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Redemption Road (is Bumpy)

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A neat suit that made her look professional and feel confident?

Check.

A StarkPad with her annotated version of the Accords on it, ready to have more notes taken?

Check.

A StarkPhone, just in case any urgent business came up?

Check.

A super-sized box of aspirins and a bottle of water, just in case?

Double-check.

Maria Hill wasn’t ready. It wouldn’t stop her, but she wasn’t ready. This would not be a fun conversation, and she knew it going in there. Either all of them had missed something absolutely vital in the Accords, or… Well, she’d find out, regardless. It was her job.

Taking a deep breath, and another for good measure, she strode up to the door, which a guard opened for her.

The space the rogues were held in was reinforced, making sure it would be capable of holding supernatural threats. Maria remembered, way back when, Stark asking Banner if the Hulk would test them for him. She hadn’t been able to help a smile when Banner had agreed, proof of his faith that Stark would never use this as a trick to lock him up. Ultron really had ruined a lot.

Guards had put down a basic chair and a small table for her, since she anticipated this would take a while. In the row of cells on the other side, the rogues were now realizing she was there. Lang didn’t know her, and she and Maximoff had never quite been on good terms, but Rogers, Wilson and Barton smiled at her in relief.

“Maria, thank God you’re here,” Barton exclaimed. “You have to get us out of here, this is ridiculous!”

“I am here to see what I can do,” she assured him. “We need to talk about what happened, and why. None of this can or will be used against you in court - if anything, it might help your defense establish a case, should we be able to provide one.”

It was probably fortunate they missed the allusion to Stark, all things considered. Instead, Rogers frowned that ‘Captain America is Disappointed in you’-frown she knew a lot of her colleagues had trouble resisting. She never had been one of them. “Don’t they think this has gone on long enough yet? Court, really?”

Maria kept her face impassive. “Yes, court. I’m not sure what else you were expecting.”

“For them to realize we were right! The Accords should never have existed, Maria. Tell me you realize that as well.”

“Alright,” she nodded, grabbing the StarkPad and getting ready to take notes on their arguments. This was why she had come here. “Tell me all of your reasons, in as much detail as possible.”

At once, the room was filled with all of them talking or shouting their reasons.

“Hold up, hold up! One at a time, please!”

Rogers started, the others respecting him enough to let him go first. “Look, I’m sure he meant well - ” scoffs from Barton, Maximoff and Lang interrupted him briefly, “ - but Tony never should have let those Accords happen. I know he felt guilty about Ultron, and I get that he needs some control, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us should be painted with the same brush. It would tie our hands, make us do things we don’t want to, make us not do things we should… They have agendas, and those can do very dangerous things.”

“Not to mention,” Wilson followed up, “the fact that they put Ross in charge of it. Who thought that would ever end well? Just look at what it did already!”

“We’re free people, and they want to collar us like dogs?” Maximoff sounded almost shrill, close to screaming and her hand touching the collar around her neck. “We try to save them, try to do the best we can, and they want to punish us for it! Want us on their leash so they can get us to do whatever they want!”

Barton rolled his eyes. “It’s because of Stark. Really, they should’ve just named them the Stark Accords instead. He’s the one who made Ultron. He’s the one constantly fucking up and putting people in danger. He’s the one who should be put in check. Not us. But instead, we all have to deal with that stupid-ass document he thought would be a brilliant idea, he gets us thrown into prison like a bunch of damn criminals and now he’s too damn stupid to just realize his Accords are stupid as fuck. Futurist my ass, he’s making another stupid decision that’ll come back to bite everyone in the ass.”

By now, Maria was mostly just glad she was recording the meeting. There was no way she’d be able to take any notes. It was all she could do to keep her face impassive.

“We had to make a choice - either we willingly signed away our rights, or they would be taken from us anyway. As heroes, we stand up for the right thing, even if it’s not the easy thing.” Rogers sounded so damn genuine it terrified Maria. Genuine chills were running up her back.

Calling upon all of her training, she kept herself from reacting outwardly. “And in the Accords?” It was why she had come here. “Can you point out the exact articles and clauses you object to, and how they should be changed?”

“Didn’t you read them?” Wilson sounded incredulous. “We object to all of it, and it should be thrown in the trash. We don’t need to be managed like a bunch of criminals.”

“Could set it on fire first,” Barton muttered. “Or throw it into a pool of acid. Maybe throw Stark in alongside it.”

“You say the Accords tie your hands,” Maria tried again. Her StarkPad was still in front of her, untouched. Her stomach was sinking, and she feared she might throw up. “Can you point out the articles that concern you most?”

Please. Just, please.

“All of it!” Rogers cried. “We are not signing our lives, our choices away! And because we refuse to do that, they’re taking them anyway, throwing us into prison like we’re criminals!”

She took a sip of water to try to settle her stomach.

With a deep breath, she settled herself. “Alright, let’s try this another way. Who of you has read the full Accords?”

“We’ve read enough of them,” Wilson scoffed. The others all nodded.

“Which was the summary provided to you by Secretary Ross?” They nodded again. “Anything more?”

“It was clear enough,” Rogers asserted, and again they all nodded.

“Right,” Maria said, and grabbed the bottle of aspirin to choke down four of them. “Right. I think I need a break.” Before any of them could call her back, she was out of the door. She needed fresh air.

Chapter Text

Now even less excited to go in, Maria nonetheless returned. She’d get to the bottom of this, as she had intended from the start, and then she was reporting and then she’d be done. All she needed to do was make it until then. That should be doable.

“Right, let’s do this again. Have I understood correctly that, when I talk about sections one to four, you have no idea what each section discusses?”

The confusion on their faces could have been funny, if it weren’t for the subject.

“So when I say that we expected a lot of resistance mostly in sections two and three, especially articles 2.14, 2.15 and 3.2, you have no idea what any of those contain?” Hell, Stark was currently very busy fighting those exact articles, as well as working on a lot of other things that were, quite frankly, not good enough yet. The fact that he had to fight even harder after the actions of Rogers and his friends had not escaped her attention.

Rogers looked disappointed in her. “You’re worrying about the details, when it’s the entire law that should be thrown out.” He sighed, sounding like he was explaining things to a child. “You can change the specifics all that you want, but when it’s rotten at the core, it should be thrown out in its entirety.”

“Except it’s not rotten at the core,” she argued. “At the core, it’s a necessity.”

“It’s necessary to impair our freedom? Necessary to take away our choices? Necessary to make it impossible for us to be where we need to be? Necessary to use us as some glorified attack force?” It was terrifying how convincing he could sound when he was so wrong.

Shoring up her defenses, Maria breathed deeply. “That’s not what the Accords do. Had you read them, you might have understood that.” She was starting to wonder. “What they do is offer guidelines and rules for dealing with enhanced criminals and those dealing with them.”

“And they promptly got us thrown into the Raft like we were a bunch of criminals!” Barton argued.

Maria was unimpressed, even more so when everyone else nodded along. “That wasn’t the Accords, actually. That was you actually being a bunch of criminals.” She continued speaking over their outrage. “The only illegal part about it, thanks to the Accords, mind you, was the lack of legal representation you got. Before the Accords, there was no legal way of dealing with enhanced threats, and so they were promptly locked away. One of the many reasons the Accords are necessary is for dealing with enhanced criminals.”

“Like us, you mean,” the archer sneered.

“Wait a minute. You can’t just call us criminals!” It looked like Wilson was losing his usual calm.

Maximoff sneered. “We fight the Accords, so of course we’re ‘criminals’. Way easier than just admitting they were wrong.”

Once again, Maria wished she’d brought more painkillers. Better ones. Or a morphine drip, that might be able to deal with the headache the rogues were giving her. Emphasis on ‘might’.

“Right. I think I have a clear idea of what the problem is, here.” It took an effort to keep her voice even. It took even more of an effort not to just say ‘you’re all complete morons’ and call it a day. “You disagree with a document you’ve never actually read, and are now in the process of blaming everything that went wrong after on said document and because you protested against it.”

“If it weren’t for the Accords, we wouldn’t have been in prison!”

“You all are calling us criminals just because we fought the Accords!”

“No, we aren’t!” She was so done with this. “You’re not criminals because of anything to do with the Accords, except maybe the stupid way you chose to protest them. You illegally entered countries, contributed to the deaths and injuries of countless people, and dealt incredible amounts of property damage. Surprisingly enough, that is illegal and makes you criminals.”

We were saving the world!

At that, Maria was unable to help but scoff. “You weren’t saving the world, Mr. Rogers. At best, you were doing a terrible job at protesting the Accords. At worst, you were the ones putting the world in danger.”

“So what, we sign the Accords and we get off scot-free?” Barton scoffed. “Very subtle on the manipulation, there.”

That morphine drip was sounding more attractive by the minute. “The time to sign the Accords has passed, Mr. Barton. Right now, you are facing legal consequences. If you ever wanted to be part of the Accords, it would be after those consequences,” she tried to explain patiently. Note to self: bring a stress ball next time. Or a taser.

“So that’s it? ‘Don’t sign the Accords and we will find something to put you away for’?” Wilson sounded disgusted.

The taser, absolutely.

“Your choice, as explained before, was either to sign the Accords or stop being international superheroes. An agreement could have been reached nationally, but internationally, it was the Accords or nothing. The fact that what you did took place after the signing of the Accords is the reason former Secretary General Ross could be prosecuted for his violations of them, considering it was the Accords that gave you certain rights as superpowered criminals that you would not have had before them.”

“How would the Accords give us rights if we didn’t even sign them?” Most of them just looked disbelieving, so the fact Wilson asked had Maria attempting not to sound too sarcastic.

“The thing about laws is that they count, whether you sign them or not. None of you ever signed the United States Constitution, and yet every legal resident of the United States can be held accountable for following it. As they stand, the Accords are a series of international laws, made legal in the United States, and therefore for you - as well as Sokovia, for Miss Maximoff - because the country you are legally a citizen of has signed them. The part you were asked to sign was basically what amounts to an employment contract, allowing you to operate across international borders.”

Allowing!?” Maximoff near-screeched. “We’re heroes! We are helping them!”

Maria’s stunned silence clearly lasted too long.

“Look, I know Tony meant well,” Rogers started, to the outright scoffs of Maximoff, Barton and Lang. He sighed, and it seemed to Maria it was more understanding than reprimanding. “He means well, but the only reason Tony wanted these Accords was because he realized he needed to be put in check, after everything that he’s done. It’s the way he used his right to decide what he wanted to do that put the world in danger multiple times - with the Ten Rings, with Hammer and Vanko, with Killian, with Ultron… He is the one who keeps making the wrong decisions, and he’s the reason the Accords are needed. But just because he needs them, doesn’t mean the rest of us do. Just because he needs others telling him what’s right and wrong because he can’t see it for himself, doesn’t mean we need that. We know what’s right, and we can’t let that become compromised by governments with agendas. Not when that means the regular people will become the victims, not when that means we’ll be used as some sort of elite attack squad whenever the Accords people want us to, whether it’s right or wrong. The Accords never should have existed.”

Yeah, Maria would not be advising Stark to offer them legal representation. Not only did she think it would be a waste of money, but Stark also never got anything but the best, and it would be a waste to think the best defense lawyers in the world would be forced to deal with this complete and utter stupidity and have all of their brains leaking out of their ears.

“Right,” she managed, trying to regain some of her regular stability. “And you all agree with this?” She hoped her voice sounded less breathy, less completely incredulous than it seemed to her.

They nodded, all conviction, determination burning in their eyes.

She was surrounded by idiots.

“Let me make some things very clear to you all. The Accords were going to happen one way or another, and while there are still improvements to be made, I firmly believe they are a good thing. They are not a regulation made for Stark. They are laws that give rights to enhanced people, and laws that govern the actions of those that wish to become superheroes.” She held up her hand before any of them started talking, and the look in her eyes must have conveyed how close she was to becoming completely pissed off, because they didn’t interrupt her.

“You had every right to refuse to sign the Accords, and the only thing that would have meant would be that you would be restricted to your own country, where you could see about getting your own agreement on being a hero, or retiring. You would not have been prosecuted, you would not have been arrested, you would not even have been judged for it, because it is your right not to be a superhero as much as it is your right to be. If you do decide to be one, internationally, you are bound to certain rules.”

Maximoff looked as though she was about to interrupt, and since Maria had a good guess of what the woman would be saying, she let her. “We are heroes, we are saving people. They should be thanking us, not restricting us!”

“Doctors save people. They’re bound to oaths, they go through years of learning and training, they are licensed and answer to a review board in case something goes wrong. Police agents save people. Again, they have training and they are held accountable for their mistakes by official instances. Soldiers, people in the army, they save people as well. Training, accountability. Educators change lives, exerting influence. Training, accountability. Psychologists influence lives. Training, accountability. It may have escaped your notice, but nowadays, every job comes with some kind of training, and some kind of accountability. The more important the job, the more lives it influences, the more training you need and the more society tries to keep an eye out to make sure there are no mistakes made. Because the more influence you have, the bigger your mistakes are, and the more lives they can cost.”

She cut off Rogers with a scathing glare, and he closed his mouth before a sound came out. “Do you honestly think your actions in Washington were without consequences? Lethal consequences, for innocent people. Ultron wasn’t just on Stark, and Johannesburg wasn’t on Stark at all. Lagos wasn’t on Stark. Bucharest wasn’t on Stark, Leipzig only partially, and that was a minority part. In fact, his character notwithstanding, it’s not on Stark when people decide to become terrorists unless he holds a gun to their heads. Unless you want to blame yourself and Ms. Maximoff for what Zemo did, too?”

“That’s not the same at all!” Rogers argued.

Before Maria could even respond, Barton spoke up. “Why the hell are you even defending Stark in the first place? I thought you didn’t like him?”

“I don’t,” she told them. It was gratifying to see how they all seemed stunned into silence. Maria wasn’t lying, though. She liked order, and discipline, and a chain of command. She hated it when people didn’t take serious things seriously. Stark was chaos and insubordination and inappropriate jokes, and they had both realized a long time ago she probably wouldn’t ever like him. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect him, and it doesn’t change the truth of a situation.” Clearly, they had trouble separating those things.

“Truth,” Maximoff scoffed. “Sure, respect. Nothing like a shiny paycheck to forget someone is a mass murderer, right?”

Maria let out an incredulous laugh. “Lady, you were part of HYDRA.”

Because Stark murdered my parents!”

“Bullshit.” She levelled an unimpressed look at Rogers when he looked as though he would say something about her language, before turning back to Maximoff. The other woman glared right back at her, though she remained silent. “I say that for a lot of reasons, Ms. Maximoff. Let me start you off with a little background information. Yes, Stark created and sold weapons. Effectively enough that the company grew with him as CEO, fabricating and selling internationally. But Stark Industries weapons were not popular because they were cheap, but because they were effective. It was not much of a secret that half of the reason Stark was even in the weapons business was to provide the best weapons for the army, and for his best friend in the army. And guess what? The US army liked him, not only because of those effective weapons, but because of his determination that those weapons would not be used against them.”

To the side, she could see Wilson nod, though he didn’t look very happy about it. “Everyone wanted Stark Industries weapons, because they were the best. It also meant they were willing to agree to some terms, including a non-aggression treaty with the United States. Countries that were not allies of the United States, or that were unable to guarantee those weapons would not be used against the United States, stood no chance of getting Stark Industries weapons, unless illegally. Sokovia, as a country enduring civil war for years, would not have stood a chance to get SI weaponry legally. That, combined with the fact that the bomb in your apartment didn’t go off, makes it very likely the bomb you saw was either illegally sold under the table, without Stark’s knowledge, or a fraud not even made by Stark Industries.”

She only allowed the silence to last for a few seconds, not trusting whatever argument they would come up with next.

“Even disregarding that, however... Even if Stark had made that bomb, and even if he personally fired it at your apartment… Hell, even if he had walked into your apartment and shot your parents point-blank… That does not mean it is his fault you joined a terrorist organisation. That was your choice. You decided to join HYDRA, you tortured and killed people for them. I don’t care what happens, but if you seriously believe it’s an excuse for going out and murdering innocent people, if you believe that is a proper response, then you’re not a hero. And neither is anyone encouraging you to think so.”

Getting up, she started packing her things. Her head was pounding, and she wasn’t sure if it was frustration or utter disbelief that had a migraine forming. “Now, I think we are done here. It is clear to me you have nothing to add to the Accords in the way of detailed amendments. So what’s left is for me to wish you the best of luck with your court cases - I hope they can find you some good lawyers.”

“Wait, you’re not gonna do anything?” Barton sounded surprisingly incredulous.

“I have no legal obligation to, and considering the conversation we’ve just had, I have no inclination either.” She couldn’t even be bothered to roll her eyes anymore, especially knowing that would only have the migraine coming on quicker.

Rogers levelled a disappointed look at her. Maria was sure it was supposed to impress her, but by now it mostly had her taking a breath to prepare for whatever it was he would say next.

“This isn’t right, and you know it. Superheroes shouldn’t be tied to governments that would abuse them. Just consider the kinds of things governments would love to use us for.” The more he talked, the scarier Maria found it how convincing he could sound while being so wrong.

“Governments held in check by other governments, considering it’s the UN. Not to mention the fact that I know the Nuremberg trials were in your ‘introduction to the 21st Century’ packet that SHIELD gave you, as were the cases of both Keenan and Calley. All examples of how ‘they told me to do it’ is not a valid excuse; you’re supposed to refuse unlawful orders - in the military, mind you. The Accords are not even that - if you are uncomfortable with an assignment, no one can force you to take it. Which… it says in section 4 of the Accords, and which you didn’t read, of course.”

She sighed. “You are not the final authority on what is right and wrong, Mr. Rogers, enhanced or not. Being bigger and stronger than most other people does not mean their opinions cease to be valid, let alone cease to matter. Superpowers do not make you better than everyone else.”

On those words, she walked out the door and left merciful silence behind. Usually, she would have worked on a report and recommendation, but the pounding in her head was held off only by the aspirin she’d already taken, and she knew she wouldn’t manage it today. Instead, she sent the recording of the entire conversation to Ms. Potts, along with a very brief message telling her not to let Stark Industries or Stark himself pay for legal representation, and that she would be back at work the next day with a full report. Hopefully, that would be enough.

Definitely a taser. Coulson was brilliant.