any more warning other than a shadow coming the wrong way of her computer before her world went dark and the next month(?) or so was little more than a grey blur interspersed with brief moments of clarity and agony.
For a program analyst, she thought she hadn't been anything special, just another face among many at SHIELD, albeit with very good luck when running ops that went to hell.
Apparently, however, someone on her floor had thought she'd "had potential".
Tamara's refusal to join HYDRA had meant they'd resorted to…unconventional means, and she didn’t know just how much longer she'd have been able to hold out, if the Iron Legion hadn't invaded the bunker when they had.
She'd lost track of time [seconds bleeding to minutes bleeding to—], didn’t remember where the electrical burns came from [or how old the pool of dried blood was, or the bruises—], but Tamara had found it harder and harder to focus [to tell these assholes to fuck off], to keep her sense of self when the bite of metal around her head and neck was becoming more familiar than her own name, and—
The sound of gunfire nearby had never sounded so much like salvation.
With the arrival of the Iron Legion came answers to questions she'd never asked. Like what the hell had happened [fucking Nazis and their goddamn—], like what day it was [she'd lost seventeen days of her life that she was never going to get back], like where she was [a HYDRA bunker not 5 miles from where she'd been stationed, and dear lord did that make her want to hurl].
Tamara's surprise rescuers took her to what had probably been a very spacious and elegant yacht, back before it'd been filled to the brim of traumatized people and families who didn't have more than the clothes off their backs. Considering everything, it was decently stocked, but it had not been meant to be a safehouse.
Then again, could be worse; the close quarters made part of her tense up [and want to run and hide and—], but she knew and trusted some of the people on board, had shared many a late night with some of these people, and the peace of mind of knowing Moreau's kids [the ones he'd gushed about at any opportunity, the ones he'd had a photo album of in his pocket at any time and loved with all his heart—] were okay was…something.
Apparently, everyone in SHIELD had been burned. [Okay then.]
And Stark had ever-so-kindly given everyone on board the Boatimus Prime […only Stark. Only Tony Stark would give that name to a yacht, but at least it was something to think about other than her new scars, and—] new identities, and a few nondescript lawyers were available via Stark's version of FaceTime so as to discuss possible options.
Tamara wasn't at the top of her game, wasn't anywhere near okay, but…she could work with this.
When the initial offer, of staying with Stark and pretending she really was just Tiffany Maxwell of IT was made, she jumped at the chance.
SHIELD was…no. She could barely figure out where she ended and the HYDRA mind-whammy started [what was her favorite food? She didn't know anymore] and the prospect of going back to the same group that had hired the people she'd been captured by was—no. Just no. [Random goddamn phrases triggered her now, fucking hells no.]
She had nothing to go back to; Tamara Miller's apartment had been burned, both literally and figuratively, she'd kept to herself, and had been an only child who'd thrown herself into her career after her parents had died. A few friends, sure, but…not anymore, not now. [Who'd kidnapped her at SHIELD, anyway? She still didn't know, and it burned—]
Maybe in a month, she might feel differently, but until then, she'd stick with what felt the best.
And right now, taking the night shift as just another IT member in London sounded much, much better than setting foot on SHIELD property ever again.
Paul Rodriguez was in the middle of an op in Caracas, negotiations at the critical point and guns ready just in case, when his comm suddenly lost contact with his handler.
That in and of itself would've been alarming, what with it being Stark design and keyed into SHIELD's network, if the English voice hadn't suddenly replaced the alarming static.
"Agent Rodriguez, SHIELD has fallen. You've been burned, and it appears that your handler is an agent of HYDRA. It would be prudent to duck right around...now."
Which made the ensuing firefight that much less surprising, enough so that he didn't get hit when first shots from his supposed backup cratered against where his head had been.
Paul didn't miss a beat; between his surprise informant and the chaos that ensued as the communications between two rival gangs, a gunrunning operation, and a secret organization all simultaneously broke down, he was able to make it out of the bloodbath with only a few bullet grazes, rather than the headshot he'd been in line for.
It was only once he was several streets away, slipping into the nightlife and hoping nobody'd notice the unnaturally bulky black jacket, that he started asking questions.
"Who the hell is this? How'd you get this channel? Where exactly did you get your intel?"
In that same ever-so-calm tone, a British voice replied, "I am Just Another Rather Very Intelligent System, an artificial intelligence created by Dr. Anthony Stark for Stark Industries International and its affiliates. JARVIS, for short."
It might have been the realization that he hadn't been as lucky as he'd thought and the shock was wearing off from the bullet wound, or that Stark's pet AI was apparently even bigger than they'd thought, the realization of SHIELD's fall, or all of the above, hitting him at the same time.
"You wouldn't have any idea as to where to now, do you?" Paul found himself asking faintly.
"Your intended safehouse has been compromised, and my registers show the local hospitals capable of caring for you are currently being monitored. A Legionnaire has been dispatched to your location, and will take you to Dr. Stark's vacation house near Bogota."
He tested his suddenly-burning shoulder, and grimaced.
"Not sure I can hold out quite that long. You're sure the hospital's compromised?"
"The Iron Legion is equipped for triage and basic first aid, and the nearby hospital has some personnel who have been flagged due to their membership to HYDRA as mentioned in the intel breach. Please hold, the Legionnaire will arrive within ten minutes."
With that, Paul felt his back hit the alleyway walls as he sat down a tad bit harder than strictly necessary.
This was…this wasn't a nightmare. This was actually happening, he'd been burned, and—oh god, Palmer had tried to kill him.
His handler, who'd covered his six for nearly a decade now, who he'd invited to his daughter's birthday party, had tried to kill hi—no.
"Status on my family," Paul felt himself bark while he tried and failed to keep from going into shock. If SHIELD fell…he'd signed up for direct deposit, because it was the simplest way to pay for the mortgage and he'd filed his will because he regularly ran dangerous ops and he'd mentioned his sister—
"They are currently in a nearby motel room, under guard by the Iron Legion. Arrangements are being made to erase your identities, and an emergency relocation has been scheduled within the next 72 hours for California."
Paul wasn't sure if the wave of dizziness was from relief, or blood loss. He didn't know if it was rain, tears, or a graze that was causing the wetness he felt on his face, and he'd never thought he'd feel grateful for Stark's paranoia, or the size and extent of his budding robot army.
The trip was surreal.
The Legionnaire had managed to patch him up with a surprising amount of expertise for a robot meant for…well, non-medical applications, and the mansion he'd been ferried to had turned out to be a haven of sorts for other field agents as well.
If Paul hadn't received stitches from Hayes [who'd been in Bolivia when shit hit the fan], he would've thought it was all just a fever dream.
But no—he had the graze from what was probably Palmer's favorite rifle, and the semi-hysterical phone call to his wife, to say otherwise.
SHIELD had fallen, had never been, had been nothing more than a cover for a Nazi organization who'd chipped at everything he thought SHIELD had stood for, had used him to further its goals and—no.
Paul didn't want to think about it. [
But he couldn't help it.]
It wasn't as if there was much else left for him to do, because it was hard to appreciate the sights when he was stuck with limited mobility and a mansionful of other people in similar straits. They got to talking, and sharing notes, and couldn't help but come to several ugly realizations.
Such as…they'd been played, since day one.
They'd been played, and now that they'd outlived their usefulness, it was only thanks to JARVIS' timely intervention that kept them from evading not only the locals but their own guys, and some were closer calls than others.
Paul soon found he'd actually been pretty lucky; more than one had been picked up after they'd passed out from bloodloss behind a ditch, or nursing a truly unexpected bullet wound from people they'd once called friends, or simply surrounded by the enemy and only brought in as the Iron Legion took to clearing HYDRA strongholds. And the people only kept coming in; some more shell-shocked than others, because apparently these fuckers had brainwashing tech and tactics that made Paul feel nauseous to even hear about.
Some things didn't need to be said, even: Paul hadn't gotten as far as he'd been without having good observation skills and instincts.
It was hard to miss how Hayes got twitchy in enclosed spaces, now, for instance. A shy probie Paul remembered seeing around a while back had nearly broken down the moment the Legionnaire who'd dropped her off had left, and had promptly amassed a collection of kitchen knives and holed up in an alcove with a bottle of what looked like tequila.
A lab tech who'd come from Paraguay, meanwhile, walked around with a white-knuckled grip on his tablet, and Moreau had a slightly glazed look in her eyes, which unnerved him more than anything else after all the shit they'd seen together, and the mutters of blown safehouses and backups only got louder the more time went by.
That Stark's pet AI and robot army were bigger than initially expected was par for course, and he'd never expected to be so grateful for it, had thought the man a flashy pain in the ass, but now…well.
Clearly nothing was as it seemed.
It's a few days, for the rest of it to reach their ears. Turns out it was Captain America, and the Black Widow, who'd been the ones to burn them. [
Ha. Talk about friendly fire.] The Nazis had never really given up on their ideas of genocide and HYDRA had merrily inverted everything SHIELD had professed to be, had been biding their time and getting ready to start the fight again on their terms, with Project Insight as the forward charge.
…Paul didn't know what to think, anymore.
Because, intellectually, he knew, and agreed with, that HYDRA had to go down. Cut off one head, and cauterize the wound, just like Hercules had.
So, intellectually, Paul knew, SHIELD had to burn. Project Insight would've been a massacre, would've been the death knell of thousands and he was relieved it had also gone down in the chaos.
Intellectually, Paul agreed with it, and felt a mote of vindictive satisfaction every time the huge television in the living room showed another dot extinguished, showing the fall of yet another HYDRA stronghold.
It was pretty damn hard to fully cheer Captain America and the Black Widow on, when he was cut off from everything he'd had, because he was lucky to be able to even manage a phone call to his wife, and learn that their home had gone up in flames as well, not three days after the warning had gone out.
It was really hard to fully agree, when Paul saw former coworkers trying to look less traumatized than they actually were on a daily basis, now.
It was really hard to fully agree, after having heard about how everything had gone online, even if JARVIS' reassurances that he and Stark were on the case were a consolation. It was hard to feel anything but bitter, when he could only FaceTime his wife once a week, because they didn't want to risk being made even if Stark had some of the best tech out there.
The fake identities that were being churned out with what would've once been an alarming speed were a relief, but were also a reminder that he'd been burned, that he couldn't ever quite go home again, and it wouldn't have hurt as much if he didn’t know it was friendlies who'd pulled the trigger and decided he was an acceptable loss, or that everything and everyone he'd cared about had also been hurt by his mistake in believing he'd been working for a good cause.
He'd had the scores to have gone to the CIA, could've worked for the FBI, could've stayed with the Rangers, but Paul had been naïve and foolish enough to think SHIELD had been working to make and protect a better future, and now, he was paying the price. It wouldn't have hurt so much, if it'd only been him; but his wife's background information had also been online for the world to see, and apparently it'd taken Stark several days to take down his kids' Social Security numbers and to close his bank account information because entire lives were now in the process of being erased, and…
And Paul didn't know where to go now.
The freshly-minted ID for a Peter Ramos sat on the table in front of him, and…now what?
Everyone in the mansion had been informed they'd been added to Stark Industries' payroll in the Sao Paulo branch, and had been filed as part of the new Security department. If he wanted, he could get on the plane and pretend he'd never been an field agent, had never been in more firefights than he could count and was simply another office employee.
He wouldn't be the only one; even if JARVIS' ever-so-helpfully mentioning that SHIELD was scrambling for personnel, Paul [no, it's Peter now] knew he wasn't the only one who'd scoffed at the prospect of going back.
After all, it wasn't SHIELD who'd saved his ass.
Pau—no, Peter, wasn't stupid. Even if the media in Colombia had focused more on more local concerns, he hadn't missed how the press had converged on Stark. The man had his respect, but now?
The legal battles were making headlines worldwide, but Pa-Peter hadn't missed the total lack of mention of anyone else. He hadn't survived this long without inferring what was going on behind the scenes; the complete radio silence pointed to this being all Stark, and while he'd once respected Captain America [what American didn't?] and Natasha Romanov [hero-worshipped, more like, speaking as a field agent], now?
Stark was making waves, because absolutely nobody else was. SHIELD was under fire, for obvious reasons, the people who'd burned him were in the wind, and the more time passed the more he realized just how much Stark had done. And, if P-Peter was reading this right, he'd done it by his own lonesome; there was no mention of Rogers or Romanov anywhere in the mix.
Stark was raising hell for those who'd been left out in the cold, had saved not only the agents but anyone affiliated with them, and was even now dealing with the scrutiny of the world because of it.
Like hell he was returning to SHIELD.
Sara Browning was not an agent or employee of SHIELD. [She was a bank teller in a small town in Ohio, for crying out loud!] She wasn't rich, she didn't have a genius IQ, she was just a normal woman, a mother of three and married to a man who was so, very evasive about what he did for work each time he got asked about it whenever they'd had a family reunion.
The phone call in the middle of the night was…unexpected.
The polite English-sounding voice who'd warned her to grab her kids and leave the house was so, very unexpected.
She kept a bag ready for emergencies, of course, and her husband had made sure the first aid kit was almost hospital-grade, but…two toddlers and an eight-year-old did not exactly make for the "discreet exit" like the AI [Jarvis, the voice on the phone who'd warned her was Jarvis] had suggested.
Oh, they tried, bless them, but Annie had been sick for the past week and the cold air didn't help, and Tyler was so, very perceptive for being eight and the wide-eyed looks he threw broke her heart as she tried not to look scared, tried to pretend it was just an adventure that they were leaving home at midnight, and that their lives weren't at risk the longer they took to get going.
Jarvis was still on the line, and Sara drove with one ear pinning her phone to her shoulder because she didn't know what was going on but her kids were in danger and she didn't know what her husband had gotten wrapped up in but he was sleeping on the couch for the rest of the year, so help her!
Umm...couldn't go to the neighbors, that'd be obvious. Town motel, either, plus they were closed right now…she didn't know what to do—no. She could do this.
Sara ended up driving for who knows how long, all the while getting updates, and once she reached Cleveland she followed Jarvis' directions to a nearby motel with a vacancy and a private parking lot, and paid in cash from their emergency funds. Maybe it was the hour, or the frantic [
terrified] look in her eyes, or Annie's crying, or all of the above, that had the woman at the front desk quietly slipping her a brochure for domestic violence resources, along with the room keys.
That brochure nearly did her in, actually.
She managed to keep her smile up, but once she closed the door to the rather run-down room, and put her kids to bed, it was all Sara could do to keep from breaking down in the tiny bathroom.
She could hear Annie's sniffling from the thin walls, and Tyler wasn't asleep yet, and how had they come to this?!
She'd married her husband because she'd loved him, for all his faults, had believed him when he'd said he was working for a good cause, had said he'd done everything he could to make sure his job wouldn't put them in danger, and now here she was, miles from home and terrified for their lives and safety and—no. [
Get a grip.]
Okay. She could do this. Her kids were counting on her. [She had to pull through.]
Sara took a deep breath, rinsed her face, pulled herself together, and resolved to slap her husband, next time she saw him. For the heart attack, if nothing else.
Jarvis was so, very helpful, in the next few days.
A rental car was arranged, and plane tickets for New York, and Sara didn't let go of her phone because the headlines were already coming in, and she'd had to hide just how she felt when she realized they couldn't go home again, because SHIELD had fallen and Sara didn't know where her husband was, and—no.
Okay, first things first: Tony Stark and Jarvis had apparently made sure her kids were safe. [Random billionaire stranger and his AI helping her out, weird but she could deal. Right.]
Okay, get her kids to safety. She could do that. Then Sara could panic over her husband, and what they'd be doing from there. [And ignore that their family's lives were one Google search away, or—no, don't think about it right now. Later.]
Got it...now to just break it to her kids that they wouldn't be going home. [Yep, he's so going to sleep on the couch for the year, because he'd be okay, dammit!]
The paperwork for their new identities was fucking par for course, even if Sara felt like Jason Bourne [and not in the good way] with the discreetly-couriered package.
The woman who'd been working the front desk was very curious, but she'd managed to give a tired smile and a "friend of the family's helping me out" to keep the questions at a minimum. Because Jarvis was a friend; and so was Tony Stark, by default. [Even if that sounded weird in her head.] It still felt like something from a movie, seeing her face on a driver's license for a Sandra Bauer, and the passports for her kids made her feel nauseous. [How had it come to—no, focus!]
Another few phone calls with Jarvis, and the arrangements were hammered out even more; they'd be living in one of Tony Stark's mansions because of its security system [which…what even—no, don't think about it, no] while things died down, and she'd receive aid in leasing an apartment. The paperwork for Sandra Bauer's transfer to a nearby branch was already being made, and while the status of her husband was currently unknown, she would be the first to be notified.
It felt impossible, like a nightmare, but…Sara—[no, it's Sandra now, right] would pull through. First things first, and take care of the rest later. She could do this, she could.
Daniel Browning—err, that is, David Bauer's reunion with his wife started off with a hard slap to the face, immediately followed by a very, very tight and tearful hug.