Hill strained her ears, desperate to hear anything. Her captors had left about an hour before, which, based on their previous trends, meant that they’d be returning soon. Hill wasn't sure what was left for them to do. The worst torments had been the sleep deprivation, malnourishment, and uncomfortable position. Her arms were locked above her head, as they’d been for about way too fucking long . She kept track of the time, but she didn’t dare actually think about it. If she thought about it, she would just make herself more miserable.
The situation was less than ideal. With her eyes covered and sense of touch restricted, she was forced to rely mostly on her senses of sound and smell. Sound was greatly disappointing; there was still no mention of her captors, no echo of steel-toed boots warning her of their presence. The floors were her ally, in this sense. If they couldn't do anything to help her, they at least didn’t want her unprepared.
The lack of sound meant that her sense of smell was absolutely overwhelmed. The smell of bleach crept up from the corners like shadows in her vision, and the scents of her own blood and piss were less than pleasant.
Still, she wasn’t sure what she should think about. Thinking about her situation had already gotten old, and thinking about what her situation could mean for her lovers was excruciating. Hill didn’t know if she was being used as bait or if her captors actually cared about the information they'd tried to torture out of her. No one was supposed to know about the arrangement worked out between her, Natasha, and Bucky— but, if working for SHIELD had taught her anything, it was that anyone could get any information. You could devote years of your life to securing data only to find that the people you were securing it from had access to it all along. Finding out about Hydra’s infestation had been brutal. There wasn’t a corner of SHIELD that went unscathed. SHIELD’s roots were founded in Naziism.
She could still remember the events of the Triskelion vividly. Fury’s death; the fake one, then the real one, executed at the hands of Alexander Pierce. The crashing of the helicarriers, and the subsequent escape of the Winter Soldier. SHIELD had a clear list of succession for when a director dies, and it was effective immediately. Hill became the director of SHIELD just in time to watch it collapse.
The cleanup efforts had been hell. The media fallout from the file dump had been hell. Getting interrogated by The Star Spangled Man With A Plan, had been hell.
She remembered that part vividly too. Steve, badly bruised, unshaven, circling her like a vulture. He’d just found out that his best friend, the famed Bucky Barnes, had been brainwashed and tortured by the same agency he was unknowingly working for. He didn’t use force to get answers from her, but it was clear that he would’ve if he thought she’d been hiding anything.
“I’m going to ask you one more time,” he said, that righteous jawline set in a scowl. “Did you know?”
She would’ve straightened, but she couldn’t. Her back was already straight, formal, professional; parade rest for the sitting officer. She’d had conversations like this before, but she usually was the one asking, not answering. “My answer remains the same,” she said, letting her anger penetrate her voice but not her posture. “I did not know about Hydra. I believe Fury did not know about Hydra, but I can’t confirm that. Their roots were planted deep; Hydra has been a part of SHIELD much longer than I have.”
Steve went silent, staring at a spot in the distance for a moment, probably listening to his comm. Hill strained her ears, but she couldn’t hear it; he probably had the sound on the lowest setting possible, using his super-hearing to his advantage. “Copy.” He turned to her, still looking at her distastefully. “We’re letting you go for now. But know that you will be watched. If you leave the city, you will be followed. If you leave the country, you will be followed. If you are found associating with any enemies of the nation, we will know. And we won’t be this lenient a second time around.”
Steve turned to leave and Hill got up, following him. She hadn't been cuffed to the table like a real interrogation, which annoyed her. Pick a damn side, Rogers.
“Captain,” she said, making him glance back but not stop walking, “with all due respect, if you're so sure that I'm corrupt than why don’t you just arrest me now?”
The elevator opened for him and he stepped in, pressing the button. Hill didn't follow him.
Steve gave her a sad smile. “That's the problem: we're not sure. Don’t make me regret this.”
Which was just like him, honestly. Captain America, guilting people into being good, law-abiding citizens until the end.
After that, Hill had been a high-functioning wreck. She hadn’t lied to the Captain about SHIELD being corrupt long before she joined up, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t to blame. She was supposed to be the best, and she’d let her own damn organization rot. It was up to her to pick up the pieces. That meant disbanding SHIELD; that meant accepting defeat; that meant pulling the funds and creating a new and improved organization, designing it all herself to ensure that another slip up would not occur. She created SPEAR, the Specialized Personnel for Eradication And Removal. Like it or not, SHIELD was still needed. There were more enemy threats and more enhanced popping up every day, and someone had to deal with them. And that responsibility fell to her.
Now, SPEAR was thriving. It was far smaller than SHIELD had been, but the smaller size meant that Hill knew and trusted her entire staff.
Her current captors claimed to be Hydra aligned. They badgered her for information on old SHIELD data and new SPEAR projects, but she hadn’t given them anything. This was bigger than her.
Another coughing fit ravaged through her body, and she doubled over as much as she could with her hands above her. The coughing had started sometime in the past day, and it was horrific. Already, her throat was scratched raw. Her ribs were damaged from the beatings, making each spasm of her treacherous body sharp and painful. But she couldn’t stop.
The coughing must’ve attracted attention, because distantly, she became aware of footsteps coming towards her. Two pairs, one light, one heavy, both about as silent as it was possible to get in the echoey hallway. She didn’t have time to analyze them further because her body had decided it did not like the coughing, and instead made her retch. She didn’t vomit, but it was a close call. She was lucky; vomiting now would just dehydrate her further.
She stopped convulsing just in time to hear the footsteps come close, close enough that she could hear their breaths too. There was a swoosh of air above her, and then her hands were free. She fell forwards into a pair of awaiting arms. “Shh, kotyonok ,” Natasha purred, holding her up with the strength of a cement wall. “We’re here. Let’s go home, shall we?”
The blindfold was gently untangled from her hair, and Hill sighed against Natasha’s shoulder, eyes closed against the harsh light. “Took you fucking long enough,” she grumbled into the woman’s shoulder.
Hill became vaguely aware of a presence at her back. She forced herself to stand, taking her weight off of Natasha enough to look behind her. Bucky was there, and though he was too deep in his soldier mindset to offer her condolences, she could tell from the bitter twist in his mouth that he was upset. “Come,” he said, voice laced with a Russian accent, “They called for reinforcements.”
We don’t have much time, he meant. Hill didn’t mind; they never had much time.
She was too weak to run out of the base on her own, so Bucky had her climb onto his back, wrapping her limbs around him like a koala. She ached horribly from the strain of standing for so long, but it was better than walking. “You good?” Natasha questioned, emotionless.
“Fine,” Hill rasped. “Give me a gun.”
Bucky started to protest, but she pinched his ear, a familiar and easily translatable gesture. He huffed and took one from his ankle holster. He seldom used it, but she knew that it was kept in pristine condition, just like the rest of his arsenal. It would do just fine.
Then, finally, they took off. Clutching onto a man’s back as he ran full speed was not a fun experience, even if Hill’s ribs hadn’t been injured, but she gritted her teeth and dealt with it. The faster they ran, the faster they could leave.
They encountered multiple people trying to impede their progress, but they dealt with them with a quick, practiced ease. At one point, Hill even raised her gun to take out a guard running in Bucky’s blind spot. He patted her ankle in appreciation, but then Hill was hit with another round of coughing and Bucky ended up taking the gun back. It was probably for the best, what with the way Hill’s vision kept on swimming in and out of focus.
She never fully lost consciousness, but her awareness of her surroundings did falter, flickering like a scratched disc. When Hill came back to reality, she was on the couch in her living room. Her lovers argued in spit-fire Russian a few feet away, and the sound was familiar enough to make her chuckle painfully.
“ Masha,” Bucky said, turning to her intently. “What is the extent of your injuries.”
Hill blinked a few times at him. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get his image to focus right. “Talk later,” she eventually said, sinking further into the couch. “Sleep now.”
And she did.
When she awoke for real, there was another form weighing down the couch cushions. Two metal fingers were pressed against the pulse point on her neck.
“ Idti ,” Natasha ordered, shoving a scared looking man toward her. “ Ty doktor. Isprav' yeye.”
It took a few moments for Hill’s sleep-and-sickness addled mind to translate the Russian: Go. You’re a doctor. Fix her.
How sweet. Her girlfriend was threatening civilians for her.
Hill started coughing again, and Bucky quickly removed his fingers. He shot her his look of concern, the one that looked like a mix of predator and prey. Hill had a nightmare, once, of a doe standing in the middle of the street, about to get hit by a car, and it’s hooves planted themselves into the cement, prey becoming predator. Bucky looked like that.
“I’m going!” The doctor said, harried. “Already, that cough sounds bad. What were the events leading up to—”
“It doesn’t matter,” Bucky growled, “She’s hurt. Fix her.”
The doctor huffed. “It’s not that easy. I need to know—”
Bucky pulled out a knife, and he stopped, mid sentence. “ You need to know how to keep your damn trap shut and do your job,” Bucky threatened. Hill didn’t know if the doctor spoke Russian, but a threat was a threat, no matter if it was comprehensible. The doctor shut up.
Bucky moved away, pacing to the other side of the room to give him space. Hill coughed again, just once. Her body was balancing on the edge of exhaustion.
“Get her water,” the doctor suggested. He was an older man, wrinkled with a big nose and ears, a contrast to his small framed glasses. He put his hand to her forehead, then took out a stethoscope, feeling for her pulse in multiple places. She winced when he pressed the metal to her ribs, and within a moment Bucky was on him, yanking him away. “I didn’t mean to I didn’t mean to I swear I didn’t—!”
“ Soldat!” Natasha commanded, making Bucky let go of the man. “ Bros’ yego.”
The doctor scurried underneath Bucky’s arms, rushing over to Hill’s bedside. Or, rather, couchside. “It seems likely that you have moderate to severe bruising on your right lower rib cage. It would be beneficial to let me take your shirt off to examine the extent of the injury.”
Bucky prowled forwards, and the doctor winced automatically, but Bucky wasn’t aiming for him. “I’ve got it,” he growled, crouching next to Hill. “ Masha. Can you sit?”
Hill tried to respond verbally, but her throat was too dry. Instead, she just nodded.
Bucky helped her into a sitting position, then sat behind her, supporting her hunched back as her helped pull her shirt off. Hill leaned back against him as the doctor inspected her ribs.
He ended up declaring that they were most likely bruised, but not broken. He then went over her other injuries, which mostly consisted of smaller bruises and scrapes, and then looked over her general condition. “When was the last time she ate?”
Bucky and Natasha both looked to Hill. She shook her head. It had been breakfast, the morning before her capture. That was days ago.
The doctor looked panicked. “Drank water?” Another shake of the head. “Slept a full eight hours.”
Hill actually laughed at that one. Her ribs made her stop quickly enough, wincing, but it was something.
“Okay,” the doctor said, clearly trying to reign his panic in to give an accurate analysis. “The bruises should heal. With enough nourishment, liquids, and sleep, the rest should follow. I’d suggest at least a week of bedrest. The cough should go away on its own. Um also…” he hesitated, eyes flickering up to Bucky who, even sitting down, loomed, “... An x-ray wouldn’t hurt. Neither would a trip to the ER. Whatever caused this level of damage could have caused other… internal issues. I don’t see signs of head trauma, but that’s not the only risk. Internal bleeding—”
“Thank you,” Natasha cut off. “You may leave now.”
The doctor gaped. “I—”
“The funds have been transferred to your account. Speak a word of today and you and your family will be promptly executed. Good day.”
Hill finally managed to get her hands on some water after the doctor was gone. The cool liquid soothed her blistered throat enough to speak. “You guys are assholes,” she said finally.
“Maybe. But we’re effective,” Natasha challenged, moving closer. She crossed her arms, giving Hill a cursory once over. “You look like shit.”
“Thanks,” Hill spat, “I feel like shit.”
“We missed you,” Bucky hummed.
Her lovers moved with their usual efficiency, getting her soft foods and more water. They got washcloths and scrubbed her down as she ate, wiping the sweat and grime and blood away as best as they could. Hill sincerely hoped that she didn’t get any blood on the couch. They only had the one, and they had somehow managed not to stain it at all over the past nine months. It’d be a shame to break their streak.
She was dressed in clean clothes— almost none of which were her own— and finally, carried into the bedroom. “I’m not a child,” she complained.
Natasha pushed her back against the bed, leaning close enough that their lips brushed against each other. “Shut up,” she murmured lowly, giving Hill a real but brief kiss before pulling back.
Bucky helped Hill get comfortable, then made the mistake of trying to move away. Hill grabbed his wrist and scolded him with a click of her tongue, pulling him closer. He took the hint and climbed in, letting Hill drape her legs over him like she liked. Natasha climbed into the other side, but stayed sitting up, pulling out her phone. “Don’t you have shit to do?” Hill asked lazily. She was willing to compromise her dignity enough to ask for one person's company, but to ask for both of her lovers’ attention was too much. She was ill, but she refused to be needy.
“I’m on guard duty,” Natasha said, like that was a completely reasonable explanation— like she was still there for her sake, not for Hill’s. “We both know that you’re going to try to get out of bed as soon as physically possible.”
Hill groaned into her pillow. “I hate you both.”
Bucky responded with a quick forehead kiss, and that was that.
The following days weren’t pleasant by any account. Moving, even just breathing, became painful. Hill spent a lot of time regaining her strength, but after three days wasted away with naps, she couldn’t do it anymore. The boredom kicked in. Unfortunately, Hill had not one, but two parole officers monitoring her every move, and if she so much as sat up without their permission, they were on her.
Hill laid on the bed, her shirt pushed up so that it was bunched up just underneath her breasts. She lounged there lazily, watching Bucky frown ostentatiously at her ribs. “Shouldn’t they have healed by now?”
In the bathroom, Natasha spit toothpaste into the sink. “No, she doesn’t have a healing factor, remember? This is why we had the doctor check her out instead of doing it ourselves.”
“Not that you two aren’t highly qualified,” Hill snarked, letting her head lull to the side. “If I was left in your hands, you’d probably use duct tape to fix it.”
Bucky frowned even more. “Hey. Duct tape works.”
Hill waved her hand, like see what I mean?
“It still looks like it’s healing too slowly. Maybe we should’ve taken her to a hospital.”
“Hospitals have sign in sheets and cameras,” Natasha reminded him. “If we brought her in, Stark would be able to trace her movements. He’d see that she wasn’t alone, and even if we used fake names, he’d recognize us.”
“Fucking Stark,” Bucky grumbled. Stark wasn’t even his biggest concern; it was Steve that was after him. But they were still teamed up, and if Stark wasn’t tracking Bucky, then he was definitely tracking Hill. She knew that she was still at the top of their ‘most likely evil’ list. They hadn’t yet made the connection that she was harboring Missing Persons 1 and 2, but that didn’t mean they could get sloppy.
After the Triskelion, Bucky had escaped his programming and gone on the run. Steve Rogers, aka his former best friend, immediately started hunting him down, apparently unaware that Bucky ran because he didn’t want to be found. That had happened at the same time as the file dump, which exposed Natasha of her past. She ended up pulling a disappearing act. The only traces of her found anywhere were of her murders; old enemies that were now greater threats to her than ever. The murders meant that she had to leave the Avengers. Natasha would talk about them, sometimes, but never about leaving them. It couldn’t have been easy, but then, Natasha would have never done it if it was. Hill did know this: Natasha hadn’t said goodbye. Her friends could guess that she’d gone with the wind, but they had no way to know that she wasn’t actually in trouble.
Natasha's old friend Clint was the one who would be looking for her the most. Bucky’s old friend Steve was the one looking for him. And Hill… well, Hill and Tony had never been friends, but that was beside the point. Either way you spun it, the three of them were being pursued by three separate Avengers; talk about a power throuple.
By the second day, Hill gave in fully. When Bucky was in the bathroom, she snuck into the kitchen to grab her laptop and bring it back to bed. She was already signed on and checking her emails when Bucky came out and rolled his eyes.
“You’re supposed to be resting,” he admonished. “Work can wait.”
“I promise you, it really can’t,” Hill retorted. She was the goddamn director; her company knew how to run without her for a few days, but they still needed a leader. In that way, she had failed them. Her only reassurance was that she hadn’t betrayed them to her captors.
Bucky huffed, but didn’t try to take her computer from her. Instead he picked up her phone, looking over it briefly before announcing she had a text.
It was from Eve, which really wasn’t a surprise. Hill was already smiling when she opened it to find a picture of a nasty looking bruise on her sister’s obnoxiously muscled calf. I got this one falling while free climbing, the caption underneath boasted. Beat that.
Hills smile only widened as she lifted her shirt and took a picture of the bruise there, now bluish green. Got this one while being tortured by an enemy agency, she texted back casually. Check and mate.
You did not. I’m calling B.S.
It’s true! You won’t believe the amount of hovering I’ve had to endure over the past few days.
Bucky pouted. “We don’t ‘hover’.”
Hill gave him a look. “You’re hovering over my shoulder to read my texts right now.”
“You’re still wrong,” he complained, dropping his head to rest on her shoulder. Hill scratched him under the chin and went back to her messages. Eve had just replied:
You’d think that they’d be calmer about this sort of thing.
You’d think so, but no. They’re both total stress cases.
Haha, jokes on you. This is why I’m only dating one person, like a normal human being.
Just then, Bucky snatched the phone out of Hill’s hand, sending a quick message of Suck my dick.
“Hey!” Hill complained, taking the phone back. She wasn’t bothered by content of the message— Eve probably wouldn’t even think it strange— but it only felt right to scold him for taking her phone. Bucky leaned over and bit her ear in response.
Ha. But why would you want me to suck your dick when you have two fugitives who could do it instead?
You’re actually the worst.
“That’s it,” Hill decided aloud with an air of finality, “I’m officially cutting off my family. They’re all horrible.”
“Horrible,” Bucky agreed, tone normal but eyebrows raised in amusement. “Guess you’ll have more free time to spend with us now. What a shame.”
“It is a shame,” Hill teased, shoving him. Bucky fell over dramatically, as if he’d been stabbed through the heart, and Hill snorted and went back to her work, gleefully ignoring him.