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Nearsighted; Farsighted

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Chief of Police Peggy Carter wakes up at 3:24 AM on a Sunday to the obnoxiously predictable sound of her phone ringing.

She’s tired enough, usually, that she can sleep through most extraneous noise: she’s trained herself to do so. It’s the only way she’s keeping her sanity, these days; Baltimore is a city full of crime, and ever since the Eastern Seaboard Special Task Force had been created and stationed there, her life has been full of the challenge of solving and resolving horrible things. She’s trained herself to only wake up to: her alarm, the ring of her mobile, or completely unexpected house sounds that aren’t her cat, Petunia — so she reaches over and swipes the mobile on with the typical resignation that her night’s sleep is over.

“Chief Carter,” she answers, glancing at the phone to see the caller: Detective Inspector Steve Rogers. That’s not good news.

“Peg -- um. Chief. Sir. Three more dead,” Rogers says, and he sounds exhausted -- and Rogers never slips on rank and title unless they’re very distinctly civilian. Peggy assumes that he’s seeing 3:25 AM from the other side, and that it’s very bad news indeed. “Johns Hopkins, Public Health. A professor, her post-doc, and a grad student.”

“More than three makes it serial,” calls Detective Special Operative Barnes in the background. He sounds wired; it’s how these two respond to the tough cases. Rogers tries to be overly formal and fails completely, while Barnes goes off to the circus. Peggy thinks to herself, well, shit.

“What do you mean, more?” Peggy sits up in bed, stretches her back. “More as pertains to what, exactly?”

“Three shots to the head,” Rogers said, and he sounds dejected. “Just like last week’s sniper case. Ma’am. Sir.”

“Too specific to be a coincidence. It’s likely they’re related,” Peggy says as she gets out of bed. She’s going to have to go into the office for this. “Where are you and Barnes?”

“Just left the scene, sir,” Rogers says. “Local CSI is here, and we’ve gone over the scene with them and taken our own set of photos, but there isn’t much for us to do here until they’re done, well…”

“Tagging and bagging!” Barnes shouts from the background. Yes, they’re both about at their limit, Peggy infers.

“Right. Go get a couple of hours of sleep, both of you. I’m heading in to the office after I make the call. I expect to see you both at 7 AM sharp, and not so punch-drunk exhausted.”

“Fine,” Barnes whines, while Rogers asks: “The call, sir?”

“We aren’t equipped to deal with a serial killer this prolific, especially one that kills up close and from a distance. Luckily, we have a resource available from my old days. I need to call BAU Section Chief Fury.”

“I’m sure we can—” Rogers begins.

“Get some sleep, Detectives. That’s an order. See you in my office at seven.”

“Roger,” Rogers says automatically, and Peggy hangs up on the sound of Barnes snickering.

She takes a second to sit down on the edge of her bed, rubbing her hands over her face and willing her brain to wake up completely. This will require plenty of tea. Baltimore’s local force is already overworked, and her own officers are barely making up the slack; and she can’t pull Rogers and Barnes completely off of their current work. Barnes, maybe; his Special Ops background might help the BAU, and he knows the area well.

She flips through her mobile, finding the number saved under “Marcus” — the name Section Chief Fury had entered himself, with only one number on the contact. Peggy pauses, sighs, and thumbs the dial button.

Fury picks up after two rings. He sounds - he sounds the same as he does any other time she’s called him, even though he says, “Carter, do you know what goddamn time it is?”

Peggy chuckles despite the sinking feeling in her stomach. “It’s time for a serial killer, Nick. I need your team in Baltimore.”

“Motherfucker,” Fury says, distinctly pronouncing all the syllables. “Lemme phone Coulson. We’ll conference in for the details at what, six?”

“Seven will work better. I need to give Rogers and Barnes at least a few hours of sleep or I’ll end up shooting them both.”

“Let me guess,” Fury says with a grin. “Rogers can’t stop calling you sir and spouting procedure, and Barnes thinks everything’s goddamn funny as shit.”

“I see you’ve worked with them before,” Peggy says, smiling for a brief second. She and Fury have crossed paths dozens of times before, even though she went into law enforcement and he into the depths of the BAU, and one thing she appreciates is Fury’s way of making it seem like they just talked yesterday, rather than three years ago. He must have an amazing memory to be able to pull these things out.

“Set something up,” Fury says. “I’ll text you a number, it’s Pepper, it’ll get done.”

“Right,” Peggy says, although she has no idea who or what Pepper is, already scanning her closet for a suit which will clearly say, not on my watch.. “I’ll see you at seven, sir.”

“Motherfuckers,” Fury says, and hangs up.

———

Clint Barton wakes up to the dulcet tunes of Suit & Tie by Justin Timberlake, because Tony thinks it’s funny to fuck with his ringtones and Tony is an asshole.

He scrambles for his phone, managing somehow to swipe the call, and mumbles some kind of noise in that general direction. “Mrrfff?”

“Barton.” Coulson’s voice is crisp, urgent, and sounds more awake than Clint has ever been in his entire life. “Suit up. We’ve got a case.”

“Whahuh?” He still can’t get his mouth to work yet. “Sir?” There, that’s a word. He’s momentarily proud.

“I need you here by six,” Coulson says. “Don’t be late.” There’s a pause, and then Coulson says, “I’ll have coffee ready,” and hangs up on him.

Clint groans, heavily, into his pillow. The phone says it’s fucking 4:36 AM. It’s a Sunday. He went to bed at 1. Everything is terrible.

He’s trying to sort his limbs out when the phone rings again, this time blasting Black Widow by Iggy Azalea, who he hates. He never should have told Tony how much he fucking hates pop. This time, he manages to be mostly coherent when he answers. “Tasha?”

“Do I need to come drag your ass out of bed,” she says, and it isn’t a question: it’s a threat.

“The room is spinning,” Clint whines. “And my legs don’t work.”

“I have no idea how you exist as a functional human being,” Natasha says. “I’ll pick you up at 5:30. Get the fuck out of bed, because if you aren’t ready by the time I get there, I’m going to end you.”

“I’m getting, I’m getting,” Clint says, managing finally to sit up. Belatedly he realizes he must have slept in his aids again because everything’s been perfectly clear. “Christ. Fuck. Bring coffee.”

“Make your own,” Natasha returns, and hangs up on him. That’s twice in one morning. One middle of the night. Whatever.

Clint stumbles out of the bedroom in his boxers, heading for the kitchen — for the coffee. Luckily, awake-Clint is actually a professional (occasionally), so his apartment go-bag is already sitting in the corner of his room. The coffee pot has a timer, but on Sundays Clint likes to sleep in until, say, lunchtime, so he has to go through the motions with the filter and the scoop and the water and the buttons, so many buttons. Once the pot starts gurgling he slumps down on the counter, staring idly into space. He fucking loves his job - the BAU team is incredible, and he gets to see all kinds of places and all kinds of messed-up people that make him feel a little better about his own past life choices - but he hates the schedule. He fucking hates schedule surprises like this one. Honestly, Clint loves sleep and he hates mornings and technically this is still the middle of the goddamn night.

The coffee pot beeps that it’s finished, and Clint just picks up the entire carafe and carries it into the bathroom. He starts the water - his apartment isn’t anything fancy, but it has good water pressure - and drinks directly from the pot while he waits for the water to warm up. Anything can be a coffee mug if you’re determined enough, and Clint Barton is fucking determined to be a mostly-functional human being this morning.

He sets the pot on top of the toilet seat, so that he can reach it from the shower, and strips down and gets in. The warm water is a pleasant rush against his skin, and Clint stands in the spray for a minute or two, drinking his shower coffee out of the pot, and letting his body wake up. He makes a mental note to change all his ringtones back to a normal phone sound, and to change his goddamn password. Fucking Tony.

———

Bucky wakes up to the bleating sound of Steve’s phone alarm. It’s, like, some kind of animal noise, and Bucky hates it so much. It’s so stupid. It makes Steve smile every morning, though, which is also stupid, but Bucky can’t be too mad about that.

He and Steve had crashed in one of the lounges in their headquarters - it’s the special one, that has two couches, both of them long enough for Steve’s giant ass growth spurt body, and a water cooler in the corner. They probably spend as much time crashed out in this lounge as they do crashed out at their apartment these days; the job’s been rough lately. Luckily, Steve and Bucky both are used to functioning on bits and pieces of sleep. The Army helped them figure that one out.

Bucky rolls further into the couch and yells, “Steve! Wake up and turn that goddamn thing off!”

There’s a groan from behind him, and then Steve says, “Good morning, sunshine.” The strange bleating-barking noise finally shuts up and Bucky sighs in happiness at the silence.

“Time is it anyway?” He asks, rolling over to face Steve’s couch. Steve always looks ridiculous in the mornings: broad chest, messy hair, stupid sleepy smile.

“6:15,” Steve says. He’s on his back, looking at his phone, scrolling through something with the stupid sleepy smile on his face.

“I could have slept another thirty minutes, you asshole,” Bucky says with no real rancor, sitting up and scrubbing his hands over his face. The metal one’s all warm from sleeping.

“Nah,” Steve says, easy. “We gotta go get breakfast and then get the files together for Peg— for Chief Carter.”

Bucky snorts. Stevie’s infatuated with their Chief of Police, and Bucky can’t decide if it’s hero worship or true love - probably a little bit of both, knowing Steve. That doesn’t mean Bucky isn’t going to take the piss out of Steve for it — they can both be professional when they need, but they’ve known each other since they were little, growing up in Brooklyn, which gives Bucky the right to make fun of Steve for nearly anything.

Steve virtuously ignores him. “Apparently the BAU has these amazing analysts, so we need to get all of our data and photos together and ship them off ASAP, so that the hackers can do their thing while the team is on the way.”

“Ugh,” Bucky says out loud. “Do they really have to show up here? You know I hate … working with people.” He grins at the look Steve throws him. “And people. In general.”

“Five murders, Buck?” Steve’s face is serious, and Bucky suddenly feels chagrined. “Five murders from the same guy, within a week, three shots to the head? Somebody skilled enough to do it from a distance, but ballsy enough to shoot them in the face too?” Steve swallows, looks away, and Bucky remembers how good Steve is at heart. “We can’t solve that, not with all the other cases we have going on that can’t be dropped.”

“I know, Stevie.” He tries to put reassurance in his voice, even though he’s still cranky that they’re gonna have to share their offices with a bunch of feds for a few weeks. “Carter knows what she’s doing. I’m sure we’ll catch the guy in no time.”

Steve’s face gives a weak smile at the praise of his precious Chief of Police. “Well, up and at ‘em, Buck. If you help me get our notes scanned in, I’ll buy you that disgusting croissant sandwich you like so much.”

Bucky rubs his hands over his face briskly, dispelling the remains of the sticky feeling of sleep, and pulls his hair back in a messy bun. “You’re on,” he says with a grin, “but I’ll need two sandwiches. We skipped dinner, remember?”

“You’re terrible,” Steve replies, but his grin has chased the last traces of stress and worry off his face, which Bucky counts as a victory.

———-

At precisely 7:00 AM EST, a number of phones ring in unison.

“Patch us in,” Phil says, and Stark grins, does the usual gesture with his hands, and the holos are up around them.

The screen directly across from Phil is showing an officer who must be Baltimore’s current Chief of Police, Peggy Carter: crisp lines of a uniform, red lips, and incredibly sharp eyes. Sitting to either side of her are officers that must be her detectives: the one to her left is blond, handsome, back straight and face schooled into neutral; the one to her right is lounging back in his chair, roguish, long hair in a bun pulled away from a charming smile. Phil’s trained to take in these details in moments; he’s found you can’t take the profiling out of the profiler, even though he tries not to do it to coworkers too often.

The screen to the left is Nick, arms crossed and face frowning, with SAC Maria Hill standing slightly behind. To the right, Stark’s filling up the holographic screen with pictures, data, details; Phil’s quick eyes catch blood, and gaping mouths, and then he glances back to the center screen and gives Chief Carter a nod.

“Section Chief Fury,” she begins, with a nod, “and Unit Chief Coulson. Thanks for gathering to meet with us on short notice. Peggy Carter, Chief of Police for the Eastern Seaboard Special Task Force, currently stationed in Baltimore. This is Detective Inspector Steve Rogers,” with a gesture towards the blond, who nods; “and Detective Special Operative James Barnes.” She gestures to the dark-haired man, whose insouciant smile becomes somewhat of a smirk. Peggy shoots him a small glance that Phil reads as a stand-in for rolling her eyes; Barnes’ smirk grows wider. Her crisp accent leaves absolutely no room for doubt, and the cadence of the words tells Phil that she may be British, but she’s as devoted to this position as any American.

“Phil Coulson, BAU,” he begins, picking up the conversational thread. “Here with me I have SSA Natasha Romanoff, SSA Clint Barton, Dr. Bruce Banner, Special Operative Thor Odinson, and our Technical Analyst and Communications Liaison, Tony Stark. SSAs Wanda and Pietro Maximoff are also on the line, along with two of our Home Analysts,” he adds; “they’ll be covering the case from the Bureau side, while we’re on location. And I assume you know SC Fury and SAC Hill.”

There’s a brief pause while all the video screens nod at each other, as if these introductions are real, and then Chief Carter neatly takes over. Phil can appreciate a true professional, and she’s ticking all the boxes. He looks forward to working with her.

“Last Monday, October 13th, two men were found shot to death at the Druid Hill Park golf course. Both were PhDs, employees of ChemHealth Medical R&D, and both had been shot three times in the head from a long distance.” Chief Carter does something with the tablet before her, and with a quick blur of fingers from Tony, pictures appear on their third screen: ID cards for the two men, and the photos from the crime scene, blood and bits of shattered bone everywhere. Chief Carter is precise, no-nonsense, enunciating the details with little emotion, and Phil appreciates this as well.

“We were working through that case when, this morning, at approximately 2:00 AM, three individuals were found dead at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Each had been shot three times in the head, point-blank - a professor, her post-doc, and a PhD candidate.” As she names them, her fingers flick, and new photos come up to cover the first set: an older Asian woman, a white male in his 20s, and a black woman, probably in her 20s as well. Accompanying them are similar shots from the crime scene. The gore is the same. Phil looks, making clinical notes in his head.

“Three shots in the head is an odd signature,” Romanoff says, also looking at the images.

“A gross one,” Barton mutters under his breath, and across the line, Barnes chuckles, which earns him a glare from Rogers.

“The press are already calling him ‘Red Skull’,” Barnes offers. “Cause all that’s left is blood and bits of skull.”

“Someone has leaked details to the press,” Carter says, those red lips pressing together in a line that clearly is going to fire someone before the day is out.

“We’ll want to get there as soon as possible,” Phil says. “Stark, you’re gonna want to search previous cases in Baltimore - look for the signature, but also anything close to it, multiple headshots or three shots to the body. Unsubs never start with shooting two victims - three times - with a sniper rifle. This guy’s killed before.”

“JARVIS is already searching for overlap between the victims,” Stark says, waving his hand. “I’ll get FRIDAY looking through cases from the past, hey, thirty years, if the lovely gentlemen are willing to throw open their databases for us.”

Phil watches Barnes’ mouth twist up in something, briefly, while Rogers stares Stark down and says calmly, “If the gentleman promises not to break it.”

Barton snorts, and Stark looks deeply affronted. “Break it? Break - Coulson, do these people even know who I am?”

Phil ignores him. “My team will be there late this morning. We’ll debrief further on the way, and look to meet up with you around noon to go over the details and what we’ve been able to find. Look forward to meeting you in person, Chief Carter.”

“Likewise, Agent Coulson.” Carter gives him a small smile, which Phil reads as a sign of professional respect, so he returns the gesture. “Carter out.”

“Keep me updated, Cheese,” Nick says, and Phil doesn’t roll his eyes at the nickname, but he can’t help the tightening of his lips. “Fury out.”

Phil glances around at his team. Barton and Romanoff are, as usual, locked in whispered conversation with each other - how they work the best. Banner is flicking through screens on his tablet, reading at his usual incomprehensible speed, and Stark is already clattering away at a keyboard and muttering under his breath into the earpiece he wears connecting him to his home-built AI. Odinson has leaned back, his arms crossed, looking at Phil for direction.

“Odinson and I are driving,” Phil says, and stands to leave. “Be there in twenty.”