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By the Throat

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“Have you given their offer any thought?” Jack asked, his face slightly pixilated on Martha’s computer screen.

“I don’t know,” Martha answered, rubbing her thumbs along the outside of the mug clutched in her hands. Late morning sunlight slanted into her flat, casting everything in a soft, warm glow that didn’t reflect her mood at all. “With everything that’s happened in the last few days, it hasn’t been a real priority, you know?”

It had been less than a week since Loki’s attack on UNIT’s New York City offices. Less than a week since Martha faced down a mad alien and his army to ensure that the survivors had a chance of escaping and to prevent any sensitive materials from falling into the wrong hands. Less than a week since Martha had to start attending the funerals of colleagues who’d died in the attack. Less than a week since the nightmares that had started to lay dormant returned full force and left her shaking and unable to breathe.

“You doing OK?” Jack asked, peering closer to the camera. “You know if you want, there’s always a place here in Cardiff for you if you need to take a break from New York. Don’t lie to me, I know you miss the Welsh countryside.”

A smile twitched at the corner of Martha’s mouth and she shook her head. “I appreciate the offer, Jack, but I’m fine. I’m really fine.”

“All right. Ianto! Gwen!” Jack shouted off-screen. “Come say hi to Martha real quick before we finish dealing with the remnants of that infestation at the castle!”

Martha spent the next ten minutes chatting with Gwen and Ianto before Jack shooed them out of his office. “If you want somebody to talk to about this SHIELD thing some more, give me a ring, all right?”

This time Martha really did smile and she nodded. “All right. Take care, Jack.”

“You too, Martha Jones.”

The video window blinked out, leaving Martha staring at a blank space. Sighing, she exited out of the chat software and closed her computer. She wasn’t in the mood to look at the million and one things right now that were waiting for her attention, not this early in the morning. She wasn’t the highest-ranking survivor of the attack, but she was fairly bloody close, which meant more paperwork and more headaches.

She needed a break. Not a long one, but something to clear her head so that she could focus on the details and sift through everything UNIT had sent to her to see if there was something that might indicate why Loki attacked. SHIELD might be taking point on the official investigation, but there were others in UNIT who were just as wary about this as she was. It was thanks to them she had access to the same documents that SHIELD was now sorting through.

Unfortunately, she still wasn’t any closer to discovering why Loki had invaded. He’d given her no clues during their brief conversation that were pointing her in any sort of direction. Putting her at further disadvantage, while SHIELD undoubtedly had a team sifting through the piles of information and months of tracking Loki, she only had herself. It felt like looking for a needle in a haystack, only the needle was the same color as the hay.

Grabbing her jacket and purse, Martha exited her flat and began walking to her favorite café a few blocks down. She loved their mochas, and if she wanted to get through the day without wanting to bang her head against her desk, chocolate was a must.

Twenty some odd minutes later, Martha sat down in the patio area of Woodlark Café with one of their bowl-sized mochas in front of her. It was late enough on a workday that the patio was fairly empty, which she appreciated. She wasn’t in the mood to fight anybody for a table.

Taking a long sip, Martha shivered and considered moving indoors. In minutes, the day had shifted from a pleasant late spring day to something more suited to late January. Hunching her shoulders up in a vain attempt to conserve warmth, Martha looked up to see a suited figure drop into the seat across from her. Cold, amused green eyes studied her and Martha froze, all thoughts of relocating gone.

“What are you doing here?” she asked Loki through numb lips, brain racing to review escape options. Unfortunately, the only weapon within reach was her mocha, and even if a near scalding hot beverage distracted him momentarily, it wouldn’t be enough for her to run away. And even if that slim possibility worked, it would only leave the remaining patrons and staff at his mercy. She was effectively trapped, and from the cruel smirk teasing the corners of his mouth, he knew it too.

“You’re a difficult woman to find, Doctor Martha Jones,” he drawled. “Almost impossibly so. I had to wait until you ventured out from wherever you’re hiding to have this little chat.”

The Chameleon Circuit. It had to be. She still had the key tucked away in her flat, just in case. If Loki was telling the truth, it had to be that.

“What are you doing here?” Martha repeated, not acknowledging what he said. Her grip tightened around the mug and her back tensed. No escape options, at least, no feasible ones. There had to be something—anything—that she could do to draw him away, to keep the casualties low, but nothing was coming to mind.

Loki leaned forward across the table, the light and shade giving his pale face a sinister cast. “I just wanted to have a little talk, that’s all,” he explained, steepling his hands. “It’s not often somebody tricks me.”

Martha gave a half shrug and remained silent. She adjusted her legs and slipped an arm beneath the table. If she became truly desperate, she might be able to flip the table over onto Loki and distract him long enough to reach her mobile. She glanced back towards the café, but so far nobody seemed to notice anything amiss. Good. She didn’t want any curious bystanders to get blasted to bits or whatever Loki did.

“Don’t try screaming for help, although I must say I would be disappointed if you did,” Loki remarked, misinterpreting her look. “All they see are two friends having a nice talk.”

“Clever,” Martha bit out and forced herself to relax. She didn't bother to correct his assumption that she wanted to call for help. “I don’t know why you bothered to find me. There can’t possibly be anything we can talk about.” She raised an eyebrow and waited.

“Oh, but we do, Dr. Jones. As I said, it’s rare for somebody to get the better of me.” He paused and his eyes raked over her. Martha resisted the urge to shudder and continued to look at him evenly. “I’m frankly surprised. You’re not particularly remarkable from what I can tell.”

The hand beneath the table clenched, but Martha gave him a cool smile instead. “You must not be as good as you think you are, then, if someone as unremarkable as me could beat you.”

“Or I underestimated you.” He returned her smile with one of his own. “Tell me which one seems more likely.”

“You invaded UNIT with no real plan to access the computers after trying to kill everybody in the building. No subtlety, no elegance, just brute force,” Martha pointed out, deciding to change tactics. He was arrogant and she could use that to her advantage if she played her cards right. “You’re no closer to what you were after, and blew any chance you had of remaining undetected. Think about it and tell me which option fits best.”

Her taunt struck home. “You’re a fool if you think I’m a simple brute with no plan,” Loki snapped at her, drawing himself upright and the smile slipping off his face. He glared at her, his voice rising as he continued, “I knew exactly where UNIT hid the blueprints and when would be the best time and place to strike. I knew for what the variables would be and planned accordingly, you insolent girl"

She gave him a tight smile and leaned forward. "And yet you still didn’t get want you wanted," she reminded him, keeping her tone steady. Martha needed to handle this carefully and not let Loki know he'd given her a tiny tidbit of information. She needed to draw this to a close now before he realized his mistake.

“For now,” he sneered.

Martha shrugged and tapped her fingers against her mocha. “Perhaps.”

His hand darted forward and grabbed her wrist. “You might think you’re clever, Dr. Jones, and you may have outmaneuvered me that one time, but don’t think you’ve beaten me,” he warned, his voice low and dangerous. “I will get what I want in the end. And for those that stand in my way…” He tightened his grip and smiled at Martha’s barely disguised grimace. “I’ll leave that to your imagination.”

“There will always be somebody,” Martha warned him through gritted teeth. His fingers dug painfully into her wrist, a steady unrelenting pressure. “If not me, somebody else.”

Loki released her suddenly, the force rocking Martha back into her chair. “Perhaps,” he conceded, getting to his feet and brushing off imaginary dust from his suit. “But for how long, once they see how futile it is?” He smirked and leaned down in a mocking bow. “I think I’ll start with you.”

Before Martha could come up with an answer, light flashed before her eyes. Blinking away the spots and holding her bruised wrist to her chest, she stared at the empty space in front of her. She sat there frozen, heartbeat echoing hollowly in her ears. Sound faded away and she stared at the space, afraid that Loki would reappear.

Bam!

Martha started, nearly upsetting the table at the sudden noise. She glanced around, half expecting to hear screaming and see a flash of green-gold-black.

It was just a car door, however, its occupants spilling out into the street. Her breath caught in her chest and her hands shaking, Martha came back to herself.

Get a hold of yourself, Martha, she scolded herself, carefully reaching into her bag to extract her mobile. He’s gone, he’s gone and you have a job to do.

Fingers trembling, Martha pressed a button and lifted the mobile to her ear, praying for the ringing to stop and for somebody to answer.

“This is Agent Coulson speaking.”

Martha closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Agent Coulson, it’s Martha Jones. Loki decided to stop by to have a chat.”

“Hold on, we’re triangulating your position now,” Coulson told her, his voice becoming tense. After a brief pause accompanied by the sound of frantic typing, he spoke again. “Dr. Jones, we have an agent in Brooklyn now who should be reaching you shortly and a tactical team will be there within twenty.”

She almost nodded, her neck starting to incline before she remembered that Coulson couldn’t see her. “Right then. I’m outside in the patio area.” Her voice sounded like it was coming from somebody else. How could it be that steady otherwise?

“I’ll let them know. Stay where you are for now.”

He hung up, leaving Martha alone.

Her breath caught in her throat and she struggled to force it out. She wanted to find the nearest dark corner to curl up and hide in. She wanted to be in her flat where hardly anybody could find her. She felt exposed, vulnerable here. Martha gripped her hands tightly together, trying to get them to stop shaking so bloody much. She wouldn’t break down now, not when everybody could see and judge.

Footsteps approached her from the street. Martha looked up to see a tall, fit blonde man with something circular on his back walking hurriedly towards her.

“Dr. Jones?” he asked when he reached her. She nodded, and he continued, “I’m Captain Rogers with SHIELD. I was told to meet you here and escort you back to your home until backup from SHIELD arrives.”

Martha wanted to go home, to be in a safe space so badly she almost said yes. But she didn’t want SHIELD there. Even though they knew where she lived, she didn’t want them in the one place right now she knew was secure.

“If it’s all the same to you, Captain Rogers, I think I’ll stay here and wait for the tactical team,” she answered quietly. She reached up and cradled the now chilled mocha in her hands. “I still haven’t finished my drink.”

A worried look creased the captain’s forehead as he studied her, before giving her a curt nod. “All right.”

“You can sit down if you like,” Martha said, gesturing at the seat recently occupied by Loki. She was sure he meant well, but the idea of him standing over her until the rest of SHIELD arrived made her stomach clench. “Please,” she added when she saw him hesitate. “I don’t know how long they’re going to be, and I’d hate for you fall over from standing too long.”

He gave her a tentative smile, unhooking what she now realized was a shield from his back before sitting down. “I was in the army, Dr. Jones. Some days, standing at attention was about all we did.”

Almost instinctively, Martha returned his smile. There was something about him, something she couldn’t place, that put her at ease. It wasn’t the muscles, although they were present and impressive. It wasn’t the shield, despite looking familiar enough to tug at her memory. No, there was something about him that exuded trustworthiness and respect that cut through the adrenaline and anxiety coursing through her system.

Thankfully, he didn’t try to force conversation while they waited for SHIELD’s forces to arrive. While his presence calmed her to an extent, she still didn’t want to talk, not now. She’d be talking soon enough.

Almost exactly twenty minutes from when she called Agent Coulson, sirens began echoing up and down the street, signaling the arrival of a series of humvees and SUVs. The captain got to his feet, Martha a beat behind, as armed agents poured out once the convoy pulled to a halt.

"Captain Rogers," the lead agent said, a bald man with skin a several shades lighter than hers. "Dr. Jones," he added when he caught sight of Martha, a small frown crossing his face. "I thought you went back to your apartment."

"I wanted to finish my drink, and the captain was nice enough to keep me company," Martha answered, taking a step forward.

"Very well," the agent said after a small pause. "If you give me a moment, I'll let Deputy Director Hill and Agent Hand know where you are and we can sort out your debrief."

"Of course, Agent..."

"Sitwell."

"Of course, Agent Sitwell." She stepped aside and watched him lead the new agents toward the patio, chewing on her lip while thinking.

She didn't want what happened last time she encountered Loki to happen again. She didn't want to tell her story and then sit by relatively powerless while others worked to discover what Loki was after. Not only that, but she didn't fully trust SHIELD. They were a spy agency playing at something they had no real knowledge about. The only reason she could think of why they were doing that was to acquire something out of this they could use to their advantage. What, exactly, she wasn't sure, but even the idea of it made her nervous.

It was hard to fully trust an organization shrouded in ten different levels of secrecy and misdirection and with hardly any oversight.

The answer dawned on her so suddenly, she didn't realize why nobody considered it. Why hadn't she or any other member of UNIT at least talked about it before?

Interagency politics, that's why, she thought wryly to herself, tapping her forefinger to her lips. She would have to find the right way to pitch it, but that was simple enough. Hopefully Fury could live with the inevitable disappointment if her plan worked.

"Dr. Jones? Are you OK?" Captain Rogers' voice broke through her thoughts.

"I'm fine," she answered, glancing up at him and giving what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "If you would excuse me for a moment, I need to make a call."

Not waiting for his response, she slipped her mobile out of her pocket and walked a few steps away. Finding the contact she needed, she pressed the button and waited for her call to connect.

"UNIT Directorate, Kate Stewart speaking," a familiar voice answered. "How can I help you?"

"Kate, it's Martha Jones," she answered, looking over to where Agent Sitwell was talking to one of the body-armored agents. "I think I might have a solution to the SHIELD dilemma..."

Roughly ten minutes and one more phone call later, almost everything was settled. There was just one last phone call to make, although not from her. The other woman had agreed to Martha's plan easily enough, although they had to talk to General Kino, who initially had been less than amused. After Martha and Kate explained the situation to him, however, he grudgingly agreed to call Director Fury.

Now Martha just had to wait and see what the outcome was.

As soon as Martha hung up her mobile, she spied Hill and another woman talking to Agent Sitwell near Martha's old table. Several other agents interviewed confused patrons both inside and outside the café. Captain Rogers simply stood where she had left him, alternatively watching her and the rest of a scene with a wary eye.

"Did I miss anything?" Martha asked him, anticipation temporarily pushing aside the inevitable adrenaline crash.

"Not much. Deputy Director Hill and Agent Hand just arrived," Rogers answered. He moved aside slightly so that Martha had room to stand next to him on the sidewalk.

"Good." Martha exhaled and steeled herself to wade into the chaos in the patio. She didn't know how long General Kino's call would take, and she didn't want just stand around waiting. The sooner this was done, the better, and if everything between SHIELD and UNIT happened to be settled in the middle of whatever this debrief was, the better.

She took a handful of steps when Hill tapped her ear and stepped away from her companions. Martha pretended not to notice and continued onwards. "Agent Hand, I presume?" she asked, extending her hand.

"Dr. Jones," Hand replied, giving Martha's hand a firm squeeze. She towered over Martha and Sitwell, and even had a few inches on Rogers in her heels. Red highlights framed a strong, no-nonsense face, and keen eyes examined Martha behind rectangular lenses. "So you're the one Fury's trying to poach from UNIT."

"Perhaps. Depends on how accurate SHIELD's gossip chain is."

Hand smirked. "It's accurate enough. Now, Dr. Jones, walk us through what exactly happened with Loki earlier," she continued, more demand than a question. "And none of this interagency secret crap. Loki's too serious a threat for that."

"Of course," Martha answered smoothly. She began telling what happened matter of factly, leaving out for now her real reason for going to the café. SHIELD probably suspected she was looking into Loki's attack on UNIT on her own, but she wasn't about to give them any confirmation.

Martha just reached the part where Loki admitted underestimating her when Hill rejoined them, a speculative look on her face. "That was Director Fury and General Kino from UNIT," she explained, looking at Martha. "Apparently Dr. Jones is now UNIT's official liaison to SHIELD and is to be read into our ongoing investigation into Loki." She shot Hand a look and added, "None of this interagency secret crap." So she had been paying attention to what they were saying while on the phone.

Sitwell's eyebrows crawled up his forehead, looking between Hill and Martha. Hand, to her credit, took it in stride. "Of course. Pick up where you left off, Dr. Jones, and then we'll compare notes."