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The Bonds that Break Us

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The knock on the window had been both startling and unexpected. Andrew, so used to the silence of the room, dropped his shoe and reached for his gun on the nightstand. The clock next to it reading some early morning hour. Andrew found he no longer got tired, no longer slept unless he absolutely needed to.

 

He didn’t turn towards the window. All the muscles in his next tensed. The blonde boy forced himself to breathe, and breathe again, and then he released the gun. It thunked when it hit the wood again.

 

The Hotel room was not five star, but Andrew didn’t need it to be. It had the bare necessities: A bed, a night stand, a mirror, a bathroom and a TV that he hadn’t so much as glanced at. His two duffle bags were tossed on the ground but he had only opened one of them. He took a comfort in knowing that if the maids walked in at the moment he’d be kicked out for the sheer amount of weapons he was carrying regardless of his permit to carry one (which was definitely non existent, now that SHIELD was down and Hydra had been exposed).

 

He kicked his shoes under the bed and reached down to his weapons bag. The zipper slid quick and nearly silent as he removed the Assault Rifle from the folds inside. He needed to clean it.

 

The window opened.

 

Andrew stopped, his breath caught in his chest, and his fingers sliding down the barrel of the gun. It was overall one of his least favorite weapons to have in a small confined area like this room: the burst feature it was so good at was made for collateral damage (Andrew’s real speciality if he was being honest), but it was also loud and dangerous. He would have the Hotel security breaking down his door in seconds.

 

He closed his eyes, listening as someone invited themselves into his room via a window that should not open from the outside. Andrew knew the room, his brain supplied countless information on the best way to cover the distance: jump the bed and kick out the intruders legs, throw his bag over his shoulder and dive tackle them in the distraction, round the bed and engage in a physical combat to use his surprising strength as a leverage, slide out a knife from his bands and slit their throat, grab the pistol off his night stand and--

 

“Hey,” The voice was light and airy. The intruder was out of breath. Serves them right for climbing the side of the building like a knock off Spider Man . Idiot. “I found something you might want.”

 

“I want nothing,” Andrew said. His voice sound surreal, scratchy, not-at-all-like-him and he hated it. The last person he had talked to must have been Kevin for all the good that was. It had been weeks. But the ever present fear resonated in his chest, clinging to his heart and leaking into his veins. They hadn’t learned to hear, had they? They hadn’t learn to use his other senses?

 

Andrew knew if they had, he’d already be dead.

 

The intruder-- or maybe uninvited guest, since Andrew hadn’t killed him yet-- let out a sigh and then “Can I lay?”

 

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

 

“It can wait.”

 

Andrew huffed sliding his fingers away from the safety lock. The gun was balanced across his knees when he felt the bed move. Immediately he was on edge, his shoulder shifting back, and his hands twisting to his forearms where he kept his knives. Unlike guns, Andrew never put them out of reach, never took them off, or went anywhere without them. He’d sooner massacre his entire family than be caught without them.

 

The bed movement stopped. “Is that a No, then? Andrew?”

 

“I don’t care what you do,” he hissed, “You aren’t even real.” Then as an afterthought, he added, “A Pipedream.”

 

The intruder huffed, “I am real!”

 

“You are not.” Andrew said. He took grip his rifle by the barrel and moved it easily as he stood up. With his eyes closed he only fumbled for a moment before his fingers found his bag under the bed.

 

“What will it take to show you I am real?”

 

Andrew, with his fingers mechanically folding the gun between the shirts he used to keep the weapons from rubbing against each other, scoffed blindly in the direction of the other being. “Nothing.”

 

“And why is that?”

 

Andrew could hear the smirk in his voice, playful. It twisted like a knife in his gut, or his chest, or any of the other places that Andrew had ever stabbed a person in. He had tried so many times to get the blood off his hands, he wore through his skin until it bled by itself. He had closed his eyes and screamed so many times. But he had done it and it was over.

 

“Because I already know you aren’t real.” He answered.

 

In the hotel room, Andrew opened his eyes. The room was empty beside himself and the windows were closed and locked--same as the door-- and the bathroom was empty. It appeared as if Andrew had always been alone.

 

But that was the issue wasn’t it? He had always been alone. And even after he stuck his knives in him and took him apart, the dark haired runaway with no real name was still a problem.

 

***

 

“His name is Neil Josten.” Agent Wymack announced at the first sign of Andrew entering the conference room. The man, a gruff and hardened SHIELD agent, was standing at the holo-table with his sleeves rolled up to display his signature tribal tattoos. He’s eyes darted to Andrew before settling back on the screen the rest of his team were huddled around.

 

He was surprisingly alive for a man who had been killed and revived only a month ago, but Andrew had seen weirder things in his job. A dead man walking was not nearly as foreign as an average person would hope.

 

Andrew crossed his arms and leaned against the glass wall watching the monitors behind Wymack rather than the driver’s license he was talking about. They were playing footage from a disaster in the city: a bomb that went off and would have killed a man had he not leapt from the building at the right moment. It was a shame, really, because that same man had been called back to HQ and he would not shut up about how everyone was doing their jobs wrong and that’s why his cover was blown. According to him, it had nothing to do with the fact he was a pretentious asshole who couldn’t cover his own tracks.

 

It would be an even bigger shame when Andrew killed him for being annoying. Kevin Day should just be happy he was alive.

 

“He’s kinda cute,” Nicky piped in, tapping his fingers on the tabletop where this Neil's face was presumably. The Engineer grinned, with his black hair dancing in the glow of the blue light. “In a ratty, I’m-homeless-but-I’ll-give-you-the-world fashion.”

 

Nicky was, unfortunately, Andrew’s cousin, even if they didn’t look it. Where Andrew was short and blonde and mean, Nicky was tall and dark haired and nice. He suffocated others in his personality, liked to hug people he just met, and was too forgiving when people walked all over him. Looking at him with plaid button up, and rainbow vans (that he got who-knows-where), no one in their right minds would believe that the lofty gentleman had built anything and everything from scanning drones he affectionately named after the seven dwarfs, to the high powered, highly lethal guns that Andrew had on his waist at that very second.

 

His partner-- lab partner, because even though they were both very obnoxiously gay for each other, neither would risk making the first move-- was a German raised and SHIELD nurtured biochemist by the name of Erik Klose. He leaned over the table hand on his chin in a thinking pose, and he nodded along with Nicky’s assessment of the boy. His lab coat swished nearly his thighs as he moved closer to Nicky.

 

Wymack cleared his throat but he was all too used to Nicky interrupting. “Neil Josten is an issue. We have very promising evidence that not only was he there the day of the bombing, but he was also watching that window specifically. There's a good chance he set the bomb and was there to record this.”

 

The man waved a hand to the screens behind him, where the feed was just in time to catch site of the building exploding again. The orange flames bursting through the windows soundlessly because the mute was still on, and then the angle, shaky yet certain trained on a form tumbling from the window: three stories up and a fall from that height should have killed it. But the camera surged forward anyway, catching on tape as the infamous Kevin Day splattered in the middle of the road.

 

Or should have. It wasn’t hard to see as the falling form disappeared for an obvious second and then appeared in the middle of the street, swaying from the force of the fall, but no worse for wear. Kevin looked directly at the camera, his suit singed and his face smudged with ash. The hideous tattooed number Two on his cheek. His face went pale at the sight of the the recording phone, and in another second he disappeared from the center of the street-- running away like a dog with his tail between his legs.

 

Smoke tumbled into the air. The video restarted, with a very familiar imprint logo on the top corner.

 

“He’s a member of the Rising Tide?” Dan asked, staring at Wymack with hopeful eyes. Average height, yet built for taking down men twice her size and stature, the SHIELD agent was the only other member of the team cleared for combat. Andrew had seen footage of her fight: her muscles were not for show. Any man dumb enough to hesitate when fighting her was as good as dead.

 

She hated the Rising Tide after they had broken into one of her operations, and released a video of her posing as a stripper in an attempt to make the public aware who exactly they were counting on protection from. Dan wasn’t mad at video, but she was outraged at the fact since her face had been released to the public she was no longer able to do undercover jobs.

 

Andrew personally didn’t care about her vendetta. He was here until they said he could leave, here until they told him he could kill everyone and be done with it.

 

“He’s more than an average member; He’s an Elite.” Wymack gave his agent a pointed look, “That means once we get him, we get the whole organization.”

 

“If we can get him to talk,” Nicky added.

 

There was beat of silence in which Wymack caught Andrew’s eye. “I don’t think we’ll have an issue with that.”

 

***

 

Andrew didn’t hate Renee, which was a strange concept. She was sweet, and misguided and kind and he had hated others for less. But when she dragged Neil in by the arms, with the bag over his head, she shot Andrew a pleased smile.

 

She was sporting a bruise on her chin.

 

“He’s got claws,” She told Andrew. “You’d like him.”

 

Andrew very much disagreed, because he did not like anyone. He barely tolerated her, really. Because she understood sacrifice and duty and promises, because she wasn’t called “the Cavalry” for no reason, because she might be the only one who could really kill him.

 

They weren’t friends, as much as soldiers who understood parts of one another. The rest of Wymack’s team could gossip all they wanted, but Andrew’s acknowledgement of her was meaningless. He didn’t like her (or anyone) like that, and she wasn’t looking for someone to spend her life with.

 

“Married to the job,” she had said once, as she twisted her cross necklace so that the lights overhead caught the gleam while Andrew struggled to sit up again. When he had pointed out she didn’t wear a ring, she had flipped him back to the ground mercilessly and told him his footwork was sloppy.

 

Renee was not officially part of Wymack’s team of screw ups, but she might as well have been. Nicky had taken one look at her rainbow hair and decided he wanted to build weapons for her. Dan was a little harder to convince, considering tracking Renee had been her first assignment and it had gone wrong in all meanings of the word for both parties, but once she found out that Renee had been red taped to SHIELD’s office of red tape, she had begged and whined and threatened Wymack until he gave her a look at, because “ Renee is way too skilled to being pushing papers all day.”

 

Wymack must have liked all the blood red in her file, because he’s been arguing with the higher ups ever since, trying to get her officially signed off. Until then she ran errands, like collecting their mail and bringing hostile investments in for interrogation.

 

Andrew got his first look at Neil Josten when he pulled the black cloth bag off the boy’s head. He wasn’t anything to look twice at, certainly not as cute as Nicky suggested he’d be. He was just barely taller than Andrew, and zip tied at the wrists (which meant he had given Renee too much trouble on the ride here). He hair was a dusty brown, like dried topsoil, and his eyes just as boring. He made his displeasure known in the form of a snarl when Andrew walked around him swinging the bag haphazardly.

 

Wymack was seated across from him, watching earnestly from his seat, and Neil tested the bonds on his wrists.

 

“Who are you?” The boy demanded like he had any room to demand things. Andrew yawned. Boring.

 

Wymack humored the kid, “Agent David Wymack.”

 

Neil’s back was straighter, his glare harsher, “Who’s he?” He gestured to Andrew and the blonde stared back at him.

 

“That is Agent Andrew Minyard.” Wymack said, and gave Neil only a second to process it, “Now, mind telling us who you are?”

 

Neil made a face, “What you don’t know?” The corners of his mouth flicked up, “No hundreds of files on me? Or do you just kidnap people out of their vans to make sure that they don’t have sudden dementia?”

 

“Only when we know no one else will miss them.” Andrew offered, with a smile that promised pain if he was difficult.

 

Neil didn’t look impressed, or effected at all. “Jokes on you. The waitress at that cafe will definitely miss me and my daily black coffee.”

 

Andrew had been trained in the art of passive indifference since he had been able to communicate with other people. He practiced each day, every time he looked Nicky in the face, or Dan suggested that they get drinks together. Andrew had faced people far more dangerous than Neil Josten, who had spit curses and threats in his face.

 

“Black coffee,” Andrew repeated, with a sound one could mistake for a scoff, “Of course you would do black.

 

Neil huffed, “I like it black! Lots of people do!”

 

“Mark that down, Wymack,” Andrew said, “Mental illness on top of being an Elite member of the Rising Tide.”

 

Neil went still. His amused expression disappeared to a blank hollowed face. Andrew who never found anything interesting, thought that deserved some further digging into. Neil Josten didn’t find the idea of being kidnapped scary, but the second the name Rising Tide came up, well Andrew bet if there had been an open door Neil would have been gone.

 

But as it stood, SHIELD did not skimp on the interrogation rooms they built. The room was small and square and dense. If they wanted it could also become sound proof, and Neil could scream forever and no one would hear him. The door was a foot thick and locked from the outside. His skin always crawled when he was inside, but the long years of study at the Academy and the addition of his knifes (and the knowledge that he had sharpened them just the other day) settled him in the moment.

 

Neil was not leaving until he gave up every one of his Rising Tide friends.

 

There was nothing friendly in Andrew’s smile.

 

Neil tore his eyes from him and narrowed them at Wymack. His jawline was sharp as he gritted his teeth, testing the zip ties again for a weakness, even though his chances of breaking out even with his hands free were nearly non existent.

 

“What do you want,” Neil hissed.

 

Wymack sighed. He tapped the pad of paper in front of him where a fresh unused black pen was waiting patiently. “We just want to know who else is there.”

 

And if you set the bomb to try and kill Kevin Day. And how you became a Rising Tide Operative. And what the hackers’ next moves are. None of it was said but it seemed that Neil had gotten the idea. He shifted in his seat curling his fingers.

 

“What’s in it for me?” He asked. A lock of his curly dark hair fell in front of his face, but he didn’t seem to notice it at all. His eyes were sharp and lethal and a dark brown, darting between Andrew and Wymack and the pad of paper as if he was really considering the offer and not just stalling for time. Andrew almost wanted to tell him that they had all the time in the world; Neil wasn’t leaving this box until the names were down.

 

“How about I don’t kill you?” Andrew suggested, his teeth barring at the suggestion. He had his choices on how he could do it: his knives in his bands, the gun on his hip, the good old fashion strangling. The threat wasn’t completely empty, because at any given time Andrew could and would kill them all, but he was under orders to avoid it if he could. And undoubtedly, Wymack’s cotton soft, old man heart would jumped between them before Andrew could really relish in the job.

 

And Andrew knew if he killed Wymack, it was all over.

 

Neil’s gaze darted back to him. He was silent for a full minute, letting the hum of the generator lights fill the room. The boy bit the inside of his lip, then looked up at Wymack, “That’s not good enough.”

 

Because he liked to be difficult, Andrew thought. “And why would that be? You don’t cherish your own life?”

 

Neil didn’t answer. He set his jaw, tilting his head ever so much that Andrew’s eyes were drawn down his chin to his neck where it would be so easy to just wrap his hands around and press his thumbs into that soft flesh and choke the life from his pathetic corpse. Andrew was staring, hard, and smiling, darkly.

 

It must have alerted Wymack to his thoughts, because the older agent shifted in his seat and made eye contact with Andrew. It was a moment of pure stubbornness, because Andrew hated when people told him to do anything, that he remained staring at the brown haired menace.

 

“Andrew,” Wymack grunted.

 

And Andrew decided Neil was nothing, worth nothing, and he turned away to the hexagonal door and let himself out. The hallway was bright lit, as opposed to the dim lighting of the interrogation room that was designed to make the bad guys feel claustrophobic. He spent one last second wondering if that was why Neil was so riled up and nervous-- if the enigma had claustrophobia-- before Andrew removed Neil from his mind completely. There was no use thinking about a kid that would not be on the plane much longer.

 

Wymack would make him a deal, and then he would be someone else’s problem.

 

He went to the ship’s bar.

 

***

 

Wymack found him half a bottle in and no less sober than he had been in the room. The bar didn’t have the best tastes: it was mostly vodka because Kevin drank like the world was ending every time he was on the plane, and bags of pretzels that Nicky insisted they kept for when they were feeling “snacky”. Andrew wasn’t stupid: he knew it was because Nicky harboured an old fashion fantasy of reaching for pretzels at the same time as Erik and their hands would touch and they’d both be reduced to blushy, stuttering messes in matching lab coats.

 

Andrew crumpled the freshly emptied chocolate covered pretzel bag and threw it at the older agent without turning around. He tossed the other bags of pretzels on the ground trying find something that wasn’t dry and sugarless.

 

“What was that?” Wymack didn’t waste time being annoyed at the thrown trash.

 

“You’ll have to be more specific, Sir.” Andrew tossed another bag on the ground. He grunted unsatisfied with the yogurt covered version.

 

“I meant what was that in the room.” Wymack grunted sitting at the bar counter across from Andrew. “Did he get under your skin?”

 

Andrew laughed hallowly, “He is nothing to me.”

 

“That’s not what I asked.”

 

“Be clearer with your questions.”

 

Wymack sighed, as if he was tired of playing Dad to all the lonely kids who didn’t need them. None of his agents had good parents, none of them wanted parents, but for some reason that made Wymack try harder. Andrew knocked against several bottle causing them to rattle.

 

“Alright, Alright,” The agent rubbed his forehead, “All I need to know if are you going to kill him?”

 

Andrew stilled behind the counter, his fingers wrapped around the neck of a Johnny Walker Wymack had received once as a “welcome back” gift after his temporary real death. “You didn’t.”

 

The statement was hollow and meaningless because Andrew knew without even having to look up at the man that he had, in fact, did it. The old man had let his bleeding heart take over like he had time and time again. Andrew couldn’t wait for the day when his kindness, his stupidity came back at him with knives raise and bloodlust in its eyes. Humans were not nice creatures, and it was horrific that Wymack seemed to not understand even after all this time.

 

Even after he’d been brutally murdered.

 

“Last time I check,” The agent grunted, “I was in charge and didn’t need your permission to do things, Minyard.”

 

Andrew didn’t even bother rolling his eyes. He tossed away another bag of regular pretzels. “If that was true you wouldn’t have come to find me.”

 

Wymack reached over the bar, causing Andrew to still automatically, razor aware and his fingers millisecond away from drawing his steel blades and cutting off the man’s arm. Wymack grabbed a bottle, without looking at the label and poured it in a glass. He contemplated the drink before meeting Andrew’s eyes.

 

“He has information SHIELD wants,” Wymack said as if that was a viable reason for Andrew to want to keep him alive. Andrew sneered.

 

“I don’t care what he has.”

 

“Promise me, you aren’t going to kill him.”

 

Andrew laughed in his face, “I don’t make promises I’m not going to keep Wymack.” He stood back up, taking Wymack’s bottle with him. He smiled and there was nothing friendly about it.

 

But only one person had ever mistaken Andrew for being friendly, and Andrew had corrected that immediately.

 

“Andrew,” Wymack called after him once, but the blonde man ignored him completely. He had a status report to write and maybe if he was quick about it, Renee would still be there for a sparring match when he was done.

 

***

 

When Neil Josten was not zipped tied and forced into a tight interrogation room, Andrew found that he liked to sit extremely still and stare at glasses of water.

 

Andrew wasn’t sure why that irked him so much, why he let it irk him so much. Maybe it was because it seemed like Neil was trying his very best to be immobile, to be forgotten, to not draw anyone’s attention. But he was also on a plane with only seven other humans and Andrew could only jam the lab doors closed for so long before the scientists inside became aware that they were being sabotaged.

 

Nicky huffed at him, hands on his hips and chin tilted in his favorite superhero pose. “If I didn’t know better, I’d assume that you were trying to keep him to yourself, Andrew!”

 

It was classic that Nicky could jump through every hoop he could find and still not come to the correct conclusion. It was part of his charm. Andrew gave him a leveled stare for his troubles.

 

“I’m right, aren’t I!” He grinned, “I guess this means I have to let you have him now! You never show this much interest in anyone.”

 

“Except Renee,” Erik reminded Nicky coming from the lab. His lab goggles were still resting over his hair, but he was dressed for a casual day out of the lab. Nicky too, with his jeans and blue SHIELD academy sweatshirt. Andrew was not impressed by either statements as he leaned back into the leather seats of his car.

 

Other than Wymack’s SHIELD truck, Andrew’s car was the only vehicle in the garage. But that didn’t changed the obnoxious gaping room between the cars that was enforced by Andrew’s glare and lethal threats. Everyone knew no one got to touch his car without permission; if Andrew’s razor eyes found so much as a fingerprint on windshield he was liable to dismantle each agent limb from limb.

 

His shoulder whined with an ache from where Renee had taken the liberty to flip him over her shoulder during their spar the day before. She had made it look so easy that he had refused to leave until she taught him how to do it just a fluidly.

 

As of that moment Neil was just a staircase flight and a narrow hallway away, but Andrew still felt raw and angry at him. It made no sense and he acknowledged that the way he acknowledged breathing. He wanted nothing to do with Neil and the Rising Tide and he wanted Nicky to have nothing to do with them either.

 

“You could join us, you know?” Nicky said suddenly, his tone completely serious. It had been a while since Andrew had heard this side of Nicky-- the side that wondered how many people he had killed by creating the guns that did it, the side that worried over violence and warred in his head about fighting anyone who wasn’t trying to kill him or his family. “We could break out some of the alcohol, and maybe do something about your attraction to him?”

 

Andrew was well aware of what he could and could not do. Neil Josten made him want to commit murder because every inch of him was an unknown variable that was suddenly thrust in his direction, in his immediate vicinity. He was a threat to Andrew’s mission, a threat to unstable but livable world that Andrew had boxed himself in because of a promise he refused to break.

 

But Nicky, with his fading smile and clammy hands and eyes that kept darting towards Erik like he was sure the Biochemist was going to disappear into thin air, was a fool. Andrew didn’t trust anyone else with the task of keeping him alive, and fed, and sane.

 

So he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, imagined driving his car down the ramp on the solid ground for a moment, before he unlocked the door and popped it open.

 

“Wait really? You’re coming?” Nicky’s eyebrows shot up to the sky (at which Andrew remembered they were in a plane in the sky, and Andrew didn’t believe in the heavens, so he settled for “they shot up to the upper atmosphere”).

 

Andrew didn’t wait for him to stop stuttering over it. He walked past Erik without a glance and took the stairs at a slow pace. Nicky made some strange noises in the back of his throat, like he was choking, or crying, but Andrew knew he was doing neither.

 

“I have a bag of chocolate pretzels I’ve been saving!” He exclaimed, taking the stairs two at a time to catch up to Andrew. “This is the perfec--”

 

“You don’t,” Andrew interrupted.

 

“You just think that! I hid one in the--”

 

“--medical bay.”

 

Nicky narrowed his eyes. “How did you--? It doesn’t matter because I also had under my--”

 

“You’re favorite lounge chair. And the one in the electrical panels. And the bar.”

 

Erik muffled a laugh with his hand, but Andrew didn’t care. HIs cousin gaped at him like he had broken the laws of physics. Andrew ignored him in favor of taking inventory of the room.

 

The lounge was wide and comfortable, per regulation for a crew that would constantly be in each other’s space. The bar was immediately inside the wall, fully stocked and ready for Kevin’s next visit. Opposite was the conference room for mission prep, and on either side of that was the hallways to the small boxy room that was made for interrogation and detainment and the narrow hall that lead to Wymacks office and the cockpit. Everyone else made due with the broom closet sleeping cubies on that lined the wall of the lounge, with grey separating doors for privacy when it was needed.

 

Smack dab in the middle of the room were chairs, sofas, and benches in a circle still from the game night a two days ago, which Andrew had not participated in; Renee had won and Andrew knew he couldn’t have out bid her on any of her properties. She was as ruthless in Monopoly as she was in fighting, and yet the others still seemed to think of her as some type of sweet girl.

 

As it stood to his great interest, Neil hadn’t moved an inch to either side since he had left him there several hours prior. The hacker was, however sitting stalk still with his brown eyes trained suspiciously on the girl beside him. His shoulders were tense, even more than when Andrew had brought up his Rising Tide Membership.

 

And sweet Renee was sitting across from him with her knees pointed in, and her smile bright and calming. Her pastel hair flowed in the air condition. She seemed to be as relaxed as a former assassin-for-hire could be.

 

“Andrew,” Renee said pleasantly, “How are you?”

 

Andrew thought he liked her better when she wasn’t being a little shit about things. She knew exactly how he was: she had thrown him several times on a mat and everything was sore. He ignored her baited question.

 

“Who’s driving?”

 

“Wymack told me to take break.” She replied back, with the barest flicker of a teasing grin. “I was just talking to Neil.”

 

She motioned to him with a smooth wave of her fingers, but Neil flinched anyway. Andrew catalogued it with interest. So, Renee’s little facade had no effect on him at all? A hacker who was trained to read a person was curious. Andrew wondered what other skills Neil had, wondered how long it would take him to become a problem Andrew had to deal with.

 

Behind him Nicky pressed forward, gasping. “He’s even prettier in person!”

 

Despite Andrew’s suddenly driving force of an elbow, Nicky dodged and slipped by him, far too used to the sudden violence to be caught up in it. He crossed the distance to Neil so fast it was nearly frightening and then threw himself over the side of the couch.

 

“Oh my god!” Nicky leaned into Neil’s personal space, as fascinated as if someone had handed him Director Whitter’s personal toolbox.

 

Everything about Neil screamed: his shoulders tensed so much he might never sit comfortably again, his skin paled further, his eyes widened, he drew back so far he might have fallen off the sofa if it weren’t for the white-knuckled grip he kept on the cushion, everything short of actually screaming.

 

“Nicky,” Andrew said shortly, impatiently, and doing his best to keep his face impassive when Neil frantically looked at him. “He is not a science experiment.”

 

“Of course not!” Nicky agreed quickly drew back, giving Neil space enough to draw in a breath. Andrew thought the brunette boy had no right to look at him like he was relieved, like Andrew had done anything more than make sure Nicky had been attacked by the animal he cornered with his friendliness. Nicky stuck his hand right in Neil’s face. “I’m Nicky Hemmick.”

 

Neil stared at his hand like he had never seen one before in his life.

 

“Nicky,” Erik said gently coming forward much calmer than Nicky, “Perhaps you should give him some space.” Andrew wondered how much of his suggestion was from jealousy more than care for Neil’s wellbeing, but then remembered he cared little to nothing about it.

 

“It’s, uh, fine.” Neil stuttered, but from the look on his face it was an obvious lie.

 

“I’m Erik Klose.” Erik said with a smile as welcoming as the German had ever been, “Nicky and I work together in the lab.”

 

“He’s Biochemistry, I’m Engineering.” Nicky said sheepishly rubbing his neck.

 

Andrew leaned against the drink counter, watching with sharp eyes. Neil didn’t relax, even when Nicky was distracted by Erik sitting across from him, even when no one was pressing in on him. By the look on Renee’s face she had noticed too. She wasn’t the only one.

 

Who is he?|

 

Andrew shook his head subtly. Because Neil Josten was no one, nothing. He might be interesting for a day, two, with his washable personality and sharp tongue, but like everything else, he would become boring.

 

“Where are we going?” He interrupted whatever story Nicky had started prattling about-- new company and lack of socialization had turn him into a conversation hog not that he wasn’t before.

 

Renee answered, “Homebase.”

 

“They want to bring the hacker to the building with all SHIELD secrets,” Andrew mused aloud. It was a wonder that SHIELD was still standing after all these years, that Hydra hadn’t wiped them out in the 40’s.

 

Neil huffed, raising up his arm. Andrew hadn’t noticed the silver armband on him before, but that wasn’t a surprise. Wymack occasionally used his brain.

 

“Don’t worry about your stupid secrets,” He said, “I can’t log into my own email right now, much less a computer far above my clearance level.” His tone almost made Andrew laugh. If nothing else, he agreed the clearance levels were beyond stupid.

 

Nicky twiddled his thumbs uncomfortably, “You know Wymack will take that off, right? Once he knows you aren’t evil.”

 

“How convincing,” Neil said in a way that suggested it wasn’t. He stared at the cup of water in front of him, mouth opening and closing twice before he decided what he was going to say. “How many of you are on the plane, anyway?”

 

Nicky’s eyes lit up.

 

Renee took great care to calmly get up and move over to where Andrew was leaning, as Nicky started bursting with information no one had given him permission to share. She paused across the counter, as if she was going to order a drink, despite the fact that Andrew had more experience breaking bottles over bartenders heads than making the drinks himself, and the fact she had sworn off alcohol like the Prohibition was back in fashion.

 

“We are going to pick up Kevin,” she said in a low voice, the type that made it seem like a secret.

 

Andrew grunted, he’d have to update his superior on the change of plans but it wasn’t that big of a deal. When they weren’t on missions Kevin liked to test the limits of his liver.

 

She glanced back at Neil, who was listening to Nicky perhaps too closely. He had the look of someone who would gladly be taking down notes if someone just handed him the paper to do so-- the type person who was soaking in the information like a sponge to use against them later.

 

“He doesn’t trust me,” She said in that low tone.

 

“Not everyone is stupid.”

 

“What’s in it for me?” Neil had asked in the the interrogation room. Andrew wondered what he had said to Wymack that had made the man let him onto the plane like a passenger rather than a prisoner. What sob story was Neil using to twist the man’s arm, what danger was he hiding behind those brown--

 

Oh.

 

Neil had turned just slightly in his seat, just enough for him to be facing Andrew. Just enough for Andrew to pick out that sliver of color around his irises that definitely wasn’t brown.

 

A liar, living a lie. What exactly was Neil Josten running from? Andrew wondered briefly if he should tell the boy that all monsters had a way of finding them and ripping their eyes out. He settled for absently clicking his tongue, and watching from afar.

 

***

 

On a normal day, Kevin stood immeasurably tall and proud as someone who had lived their entire life knowing they were changing the world. Andrew guessed that he thought he was a superhero, with his teleporting power and his sense of righteousness.

 

But when he wasn’t putting on a show for the lower agents, he was the most insufferable person everyone had ever meant. Well Andrew had meant worse, but Kevin was still pretty high on the list.

 

“You can’t be serious!”

 

The drawbridge had barely been lowered before Kevin was starting his lecture. His green eyes were backed by his liquid courage, though he doubted that anyone beyond Wymack’s team had noticed yet. He had a single duffle branded with the SHIELD logo that probably contained copies of the same outfit he was already wearing: SHIELD approved dark combat ready pants, a long sleeved undershirt and a combat vest with two gun holsters and at least four pockets for ammo and his endless survival items. He looked like he was about to go out on a mission in a desert wasteland and not join a fun plane ride.

 

Andrew imagined himself turning the keys in the ignition of his car and running him over. But dead Kevin was no use to them. He was one of the three people Andrew knew he couldn’t kill without repercussions, though it was obvious that Kevin himself had no clue about that.

 

At least not in the obvious sense of it.

 

“You took him in?” Kevin snarled at Wymack, who stood at the top of the ledge arms crossed and scowl firmly in place. Andrew swung his feet on the balcony watching with his hazel eyes as Kevin stalked up the ramp to meet the senior officer.

 

“Hello to you, too Kevin.” Wymack responded calmly. “Welcome aboard my plane.”

 

It was always interesting to watch their interactions. Andrew awaited the day when they took their verbal fighting to the next level; he couldn’t wait to see who was more important, Kevin Day with his hero complex, or David Wymack who held the key to immortality in his genes.

 

“This is not protocel!” Kevin snapped at him, “Do you know how many rules you are breaking by keeping him here? He needs to go to the Fridge!”

 

It was amazing such a drama queen had made it to the highest levels of SHIELD.

 

“Now, Kevin,” Another voice cut into the budding argument like a knife. It belonged to another SHIELD agent, though Andrew knew he was far less loyal to the ideals of protecting the world. Riko Moriyama strolled onto the plane like he belonged there, like he owned it more than Wymack did.

 

He was a level seven agent, with just as much skill as Kevin. But Andrew knew that was where their similarities ended: Kevin was diplomacy and rules, Riko was manipulation and trickery. Riko brought guns to knife fights, and laughed when he was covered in other people’s blood. The type of monster that could only masquerade so proudly as a hero because his family was so ingrained in the world.

 

He was a snake. Andrew laughed.

 

Riko’s eyes flickered up to him, distasteful. “You’re still here, are you?” He said, “I’m surprised you haven’t run off to go find your misplaced brother again.”

 

Andrew imagined drawing his gun and shooting out Riko’s kneecaps. He laughed again, but his hands dug into the metal railing so tight he thought he might bend it. It was the only that stopped him from moving.

 

Do Not Engage.|

 

Andrew did not move. Riko smiled like he had won something and turned back to Kevin, giving him a hefty pat on the shoulder.

 

“Don’t fret, Day,” Riko said, with a facade of kindness that Kevin still hadn’t figured out was fake. “He’s nothing more than a Hacker who doesn’t know his place.”

 

“But protocel says--”

 

“If he happens upon any secrets he shouldn’t have, SHIELD has many ways to get rid of him.” Riko smiled. “One man cannot take down an entire agency designed to keep the world safe.”

 

Wymack did not look impressed, “He’s a kid. It’s quite possible that everything he did was because he didn’t know better.” He gave Riko a disapproving look, “If you aren't joining my crew, get off my plane. I have places to be.”

 

“Places?” Riko repeated, tilting his head just enough to show off the number one tattoo on his face. A king not used to being talked down to.

 

“Where?” Kevin asked.

 

Wymack turned his back to both of them, “There’s an 084 in Peru. We’re the only team not occupied at the moment.”

 

***

 

They flew straight for hours. Andrew made himself comfortable in his cubby sized room, but the door was open enough that he could still see the lounge. Kevin and Dan had set up a game of chess, per usual for the two of them. It was routine for as long as the two had known each other: a mastery of wits, since Kevin didn’t stand a chance against her in brute strength.

 

Kevin was using the same strategy he had last time, but it seemed that time had diluted Dan’s awareness to it. She fell for his trap again and in ten moves Kevin had her knock over her king. It was a shame; Kevin always acted like he won the goddamned lottery when he beat her.

 

To Andrew’s knowledge, Nicky and Erik where in the lab preparing to have an 084 in there: which was the equivalent of cleaning and organizing everything. The code meant that they were receiving an object of unknown origin. It could do anything from copying the appearance of nearby objects to creating portals to other dimensions. It would keep both the scientists busy for at least a couple weeks.

 

“Considering the number of times we’ve played, you really should be better at this, Wilds.” Kevin said without ceremony.

 

“Well, my skills lay in the real world not in tiny playing pieces.” Dan said good naturedly, “Sorry that I’m so busy running field ops to work on my board gaming.”

 

Kevin sputtering was cut short when Dan’s focus turned sharply to the line of cubby rooms. Andrew watched with vague interest as Neil stepped out for probably the first time that day. Wymack had insisted that Neil change out of his clothes(which had been wearing for three days now) so he was wearing  a T shirt with the SHIELD logo on it. He looked like it was burning him from the inside though, or maybe he had finally realized he was stuck on this plane with them for the rest of the foreseeable future.

 

“Neil,” Dan said in a clipped tone. So she still hadn’t forgiven him for being part of the group that had ruined her undercover work.

 

Kevin pursed his lips, but Andrew prefered that too him immediately dragging them into a lecture on the rights and wrongs of Neil Josten’s choices.

 

“Dan,” Neil acknowledged her. His eyes flickered over Kevin, recognizing him on some level. He didn’t tense like he did with Renee but it was close. “You’re Kevin Day.”

 

“You’re the one who tried to blow me up.” Kevin shot back. He stood up, brushing his palms on his pants as if to rid himself of the conversation. Dan seemed to remember at the same time she had so many places to be that weren’t here. She shot Neil a dirty look that was so unlike her-- so unlike her to shut down a chance of an ally.

 

She headed for the cockpit to vent to Renee, Kevin headed for the stairs down to the lab. Andrew did not move to follow because he could only listen to the high level agent harass Nicky oh-so-many times before he felt the urge to stick his knives in both of them.

 

“I didn’t,” Neil said, just before Kevin left, just loud enough for him to hear.

 

Kevin paused a sharp jerk in his shoulders said he didn’t believe Neil for a second. “So you were casually in the right-place-right-time? Unlikely.” With a wave of his left hand, Kevin left and it was just Neil standing in the middle of the lounge.

 

He slumped onto the seat where Dan had been, picking up a white plastic bishop in one hand. “Do you play?”

 

Andrew didn’t respond. Neil must have sensed the answer though, because he reset the board for another game. He set himself up to black, which struck Andrew as funny: he was already setting himself up to defend rather than attack.

 

“What makes you think I want to play with you?” Andrew let a cruel smile form over his lips, “A liar like you?”

 

Neil flinched, but he met Andrew’s gaze without fear. “I didn’t set the bomb.”

 

“I wasn’t talking about the bomb.”

 

Follow Kevin.|

 

Andrew stood up, stretching his legs. He made his way across the lounge, stopping at the edge of the couches. Up close it was impossible to not see the rim of blue around the dull brown contacts. “I wonder how long it will be before you wear them out? How long before you’re forced to explain to everyone why you were hiding your own eye color?”

 

Andrew smiled as the pain in his head started to build: a warning that he should be going. But he wasted another second watching Neil’s expressions catch up to his line of thought. The brunette looked away quickly, his hand rushing to fix the contact as if Andrew hadn’t already seen it.

 

“You should be used to this,” Andrew told him, “What are your secrets compared to expelling all the secrets of SHIELD?” He knocked over Neil’s black king, and left the the other boy reeling by himself as he went to go--unfortunately--follow Kevin.

 

The second he left the room, the pain in his head receded.

 

***

 

Andrew, Dan, and Kevin were the first ones off the plane when they touched down in Peru-- on a small patch of land that was reserved for government business only. Nicky and Erik were behind them, carrying at least three bags between the three of them, and slowing down because of the petty argument between them.

 

“They haven’t even been tested yet!” Erik said throwing his hands up.

 

“Then this is the perfect time to do it!” Nicky exclaimed, “I know they work! I built them! Don’t you trust me?”

 

“This isn’t a matter of trusting you or not, Nicky! What if Sleepy accidentally sets the 084 off? What if scanning the object triggers it?”

 

Andrew watched Nicky gasp horrified at the thought and clasp the briefcase to his chest. Andrew knew from previous experience that it held all seven of the dwarf scanning robots that Nicky had been perfecting since his time at the SHIELD academy.

 

“I’m bringing them,” Nicky said unusually stubborn. Andrew wondered if his boldness would continue. Someone should really stop him, or next he might start drinking the milk straight from the container, or eating whatever leftovers in the fridge regardless of the name written on top.

 

Erik opened his mouth to argue again, but Nicky waved him off, “I didn’t say we had to use them! I’m just bringing them. In case.”

 

“In case of what?” Erik huffed under his breath, but he gave in to Nicky’s whining and let him stroll over to the waiting government provided Jeeps.

 

Renee appeared just after them, dressed in casual clothes. She gave Andrew a brilliant smile that gave the sun a run for it money. (Even though it was still early morning here, the heat was just becoming thicker with every second.) Andrew would have killed to be assigned to stay on the bus instead of Renee, and from the look on her face she knew it too.

 

“Have fun,” She told him, “Bring me a souvenir if you can.”

 

“I’ll bring you an 084,” He said, “And hope it blows you up.”

 

“You know not all 084’s are weapons right?”

 

“Only the fun ones.”

 

A flicker of movement caught his eyes, and Andrew glanced up just in time to see Neil appear on the balcony. He had casual SHIELD clothes, ready for a whole day of sitting stalk still and staring at more glasses of water, while Renee raised every red flag he had.

 

“Oh, if it isn’t our resident ghost!” Andrew called out to him, “Having fun?”

 

Neil gave him a dark look, his fake brown eyes still in place. Andrew squashed the part of him that was irked by his insistence on being a liar.

 

“I’m having more fun than you.” Neil said, “I’m not going to to have to walk around in the middle of a war zone.”

 

Andrew waved a hand callously, “I left some light reading for you in your cubby.”

 

“Is that why there were a hundred safety flyers in my bed?” Neil didn’t look impressed, “You know I have been on a plane before.”

 

“How surprising, but wrong. Those were there so that you might get a thousand paper cuts and bleed out while we’re gone. That would make this trip worth it.”

 

Something flashed in those fake eyes of his, something dangerous. Andrew, who like to flirt with death, thought that if by some miracle Neil was still on the plane when they got back, he’d like to have a one-on-one chat with him, and see what made him tick.

 

“Andrew!” Kevin’s annoying voice called out.

 

“Pest,” Andrew muttered just loud enough for Renee to hear him. He gave her a dark look when she laughed, but he turned to follow the other five to trucks. Wymack was dressed like he was going to a board meeting: a suit that probably costs nearly as much as Andrew’s car with a black tie, and shined shoes that weren’t going to stay that way in the dirt roads of the country. He motioned for Andrew to hurry up but his tone was all pleasant for the conversation on the phone.

 

“No sir,” Wymack was saying, as Dan started driving, “We are keeping a close eye on him. I have my best watching him right now…..Renee Walker, sir…..yes the Calvary….No, he is not going to be a problem….I will take full responsibility for anything that happens, sir.” There was a pregnant pause where Andrew made himself comfortable in the back seat alone. Kevin at least was in the other car with the scientists. All his annoyances were in one car, how nice. He wondered if it would be his lucky day and some rebel forces would blow them up.

 

“He mentioned something that I want to look into sir,” Wymack said. “It could be a problem if he’s telling the truth….Well then I’ll figure out what to do with him then….Peru, sir…..Yes sir. Thank you.”

 

He ended the called with a huff, grumbling about stuck up authorities in the world, like he wasn’t alive because of one. Andrew stretched out on the backseat watching the windows for any sign of threats. The 084 wasn’t supposed to be too far from the landing according to the briefing, but Andrew knew all too well what could happen in a couple miles distance.

 

“Sir,” Dan ventured, grunting really because the truck took the ditches really terribly. “If I may….if he is already causing this many headaches, it might be best to let him go.”

 

Andrew snorted.

 

“He’s not even field approved! If there was ever a fire fight he’d be a liability.” Dan insisted.

 

“What makes you think that?” Andrew asked.

 

“Stop playing around, Minyard.” She snapped, “I’m trying to think of the good of the team!”

 

“That’s not your job, Wilds,” Wymack said, and Dan immediately shrunk back. Like a kid being scolded by her parents. Of course Dan considered Wymack as close to a father as she had ever come across. “It’s my job to keep this team above the water. You stick to your guns and listen to me, and I’ll worry about keeping you all alive.”

 

Andrew thought that was bullshit. Wymack could try all he wanted but Andrew could and probably would kill each member of his team while he watched. But the statement was also enough to shut Dan up, and Wymack had nothing more to say to them, so Andrew kept his thoughts to himself as they drove.

 

The sight was just off a Peruvian village, apparently in a lovely ancient temple of Mayan origins. Dan kicked open her truck door, and Andrew followed with a calculating gaze. Kevin was already on the sight, his eyes shining obnoxiously.

 

“Did you know--” He started, but Andrew drew his gun and pointed it at the agent.

 

DO NOT ENGAGE!|

 

“Yes, I did,” Andrew told him, “And if I hear any other tidbits about Mayan traditions, I will remove you from this life.”

 

PUT DOWN THE WEAPON|

 

“There is no way--”

 

Andrew switched the safety off, cursing the burst of pain in his head. “Not one more word, Day.”

 

Kevin swallowed all his fun facts which weren’t fun at all, because Andrew had heard every single one of them before multiple times. Kevin would spout them all again and again, every time someone gave him a chance. Andrew was not going to give him the chance. He didn’t need his head filled with the names of ancient gods that don’t exist, and rituals that took unwilling people and spilled their blood on altars under the pretenses of it being better for everyone else.

 

Once Andrew was certain Kevin understood this, he lowered his gun and returned it to his hostler. The pain in his head took a moment to fade, probably out of spite for giving them such a scare. Andrew smirked despite it.

 

“I saw tracks a half mile back,” He told Wymack, “I’m going to go make sure that we’re the only ones here.”

 

“Do not start another war,” the higher agent warned him. Andrew didn’t respond as he dipped into the forest before Nicky and Erik had finished removing their bags.

 

He had seen tire tracks, but he also knew they matched the government vehicles they were using. With the amount of Peruvian soldiers, Andrew had a hard time imagining they would lose the 084. There was no chance of the rebel sneaking up on them and winning a firefight. But Andrew would use any excuse he could get to be alone for a moment, to reset himself.

 

The sudden flare of memories was enough to make his skin burn and itch. He pressed his eyes closed, erasing the rest of the world for just a moment. He shook himself out, because he wouldn’t give them the pleasure of seeing him rattled. He wouldn’t allow them the argument that he was anything less than the best soldier they had, a living weapon.

 

He opened his eyes, and scoped through the jungle brush like an aspiration.

 

The tire tracks weren’t hard to find. They were right where he remembered them to be, hidden to most with giant frons and jungle trees. Andrew made damn sure there weren’t any snakes hiding around before he crouched next to the pattern and looked at it. Standard tires, matching the government issued trucks they had ridden it.

 

Andrew frowned looking at the tracks. It was obvious from the way the dry dirt had settled that the truck had stopped here, just before the road, and then turned right, straight towards the airfield. That wasn’t necessarily worrying, though, because planes could come in and out all the time in a government owned airfield.

 

What caught Andrew’s eye was the footprints nearby. Roughly size eleven, combat boots, probably well worn, by someone tall and built for the military. There were many of them. In fact, Andrew guessed that there were more soldiers heading for the base than there were covering the area of the reported 084.

 

That many soldiers with weapons in a condensed area. Andrew wasn’t about to take two guesses on what was bound to happen.

 

That’s why it isn’t much of a surprise when he hears the infinitely loud sound of a branch breaking just behind him.

 

Andrew hadn’t had the need to speak Spanish since possibly his first year in the Academy when he baffled his instructors with his knowledge after he read the entire textbook in a night, because fuck Spanish . He convinced a boatload of teachers, of trained liars, that he knew the language just so he wouldn’t have take it, and he skipped the fuck over to German with Aaron and Nicky. Still despite the time gap, Andrew managed to pick out a few of the words being yelled at him.

 

Most of them included putting his hands up, dropping his weapon, and coming quietly.

 

Andrew raised his one hand slowly, using the other to cautiously remove the gun from his hostler. He knew they weren’t very experienced, because no one in their right mind would insist that Andrew unholster his gun himself. He moved before they even knew what hit them.

 

He spun a kick aiming for the gun, small caliber M16. He caught them by surprised and the weapon unloaded into the ground. With barely a breath, Andrew hooked his side arm underneath the Peruvian soldier and fired twice at his friend in the bushes. Then he yanked hard on the gun strap, pulling it off the man’s shoulder before ramming it right into his dazed face. He and his friend fell to the ground at the same time.

 

Andrew didn’t waste time checking to see if either are alive. He grabbed his other gun, one that Nicky had affectionately named the “night night gun” with a flourish of jazz hands that made Andrew want to commit murder. He honestly didn’t know how it worked, just that it did, and whoever got hit with it stayed down.

 

Secure the Object. Protect Day.|

 

“Yeah, Yeah,” Andrew grunted. If only it were that easy. He fired two shots from his regular gun at a man hiding in the trees, and then dove to the ground at gun fire tore up the tree he’d been standing in front of. He rolled to a crouch, spitting dirt out of his mouth as he rounded off another shot at the second hidden gunman, and cursed when it missed. He dodged between the trees, using the distance to throw his attacker’s aim off. He didn’t have time to play whack-a-mole with guns in a jungle. He wasted only two more shots, before he was able to make the dash back towards the Mayan temple without having to worry about being shot in the back.

 

He was quick, and for once his less-than-ideal height played to his advantage: he was harder to hit and he didn’t have as many vines smacking him in the face. He jumped a fallen log and plowed into the clearing just in time to tackle the soldier about to put a whole magazine into Dan’s turned back.

 

“Minyard!”

 

Andrew threw his fist into the man’s face, before he gave her the hardest look he could manage. “We aren’t alone.”

 

Dan drew her gun, “You’re bleeding.”

 

He hadn’t even noticed. Whatever. “Get the cars, I’ll get the baggage.”

 

She didn’t even argue. Andrew threw himself back to his feet and took the stairs two at a time. The entrance to the temple was coated in spiderwebs and old vines that looked like they predated the Dinosaurs. Andrew jumped the steps, startling the rest of his team.

 

Wymack and Kevin were talking with the man who had presumably called them, some archeologist who was paid well enough to keep SHIELD on Speed dial along with the Peruvian government and probably any other high paying organization interested in something that might be a weapon.

 

Andrew took him down with one really good punch.

 

“Andrew!”

 

“What the hell!”

 

Kevin gave them both dead looks, “It’s time to check out.” He said, without elaboration before he turned around face Nicky and Erik. Both of them were squabbling, but Nicky must have won because at least two of his drones were hovering around the wall where a suspiciously high tech object had imbedded itself.

 

Andrew batted the sensor, causing it to let out a harsh alarm. Andrew grunted grabbed the object by the sides and gave it a yank. It was heavier than it looked, and Nicky’s frantic yelling made it heavier.

 

“Andrew, you can’t--!”

 

But Andrew did, and it came out of the wall glowing blue as the holotable. Which was great, that meant it had power.

 

“What are you doing! This is the exact opposite of all procedures--” Kevin cut himself off when Andrew dropped the object right into his chest.

 

“Procedure is the least of my worries right now, Day.” Andrew told him, “Goodbye.”

 

“What-- what?” Kevin looked from him to the object to him again, “I can’t--”

 

“Andrew I’m getting readings that it’s got a fluctuating power core!” Nicky yelled, “We don’t know the photon emission-- What happens if it gets excited?”

 

“Kevin, get it out of here!”

 

“You don’t understand! There is a binding energy structure that could overheat!” Erik said.

 

“English, guys!” Wymack yelled, “Now.”

 

“It’s...The tesseract!” Nicky exclaimed, “You know World War Two, Captain America--”

 

“Yeah I met him,” Wymack said, “What is it?

 

Erik motioned to the object in Kevin’s arms, “That’s emitting the same Gamma radiation as the Tesseract.”

 

Temple was so quiet Andrew could have heard a pin drop inside it, but unfortunately, there wasn’t any time to worry about the Tesseract that had destroyed New York six months ago, much less figure out how it this object buried in the Mayan temple of Peru was connected. Gunfire erupted outside the mouth of the entrance.

 

Wymack drew his gun, cursing his suit in the process. “Kevin, our priority is getting that object to the SHIELD containment unit in the Sandbox. Get it to the plane and tell Renee to get ready to fly. We’re going to come in hot.”

 

“That thing might explode if he teleports with it!” Erik warned. Andrew could see the sweat where he stood feet away in the dim lighting.

 

Kevin did the risk assessment in his head, then gave the scientists a guilty look, before he vanished from the room. Andrew was almost surprised, but then he remembered that Kevin Day had aspirations about dying valiantly on the job doing something only he could do. Since the entire world didn’t explode seconds later, Andrew concluded that either the object was a dud or Kevin hadn’t set it off. Andrew motioned that Erik and Nicky telling them to hurry the fuck up before he took his place beside the doorway with Wymack.

 

“I’m getting too old for this,” the man griped.

 

Andrew should have pointed out that most people stopped a life of danger like this after their first death, but instead he popped out the door and fired at the first three people he saw before he ducked back in. The ancient stone next to his head shattered in the return fire.

 

Wymack fired along the wall, getting some guy who had been climbing the steps and then at someone else. Andrew counted the return fire with his eyes closed; there were too many of opposition and they did have enough space. Andrew could sense Nicky and Erik’s agitation: they weren’t cleared for field work, weren’t trained with guns and bombs. This was the first firefight they had seen, and if Andrew didn’t do something, it would be their last too.

 

“Nicky I need a bomb!” Andrew yelled at him.

 

“Excuse me?” Nicky was nearly hyperventilating. “Where am I supposed to get a bomb?

 

Andrew fired off two shots with the special made gun by Nicky. The blue color disoriented the enemy forces (which Andrew was beginning think was entirety of Peru now). Erik turned to Nicky.

 

“Please don’t hate me,” He said with that special tinge of German accent that normally made Nicky swoon for hours.

 

He grabbed one of the dwarf drones and snapped off the legs before tossing it to Wymack. “Shoot it!”

 

The man looked at Andrew and nodded. He wound back like a retired baseball pitcher way past his prime and sent the glowing turquoise disk spinning through the air. Andrew had practiced his shooting on things far smaller before. He took aim and fired, and ducked when the bullet collided with the energy pack.

 

Andrew would have guessed that it looked pretty cool, but to be honest, when the blue wave of energy exploded outwards he was busy trying to wipe blood from his right eye. There was a frantic attitude to it, because he hadn’t registered that was where he had been bleeding, and because if he went dark for longer than a couple of seconds they would get antsy, and the threats would start coming. Andrew had enough distractions for the moment and he didn’t need the buzzing burn in his head to be another.

 

He focused enough to roll out of the doorway into the clearly, taking out any soldiers who were daze but standing. Easy targets, but when he spun and faced the two men in front of him with a smirk and pulled the trigger, the discharge was empty.

 

This was how he died. In Peru of all places. The Soldier’s finger wrapped around the trigger--

 

The Government borrowed truck ran him, his friend, and their guns over with a truly astonishing good timing. Dan cracked the door, “Get in!”

 

Wymack forced Nicky and Erik ahead of him and Andrew threw open the door for them.

 

“I’m out!” he yelled as he slammed the door behind him with half his body on top of Nicky. Wymack jumped the hood shooting out at two unseen assailants before he was in the passenger seat. Dan shifted gears and the car lurched backwards, and K-turned with enough jet wash to bury a city. Andrew head smacked the back of her seat but he brushed off the dizziness.

 

Erik screamed as bullets peppered his window. Nicky started rehearsing one of his prayers under his breath, but at least he wasn’t crying.

 

“Hey, Minyard, do me a favor!” Wymack shouted over the shrill sound of exploding pellets and the grinding of the wheels, axles, and the uneven dirt roads. “Next time, I say don’t start a war--”

 

Bullets cracked the windshield before he could finish. Andrew counted it as lucky because otherwise he might have wrapped his hands around the man’s neck and squeezed as hard as Nicky was squeezing the case that held the remaining six dwarfs.

 

“Hold on!” Dan yelled. Andrew fell the vehicle leave the ground, and he braced himself for the landing. Despite the warning, Nicky’s head slammed into Erik’s.

 

“Where did you get your license, woman!” Erik begged.

 

“I didn’t!” She retorted, jerking the wheel with the skill of a Nascar driver. The truck twisted between two narrow trees and hopped another ditch, before bursting into the air field clearing. Dan was completely unsympathetic to the two men she crushed.

 

The vehicle screeched to a halt just off their land ramp. Andrew kicked the scientists twice to force them to open the door and get out because they needed to get on the plane before Renee took off.

 

“Son of a Bitch!” Dan yelled, just steps ahead of them.

 

Andrew turned marking their exits but he was outgunned and outmanned, and the dizziness in his head was starting to become a bit more distracting than Andrew wanted it to be. Nicky clutched Erik, but neither of them seemed to be breathing. Wymack cursed worse than Dan.

 

At the top of the ramp, Kevin was completely prone, completely knocked out with Renee right next to him. She was sporting a forming black eye and a split lip, but she was so still she might have been dead. Towering over them both was a woman Andrew vaguely recognized as a Comandante, smirking like she had just won the lottery. She had a gun in each hand pointed at his teammates, and the 084 sat pretty on the lab table, isolated.

 

Peruvian soldiers crowded around edge of the landing, cutting off all forms of escape.

 

“David Vincent Wymack?” The woman asked, politely, with a hint of an accent. “I was wondering if I might have a word.”

 

***

 

A word turned out to be a bit more than that. It was actually a whole conversation. Probably several, based on how the Comandante's soldiers collected their group of misfits and tied them to the hangar bay door. She took the 084 upstairs with her and her two men flanking a very pissed off Wymack. Kevin and Renee were tied down next to them but from the way that they tightened an unconscious girls restrains Andrew got a sick amount of satisfaction. He wondered how many of their soldiers Renee had removed before they had overwhelmed her.

 

They took off a little after that. Andrew must have passed out for a couple minutes because when he was next aware, Kevin was awake and moaning like the little princess that he was.

 

They were mostly alone in the loading bay. There was a single SHIELD BMW that Renee and Dan usually took turns driving when they went on missions, and Andrew’s black Maserati which was untouched from when he had last been in it. Andrew wasn’t sure what he would have done if it had been damaged in a shootout, but it wouldn’t have been pretty.

 

Beyond that the lab was empty, and they were being guarded by only two men, with guns that wiped towards them at even the smallest twitch. Andrew took it all in with an expert eye.

 

He knew there was as count down going somewhere, that counted until he was out of time. He was lucky they hadn’t killed him yet, because in one move he managed to fail both the jobs he had been given. Kevin was alive, but they were all at the mercy of the Peruvian soldiers and the 084 was undoubtedly going to be sold to the highest bidder as an artifact of war as soon as they figured out how to use it.

 

Nicky’s head hit the wall with a dull, defeated thud. “This is all my fault. I should have learned Kung-Fu.”

 

“I hate to point this out, but they had guns.” Erik told him, “Lots of them. I don’t think knowing kung fu would have helped.”

 

The soldiers yelled something towards them, in a language that Andrew didn’t recognize. It wasn’t Spanish, but probably something else spoken in Peru. Aymara? Quechua? The other soldier translated, “Shut up!”

 

They were obviously bored, being stuck with babysitting duty. But they were too vigilant to be lured into casual conversation. Dan must have thought the same thing because she didn’t even try to sweet talk them.

 

“Can you teleport?” Andrew asked Kevin completely ignoring the guns that swung towards him.

 

“We’re on a plane,” He answered nastily. “No I cannot fucking teleport.”

 

The soldier yelled at them again. Andrew considered Kevin’s words. He couldn’t use his power because he didn’t know the speed of the plane, most likely. His power was a calculated thing: he had to know the space and distance of everything, or he ran the risk of picking the same spot as an existing object. The disruption of his atoms like that would kill him instantly. With the plane this high in the air, going x miles per hour, Kevin had a better chance of seducing the soldiers to get out of his bonds than of surviving a teleportation.

 

However, the soldiers were clearly running out of more entertaining things to do. They started a conversation, but Andrew was immediately put on edge by the way they kept looking at his car. He tensed as one of them let his gun hang from his shoulder strap and approached the Maserati.

 

“Don’t you fucking dare,” Andrew swore. “I’ll cut off every limb that touches my car.”

 

The man must have understood enough English because he laughed at Andrew’s reaction and took an extra long time examining the sleek model. The other man rolled his eyes and said something with a nod towards the lounge. He left just a his partner reached out with both his hands to press against the hood. Andrew hissed with distaste, anger brewing in his stomach. He knew the zip ties were cutting into his flesh, but he tugged against them anyway. That asshole--

 

Before he could touch the car, something grabbed his ankles and yanked hard. The soldier didn’t even have time to yell. His body swung against him and his head smashed on the floor with a reassuring smack . He did not get up again.

 

And of course-- of fucking course-- Neil Josten with his brown hair and brown eyes rolled out from under Andrew’s car crouching in the shadows, as he watched the damn door, like he had experience with taking out government trained soldiers.

 

“Neil!” Nicky squealed, loudly, too loudly. “Oh my god, I thought they had killed you and dumped your body--”

 

“Nicky,” Andrew snapped, “shut up.”

 

“But--”

 

“Do want them to realize their mistake?” Andrew asked, “No? Then shut up.” He turned to face Neil with a hard gaze. The kid grimaced at Nicky’s tone, but he was both quick and silent covering the distance between them and the car.

 

“I don’t have a knife,” He said, ”to cut you loose.”

 

“Andrew has knives.” Nicky blurted.

 

Dan shot him a quieting look and he dropped his head with an ashamed look. Neil however raised an eyebrow at Andrew. He knelt near Andrew, and Andrew had a hard time not kicking him away.

 

The honest truth-- which Andrew rarely admitted to-- was that he had been convinced Neil had heard the soldiers coming with their guns and trucks and had ditched. He should have been trudging through the Peruvian jungle, a ghost that no one had been expecting. That was his chance right there: no one would have gone looking for him, no one would have cared. And yet Neil had chosen to stay on the plane and hide.

 

He was either very stupid or very brave, and Andrew hated both options. They made him interesting. They made him more than nothing. A problem forming.

 

“Where?” Neil asked Andrew.

 

Andrew almost didn’t respond, because he wanted Neil nowhere near his person. He wanted Neil to be lost in the jungles, or even better shot dead on the ground like a human sacrifice in front of the Mayan temple. “My boot.”

 

Neil nodded, moving back. He slid off Andrew’s shoe and reached the ankle sheath with as little skin contact as possible.

 

“Don’t cut yourself,” Andrew told him.

 

“I thought you wanted me to bleed out,” He hummed, “I’m getting mixed messages here.”

 

“Shut up,” Andrew said, but it didn’t feel like he won. (He wondered when he had started worrying about winning and losing conversations.)

 

Neil cut them free with expert precision. He moved like he had always used a knife. Andrew resolved to ask about that later, when their plane wasn’t taken over by enemies, Kevin wasn’t moaning about it, the 084 was secured, and Andrew checked his car to make sure Neil hadn’t touched even an inch of the bed.

 

He’d just finished breaking through the last zip tie on Kevin’s wrists-- stubbornly ignoring the calculating gaze the older agent, when the other soldier appears in the doorway on the balcony. Andrew isn’t a savior; he rarely threw himself in front of bullets. There was a second as he saw the man’s gun rise, and Andrew heard fingers flying over a keyboard in an undisclosed location.

 

Protect Kevin|

 

Andrew threw himself forward and he barreled into both Neil and Kevin. They fell into a pile of limbs that made Andrew’s entire body feel like it’s on fire. Skin on skin contact had never been a friend of his, and Andrew was certain he would die before he willingly allowed another person to touch him.

 

The bullets shattered on the metal wall, ricocheting in flashes that were too quick for anyone to follow. Dan swore, Nicky screamed. There was no chance for them, not with Renee still out and all of them weaponless, minus Neil. But even Andrew could only do oh-so-much with a four inch knife against a gun wielding trained soldier.

 

Then much to Andrew’s surprise, the Soldier backed out of the room, shouting orders to others unseen. The door slid shut, and bolted into place.

 

“Idiots,” Kevin snarled, “What idiot would back off--”

 

“There were too many of us,” Neil pointed out, sitting up. He was staring at Andrew, his fists tightened to white knuckles. Andrew pretended not to notice at all, as he picked up his knife from where the other boy had dropped it so carelessly. The blade was still as sharp as before; it was easy to imagine warm blood dripping off the blade over the hilt making his palm slick and the knife nearly impossible to hold.

 

“Dan!” Nicky exclaimed, dragging Andrew’s attention away.

 

The agent grunted in pain as Erik was putting pressure on her shoulder. Her face had gone, pale and sweaty, and she was swearing seven ways to Hell. Blood soaked through her jacket, painting Erik’s hands in a particularly artist style that Andrew didn’t appreciate.

 

“Damnit!” She spit, “I’ll kill them all!”

 

Erik grimace, “It looks like it’s straight through, but we need to stop the bleeding.”

 

“We need to get those assholes off our plane,” Dan snarled. Her hands were shaking, but Andrew was surprised to see that it was from rage more than pain. It wouldn’t stay that way for long.

 

“Plan?” Neil asked, “Tell me there’s a plan.”

 

“They have guns,” Nicky added as helpful as always, “and the 084, and Wymack.”

 

“The doors are locked with a pressurized system,” Erik pointed out. He shifted his grip on Dan’s shoulder, “They have the controls on that side.”

 

“We could shoot through it?” Kevin suggested. He considered the dead soldier under Andrew’s car, before unwrapping the gun from the man’s body with distaste. He confirmed with a nod that it still had bullets.

 

But Erik was shaking his head, “it’s too thick. Even if by some miracle we break through, they will be waiting for us.”

 

Andrew glanced up at the Balcony door. He had a pretty good guess of what was going on already. The Peruvian force had commandeered the site of the 084 and decided to use their SHIELD plane ask a mask to break into the Sandbox-- the location of all of SHIELD’s confiscated wary tech. There were more than enough dangerous projects there to aid an army. Since they had the 084 on them it would be easy to gain access. The only thing they were lacking was Wymack’s voice confirmation.

 

Andrew let his gaze slide to the mechanism that lowered the gangplank to the ground. They didn’t have to come down here and sedate them or tie them up; as long as Wymack’s little task force was in danger of taking a three thousand some drop, he would reluctantly give the code. If that happened, they were all dead.

 

“You said they were pressurized?” Neil’s voice was surprisingly loud in the quiet. “What if we lowered the pressure on their side?”

 

Erik made a face, “How are you going to go about doing that?

 

Andrew thought about the little flying droids Nicky made and laughed. He knelt next to Renee and carefully picked her limp body up. “Kevin, get in the van. We have a plan!”

 

***

 

Andrew had never driven a car full force into a wall, but he thought there were always new things to try.

 

The SHIELD van was made to be bulletproof. The Lab doors? Not so much.

 

The glass shattered everywhere, a deadly dash of rain that made Andrew grin far to wide. The Holotable was a goner, and several cabinets were not going to be put back together ever. But Nicky barely glanced at them. He dodged between the shards and the mess scrambling to find the droid box as quickly as he could. Time after all was against them.

 

If Andrew’s timing was correct they still had minutes before the SHIELD confirmation radio call would come but until then no one was going to risk coming down. After then, they wouldn’t need to.

 

Erik led Dan over the carnage of his work space. He used his sleeve to swipe the glass off a relatively not destroyed table and set the female field agent on top of it. She groaned, and Erik spared only a second before dashing to find his medical equipment.

 

Kevin, the tallest of them, climbed on a counter, with one of Nicky’s numerous drills and started removing the screws of an overhead vent. “This better work,” He grumbled, but no one wasted time telling him what would happen if it didn’t.

 

Neil darted by them all, picking out belts and cords and latching them together. He tossed one to Andrew without him needing to say so-- which was annoying-- but Andrew carried Renee up to the balcony, and made short work of buckling her in.

 

If everything went south, and the door opened, there was still a chance the Calvary could gain consciousness and at least take back the plane, if not crash it before it got to the SHIELD base. Andrew didn’t waste time wishing she was awake now, but he would have felt better if she was.

 

“Got them!” Nicky yelled. Andrew readied the gun at the door, as Kevin and Neil came up the stairs after him tethered at the waist with Neil’s belts.

 

Andrew counted.

 

“This was a dumb idea,” Neil admitted. “I’m sorry it was mine.”

 

“I’m sorry I’m going to die surrounded by idiots.” Kevin replied.

 

“I didn’t set the bomb that nearly killed you.”

 

“Of course not. You’re too stupid to have done it.”

 

Andrew laughed because Kevin had no right to call anyone stupid. For a high ranking SHIELD agent he was incredibly obtuse. Neil might be dangerous, but Andrew was well and truly lethal. The only reason Kevin was still alive was because the text in his head was commanding he be.

 

Then the entire plane shook and violent dived to the left. Andrew grabbed the balcony railing, and Kevin’s arm keeping them both steady as the plane struggled against the sudden disturbance. Three seconds later the door popped open and the howling wind sucked all the words from Andrew’s mouth.

 

The scene was exactly how he imagined it would be: the furniture in disarray, the soldiers thrown from the plane, via the giant gaping hole in the wall.The engine screamed, or maybe that was the guys still clinging to the minibar (which was bolted down). Nicky’s droid was nowhere to be seen, but Andrew thought he’d worry about it later. Andrew was there to take out the remaining soldiers.

 

He threw himself forward, catching the edge of the couch and swung his full weight into the guy clinging to it. His foot landed hard; the man screams were lost in the void as he was sucked out the hole. Andrew grappled for a better grip, himself.

 

Behind him he felt more than saw Kevin stumbling in the opposite direction, with Neil right behind him for balance. The two of them headed for the opposite wall, where the metal alloy of the airplane plating had just barely kept the 084 from exploding into the open air from its one backlash.

 

It seemed like their plan was going great. Andrew grabbed the table bolted to the floor and ducked a well meaning punch from an enemy. The guy had a second to regret it before he was gone like his friends.

 

Unfortunately Andrew didn’t see the gun. Bullets clattered against the table, missing his fingers by centimeters. Andrew swore, but he was too late. His grip slipped, and he was falling.

The plane normally flew easy at three thousand feet. The sky was bright and blue and open wide. Andrew remembered the feeling staring at a similar sky where the clouds were so puffy and big and he had taken one step too far with no regrets. He’d been falling then, and Andrew hadn’t thought he had stopped falling since that day.

 

Aaron was never going to thank him. Nicky was never going to know what happened. He closed his eyes thinking of how much better it was to die a SHIELD agent than psychopath.

 

His body jolted so hard he swore his shoulder dislocated. A scream tore at his throat, but Andrew bit his tongue instead. He looked up limb and dazed and for some reason surprised to see Renee Walker gripping his arm so tight her nails would have drawn blood if it wasn’t for his armbands.

 

“You’re late!” He yelled.

 

“You started without me!” She smiled painfully. Bullets danced a breath away from both of them, but she only wavered at the strain of both their weights. She was still weak from the sedative they gave her, still pale and clammy, but she poured all that strength that she had into the grip on him. She swore by her god that she’d let go of the table before she let Andrew fall alone.

 

He thought about pinching her wrist, pressing her pressure points and letting him fall. It was the first time he had felt alive in a long time. The first time he felt like he had control over everything.

 

“NEIL!” Kevin’s voice strangled through the wind.

 

Another round of bullets came from behind the couch, there was no one there to stop it. Andrew slammed against the floor of the plane, a bullet clipped his shoulder, and the carpet six inches above him.

 

Renee grunted and gritting her teeth. She looked down at him. Andrew watched her fingers slip off the table one at a time, slowly, and then all at once. They were both heading straight for the hole and empty air. The engine screamed, the wind bellowed.

 

Andrew saw a brief flash of yellow and then he and Renee punched into a bendable surface and hit the floor. His breath took a second to some back, a second for him to look up and see exactly what had happened: one of the yellow emergency rafts had been deployed. It was bigger than the hole, and sturdy enough to clog the thing.

 

With gravity restored, Kevin met the last gunman fast and knocked him out with a hefty blow of the 084. The man crumpled like a rag doll.

 

Neil was lying on the floor half the room away, and he let out a massive gust when he rolled over to stare at the ceiling. It was only then that Andrew noticed the emergency raft inflator still mostly tangled on the floor.

 

Wymack stumbled from the briefing room, nearly sliding on the shattered glass. He was sporting a split lip, and a bruising cheek that took up half his face. His suit was in tatters, but he appeared to have won his private battle with the Comandante. He looked at them, a mix of pride and irritation.

 

“Where are the others?” He demanded, “Are they okay?”

 

“Dan’s down,” Kevin said immediately, “Erik and Nicky are recovering, Renee needs rest. But we…” He carefully chose his words, “are okay.”

 

Wymack stared at him and then nodded. Then with a particularly vague gesture he motioned to the hole in the wall, “Then couldn’t you all come up with a plan that didn’t destroy my plane ?!”

 

***

 

The plane landed at the Sandbox with armed forces waiting to take the last of the Peruvians into custody. Andrew watched with his arms crossed as the SHIELD foot soldiers dragged the silent comandante to the waiting vehicle. Her glare was poisonous, but they had evidently seen worse; they didn’t even stutter.

 

Around them construction was already in the process of being done, thanks to Wymack’s closeness to the Director. They had already swept most of the glass clean and begun placing the lab doors much to Nicky and Erik’s delight.

 

Or maybe that was the alcohol.

 

“Guys! Guys!” Nicky yelled, “Hurry up or we’re going to miss it!”

 

Erik dragged a red and white beach cooler to the edge of the partially lowered dock and and then he and Nicky sat down on with a beer each. They were already swaying on their feet, and Nicky at least was saying things he’d regret soon. Dan, with her shoulder patched, complained about missing the action, and took one for herself when she slipped beside Erik. Renee had a pop soda, and she leaned on Nicky's side while they gazed at the horizon. Kevin had two bottles of Vodka for himself and he sat beside Dan; Andrew knew he was only this content because he had finally given his finished report, and he was safe in known coordinates that he could teleport out of in a heartbeat.

 

“Miss what?” Neil trailed behind them, looking utterly lost. He hovered on the edge of the group like he wasn’t sure he was invited or not. He was back to his clothes, and the too big sweatshirt that made him look even more like an outsider.

 

The group turned to look at him for a second, all the signs of judgement in their faces. Renee gave him a stunning smile that she should have patented by now. Dan shrugged tossing back her drink.

 

“The liftoff,” Kevin said like it was obvious from the rocket in the distance. “It’s SHIELD procedure. Once we find an 084 that could be too dangerous for any one person, regulations state that we build a rocket shoot it into the atmosphere where no one can reach it.”

 

Neil raised an eyebrow, “So there’s like...tons of weapons just floating in the sky?”

 

Nicky hiccuped a laugh, “What did you think falling stars were, Neil?”

 

Andrew leaned back in the seat of his car, pressing his neck against the plush leather. He had checked it over twice himself for any tampering, any touching, but it seemed that Neil had no death wish today. It was exactly as he had left it. Andrew had to wonder why Neil was by his car at all. The unknown was not welcome.

 

“Come sit down, Neil,” Dan finally said, though she was looking out at the desert. “Take a drink.”

 

“I, uh,” Neil fumbled, “I don’t drink.” He stepped towards the group like they were a bunch of poisonous snakes. He shifted the weight around his feet before he took seat behind the cooler with his head resting on the lid. Even from here Andrew could see the bandages wrapping his forearms wear he had crawled through glass shards, braved bullets, and bad guys to help them.

 

“I must thank you Neil,” Renee said, “You saved my life.”

 

He shrugged, “Thank Andrew. He’s the one that put all those safety flyers in my bed so I knew where the rafts were.”

 

It looked like Neil Josten had no survival instinct at all. Andrew was going to have to fix that.

 

“It was smart.” Kevin said, “But that was not your assignment. We were supposed to work together to get the 084. Do you know what could have happened--”

 

“Those were your teammates!” Neil bristled, “I wasn’t going to let them die!”

 

“Here, Here!” Erik waved his bottle.

 

“You’re wily, reckless, untrained, unprofessional--”

 

Neil snorted, “If I punch you, will you vomit a SHIELD rulebook? I’m curious.”

 

“--but I can work with that.” Kevin finished soundly.

 

The group was silent.

 

“What?” Nicky asked, just because it looked like no one else would. He gave Kevin a once over, like he was expecting to see blood dripping from some head wound he must have gotten, because there was no other reason he would be stringing those words along like that.

 

“I’m going to mentor him,” Kevin took a sip of his alcohol before he could understand the words coming out of his mouth, “I’ll be his SO.”

 

“My what ?”

 

“You’re Supervising Officer,” Dan answered, “Say no, Kevin is a hard ass.”

 

Kevin squawked, “Then who is going to teach him? You?”

 

She thought about it, and considered Neil for a long moment. “Renee?”

 

The pastel girl didn’t even think about it. She was shaking her head long before Dan had turned to look her way, and her expression didn’t leave room for arguing. “Kevin is the best for teaching new recruits. Either him or Drake--”

 

Andrew’s fingers dug into his arms violently. “Kevin will do it.”

 

They all jumped like they had forgotten Andrew was there. He ignored them and concentrated on not ripping the steering wheel off his car and hurling it at Renee.

 

“Aw!” Nicky squealed, “Are you saying that because of your crus--” Erik threw a hand over Nicky’s mouth it was too late. Neil raised an eyebrow and turned to look at Andrew. He wasn’t smiling, or mocking, if anything he looked bewildered at the suggestion.

 

“Andrew doesn’t have a crush on me.” He said matter-of-factly. “He wants me dead.”

 

“That’s how he shows his love!” Nicky mumbled around Erik’s hand without even appearing guilty.

 

Andrew’s lips twitched downward breaking his blank facade. He knew that Nicky didn’t have an off switch, but Andrew could only threaten to remove his tongue oh-so-many times before the threat dulled. A menace and a pest.

 

“Minyard,” Wymack’s voice filtered through their discussion. He appeared in Andrew’s window, close, but not close enough to be touching. He knew better. Andrew sent him a cursory glance. “One of the workers found this. I thought you should have it back.”

 

In his hand was a photograph, printed on copy paper because they never had the time or the money to get pictures truly developed. Andrew knew without looking what it was of: a blond that looked like him and Nicky standing in front of the SHIELD memorial wall at the Academy the day they started. They looked like idiots in the picture, mostly because Nicky was taking the selfie and the other member was trying to find the science buildings.

 

Andrew did not take the picture, “It’s not mine.”

 

“Nicky keeps his in his pocket,” Wymack said, “And I heavily doubt that Aaron left his here.”

 

Andrew took the picture and ripped it in half, then again in fourths. Then he threw them back at Wymack. He knew the old man was going to say something, but Andrew didn’t give him time to. He flung open the door with the intent to hurt the man-- and was sorely disappointed when the agent dodged-- before he stalked out of the loading dock and up to the balcony.

 

He wasn’t fast enough.

 

“Who’s Aaron?” Neil asked, and despite his quiet tone it carried over the construction workers like a bullhorn right into Andrew’s brain.

 

Nicky winced staring back the the scraps of paper, getting caught in an invisible breeze. “He’s Andrew’s twin brother. A medic, and a hell of a shot.” Nicky bit his lip, “He’s been missing for two years.”