Charlotte picked up the framed photo from her desk. It had been a gift from Nick, a moment in time, captured by the camera lens: Ezra, Molly Tanner, Nick, and herself, looked up, smiling, from the photograph. It had been the autumn of 1944, and they'd just finished a mission. Their team had been granted three days leave in liberated Paris; it had been quite the few days.
"Are you okay, ma'am?" Jacob Tanimura asked, coming into her study.
"Yes, fine, just remembering." She put the frame back on the desk.
The former Marine, now her executive assistant and student, looked thoughtful, sitting down in the chair in front of the desk. "It's hard, losing a buddy, someone you fought side by side with."
She nodded. "And it doesn't get easier, no matter how many centuries pass, Jacob."
"I don't suppose we'd want it to," the young Immortal replied.
"No." She glanced at the wartime photo, then over at Jacob. "No, I don't suppose we would."
Her desk phone began to ring, and Jacob picked up the handset, answering it. "I'll see if she's in," he said to whoever it was on the other end. Putting the caller on hold, Jacob said, "It's Agent Sitwell of SHIELD. Do you want to talk to him?"
Sighing, she shook her head. "No, but there's no use putting it off—put him on speaker." It had only been a matter of time before she was contacted officially.
He hit the hold button. "Miss Sparrow will speak to you now," he said, placing the handset back in the cradle as he switched over to speaker.
"Agent Sitwell, what can I do for you?" she asked.
"Thank you for taking my call, ma'am. Secretary Pierce wanted me to pass on his condolences. He knew how close you and the Director were."
"Thank you, Jasper. Please let him know that I appreciate it." She sat back in her chair. "But I'm sure that's not the only reason you're calling, is it?"
"No, ma'am, it isn’t. I have some disturbing news, and I'm sorry to have to be the bearer of it on a day when you've already had more than enough to deal with."
"What is it?"
"Has Captain Rogers contacted you at all in the last 24 hours?"
"No, he hasn't. Why?"
"He's a fugitive, ma'am. He was somehow involved with Director Fury's death, but refused to cooperate, to share what he knows. He took out a whole team to escape custody."
Charlotte shook her head. What was he saying? Had the whole damn world gone crazy? "Captain America? That Steve Rogers? Are you seriously trying to tell me he was involved?"
"I'm sorry to say, yes, we think so. Secretary Pierce is concerned he might try to contact you, involve you in whatever he's doing."
"While Alexander's concern is touching, I'm not sure why he'd think that Captain Rogers would contact me."
"Your relationship with Fury, the fact that all of you were members of the SSR, veterans of World War II, your mutual friendship with Peggy Carter. Rogers might think you'd be sympathetic to whatever it is he's caught up in."
"I find that highly unlikely, Agent Sitwell, but if Steve does try to make contact, I'll inform you, of course."
"We'd appreciate that, ma'am. And just to be safe, we're assigning a few agents to you."
"That isn't necessary. Whatever you think Captain Rogers may or may not have done, I can take care of myself."
"Understood, ma'am, but Secretary Pierce insists on this point."
Sighing, Charlotte rolled her eyes. "Very well, Agent Sitwell, if you think it best."
"Thank you, ma'am, for your cooperation." The line clicked, replaced by a dial tone.
"Cooperation, my ass," she muttered under her breath, glaring at the phone. "Jarvis," she called to the AI, "where's Tony?"
"Still in the laboratory, madam," he responded with his usual dry politeness.
"You heard, I assume?"
"Then you know we're expecting visitors. Make sure they feel welcome," she instructed.
"I shall make certain that they become quite familiar with the lobby, madam."
"Knew I could count on you, Jarvis." Then to Jacob, she said, "Clear my schedule. We're taking the day off, maybe the next few days."
"But you told Agent Sitwell—"
"Exactly what he wanted to hear." She let out a sharp breath. "If anyone could possibly think that Steve Rogers is a traitor, and actually expect me to believe it? No, there's something going on, Jacob. Nicholas' death, Steve a fugitive—it's all connected. And I intend to get to the bottom of it."
Tony met her at the door. "Jarvis filled me in. Rogers, a fugitive? Did all of SHIELD fall down the rabbit hole?"
"Something's very wrong, Tony," she said, following him into the lab. "I need to get out of Dodge before those agents latch onto me."
"Sure thing. We'll take the chopper, go wherever you need to."
"We?" she raised an eyebrow.
Tony rolled his eyes. "Duh; like I'm letting you go snooping around alone."
She thought about objecting, all the reasons Tony should stay out of it, but in the end, she was forced to admit that she'd like the company. "I suppose it is Avengers business, right?"
"Right." He reached out, brushing his palm down her hair. "And you need someone to watch your back. Whoever it is that's responsible for killing Fury probably knows about Immortals; knows how to keep you dead."
"I've been trying not to think about that, but yeah, you're right."
Tony slapped his hand against his chest. "Can I get that in writing? Because I'm pretty sure I'll never hear those words again." His eyes danced with laughter.
"Sure, I'll even get it notarized. How's that?" she shot back with a grin.
"We'll get Tanimura to take care of it right now," he said, jerking his chin towards the door behind her.
Looking over her shoulder, she saw Jacob entering the room, accompanied by several other Stark staffers. She recognized her receptionist, Erica, Madsen, who worked in accounting, and Pepper's event coordinator, Michael. A chill settled over her and she went to reach for the sword she didn't have. Instinctively, she moved to stand in front of Tony.
"Jacob?" The question hung in the air between them.
Tony picked up on her tension, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Want to fill me in, Birdie?"
"I was hoping Jacob might," she replied softly.
Jacob moved farther into the room, those accompanying him fanning out beside him, drawing weapons and training them on Charlotte and Tony. "You're needed, ma'am. Needed to finish what you started seventy years ago."
"What I started? What are you talking about?"
He didn't answer, continuing, "And this time, we'll have the research you've been doing here, Project Tortuga. Your experiences with Loki, your manipulation of powers we need to bring order to the planet."
Her blood ran cold, memories of the past rising up to choke her. "I have no powers. We have no powers." She waved a hand at him. "More lies told by Loki. We're merely Immortal, Jacob, nothing more."
"Don't lie to me, Charlotte! Immortals; we are miracles, can't you see that? How many centuries will you spend, content to live amongst them, as one of them? When you are capable of so much more?"
"We may be Immortal, Jacob, but they aren't," she said, pointing at the others. "What's in it for them, helping you?"
"You think this is about me?"
"Yeah, we do," Tony said. "Standard villain boilerplate: I'm special, look at me; I'm going to rule the world. Blah blah blah."
"For a genius, Mr. Stark, you have a troubling lack of vision," Jacob pointed out lightly.
"Whatever, Tanimura. Just tell us what the hell it is you want, and let's get on with it okay?"
"This isn't what about what I want. Mr. Stark, it's about what the world needs, what we will bring them. Order from disorder, and the peace that comes from the freedom of knowing that those who rule know what's best for humanity. The old order shall be swept away, and she's going to help us accomplish it."
Tony snorted. "Like I said, boilerplate. You sure know how to pick them, Birdie," he said under his breath.
Jacob's words dragged her back in time, to a place she had consigned to nightmares. Pulling herself away from the past with every ounce of will she had, smothering the fear, she looked at Jacob, the young Immortal who had been her student, and she had thought, her friend. "He's HYDRA, Tony, Jacob is HYDRA."