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Acceptable Risk Is Not

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Why did Tony trust Maria Hill after SHIELD fell? Why Maria decide to work for SI?

Maria could understand what Fury was trying to do: cater to Rogers’ ego.

The man just woke up from what was pretty much a coma of 68 years. Still at his prime and woefully lost in all possible ways. Everything and everyone he has ever known was no more. Almost seven decades and the world changed way too much, his peers were either dead or close to it while Rogers remained unchanged…oh shit, Maria has been watching too much vampire stuff. Shaking her head, the woman tried to dismiss the absurd image of a sparkling Steve Rogers in the sun.

The bottom line was that she felt for him, truly.

And perhaps the world needed him as well. Not for anything that Captain America was capable of physically doing but perhaps of his naïve, ‘old fashioned’ beliefs. The world had too much grey, the fact that Steve was incapable of seeing things as anything but black or white was maybe what SHIELD lacked.

All that being said…this had ‘IDIOT’ written all over it with a red marker!

And then, the other part of the problem…

Captain America’s physical prowess was truly an asset and the one that possessed it had to feel needed too, or else it would have a waste of an enormous field potential. But at the cost of 715,854 people?

Fury was risking the lives of almost a million people just so they could have a confident Captain America? Worse: Romanoff and that Wilson guy are simply going along with this insanity? What in the world is going on with these people?

When she gave them those chips, Maria was thinking something more along the lines of using them remotely not on Steve and Sam? Was it? Trying and very possibly failing to plug them personally, what the hell?

And all of them are acting as if it’s no big deal. Ok, maybe Maria was being uncharitable with Rogers, she could hardly expect a man still used to 40s tech to think of alternatives in stopping three heavily armed Helicarriers. But Fury and Natasha deciding that it was worth the risk? Rogers wasn’t infallible.

Maria wasn’t willing to gamble with these many lives. And, she winced, perhaps this was the problem. SHIELD was so amenable to make the hard choices that they could no longer see any other kind.

Well, their main objective is to ground the Helicarriers to, you know, prevent almost a million of deaths in seconds.

And she just couldn’t understand why no one thought about this before.

“This is a secure line and this call is being traced, identify yourself in the next five seconds or authorities will be called.”

“It’s Deputy Director Maria Hill from SHIELD.” The woman winced. She had no idea what was her status with them. Considering everything she was surprised that the line didn’t go dead immediately, she certainly wouldn’t be shocked.

“Identity confirmed. Voice recognition is a match. Good afternoon, Ms. Hill, I am JARVIS, what can I do for you?”

“Is Dr. Stark busy?”

“No more than usual, Ms. although we are in the middle of a complaint from the Air Force about a theft, the officials have yet to reach an ID but Sir recognized one of the involved. One Natasha Romanoff breaking into military facility and stealing an SI patent, purchased by the Air National Guard…you wouldn’t know anything about this, would you, Ms. Hill?”

Her eyes widened when she realized who that new guy was. Closing her eyes, Maria indulged herself in a rare moment of cursing out loud every single generation of the involved.

“I… do know something about that but not in the way you think. None of this was previously authorized by me or Director Fury. But that is not the important part right now. Doctors Banner and Stark are in grave danger!”

“From whom?”

“From us!”

~*~

Steve was already in transit to SHIELD’s HQ, they just had to take a detour to get his old uniform back from the Smithsonian. Sam was already geared up and Natasha was in the process of taking one of the WSC’s place. The plan was simple, while Natasha decommissioned SHIELD, made sure that it was never a secret organization ever again, Steve and Sam would go after the Helicarriers, install the program that would target themselves and the day would be over.

Once there, however, they were met by Natasha that was dressed in a blue suit and being escorted inside by two guards, before Steve and Sam could do more than feel alarmed, Hill got out from the back of another car, sport and infinitely more expensive. From the driver’s seat one Tony Stark in a three piece suit and red sunglasses.

Steve was seeing Tony in a way he never saw the genius before. Serious, back straight, not a hint of a smirk anywhere, his voice was hard like he was holding back a great deal of anger.

“I need all SHIELD’s agents’ profiles from lab assistants, janitors and the guy that once cleaned the windows to Fury himself. Begin extraction of every personnel still in field missions, from deep undercover to the coffee guy. Freeze all accounts, lock every weapons cache and no file paper or otherwise will get accessed, drop the internet, the only way to talk to anybody in there will be our coms and JARVIS will screen every single signal that goes in and out.

Once inside that building, no one gets out before being cleared, if there is so much as a dot in the wrong place, I want it flagged and the guy tailed. MI5 and 6, BND and GRU have priority in notification, in that order. Also the Air National Guard is still calling to give me crap so please make a note of that since that’s an actual SI problem.

We’ll have to hold the fort until JTTF and CIA get here, they are good but they are still scrabbling to understand what the hell is going on. Oh and, uh, forget what I said, make sure to keep the JTTF and CIA posted and then GRU, BND and the British. We are never hearing the end of it if the foreign agencies get ahold of the info first because of us. Once they get here, we give them command on what to share with whom, but in Russia, Germany and England’s case we really have no choice, considering the historic, they will not appreciate us filtering info.”

“Yes, Dr. Stark.” Steve couldn’t believe his eyes.

He still remembered when Maria and Tony first met. Her completely unimpressed expression when Tony just barged in babbling about… physics?

Well, Hill didn’t seem happy about the whole thing. And now that Tony was once again babbling about stuff that probably no one around him understood, she was just nodding along and furiously typing in her StarkPad like she was his secretary. What was it about ‘Dr.’ Stark?

“Er… Tony?” but the billionaire didn’t even hear him with all the people that immediately surrounded him. Many in dark suits and many more with bulletproof everything from shields to vests converging on the man.

Tony was barking order after order, the three Helicarriers came out in full view and Tony didn’t even blink, actually if not for Maria that nudged him, the man probably wouldn’t even care. As it was, he barely spared them a glance before pressing his com and they were lowered, softly landing on the ground.

Not even five minutes later, several vans and cars were dropping off men and women in uniforms with different acronyms written across dark background. So many letters and people running around in an organized mess that Steve’s head was spinning. In less than five minutes they formed several tents with screens and headphones and other tech more or less in the same space that Tony parked his car. Out of sight of anyone that would look out the window and in the exact places Natasha told them there was no SHIELD cameras. A barricade was formed in front of SHIELD’s HQ.

US’ policy of not negotiating with terrorists proved itself once again when they swiftly and promptly entered the building. Silently making their way through the floors and taking down every single person. From the skinny guy with glasses sitting behind a computer to Rumlow and his men.

SHIELD agents and HYDRA might be a big threat and perhaps better physically trained. But the JTTF was used to these scenarios and knew what to do. Finally, in overwhelmingly numbers and experienced with terrorism strategies and mentality the FBI successfully coordinated the attack. And every single agent still in the building were ready for interrogation.

“Dr. Stark?” a man in a dark suit and a non-nonsense frown approached the billionaire that was flanked by Hill and another woman in Air Force uniform.

“Chief.”

“Thank you for this service, in name of the intelligence community, we owe you.”

“I guess you can also thank former SHIELD Deputy Director, Maria Hill. She is the one that called and warned me.”

The man only raised an eyebrow at Hill and looked back at Tony, “SHIELD?”

“Please do not insult my intelligence, sir. A close eye is warranted and even in the case that it doesn’t pay off, as Deputy Director, Hill has precious information that not many others will have. Even in the case that she is guilty of anything, everybody here knows the most likely outcome.”

“She will walk because she will talk.” The ‘chief’ rolled his eyes but nodded and walked away and Steve thought that someone would say something. But Maria looked like she expected it and Tony didn’t even shrug, he just turned to the next person on the line that was forming to speak to him. Even the blonde Air woman looked like nothing was wrong.

Finally someone noticed them, a young man with a heavy British accent, “Hey, what about those two?” and Tony looked at them for the first time since he got here, not looking much interested either.

“Those are Rogers and… someone. Same proceedings, everybody. Carol?” he gestured to the blonde woman that nodded and strolled to them, gripping his arm with a surprising strength, Steve’s brain managed to produce the word ‘Enhanced’ before he was escorted back to SHIELD, Sam also being held by another militar.

They were separated in different rooms, ‘Carol’ with him at all times.

~*~

That’s how Steve ended up in a locked room – not that it would have held him there – with the Enhanced woman guarding the door – she would be able to stop him easily, not that Steve knew the ‘easily’ part, being interrogated or ‘questioned’ how they put it, like he was HYDRA or something.

Well, ‘Mr. Drake’ was asking how he found out about HYDRA, about his part in the last few days’ happenings, nothing about Sam or Natasha or Fury or Hill, finally they reached the part where Steve took a more… active role.

“Sam and I were going to put the computer chips in the Helicarriers to target themselves and Nat was supposed to dump the SHIELD files online.”

The non-descript man just looked exhausted to simply be there and Steve still didn’t understand who he was. A lawyer, cop or… something else altogether?

“What were your plans for what was underneath them?”

“What?”

“You said that the Helicarriers would target themselves, presumably after they were airborne?”

“Well… yes, I mean, we would never be able to catch them on land, they were in the middle of the tarmac full of agents and five minutes away from taking off.”

“So I will ask again: what was the plan for what was underneath them?”

“The… land?”

Drake’s expression was an interesting mix of horrified and frustrated, “According to Ms. Romanova and Mr. Wilson, all of you were informed that the Helicarriers would be right above the Potomac once they reached the correct altitude to fire their weapons and initiate Project Insight, were you briefed as well of that knowledge?”

“Yes, uh, Hill said that before giving us the chips, she got a little distracted when we were laying our plans though.”

“Right. Are you aware that the Potomac is already full of activity by the time you were moving against HYDRA?”

“Well, sure, I guess. I have the habit of running around the Lincoln Monument in the mornings.”

‘Drake’ looked like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing and Steve just got more and more confused.

“So what was the plan for the hundreds of people below the Helicarriers that would be killed by said falling Helicarriers?”

Steve’s thoughts came to a halt and his eyes widened. He was without words and without breath as well.

Taking a run around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool every day and as the morning progressed, being joined by more and more people, the day becoming noisier with cars filling the roads around the Lincoln Memorial and the Potomac. All those people, going about their day and having no idea that three death machines were pairing right above their heads, doesn’t even matter that they weren’t gunning for them, the fall of those massive aircrafts were enough to kill heaven knows how many people by heaven knows how many miles around…and none of them thought of that.

“We…I…haven’t thought of that. We were focusing on stopping the Helicarriers because they were targeting more than seven hundred thousand people.”

Drake didn’t comment on the fact that they were trading a lesser number of lives for pure disregard for a greater number of lives saved that were being purposefully targeted and Steve could only be thankful for that, but he did focus on his question, “So there was no plan for civilian evacuation?”

“No.” Without as much as a pause, Drake quickly wrote on his notes and looked back at Steve. He didn’t know if he was relived or not about the man’s non-reaction.

“Next question: were you aware that the Helicarriers is based on Tony Stark’s technology?”

“Uh, yes, Fury said something about Tony commenting about their… engines, I guess.” He was once again confused about the path of the query.

“And I believe you said that Jasper Sitwell is a confirmed HYDRA agent?”

“Yes, we, I mean Natasha concluded it and we had confirmation later.”

“Is it true that Jasper Sitwell admitted that one Dr. Robert Bruce Banner was a confirmed target of Project Insight?”

“Yes, along with some other names.”

“Were you aware that Dr. Banner is currently residing with Dr. Stark?”

“Yes, uh, Tony invited Bruce to the Stark Tower after the battle of New York.”

“Were you aware that Dr. Stark himself was a target?”

“Yes, Maria, Maria Hill” he completed, “said that she saw his picture amongst those targeted by the Project Insight.”

“So you had official confirmation?”

“Yes.”

“Then just so we are clear, you had confirmation that Dr. Stark helped devise the Helicarriers and that he was in direct danger, not even 'indirect' because of his proximity with Dr. Banner but in direct danger of being gunned down by the Project Insight?”

“Yes.” Steve couldn’t see where Drake was going with this.

“So why not contact Dr. Stark for this matter?”

Steve once again gawked, no words forming on his mind when he recalled that Hill had to nudge the engineer for him to even notice the Helicarriers in the air, the man just pressed his com and they were on the ground again. He hadn’t made the connection but now he was sure that Tony was the one that did it.

The prompt response, now that he had the time to think was that…the way Zola said those things and those pictures and then finding out about Bucky…even now, Steve couldn’t wait to find out where Tony was and what he was doing, what he was hearing. For all he knew, the engineer was on the other side of the room’s door, listening to everything but it wasn’t the complete true, was it? Even before having confirmation about the Winter Soldier’s identity but after finding out how exactly HYDRA would enact Project Insight, Steve didn’t even think about contacting Tony.

To be fair, neither did Natasha, Fury nor… something clicked in his head and Steve remembered Maria getting out of that showy car with Stark. It had occurred to someone and seeing how easily Stark managed the Helicarriers…Steve didn’t want to admit that his teeth were gritted. The Helicarriers and therefor the whole Project Insight was barely an afterthought to Stark, for the brief moment he saw the man, Stark was a lot more focused on HYDRA agents than the three huge aircrafts of death. He took barely five seconds to ground them again before turning back to Maria and all those man in jackets and suits and bulletproof vests.

“I didn’t think about that possibility.” He managed to get out, Drake raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment on his obvious… whatever was on his face.

“So you took a risk?”

“What?” the out of the blue question, really, what questions from this man weren’t? Got him out of his thoughts.

“You took the risk of trying to physically, personally ground the Helicarriers without considering any other options?”

“We had to try something!” what was this man getting at?

“I understood that part, but you had no way of knowing when Project Insight was going to commence nor what possible obstacles HYDRA could put in your way as to make sure you didn’t get the chips in place on time. So you took a risk.”

“I already said that calling Tony wasn’t something I thought at the time. So yes, I took the risk because we had no idea who to trust.”

Drake had to bit his own tongue not to say that Rogers did have confirmation that Stark was both: knowledgeable about the tech in the crafts and was in grave danger from Project Insight so therefore… not HYDRA…

“But you trusted Sam Wilson and Natalia Romanova?”

“Yes, I met Sam in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and we talked later too, he… helped me a little. Natasha is… ok, I didn’t trust her, but she proved herself.”

Drake didn’t want to touch the ‘Natasha’ issue for now. He knew she was being interrogated as well and he had no idea what possible conclusions his colleagues could reach, either way, she was not his directive so…

“Are you aware that HYDRA agents are masters at disguise and deceit?”

“Well, yes.” He said like it was obvious and Drake had to control his rarely seen temper. Wow, an hour with this guy and years of stoicism were out the window.

“So what made you think that Sam Wilson himself was not HYDRA?”

Steve gaped a little before trying to get up, he was at gunpoint in a second. Taking calming breaths, he sat back down, “Sam is trustworthy.”

“Why?”

“Because he helped me! When he had no reason to do that.”

“Aside from not wanting to blow his cover?”

“What makes you think he is HYDRA?”

“I never said he is nor that I, personally, think he is.”

Steve frowned, “Then…”

“What I am trying to ascertain is your reasoning for trusting him. What made you think Sam Wilson is trustworthy? A complete unknown that you admitted to having only met twice previously.”

“I just…he is a good and loyal man and I got to know him pretty well.”

Drake was silent for a few seconds, like he was just considering what Rogers said before no longer being able to help himself, “What's his middle name?”

~*~

“What happens now?” Maria stood beside Dr. Stark as they watched the many intelligence agencies from all over the world fine-combing everything, from the most miniscule detail.

Hill knew that soon enough she was going to be interrogated as well. Dr. Stark vouched for her and she was the one that alerted Dr. Stark in the first place so he could lay the groundwork and hold the fort while the proper authorities could make sense of what was going on, the man coordinated the whole thing and garnered a lot of political favor with this. But not even Tony Stark could shield her forever and better get this over with and either be cleared or charged than just dumping her involvement behind a dam that could be broken at any time.

“SHIELD is probably going to be absorbed by a series of integrated agencies worldwide, at least as far as ongoing missions and sensitive information goes. For example, the ones that can’t be extracted for one reason or another and are in Germany or of German citizenship will likely get calls of ‘SHIELD is no longer active, you are now under GRU orders’ or variations. The ones identified as HYDRA will receive trials according to their crimes but by then, we are going outside my area of knowledge. The ones based on US will be my partial headache since, well, I was contractually SHIELD’s consultant. Thankfully nothing that will involve SI. The Avengers will possibly be scrapped and if they aren't, well... I really and literally can't have anything to do with them, not after this.”

They kept silent for a few moments, just watching as the crowd thinned a little as the interrogations proceeded and those that had a single traffic ticket in their records were carted off to call for lawyers or await investigations under house arrest. There was no other alternatives when people talk about terrorists and this was Neo-Nazism… in the twenty first century too, what was the world coming to?

Maria sighed, “Thank you, Dr. Stark. If it wasn’t for you…” words failed her at the tired breath the man let out.

“Perhaps I do need to delegate more.” This alarmed her. If Stark hadn’t taken the reigns when he did, who else would…and she suddenly understood where he was getting at. It was disatrous to lean so heavily on a single person.

“The world still needs you.”

“Perhaps, but I’m still just one guy and my schedule will be hell for the next year after all this, because of all this. Being optimistic at that.” He motioned to the mess around them before reaching inside his pocket and retrieving a pen, quickly scribbling two numbers on her palm, “JARVIS managed to filter some but not the entire info dump before Romanoff and Fury finished their little theater with Pierce so I still have work to do, but tell Jennifer Walters that I gave you her number, you’ll be cleared in no time and then…call me and we will be vetting some of those SHIELD agents the Iron Legion is extracting.”

Maria stared at Dr. Stark’s retreating back for a few seconds, immediately understanding what he was planning to do before finding her voice, thinking about all the possible ways an HYDRA agent could slip through, “Isn’t that a risk?”

He looked back with a surprisingly solemn expression, “Risk only comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”

"Warren Buffett." Maria muttered to herself, the beginnings of a smile forming on her lips. Maybe in SI she could still do what she dedicated her entire life to do.

~*~