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The State of Change

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Being her first day, of course she was nervous.

They both were.

The pale brunette quirked an eyebrow as she looked towards her friend, glancing at the stony expression, knowing that she was panicking completely and irrevocably underneath the façade. Cat and Ela were both in awe and slight concern at the large warehouse in front of them.

They took in their surroundings. A dreary industrial park, seemingly abandoned and grey clouds overcast the entire lot.

“You sure this is the address?” Ela questioned, eyebrows furrowing at the setting before her whilst her passive expression did not show any sign of good impression.

“Yeah, I had so much time to Google the address before the note combusted, didn’t I?” Cat’s sarcasm dripped from her mouth, casing an eye roll from her friend. They had been recruited by a shady looking guy with sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt that didn’t quite match his stature.


 

They sat at the small coffee shop where no one ever went but them; out of fear of the scary Italian lady (who loved them, and even gave them free pastries when she wasn’t shouting at her twenty something son who still lived at home and refused to marry the continuous blind-dates his mother had set up for him) across from the University, enjoying the tall hot chocolates with extra whipped cream and marshmallows and often discussed their non-existent social lives –or their dissertation on the cosmic radiation studies carried out by Dr. Eric Selvig.

They sat in their usual seat near the counter, the rusty chairs squeaking as they sat down and Cat nodded gratefully towards Martina who rambled off upstairs to once again, shout at her useless son.

“Did you finally get the appointment with Selvig yet?” Ela asked, more out of desperation than curiosity. The deadline for the draft was due in a couple of weeks, and even though they had finished most of it an age ago – the biggest gaps required further explanation from the eccentric physicist.

“No you moron, he was too busy running naked around Stonehenge.” Cat replied curtly, looking at the girl next to her with a glaring look.

Ela laughed drily, her eyes wandering across the quaint café to find the silhouette of a man in the corner of the furthest booth. Swinging her head round as if she had never seen the man, her heart rate increased as she realised this was an unusual occurrence. Resting her hand on the table, she leaned in closer.

Cat leaned back in retaliation.

Ela glanced towards the corner with the mysterious customer.

Cat’s eyes followed, not registering and replying quite loudly.

“Such a revelation; a person sitting. So what, there’s a person?”

Then the penny dropped.

The man stood up, towering over the small booth.

Ela shot a glare in the direction of her sometimes not so conclusive friend. He walked towards them slowly, his trainers slapping against the worn linoleum and Ela took her instinct to flee – but Cat shoved her back down again, her back slapping against the back of the wooden chair. She let out a cry of alarm as he was now less than a metre away from them.

No one ever came here, it was only open to the people Martina liked.

In the four years they had studied at the university, no-one had ever come here.

That’s why they were worried.

“You are so un-subtle!” Ela whispered harshly, trying her best to be as quiet as possible.

Cat sent her a look that told her to shut up, before retorting herself. “At least I can speak English!”

Ela muttered a, “racist,” as they both hunched over their respectively untouched drinks, slowly growing cold and the whipped cream floating limply on the chocolate goodness.

The man cleared his throat.

They turned to see his stern expression, sunglasses and intimidating stance.

“Ela and Caitlin, right?”

They nodded, throats drying in response.

“I’d like to talk to you about your research, and I could do with your help,”

Ela looked at Cat, noticing the expression of both piqued curiosity and terror on both of their faces. He looked behind him, grabbed a wooden chair and scraped it noisily across the floor so he could sit next to them.

Taking a quick glance out of the window, he decided he could no longer stay and pushed his chair back – but not without a short explanation – still standing. “Look, I can’t tell you anything right now-“

They looked at him expectantly for a reason for his sudden change in mind.

“-but I can give you this and trust you to follow the instructions.”

He took a folded brown envelope from his sweatshirt pocket, placing it on the table and walking off hurriedly towards the back door.

Martina’s footsteps clanked down the stairs as she shot a grin to the mysterious man, his hands pulling down the hood over his bald head and before reaching the door.

“It’s not got a bomb in it, has it?” Cat asked quickly.

He turned with a quirked eyebrow and looked at her with an expression that said, ‘really?’ and he swiftly opened the door and left, leaving not a shadow behind in the dusky April day.

Ela turned towards her with a look of disbelief and questioned her outburst. “A bomb? Really?”

Cat stuck up her defences. “Precautions! And that’s the only thing you got out of that whole encounter?”

Before the other could reply, Martina interrupted the conversation with a, “Nick! Such a lovely man!” and silenced them both.

Who was Nick?

 


 

They both wondered on what whim had they decided to even make it to this shady place that was a good 50 miles from any civilisation, and even the taxi driver seemed a bit worried as to why they were going to such a creepy place. The buildings loomed ahead of them, and they didn’t know what building the note had meant.

Walking past the spiked gates, a sudden mechanical whir rushed through their ears and within a few seconds, several scary looking guns were pointed at their heads.

A robotic voice spoke.

“You are on restricted property. Please state your name.”

Ela gulped and Cat managed to crack out a voice that seemed far higher pitched than it should have. “Caitlin DuRose.”

The robotic voice spoke again.

“Access granted. We have been expecting you Miss DuRose.”

She breathed a sigh of relief and stepped forwards. The guns still didn’t retract, and the pair seemed very uneasy. Maybe they should have just not come. It seemed more trouble (and possible death) than it was worth. As the shorter other stepped forward, nothing happened, but as Ela stepped forward, the guns retracted forwards again, this time beeping.

“Trespass detected. If authorised, state your name.”

The guns pointed at the awkward Indian seemed to get the better of her, and Cat had to say the name instead.

“Ela Kale.”

The faceless robot spoke once again, determining her fate.

“Permission granted. Please enter through Warehouse 5 for induction. Welcome, Miss Kale.”

She almost passed out in relief before they walked forwards and the giant warehouse doors opened, the metal gliding over the rough concrete; as they moved closer towards it, a well decorated reception was in sight.

Both of their faces scrunched up in confusion at the pleasant interiors, and a small, pixie like woman sat at the desk. Cheerily, she stood up and greeted them both warmly, her high pitched tone melodic in their ears.

“Welcome, Miss DuRose and Miss Kale. We’re grateful that you came. Agent Coulson will be delighted hear you could make it today. Sorry for the issues outside, security issues – you must understand?” They both smiled uneasily, unsure of what was to come and nodded, hearts still pounding from the close encounter.

Ela smiled with as much friendliness as she could muster. “It’s pronounced kah-ley.”

Sharon nodded. “I’m sorry about that, Miss Kale.”

Ela nodded in recognition of the woman’s apology.

She placed two clipboards onto the glass countertop and neatly put two pens on top of them. “Now, if you could please sign these release forms.”

Ela quirked an eyebrow at the small lady, and her presence made up for her lack in height. Noticing her expression, she replied, “Well, with the Avengers Initiative, you can never be too sure.” She let out a slightly nervous laugh. “You know the sorts.”

They slowly nodded and skimmed the contract, eyes furiously moving across the paper – waiting for something to convince her and change her mind – something out of the ordinary.

The agency will take no responsibility for any damage…

The following information will not be disclosed to any persons outside of the agency…

Once the consent is given, the signer is bound to the contract and cannot leave the premises…

The agency cannot be held liable for personnel damage or damage to any items…

Ela quickly signed the paper and placed her clipboard down and smiled falsely to show whatever impression she wanted to give; internally accepting that she probably should have read the clauses of the release form formally and with more caution.

The other then tugged at her jacket, whispering a confused, “What are you doing?”

Casually, Ela shrugged and whispered back, not much louder than Cat, “Do you not want to know what the hell they’re talking about?”

Cat glanced towards the paper without reading any of it – her faith in Ela causing her to reluctantly sign the paper alongside muttering angrily about her friend’s impulsive decisions.

The woman, whose name tag stated that she was called Sharon Carter clapped her hand together in delight and ushered them through a narrow corridor. The corridor seemed never ending, and a dreading silence impended upon them – their regret running through their heads as they eased closer to the lift entrance they were walking towards. With a swipe of the card, Sharon opens the elevator, the large metal structure seeming to close in on them as the door slides shut.

“Destination?”

The same robot that threatened their lives just asked them which floor they wanted to go to, and quite frankly the both of them were close to having panic attacks. If this was some weird government scheme, they only hoped that the American government would grant them health insurance – seeing as their British homeland was not barbaric enough to do so.

As Ms Carter punched a 31, Cat felt as if they were moving to the heavens and their death alongside Ela feeling like maybe her impulsive decisions weren't the greatest choices. The only notable accomplishments she could personally do were to have quoted Star Trek and the original Star Wars word for word and give a riveting argument about comic books and which publishing house was better.

She was screwed.

On the other hand, Cat was definitely more curious than her partner-in-impulsivity, but had a gut instinct that if she went down then there was a definitely a point of no return. Her stomach plummeted as the lift moved down.

Then they both realised – there couldn't be 31 floors.

They were going down.

There literally was no escape.

Eyes closed for the remaining 16 floors, both of them were in a downwards spiral with their mental state and their curiosity was slowly crumbling and being replaced with terror. After what seemed like a million years, the doors opened and they were revealed to a large computer room with people sat at desks in a black uniform and a smiling man waiting to (presumably) greet them.

The man wore an ear piece and a fitted suit, his shoes polished and hairs greying slightly and the skin around his eyes crinkled with laugh lines but his eyes showed different.

There was something about them.

Not quite sure what to make of him, the pair nodded back as they stepped out of the elevator. The room seemed busy enough to ignore their presence, but not busy enough to be chaotic.

“Welcome Miss DuRose and Miss Kale! It’s great to have you.”

Even Cat was surprised that he had managed to not piss off Ela with his pronunciation of her surname.

They smiled back, unease slowly drifting – but not gone completely. They still didn’t know who they were speaking to and what he wanted to do with them.

Ela surprisingly spoke first, her nausea still fighting as her calm tone was present. “It’s lovely to meet you too-“she looked for his name badge but was unable to find one.

He replied curtly, “Phil Coulson.”

She restarted the sentence after she recognised the name with Sharon Carter. “Nice to meet you Phil,”

A tall and model-esque woman interrupted before Cat could continue with her own greeting. “That’s Agent Coulson to you, Kale.” Her sharp features graced her face, her eyes cold and calculating but her face in a small smile.

Agent Coulson laughed, and introduced the woman. “This is Agent Hill; she’ll be here for general queries.”

Frustrated with her inability to speak without being interrupted, Cat burst out in a greeting also – but far more rushed than the others. Slightly embarrassed by her outburst, she laughed nervously as the others stared on, startled.

“Well, I’ll sit you guys down and then we’ll get down to business?” he asked politely, but it seemed more like a command with his authoritative tone.

Agent Hill left, leaving them to follow the friendly Coulson through double doors hidden from first view at the side of the room. The corridor that followed was much smaller and he led them to a spacious office, complete with plants and large screens carrying holograms of technology they could have only dreamed of.

He sat behind the desk and told them to sit down, so they did.

They weren’t very good at the danger instinct, clearly.

At least they followed orders.

“So…”

They waited in unison.

Phil Coulson realised they weren’t going to speak unless spoken to.

“Right – okay.”

Another pregnant pause followed, neither parties not knowing quite what to say to the other.

Agent Coulson broke the silence with the opening sentence taken right from their mouths; if they had actually gotten over their nerves to speak.

“I’ll get to the point. You met a pretty shady guy the other day at Martina’s, right?”

They nodded, glancing at each other out of the corners of their vision – both confused, but with the same thought lingering on their minds; how the hell did Martina know so many dodgy people?

All they thought she actually did was to scream at her unmarried son all day and make some damn good hot chocolate and chocolate twists.

“That was Nick Fury, ex-director of an organisation called S.H.I.E.L.D,”

He waited for the cogs to click into place, the bout of recognition coming from the only news the world had been talking about. S.H.I.E.L.D? Wasn’t that overrun by their opposition?

They thought it had collapsed with the uprising of that weird terrorist group, HYDRA – but clearly not. They had only seen the destruction caused by the unknown persons with a metal arm and the destruction of the building named the Triskelion in D.C.

Ela personally thought that the media had made it all up for attention, whereas Cat thought it was totally real and pondered over the mechanics of the situation far more than she should have.

“As you may know, as far as authorities and the public are concerned – S.H.I.E.L.D does not exist. However, when you signed that release upstairs – you, Ela Kale and Caitlin DuRose – are no longer normal members of the public.”

In disbelief, both of them simultaneously cried out in confusion, with “What?” ringing throughout the sterile office.

Cat spoke, her intonation crammed with confusion and terror and even a little bit of happiness.

“What the hell do you mean by that?”

In the meanwhile, Ela scanned the huge displays spread across the walls of the office, and her eyes widened at the plans. These weren’t plans for technology – these were profiles of people. Seeing a glimpse of red and gold, and the mention of Antony Stark, her head turned to give full attention to the screen before slumping back to face Agent Coulson, who continued to shoot her an odd expression following her wandering eyes.

“It means what I said, Miss DuRose. The contract did state you wouldn’t be able to leave after signing it.” He gave them a slightly disappointed look, as if to scold them for not reading it properly.

An idea burst into Cat’s conflicted mind and before she could think, her mouth opened and revealed what Coulson was hoping she wouldn’t.

He didn’t have an answer for her question.

“If S.H.I.E.L.D no longer exists, it can’t be a legally binding contract!” her explanation causes relief to surge through the other, knowing they had a way out at least.

“Technically yes, but seeing as there is no S.H.I.E.L.D – we don’t actually exist either.”

Ela opened her mouth to speak, but abruptly closed it.

“We signed the thing because we thought it would be in case the warehouse collapsed on us, or something along those lines.” Cat said, the stress reaching her vocal chords.

“Look, I know it seems daunting – but we need you. Your research has aided us a lot with our programme and we need some fresh perspective. We can’t force you to stay, but we hope that you will.”

“How do you know about our research?” Ela asked, her attention quickly changing to Phil.

He shrugged. “We’ve been monitoring you since Bruce saw your paper published alongside Dr. Kravatsky in the Scientific American.”

“That was like, two years ago.”

“Exactly.”

Cat narrowed her eyes. This made no sense to her.

“You’ve been stalking us for two years?”

“Not stalking. Monitoring. Seeing if you would be an a valuable addition to the Initiative.”

“What initiative?” Cat asked, desperate for answers.

Coulson smiled at them sympathetically, the look underneath questioning whether they had been living under a rock for the past year. “The Initiative was originally a failure. After some-“ he stopped for a moment thinking carefully about his explanation. “-problems regarding some of S.H.I.E.L.D’s intentions, we decided that it would be a bigger risk not to carry through the Initiative seeing as higher powers were hiding things from us.”

Ela was still scrutinising the information before her.

“Who is we?”

Coulson forced a smile, frustration clear. “We is a number of people that I do not have the authorisation to discuss.”

“I thought the authorisation didn’t technically exist. With you being under the radar, and not technically being a real thing.” The emphasised the last two words with an almost patronising tone, Cat smirking at her friend’s blatant scepticism.

It was Coulson that stumbled upon his words next. “You see- we – I understand-“

Ela raised an eyebrow, continuing to assess the profiles of information around her.

He cleared his throat. “I understand your doubt, Miss Kale. I can only offer the information that will keep us under the radar.”

Ela shrugged and Cat continued for her.

 “What would it consist of? I mean what would we do?”

As Coulson explained the research they did regarding the safekeeping of humanity and how they plan to take down HYDRA which after some explanation, made more sense to the girls as they realised it was the terrorist, Nazi-idealisation of opposition that overthrew them from the inside whilst destroying the entire organisation.

Ela had a brainstorm of her own, images and words flashing into her mind from what she had previously seen. There was something on her mind, running furiously, so fast that she couldn’t keep it still – she couldn’t keep it in her space…

Extra-terrestrial.

New York.

The Avengers.

The Avengers Initiative.

It fit together like a puzzle.

Still staring at the profiles in front of her, imaginary red string crossed her mind, what was it? Red and gold? Tony Stark? Nuclear weapons?

“You want us to work with superheroes?”

Cat looked at her as if she had suddenly lost her mind, and Phil looked at her in wonderment and smiled.

“Exactly! But we don’t call them superheroes here, it inflates the ego – so we just call them skilled individuals instead.”

Cat, still confused repeats his previous statement. “Skilled individuals?”

Ela replied with “Tony Stark? The green monster thing? The guy claiming to be a myth?” knowing that she was right when it came to the egotistical tendencies. Agent Coulson nodded, complete with a half smile and she decided to fill in the gaps for her friend’s bafflement.

“Remember New York, last year when half the city was destroyed, y’know with the aliens and stuff?”

Cat nodded, slowly catching onto what the other was trying to explain.

“And then with the guy with the metal arm in Washington? Captain America?”

Cat nodded, suddenly realising what the hell she was talking about.

“That kind of thing,”

“Oh.”

Phil looked between them, an amused expression on his face between their small exchanges, fascinated by how they relied on each other for information and to fill the gaps between their shared knowledge. It reminded him of Fitz and Simmons, brilliant British recruits that worked with him on his own team before SHIELD was destroyed and before Fitz was put into brain-dead state.

Phil was just glad he was alive.

Bringing him back from his thoughts; Ela spoke up as she drank in the information around her, her impulsive manner still shaking her nerves.

“I’m in.”

This earned her a punch in the arm from her precautious friend, and an alarmed expression to match the action. “Stop it!”

“That was uncalled for! Stop what?” the other asked, rubbing her arm and wincing slightly.

Making some circular hand motions towards her friend’s general direction, Cat struggles to form her sentence before coming with a simple, “That!”

Ela’s response was her furrowed eyebrows, and she sighed in frustration.

Coulson just watched on, hiding the smirk he wanted to hold on his face.

Before an interruption occurred, Cat finally found the words that left her tongue tied.

“Stop making so many impulsive decisions!” her concern masked her agreement, but Ela just shrugged in response.

“What’s the worst that could happen?”


 

Later that day, they were beaten bruised and had some serious regret.

“I have bruises in places I didn’t know could be bruised.”

They stared up at the plastered ceiling; the spacious dorm-like room was comfortable enough.

They weren’t.

“This is your fault,” Cat said as she turned towards her friend, her body lashing out in pain as she turned on her side. The other heard her shift, and fearing the same consequences of moving, she remained in her position.

“You shouldn’t be complaining. At least you get Rogers.” Was her half-hearted response, and clearly she meant it. She had picked the short straw with her own trainer/SO/weirdo sadist – and quite frankly did not even have the energy to complain.

“That is true. He does apologise quite often.”

“Exactly,”

Cat shifted over again, this time her other side. In a whisper that Ela just managed to catch, left the whisperer in a fit of painful giggles.

“Kinda cute, too.”

Ela just rolled her eyes.


Coulson led them to a glass walled conference room with lo-behold: the very ‘skilled individuals’ they had claimed to be working with. The room was smaller, a rectangular table stuck in the middle, worn but the room was comforting in the way of its normality – unlike the whole situation they had suddenly found themselves in. Several recognisable figures graced the chairs, talking amongst themselves.

Cat scanned the room, her eyes widening with shock as she saw her idol; the very same Bruce Banner standing a few feet away from her. Glancing at her friend, she nudged her rather violently, and Ela just glared at her friend before realising who she was referring to.

“Oh, fuck.”

“Was he the one that saw our paper?”

Ela’s eyes widened. “I don’t see another Bruce, Cat.”

Their breathing changed, increasing rapidly in the following seconds.

“Stay cool,”

“Is that really-“

Cat nodded as they stared shamelessly at the handsome middle-aged scientist.

“This is unrea-“

A hand slapped over Ela’s mouth, and she turned to see the culprit. Cat’s eyes were wide as she shushed her and looked around the room – all of whose inhabitants were staring at them, a myriad of expressions.

At least Dr. Banner had the courtesy to look humbled and slightly red.

Well, this wasn’t awkward at all.

 

They both internally grimaced and Mr. Stark himself had decided to break the tangible silence.

“Look girls, I know I’m here – but no need to-“he stopped for a moment, as if recollecting something. “-what’s the word?” his eyes downcast to his hands, which at that exact moment, his fingers snapped together in an echoing click and he finally completed his sentence. “-fangirl! No need to fangirl!”

Cat and Ela took a look at the weapons mogul with raised eyebrows – and turned to look at each other and just burst out laughing.

After catching their breaths after a few seconds, tears of mirth glistened in their eyes and the room was giving them an even stranger look, Coulson included.

It was Ela’s voice that rang out next, her voice more confident than she had expected.

“Yeah. Sure, Mr Stark.”

Mr. Stark looked confused, as he shrugged off his initial confusion and walked closer to them, hand outstretched to shake their hands.

“Call me Tony,” he winked and this time Cat rolled her eyes in response.

They weren’t the biggest fans – he was too extravagant and superficial for their tastes. At least that’s how he was portrayed by everyone ever.

They both nod towards him, shaking his calloused hands and taking the initiative to then collectively pass nods on to the remaining people in the room.

Agent Coulson cleared his throat, drawing attention to himself and then proceeded to introduce the people in the room, starting with Dr. Banner.

“This is Dr. Banner, although I’m sure you’re familiar with his work.” Dr Banner held up a modest hand and waved slightly, the bright colour left his cheeks as they moved on to the next ‘skilled individual’.

She looked like the seven deadly sins in human form- her beautiful face shrouded by straight red hair that had a natural sheen that women would kill for. Her eyes were sharp and observant and her tight fitted suit left nothing left to be imagined. “This is Agent Natasha Romanov,” Coulson concluded and Natasha slyly waving a few fingers at them with a smile on her face.

“Call me Natasha.” She replied, smile still gracing her lips.

Ela couldn’t decide if it was mocking or not.

“This is Clint Barton, who doesn’t really say much,”

A surge of quiet laughter filled the room, and Clint smiled knowingly at the pair. Cat couldn’t figure him out and it unnerved her. As their heads followed Coulson’s own line of vision, both of their eyes stumbled across the famous American patriot, Captain America. Both of them felt a bit embarrassed as they wondered where the suit was and almost forgot he was actually a normal person.

“Hey guys! Welcome,” he greeted them warmly and threw them a casual grin that nearly made Cat swoon. Knowing her friend’s choices far too well, Ela stifled a snort of laughter. “You’ve got Sam Wilson, who will be overseeing your training-“

Ela practically spluttered a “What?”

The rest of the room had similar looks of mild surprise as Coulson cleared up the issue.

Cat followed with a non-conclusive look that agreed with the other. Sam looked slightly offended and crossed his arms, raising an eyebrow but attempting to placate the situation with a joke.

“Don’t worry, I don’t bite.”

His tone did them no favours, and his stature certainly didn’t make them feel happy about what training may have consisted of.

They were sure that he was not going to be teaching them about electromagnetic radiation – definitely not with those arms.

 Agent Coulson looked at them, lost on something before asking in defence of his own memory; “Didn’t I tell you guys?”

Cat shook her head, waiting for an explanation as the other was momentarily distracted by some spread out plans on the large conference table. She saw what looked like an arm from her upside down angle, the basic outline for an exo-limb and a pair of wings that looked like a jet-pack.

This was candyland.

“Because we’re not technically meant to exist – we have to take measure to train all of our agents, for self- defence when the situation calls for it.”

Snapping out of her distraction of the good looking scientist, Cat piped up cheerily, as a reminder to the elder man – “But we’re not going anywhere!”

Out of nowhere, and so quiet that she had gone by unnoticed, Agent Hill piped up with a clearly unimpressed remark. “I thought these guys were supposed to be smart.”

Coulson looked at them her, he himself wondering why Agent Hill showed such dislike for the new recruits.

“Now Maria, play nice. They don’t know much yet.”

She sighed almost in boredom and crossed her slender legs, changing her attention elsewhere.

Suddenly within the awkward silence, a continuation of beeps sounded in the room, everyone suddenly scrambling for the source - small handheld devices that flashed red and looked expensive.

Coulson raised his voice, “Stark! How fast can you get to New York?”

Tony looked thoughtful for a moment before replying, “An hour, depending on how much-“

Phil gave him a look that just told him to leave, to which Tony put his hands up in his own defence. “Wilson? Romanov?”

The muscular man looked up, and so did the leggy redhead in succession. “Go with, there’s been a tip off about the base takeover.”

They both nod and hurry out of the room. The pair of new recruits assessed the situation; Hill was on the phone, barking orders, Dr. Banner looked blatantly unaffected by it all, Captain America looked mildly concerned and kept asking if there any ways in which he could help, Clint followed swiftly after Romanov, and they noticed the sleek barrel on his shoulder containing some friendly looking arrows.

Agent Hill followed after them, her flat shoes tapping gently against the hard floors, leaving Ela and Cat in a daze as they turned to face the remaining people in the room.

Agent Coulson finished reading off his small device and looked up, changing his vision between the Avengers and the two girls standing awkwardly in confusion. “Look, Banner – stay here and explain to them what’s going to happen.” Banner looked up slowly and gave the man a thumbs up, looking towards the girls and scratching the nape of his neck.

The super soldier looked expectantly towards Agent Coulson for his own orders. Looking like he was facing a dilemma of running out of time, Phil started walk towards the door and informed the room of the plan.

“Sorry Steve, Wilson’s gonna be gone a while – so it’s up to you and Barnes to train them for now. Look, I can’t give you anything to do right now, what with you practically being number one on the HYDRA hit list an’all, so you’re gonna have to stay here for the next few days. I’ll get Romanov to update – I have to go visit Dr Selvig in New Mexico. Seems like Thor’s coming back.”

Steve looked slightly disheartened but despite this, smiled at the pair anyway. At the name of Dr. Selvig, their ears perk up and Cat asks, “Do you think you could get him to email us back? It’s been a while and-“

Agent Coulson just smiled.

“That won’t be necessary, seeing as you’ve already graduated.”

They just looked at him blankly.

“Sorry you miss out on graduation, but we had to do it for you to join.”

Ela and Cat looked at each other thinking the exact same thing.

Who the hell were these people?

Chapter Text

She woke up in a rush, her heart pounding and cold sweat covered her forehead. After the initial shock, she automatically turned to her side – making sure that she hadn’t woken up her companion.

She sat up, reaching for her glasses and scrambling for the dim lamp that found its place on the sparse bedside table. Relief flooded her as the light slowly pooled the room dimly, not quite reaching the corners of the room. Reminding herself that it was just a nightmare that was an unusual occurrence anyway, she fell back asleep – swearing that she saw something glisten in the very corner that she couldn’t see.

She guessed the exhaustion was just getting to her.


 

The next morning, a chirpy Captain Rogers knocked on their room in the early hours. His cheery voice swam through their groggy minds as one by one the pushed the covers back and shivered in the cold.

Still feeling like it was midnight, they remembered that they were underground – and so had no natural light or window to look out of and Cat thought of how her milk-bottled legs would stay pale.

“Come on guys! Breakfast in five! Banner's made pancakes!”

 He walked away from the room as he mentally prepared himself for the next day of planning his trainee’s day. She was nice enough, and she listened to him – even though she was a bit weak. He grimaced to himself as he convinced himself of the white lie. Shaking his head, he reminded himself of the truth – she was really weak.

It was Cat who first rose from her sleepy state, throwing a pillow at her friend to wake her up. “Ugh, let me sleep!”

That just earned another pillow thrown at her.

Ela finally rose and was ready a few minutes later, groggily trudging out of the room with a slightly limp.

“I need coffee.” she said, sounding exasperated.

“You hate coffee.” replied Cat, her eyebrow quirking.

As she walked head on into a door, pain rushing through her forehead, her companion burst out laughing in succession.

“I have a feeling my love will slowly flourish for coffee despite its despicable taste.”

Cat snorted in a half-hearted laugh, muscles still protesting in pain.

After a light breakfast consisting of Dr. Banner’s slightly burnt – albeit enjoyable – pancakes; training was due to begin and Cat was actually looking forward to it.

At least she didn’t have a metal arm to be hit with.

Feeling a sudden surge of pity for her friend, she decided that she was not willing to give up hours with a very, very attractive man who was courteous and had also a valid excuse to see him flex.

Walking into the equipped gym, she walked in, trying her best to hide her bruises before he apologised for the umpteenth time – and watched him with a punching bag in the corner of the room. It was fascinating; he had a rhythm that grew faster and less controlled – anger building up until with a final bang, the punch bag exploded, sand spilling out onto the floor.

 He took a swig of his water and swiftly replaced the bag, turning around to check his surroundings when he saw his trainee.

“You shoulda said something,” he said in his usual perky manner, un-wrapping his hands whilst walking towards her.

“Didn’t want to disturb you,”

Her reply was  honest, and she even blushed a little behind her selfish intentions. He shrugged in response, not quite knowing what to respond her thoughtfulness.

“You ready?”

She nodded even though it was one of the biggest lies she had ever told; her scrapes from the day prior’s session proved that as she internally writhed with her muscles throbbing and bruises aching every time her legs moved to walk.

He pointed towards the large boxing ring in the centre of the room, gesturing for her to get inside – and before he made his way over, grabbed a bigger roll of wraps and threw it a good few metres so that his trainee could catch it. Needless to say – she didn’t quite managed as it bounced off her hands and rolled weakly onto the floor of the ring. Flushed with embarrassment, she took her time to pick it up – trying to avoid meeting her trainer’s gaze.

She really needed some work.

He stood in a steady stance, one foot slightly in front of the other – and held his wrapped hands in a tight fist. He looked at her to mimic him, and she did so – her body position mirroring his. He held out his fist and told her to do so, and he cringed slightly when he saw the rookie fist. Her thumb was curled inwards into her fingers and her wrist limp.

“No, you see – you have to put your fist like this.”

He repositioned his thumb over his fingers and tensed them.

Cat just repeated what she had done before, not seeing the difference.

Steve chuckled as he walked over, and Cat felt pretty useless, so her shoulders slumped and she felt like just giving up.

She was definitely not made for this.

“No-“he took her hand, still weakly in a fist in mind-air and took placed her thumb over her fingers instead of under them.  “-like this.”

She repeated the action with her other hand and he smiled at her. “There ya go!”

Safe to say, she didn’t comment on his patronizing tone. She was sure he didn’t intend it – with him being several decades older and whatnot.

He quickly walked to the end of the ring and picked up two pads, placing them on each hand.

He stood in front of her, punching pads adorning his hands, feet shoulder width apart and a serious expression which wanted to make Emil laugh as it just didn’t suit him to be so serious about something so trivial. Suppressing a smile, she stood forward in the previous stance.

“Okay, hit me,”

She gladly did.

Making no effect of the super-soldier, she still felt she gave her all. Steve nodded in appreciation. “There it is! See that was pretty good. Don’t hold your wrist so tightly and tense your arm as you punch.”

Taking a deep breath, she stepped forwards and did the same again, this time Steve grinned as she followed his instruction exactly. He nodded eagerly for her to continue doing it, but after the first 20 or so (she felt like it was a million), she was out of breath and Steve stood baffled.

“How much, er- exercise do you do, DuRose?”

Cat replied in hefty gasps of air – “I don’t,”

Steve just looked confused.

“Right.”

The exhausted trainee looked drained, and Steve knew exactly what to do.

 “Suicides! Do a hundred of them!” his exclamation was a conclusion to his brainstorm.

Cat just looked at him with the same confusion he regarded her fitness with.

“You want me to commit suicide? 100 times? Wouldn’t I die the first?” was her reply, slightly offended that his plan was to get rid of her instead of perseverance.

Steve actually looked offended, “What? No!” He shook his head, still shaking her misinterpretation out of his head. “I meant run up and down the room a hundred times. One counts as one end to the other and back.”

Standing with her hands on her hips, she stared at the large warehouse room – it had to be at least the size of a football pitch.

“Hey, Captain?”

He was busy gathering some equipment for the next part of training, “Yeah?”

“How long is this room?”

“About 100m?” He questioned his answer, unsure of exact measurements.

100m? That wasn’t that bad!

She did the maths in her head.

 “You want me to run twenty kilometres?!”

Her shout rang out throughout the minimalistic makeshift gym; he turned around looked at her for a moment before returning to his previous action.

“Yep.”

She would have preferred the actual suicides.


 

 

On the next floor down, her companion was probably wishing the same.

 


 

The first time Barnes had seen them; he furrowed his brows in confusion and turned sharply in offence. He looked around him to make sure he was seeing things correctly. He had just walked in to the small conference room whilst waiting for a debrief by Hill or Coulson, and instead of the authoritative figures waiting for an asset - he was confronted by a pale, young looking girl and next to her a taller looking dark skinned girl who was fascinated by the spread of Banner’s paperwork on the table.

Steve was standing behind them, and he nodded at his counterpart.

Bucky looked baffled at the unfamiliarity of the situation. He knew everyone on this compound, and even though he didn’t really speak much to anyone – he always recognised and appreciated their presence.

This ruined the balance of things. Who the hell were they ?

Bucky had been getting used to the fact he wasn’t an asset anymore – he was just a person who was brainwashed into thinking that he was nothing but a killer. Along with his re-humanisation, he was slowly gaining his memory back – and although he hadn’t found it so difficult to adjust to his situation; he found it particularly difficult to adjust when it came to familiarity and the concept that people actually cared for his welfare.

 He was as happy as a cryogenically frozen/ex-spy/assassin could be in the current time, and he didn’t like the new presence that graced the S.H.I.E.L.D compound. He had not been told, he had not been warned, he had not even had the time to gain information on their identities, their pasts – hell even their names!

Steve watched as Bucky critically analyzed the girls, noticing their discomfort. To ease the silence he spoke up cheerily.

“Until Sam’s back we’re training them.”

Bucky Barnes was pissed off.

He enjoyed the Russian banter he shared with Natasha; he enjoyed the talk of military affairs with Sam, he enjoyed listening to Banner’s reserved speech, he enjoyed regaining his memory and his best friend with Steve, he enjoyed being ordered about by Hill and fighting Clint after he used his arm as target practice.

He did not enjoy meeting new people.

He did not enjoy the company of new people (that he didn’t have orders to kill).

And he certainly did not enjoy the fact he had to train two random girls he didn’t know of, wasn’t informed of and would probably never trust.

And with that train of thought, James Barnes turned sharply on his heel and walked out of the narrow door; his metal arm forcefully denting the metal hinges on the door and he knocked past them. Steve offered a very blunt explanation.

“He’s adjusting.”

 “Oh.” They both replied curtly.

Steve could do nothing but offer them a smile and a question.

“So, who wants me?”

The girls stared at him and burst out laughing, Cat’s cheek tinged pink.

Ela was the first to speak, looking at her red friend. “No offence, I’ll pass.”

And then it hit her with what she had just done. If she didn’t work with Steve – she had to work with Metal Arm.

Unfortunately, he didn’t seem like the friendly guy she had hoped for.

Gulping, she turned to take back her words – but it was too late. “Great! Miss DuRose, you’re coming with me.”

Steve left the room, ushering Cat along with him and smiled at Ela. He tried not to frown at her clearly terrified expression. Sending her a reassuring smile, he patted her lightly on the shoulder and Cat grinned to the point where tears were forming in her eyes due to her overworked cheeks pulling upwards in the sarcastic grin.

She called out as she left.

“Good luck!”

Ela stuck up her middle finger to her back and stared out of the previously occupied doorframe.

 


 

 

Steve turned towards Cat, taking in her appearance. She was young, and her skin was very pale in comparison to her dark, unruly hair. Freckles adorned her cheeks and she constantly looked like the epitome of innocence. Her posture was terrible, he had noticed – alongside with her friend, and worn shoes curved upwards as she tapped her feet. He looked at her plain t-shirt and the loose chequered shirt that hung on her frame over it, he also looked at her skinny jeans – which (to his utter self-disappointment) he greatly appreciated the form of.

He sharply turned away, internally reprimanding himself for thinking of DuRose like that.

“Go get changed.” he barked.

Startled, she raised an eyebrow in his sudden change of demeanour. He looked back, guilt reddening him, and apologised for his tone like the wartime era-gentleman he was.

“Sorry. Rough day.”

Cat simply nodded in understanding and walked in the direction she thought her room was.

Steve coughed.

“Other way.” He pointed to a set of glass doors, and soon before her reaching had one of doors open for her. Cat nodded in appreciation and walked on, her gaze following her muddy Converse.

 As she had disappeared around the corner that followed her destination, Steve jogged alongside the clinical looking corridor, smiling at some fellow employees as he flew past them.

He spotted Dr. Banner and remembered where he was going, reminding himself to ask where Bucky was.

“Hey, Banner?”

Bruce turned his head in a panic, his brown curly flopping slightly onto his forehead, a clipboard and pen in his hand. Steve saw Dr. Banner sigh in relief, and raised his eyebrows.

“Have you seen Bucky?”

Bruce contemplated for a moment, before responding. “He was headed towards his room but I don’t-“

Steve interrupted, guilt reddening him again.

“Look, I’m sorry Doc, but I gotta run. Could you do me a favour though?”

Bruce nodded, suspicion clouding his expression.

“Just-“His tone quietened as he recalled Bucky’s expression just mere minutes before and continued with an exhale. “-check on the other girl, will you?”

Bruce laughed, his glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose. “You want me to babysit? Is that really a good idea?” he chuckled to himself before looking at Steve’s pleading gaze. Simply sighing, he rolled his eyes towards the taller man and Bruce smiled. “Fine, I will. Don’t blame me if The Other Guy makes an appearance. I don’t really have a tolerance for kids after Calcutta.”

He paused for a minute and called out as Steve started to walk away, “Wait!”

In response, Steve turned around, questioning his colleague.

“Which girl am I babysitting?”

Steve didn’t even bother with Bruce’s unofficial self-titled role. He struggled for a moment whilst remembering her name, and gave up after he checked his watch.

“The tall one!” his voice rang out and Bruce just laughed before he remembered he didn’t remember how tall they were. Shaking his head he left the corridor, tapping his fingers along the underside of the clipboard. He looked around for the ‘tall one’ and remembered that she would still probably be in the conference room.

When he arrived there, he saw her hunched over a laptop with a slightly crazy look in her eyes, scrolling eagerly through something. Confused as she had not noticed his presence, he glanced over her shoulder to see several programmes open and a multitude of tabs all relating to one person.

The Winter Soldier.

Concerned, he looked as her eyes rapidly moved from left to right, taking the information and took a seat beside her after closing the door.

“What are you doing?”

 

He scratched his head, as she turned her head aggressively to face him. Her determination seemed to soften as she looked at him, and colour tinged her cheeks slightly.

“Dr. Banner. Oh.”

He just looked at her, confused and honestly? A little terrified.

She turned her laptop away so he wouldn’t see, but she had a feeling he already knew what she was doing. “Sorry about that. It’s just you know-“

She grimaced a little, moving her hands and trying to form words.

“Erm, metal arm,” she paused for a moment.

“Angry guy?”

“Winter Soldier, ex-assassin for the KGB?”

It made sense to Bruce, but he just didn’t understand why she looked like she was going to pass out from sheer worry every time she looked at her laptop screen.

She laughed nervously, finding anywhere else in the room to look but at the middle-aged scientist in front of her.

“Look Dr. Banner, he’s a scary guy and my so called friend has ditched me for nice and friendly Captain America.”

He nodded slightly, not seeing her point.

“Until Sam gets back, the metal-armed, big and scary ex-assassin has to train me.”

It took Bruce a moment to catch on.

He simply nodded in sympathy to the girl.

“I see your point Miss-“He waited for her to fill in the blank. “Kale,” was her curt reply, and he continued. “-Kale, but I don’t really think all the stalking is necessary.”

Ela’s cheek reddened slightly and the volume of her voice dropped almost to a mumble. She spoke slowly in her defence, unfortunately unable to present a decent case for her stalker tendencies to her scientific idol. “I wasn’t stalking.”

Bruce raised an eyebrow.

“What were you doing?”

She looked at him before carrying on investigating the information displayed in front of her. “Hacking into the mainframe to get his most recent files. Just don’t want to get on his bad side.”

Bruce stared blankly at the girl in front of him. Shaking his head, he sounded slightly alarmed.  “Why would you need to do that if all of S.H.I.E.L.D’s information-“He stopped mid sentence, the words trailing off into a sudden realisation.

Bucky had no files in S.H.I.E.L.D.

“What mainframe are you hacking into?” he tread his words carefully, dumbfounded. She blinked at him, her face as innocent as it could look. She rolled her eyes and looked at him. “Government. I haven’t done it yet. I’m waiting for Cat to get back. She’s better at that kind of stuff.”

“Still, most of the government’s information was released by Romanov-“

Ela interrupted, her patience wearing thin and her confusion blossoming at supposing Dr. Banner was meant to be –you know, clever.

“The Russian government. I’m sure it wouldn’t fare well with Agent Roman-“she corrected herself, remembering the reference from the lady. “-Natasha if she were to dump Russia’s secrets on the internet. Russians don’t react well to humiliation. Usually because they don’t face it.” Forgetting she was rambling, she shut herself up and continued to preen at the glowing screen in front of her, eyebrows furrowing.

Bruce just stared.

“How old are you?” His voice contained fear, amusement and sheer disbelief.

“Twenty-one.” She drawled out the words, her fingers tapping on the black keyboard, filling the space of silence with paced typing and the occasional raised eyebrow.

He looked over again, leaning slightly towards her and saw that she wasn’t in top secret files as he had expected.

“That’s Wikipedia.”

She looked at him with the unspoken ‘obviously’ and turned back to the page on KGB spies. “Thank you for that Dr. Banner. I wasn’t aware.”

It was Bruce this time that rolled his eyes. He forgot sarcasm was built in her dictionary as a student. Explaining her choice of website, she continues, stopping scrolling but still staring at the screen.

“It’s still pretty useful. It doesn’t say much about him per se – but a lot about how he was trained to think and act. I don’t want to piss off the wrong guy, Dr. Banner.” Her eyes were downcast and she had resorted to fiddling with the hem of her t-shirt. He related to the girl sat anxiously in front of him, checking and finding peace in facts and numbers and forming patterns.

She was genuinely scared of Bucky, and even though he was slowly regaining his memory, his aggressive manner and cold approach to people didn’t exactly make him likeable.

“I’ll help you.”

She turned to him slowly, the corners of her mouth turning up into a slight smile. “Really?”

A little smile appeared on his face, mirroring her expression and turned his chair to face her slightly. “Sure! Anything for a fellow science grad.” She grinned at his response and immediately her cheerful expression returned to the straight face as she returned the laptop ahead of her and started reciting out instructions to him off the top of her head.

“So Dr Banner, you can start with analysing these past behaviours – I know it’s not your field but it can’t be as difficult as that work on gamma tracing from halfway across the world.”

He glanced at the screen before fixing his gaze on her, watching the intent movement of her fingers as she spoke. “I’ve grouped most of them into number of months after cryo and also the patterns. Just spot any anomalies and highlight them.”

She looked at him expectantly before realising she had given him a task with no information. “Sorry.” She picked up a thin stack of papers next to her on the chair and a small blue notebook. “Here you go.”

Bruce was more baffled than he had been since his fourth year dissertation.

“How long have you been doing this for?” He asked, now trying to sound causal as he flicked through the few sheets in his hand.

“Half an hour,” she glanced at her watch, confirming the time.

“You work fast,” he commented, impressed.

She smiled at him.

“It’s not hard to find resources when you need them.”

He chuckled.

“Well, you don’t need this-“

She turned to him to send him a message with a look that clearly stated ‘Don’t Question Me’ and an edge of ferocity he only saw with Natasha in her prime of anger.

Quite frankly, he was pretty sure himself and The Other Guy wanted to hide in a hole where his sanity wasn’t being ripped apart by confusion.


 

“Buck?”

The brooding man sat against his bed, doing nothing but brooding.

Steve fought the urge to slap him on the back of his head. Unlike old times back in the 40’s, he couldn’t treat Bucky like he used to – like a best friend – because Bucky had been isolated from people for decades, having his memory wiped over and over again to force him to believe he wasn’t even human.

He understood. He understood it took time, and he wanted nothing more for Bucky to be his normal (albeit womanizing) self.

The man in question turned his head to face Steve, his hair ruffling out of place slightly. Bucky looked towards Steve, knowing what his next good morale lecture was going to be about. Deciding he would actually take a step forwards on this whole 'expressing-his-feelings-like-a-human' thing that Sharon had told him to do, and expressing himself in the best way he could. 

Bluntly.

“I don’t like them.”

Steve nodded, allowing to his friend to speak as he sat down on the floor next to him.

“They’re change.”

Bucky took a deep breath and looked towards his ally for comfort.

“Bucky, I understand that. But you know the situation.” Steve’s words held truth behind it yet this did not reassure the stern looking man filling the space next to him. “We have a duty to help people. We’re helping these girls to help more people.”

Bucky considered Steve’s words, realising his anger was more of a tantrum than justified. With internal struggle, he apologised. “I’m sorry Steve.”

Bucky was learning (again), slowly but surely. He had always gotten what he wanted from people beneath his superiors; no one dared question a trained spy/assassin/metal armed maniac. He knew that he needed to change – be the Bucky he used to be. It would be better for everyone, and hell – maybe even get him a girl. As he slowly regained his memory, he sometimes smiled to himself as he remembered dancing until the early hours in the morning and going to the Stark Expo with Steve. They were all faint and very, very vague – but he appreciated that better than the memories of killing people in cold blood.

Definitely better.

Although his case was not fully justified, he felt a slight peace that his name as The Winter Soldier was not one he chose willingly – and it was something he was willing to prove himself as James Barnes and not a ruthless killing machine.

He felt guilt. So much that it almost consumed him at night when he tried to sleep – it wasn’t like the scientists could change his personality, only wipe his memories. Sometimes he found himself amused or a little bit lonely and even joking (only Natasha understood the humour – unfortunately Americans didn’t quite understand Soviet anecdotes) and when he saw his memories of killing people, he just wished he hadn’t been found by HYDRA and they’d just left him for dead.

It would definitely be better than this.

Steve watched Bucky – he did that often - getting lost in his own thoughts with his expression changing into one of guilt and sadness.

There was something wrong. And he would find out what it was. Making plans to speak to Sharon who was better at this psychiatric stuff than him, he made his way out of the room before casting a glance to the broken man in front of him. It felt like he was broken.

And Steve only hoped he would be fixed.

He took another glance at Bucky and his head drooped in defeat.

 


 

Her heart pounded as she walked into the huge space, the equipment looking far more intimidating that she first envisioned it to be. Her trainer was in the far corner, viciously attacking a boxing bag and adrenaline pumped through her veins. She was fucking terrified.

Flight or fight, Ela.

Or shutting up and dealing the fuck up with it.

There was nothing else that could have prepared her for this – she knew everything about this guy that she could possible backtrack 70 pages onto her Google search. Well after HYDRA took him in. She knew what time he slept, what his offensive tactics were, even that he could do easily do a 4 minute mile.

Enough research in the world wouldn’t tell her about his unpredictability.

Or how his defensive tactics were more offensive than defensive.

Or how he avoided looking at her the entire time she had to face him.

She took a deep breath, swallowing nothing but air and tried to be as quiet as she walked towards him. It turns out he hadn’t heard, and as she reached within a foot of him – he swung back instantaneously, metal arm hitting her flat across the stomach and the force making her fly back against a square pillar.

She was silent in shock and made no noise in fear of another attack.

Bucky didn’t look at her wheezing for breath and held the bag still.

“First lesson.”

He kicked himself up onto the edge of the boxing ring in the middle of the room.

 “Anticipate.”

She grit her teeth in anger as she stood up, muscles aching and back stinging against the cold concrete of the pillar.

What a dick.

He motioned for her to join him in the ring, and the pain and anger swelled over the fear she felt. She just really wanted to kick him in the balls. Hard.

She walked as normally as she could, the ache from being flung back was fading and was reduced to become dull. She ducked under the rope and stood in the middle of the ring.

He turned to face her, his frame towering over her, and with as much pride as she had left; she stood up straight and stared straight ahead. And the view just happened to be his chest. She had to admit, his abs were very well defined.

Nice to look at.

Colouring a little, she bit the inside of her cheek and maintained her straight face.

Whilst her train of thought wandered, Bucky managed to glimpse her looking at him and had to stop himself from making a comment.

After a minute or so of silence, he stepped back whilst still looking over her tied ponytail.

“I’m going to hit you now,” he said, voice neutral and expression - almost bored.

Before she could question his statement, she felt a cold metal fist churning her organs as it hit her in the sore spot that had been winded before. Her eyes widened more in surprise than shock and she doubled over as the pain throbbed throughout her abdomen.

“You just punched me.” Her reply was raspy, still in recovery from being punched.

Still avoiding looking at her at all costs, he replied in the same monotonous tone as his statement in the first place. “Yes.”

“What the hell was that for?” was her only reply as she stood up against, wincing as she reminisced the cold feeling of the metal against the forming bruise.

“I warned you.”

“You gave me, like, a second.” Her tone is resembled a temperament that Bucky was only familiar with and he quirked an eyebrow.

“Which is still a warning.”

Her response was a glare.

“Anticipation.” Bucky drawled out his words, almost dripping with irony.

If she had to deal with this asshole, she would do so with her dignity.

“Okay.”

This time he didn’t even give her a warning.

Just round-housed her.

The kick hit the exact same spot, just below her ribs and she swore there was so much pain that it felt like it was blinded by numbness. She flung against the ropes, leaving marks in lines across her back as she landed on the softer floor of the ring.

Deal. With. It.

She gritted her teeth once again.

As she got her breath back she regained her stature and stood up again, slightly hunched over.

He just did the same thing. Over and over again. Differentiated occasionally. Sometimes a kick. Sometimes a punch. Maybe even a floor swipe. Every move was different.

She glanced at her plastic watch. It had been an hour of her getting her ass kicked.

She was not going down without a fight.

In the complete hour of getting her ass kicked, she could at least anticipate one thing: he was going to hit the same spot every time. She also noticed he had stopped using his metal arm a while back.  She wouldn’t call it friendship or anything, but it was a step.

Baby steps.

She really wasn’t into getting her ass handed to her. It fucking sucked.

On the other side of the story, Bucky was starting to feel guiltier for what he felt was him beating the life out of her. She had some spirit. Always got back up.

He guessed that was good.

He jumped out of the ring and got himself a bottle of water, and whilst gulping down half of the bottle – he noticed his trainee glaring him with a force that would probably decapitate him if there was such a thing.

He had another idea.

He held up another bottle of water, and waved it to her. Slowly, she slid out of the ring and walked towards er trainer with as much strength as she could. It was so, so hard for her not to just collapse in defeat. But it would be worth it. As she trudged over to the water bottle, James Barnes started running with the water bottle.

Across the fucking warehouse.

She looked at the empty packet of water bottles. Was it worth it?

Her throat said yes.

Her muscles said no.

“You have to come and get it.” He shouted simply, mid run.

She looked up to the ceiling – and even though she had never particularly been religious – prayed to whichever God was willing to help her as she looked towards the scaffold sky.

Taking a deep breath and almost fighting back tears, she bit her lip and ran towards Metal Arm. At least the water was in the metal arm, so he was less likely to hit her. Attempting to jog hurt her lungs, hurt her everything. It felt like her whole body was made of pain.

Still, she thought she made it this far – so might as well make it more.

Right?

Wrong?

She tried her best to run, and found herself almost across the hall. In glee she let out a triumphant smile, only to realise that Metal Arm was on the other side of the hall tormenting her with the same water bottle.

Breaking out in a slightly faster run (it definitely  couldn’t be passed more as a light jog) she made way for the other side of the gym (prison, more-like) and found he had already surpassed her to the other side of the hall, the bottle of water seemingly glaring at her mockingly.

Her body cried out in pain.

Her mind told her to fuck that because she was going to get that water no matter what.

She ran, and ran and ran until she physically collapsed.

Groaning in pain, she curled up in a ball – heart pounding and her skin glistening with sweat, embracing the cold floor.

It seemed like she had slept forever when she woke up in her bed, definitely feeling worse for wear.

Making a simple judgement, she decided that this was much worse than a hangover.

Her mind unclouded and she shrugged off the lingering thought of how she reached her room. Her head fell back on her pillow as her eyes shut once again. Across the room, she swore she heard a quiet breath as she forgot everything.

 


 

He felt remorse. He did.

He felt bad for the slight limp, and the bruises on her legs. But this is how he had been trained – he can’t be nice. It wouldn’t get them anywhere.

She was a mission.

To train.

So he should not feel guilt.

As she walked with the same prevalent dignity as yesterday, he climbed back into the ring and like yesterday motioned for her to join him.

She knew what it was going to be, her mind knew it, her bruises knew it, she even felt her muscles contract as she stepped neared him in defence.

“I’m going to hit you now.”

Within a second, he flew out his back leg into the back of her knees and she buckled.

He sighed for a moment, patience diminishing. “Lesson one.”

She rolled her eyes and stood back up. “Anticipation.”

She looked at him with an unimpressed glance and a raise of eyebrows.

“I got it.”

He kicked again, muscled leg stretching out towards her midsection – and she stepped forwards and missed the hit by a few centimetres.

She seemed shocked by this revelation, that she could move and avoid getting hurt. Hiding a smile to herself she readied herself – and for a moment she genuinely thought she would dodge his punch. Instead of moving out of the way, she ducked downwards and Bucky’s knuckles collided with her nose.

Seeing stars, she stumbled back a bit and Bucky bit back a laugh. Slumping a little, she straightened her back as much as her bruises allowed her to, and in the midst of this saw Metal Arm’s left knee buckle and his body moving into a crouch.

Which meant…?

Her mind blanked.

She squeaked out as she jumped over the sweep kick. Much to her disappointment, her trainer caught on the fabric of his trousers and tripped mid air, and soon realised her destination of fall was to be her trainer. She clenched her fists as she fell and landed on Metal Arm – elbow first. She heard a grunt from the guy, but nothing else. Scrambling to her side and landing a foot away, she resisted the urge to apologise and threw the manners lurking at the back of her head aside and persuaded herself it was payback.

He got up and lifted a foot over her leg, so she rolled to the side. Using the side ropes of the ring, she pulled herself back up and managed to avoid a kick by jumping out of the way and using the ropes. They were both now in the centre, and he was throwing all sorts of hits at her left, right and centre and much to both of their surprise – she was dodging all of them.

Not so gracefully, but dodging him and his damn roundhouse kicks.

She didn’t even have time to applaud for herself for her achievement, because she was too busy doing what she did best. Using past knowledge to predict solutions. And although she was falling over more than she would care to admit – she think with a little practice, lesson one was complete.

Bucky just continued, allowing himself to smile a little.

She learnt fast.

Just like he did.

Chapter Text

This was the first time she had properly spoken with her best friend in a while, and Cat sure felt like she needed it.

“So, how’s it going with Barnes?” She asked Ela, her hands lingering over the mug that contained her tea. Her friend raised an eyebrow and smirked, leaning across the table a little whilst glancing over at the tall blonde superhero on the other side of the room.

“Metal Arm? Whatever.” She shrugged off the question before turning the tables.

“I think you mean to say, how’s it going with Steve?”

Laughing, she accepted the small punches to her shoulder as she followed Cat’s cheeks reddening.”Shut up!”

It had now been two weeks since their training had started, even though Ela hadn’t had much luck befriending her own trainer and practically loathed him; Cat was starting to really get along with the very tall, muscular and handsome wartime hero. Ela knew her best friend was smitten, and so for her benefit decided to do her a big favour.

“Look, Em. Sam’s coming back tomorrow – I’ve been speaking to him.”

Cat eyes her friend suspiciously. “Why have you been talking to him?”

She was met with rolled eyes. “Alright, madre. I just wanted to get the specs on the new exo-suit. And he wanted to see how my training is doing.” Ela tried to speak as casually as you can. Happy with the reason, Cat nodded as she took a sip of her tea and then her suspicious look returned with narrowed eyes and doubting glances.

“Why was he asking about your training and not mine?” her eyes were critical and followed her every twitch.

“Getting jealous? But no. I did you a favour.” She replied, her eyes staring at the bottom of the blue mug.

Cat rolled her eyes this time and replied with a curt: “Favour? Do enlighten me.”

“I’m going to train with Sam when he comes back.”

Instead of the happy expression Cat should have had on her face, Ela was unpleasantly surprised to see she was mortified. “What?” She sputtered out, gaining strange looks from nearby people. Furrowing her brows, Cat blurted out. “How is that a favour?”

Confused, Ela spoke slowly. “How is it not? You get to spend more time with Steve, and I get to run away from Metal Arm Sadistic.”

Cat looked upwards and let out a breath, her voice rising in volume. “No! I can’t train with Steve anymore! I fail at everything I do, and you have to get Sam to train with me!”

Ela let her head rest on the table, knowing that she was being slightly selfish. “Alright, I’ll talk to him. But you owe me some big favours later on because I’m still with Metal Arm.”

Metal Arm?”

Ela just sighed and furrowed her face further into the table as she heard Barnes question her nickname towards him. Pretending she didn’t hear him, she didn’t move and heard her friend speak out in her defense.

“It’s a term of endearment.”

She practically heard the cringe in her voice and doesn’t settle until she heard his footsteps fade away. She looked up out of her own arms, and peeks through a small gap.

“Mature, Ela. Real mature.”

Ela sighed and took another peek out of her self-made hobbit hole.

She just hoped the training would be over and done with as soon as possible.


 

Cat would like to think she worked a lot better with Sam. Maybe because she didn’t have the biggest crush ever on him and practically flailed whenever he spoke to her.

She was doing a lot better.

In fact, in a few days, she was up to speed with Ela and her weird military-super-soldier workout thing she did with Bucky.

Sam’s voice rang out as she entered the gym. “DuRose!”

She craned her neck to see Sam standing on the high rafters.

“How did you-“

In a second she was flying through the warehouse with two hands wrapped around her waist.

“Put me down! What the hell, Sam?”

Sam flew down, and Cat’s nausea eased as her feet hit the ground. “You’re no fun.” Sam spoke in a petulant kind of way and it made her laugh.

“Anyway, you get a rest day today.”

“I’ve been doing that well?” She practically shone with excitement. Sam winced to digress and she hit him playfully on the shoulder.

“Yes. Yes, you have DuRose. And I also have to go help Stark and Coulson to scope out another base.”

“How many bases are there?”

Sam mock shuddered. “It’s HYDRA. They’re everywhere.” He garnered a roll of eyes and a laugh, and before he left she was left in a bout of confusion.

“What am I gonna do today then?”

 

Her question was already answered as Clint and Steve walked into the room, Clint with and extra set of a bow and arrows and Steve with very sponge-like armour.

“Target practice!” Clint exclaimed with a dramatic flair, laughing as he patted Steve’s spongy chest. Steve smiled and Cat’s heart swelled as his grin basically glowed.

“Let’s get some practice on the board first before you puncture his artery or something.”

Cat looked down at the set of arrows, examining the tip.

“They’re blunt.”

“Not the point.” Picking up a set of arrows, he moved next to her as they reached the target and laughed at his own terrible pun.

“And moving targets are always harder.” Clint grinned at her and Steve nodded at her encouragingly. Steve passed her a bow, and she glanced at it in a mild panic before Clint stepped forward to help her.

“No, I got it.” Steve stepped forwards, pointing the bow in the right direction and moving Cat’s hands so they rested correctly. She looked downwards the entire time, still embarrassed at how incapable she feels around him. After Clint passed her an arrow, she placed it where she was told and stared at the looming black target board in front of her.

Taking a deep breath, she breathed in, loosened her fingers and when she exhaled, let the arrow loose.

The arrow vibrated against the board, and as she opened her eyes she saw Clint and Steve looking at the board in wonder. The arrow was placed neatly on the edge of the innermost ring.

“Try again!” The archer urged, passing her another arrow. Repeating her previous actions, he breathed in and drew the bow, held on to the bow frame and let go as she breathed out. Opening her eyes again, her mind told her the first time was just a fluke and this would probably be off the board or something…

“Pretty good for someone who didn’t know which way the bow faced,” Clint mused to his company. When she glanced towards the board, she saw the arrow struck a little closer the centre. Questioning her skill, thinking it was beginners luck – Clint passed her another arrow.

She opened her eyes this time as soon as the soft noise of the arrow piercing through the board hit her ears and lo behold! It was on the edge of the board. Slightly disappointed, she shrugged and Steve nudged her.

“Try again.” He smiled at her and squeezed her shoulder in reassurance.

She held the bow again, gripped it more tightly and focused on the centre of the board; breathing in, it felt like time had slowed as she drew back the bow and it felt like she was screaming relief as she exhaled and let the arrow loose. Eyes practically glued shut, she opened an eye to see the arrow had hit dead centre.

Steve just snorted with a sly comment to Clint gaping. “You got competition, Katniss.”

Cat just burst out laughing at Clint’s expression.


 

“You ready Steve?” Clint’s voice rang out against the walls of the room, and in response Steve quirked a nervous smile.

Cat was terrified. Not only was she likely to miss, but what if she didn’t and ended up hitting him and hurting him with these god-forsaken arrows? She was pretty surethat wasn’t how seduction worked. In fact, as Steve placed Sam’s old exo-suit on himself, she was pretty sure the way his muscles rippled was enough to seduce anyone. She turned to glance at Clint and even he seemed fascinated.

She sighed as Steve gave a thumbs up to show he was ready and Clint cleared his throat, distractions of a certain superhero put aside. “I’ll go first; show you how it’s done.”

His borderline arrogance did nothing more but amuse the brunette and she watched as the archer slung back his arm and let go in one swift movement, she watched the arrow cut furiously through the air and into Steve’s side. With a smug smile, Clint grinned at the worried girl next to him and nudged her.

“Don’t worry. You won’t hurt him.”

Heart pounding, she lifted the arrow and watched Steve have far too much fun swooping between the rafters. She focused on Steve and where he was going to go, and slowly drew the bow back and breathed in, throwing in a millisecond of a prayer and a sharp exhale when she let go.

Whoa!”

There was already a winced positioned on her lips as she opened her eyes. Clint’s expression bordered between sympathetic and amused as Steve ruffled the side of his head, where the arrow had narrowly missed. All Cat could manage was a coy, “Sorry.”

Steve looked a little alarmed, but quickly shrugged it off. “It’s fine. Try again.”

Clint added, “Don’t aim for the face – how do you think we get publicized?” with a grin and after seeing Cat’s mortified expression, quickly assured her. “I was joking, don’t worry about it.”

It was only then she realised they can’t have any publicity anyway, and fought the urge to facepalm her gullible nature (which was compromised in any situation when it came to him).

She felt her cheeks colour and heat up as she picked up another arrow. She was already fucking this up, and at this rate she was probably going to end up beheading the guy. She targeted Steve and without a second thought, let the arrow loose. It just missed Steve’s leg and now thinking it more as a personal challenge, she went on a shooting rampage.

Clint found this hilarious, judging by his uncontrollable laughter and Steve seemed a little more scared of his ex-trainee. Shooting arrow after arrow, they glided through the air, each missing Steve by a smaller amount every time.

With only one arrow left with her, she decided this was it. She was going to hit Steve with the goddamn arrow. Her arms ached, her vision had become a little fuzzy after not blinking for a good couple of minutes and her bottom lip had a cut I it where she had bitten it so many times in concentration.

This was it.

Lifting her chin, she followed the Captain’s path with uncertainty, she knew what he was going to do of course; swerve and try and cause her to go off path. Predicting it, before he turned to swerve, she drew back and exhaled, letting go – not dissimilar to Clint’s method. The arrow moved in slow motion, Steve was in his own blissful ignorance as the arrow hit the sponge - embedding itself into the left side of his chest.

Clint cheered out and Cat let out a sigh of relief and smiled. Steve feigned disappointment and pouted a little as Clint squeezed his cheek with a snarky comment.

“Adorable. Really.”

Cat just couldn’t help but grin. She had finally not humiliated herself in front of Steve and she hadn’t almost killed him with the blunt(ish) arrows.

Steve walked up to her, but Clint stopped him and removed the arrow from his armour clad chest, raising an eyebrow.

“Maybe we should call you Cupid, eh DuRose?” his question seemed more of a definitive statement, but didn’t clear up the issue.

“What?” She asked, smile still on her face as she looked towards Steve who had turned a little red and had resorted to picking up the arrows scattered around them.

Clint just smirked at her, tilting his head slightly whilst scrutinising her. With his overdramatic flair, he added the action of putting his hand over his heart and made a (terrible) love-struck expression. “You shot him right in the heart.”

She went so red, Clint was afraid she might explode.

Clearing her throat and struggling for words after she internally planned Clint’s death, she spoke with as much normality as she could. “That’s j-just ridiculous.”

She folded her arms to at least give herself false confidence more than anything.

“That does not stop me from calling you Cupid.” He said with the same infuriatingly smug hawk face of his. She sputtered in retaliation, not quite able to form a proper argument for herself yet. He ruffled her hair and she sighed in defeat.

“It was only a fluke.” She muttered, finally thinking of something to say.

“A very cute and nickname-able fluke.” He replied, his tone reminding her of a parent patronising a child. She glared at him through the corner of her eyes and stopped for a moment.

“Did you just call me cute?” she spoke from a small distance behind him.

“Yes I did.”

“I’m not cute.” She retorted.

“Yes you are, you ittle wittle Cupid.” He drawled, pinching her already red cheeks.

“You are so annoying.”

You should respect your elders.”

“Not if they’re as annoying as you.

“You wound me, Cupid.”

He swore she growled at him and he just grinned further as they walked out of the room together, Steve following behind.

 


 

“PTSD.”

Steve shot Sharon a blank look.

“Bucky has PTSD.”

Steve’s heart dropped. Whatever PTSD was – it did not sound good. Sharon gave Steve a sympathetic glance, before returning to her clipboard and checking the small handwriting before confirming her statement.

“What is it?” Steve questioned, slightly angry that Sharon wouldn’t explain it to him or tell him how to fix it.

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s a mild form of depression, and can lead to anxiety attacks and isolation.” Her voice remained diplomatic and Steve’s expression remained stone cold.

Bucky was depressed?

Sharon’s voice softened a little, reaching out for Steve’s arm. “Look, I’m sorry Steve. It was expected - he’s regaining his memories of everything.”

“But isn’t that a good thing?”

Sharon nodded, her blonde curls bouncing. “No, it isn’t. The memories pre Winter Soldier are good. But he took a lot of lives and he’s remembering those things too. The memories of his assassin days are also what he’s starting to remember, and I’m afraid there’s no medicine to help him out of it.”

“How can there not be anything to help him?”

Sharon sighed, tucking the clipboard under her arm. “Firstly, if there was any medicine, his body would probably reject it because he heals so quickly.”

She paused for a moment.

“And it’s not something that can be cured that easily Steve. He’s not ill because of something that has happened to him. He’s ill because of all of the things that have happened to him. His mind is overloaded with memories over the past 80 or so years and there’s only so much a person can take, Steve. Even super-soldiers.”

With that she offered Steve another apologetic glance, but Steve simply walked away, unable to look at his old flame.

He wasn’t angry at Sharon. He wasn’t angry at Bucky.

He was angry at himself.

And as he turned the corner, he saw Bucky standing frozen in his place, looking at Steve and giving nothing away.

“Buck, I’m sorry you had to hear that-“

Before Steve could finish his sentence, Bucky had already walked away.

 


 

James Barnes was pissed off.

And he knew exactly how to let off steam.

He walked towards the girl's room, and found her sat on the bed on a silver computer placed in her lap. She sat in casual clothes and wore glasses that Bucky didn't know she wore, they suited her - but were a little lopsided. She hadn't noticed him, and when she did she nearly fell off the bed in shock.

"A knock would be nice."

He let out a breath, containing his impatience for her sarcasm.

"Get up." his tone was flat and authoritative, and he looked around the slightly decorated room with few sheets of paper with spec drawings and a couple of pictures stuck around the room.

She furrowed her brows and took a look at him, raising her eyebrows.

"What? No."

He took a slow breath this time, cocking his head to the side and folding his arms.

"You have training."

She glanced at her watch before looking at him with an unimpressed expression.

"Not for another hour and half, I don't."

For the first time whilst in conversation (not that they really had much), he looked at her with a look that stated not to question him. Sighing in irritation, she shut the laptop lid carefully and placed it underneath her bed. Standing up, she mirrored his stance, crossing her arms and tilting her head slightly.

"What?" he questioned, now his annoyance matching hers. She smiled sweetly and took a step closer.

"If you would excuse me, I have to not wear jeans whilst getting my backside kicked." She paused for a moment before she pushed into him to move, but he didn't budge. He simply looked down at the pissed off girl, and she looked up to compete in this staring competition that had evidently started throughout this very sparse conversation, at some point. She challenged him to move non-verbally, and since he interpreted the challenge a little literally; he stepped back.

With a challenging smirk, he simple said. "If you're so eager then..."

And then proceeded to attempt to kick her. She looked at him in disbelief, but she was never one to back down. Regardless if all of her possessions were at a possible risk and her room would probably turn into a disastrous state, she blocked the kick and turned his leg away from the line of target. Not stopping, he threw a myriad of hits her way - all of which she had gotten progressively better at defending herself.

He threw a fist at her shoulder, which she dodged with a swift movement, in the process jumping onto her bed for safety. He wasn't done yet though.

Who has the right to tell him he's ill?

There's nothing wrong with him?

So what if he had killed people?

Most of the people here had done the same!

With the last thought, he forced out his metal arm, this  time a lot closer to her face than she had anticipated as he jumped up to reach her level on the bed. Seeing no other option, she fell back onto the bed and rolled off it.

He nearly hit her in the face!

What a prick!

Who does that?

With the metal arm as well?

She made plans to graffiti it in his sleep as she stood up, ignoring the dull ache at the back of her neck. She stood in the stance he taught her how to and in between ducking and dodging and jumping and swerving, she even managed to get a few jabs in there.

Why would Steve talk about him behind his back?

Did Sharon not like him?

Was his mind really sick?

Bucky's train of thought was veering off into dangerous water and his fists were getting closer and closer to his trainee's face.

"Dude!" she cried out as she picked up a pillow and held it firmly over her face, peeking out occasionally to see what he was going to do next. It was like he was performing these moves mindlessly, like a robot, and someone had the controls. He didn't look even slightly affected and quite frankly, she was a little more concerned for him than herself. With no other choice and unable to get his attention by jabbing at him occasionally, she had to throw the pillow at his face.

She looked around and realized her roommate was going to be pissed. The place was a mess, clothes thrown everywhere that were before in neat piles, a broken lamp, and the bookshelf hanging on by a nail.

She was screwed.

 

Bucky blinked as the soft cotton pillowcase hit his nose, and he grasped the scent of apple in the meanwhile. It smelt nice. He noticed that his trainee was gaping at him, hidden slightly from any more attacks he sent her way and was severely out of breath. She looked at him with a look that expressed 'what the hell?!' and then proceeded to stand up and get her breath back.

He held up the pillow, questioning her decision to throw a pillow at him.

"You were scaring me a little." was her reply, only to receive the pillow back in her face as Bucky threw it at her. Not even bothering to argue, she dropped it on the bed as he further questioned - this time by actually opening his mouth.

"Shouldn't I be scary?"

Ela contemplated this for a moment, and replied. "Yes, you should. I mean you're not that scary. But you had this, like, weird look in your eyes - kinda like a robot and it was pretty..."

Bucky had zoned out at this point.

Was this PTSD thing getting to him?

Was he turning back into the Winter Soldier?

Would he turn back to HYDRA?

The logical part of his brain said no, but he had the rotting feeling in his mind that they would find him and take his memory again - and he couldn't deal with that. He couldn't.

He was barely coping with this as it was, and now he's suddenly diagnosed with some bullshit thing that now declares his mind is ill.

He was scared. He just wanted to be either Bucky or be dead, like he was supposed to.

And the sinking feeling of guilt returned to his chest as he saw the slightly startled rambling on in front of him. At least she wasn't as bad as she was when they first began training.

But overhearing her conversation with DuRose the day before hadn't been reassuring. He knew that Ela preferred Sam over himself, and that he wasn't much of a people person. She practically loathed the guy.

He didn't blame her.

 

She noticed his expression had changed - he looked so lost and sad and afraid, so she stopped speaking. Not really knowing what to do, she widened her eyes in a slight panic before thinking 'what would Cat do?' and thinking back on the course she never took - 'Comforting People for Dummies'. So she went up to him and hugged him.

She didn't like the guy - but she had never seen him so depressed.

To be honest, she hadn’t really seen him with much emotion really.

So she stepped forwards and awkwardly paced her hand around his waist, arms and all. She winced at the feeling of the cold metal on her arm and for a moment it seemed like they both had stopped breathing.

And then Metal Arm started to twitch a little. When she moved slightly to look at his expression, he laughed. Like, really, laughed.

She knew hugging him was a bad idea. He must have thought she was a complete utter freak. Not that she cared, but it would have been awkward considering her training wasn't finished yet.

Confused, she moved back further, her fingers brushing against his waist and he laughed so hard she was afraid it was the end of the world.

As her fingers left his waist, he was in a complete fit of laughter and Ela had never been so confused in her life. With a look of disbelief, she couldn't tell why he was laughing so much until she realized his arms had gone to his side and she realized.

She realized.

Oh yes.

She wanted to laugh so much but she maintained a small smile instead, just about holding back her laughter.

"You're ticklish?"

He shook his head in somewhat of a denial and she grinned at the sudden revelation.

The Winter Soldier was ticklish, of all things?

Really?

Not passing up the opportunity she wiggled her fingers as his arms dropped to his sides, tapping them lightly against his waist - grinning as she finally had blackmail against her moody trainer. He practically roared with laughter, in between hefty breaths, he managed a weak 'Stop!', but Ela was not having that. Basking in her sudden cruelty, she tickled him to the point where he was now lying on the floor, clutching his sides. She stood over him proudly, when she suddenly felt a foot trip her up so she was now also on the floor. Lying flat over him - stopping herself from falling on his metal arm (it was definitely more painful than she had first anticipated in training the week before) and before she could use her arms to grab onto the side of the bed and pull herself up, Metal Arm grinned at her. Not the laughing grin he had whilst she tickled him, but the cruel grin he had. Like when he made her run for the water bottle-

Oh shit.

Laughter wracked through her body as he tickled her back, and she felt nothing but pain from all of the laughter. At some point, she swore she saw a genuine smile.

When they both had recovered from the fits of laughter, and both stood up - slightly out of breath - Ela looked at him seriously.

"We are never speaking of that again."

Bucky nodded in response, just about managing to hide the smile that was turning up the corners of his mouth.

Chapter Text

"What the hell is going on?"

A yelp sounded in their ears as the three of them winced, feeling empathy to whoever was getting their ass kicked. Walking towards the source of the door, they heard a few more thuds and crashes before they reached...

Cat's room?

Cat stared at the barely ajar door when suddenly something hit the door, making it slam shut. Jumping back, she turned to Clint who was laughing and Steve looked determined to figure out what the hell was going on.

Before they could storm in and see what was going on, the noises stopped and silence ensued.

Clint whispered. "Who died?"

Cat elbowed him to be quiet as she pressed her ear to the door. They were conversing - and it sounded like Ela and Bucky, the only two people on this compound that hated each other.

Her first instinct was to rush in and demand what was going in, but Steve prevented her from doing so by gripping her shoulder tightly. Still eavesdropping, Clint joined her to listen in.

"Shouldn't I be scary?" came from Bucky, albeit very quietly.

"Yes, you should. I mean you're not that scary. But you had this like weird look in your eyes - kinda like a robot and it was pretty..."

Clint grimaced in horror and turned to his fellow friends. "Look guys, I don't wanna be disturbing anything so I think we shoul-"

He was shut off by a very intrigued Cat placing her hand over his mouth. She heard a mumble from him anyway, even Steve catching his inappropriate words. "If you're into that kinda thing..."

Cat rolled her eyes.

Steve blushed.

All of them stared at the door as soon as they heard laughter.

It wasn’t crazy laughter, but genuine laughter and it definitely wasn't Ela. Steve's brows furrowed and Cat just stared alongside Clint, hand still covering his mouth. The laughter increased in both volume and he heard a light thud on the floor.

The laughter came to an abrupt halt and all of them seem alarmed when Ela started laughing.

They all looked at each other with the same thought on the top of their heads.

What the hell was going on?

 Ela pretty much shrieked every few seconds, so Clint took this opportunity to open the door as quietly as he could, and could make out nothing but two pairs of feet sticking out between the beds.

Clint's eyes widened as his mouth agape, Steve looked in shock and Cat's jaw almost touched the floor.

This time they all had the same thing on their mind.

They definitely thought they knew what was going on.

Clint turned to Cat with a look of mild disgust on his face, and Cat just looked at her friend's sock clad feet. Taking in Steve's expression was probably the most shocked, although Clint swore the patriot looked kind of happy. A little bit.

On the other hand, Ela and Bucky both had started to get up from what seemed like a rather compromising position on the floor, and Clint grabbed Cat and pulled her behind the door frame on the outside of the room. She saw Steve do the same on the other side, face still awed.

They heard a breath and then Ela spoke very, very seriously.

"We are never speaking of that again."

The three of them looked down in surprise and quite frankly shock.

They were all under the impression that they hated each other.

Clearly not.

Steve decided that she would be good for him.

Cat was offended her friend didn't trust her.

Clint was mortified and a little bit smug as his intuition was still second to none.


 

Clint went off to stash his equipment and Steve and Cat decided to make a confrontation about the scene they had (sort of) witnessed regarding their respective best friends.

It wasn’t a comfortable silence between them, probably because there were so many unspoken words left in between them, when Cat finally decided to at least try and make an effort. At the exact same time was when Steve thought it best to make conversation also, so their statements flew over the other and into their ears.

“It’s just ridiculous, the two of them.”

“I think it’s good.”

They both stared at each other, surprised.

They both started speaking at the same time before; Steve motioned for Cat to speak before him.

“It’s just-“

 “They’re compl-“

She sighed and continued.

“They’re complete opposites, and I just don’t understand why she didn’t tell me. She’s been talking about how much she reallydoesn’t like him; it just doesn’t make any sense.”

She looked at Steve before making her closing statement.

“She still calls him Metal Arm! I think that says something.”

He raised an eyebrow.

Metal Arm?”

She sighed for what seemed the millionth time before confirming what she had said to Bucky only yesterday. “It’s a term of endearment.”

He spoke up as they turned the corner towards the gym.

“I think it’s good that they’re opposites. Opposites attract, don’t they?”

She nodded, but not yet persuaded.

“Bucky’s only started to get his memory back, I don’t think he’ll be speaking to me about anything – but maybe it’s new and they don’t want to get ahead of themselves in case it doesn’t work out.”

She had to admit, he made a point. And her heart softened at her friend finally trusting someone enough to let them into her life (that wasn’t her, because Ela was basically a DuRose anyway).

“I guess. It’s just strange.” She shrugged as they neared the doors.

“Maybe she’ll help him with the PTSD.”

Cat stopped and turned sharply at him. “What?”

Steve debated whether he should tell her or not, and decided it was only right if Ela needed to know. He doubted Bucky would tell her.

Steve stopped alongside her an explained. “I was talking to Sharon and she diagnosed him with PTSD.”

Cat raised her eyebrows slightly before looking downwards. Her tone softened as she stared at her shoes. “That’s really bad.”

Steve just nodded and to lighten the mood a little grinned as he took her arm into the gym.

“That’s why she’s good for him.”

Cat laughed as she walked into the room and spotted the pair in the boxing ring, centred in the huge room.


 

Bucky stood with two pads on each hand, and they were circling as she was attempting to target the pads. Safe to say, offensive moves were definitely not her strong point.

“Stop twisting your ankle so much.” Was Bucky’s only advice and she took his advice, hitting the pad on the edge. It was better than nothing. Ela had to admit to herself that she was proud she was learning all of this so quickly; and Sam had even promised her a spar within the next week.

She was fully prepared for defeat.

He had taught her a lot in the past hour, and she had remembered about most of the moves targeted, well to hurt people. She wasn’t doing the best whilst executing them but she was improving quickly.

She had avoided looking at him the entire time since the whole ‘tickle’ issue, as she was afraid she would burst out laughing – and when she did glimpse his face, the only thing she could imagine was his face when she had tickled him.

Of course she burst out laughing.

Bucky sighed.

What?” he asked, frustration evident – but he was just as guilty as avoiding looking at her.

She looked at him again before bursting out in tears of mirth. “Tickling, though? Really?” were the only words that came out of her mouth that were understandable as she clutched her stomach.

Metal Arm growled in response, lowering his voice.

“Whatever happened to never speaking about that again”?

She rolled her eyes at him, grinning.

“Aw c’mon. You didn’t even answer my question.”

“You didn’t even have a question.”

“Really? Tickling, that’s your weakness?”

“That’s not a question I am going to answer.”

She laughed again once she caught sight of him. It was him that rolled his eyes this time. “Huh. If I recall, you were just as ticklish as I was, Kale.”

She looked at him, still smiling but her eyes crinkled as she raised her eyebrows in amusement.

“Yes.”

He waited for her explanation, removing the pads off his hands.

“But that’s me.”

He looked around, exhaling and crossing his arms.

“I’m a nerd. It’s okay for me to be ticklish.”

“And it’s not okay for me to be?” his voice was tinged with amusement.

No! It’s just you’re so big and broody and assassin like. Y’know.”

Her eyes widened when she realised what she had just said. He stepped forward, amusement gone.

Who had told her?

What did she know about him?

How much did she know-

His thought was interrupted by footsteps reaching towards them.

Glancing once at the wide eyed trainee, he then turned towards Steve and DuRose whilst looking expectantly at them.

Steve spoke up. “Just wondering if we could have a few words.”

Bucky nodded and looked towards his trainee. She took the hint and started to make her way out of the ring.

Steve called out.

“You too, Ela.”

She froze for a moment before standing up and walking towards the centre of the ring. Bucky also seemed confused as he lifted the ropes for them to come up.

Cat gave her best angry look towards Ela, but it looked more like a mocking face so all she received in return was a half smile.

“What’s up?” Ela asked, re-tying her hair up.

Cat looked towards her, confused that she didn’t understand after she had blatantly been looking between them both. Ela just furrowed her eyebrows, reaching for the water bottle she now kept close to her after the first day of training and Steve looked towards Bucky for one of them to start speaking.

It was Cat that spoke up first, more doubtful of herself than she should have been. “We know.”

Bucky stopped in his tracks and looked at Steve, feeling betrayed.

Ela just looked really baffled.

“Know what?” she questioned, suspicions growing as she saw the exchanging glances between Steve and Cat.

Bucky couldn’t believe Steve had told the girl, why the hell did she have to know? His first instinct was to grab him by the scruff of the neck – but then again, friends wouldn’t do that to each other.

“About you two?” Steve asked, again more to himself than the others.

Ela looked towards her trainer, and saw that he was frozen on the spot. She looked at them both, unimpressed.

“What?”

Steve decided to just come out with it; they weren’t going to get anywhere whilst beating around the bush.

“Look,” he said, cautiously deciding what words to use with the both of them.

It was Cat that said it, with a ‘caught-red-handed’ tone and a crossing of arms.

We know you’re together.” She decided and Ela choked on the water she was drinking.

This caught Bucky’s attention.

What?

They thought-

What?!

On the other hand, Ela was coughing, tears forming in her eyes as the water sunk down the wrong way. Recovering from her coughing fit, she just stared at them in disbelief.

“What?”

Steve looked at them both, nodding. “It’s okay, we know you guys are just trying to take it slow-“

Cat snorted. “Not really-“

Steve just glared at her whilst he continued. “So we respect that. But we want you to know; we are fully supportive of whatever you guys choose to do.”

Ela was gaping.

Bucky just looked lost.

Steve was grinning.

Cat had a smirk playing on her lips.

“You think-“Ela blurted out, not able to form a full sentence.

Bucky was finally getting what was going on. No. No way.

Him and-?

He looked at her, an incredulous expression on her face and he just looked at the pair in front of them with a blank expression.

He was taught not to let anything get away.

Not to let anyone know.

His feelings shouldn’t get in the way.

Maybe this would be the excuse for everyone to finally get off his back.

Stop treating him so delicately.

If this were true, maybe they would just leave him be.

“Yes.” Bucky said.

Ela hadn’t registered what he had just agreed to before he said. “We are together.”

Time slowed for a moment as Ela stared at Metal Arm with an unexplainable expression. She spoke out to clear out this confusion.

“Wait no! It’s nothing like that at all-” at this point Bucky grabbed her hand  with his flesh one and squeezed it a little too tight - tight enough to cut off circulation to her fingers. She shut up and looked over to her apparent boyfriend.

Steve seemed over the moon.

“It’s okay, we won’t tell anyone unless you want us to. We’re just happy that you guys are happy.”

Ela wanted to face-palm in one instance and smack Metal Arm across the jaw. She bit back a remark and smiled falsely, managing to fool both her best friend and the love of Cat’s own life.

This?

This was not acceptable.

She took a deep breath and made a point of digging her nails into Metal Arm’s skin, just to know she definitely didn’t agree with this.

Cat just smiled at her and announced her exit to Steve. “We should go.”

Ela decided to make a comment herself. “Thanks guys.” She made her grin seem as genuine as possible, and continued.

“How did you guys find out?”

Steve stopped and clearly struggled to find words. After a while of Cat’s cheeks turning a rather violent red, Steve treaded carefully.

“We heard some noises, and we happened to see you guys in your room. A couple of hours ago.”

It was Bucky who spoke this time. “We were training.”

Ela nodded in agreement, looking at them.

Cat’s snarky side made an appearance. “Training for what?”

For the second time the pale brunette was cut off for any further comments by the tall super-soldier beside her. Steve looked at her, a little defeated. She really needed some cutting down on the sarcasm. It didn’t fare well around Bucky.

“We saw you on the floor-“
Both Bucky and Ela coloured, and they winced in succession.

Ela covered her mouth and really took a care of what she was going to say, and made sure it didn’t sound like some odd metaphor.

“It wasn’t what it looked like. It was just-“she swore she heard a bone crunch in her hand, and she let out a half-yelp-half cough of pain.

“Well what was it?” Cat asked, raising an eyebrow knowingly.

“It doesn’t concern you, DuRose.” Bucky’s firm tone initiated the end of the conversation.

Ela wanted to crawl into a hole and be left there for the next few centuries.


 

“That went well!” Steve chirped as they walked down to the canteen.

Cat was sure they were hiding something, but she wouldn’t press on the matter. Not when Steve looked so happy. It really amazed her how much he still cared for his friend, even after he tried to kill Steve.

She supposed it would be the same if Ela were to be frozen cryogenically for years, had her memory wiped and trained to be an assassin.

“Yes it did.” She replied shortly mind wandering off. They stepped outside of the canteen and she had completely forgotten to thank Steve.

“Hey Cap?” She asked, still apprehensive to call him Steve.

“Steve,” He corrected, clearing her doubt up.

“Thanks for letting me use you as target practice.” She finished, not able to meet his gaze. She was afraid she might melt into a puddle if she saw his grin again.

“No problem Cat. Anytime.”

She had to quirk a brow at this.

“Okay, not any time. Maybe when I’m feeling suicidal.” He replied jokingly, and earned a small hit against his arm.

She turned to leave and attempt to straighten up the room, her best friend had messed up in her antics and as she turned, she felt a hand on her shoulder.

Steve looked at her a moment before saying, “I had fun today. Maybe I’ll try and get Sam a little busier.”

She almost swooned.

Nodding hastily she speed walked back to her room, only to see her friend sat on the bed, the room already tidy.

“I’m sorry about the lamp, I fixed the shelf though.” Ela said weakly as she looked up through her glasses. As she investigated the room, it seemed orderly and in a much better state than before.

Cat sat on her bed and Ela tucked herself into the covers.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” her question was spoken softly, and with disappointment present, piercing through Ela’s already mixed up mind.

“I’m sorry, just really tired. Can we speak later?” was her reply after a pause, and she turned, staring at the broken lamp and pretending to be asleep.

It wasn’t like she didn’t have a lot to think about.


 

“Sir, intel tells me Coulson has built a base somewhere in the East Coast.”

The man simply turned around and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“That isn’t helpful.”

“S-sorry sir.”

With a sigh, the well dressed man turned around, patience wearing thin.

“Find out. 48 hours.”

With a shuffling of feet, he was forced out of the room as he observed the displays of information around him. He drank in the information, his eyes lingering a little too long on a fuzzy picture of two girls sitting in a very recognisable place.

He snapped his fingers and the quiet murmurs of the room silenced. “Who are the girls at Martina’s?”

A small curly haired woman ran up to the computers, scanning the picture and finding matches. The information came up on screen – science graduates, Ivy League, friends, British.

“Why are they on my screen?”

The quiet murmurs hushed again.

“They’re said to be new S.H.I.E.L.D recruits, sir.”

After looking at them, he smiled.

“Find them. Bring them to me.”

The room broke out in a wild scramble, trying to find information about these two girls.

“Find me reasons why they want them, and find me reasons we don’t have them.”

His command controlled thousands of HYDRA members across the Tri-State, and he always got what he wanted.


 

“Can we at least discuss this, Metal Arm?”

Bucky rolled his eyes.

“There is nothing to discuss.”

She wanted to hit him. Really, really hard.

“You could give me a justified reason.”

“I like you.”

“You hate me.”

“That’s not true.”

She crossed her arms and stood up to face him.

“There is much to discuss, Metal Arm.”

“Not when you keep referring to me as ‘Metal Arm’.”

“Tough shit.”

Bucky sighed.

“What is there to discuss?”

She was at the end of her wits here, taking a deep breath before speaking again.

“Many things. Like why you decided I’m suddenly your girlfriend?”

He glanced at her with that.

“I just said, I like you.” He seemed pained to say those words.

She rolled her eyes once again.

“Cut the bullshit, please. We both know that’s a false statement.”

Bucky shrugged, smirking.

“I just think you should deal with it.”

“Deal with what?”

“You being my girlfriend.”

She almost screamed.

“Against my will!”

“Not really.”

“If I go to Steve and tell him it was an entire lie, what would you do?”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Kale.”

“Did you just threaten me, Metal Arm?”

“Yes.”

She snorted.

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how relationships work.”

He looked at her, silently pleading.

Fine. I will. But you have to try not to beat me up every time we train.”

“I don’t beat you up.” he exclaimed in his defence.

She quirked an eyebrow and it was Bucky who was speechless this time.

“Whatever happened to chivalry?” She asked to no one in particular, sighing in retaliation to his silence.

“It died with my soul.” He retorted, sarcasm dripping from his words.

“You’re hilarious.”

“Now there’s a good girlfriend.”

He continued to pat her on the head.

Chapter Text

It had now been four months since Cat and Ela made their way through the clinical walls of the S.H.I.E.L.D warehouse, and now fully trained at also fully at work – they were pretty friendly with most people. 

Well, there was the exception of the strange relationship between James Barnes and Ela. However, the compound just accepted that their sarcasm was just a way of showing love towards each other. Bucky was definitely opening up towards people more, and his nightmares were becoming less frequent. He also seemed a lot less broody and stone-like. Ela was the same as she was - no change - except slowly starting to enjoy her time with Bucky.

Not that she would care to actually admit it.

Steve had noticed Ela had been good for him, he seemed so much more like his old self – although still reserved, definitely more talkative and more open to humour. They were still stuck within the labyrinth of underground secrets, but Coulson had finally agreed for them to now go on a field mission.


 

They sat around the conference table, Cat was amidst debate with Tony Stark on the use of graphene in his new operating systems; Bruce was listening to Ela rant about the newest season of ‘Suits’, Bucky and Steve were talking about their time with the Howling Commandos, Natasha and Clint were laughing about their most creative ways of kidnapping people and Coulson and Hill were trying to explain cake pops to Thor (who the girls had met and loved).

“It’s just not practical – too expensive and there could be no way to mass produce it. Do you know how hard that stuff is to obtain, it’s like getting the freaking Tesseract after Thor went back to alien planet.”

 

“I mean Jessica! Like what is even with her? She is so annoying, but Louis is such a cutie and he is definitely now one of my favourite characters…”

Bruce seemed enthralled, apparently watching the TV show himself. “And Harvey being a dick to Mike after he-“
Ela seemed scandalized and hit her palm against the flat of the table. “I know!”

 

 “Remember the time we went into the bar and got so drunk we just stood on the tables and howled?”

“You mean you did that, Buck.”

“Well I’m sorry my human metabolism couldn’t take alcohol as well as your star spangled ass.

 

How did you even manage the jump from the scaffolding?”

Clint tapped his nose and Natasha replied with a laugh.

“At least I didn’t shoot someone’s hat off, and they were so damn terrified that they just willingly came with you.”

“What an absolute moron.”

“I’d hardly consider that a kidnapping.”

“You’d hardly consider anything as anything after Budapest-“

 

“How is it possible that a cake and lollipop form as one? It is preposterous!”

“No, they’re two separate things Thor.” Coulson seemed tired.

“But what is built up in this concoction of foods?”

Hill was more patient that Coulson. “They make the cake and then-“

 

In a flash, the small black pagers started beeping (Cat had gotten hers first, and they were so cool) and a myriad of voices stopped conversations and spoke to one another, shouting orders half way across the table.

“There’s been a high wave of radiation around Ohio, Kale – find the co-ordinates, DuRose find out what the hell it is.”

They both started typing simultaneously, opening the laptops in front of them and working as fast as they could. With the software that the organisation had provided them with, it made their jobs a whole lot easier. Using the information they had already been sent, Ela quickly started the algorithm created to locate high bursts of radiation within a certain area, and she quickly saw the targeted area.

“Central Cincinatti.” She shouted, and Agent Hill nodded, turning to Coulson.

As she finished speaking, Cat also shouted to everyone who was listening and no-one in particular, “Same radiation as when Thor comes down. Must be a friend?”

She looked towards Thor as he pondered amongst his huge list of subjects of Asgard.

Coulson stopped speaking to Tony and nodded.

“Ela, Cat, Barnes and Stark – you’re going to Ohio.”

They shrugged, although internally Cat was excited for her first mission and Ela had a gut instinct and knew this was a call for disaster.

They all nodded and hurried out of the room, Stark sticking his watch to the glass wall panel and the door opening.

“Welcome, Mr. Stark.” The same creepy voice was now a daily occurrence and posed no threat to the girls, although it still terrified them.

“We’re getting on the QuinJet.”

No one said anything until they reached the underground store of weapons and other Stark vehicles – ranging from planes to cars and even a few bikes.

“You know, usually when I tell girls I own a jet – they’re pretty damn impressed.” He turned around and winked at them both, laughing at their smiles. They had grown accustomed to his flirty jokes, and he noticed Bucky stuck a little closer to Ela.

They walked onto the small, flat topped jet, which didn’t really look like one. They entered, Tony heading towards the pilot’s seat and the rest of them headed towards the back of the considerably spacious passenger area.

After they had all settled, and the rocky take off had left them all a bit queasy, Cat left the happy couple as she sat beside Tony in the cockpit.

“How’s it going, Stark?” she asked, fiddling with the air conditioning controls in front of her.

“Well, it’s going a little rough with Pepper, so I could really use a female’s help.”

Cat sighed and looked at him expectantly, arms crossed.

“What did you do, Tony?”

He cried out in his defence. “Hey! I’ve not actually done anything this time, she’s just annoyed because I’m always at the damn compound or work or trying to win a Nobel prize-“

It was at this point where Cat hit him with the control manual on the head.

“Have you been neglecting her?”

At least he looked guilty.

“I don’t mean to, she’s always running the company and every time I try and make time, I can’t because I always have something to do and I don’t wanna lose her because she’s the only person I have-“

His anxious ramble only earned him another smack on the head.

He looked at her in alarm. She only snapped back at him. “Don’t self-pity your way out of this one Stark! She’s the one feeling bad!”

He sighed and rubbed his head.

“How can I make it up to her?”

“Spend time with her.”

“I can’t, Coulson-“

Another smack on the head.

“You’re Tony fucking Stark. “

“True that.”

“And plus, if you’re not seen in public do you not think HYDRA will start to become the least bit suspicious?”

“Also true that.”

Don’t make excuses.”

“Nothing gets past you, does it?”

She grinned as she shook her head. “Nope.”

He grinned at her, flashing his pearly whites at her. “I’ll make it up to you. There’s this great sushi restaurant in Central, I’ll take you there after we finish this whole radiation thingy.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to believe you graduated a year early from MIT.”

This earned her an eye roll from the sassy middle aged mogul. “What do you say? You, me, dead fish – and hey!”

She looked at him as he said, “Maybe we could even get those two lovebirds a table as well.”

She laughed at him. “Okay, old man. Who even says lovebirds anymore?”

The conversation ended as Cat walked back to the seats to inform Bucky and Ela of their dinner plans.


 

A few metres back, they were also in the midst of conversation as awkwardly as they could get.

“You have the mouth of a sailor.” stated Metal Arm, garnering a mock offended look from his girlfriend.

“A sailor? I was hoping more for Wolf of Wall Street.”

“I don’t understand that reference.”

She sighed, flicking through her magazine.

“I know you don’t, centurion.”

He mumbled a bit, miffed. “I’m not even a hundred yet.”

Ela cackled.

Cat coughed, alerting them of her presence.

“Tony says we’re going to dinner tonight. You up for it?”

Ela smiled at her best friend. “Sure.”

At the same time, Bucky responded with a firm ‘no’. In retaliation, Ela glared at him and Cat watched as their expressions changed during the non-verbal exchange.

He mumbled. “Fine. What is it?”

Cat fought back a laugh. “Sushi.”

Bucky rest his head against the chair, whining. “I hate sushi.”

Ela glared at him once again, replying with a diplomatic, “Bucky would love to eat sushi with you guys.”

Cat muttered a, ‘whipped’ and she and Ela burst out laughing simultaneously.

Bucky just groaned.

It was gonna be a long night.

 


 

They arrived at a private air field, and as it turned out – Pepper had already arranged a car for them. Cat caught Tony looking even guiltier for not doing it himself.

As they drove, obviously Ela was shoved in next to Bucky and Tony as Cat forcibly took Ela out of the front seat and put her in the back. Least to say, she was in a superhero sandwich and hated it. As Tony was pulling his usual flirting with her, it just continued in mild banter until Bucky decided to place an arm around Sony’s seat, rather protectively.

Raising an eyebrow, Tony wondered how far this would go – seeing as they really weren’t the most affectionate of couples.

Not in public anyway.                                        

But he really didn’t want to think about that.

Grinning, Tony shifted a little closer to the bored girl – gaining nothing more than a glance from the metal-armed brute.

Continuing with the flirts, he smirked at Bucky. Just for good measure.

“You know there’s a hotel next to the sushi bar, right?”

Ela looked at him, pressing pause for the music on her mp3 player.

“Your point being?”

Waggling his eyebrows suggestively, he asked, “Wanna join me?”

She laughed and pressed the play button to her music player.

“Don’t you have Pepper?”

Muting the volume this time, she waited for his reply.

“Would that mean you’d say yes if there was no Pepper?”

Even Cat turned round for her reply.

No, Tony. You’re an overgrown man-child slash creep.”

“You’ve broken my heart.”

She laughed as he pouted. He tapped the side of his cheek and she rolled her eyes, pressing her lips hastily on his cheek.

Definitely overgrown man-child.”

Tony just grinned at Bucky’s expression. He was not happy as he wrapped his arm around the girl’s shoulder, sending Tony a look that said ‘stay away’.

Tony was just happy to irritate people.

“We need to pull over!” Cat shouted, causing the driver to swerve onto the road.

Tony shouted. “Why?!”

Bucky pointed out of the tinted glass, seeing a tall, black haired, oddly dressed man. Dragging some tall metal stick with a glowing orb, he trudged along, not particularly pleased looking.

“I thinkwe found our radiation source.”

Tony stared out in disbelief.

Loki?”

Cat turned back.

“Thor’s brother?”

Ela nodded and brought out her computer again, reloading it. In the meanwhile Tony, Bucky and Cat got out of the car to greet their extra-terrestrial guest and Ela slid into the seat behind the driver.

 As they all left the car, Ela placed her laptop down and began to tie her laces when she heard the driver speak in hushed tones. His fabric rustled to look back, and he sighed in relief.

“They’ve found him.”

There was a pause as Ela stayed down and listened to the driver, halting her breathing.

“We’re on the way to central. 30 minutes away, meet us there.”

She wondered who he was speaking to, as they were assigned to bring the visitor only with them. Shrugging it off, she was about to ask when she heard the smallest whisper of the words she swore she would never hear in the flesh.

Hail Hydra.”

Her heart stopped and she stayed down. She couldn’t do anything, no, not with her still in the car.

The driver, named Matthew – seemed so lovely.

What a bastard.

Still staying down, she formed a plan in her head. She couldn’t tell the guys here, but she could force them to turn back to the nearest service station which happened to be a couple of minutes before. She waited a few minutes after the driver left the car to call the rest of them back with the guest, and then she found her time to sneak out of the large black car.

Bumping into Bucky, she turned to see the driver look back at the car in alarm so she grabbed his wrist and kissed him – leaning against the car door, so it looked like it had shut by accident.

After she noticed Matthew had turned away grimacing at the sight of them, she pushed Bucky back, away from her.

“Sorry about that.”

Bucky just stared at her in somewhat of an awe.

She sat back in the car, opened her laptop and opened the most accessible text writing software. Quickly she wrote a message.

Driver is not one of us.

He nodded and looked at her with an unreadable expression.

As Tony re-entered the car with Loki, he sat him in the back and Loki at least looked a little less pissed off.

“I’m glad your manners are more present in this acquaintance.”

Tony raised his eyebrows at the Asgardian.

“You nearly destroyed the world, called on some freaky Chitauri, and nearly got me killed trying to save the world.”

Loki shrugged, blissfully ignorant.

“Minor details.” And surprisingly didn’t speak.

Once the car had started, Ela spoke up quickly, trying to remain as natural as possible

“Matthew?”

He turned his head, smiling at her. She smiled back. “I hate to be a pain, but could we go back to that gas station a couple of miles back? I really need to pee.”

Loki made his first sarcastic comment. She had heard a lot about them.

Charming.”

Matthew looked a little flushed before reversing the car and heading in the opposite direction. She smiled, and thanked him.

Bucky asked simply, meaning it as a joke – but the tone wasn’t quite in the sense of hilarity as he wanted it to be. “Why didn’t you just pee in the field?”

Ela slapped him on the head and got a myriad of horrified looks.

“Because I’m civilised, Metal Arm.”

 


 

They reached the station, mere minutes later and she pretended to go to the unhygienic toilet for several minutes before coming out again. The rest of the guys were in the car, and so she walked over and tapped on the window.

As the window rolled down, she asked very loudly.

“I’m going to get some snacks. Who wants some?”

A list of items were thrown at her before she opened the car door and told everyone to get out and get it themselves.

Slightly panicking, she pulled Cat out of the car and waited for the rest of them to follow.

“I would greatly appreciate your kindness if you got me-“Loki was interrupted by Matthew.

Shut up.”

And so he did.

 


 

They all got out of the car and headed into the small shop, wandering around before reaching the snack aisle.

Ela had to get this over with quickly and quietly. Making sure there was no one else within a suitable hearing range she casually spoke.

“Don’t trust Matt.”

Cat and Tony stopped to look at her.

She took a deep breath. “When you guys went to get Loki, I stayed in the car. He thought it was empty and started to speak to some guy on the phone, telling him we had found Loki.”

They were all listening intently.

“At the end of the phone call, he whispered Hail Hydra.”

Their previously humoured expressions were now replaced with stone-cold faces and they all nodded.

Taking their respective snacks, they took them to the till and paid, whispering their plans to knock Matthew unconscious.

Luckily for them, when they reached the car, Matthew was nowhere to be seen, and so as they all jumped into the car – Cat shifted from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat, started the engine and drove off.

“Aren’t we supposed to wait for the driver-?“

All of them responded, eerily at once. “Shut up, Loki.”

Chapter Text

Once Cat’s shock had worn off from having to drive in months, the rest of the car feared for their lives a little less.

Not bothering to question or offering to take over the drive, they continued to make a plan.

“This is HYDRA we’re talking about, so they’re most likely tracing the car. We need to get rid of it before the city.”

They all nodded at Tony’s words and Ela carried on.

“We also won’t be able to go to that sushi place today – they’ll be looking out.”

Tony frowned a little, but nodded in agreement. “Fine.” Cat rolled her eyes, fixing her eyes upon the road once again. 

Suddenly the car stopped, blocking the road entirely.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Tony just grinned as he nodded to the slightly crazy driver. “She’s ditching the car.”

Bucky, Ela and Loki all looked at the grinning pair confusedly as Tony got out of the car to negotiate with what seemed like -college students? They had blocked off a rusty blue pickup truck, and Tony put on his glasses and flashed his best grin as a bunch of college students protested.

“What the hell are you doing?” A tall blonde, varsity-jacket wearing stepped out of the driver’s seat of the truck and squared up to Tony.

In retaliation, Tony slid his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose and spoke to the bulky looking leader of them, stepping closer to them, Ela noticing the attempt to hide the look of disgust on the billionaire's face.

 

“Look, we’re here to make a negotiation.”

“What negotiation?” The blonde ignored the few shouts from the back of his own rusty pickup.

“We just want to swap cars. That’s all.”

The blonde looked at the large black car behind Tony and narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

“What’s in it for us?”

Tony scrunched up his face in annoyance. “The car!”

The college student tilted his chin upwards and stepped closer. “What else?”

Tony rolled his eyes.

“A 100 bucks.”

The student contemplated and shrugged. “Sure.”

“Oh wait! I forgot. You guys have to go to central Cincinnati first.”

“Another 100.” Blonde student demanded and Tony sighed, reaching for his wallet. Reaching for his wallet, he heard the car door behind him slam, and Ela had manage to climb over Bucky to get out.

“What’s taking so long, Tony?”

The blonde looked her up and down appreciatively. She rolled her eyes before thinking yet another impulsive decision.

She walked up to the both of them, a bounce in her stop and putting on the best stupid look she could muster, a coy smile on her face.

“It’s just, we’re gonna be so late-“

Internally disgusted, she placed an arm on his chest and giggled.

She wanted to puke.

Holding it back she continued,

“-and my uncle hasn’t really got that much cash on him, so we were just wondering if we could get this over with really fast?” her voice had reached a sickeningly high pitch, but the moronic student in front of her actually fell for it. Grinning, he winked at her and she almost shuddered in horror.

“That’s fine, but I do want something in return.” He said, ignoring Tony as she twirled her hair. She was never doing this again. Ever.

She nudged Tony, and asked him. “Hey Uncle, do you have a dollar note?”

He looked mortified at the title and scrambled in his pocket to find one.

The student looked a bit unimpressed.

Picking up a pen from her bag (with a laser attached to the other end, of course) she leaned against the flat of the varsity guy’s chest and wrote her number. Throwing in a quick wink, he looked a bit dumbfounded as he gladly took the note and ushered his friends out of the car.

Bucky was pissed off. First Stark - and now this douchebag?

This was pushing it.

He still didn’t like the girl, but she was his by technicality.

 

Cat was laughing at her friend’s attempt of seduction, laughing even more at the fact it worked.

Tony was still mortified that he was now deemed an Uncle.

Loki was impressed that she could manipulate that well.

Ela turned around to face the car, and motioned for everyone to come out leading with a laughing Cat, smirking Loki behind her and Bucky who looked fit to murder.

Stepping towards her quickly, Cat stopped Bucky before his weird protective stance around her jeopardized the entire thing, so she stopped him as Cat threw Tony the keys and they swapped.

Ela turned to Bucky with a swift motion and commanded, “Get the stuff from the car.”

Gullible student questioned Bucky’s presence, and questioned Loki’s choice of clothes. “Who’s he? And why does he look like a freak?”

Loki was about to rant on about his God-like state and how these mere mortals were below him – predicting this; Cat slapped a hand over his mouth before he could speak.

Ela struggled for a moment before returning to the sickening voice she had adapted to before. “They’re my cousins. They’re a bit weird. In fact, we’re taking them to this weird comic thing.”

She felt horrified that she had called anything related to comics weird, and she prayed to whatever comic forces out there to forgive her.

“Okay,” he concluded, satisfied with the description. She twirled her hair one last time for added effect as he looked down at her and bit his lip.

She really was going to puke.

Maintaining her smile, she watched Bucky out of the corner of his eye, back in his furious brooding state and watched as Cat removed her hand from Loki’s mouth and jabbed Bucky in the gut with her elbow.

The tall blonde student took out the dollar note she had folded up and given to him, and winked at her.

“I will definitely be calling this.” She giggled and waved as he walked towards their car.

She turned around with a deep exhale, trying to ease the queasy feeling that presented itself in her stomach. She heard a shout of “Back to town guys!” and walked towards the old pickup, a little more uncomfortable than she had before.

“I’m driving.” She announced.

Tony butt in, shaking his head.

“No, I’m driving.”

Once they had settled in the car and Ela took out her laptop, Bucky turned to stare at her.

What?”

In the back, she was now (with a little more space, at least) with Loki and Bucky. He just continued to glare at her. She continued to work on her laptop, feeling cold as they picked up speed and she couldn’t reach to roll the windows down. Shutting her laptop, she went to stick her head in between the seats and speak to Cat, who still hadn’t gotten over the humour of the situation.

Really?” Cat asked, between laughs.

Don’t. And you couldn’t have done better.”

“I’m not saying I could have.”

“Then don’t comment.”

It was then when Tony joined into the conversation, eyes glued onto the road ahead of them.

“An Uncle? Really?”

Ela just sighed.

“What was I supposed to say? You’re my dad?” Tony looked more mortified than before, if that was eve deemed possible. “That wouldn’t have been very realistic.” She then continued to stick her arm next to his face and compared the colour difference.

“Nope, not at all realistic.” Cat agreed.

Tony seemed startled at the arm that was suddenly stuck to his face.

“What are you doing?” he asked, trying to look in between Ela and the road simultaneously.

“I’m comparing skin colours Tony, trying to prove you wouldn’t have made a very good biological father.”

Loki pointed out a fair point. “There could have been an adoption involved.”

In sync, Cat and Ela tilted their head to the side and considered this.

That could have worked.”

“Do I look like a father to you?” Tony exclaimed in his defence.

After his initial horror, Tony was now over the lie they had told and said with the same defeated face as an hour before whilst speaking to Ela.

“You could have said I was your sugar daddy.”

The girls burst out laughing and Bucky’s eyes narrowed, contemplating whether to strangle Tony as he was sat directly behind him.

“What, pray tell, is a sugar daddy?” Loki questioned, peering between the conversationalists.

As they launched into explaining, they realised they soon reached into the city and Tony drove towards the apartment Pepper had rented for them.

The group of students fit comfortable into the black car, and the unofficial leader – Vince was smug.

“How did you get her number?” one of his companions asked, pulling out the dollar note and inspecting it, dubious.

Vince unintentionally puffed out his chest and his smirk only increased.

“She wanted the D.” The rest of the group cheered for the pack leader, leaving Vince to wonder if she would be in Cincinnati, where he had been instructed to go. As they entered the vicinity, a black sedan blocked off their path yet again, and several police cars surrounded them.

“Get out of the car.”

All of the students looked at the surrounding defence units, confused.

They all cautiously stepped out of the car.

“Hold your hands over your head.” Another ordered. They slowly obliged, as several armed men came up to them and did a weapons check.

They were too scared to make a move.

 A small group had gathered around, discussing the situation and looking over at the college students with their eyebrows furrowed.

“These aren’t them.”

“I know that, dipshit.”

They all stepped closer and asked, “Where are the people that were in this car before you?” He asked Vince.

Vince felt like he was about to piss his pants.

I d-don’t know.”

The calm manner had turned into a shout of rage. “Where are they?”

“I don’t know!” He was on the verge of crying, what did they have to do with anything? He continued, not wanting to piss off the guys with guns.

“They just asked if we could switch cars and I didn’t see where they went, they just took the car and left!”
The man shouted to the rest of the students.

“Did you see what direction they went in?”

One shouted, “They went towards here!”

The other shouted. “No they didn’t! They went the other way!”

All of them got involved, starting to shout which way they went. The HYDRA officials wanted to smack these boys for their stupidity, but let them go. After they continued to drive in the car, all terrified to the end of their wits – they sat in the car in silence.

“I think that you got duped, Vince.” One of his friends told him, eyes wide. Vince just nodded.

As they reached the apartment, JARVIS started assigning rooms as they put their bags down.

“Miss Kale and Sergeant Barnes will be in a room together-“Ela almost hit her head off a table as she crouched up.

“What, no!”

“I’m not sharing a room with her.” was Bucky’s reply, not quite as reactive as his supposed partner.

Tony looked taken aback, and Cat looked confused, Loki just looked amused.

JARVIS spoke. “Miss Potts has insisted on it.”

“I’m calling Pepper, she must have gotten confused. I’ll room with Cat.”

Tony shook his head.

“You can’t.”

Ela spoke, a little more rushed and panic evident. “I don’t see the problem of us just switching rooms.”

Cat piped up, curious. “Have you two had a domestic?”
Both in question turned to glare at her.

She held her hands up in defence.

“That would mean I would have to share a room with broody, here. I need my beauty sleep.”
Ela rolled her eyes, “You’ll still get your damn beauty sleep, Tony.”

“Not with broody!”

She pinched the bridge of her nose.

“So Bucky will just room with Loki. I don’t see what the issue is.”

“But you guys are together – I don’t see what the issue is with you sharing a room.” Cat said, suspicions arising.

Tony also shook his head.

Nuh uh.”

Ela noticed Bucky had not said anything.

Then again, he never really says much around her.

Shrugging it off, she raised an eyebrow at Tony.

“I don’t trust Magic Man and Broody in a room together.”

She let out an exhale and reached for her phone, after seeing it flash. Reading the text, her cheeks darkened, seeing as it was sent about an hour before.

She mumbled. “Definitely took advantage of the number.”

Not thinking anyone heard it, she put her phone away and cleared her throat whilst Bucky tried burning a hole through her phone as he heard what she said.

“It’s fine. We’ll room together.” He spoke quietly and well, brooding, as he usually did before they started fake-dating.

Cat exchanged a glance at Ela, asking if she was okay. Ela just shrugged and walked to where JARVIS guided them.

She threw her bag at the side, placing her laptop on the small table next to the bed. “I’ll sleep on the floor.” Bucky announced, throwing his stuff on the opposite side of the bed from where she was sat.

Ela felt bad as she looked at the laminated flooring.

“I’ll ask Tony if he has an air mattress or something.”

Bucky just looked tired. “Don’t. They’re already suspicious as it is.”

“I’m not letting you sleep on the floor with nothing, Bucky.”

“I’m used to it.”

“That’s not a nice thing to be used to.”

“I’ll live with it.”

She gave up, as she turned to him.

“What is your problem today?”

He looked at her blankly. “What problem?”

She sat up a little straighter on the edge of the bed.

“The one where you’re all moody again.”

“I’m always like this.”

She shook her head.

“No you’re not.”

He shrugged as he opened the door to the bathroom, throwing off his shirt in the process.

“What are you doing?” She asked, panic returning.

He gave her a strange look. “Going to shower.”

She sighed as she lay down on the bed. “You could have at least waited until you closed the door to strip.”

“Don’t pretend you don’t like it, doll.” He smirked and in frustration she threw a pillow at him.

Loki and Cat had problems of their own. Since they were rooming – their room actually had a couch.

“You take the couch, I get the bed.”

“I find that a very unfair proposition, Miss DuRose.”

She didn’t even question how he already knew her last name. Shrugging, she sat down and smirked.

“I called dibs.”

“I do not understand what that means.” Loki conspired against her.

It was JARVIS that spoke to them next.

“Dibs. Noun. Informal. The right to share or choose something.”

Cat laughed. “Thanks JARVIS.”

“No problem, Miss DuRose.”

Loki stared as he took his place on the black sofa and Cat threw a pillow from the large bed at him.

See? I’m nice like that.”

He growled as his face was covered in the fresh linen.

They all sat around the minimalistic living room, sat around the large glass screen that currently projected Agent Coulson’s face on it.

He shook his head.

“Sorry guys, you’re gonna have to stay there for a couple more nights. With HYDRA looking within the entire area, you can’t afford to move out of state.”

Tony groaned.

“Pepper is going to be pissed.”

Coulson glanced at his watch, and swiftly said goodbye before cutting off the live feed.

As Tony complained about his dying love life, Cat threw a cushion at him.

“Stop complaining. I’ll call Pepper.” Ela had only met the happy CEO a couple of times prior, and they had gotten along well seeing as they were probably the most normal out of the lot of them.

Tony’s stomach churned as the phone rang on speaker.

“Potts speaking.”

“Hi Pepper, it’s Ela.”

The stern business-like voice had disappeared, and was replaced with a much more casual and friendly one.

“Hey Ela! How are you guys? Did you get to Cincinnati safe?”

Subconsciously, Ela nodded, forgetting that Pepper was not in the room with them. “Yeah, we got here fine and picked Loki up on the way – turned out Matt was on the other side. We had to ditch the car.”

Pepper’s tone darkened. “Oh God, really? I’m so sorry about that.”

Ela responded. “Don’t worry about it, you didn’t know. Anyway we wanted to tell you to cancel your plans and come here straight away.”

Pepper seemed alarmed. “Why? What happened? Is Tony okay?”

She rolled her eyes and Tony smirked, Cat continuing to throw another cushion at him.

“Yes Tony’s fine. But you need a break Pepper. You work so hard all of the time!”

Pepper considered this for a moment, sighing. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Everyone heard the smile in Pepper’s voice.

Unfortunately, much to the girls’ and Tony’s dismay, Pepper couldn’t make it due to some emergency meeting. She apologised profusely, and everyone was on a bit of a downer as they tried finding disguises around Tony’s apartment.

“I think the blonde wig suits you Tony.” Cat grinned, as he looked like an 80’s country star.

“Please, I look good in anything.”

“Your arrogance never fails to amaze me.”

“Of course I amaze you.”

Bucky was seriously close to punching the guy.

As it turned out, they still planned to go to the sushi bar – of course in disguise. Ela had protested for a good ten minutes, insisting she didn’t want to go and they really shouldn’t because of HYDRA – but Cat thought she should loosen up and just go anyway. Eventually she gave in and decided to go regardless.

Tony stuck with the blonde wig (rocking the country superstar idea), Bucky sported a moustache (that made him look like a creepy old man), Loki tied his hair back and wore a fedora and a suit (he looked like those weird lanky models for the quirky designers) and Ela and Cat didn’t need to be disguised – well because they were nobodies compared to the superheroes and the Asgardian.

Bucky also had to wear sunglasses and a suit, (which nearly ripped due to him being much larger than Tony), to cover his metal arm.

Tony did say it was a pretty dressy place.

Tony was obviously as flashy as he could be, wearing a shiny grey tux and the blonde wig and sunglasses to partially hide his dark eyebrows.

They looked like an old country band which was trying to be young and cool.

As it turned out, Pepper had left some clothes at the apartment from her last business meeting, and was more than happy to lend them to the girls.

It was the first time they had worn dresses since their high school prom, and frankly – they were pretty freaked out.

“I think I look okay.”
“Same.”
They shrugged and left to face the guys, only to get wolf-whistled by Tony.

“You girls scrub up nice.”
Bucky accidentally hit Tony’s head, still stealing glances at Ela.

They arrived at the dim restaurant and were seated right away a lieu Pepper making reservations for them. They sat in the corner near the open kitchen, occasionally watching fish being cut open and California rolls being perfected.

The tables were in small cubicles. Loki, Tony and Cat were sat around a four seat table and much to their dismay – Ela and Bucky were placed in another behind them.

The waiter came to take their orders and looked oddly between the couple.

“What drinks can I get for you?” He asked politely.

“Just water, thank you.” Ela spoke for the two of them as the waiter nodded before waiting a moment.

“Big age difference?”

Ela laughed and Bucky was even more pissed off with the waiter than Tony.

“You could say that.” She said, grinning at the elderly waiter.

He turned around to pick up their drinks.

“Why is it that you are taking care of me so well on this trip to Midgard? It is much more pleasant in comparison to that ridiculous airborne cage of yours.”

Cat didn’t have an answer, so Tony took her place. “It wasn’t my cage, it was S.H.I.E.L.D’s cage. And this time, I don’t think your intention is to kill us all.”

Loki nodded in seriousness.

“I’ve been banished and exiled by the All Father for my crimes to Midgard. I must remain here in peace with the mortals.”

“That’s nice.” Cat commented, less suspicious as she was prior to this conversation of the mysterious god.

“Well, you’re coming with us.”

“And that would be to?” His slender fingers wrapped around the glass of wine in front of him.

“To a place. Which I shall tell you more about once we are there.”

“Ah I see, it is all so secretive now!” He exclaimed, intrigued.

“Yes, considering our enemy is set out to destroy us and remove all free will from the world.”

Loki tapped his chin, thinking for a moment. “That won’t do. I assume my brother is helping you with this affair?”

Cat nodded, smiling fondly at the thought of Thor.

Loki narrowed his eyes. “Must I put up with his stupidity?”

Cat spoke out in retaliation. “He isn’t stupid.”

Tony spoke out, changing the topic. “How can we trust you?”

Loki laughed, the sound ringing out melodically. “You cannot.” He tilted his head, inspecting Cat as her cheeks reddened. “You can, however, can trust Thor. Since my magic is restricted – I cannot escape the realms of Thor’s power.”

Tony sighed in relief. At least he wasn’t going to be flying anymore nukes into another galaxy.

Several metres away, the couple sat in a somewhat awkward silence.

Sick of the non-existent conversation, Ela stood up.

“I’m going to the ladies’ room.”

Bucky also stood up. Ela threw a glance in his direction, questioning his action.

“I’ll walk with you.”

Why?”

“It’s courteous.”

“No thanks, ‘Pee in the Field’. I’ll go alone.”

She saw concern pass through her partner’s eyes.

“Don’t worry, Barnes. I’ll be fine.”

She stood up and took her bag, being sure to watch her step around the dim eatery. Making her way to the washroom, she saw several fishy looking guys around the doors. Ignoring them, she stepped inside – only to be confronted with a sly looking woman eyeing her up and down.

“Miss Kale.”

Hello?”

She was feeling a little worried at this point.

“I’m really sorry about this, but my boss won’t be very happy if we come back empty handed.”

Within the space of a second, she ducked a kick from behind and flew into one of the cubicles, locking it securely. Within seconds there was evidence force on the door, trying to either rip it off or knock it down.

Taking out her phone, she had no option but to send a text to the first person on her list – Cap.

Estimating she had about 10 seconds before they’d rip the door off, she texted a ‘help!!!’ as quickly as she could and in the midst of adding Cat to the text conversation, the door had ripped off. Pressing send, she only hoped that they got the message in time. Within seconds, her bag was taken from her, and a sickly sweet smelling cloth was placed over her mouth. Feeling drowsier than previously, she guessed it was chloroform – and she fell unconscious before she could protest.

Chapter Text

 

Estimating she had about 10 seconds before they’d rip the door off, she texted a ‘help!!!’ as quickly as she could and in the midst of adding Cat to the text conversation, the door had ripped off. Pressing send, she only hoped that they got the message in time. Within seconds, her bag was taken from her, and a sickly sweet smelling cloth was placed over her mouth. Feeling drowsier than previously, she guessed it was chloroform – and she fell unconscious before she could protest.


Something was wrong.

Bucky could feel it.

It had been a few minutes since Ela had left the table – but he couldn’t shake off the feeling that they were being watched. Scanning the room, he noticed some shady guys spread out around the perimeter of the room. Not being able to make any detail out, he felt a surge on something unexplainable run through his chest.

Feeling like his lungs were expanding and his chest exploding outwards against his ribs – he felt like he was about to die. His vision blurred and he had lost the ability to breathe. Gripping onto the armrests, he stood up with much difficulty and garnered the attention of the others.

His mind shrouded in the worst fears and thoughts he could ever possibly imagine, flashbacks of killing in cold blood and slitting little girls’ throats and falling.

 Falling into the arms of HYDRA.

Cat ran over, concerned for his wellbeing. His face had become pained, his hand clutching his chest as he fell back against the chair.

“What’s going on?”

Everything swam around Bucky. He couldn’t feel anything – everything seemed slowed and he had this wave of nausea wash over him. Cat shook his arm, trying to gain his attention – but Bucky had never felt like this.

Tony watched for a few seconds before figuring out what was going on.

Fuck, he’s having a panic attack!”

The two of them looked alarmed, Loki being as usual being constantly confused in this world.

“What do we do?” cried Cat.

This was when Loki finally made himself useful.

“I shall look for the other girl.”

“Which girl?” Both of them cried at once, trying to appease Bucky, who looked like fearful for his life.

Loki seemed obliviously calm to the situation as Bucky slowly pointed in the direction of the restrooms, still shaking. Loki walked off in the same way as Bucky had pointed, noticing that there was something wrong. He heard many people inside through one of the doors and what seemed like chaos. A large thud shook the restaurant and Loki swiftly stepped inside to witness a black van driving away through a large gap in the east wall, a buzzing device on the floor and no one to be seen.

Picking up the small glowing box, he stared at it for a while. There seemed to be a picture of that arrogant patriot that Loki had met when he last passed across Midgard, alongside the words ‘CAP’ written in large lettering.

The phone stopped buzzing and Loki stared as the box went black again. What was this form of magic? How did it glow and buzz in his hand both at once?

He pondered; trying to flick through his mind at the possible mechanics of a spell he may or may not know. Within a few seconds, the buzzing started again. He noticed the green and red symbol, and pressed the green button, being larger. Confused, he suddenly heard a startled voice originating from the box. Loki stared at it, fearfully.

It could speak also? What monstrosity had the mortals created?

‘Cap’ sounded stricken. “Hello? Ela?”

Loki did not know what to do, pacing up and down the room, staring at the talking, glowing box.

He spoke aloud to himself.

“When did the mortals create such difficult technology? It is much unlike them.”

The box talked back.

“Loki?”

Loki was surprised. ‘CAP’ could hear him? How did this ‘CAP’ know who he was? He looked around his quickly to spot if there was anyone else in the room. Affirming that there was no one, he hesitantly spoke back.

“How is it you speak of my name? Where is your presence?”

Loki heard ‘CAP’ sigh, the sound produced was muffled and clearly under distress. “I am Steve Rogers; you met me last year in New York.”

Loki nodded to himself, understanding. Still holding the glowing box curiously, he started to move towards the debris around the fallen wall. How had the mortals created a box which could cause communication between themselves? It was wonderment! He thought inspect it and take it back to Asgard when his exile was completed.

He returned to the box, and spoke more confidently than before. “Why can I hear your voice through this contraption?”

‘CAP’ seemed to be losing his patience.

“Loki, it’s a telephone. We can explain it to you later. Where is Ela?”

Loki considered for a moment, surveying the damage and speaking a lot louder to ensure ‘CAP’ could hear clearly.

“The girl? I have not seen her. I assume she has been taken in the vehicle that left as I entered.”

‘CAP’ was frantic now, shouting to people in the background. Loki pressed his ear to the box, only to remove it speedily as the sound boomed through his ears.

“Coulson, we have to activate the tracker!”

Another voice responded to this and Loki quirked a brow.

What was this tracker they spoke of?

Loki stared at the phone before walking out again, noticing the voice has stopped and the screen turned black. The whole scene purveyed before him had not affected the restaurant as he returned to his acquaintances.


 

Bucky was calm now, not even a little shaken as he persuaded them not to take him to a doctor. He stood up as Loki approached, and noticed the suit clad men had now disappeared.

It couldn’t-

She couldn’t-

Loki stood in front of them announcing them of the events he had witnessed and his brief conversation through the glowing box.

“I entered the room to see a large space where I assume the wall should have been. There was a colourless vehicle moving as I entered and I assume that is where they took the girl.”

Ela.” Cat spoke, gritting her teeth. Loki waved off her suggestion of using her name and continued.

“This device-“ he held up the phone and the three of them stared at it, concerned. “-started to vibrate, and there was a picture of the colourful patriot which appeared. I pressed the screen-“

Bucky growled, Winter Soldier mode had switched on as Loki drawled. “What did you say?”

Loki continued in his pleasant demeanour. “I told him that the girl had most likely been taken and that the wall had been broken. He then spoke about a tracker – which I did not understand the gist of.”

Cat seemed concerned at this. “Tracker?”

Tony looked nervous.

“Did Coulson not tell you?”

Cat shook her head, rage building up and soon was going to be rearing its ugly head as she realised her best friend had been kidnapped. “I’ll explain in the car. We’re going back to the apartment.”

Bucky had seemed to forget about his panic episode only minutes before, and he stood up – making his way to the room where she had disappeared. He stepped in, tearing off the stupid hat and fake moustache, reaching through the rubble to find a cloth which he found to be drugged with chloroform. Red passed through the corners of his vision, and he was suddenly very finding it very difficult to look through the rubble to find any other evidence.

After he took a few breaths to calm him down, he scanned the damage. Judging by looks of it, it looked like the car had just driven straight through the wall and reversed back out. He only knew one type of people who were damn arrogant enough to do so. Noticing a cubicle door had also been wrenched off, suddenly his chest felt tight. Not tight as it did when he remembered himself killing children – not guilt.

No, definitely not guilt.

He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, and as he walked into the door-less cubicle, he imagined her locking herself in just to give herself enough time to do something. She had phoned Steve. Why Steve?

Why not him?

Bucky was only a few metres and a door away – and yet she chose to contact Steve, hundreds of miles away and incapable of doing anything?

He tried hiding his jealousy whilst thinking it was that she wanted to be damn well kidnapped.

He swallowed as imagined the scene before him, her struggling, only to be drugged and taken away. He had trained her well enough to defend herself in a fight – but this wasn’t a fight. This was a planned heist.

And they had taken his damn property.


 

Back in the rental they had hired after ditching the pickup somewhere, Tony started explaining. Loki had his arms folded, a slight glint of amusement in his eyes.

“When you started training; me and Bruce had just developed micro-trackers small enough to be injected. You and Ela were both injected; therefore you both have trackers in you.”

“When was this? While we were sleeping?”

Tony looked mortified.

Jesus, no. We’re not psychos. It was when you had that jab to help the healing process after training that first time.”

Tony sighed, rubbing his face with one hand whilst the other stayed on the wheel.

“I didn’t know. We all thought you knew. Coulson said he’d tell you.”

Cat’s face was straight, stone cold and eyes sparked with fury.

“He didn’t tell us about this invasion of privacy because he thought we’d object?”

Sarcasm ground out between her gritted teeth. “I wonder why.”

She stared at her phone; only just realising she had an unread text.  She opened it and stared blankly, horror causing her to squirm. Ela had texted her, and she hadn’t even noticed. The whole thing could have been prevented.

Tony had now stopped in the underground parking the apartment building held, and ran a hand through his hair, a genuine apology written on his face. “I’m sorry Cat, but it was for situations like this.”

She couldn’t help but to agree. Once her best friend had been found, they both had a right mind to protest this and shout at Coulson. Maybe even Agent Hill, because she could be a right bitch at times. They walked up to the apartment in silence, Tony announcing that they were expecting an emergency debrief from Coulson as they entered the apartment.

Bucky was silent.

He wasn’t embarrassed at his panic thing, or whatever the fuck it was. He was angry at himself for letting it happen and letting Kale get kidnapped. He was also angry at her for not listening to him and convincing him she would be fine. His previous assassin life was still intact, too near for him to touch – but they controlled him for decades and he wasn’t going to come out of it so quickly. He had learnt to control it and to not compromise people or situations. He observed, me made conclusions and followed out orders.

He was an asset.

A tool for destruction.

His mission was to find HYDRA and kill every single one of the fucking bastards.

He listened to Coulson explaining that the Avengers were assembling to find the girl, who was currently situated in an underground complex in New Jersey.

“It’s HYDRA, so we’re gonna take the base out as we get there. We’ll meet you there in three hours.”

Cat’s face was expressionless, and Loki had the same bored look on his face. Tony was phoning for a helicopter to land on the pad on top of his penthouse apartment and Bucky was planning.

What would they do to her?


 

Ela woke up in an unfamiliar room, smelling clinical and strapped to a chair.

Really?

Could this get any more clichéd?

She wasn’t in any pain, which was good – but she was feeling a little groggy. Probably from the low grade of chloroform they used. She guessed they were cost-cutting.

This was textbook villain – but she guessed they didn’t care that overexposure to chloroform would cause liver damage and possibly death.

She wouldn’t really be much to use of them if she was dead.

She realised she was being observed, through what was a mirror to her, but an observation screen from the outside. Still clad in Pepper’s clothes, she was hungry, annoyed and pretty sure she was going to go insane from the itch on her nose, not to mention that she felt like she had the world’s worst hangover.

“Miss Kale.”

A slender, tanned man entered the room – hair slicked back and black clothes hanging off his ridiculously skinny frame. She didn’t respond, taking a glance at him and scanning the knowingly empty room around her a couple more times.

“Miss Kale.” He spoke with the name more enunciated, louder and more irked, but to her it just made her head pound faster..

She drawled. “Yes?” her confidence was fast fading. They had taught her how to deal with these situations – stay quiet until the rest of the team can retrieve you. She was terrified.

In an unknown place being watched, feeling horrible knowing that everyone knew her but knew no one herself; it was almost like at the first few days back at the compound.

”We know the situation we took you in wasn’t the most preferable, but it was the only way.”

She bit back a remark on the tip of her tongue.

“We require some information.”

She took to her silence.

“About the place you work. About an asset.”

Her eyes perked up, expression as blank as she could make it.

He had noticed she looked up at the word ‘asset’, and also that they were sitting alone together at the restaurant. She was compromising the asset. She was a distraction.

She must be destroyed.

He convinced himself to take this to his boss later. Surely he would agree.

“We want you to help us.”

She yawned. Not out of insolence – but just because she suddenly felt really tired. Her captor certainly didn’t seem impressed at the wide mouthed yawn, and fought the urge to yawn himself.

“As I was saying, we want to offer you a place on our team.”

She looked at him, surprise evident in her eyes but she held her expressions well beyond reach. She had to stall. They must have known they were looking for her. She knew Cap had gotten the text, and she knew Cat must have read it by now. They would all be here soon and she would be fine.

“And what if I refuse?” She asked, no sense of emotion present in her voice – dreading the consequences.

He chuckled creepily, which kind of wanted to make her laugh out of the sheer stupidity of the whole situation. She wondered how Bucky felt. Probably, he was glad.

Her heart wrenched at the thought and she automatically assumed it was just from the hunger. Turning her attention back to him, he folded him arms in a stance that really didn’t make him look intimidating. “We have our methods, Miss Kale.”

She thought about his offer for a moment.

They wanted her to help them? Big scary HYDRA where two heads grow back if one is cut off?

She knew they wouldn’t trust her, no, definitely not. But if she could get someone to trust her, someone important? She would be doing more favours for SHIELD than they would ever know.

She remained in silence, considering the risks. She would never expose SHIELD, expose her friends or exposed what she believed in, to these cocky morons.

“No.” She said, with gritted teeth. She wouldn’t break, not easily anyway.

She guessed it was the impulsive side.

But she had a plan.

And she didn’t have any other option.

She was just glad her lying was convincing enough to get past this greast, slick-haired moron.

The man shrugged, raising an eyebrow. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like time to think about that?”

She shook her head. “No.”

He smirked so arrogantly that she wanted to smack it off his face. “Fine.”

“Take her in.”

She internally groaned.

Why her?

This is why they should never have skived off their lecture that morning to go to Martina’s.

This is why she should never had agreed to sign the damned paperwork.

This is why she should never had gone down the lifts to hell.

This is why she should never have agreed to train with the Winter Soldier.

This is why she should never have convinced herself he didn’t hate her.

This is why she wanted to punch him in the face for letting her grow really, really fond over the war veteran.

The cuffs were taken off her hands, and the rope roughly yanked off around her abdomen along with her ankles, and she was roughly dragged to some room with a big chair with lots of wires coming out of it, her heart stopped as she saw the mechanisms that pushed electricity through the brain.

Bucky had told her about it once.

It was one of the nicer moments they shared. They were all sat in the communal area watching a film late one night and halfway throughout the film, she had fallen asleep on his shoulder. When she woke up, she noticed he was scarily still and when he heard her breathing hitch, he told her in the smallest of voices.

“I thought it woulda gotten used to it.”

Her head still resting against his human shoulder, she didn’t move. She looked at him through the corner of her eyes, still a little drowsy.

He continued.

“I thought the pain woulda gotten better. Y’know, when I sat through it again. Every time I sat through it.”

He paused for a moment.

“They at least put a guard in my mouth, to stop me grindin’ down my teeth.”

He stared blankly at the now black screen, the empty room around them echoing nothing but silence. Her heartbeat increased – he heard it and he carried on anyway.

“The chair, it was updated every time I came outta cryo. There are these metal cuffs that attach when you sit down around your feet an’ your arms. They made me sit back, they watched as it fried my brain. Watched as I became a new person every few fuckin’ years.”

She felt her eyes well up; scared to blink in case he felt the tears roll onto his shirt. “They fuckin’ loved every second of it. But there were things I couldn’ta forgotten. And they tried to make me.”

She heard the thickness in his throat, she saw him swallow, throat straining against what side of himself he wasn’t willing to show her.

He chuckled darkly as he felt wet patches forming on his shoulder, still staring ahead blankly.

“I swear to God, if I ever see that chair again I’m gonna smash it and everyone aroun’ it apart.”

Now sobbing on his shoulder, she wrapped his arms around him and they stayed there for hours, somehow knowing they were stuck in a situation where it could only end badly for both of them.

 

%MCEPASTEBIN%

Chapter Text

The Avengers had officially assembled in the Garden State. Sat around an official Stark Industries conference room for the sixteenth time in three days, they were all exuberantly deciding how to save their friend.

As it turned out, for some reason – the tracker had stopped working amidst tracking – like it had frazzled or something and they were stuck in the New Jersey division of Stark, under the care of Pepper. Their only thing to do was to lay low until they found any leads, which did not seem promising at that current moment.

As they spoke about their past experiences of HYDRA, Bucky was deadly still. He was remembering – or at least trying to remember.

“Zola.” He mumbled, snapping up Steve’s attention.               

“What about Zola, Buck?” Steve questioned, leaning forwards towards his friend.

He remembered Steve telling him where he had trained, some place in New Jersey. Where he found about Zola and-

He remembered the room, it had changed many a times – the state deteriorating every time as they tore and mussed with the wires of the chair. Where they replaced the equipment, time and time again, he remembered the floor being replaced often too – it got rid of the blood. Or at least to HYDRA, ignorance was bliss.

He remembered being escorted around the compound straight after cryo – when he was so unstable he couldn’t move an inch without an array of weapons pointed at his head. It was underground, the tunnels snaking their way throughout the testing and the experiments, the stocks of weapons and food, only one entrance and a designated entrance that led out to the river.

Which river?

He fought his brain hard, trying to remember.

Steve was talking non-stop at Bucky, and Bucky was now used to ignoring him. He didn’t want to, but he couldn’t hear another story about how he did this or who he flirted with – because he didn’t remember and that hurt him more than anything.

He looked up, stopping Steve’s worried ramble immediately. He spoke quietly, not wanting to draw intention to himself. “What rivers are there?”

“In the state?” he asked his friend, Bucky nodded, still trying to remember.

“The Delaware River? Passaic? Hudson?”

Bucky looked up sharply.

“What was that last one?”

“The Hudson? Why, what about it?”

The whole table had gone silent, watching the two friends’ exchange. It wasn’t Bucky that spoke up next, and afterwards – he didn’t need to.

“I know exactly where she is.” Natasha told them, but it seemed like she was telling herself more than the skilled group around her.

“Where?” Bucky’s tone came out as a low growl, which terrified everyone bar Natasha. She rolled her eyes simply, and removed her heeled boots from the table.

“Look lover boy, we’re not going to parading in. We need strategy.”

He narrowed her eyes at her, and suddenly they decided to continue their conversation in Russian.

“где она?” (where is she?) he asked, which led to the leggy redhead becoming annoyed and her jokey tone was gone.

“поверьте мне.”(trust me) Was her reply, and in response he stared at her with a blank expression before speaking in a (what appeared to be) a neutral tone

“доверять вам нельзя после красной комнате.”(trusting you is impossible since the Red Room)

No one had ever seen Natasha look so distressed since she learnt that Clint was being controlled on the other side.


 

The first time they put her in the chair, she had convinced herself that if James Buchanan Barnes could make it through dozens of times – then, so could she. She told herself she wouldn’t scream as they put the guard in her mouth. She told herself she wouldn’t scream. She told herself she couldn’t scream.

The electricity seared through her like a white hot flame, her head exploding and repairing itself, only to turn itself inside out and twist over and over again. Her blood boiled and erupted throughout her body, her teeth grinding down as Bucky had told her, threatening to move them permanently. Her screams echoed throughout the stripped room, the splitting sound bouncing off the dirty stone walls.

She saw nothing for an hour afterwards.

Her heart pounded her scalp dripping in sweat and nerves temporarily paralysed from the sheer pain. She couldn’t walk, and so as soon as they forced her out of the chair, she fell flat on the ground.

Dragging her upwards they locked her in a prison cell which contained a metal framed bed and a thin mattress, a small door to a bathroom and a cryostasis tank, of course. As all prison cells now included.

She almost retched when she saw it.

It stood in the corner, eerie and filled with a blue liquid, a light glowing and casting the room in the sombre tone. It looked like something out of an alien film, the glass thick and the tank the height of the room.

Ela was horrified. Barnes had to go through this? He had to sit in this room before they wiped him – and before he even considered about himself and his feelings and the fact he had maybe just possibly changed the entire western world with an assassination– he would just see the cryo tank and see himself for what HYDRA thought he was.

An asset.

A tool.

Stored away after being cleaned.

He would stay in the tank for months at a time, maybe even years - before coming out to see what would happen to him if he’d even step a toe out of line. The room was the most morbid she had ever seen, a small gap in the door where a tray of food was to be collected – but before she could ponder over Barnes’ horrors, she was so exhausted as she curled up on the paper thin mattress and subsided into sleep as the pounding in her head reduced to a dull thud.


 

Cat was stuck babysitting Loki while the other drew up a plan of attack.

He found amusement in irritating her.

“Why, has that the fair haired patriot has not returned his affections you hold for him?” he asked lazily, standing over her. Her cheeks turned pink and she glared at him.

“None of your business.” She replied, before quickly adding. 

“I don’t have affections for him.”

Loki raised his eyebrows and drew up a lazy smile.

“Is that so, my dear?”

Cat was quite uncomfortable as she nodded. He took a seat next to her, taking in her pale face and innocent features.

She was attractive for a mortal – not in the way mortals considered, but in the way one would appreciate a fine piece of art without understanding anything about it. He was intrigued.

“From my prior observations with you interactions towards him, it seems as you do.”

She folded her arms and sat a little straighter, trying to prove to Loki that whatever he was trying to do, was not working.

“How so?”

Loki leant back against the back of the sofa, casually throwing an arm around Cat’s seat as her back stuck rigid straight, feeling the back of her neck warm up as his eyes drawled across her.

Smile still elegantly on his face, he spoke with his head tilted – trying to figure out this piece of art. “Your eyes light up around him; when he smiles you appear to be swooning; and lastly, when he looks at the spy – you poor girl – you look as if someone had stabbed you in the back.” He concluded, his tone bored and slightly unimpressed.

She reddened further and her first reaction was to stand up, but his arm rested on her shoulder and kept her firmly sat down.

“How do you know that?” she asked, anger swelling inside of her towards the god of mischief.

“Know what, my dear?” his curiosity piqued.

Stop calling me that. And how do you know that Steve looks at Natasha that way?”

Loki felt bad for her.

Cat felt patronised.

“My dear, the way he looks at her is the same way you look at him.”

Holding what pride she had left, she pushed herself to stand up, only to be stopped again by Loki, how had now sat up and faced her.

“What a shame, my dear.” He said, before looking into her wide eyed gaze. “What a fine piece of art you would be to interpret.” His voice was soft, but not yet a whisper.

She narrowed her eyes. “Are you flirting with me, Loki?”

Loki was surprised? “Flirting? That trivial mortal action to garner another’s attention?” He glanced at her, before lifting her face towards his with the tip of his finger before he leaned in close.

Cat couldn’t breathe.

“Of course not, my dear. I am not flirting with you.”

Leaning in closer, Cat swallowed, feeling the ghost of his breath around her. “I’m seducing you.

And with that, he disappeared.


 He was becoming impatient. If she did not join them, or give them SHIELD’s information, then she was of no use to them.

“Sir, she isn’t being co-operative.” The newly appointed information extraction officer was a little to sadistic for the chief’s tastes, but he supposed his tactics got results.

“Have you used the chair?” he asked, the static on the phone buzzing after the silence.

“Yes sir, it did nothing.”

The chief contemplated this. “Give her one more opportunity to be of use. Use the serum-“

“But sir, it’s not complete yet-“the man was cut off in his own interruption by the chief.

“I don’t care. The worst that could happen would be that she dies. If she doesn’t die after it – wipe her. Make her the new Barnes. Bring back the asset programme. She’s ours now.”

In the dark underground base, the over-groomed man agreed and smiled to himself after the line had been cut off.

Anything to please the chief, he thought.


 

The second time she was forced to endure the torture, she was far too busy trying to figure out what they wanted from her.

They rapped on her door far too early for her liking. Forgetting where she was, she moaned and opened one sleepy eye, terrified as she realised she was in a prison cell.

What the fuck was that?

She stared at the cell, before blinking and remembering it was James’ cryo cell. Maybe they had put her here on purpose.

They couldn’t have known about the two of them.

It wasn’t real anyway, so Ela felt like she had nothing to worry about.

They dragged her into another interrogation room this time – a lot more sterile and with more equipment this time.

After feeding her some eggs (she was very doubtful they were actual eggs) and some stale bread, they sat her down. The guy in front of her was the same sleazy dude from the day before, his hair slicked back extra greasily this time.

“What is your relationship with the asset?”

She blinked, taking a sip of her water.

“What asset?” she questioned, innocently as she played dumb with him.

He spoke, but sounded like he was reciting James’ case file from the top of his head. “Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes. Born in the year 1918, within the state of New York, United States of America.”

She stared blankly at him, and he felt anger rise up. “Is now the time to play innocent, Miss Kale? As it seems, the current state of your health begs to differ.”

She snarled.

He smirked.

“If this helps you, Miss Kale, he may also be known as the Winter Soldier within the intelligence community.”

Ela kept up with her dumb act. “Isn’t he the guy with the metal arm?”

He sighed, almost frustrated. “Since I must deal with your refusal to co-operate, I have a feeling that he was sat with you at the restaurant yesterday.”

Ela burst out laughing, maintaining her act.

“What, the old guy with the ‘stache and the hat? You got it all wrong mister. That wasn’t metal arm guy - that was Steve Rogers.”

He believed her, not being able to see through the blatant lie she had just told. If he hadn’t been there at the restaurant to see for himself, he may have even let her go.

But he was there.

And she was a very good liar – but he knew the facts.

A sly grin curled one corner of his thin lips.

“Maybe your co-operation would be better if your headache was cured?”

She glanced at him, suspicious.

He called out to the two people in lab coats behind the screens. “Looks like she’s gonna need some help with that headache, guys.”

She closed her eyes, and prayed that the pain wouldn’t be as bad as yesterday.

The man shot her a despicable smile as he said “Say goodbye!” a little too enthusiastically for her tastes.

“See you in hell.”  Her reply was mumbled as they roughly handled her out of the handcuffs placed on her chafed wrists.

“You sooner than me.” His reply was smug.

They took her to the chair, monitored her vitals for a couple of minutes, wrote some stuff down to a thick pile of sheets on a clipboard and strapped her down and faced her arms so the veins would face them.

Taking two syringes, they both simultaneously injected her, and she felt nothing.

That’s because it took a minute to kick in.

Clearly God really fucking hated her because the pain wasn’t as bad as yesterday, it was worse. She didn’t know what they injected her with, or why – but they did and it hurt. Not the kind of having your brain fried hurt – like the kind that would make you want to churn your organs before retching them out. Her organs at this point felt as if they’d stopped working – she couldn’t breathe and her lungs were shrinking and shrinking, her bout of hunger before this - now only made her recall the taste of bile, her brains were overloading with the amount of pain she had to handle, and her heart was the worst of all, it felt like it had disappeared all together, leaving an empty space in her ribcage.

Her nerve impulses crashed and died before playing road-kill over her cells, which felt like they were going insane and went into total war on each other, her skin felt as if it was being slashed, time and time again, and reopening wounds before they could heal. This pain couldn’t be controlled.

It almost consumed her, and she saw the clouds of black lurking around the corner of her vision.

She would make it through this, whatever the hell it was, she would survive.

Yesterday’s pain stopped so suddenly it put her on the edge of unconsciousness, but this pain didn’t stop suddenly – it faded. It ebbed and faded, and it sort of reminded her like the ocean’s tide, pushing out in a burst and slowly crawling back in. This kind of pain told her that she could make it through anything after it, and maybe dying wasn’t the best way of looking at it.

They were coming for her, coming to get her.

Why weren’t they here yet?

The questions floated around her mind before she closed her eyes and drifted into the unconscious.

Chapter Text

Bucky was getting real concerned. As he coerced his mind to the best of his ability, he tried so hard to remember what was in the complex. They were breaking her out before the workday ended – probably the worst time as they’d more likely be caught, and the best time because security was at its lowest. They were entering through Bucky’s knowledge of the river, and Stark had scooped them up some pretty nifty diving equipment. To extract the subject, it was best decided that Steve and Tony would go as Bucky would be emotionally undermined (they said) and that he would go front of house kicking HYDRA ass through the main entrance.

Bucky had described the layout to the best of his ability, and now he had a couple of hours to kill before they were set to go. He hated to admit it, but he was pretty scared. He was scared he was emotionally compromised because of her, and once he had found out what they had done to her – Winter Soldier would kick in and possibly hurt his friends more than his enemy.

That was presuming they had hurt her, and that hopefully they hadn’t touched a hair on her pretty little head.

He passed the time by going over his plans and checking his equipment and remembering times and codes, preparing himself for the chaos that would ensue.


 

It was now the third day and she felt different.  Her brain still felt fuzzy from the chair and her body a little sore – but she was fine. In fact, she was more than fine considering the pain she had to go through. Hearing footsteps approach, she played unconscious until the said person had left. Strangely enough, didn’t hear anyone enter the room until a few minutes later. Was the guy pacing?

The unknown person fiddled with the wires attached to her, and checked her resting pulse. The said person then spoke. “You’re alive.”

She decided to drop the act and opened her eyes, revealing one of the scientists that had injected her the day before. She checked her clipboard, and looked at her through the black rims of her glasses.

“How are you?” She continued ticking off something, occasionally scribbling and pretending like she hadn’t been surprised at her alive self.

Ela just glared, and when she spoke her voice was much more normal than she expected after screaming so damn much. She heard something clink against, the floor and some more subdued footsteps, and automatically turned her head towards the observational window. There was no one there, and nothing had dropped onto the floor in her sight.

She shrugged it off.

“Alive?” she asked, clearing her throat. The woman looked at her curiously before shaking her head and scribbling some more things. She could hear her heart beat and her breathing.

“You weren't supposed to survive.” Her tone was so nonchalant and cool; Ela would have thought she was making casual conversation if not talking about her own life at stake.

Ela was a bit scared. She gathered that the hypersensitivity in the ears was just from the strain she had been put under for the last couple of days.

She saw something float in the air, metres ahead of her. It was a speck of dust.

This was weird.

Something else caught her eye, and she sharply turned her head in that direction.

She felt more awake, alert – she felt better.

And she was convinced HYDRA had made her go insane.

The scientist woman shoved a tray of food in her lap, still reading the pages on her clipboard. Suspicious, and ravaging the food in front of her, she finished within minutes – only to find her hunger was not over.

“I have to take you for questioning now.”

Ela felt more at ease (still perturbed) with her and spoke. “Do you think I would be able to get anyone else to pick my brains out? I mean I speak two words and he shoves me in the fucking chair.”

She swore she saw a hidden smile.

She was guided to the chair room again, shuddering in its dingy and dungeon-like appearance. Being forced to be sat down, she winced as the metal cuffs dug into her skin and listened to the sound of her teeth adjusting to the teeth guard.

Creepy, greasy guy walked in again.

“This is your final chance to join our side.”

She stared at him, the same expressionless face she had been giving to him the last two times she had the terrible fortune to meet him. “Where is the SHIELD base?” he asked, hand tapping on the controls to the chair. She could hear the electricity crackle in her ears, and she felt a shiver run down her spine. She saw the man’s hair stick up at the ends due to the static of the room. She could hear the buzzing of cables as the electricity shot through, she could hear the sound of a scream. A bullet.

As she shut her mouth, already biting down with the guard on her teeth, he smirked as he turned the meter up, and lowering the metal to her head.


 

Bucky had that bad feeling again.

The feeling where he knew someone was in trouble.

And by someone, he meant by her.

It was like she suddenly had a profound effect on him – and he didn’t like it.

No, he didn’t like it at all.

He waited for the all clear from Stark as he waited near the Hudson River and watched the crimson sky shimmer with stars.

Steve was worried for her. She wouldn’t be able to handle HYDRA, she wouldn’t be able to cope with their methods and quite frankly Steve was petrified he was gonna walk into a room and see the sight of her lying dead.

Tony, on the other hand had full faith in the girl, and really wanted her to fine for everyone’s sake. They weren’t all the oldest of pals, but they were witty and smart and funny, and they entertained everyone – they were a real pleasure to have on the team, and Tony didn’t want to lose one-half of the duo he had learned to love.

Stark blew a hole through the locking mechanism on the door with his shiny suit – and had they not been underwater, Steve would have probably reprimanded him for showing off. As they collectively opened the heavy metal door, awkwardly waddled in and then shut it, they were both aware of the water quickly draining through the floor. Steve took his diving equipment off and his suit remained intact and fully waterproof.

They walked into the underground compact with ease – no one knew about that door except for two people. The asset and the boss.

That worked out well for HYDRA, hadn’t it?

The both of them stuck out like sore thumbs and Tony stifled a chuckle as he looked at Cap’s patriotic (not to mention colourful) uniform, which sticks a little too tight and showed off his (literally) star spangled ass. Tony avoided looking.

They eventually found a source of screaming which disturbed them both; but not before knocking out and potentially paralysing a few guys on the way down and when they bust down the door, they both wanted to vomit.


 

She was sat on the chair, her coloured skin now pasty and bags under her eyes. Her face contorted in pain and Tony shot the guy at the controls without a second doubt. He ran over, figuring out how to stop it, and after working it out, stopped the poor-girl’s pain as quickly as possible. She leaned back, coughing and shivering – sweat dripping down her forehead as she shook ferociously. Steve was so angry he didn’t even wait for Tony to open the metal constraints; he just broke them apart with help of his shield.

She looked at the both of them blankly before remembering and giving a half smile.

“Hey, you’re the superhero guys, right?”

They looked at her, confused.

“The ones off TV! You were all in New York, fighting those weird alien things. What are you doing here?”

And that’s when they realised.

At the exact same moment, that’s when both of their hearts ripped apart.

Tony gave the all clear as soon as they had entered through the river door. He and the rest of the Avengers climbed down the small ladder under the abandoned building, and as soon as Bucky hit the bottom, he heard a faint scream.

Convincing himself it wasn’t her, he carried on. Natasha headed straight to the control room, shooting some guys in the back of the knees before reaching and he was sent to find Tony, Steve and Ela to escort them out after much persuading Tony from Cat. Hawkeye had been sent to keep watch (basically shoot any HYDRA members in sight) and Thor was told to do the same and call for a distraction if it called for one.

Bucky made his way through the maze, trying to remember where he was going. He had been so busy attacking the security he had forgotten about the screams. They were long and painful to hear, and he trusted his instinct to find her.

He really hoped it wasn’t from what he thought it was.

As he reached the corner, he saw Steve and Tony reach the door, and the screaming was loud now, so recognisable that it took all of his willpower not to bust in there and torture the person who was doing it. He stayed back as he watched them enter. There was a blast of light and a thud, he was glad Tony had done it for him. After a few seconds, the screaming stopped and he was so, so glad because he just couldn’t take it anymore until he heard her speak – voice raw and throat rough.

“Hey, you’re the superhero guys, right?”

He stepped around the corner silently. No response came from Tony and Steve, and Bucky was equally as confused.

“The ones off TV! You were all in New York, fighting those weird alien things. What are you doing here?”

He couldn’t breathe.

She didn’t remember.

Without a second thought, he entered the room – vision blurred and head pounding and thoughts everywhere, and that’s when he saw her.

Looking so ill and tired and worn out and broken.

That’s when the rage overpowered him.

“Get out.” He growled to her, Tony and Steve already knowing what was coming. She seemed startled, and starting to recognise him.

She squinted a little when she saw the arm, trying to work out the star from her already flashing vision. “That guy from Washington, right? Blew up that building?” she questioned him, but Bucky turned to look at her. There was moment where she saw the hurt and the confusion and the anger flash through his eyes in rapid succession when he started walking closer to her.

Get out.” His tone was far darker, more threatening and the two Superheroes dragged her frail body out of the room and shut the door. That’s when they all heard screams of rage and smashing and breaking metal and all sorts.

Except she heard everything a little more clearly, pretending not to hear the wracking sobs in between.

Ela stared at the door, same half-smile on her face. “He’s a bit angry isn’t he?”

Steve just nodded, and Tony was glad as hell he was wearing a helmet because tears were streaming down his face and he really wanted to sob right now.

Chapter Text

Cat was stuck babysitting Loki, again. They refused to let her go on the mission, again; and she had already contributed her part in the comms and tech involved. She sighed.

She was evidently avoiding the tall man sat on the couch, for obvious reasons – and she constantly felt he was looking at her, scrutinising every inch of her. At this point, it just seemed her skin colour was a rather alarming shade of pink.

“Your silence is deliberate.”

She ignored him, but clearly he didn’t get the hint and continued speaking at her anyway. Suddenly she felt herself being dragged back, like some imaginary gust of wind were grabbing at her body and pushing her backwards towards the very same couch he was sat on.

She glared as she fell back onto the couch.

“I thought Odin got rid of your power.”

He tut at her misunderstanding, tucking a loose piece of hair behind her ear in an attempt to appease her. She ignored the weird feeling that spread through her.

She wasn’t used to anyone touching her (unless it was Sam beating her up, or Ela fighting back as she tickled her), let alone guys.

Let alone gods!

She said nothing, as he looked at her with the same curiosity as previously in the day. “No, my dear. He has prohibited the more dangerous of my powers. The trivial ones remain.”

Because the ability to drag someone back with an imaginary gust of wind was considered trivial. She felt his curious gaze digging through her eyes, and her deepest thoughts and she looked down so he would be unable to do so.

He was drawn to her, she infuriated him – he couldn’t see what she was, which was not acceptable to Loki. He leaned in closer, and Cat felt herself still, breath caught in her throat as the same lazy smile grinned at her.

“You, my dear, are unexplainable.”

She really didn’t know what to reply to that, still entranced by the fact he was merely centimetres away from him. Finally, her brain function caught up with the situation and she stood up so suddenly Loki couldn’t react. She walked away, a jumble of emotions running through her head and something inexplicable in her chest when she looked at the Asgardian in front of her.

“I shall help you retain the fair haired patriot.”

She looked at him, heart pounding as he looked her up and down.

He had a different plan in mind. Her eyes narrowed as he stood up and walked over, towering over her.

“On a simple condition.”

She raised an eyebrow, as if to question him.

“You must let me read you.”

Now she was confused. Read her? Her tone was bland and slightly curious. “Read me?”

He simply nodded, if he wanted to read her – he could. And she could get Steve.

Seemed like a fair bargain.

“Fine.”

Loki smirked.

 


 

Ela was confused – she didn’t know why the hell these superheroes were here with her in the hospital, Cat was nowhere to be found – and she was pretty sure she had an assignment in for the next day. She tried protesting, but judging by the hut faces around her, she just gave up.

When she finally met Cat, she looked different. She slumped more than usual, she looked shattered and she looked leaner and toned – like she had actually been exercising. After which none of them ever did after the gym incident two years ago. She hadn’t been allowed to watch TV, or read the news and she wondered why.

Tony Stark was there, which amazed her because he was some big business guy saving the world in his shiny suit, and she nearly died of a fangirl moment when she saw her idol – Dr. Bruce Banner. He came to visit her?

All she remembered was she was strapped to a chair, and there was a lot of pain, but she really didn’t want to recollect that.

Cat looked at her in a pained way through a smile and politely asked for the others to leave.

“Hey.” She spoke quietly, and really sadly.

“What’s up with you, Miss Debbie Downer?” Ela frowned.

Cat stuttered in surprise a little. “N-nothing.” She grinned.

“What happened to me? Was I chucked out of a window accidentally-on-purpose?” Ela snorted at the ridiculous notion.

Cat’s downcast face said it all. Ela just seemed surprised. “Really?” Casting it off with her usual dark humour, she continued. "Are you really Bella Swan-ing* me?"

Cat let out a small laugh.

“I guess the thesis on CMBR really must have sent people a little crazy.” She joked, not understanding why her best friend looked so damn solemn.

Cat was having a moral debate here.

Should she tell Ela about the past year or so from her life, that she seemed to be missing?

Or should she wait for orders?

She decided on the latter.

“Seriously, what the hell happened? You haven’t looked so sad since Professor Wolff gave you a B.”

Cat looked up, her eyes watery and smiling to the best of her ability. Coulson had told her to act naturally around her, but it was so hard to do so when she looked like death and didn’t remember any of her friends except herself, or her boyfriend.

That led to Bucky.

Bucky was now back to his really broody self; the same self that looked like he was going to re-turn into the Winter Soldier again and wipe out the entire compound. Even Steve thought it best to give him some space.

Cat knew that Coulson told him not to see her, as it may induce memories but he ignored him and went to see her anyway. He only went when she was asleep, because he couldn’t bear to see that she didn’t remember him or any of them.

Cat just shrugged, trying so hard not to blink. “You were just hurt really bad, E. They didn’t find you until you had been starved, deprived of sleep and basically electrocuted.”

Ela agreed. She had been trying to tell herself that she was fine, and nothing hurt anymore – but they drugged her up to prevent the migraine coming back. She still felt better than she should have done, and had recently discovered her extra-sensory hearing and sight and her strangely fast recovery time.

Only a day before, the third day in the hospital room, she was so angry by them not letting her do anything – she managed to crush the glass she was holding and cut her hands on the shards that remained.

Usually, a wound like that would have healed in a matter of weeks – but the next day it was fine. No scar, it had healed perfectly and Ela was really getting creeped out. Even the nurse was surprised when she came to change the bandages the next day.

They had to start giving her plastic cups.

Ela looked at her friend who was trying to tell her about her email to Selvig, and she narrowed her eyes.

They hadn’t decided what to do for their final year dissertation yet.

Maybe she decided whilst they had taken her, which was another matter entirely, but she decided to drop it.

What the hell had happened?


 

The first time Bucky had gone to visit her; he had a right to be happy. Ecstatic.

He now remembered most of his past, with much help from the team and Steve and mostly with help from her. He remembered sticking up for Steve at the orphanage with a kid twice his size, he remembered going with Steve to his ma’s funeral. He remembered the night before he was shipped off to England and how he took Ava and Nora to the Stark Expo with Steve.

He remembered looking into Steve’s eyes and calling him a punk before him trying to get enlisted. He remembered being caught in a HYDRA base and being injected, over and over again, feeling the pain and he remembered seeing Steve as Captain America for the first time. He remembered drinking in England as Steve gathered the Howling Commandos. He remembered zip-lining onto the train, he remembered fighting the guys in suits and guns – he remembered falling.

He also remembered waking up, in pain from a lost arm, he remembered HYDRA taking him and feeding him and telling him he would be the asset that would shape the century. He remembered the pain from attaching his arm to the metal, remembering seeing it for the first time in horror.

He remembered being wiped for the first time; and straight afterwards, the shiny chair fascinating him.

He remembered assassinating a president, he remembered every one of the throats he had slit, and the bullets that curved.

He remembered being sent to Russia, to train future KGB spies.

He remembered being hired by Pierce straight out of cryo, and being ordered to take down a man named Fury.

He remembered seeing Steve for the first time and trying to figure out why he kept calling him Bucky.

He remembered being wiped by Pierce as he fought against him with the threat of memory.

He remembered seeing Natasha and Sam and how he fought Steve on the deck of a Project Insight helicarrier.

He remembered being taken in by Coulson and being explained everything, stalking around the compound for the first few days.

He remembered seeing her and DuRose for the first time, and how their curious gazes froze as they saw the metal arm.

He remembered taunting her with the water bottle on the first day he trained her, being her SO.

He remembered overhearing Sharon tell Steve that he had PTSD.

He remembered the tickle-war they shared, and how the shrieks of laughter somehow warmed his cold heart.

He remembered her confusion after their confrontation, and how she agreed to help him.

He remembered himself slowly growing accustomed to her sarcastic and eccentric ways.

He remembered the glares she struck at him when he disagreed with her.

He remembered the moment he fell for her, when she fell asleep on his shoulder.

But she didn’t remember him.

He stood behind the closed door, hand poised to knock before he turned back and walked away.


 

Loki panned out to Cat, exactly how she was going to get the love of her life.

“You must ignore him at first.”

Cat furrowed her eyebrows. “If I like him, why the hell would I ignore him?”

Loki sighed to accentuate his point of how misinformed she was in the ways of love. “Because, my dear, he must learn that you can live without him.”

Cat frowned. “But I don’t want to. I like speaking to him.”

“I am perfectly aware of that. However, how else would you gain his attention in a way where he questions what your relation is to him?”

Cat considered this, finally seeing what Loki was saying. She shrugged, making her knowledge of Steve clear. “But, Steve’s a pretty direct guy. He would probably hate all of the mind-games and stuff.”

Loki pinched the bridge of his nose, losing his patience. Taking a deep breath, he looked at her.

“Do you want his attention?”

She nodded.

“Then do exactly as I instruct.”


 

Ela was very confused. Since when do superheroes get to meet people like her? Is this one of those pity pro-bono cases they did, for sick kids?

She was pretty sure she wasn’t sick and that she was fine and that they were making a mountain out of a molehill.

When Tony Stark, billionaire extraordinaire and genius came through the door with her favourite season of Teen Wolf and a box of those pralines she liked – she narrowed her eyes in suspicion.

How much had Cat told them?

He sat down across from her as she fiddled with the tag on her wrist.

“I bear gifts.”

“I assumed that.”

Tony raised an eyebrow.

“Presumptuous?”

“I’m sure you love watching attractive topless male teenagers run around fighting each other and transforming under the full moon.”

Tony snorted. “Point taken.”

There was a pregnant pause before he decided to speak, speaking to her as everyone else had done – like she was weak, like she was broken.

“You okay?”

She looked at him, unimpressed.

“I’m fine.”

He looked startled for a moment, and that’s when the metaphorical volcano of her rage and confusion erupted.

“You know what? No, I’m not fine. I’m better than fine. I can see specks of dust and hear people approaching from miles away and I turn my head to look when I hear a beat skip in someone’s heart. Yeah, I can hear that too – and it’s fucking annoying. I smashed a glass by gripping it a little tighter – no, not a lot, but a little, as one fucking does. And guess what Mr Stark? It smashed. And the weirdest part? The skin deep cuts that should have left scars and should have healed and broken as scabs – they were gone the next fucking day.”

As her temperament was rising, she sat up, looking at him straight in the eye.

“Oh, and there’s the fact where I don’t know where the fuck I am, I’m not allowed to leave or speak to my family, I’m pretty sure I’m going to fail all of my classes with the amount I’ve missed, I’m not allowed to read anything but fucking kids books because they think my brain has shrunk and I now have the mental age of a seven year old. Lewis Carroll or Dodgson or whoever the fuck he was, I’m pretty sure was high when he wrote Alice in fucking Wonderland. I’m also annoyed as to why people such as yourself keep visiting me with no absolute explanation and glance at me constantly with sad puppy eyes and a little bit of pity. Then I see Cat.”

She slows down a little, calming down.

“Cat, who told me that I was kidnapped – no offense to myself, but who the hell would kidnap some weirdo nerd like me?”

He opened his mouth to speak, but she ignored it and continued.

“No one. That’s right. She looks all different and healthy and toned and not like she’s faced death like me, and she came in here crying because that’s what best friends do when they see you in the hospital. Then she told me I was hurt really badly because my kidnappers electrocuted me and starved me and sometimes I swear I see someone staring through the window at night when I can’t sleep because of the nightmares, and you know what, Mr Stark?”

Tony’s expression had gone cold, and he sounded pained. “What?”

She spoke softly, tears leaking out of her eyes. “I’m scared.”

Still fiddling with the metal tag, she hadn’t even noticed it had dug into the skin and broken her skin, and blood flowed out of it. Tony came over to her, picking up some antiseptic and bandage left on the side to clean the wound up, but by the time he had gotten there, a minute later – it had already half healed.

He stared in amazement.

He sat on the bed next to her, hearing her sniffle and passed her some tissues. He looked at her, not startled by her outburst as he should have been- but he understood. He couldn’t completely empathise, but he knew what she felt and why she felt it and it really hurt to know he couldn’t do anything about it.

“I’m sorry, Ela. I can’t tell you anything now, but I promise you’ll find out what the hell is going on.”

She wiped her eyes and after a few minutes he went over and placed the DVD in the laptop he had brought.

“Let’s watch some shirtless teenage guys, eh?”

She laughed and moved over as they opened the box of pralines and settled down to watch the first episode.

After Tony returned to his home in New York, he asked JARVIS to order the entire box set of Teen Wolf under the pretence it was for Ela.

It really wasn’t.

Chapter Text

Cat had been avoiding Steve, and he had no idea why.

He had tried to talk to her, but every time something came up, or she just ran away. Deciding that it something that he had done, he spoke to Natasha about it whilst their latest spar.

“Hey, Nat?”

“What?”

He nearly missed a headlock as he blocked a kick to his private parts.

“Do you know why DuRose has been ignoring me?”

She rolled his eyes before pushing herself of the ground and leaping into a butterfly kick. “You sound like a teenage girl, Steve. Get a grip.” Her foot hit his chest and he stumbled back a little whilst she gracefully acrobat-ed around the sparring ring.

“She goes out of her way to get away from me.” This time he fell back, only to push his body weight back up and threw a focused punch in her general direction. Spinning out of the way, she retaliated with a punch of her own as Steve ducked and grabbed her thigh. Kicking her leg around him, she managed to floor him by wrapping her legs around his head in a headlock.

Proud of her work, she jumped down with a soft thud on the mats.

“Look, stop over-thinking this. She’s probably just upset about Ela. Give her some time.”

Steve nodded, knowing that Natasha was probably right.

He smiled at her, and for the first time in a long while – she smiled back.

When Captain America paid her a visit, he appeared with Cat by his side, all though she looked a little nervous. She had been removed from the hospital (which wasn’t a hospital, just looked like one) into this weird underground complex and into a monitored room and a really thick metal door.


 

She felt like a prisoner.

Maybe that’s why these superheroes had taken her away.

A middle aged man told her his name was Coulson and that it was for security.

She didn’t believe it for one second. Day in, day out she had a report completed by her nurse called Sharon, and for the multitude of blood tests they carried out, she didn’t know what they were testing for. They made her run on a treadmill (which was surprisingly easy for her usual fitness) for a long amount of time and monitored her vitals – blood pressure, heart rate, core temperature. They nearly froze her to death when they seriously turned the air con up, and she sat there in the vest top and shorts they had given her. They recorded her bodily reactions then. They also recorded them when she was angry and then huddled around a table. They gave her meds after the outburst with Stark for her sleep but they didn’t work. In fact, none of them worked.

She still woke up screaming and her head pounding after the pain she felt searing through her veins.

Cat sat down on the chair next to her, the Captain taking a seat opposite her. She noticed that whenever the superhero smiled or looked in her direction, a blush crept up her face and she literally glowed when he spoke to her.

Her friend had a serious crush on Captain America.

Way to pick ‘em.

They asked her about how she was feeling, and even though she didn’t rant at them as she did with Mr. Stark, she replied with her perkiest tone and asked Captain America about his many escapades with the terrorist organisation that were often trying to kill him.

After an hour worth of small talk and another pained expression from Captain America, she observed at how her best friend often tried to ignore him whilst he spoke to the both of them, and then glowed after his attention was away from her.

Was she trying to play hard to get?

In an attempt to get rid of Cap temporarily (she couldn’t be bothered calling him Captain anymore), she asked him to get her some water. He got up immediately as she turned to her friend within a second of him shutting the door.

“You totally like him.”
Cat’s cheeks burned red and Ela laughed, amused.

“I don’t get why you’re ignoring him, you know playing hard to get never works. Plus, it really doesn’t work on you because blood rushes to your face quicker than the speed of light.”

Cat laughed. “A very big exaggeration, there.”

Ela just waved the accusation off. “That’s not the point. Have we not spent enough time watching chick flicks and eating pizza to not know that playing hard to get has a one percent success rate? And that’s for the really stupid guys.”

Cat thought about this but rose to Loki’s defence. “I promise, all will end well.”

Ela raised her eyebrow before grinning. “We shall see about that.”


 

Loki’s second lesson to her was something a little more adventurous.

He stood by the door to the room she was sat in watching an episode of whatever was on the TV. Deciding that she looked utterly bored, he cleared his throat and she jumped a little before turning back.

Her face was stuffed with popcorn and she seemed grumpy at the shouting men on TV. “Wha’ oo ‘oo wan’?”

He looked at her fondly, finding her lack of manners a little enlightening.

“None of that matters. What does hold notable importance in you gaining the love of your life-“

She had now swallowed and turned to glare at him.

“He’s not the love of my life, I just like him.”

Loki dismissed her notion as he walked towards her.

“Regardless, you must cause the ugly emotion to rear its presence within his mind.”

Cat scrunched up her nose, trying to translate.

“Speak English.”

He sighed. “It is only what I speak on Midgard. I shall also help you with your linguistic skill after I have helped you on this matter.”

He let out a dramatic idea. “You must make him jealous, my dear.”

Cat had a feeling that Loki had been watching many of the DVD’s that were left by the side of the TV in the communal area.


 

It had been two weeks before Bucky had caught up with what was going on. He would sneak in the files room and sneak at her reports before realising he didn’t understand what the hell was on them until he heard Coulson, Steve and Shannon talking about it.

Her feminine voice rang out of the corridor as he finished putting the latest report back where it was left. He froze and hid behind the door that was hanging ajar.

“She’s showing the exact same signs as Barnes: eyesight, hearing and general awareness has improved tenfold, her physical ability and immunity is now incredible as well as her tolerance to extremes and ability to heal.”

Bucky’s heart hitched a beat.

“She’s not showing any side effects?” Coulson asked as they walked into the room.

“Not at all. She’s fine. Her brain has shown to be put into extreme distress – which would explain the nightmares and emotional outbursts.”

“Emotional outbursts? She’s been fine up until now.” Steve queried, the voices halting for a moment.

“No, no. I checked the footage when Stark visited- “Bucky suppressed a growl. “-and it was like she had bouts of anger.” There was a pause as Sharon remembered the incident from the day before. “Also managed to shatter a glass the day before.”

“Stark didn’t tell you?” Steve’s tone was surprised.

There was silence, and Bucky had only assumed that Sharon confirmed the answer.

“It is affirmative?” was Coulson’s last demanding question.

“Yes. They injected Ela with at least a version of whatever Barnes was injected with. They’re definitely trying to recreate Erskine’s work.”

As they left the room, Bucky slunk into the shadows of the file reports, trying to convince himself that they had been mistaken.


 

The underground compound was buzzing with activity when they finally let her out of the prison room. She still was being monitored, but less strictly and when they showed her around the compound she started to add things up she had seen. So far there were plans and plans and plans and specs of shiny new toys she would love to try and lots of intercoms and a creepy robot lady that she decided she definitely didn’t like.

She had given up on trying finding out where she was or why she was in this huge complicated maze of secrets and lies and cover-ups, but she had Cat and that was okay.

They put her in a room with Cat, but she was surprised to find out that all of her stuff was already there.

How thoughtful.

She queried about what they had told her family, and they just replied with an ‘Unfortunately, we cannot tell them about the situation. It would put their lives at risk.’

Which she knew totally called bullshit.

Her sister, Dee, was probably somewhere in some government trying to make a name for herself, and her parents running their clinic back in Detroit. She just narrowed her eyes and glared at the friendly looking Coulson.

She had met all of the Avengers, as they were called, and she liked most of them. The only one she didn’t like was the broody Washington guy – he just seemed so angry all of the time. She learnt more about them, and they stopped treating her like she was broken.

Broody Washington guy just ignored her most of the time, and when she did catch him looking at her – he just glared.

She decided to pursue the matter; so a few days after her ‘release’ she followed him into the gym and saw him fighting Sam (who she really liked because he was damn hilarious) in a sparring ring.

Sam grinned at her mid punch, and waved her over as he ducked. She walked towards them and saw the broody guy (she still didn’t know his name) glare at his sparring partner. Sam retaliated with a look that told him to leave, but instead of doing so he jogged across the room to the newly installed water fountain. Ela looked at the device and laughed, not really knowing why.

“What’s up Ela D?”

She rolled her eyes at the name.

“Really? And I wanted to know what the deal was with broody over there.” She said as she sat next to him.

Sam raised his eyebrow and saw that Bucky was clearly eavesdropping, so he intentionally spoke loudly. “He’s always like that. Broody, annoying and a pain in the ass.” Ela heard him choke on his water as soon as Sam had finished. She shrugged it off as coincidence.

“But seriously. He’s like that with everyone.”

Ela pushed the matter further. “Why?”

Sam sighed as he wiped the sweat from his forehead. “He’s had a pretty rough life-“hearing this, Bucky snorted at the understatement, earning a sharp turn of head from Ela. “-and there was this girl, who he didn’t really like at first because he thought she would think he was weird and old and gross.”

Bucky let out a cough of protest and Ela turned to his direction, just missing the grumble of ‘not true’ under his breath. Turning towards Sam again, she nodded for his story to continue. “But he ended up liking her and vice versa, and they had this weird relationship that no one really understood, but we could tell you guys did love each other-“ Bucky’s eyes widened and Sam’s heart skipped a beat as he realised his mistake, and prayed Ela wouldn’t notice. Not saying anything, she nodded. “Anyway, this girl got herself in a lot of trouble and Bucky’s been brooding every since.”

Ela laughed.

“Sounds like a plot for a movie.”

Sam chuckled, agreeing. He pondered over Ela turning her head to look at Bucky several times throughout the conversation and his pulse was still high from his mistake.

Ela blinked. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, why?” he asked, suspecting she noticed.

“It’s weird, ever since I woke up in this place I can hear things really well. Like heartbeats and conversations from ages away. Your pulse is unusually high considering you stopped sparring a good-“ she brought her wrist up and looked at the plastic watch. “-five minutes ago.”

He looked at her as Sharon did when she first tested her – in somewhat amazement and also a little bit scared.

Sam sighed. “Nothing, just thought about something and guess it scares me.”

Ela shrugged. “I’m always here to listen and make fun of your winged problems, Sam.”

“No, I think I get enough of that from Barnes.”

Ela’s eyebrows furrowed, a confused look graced her sleep deprived face.

“Who’s Barnes?”

Sam just stared at Bucky who slumped against the water fountain in defeat.

She continued. “I mean, who the hell even names their kid Barnes? What’s their last name? Noble?”

Sam laughed at her terrible humour, finding his happiness deteriorating as he watched Barnes return to his stone cold state.

Sam shook his head quickly, trying to clear up the confusion. “No, he’s the guy in question. James Buchanan Barnes, best friend to Steve and also known as Bucky.”

“Broody is called Bucky? That’s a bit of a happy name for such a broody person.” Ela said, turning one last time to see Barnes walking out of the door.

“Are there no other adjectives you could use?”

“He looks so angry and broody all of the time, so no.”

“I’m gonna get you a thesaurus.” Sam said mock-seriously.

“Yeah, yeah whatever. Anyway, the girl must’ve been really special for him to be like that.”

Sam thought about his words before speaking. “Yeah, she was. But he was in a bad place for a really long time, Ela.”

“I heard him snort when you said that. Could he hear you?”

Sam nodded, all humour gone and replaced with a solemn place. “He’s just like you. He can hear things that maybe sometimes he doesn’t want to, he sees things that scar him and he one day woke up and remembered nothing but felt a whole lot different and can do a lot more than he should be able to.”

Ela’s shoulders slumped, and she rested her head in her hands, her elbows on her knees.

“Why won’t anyone tell me why I don’t remember what happened? I know something did, I remember a lot of pain and a chair and for some reason, I remember sushi and a bathroom and that’s it.”

Sam perked up. She was starting to remember. Only little things, and they didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but she was starting to remember.

“I’m sorry we can’t tell you, but I have a feeling you’ll remember for yourself, soon enough.”

“I’m so sick of this whole mysterious vibe going on with all of you super humans. Hell, even Cat’s starting to act different.”

Sam reassured her, placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m not superhuman - just a guy with a bunch of military grade wings.”

She doubled over in the ridicule of the situation. She was stuck with a bunch of superheroes and mysterious broody people in a seemingly underground compound and lots of white clinical hallways and secrets and she wondered what the hell she did in her past to get this.

She bet it was her impulsive side.

“Tell me about her.”

Sam looked at her curiously.

“What? I just like your storytelling skills.”

He let out a chuckle. “Sure you do.” She shot him a stern look, grinning after a few seconds. Continuing, he stretched out his legs. “She was new here, a while ago. She had been brought in to help with some stuff – stuff that no one but Banner and Stark really understood. She had to be trained in combat in case of emergencies, so Barnes was assigned as her SO.”

“What’s an SO?” she asked.

“Supervising officer, so he oversaw her progress when it came to field work and training and stuff like that.”

She nodded in understanding. “Anyway, everyone thought they hated each other – big time. Until one day, Steve, Clint and –“ he stopped himself. “Just Steve and Clint, they walked in on them in a weird situation one day and ever since then they were just openly together.”

Ela rolled her eyes. “I didn’t ask about them getting together, I asked about her. What was the weird situation?”

Sam feigned offence. “I’m pretty sure it was nothing you’d want to know about.” She laughed at the crude connotations behind his words. “Plus, I was getting to that part! So she was really distant the first few days, and so was he, because no one expected it. She always made fun of him, but it was kind of a mutual thing. He would laugh at her because she was so bad when they started training, and she would call him stuff like ‘gramps’.”
“Gramps?”

“I forgot you know nothing about him. Look him up tonight – shouldn’t be that hard to find basic knowledge.”

“This already sounds really fucking weird. Were they even in a relationship?”

Sam shrugged. “I don’t know for sure. You could tell that when he was with her, he became more like his old self in the Howling Commandos rather than what HYDRA made him. So that was definitely a good thing.”

“What the hell is the Howling Commandos? HYDRA? That terrorist group?” Her confusion only spiked upwards from this point. It was at that exact moment that Sam’s black pager thing started beeping.

“Sorry Ela, I gotta run. I’ll see you later.”

She was left with a whole lot of questions and zero answers, so she went back to the room and picked up the issued (probably also monitored) laptop she was given. Starting on the search engines, she felt a strange déjà vu as she typed in the words: ‘James Buchanan Barnes’.


 

Cat had enough going on her mind and many other things to do (like lie continuously to her best friend) than to make Steve jealous, however Loki insisted upon it.

“Loki, I have better things to do.”

“What is more important than achieving control over the patriot?”

“Control? What? Loki, I don’t have time for this.” With that concluding statement, she returned her gaze to the lines of code on her laptop. Keeping up with the compound’s firewall was a hard work. Loki walked towards her bed, his finger snapping the lid of the laptop down.

“You don’t have time for me? You break my heart, dearest.”

She rolled her eyes and tried to open her laptop, when she noticed Loki standing there and grinning.

“Open it.”

The same grin just stayed put.

“Loki, I swear to god, I have my best friend with her memory not intact, pages of code-“
That’s when she saw Loki snapping his fingers.

Loki had magic.

Loki could help bring back memories.

As he opened his mouth to speak, she abruptly cut him off. “What magic could fix a person’s memory?”

Loki’s grin lessened to a sly smile as he looked at her.

“I know of this magic.”

She silently prayed that he really could help her


 

Sam walked into the conference room with everyone staring at him for being late.

“Her memory’s coming back.”

That’s when the room erupted into chaos.

“How do you know, it’s been weeks-“

“Check her progress, check everything!”

Papers flew and shouting was heard.

“What did we miss? Check every single log-“

“Lady Ela has regained her mind? We must-“

It was Cat who stood up and told everyone to shut up. The loud discussions quietened as she violently picked up a file from the table and waved it around, hitting Clint and Steve in the face with the cardboard.

“Listen! I don’t see how you missed it! It’s the Erskine formula, they injected her with it.”

Chaos broke out again, no one but Bucky, Steve, Sharon and Coulson knew of this and even Tony looked so pissed off. “I had my doubts but I just thought it was her imagining things-“

Cat cut the billionaire with a sharp glare. “She’s lost her memory, not her mind.”

Thor questioned this. “Her memory has been reacquired? This is cause for celebration, my friends!”

Everyone rolled their eyes as Agent Hill dove into trying to explain the situation.

Coulson spoke up next, guilt evident in his tone. “Yeah, it’s true. They injected her with a variation of whatever Barnes was experimented with.

“And you didn’t tell us?” Natasha seemed furious, and Cat was pretty sure The Other Guy was bound to make an appearance at this rate.

“We wanted to confirm it.” Coulson defended, and at this point Bucky was really seeing red.

“You had confirmed it. You confirmed it with Carter and Steve. Don’t bullshit.” Bucky’s response had much of his contained anger and he spoke through gritted teeth.

Everyone turned to Coulson for an explanation.

“I was waiting to tell her first. Honestly. No more lies.” They all gradually accepted his excuse as they settled down. It was Steve who spoke next.

“What does the serum have to do with her memory?”

Bruce pushed his glasses up and sighed a little, before explaining, all signs of a possible Other Guy sighting gone. “Her body heals a lot faster than it should. The brain is repairing itself, and the memories should come along with it.”

“How long should it take?” the blonde haired super-soldier’s questions were tiring Cat out.

“A year? That’s just an estimation.” She replied.

“We can’t rush her, but we need her back sooner. We can’t afford to replace her.”

Cat was near enough close to exploding, not wanting another confrontation with Coulson, she stayed quiet and silently seethed.

Thankfully, Thor had brought up the topic she had been thinking about earlier. “Loki’s powers are endless. He shall be able to help Lady Ela regain her memory.”

Everyone let out a sigh of relief, bar Bucky, whose pulse was dangerously increasing in excitement.

Thor continued. “However, Loki’s powers are limited on Midgard, and only in the presence of the Allfather and on Asgard with his permission may he continue to perform such a task. My brother is not to be trusted, although with a reason – he may be willing to participate.”

“So she has to go to Asgard with Loki and get some weird voodoo shit done on her brain.”

Thor piped up, optimistic. “And myself!”

“So she’s going with Thor and Loki. That’s so reassuring.” Cat commented.

Coulson, ignoring them both had now turned to Thor. “What would Loki want in return?”

Thor laughed heartily. “You can only ask him yourself.”

Coulson sighed.


 

She had been sat on her laptop non-stop since she went back to her room. Looking to her left, she saw the time flashing on the digital alarm clock. Cat was nowhere to be found and she continued scrolling through the page on the Howling Commandos.

It made sense. He was 97 years old, had the body and mind of a man 70 years younger and was trained to be a mindless puppet for HYDRA for decades.

Sam was not exaggerating the hard life bit at all.

She didn’t feel sorry for him, she didn’t feel bad. She just felt angry that he had to go through such a shitty life.

That was until Cat walked into her room an hour later and grinned at her through her tired eyes.

“Pack your bags loser, we’re going to Asgard.”

Ela didn’t even want to ask.

“Did you just use a Mean Girls reference?”

“Don’t ruin it.”

Ela laughed, closing the lid of her laptop on a page on Erskine super serum, forgetting the thing that was nagging at the back of her head to do with a recent injection she had.

It was Natasha that went to negotiate with Loki. He hadn’t been confined in the compound; he was free to roam except for the restricted access rooms.

She found him lurking in the library.

“Loki.”

“The Black Widow.”

Natasha rolled her eyes, stepping closer towards him and sat down, kicking her feet up on the table.

“I’m here to ask a favour.”

“I do not trust arachnids.”

She ignored his shrewd comment. “We need you to help fix Ela’s brain. Thor has taken permission for your return to Asgard temporarily to make it happen.”

Loki raised his eyebrows, impressed. “In return?”

Natasha gave him an intense look. “We’re willing to negotiate.”

“Not necessary, I require one thing.”

“What would that be?”

“The mortal girl.”

“I thought that was a given, considering you’re going to help her.”

He waved off the thought and cleared her misunderstanding.

“The other girl, DuRose.”

Natasha was suspicious.

“Why?”

“I assume you are asking as you wish to know, however what I do is not under scrutiny by you mortals. If you wish for my help, you are to give me what I want. She must come to Asgard with the sick girl and presumably, Thor and myself.”

Natasha’s eyes narrowed as she stood up. “Fine. You’re going now, so pack up.”

Loki smiled as he went to collect his consolation prize.


 

Ela was sure they were going to lobotomize her.

Asgard?

Even she wasn’t that crazy. Doubtfully, she packed a small rucksack full of necessities and smiled at her friend. “Where am I actually going?”

Cat stopped pairing up her socks and looked up. “To Asgard.”

Ela’s face was deadly serious. “If I’m going to be lobotomized, blink twice.” As a joke, her friend blinked twice and then burst out laughing at Ela’s horrified expression.

“I’m joking you weirdo. No, you’re not going to be lobotomized. You’re going to Asgard.” She continued pairing her socks. Finishing her task, she waited for Ela’s response.

“You mean, the myth-“

“Yep.”

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“Where do you think Thor came from?”

Zipping up their bags in succession, they headed out of the door and met with Coulson, who was with Thor and some tall lanky dude with long hair.

Ela nudged her friend. After gathering her attention, she pointed at him. “Who’s that?”

Cat laughed. “Thor’s brother. Loki.”

“This is getting even weirder.” She concluded as they made their way to a lift that seemed to open ominously, if even possible.

If she was going to Asgard, hell – anything was possible.


 

They all gathered in the small space, the evil robot voice directing them upwards to the ground floor.

As the minutes ticked by, she noticed they were previously 40 floors down.

What the hell was this place?

They finally reached the ground, and Ela gulped for air as they stepped out of the lift, feeling slightly nauseous. She walked down the corridor, following everyone else and found herself trailing behind as she tried to make sense of the situation. She trusted her best friend, and trusted her not to get her lobotomized.

They stepped outside and Ela felt the drizzle tap on her face in a very long time as she took in a breath of air. She had been stuck in that compound thing for weeks now, and it felt like she was stepping back into reality.

Thor was stepping aside by a few metres, when she noticed a blue light expanding in a circle next to him. He was shouting some random stuff when he dramatically flung his hammer into the sky, and the grey sky rumbled with thunder.

The glowing light was now several feet wide and tall, and she swore she could see stars throughout the misty light. Cat grabbed her hand as Loki pulled them through, Thor following and saying a goodbye to Coulson.

She couldn’t explain the sensation moving through her as she stepped into the portal. As if she was moving at the speed of light whilst her body was separating into atoms and then reassembling every second. It felt like forever when they landed in a huge dome with a massive guy and golden eyes and windows that showed nothing but stars for miles.

It looked pretty effing cool.

Thor’s voice boomed. “Heimdall! I have brought our Midgardian guests. Please, introduce yourself.”

The guy stood closer to them and introduced himself. Cat wasn’t even sure if he was a guy, or human or god. His presence just felt omniscient. “I am Heimdall, watcher of the Universe and guard of gateways between worlds.”

“Jeez, I thought attempting my final year of high school early was an achievement.” Ela joked, more terrified than she let out.

Heimdall nodded as he ushered them to a giant gateway after turning some dial in the centre of the room. The two girls had never felt so pointless in their lives. Everything was so shiny and intimidating and knowledgeable, whereas they were just two tiny mortals. As the gates opened to reveal a golden city and beautiful architecture – Ela definitely knew that her friend wasn’t lying to her about Asgard.

Chapter Text

“How do you know that this Loki guy ain’t gonna mess you around?” Bucky asked Steve, a little more hope gracing his Brooklyn tone.

“We don’t. But it’s our only chance of getting her back quickly.”

Bucky nodded in understanding, and he let out a weak smile to his friend. Steve took a glance at his friend and rested a hand on his shoulder.

“She’ll be okay, Buck.”

Even with this vote of confidence, Bucky wasn’t quite assured.


 

“What are you even taking me to do?” Ela asked, her eyes following the grand halls of the Asgardian palace.

Cat looked nervous to her friend and Thor kept his eyes glued to Loki, giving Ela a riht to be suspicious. “We’re just gonna let you sleep for a bit.”

Ela sputtered. “Sleep? Are you trying to kill me? That’s not what you tell a person who’s been basically kidnapped and brought to a different alien planet.”  Cat responded with a swift glare to her friend, but her eyes held a glint of doubt herself. She couldn’t really trust Loki, as much as she wanted to – after the whole New York thing.

“No, it’s more like therapy.”

Sony didn’t respond. She quickly scanned the seemingly everlasting corridor in front of her and tried finding any possible escape routes. Even if she did manage to escape the small security bunch, she had no way of getting back to Heimdall, or even back to her own damn planet so it would be an uneventful ruse.

After a few minutes, they reached a large set of doors, and within she spotted an elaborate throne and guards surrounding the perimeter of the supposed throne room. A man (god) was pacing slowly in front of the throne, his eyes shooting to Thor and then to Loki as they neared him. A large table stood in the centre of the room, and on it were some mechanisms. Ela was starting to feel terrified.

Maybe the lobotomy thing was a real possibility.

It was Thor who broke the silence. It was like everyone in the room knew what was going to happen to her – but herself. “All-father. I have brought the girl.”

Ela looked between the table and the All-father guy. 

A series of possibilities ran through her head and her knees almost buckled as a wave of nausea passed through her.

Sacrifice?

“She is prepared?” a voice boomed, echoing slightly off the columns, a voice belonging to the All-father.

Torture?

Loki nodded alongside Thor as the old guy continued.

“Loki, you are aware of the consequences if you try anything different to your given task. So don’t try.” His voice was final and before Ela could think of the words ‘cognitive recalibration’ Thor picked her up and gently put her on the table. Trying to scream out, the mechanisms unravelled and wrapped round her arms and legs, and a piece of metal covering her mouth and leaving her unable to speak.

Loki thought for a moment.

His powers were restored and he could take on every guard in this room. He could reclaim the throne for himself and force Odin and Thor to lead the rest of their miserable lives in prison; the same prison where they left him to rot after attempting to take Midgard for himself. He could have just kidnapped the girl and force her to stay with him – she was a curiosity and he wanted answers.

Loki decided against it. He needed her trust. He couldn’t follow Thor’s brutish ways and just take what he wanted – he had to do it subtly, he had to make others agree to his terms. Right now, he wanted the girl. The throne did not bother him, the task remained too hefty for his liking after his several failed attempts; but he could gain power and control later.

So he completed his task.

The girl was struggling on the table, making far too much of a fuss than he would have liked, so he knocked her unconscious.

Thor seemed alarmed. “What have you done?”

Loki rolled his eyes as he conjured up wisps of light, all routing towards the girls head.

“I have made her lose consciousness. Her brain must be in a relaxed state.”

Thor’s suspicions roused but the brutish God allowed his estranged brother to continue anyway.

Cat was mesmerised. The light intertwined as it entered her best friend’s head, changing colours and spinning around to make patterns and shapes. She watched the concentration of Loki’s face as he completed the task, his face nonchalant and almost bored looking – but the determination in his eyes to prove his magic’s worth.

He stood tall and towered over the table which held her peaceful looking friend in place, and the tips of his fingers glowing blue as he walked forwards and touched Ela’s forehead softly. The spinning light had stopped, but Ela’s entire body had started to glow, her head practically blinding Cat and after her eyes snapped shut in response to the light – it stopped as quickly as it had started.

She opened her eyes and tried to avoid focusing the spots of light that clouded her vision, her focus solely on her best friend.

She looked like she had stopped breathing, and Ela’s eyes were now open, as they must have opened during the magical procedure.

They were glazed over, and looking blankly upwards.

Cat stepped forwards as everyone watched with stopped breaths, and her fingers shook as the wrapped around her wrist.

She couldn’t feel a pulse.

“Oh my god.”

Thor stepped forwards towards the table and started shaking Ela in an attempt to wake her. No response.

Even Loki seemed confused. “It should have worked.”

Cat had a knot stuck in her throat. Loki had killed her.

It was his plan all along.

“Y-you killed her.”

Everyone stood in a stunned silence.

Loki seemed distressed by this. Not the false distress that Odin and Thor knew of, but real distress. His magic had failed him.


 

Back on earth, Tony had called the Avengers for an emergency meeting.

Knowing Tony, they knew it wasn’t really an emergency. All sitting in the respective seats, they were all in mid-conversation when the middle-ages entrepreneur entered the room. Slowly, they silenced at the awareness of his presence and he beamed at them.

“Avengers Tower is officially open for business.” He stated simply, causing the group to erupt in cheers and conversation.

Coulson smiled and shook his head. “You guys start packing up your stuff – I’ll be staying here.”

Tony pouted. “Who else will tell us not to get our asses kicked?”

Coulson chuckled and waved it off. “I will, just from here. This place still needs running, Stark.”

Tony nodded in understanding as he realized the real reason for wanting to stay. Coulson wanted to find his own team, the 084 girl, two British scientists, and Agent May. They were his team, and Tony understood that he needed them more than he needed a bunch of overgrown superheroes.


 

They didn’t hear the news until Thor came to tell them in the Avengers’ new residence. They had moved across into New York very discreetly within a day, and were now settling into the large space now designated to their living.

They were all sitting around in the central communal area, eating shawarma and immersed in different conversations; when the darkening blue skies suddenly rumbled with thunder and within a flash of light, Thor landing on the balcony connecting.

Tony opened the door to the balcony, grinning at Thor’s flashy appearance. “No housewarming present? I expected better of you, big guy.”

Instead of Thor’s usually hearty laugh, his face remained solemn and stony and Tony’s smile dropped. Assessing the group’s nosey gazes, Thor took a look at them and dragged Tony out of the room, not wanting to share such devastating news in front of the less stable members.

Once they were safely out of earshot, Thor spoke very quietly.

“She did not survive Loki's magic.”

It took Tony a few moments to grasp Thor’s words. Blinking, he nodded and swiftly walked back to the room, deciding to tell them all at once except for Bucky – who would be informed by Steve.

Tony knew Bucky wasn’t the friendliest guy in general, but he knew his particular distaste towards Tony – for an unknown reason.

He entered the room, unable to make the smallest of smiles. Walking towards Steve with everyone watching him, he pulled Steve out of the chair and took him outside to where Thor was standing.

“Steve, she didn’t make it.”

Steve froze.

“You need to tell Barnes.” Tony spoke in sadness.

Steve nodded and walked back into the room, asking Bucky if he could talk to him. As they walked off, Tony and Thor walked back into the room, the table now deadly silent and waiting for answers.

Tony being unable to break the news himself, pointed to Thor as he looked out at the Manhattan skyline.

“We do not know why it did not work, or what Loki did. She did not survive.”

Time had slowed for the table.

“I am sorry.” Thor’s apology did nothing for them as they felt the loss of a team member.

Bucky wasn’t stupid.

He knew that something had gone wrong up there.

He knew the alien guy wasn’t to be trusted.

He knew that Stark had told Steve to tell him on purpose.

He knew that the weird voodoo crap would never have worked anyway.

He knew she would be okay.

Where ever she ended up.

They sat on the roof of Avengers Tower, the elevator going up in complete silence until they sat on the edge of the rounded roof. Bucky decided to just ask Steve straight.

“What happened to her?”

Steve looked at his friend for a long moment before looking down upon the city before him. His tone quietened, and even Bucky could hear the hurt in his voice.

“I’m sorry, Buck.”

Bucky laughed, trying to make light of the situation – trying not to believe the worst. “What’s wrong? Stark painted your shield pink?”

Steve just looked at the badly mended superhuman next to him with a look that explained it all.

“She didn’t make it, Bucky.”

They stared out into the fading, polluted skies of New York - wondering what the hell they had ever done wrong to deserve such a fate.


 

She couldn’t wake up.

She felt dead, but she could think.

If she could think, it was highly unlikely that she was dead.

She couldn’t even feel herself breathe, it was so strange.

You were neither dead, nor alive.

She was stuck in some limbo.

Her limbo consisted of her childhood house. It was a nice house, large and family friendly – a big garden and picket fences and Rocky, her dog running about in the freshly muddy grass. This was back in England, where she grew up.

She wondered throughout the old house; the floorboards creaking and the wooden stairs, noticing that it was decorated as they still lived inside of it. Her room was dramatically pink and floral (which she loved at the time), and her sister’s mainly consisted of Disney princesses. The house was lived in, in her little limbo and she swore she could hear the footsteps coming up the stairs.

This wasn’t real.

It was all her imagination.

But she was dead.

She couldn’t be.

“You are right.” A kind voice pointed out to her.

She spun around on the spot, coming face to face with a beautiful woman – one she did not recognise.

“What am I right about?” She asked, taking a step back. The woman looked aged, but still beautiful – her pale skin flattered by her flowing Asgardian clothes. Who was she?

“You are right about not being dead, Ela.” The woman responded, looking at her childhood home in sheer curiosity.

“How do you know my name? Who are you?” Ela felt a little bad, because she felt so rude asking these questions to such a nice woman, but her manners were undermined by her confusion.

“I am Frigga, mother of Loki and Thor. You know of them, yes?” she announced it slowly and patiently, as if weary of Ela’s ability to comprehend speech.

Ela seemed overwhelmed slightly. She knew about Thor and how his mother had passed, to which her thoughts cause her to frown. Frigga spoke out to clear her confusion.

“I know that I am supposed to be dead, my dear. However, I still roam the universe and watch for those whom I care about with the spirits. I have been watching your troublesome experiences, and I wish to explain to you what this-“she waved around to the house “-situation is.”

Ela nodded. “I remember everything now. I remember HYDRA and being taken from that sushi place. I remember the chair and the injections-“she shuddered slightly, holding onto the bedstead for some reassurance that this didn’t just feel like some messed up dream. “-I remember waking up and not remembering anything, I remember Barnes actually being upset and I know I was so confused when they did all those tests on me, because no one would tell me what was going on!”

The volume of her voice had risen and she was now crying in frustration.

“I even remember going to Asgard and seeing your husband and not knowing where the hell I was going, and I remember being knocked unconscious and being awake but feeling dead and being unable to move!”

She was now sobbing and Frigga was holding her in an embrace, stroking her hair. Ela felt like a total moron for crying, but all of this made sense now and she didn’t want to accept it.

“It will become better. You are stuck in this limbo, as you call it; but you can wake up. You can wake up when you accept these events as part of you. You must accept your feelings. I know it must be strange, feeling gone but knowing you are still there and still alive. You will wake up when you want to. Your friends mourn for you, but you cannot tell them about this place or about meeting me when you wake.”

Ela smiled through watery eyes at the royal, appreciating her presence.

“It would cause far more trouble than it would solve, and we wouldn’t want any more trouble.”

Ela agreed, laughing a little as she used her jacket sleeve to wipe her eyes. They both sat on the small bed, Ela wanting to laugh at the weird situation; she leant against the wall, as Frigga looked at her.

“You must do me a favour, Ela.” The Asgardian Queen asked, a knowing smile gracing her already beautiful face.

“I have been watching Loki for some time now, and it seems as he has gathered a liking for your friend. He will not do to admit it, but he would use any means to get her.”

Ela nodded, surprised at Loki’s choice.

“I know that her liking for the patriot is fading, and as she spends more time with my son, is starting to consider her feelings for him.” Frigga paused for a moment. “Unfortunately, due to your current situation, she has ignored those feelings in loyalty for you.” Ela swelled in pride at the mention of her friend’s loyalty; even though she knew it was not Loki’s fault that this had happened.

“May I ask what the favour is?” Ela asked, intrigued.

“Loki is my son, and I wish for nothing more for him to be happy. If your friend makes him happy, I ask of you to persuade him to court her and for her to accept her own feelings towards her.”

Ela’s brows furrowed and she burst out laughing. “Court?”

Frigga seemed confused at this outburst, but nodded. Realising that the Queen had been alive much, much longer than she had – the word ‘court’ was probably still going to be used in Asgard.

“Sure, I will-“she struggled for a moment, slightly embarrassed, “-Queen Frigga.”

It was her turn to laugh now, a melodic laugh echoed around the room. “I am no longer a Queen, so you shall call me Frigga.”

Ela nodded in compliance as they continued their conversation.

“Thor was devastated about the loss of you.”  Ela added.

Frigga nodded. “I know. But we all must pass, and my time had come. Let us talk about you, my dear. How is your relationship with the soldier?”

Ela seemed startled. She had forgotten about Metal Arm; partly because she was too busy trying to figure out the whole dead/alive thing.

“Barnes?” She asked, and Frigga raised her eyebrow.

“Well, we are just pretending. It’s not a real relationship.” Ela said, defending her case.

“I know that, but I also know that you both are too stubborn to admit you don’t hate each other.”

Ela tilted her head. She was still pretty sure that Barnes hated her.

 “No, he never even told me why he forced me to fake date him.”

Frigga looked unimpressed. “You have not guessed after all of this time?”

Ela winced at her stupidity – was it really obvious?

Frigga sighed and spoke to her in a stern tone. “He firstly used you as an excuse for the rest of his friends to leave him alone, and to let him work his inner thoughts out for himself without being bothered. But he then realised you were a bigger part in his life than he expected, and he wanted you to be.”

Ela seemed a little upset by this, at the fact he didn’t actually like her and that she was just an excuse. Frigga, obviously with her mind reading capabilities spoke to her more patiently.

“What was in the past has moved on. You know what you know, and feel what you feel. Don’t lie to yourself, Ela.”

And with that, she disappeared.


Cat picked up the phone and dialed the house number she knew so well.

“Hello, is this Dr. Kale?”

“Cat, is that you?”

Cat nearly laughed at the fact Ela’s dad still recognised her voice. She nodded, even though she knew he couldn’t hear her.

“How have you girls been? They phoned us up so quickly that you were recruited for that project, we didn’t even get to phone you!” the elderly doctor seemed relieved by his intonation and Cat didn’t know how to tell him.

Her throat dried up, a knot forming. “We’ve been fine – actually I phoned to tell you-“

Ela’s dad seemed concerned. “Has anything happened? Are you okay?”

In the background she heard another familiar voice in the form of Ela’s mother. “Is that Cat? She hasn’t phoned in so long! What has Ela been doing, neglecting her family for almost a year?” Cat nearly laughed at the strange family dynamic she had missed so much, speaking down the phone.

“No, everything’s fine. Ela‘s just gone out for a while so she asked me to ring you until she gets back from her trip.” Her voice almost cracked on the last word, but she managed to hold herself together.

She couldn’t tell them that their daughter was dead.

She heard some muffled sounds for a few seconds, as her mother held the phone. “Cat, tell her to stop being so antisocial and to phone us every now and then. It’s been so long, we were wondering where you two had gone!” her explanation was accentuated by the slight accent that remained in her English.

Cat nodded again, forgetting that she was on the phone. “I will. I just thought I’d let you guys know how we were, seeing as we’ve been so busy.”

She heard Ela’s dad shout a question.

“How is it that you’re ringing off an unknown number?”

Cat froze in her spot for a moment, stuttering a little before managing to form a speech. “Oh, I’m ringing out of a phone box.”

She heard Ela’s mother’s disappointed tone. “You know how unhygienic those places are. Take care, Cat.”

Cat laughed. “You too, Dr. Kale. Say bye to Ela’s dad for me as well, please?”

She heard the woman on the other side laugh. “Always so polite. Come visit us soon, and we’ll speak later.”

Cat was nearly crying.

“Don’t forget to remind that useless daughter of mine to actually remind us she exists.” Ela’s mum was laughing and seemed happy, and Cat just couldn’t bring herself to say what she needed to.

“I’ll be sure to.”

“Bye, Cat.”

“Bye.”

The dead line of the phone stuck in her ears for some time afterwards.


 

Thor brought her body back in a very large casket, which had lettering all over it that no one understood. It held its place in the room that was meant for her, with all of her belongings and the empty space dreary and housing her corpse.

Safe to say, no one really spoke much.

They hadn’t decided on the funeral as Cat hadn’t spoken to her parents about their deceased daughter, and no one really was a willing contender to break the news.

Loki had stayed in Asgard with the All-father, accused of killing a mortal with intent. The rest of the tower was buzzing with activity, only the top 40 floors were dedicated to the Avengers, and the rest was Stark Industries’ new hub for New York. They needed cover for the group, so Stark decided that the space was needed for Stark’s new projects. Some space was on lease, as decided by Pepper, so the place was busy most days.

The sun was setting and the realisation that they had the dead body of a team member lying around in their living space startled them, so they decided the next day – they would phone her parents, inform them and fly them over for whatever funeral they wanted.

Cat knew Ela wasn’t particularly religious, but her parents were traditional and would want things in a certain way.


 

They sat in silence, watching films until it came a time where it was far too late to consider doing anything but sleeping. None of them were tired, and all of them felt the loss as bad as each other – regardless of the length of time they had known her.

Bucky didn’t speak at all. He didn’t do much, at all. He sat in his room for hours, doing nothing, or sat on the roof in silence.

Steve tried raising spirits, but most of his attempts were half-hearted and usually just failures.

Natasha was silent, as she was most of the time – but was touchier than she usually was, more reactive and easier to anger.

Clint was constantly in the gym, shooting whatever he could find.

Sam tried keeping himself occupied as he did when his best friend had died. He decided to go to church more often.

Bruce was upset – and didn’t even attempt to hide it.

Tony closed himself in his workshop, fixing anything he could find.

Coulson gave his apologies, and let them off for a few weeks, giving them more menial tasks.

Cat was surprisingly the most normal, more in denial than anything.

Thor spent more and more time in Asgard, trying to find out what happened, questioning Loki and looking through his mother’s old books.

All together, they sat around the large TV, staring at the characters as if they were piercing their souls.


 

Ela had been stuck in her childhood home for far too long.

She had considered everything that Frigga had said, and was slowly starting to realise that she was different now.

Whatever she was injected with, she was better now – she could do everything faster and better and her senses were so clear it drove her insane sometimes.

She had gone through some shitty times with HYDRA, but she wouldn’t let them get to her, she couldn’t let them get to her. Sure, she would probably have nightmares for years, but that was something she could live through.

She liked Bucky. Frigga still stayed in her mind, talking to her through this limbo. None of it made sense, and the royal asked her if she loved him. Ela couldn’t answer because she didn’t know what love was. Frigga told her that it was okay, and that she would realise.

And now she was ready to wake up.

She sat in the small bed, laden with pink flowery sheets and took a deep breath, all of her memories running through the tracks of her mind. Her brows furrowed as she felt this limbo self separate and flow – not painful, but strange and uncomfortable. She felt stronger and more present, like she was reforming and within one really bright flash of light, she could hear her heart pounding against her chest, her eyes blink open to darkness, her limbs able to move and her lungs gasping for air.

She was awake.

She took some more deep breaths, missing the feeling of air rushing into her lungs and cooling her throat. She missed being able to move her limbs and muscles. 

She stuck her hands to the lid of the box she was in, trying to push it upwards. It wouldn’t budge.

She was trapped in this box.

Until she realised it wasn’t actually a box, and it was actually a casket.

They thought she was dead.

Oh, she thought. She had forgotten about that particular detail. It was a pretty comfortable death-box, she had to admit, but she still couldn’t get out of it.

Seeing no other option, she decided to use all of her might to scream as loud as she could.

The scream pierced their ears, and all of them panicked within milliseconds.

Tony, Steve and Bucky heard the familiar sound as their chests filled with dread and déjà vu.

They ran to the source of the room, which happened to be Ela’s – and found that the casket was being pushed and kicked against.

All of them stared at each other.

Thor stepped towards the heavy Asgardian box and opened it with ease, noticing that everyone else was too stunned to take initiative.

Ela sat up, gasping for breath, her eyes adjusting to the light and everyone staring at her – absolutely awed.

“Hey guys.” She spoke, with her breathing still irregular.

Chapter Text

 

“What-“ Tony gaped.

“-the-“ Clint appeared gobsmacked.

“-frick frack is going on?” Cat finished, gathering looks from everyone but ignoring them the same.

Natasha commented on her choice of (non) expletive. “Not the word I would use.”

Ela tried being as casual and nonchalant as a recently back-from-the-dead person could be as she stepped out of the oversized coffin. However, seeing the looks on everyone’s faces induced some feeling of hysteria inside of her – like she wasn’t wanted and this was a mistake and maybe she should have stayed dead.

She couldn’t even bring herself to look at him.

Staring at the ground, she was confused at her surroundings – this wasn’t anywhere in the compound – and as she looked to her left; a window covered the entire east wall with a beautiful view of a city she couldn’t help but to recognise.

Cat stepped up to her, poking her a few times before slapping her across the cheek. Ela looked up, baffled as she felt the sting across her cheek.

“What the fuck was that for?” she exclaimed, her palm rubbing her stinging cheek.

“For scaring the shit out of me and making me phone your parents!” Cat shouted, relief ringing out of her voice as she pulled Ela into a hug.

“Wait…” Ela said as she pushed away from her clearly emotional best friend, looking at her expression. “You phoned my parents? Did you tell them-“

She was cut off by Cat. “No, I didn’t. I couldn’t-“she stopped for a moment. “-How the hell did you know we thought you were dead?”

Ela froze.

She remembered Frigga’s instruction and the secret that had to be kept. Struggling, she stared back at the ground, forming some explanation. “I can’t describe it. I knew I was alive – but I couldn’t move or feel myself breathing or anything. I was stuck in some sort of limbo.”

“You mean like after Harry died, but didn’t at the end of the Deathly Hallows?” Cat replied, not quite grasping the concept. Ela laughed at the reference and nodded.

 “Just like that.”

Cat pulled her into another hug, and Ela seemed startled. After a moment or so, Tony joined in hugging her and shouted, “Group hug!” causing commotion as they all ended squishing against Thor’s huge figure.

They all laughed, mainly in disbelief, and even Natasha dropped her usually bored façade for a smile and Bruce was grinning as he told her he had no one else to use as a lab rat. This earned a playful smack on the arm, and as they all retreated and Ela was being shouted at for being fake-dead; she noticed Barnes wasn’t there.

More upset by this than she would have expected to be, Tony told her to eat something and to catch up on what she had missed and with the rest of the group, told her to take a tour of their new place.


 

After eating leftovers from the previous dinner, she sat down midst the rest of them and after a few hours, they all retreated for some sleep – leaving her and Cat.

“I can’t believe you resurrected.”

“It’s because I am awesome.”

“I beg to differ. But on a serious note, I don’t think I’ve seen everyone so sad.”

“C’mon, I couldn’t have been missed that much.”

“You were. It nearly killed me when I rang you parents. Your mum told me to tell you that you are useless and should remind the both of them of your existence.”

“I’ve not spoken to them since the morning before we went to compound.”

“Well Coulson did ring them and said we were recruited for some project.”

“Not a complete lie.”

“You should phone them, you know.”

“What about your parents? You haven’t spoke to them in God knows how long.”

Cat waved off the suggestion.

“They’re too busy travelling.”

“That’s not an excuse.”

Cat looked slightly uncomfortable. “Moving swiftly off topic, your broody guy has been so much more broody than usual. I’m pretty sure he’s even stopped talking to Steve.”

It was Ela’s turn to look uncomfortable. “You were the ones to send me for a magical lobotomy.”

Cat sighed. “It wasn’t a lobotomy. It was for your own benefit.”

Ela laughed, sitting up from her relaxed position. “What happened to Loki?”

Cat’s eyes hardened. “He’s in Asgardian prison – where he belongs.”

Ela shook her head, jumping to the trickster’s defence. “It wasn’t his fault. I know it wasn’t.”

Cat looked confused.

“He killed you. He used the wrong spell or whatever.”

Ela shook her head, her tone more serious. “No, he didn’t. If he used the wrong spell, how come I remember everything that’s happened – including losing my memory?”

Cat contemplated this for a few moments.

Ela continued. “I don’t know what happened, but the magic was right. I was stuck in some sort of limbo – because that magic is only supposed to be used on non-mortals - which I am not, so it would obviously have different effects on me as compared to someone like Thor.”

Cat nodded, her expression softening. “I guess. But it looked really suspicious at the time. Just tried taking over Earth whilst killing hundreds of people, does some weird spell on you and you stop breathing and sucks the life out of you.”

“Sure, whatever. It wasn’t his fault and I know it wasn’t. I’m alive now, right?”

Cat stared at her in disbelief, not quite understanding why Ela didn’t realise the implications of being dead.

“You were dead, Ela.”

“I am well aware of that.”

“You weren’t going to come back to life.”

“Guess I’m Jesus then.”

“Stop taking this as a joke!”

Ela glanced at her friend, her humoured face now blank.

“I think I’m allowed to. Would you like to deal with the reality after you’ve been used as a lab rat for HYDRA, tortured, lost your memory and them magically lobotomised and stuck in a half dead limbo where you’re basically Schrodinger’s cat?” Her tone was calm, blank and quiet.

Cat did not respond to this as she stood up and walked over to her friend.

Ela looked up, same blank expression. “Don’t. Get some sleep.”

Cat nodded, turning around before adding a gentle. “You should get some sleep too.”

Ela’s reply was a dry laugh. “I think I’ve slept enough these past few days.”

Her concerned friend was taken aback as she stepped towards her room before saying a small goodnight, to which she received no reply.


 

It was JARVIS who was the next to speak to Ela.

“Miss Kale, maybe you would like to accompany Sergeant Barnes?”

Ela sighed, trying her best not to fall asleep as she blinked herself awake.

“I don’t think I should. He clearly liked me better dead.”

“I do not agree with your conclusion. He is on the rooftop, if you wish to join him.”

Ela wished the AI wasn’t so damn perceptive. “JARVIS, if he wanted to speak to me after my dramatic resurrection, I’m sure he would have found the time.”

JARVIS sounded as if he couldn’t be dealing with Ela’s shit.

“I still disagree. He requires company from the time you haven’t found.”

“You know you can be such a smart ass at times, right JARVIS?”

“I take pride, Miss Kale.”

Ela snorted as she made her way to the lift, pressing the ROOF button and waited for the glass lift to start moving. The instrumental of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man started playing, and she almost laughed at Tony’s pretentiously charming ways.

She found knots forming in her stomach as it reached the top, realising she was completely unprepared and unwilling to face Barnes.

The door pinged open, and as she stepped out into the static Manhattan air, she walked to the edge of the building where he sat, his legs dangling over the perilously high drop. Saying nothing, she walked over and took a seat next to him, her pulse increasing as she looked down at the city.

She liked heights, but this was pushing it.

She realised she wasn’t cold, even though the it was colder than it should have been, but she was ridiculously unstable and her hands were shaking so much that she had to clench them into fists. The rain had started to fall in sheets, drenching them both as they watched the clouds light up and thunder rumble angrily.

“I’m sorry.” She said quietly, her teeth now starting to chatter.

She wasn’t cold, but she felt it inside.

No response.

He was still; scarily so.

She stared out into the light of the city, spread out and illuminating the streets with sparse glows of orange light; blurred by the glinting drops of polluted rain, the distant sounds of helicopters whirring and planes landing, the breeze whistling amongst the still spring air.

He wasn’t prepared for this.

He wasn’t prepared for her to come back.

Not to say he was moving on, because he was far from it- but he needed time to adjust.

It had been a few minutes, and the silence wasn’t uncomfortable, it was just there.

It was creating a wall between them; the distant sounds of Manhattan rang through their ears in between their own small silence.

She realised she wasn’t wanted here.

He wanted her so badly to just stay with him.

She stood up, carefully edging away from his dark silhouette.

He felt the cold hit him where she was previously, her place of the edge of the roof now a crater of what used to be.

She turned around towards the entrance of the lift, not quite making a move, still indecisive.

He stood, turning to face the back of her.

She stayed still and heard his change in pulse.

He walked forwards, stopping behind her.

She moved to the lift, pressing the button and calling it up.

He stepped forwards quickly, deciding it was now or never.

She felt a hand on her shoulder.

He spun her around on the spot, her hair stringy and wet and clinging to her face.

She found his gaze upon her, but she had to look away by the sheer intensity of it.

He was scared.

She was fucking terrified.

The lift pinged open,

She turned around and walked into it.

The door closed.

 

It was JARVIS that spoke to her next.

“That did not go well?”

She leaned against the wall of glass surrounding her, sinking to the ground.

“I don’t know.”

She was so tired and so confused, she just stayed in the place, JARVIS occasionally speaking to her with no response and shining lasers on her to check her vitals.

She fell asleep, over thinking everything.

In fact the next morning, Security took her in and called her homeless before she had to phone Tony who brought her back up to their towers.

Tony didn’t ask her any questions, but she went to her room under the pretence of falling asleep. Tony asked JARVIS to see the footage of what happened on the rooftop, and couldn’t make any sense of what happened, but set off to find Barnes.

After finding out that everyone but Banner, himself, Barnes and Ela had been called out on a mission – he paid a visit to Bruce who was also trying to decode the meeting between the couple on the rooftop.

“It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Why did she fall asleep in the elevator?”

Tony shrugged, picking up a bowl of grapes of Bruce’s desk and tossing one to him. It hit his lab coat and rolled to the floor which earned a glare in Tony’s direction.

“I don’t know. She was pretty tired.”

“I feel like I’m spying.”

“That’s because you are, Bruce.”

“I’m just trying to figure out her behavioural patterns – you know, she’s gone through some pretty rough stuff.”

Tony nodded in agreement, popping another grape in his mouth.

“What you got so far?”

Bruce turned the screen off and asked JARVIS. “What’s your verdict AI?”

“It appears that Miss Kale has developed mild anxiety and possibly insomnia due to her experiences.”

“Thanks JAR.” Tony said who was proud of his nickname created for the system.

“I will not let you refer to me as an inanimate object, Mr. Stark.”

“Tough shit, JAR.”

“I prefer the original name, sir.”

“Deal with it.”

Bruce chuckled at their argument, before adding. “That’s what I got. I wasn’t so sure about the sleeping problems though.”

Tony quirked a brow. “She went to go sleep; JARVIS check the feed from her room.”

They watched as the large screen turned itself on, showing CCTV of Ela lay down, her eyes wide open and visibly upset.

Tony pulled up another screen towards him. “Get me a diagnostic.”


 

She had tried to sleep.

She couldn’t.

It was almost like she was too scared to sleep, otherwise she’d die again.

For her, it was like that time she watched The Ring and couldn’t sleep for a week – her sleep deprivation became so bad that she was hospitalised. Except all of the time.

She had fallen asleep in the elevator, but kept jerking awake. She didn’t have the energy to get up or do anything, she just stayed still and felt like she was dying as her organs clenched together, squirming and her heart was in so much pain that she couldn’t physically breathe and she woke up in a cold sweat.

That was until she found the damn vital lasers on her again.

“JARVIS!” She exclaimed, still in recovery.

“Yes, Miss Kale?” the AI replied.

“Stop checking me out!”

“I’m afraid as an AI I cannot flirt with you.”

Ela sighed in frustration. “You know what I meant. Stop checking my pulse every 10 seconds.”

“The last recorded log was 3 hours ago.”

“Shut up, smart ass.”

“Would you like some water?”

She sat up on the edge of her bed, feeling dizzy from head rush.

“I’ll get it myself.”

She stood up; a little shaky as she walked out of the over-sized room she could call her own.


 

JARVIS brought up the information on the screen in front of Tony. He scrolled through the information, flicking bits around everywhere.

“Blood pressure’s low – but that’s probably because of the lack of food. Her pulse is higher than usual, but recovering. Everything else is fine.”

JARVIS spoke. “I have made two possible conclusions. Miss Kale has had a panic attack or she has suffered through a nightmare. I suggest therapy.”

Tony and Bruce glanced at each other, feeling more empathetic than sympathetic towards the girl.


 

Thor had visited his hometown, eager to release Loki. The All-father had been more lenient than usual, but still did not trust Loki unwatched.

So Loki was stuck in Asgard.

Loki was to resume his residence within the palace, and all though he had much freedom now with his magic – Thor asked for Loki’s request for saving the girl.

“You want to do me a favour, brother?”

Thor nodded, deadly serious. “I wish for nothing more. The Midgardians owe you much for their help and apologise for the misunderstanding.”

To say the least, Loki had gotten his confidence back and his dignity, seeing as his magic had actually worked.

“I wish for one more visit to Midgard. I have something of mine which I wish to retake.”

Thor considered this for a moment, but could not refuse. “I shall see what I can do.”

Loki nodded as Thor went to persuade their father for Loki’s wishes. Loki sat with a smirk on his face, knowing his plan would work far better than expected.

It was simple.

Kidnap the girl.

Take her back to Asgard.

She was now his.


 

Steve was hopelessly head over heels.

She was the complete opposite of him, but he thought the spy’s ways just added to her mysterious attraction.

They were raiding yet another HYDRA base, and as he fought his way through the dank place, deflecting bullets and working with Clint to destroy the equipment, he saw her working her magic on the computer systems and extracting information.

She was a mystery – he knew everything about her, but nothing of what she was.


 

Bruce was working on some new weapons, as asked by Tony, and managed to drag Ela into the task by bribing her with her favourite cookies.

As she sat on the edge of the high-tech table, she kicked her legs outwards, mumbling some equations to her partner, crumbs falling into her lap.

“You’re such a messy eater.”

She shrugged, grinning. “It’s all your fault Bruce. I would have helped you anyway; the cookies were just a bonus.”

She dragged up some holographic scans of the work, taking apart the crossbow they were currently designing for Clint. Taking the layers apart, she inspected them carefully, working out the possible faults of hazards with the advanced weapon.

Her mouth full, she pointed to the internal circuitry and spoke. “Mm mhhm mh mmhhm mmmm mhhmh.”

Bruce looked unimpressed.

She rolled her eyes and dragged out the picture to make it larger and typed in some new information on the keyboard in her lap. Bruce watched and then approved. “Yeah, I see that now. We’ll ask Tony about that – this is already out of my comfort zone.”

Ela had finished her cookie by now, and was smiling – looking for any potential bits of chocolate chip stuck in her teeth on the nearest reflective monitor.

They worked together comfortably with banter for another hour or so, until curiousty got the better of the scientist.

“So, er, what’s going on with you and Barnes?” he asked casually as they were soldering some parts together.

Ela stopped mid-solder, and looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“I heard what happened on the roof.”

She looked equally as curious. Putting down the soldering iron, he crossed her arms and lifted her goggles. “What happened on the roof, Banner?”

Banner looked surprised at the use of his last name.

“You know, the whole elevator thing?”

Ela screwed her eyes in trying to understand before standing back.

“Have you been spying on me?”

Bruce at least looked guilty.

“Oh my God, you have!”

“It’s not spying!” Bruce shout out to his own defence. Maybe it wasn’t the best time to mention tony had been in on the act too.

“What is it then?”

“It’s being weary of your current state.”

“So you think I’m psycho?!” She took off her gloves and goggles, taking a step back.

“No! No! Not at all! We’re just worried.”

Ela scoffed, leaving the room.

“Sure you are. I’m going back to the damn compound.”

She stormed off to go speak to Coulson, trying to get JARVIS to co-operate with her.

“JARVIS, please get me Coulson on the phone.”

“Do you not think you are making hasty decisions, Miss Kale? Woud it not be better to discuss this with Mr Stark?”

“JARVIS, I don’t recall asking for your opinion. I recall asking for Coulson on the damn phone.”

“I am offended by your rude manner.”

Ela sighed. “I am sorry JARVIS. But please get me Coulson?”

She heard ringing through the speakers positioned in the main communal area, a live video feed to Coulson appearing.

“What’s wrong Ela, are you okay?” Coulson asked, alarm present in his tone.

“Yeah I’m fine. I want to go back to the compound.”

“Why?” Coulson’s answer already sounded like a no.

“I prefer it there. I’m not spied on there.” She said hastily, trying to get her point across as quickly as possible.

“They’re just worried.”

“So that means they can invade my privacy?” She gaped at the wincing face of Coulson. “You agree with them! I want to leave.”

“Leave S.H.I.E.L.D?” Coulson said, panicked.

“No! I want to leave this tower!”

 Coulson sighed, checking his watch. “Fine. Give me a few days.”

Ela sighed. “Thanks so much, Agent Coulson.”

Coulson smiled, the skin around his eyes wrinkling. “Call me Phil.”


 

Loki was preparing for his trip to Midgard, running through his plan – which was far too simple for his tastes, but due to the situation; he couldn’t do much anything else. As they approached Heimdall, Thor made his usual greetings, but the interstellar guard only smirked at Loki.

As Thor walked towards their newly formed portal, Heimdall stopped Loki in his tracks. “You have good intentions yet bad plans. I will allow her to pass through – but if she wishes to leave?”

He stared through Loki’s eyes and into his head.

“You must let her.”

Loki never quite understood how Heimdall could do so many questionable things, yet he agreed to help Loki. The tall trickster agreed with a small smile.

“You have a chance to prove yourself. Don’t ruin it.” Heimdall’s statement seemed more like a threat than advice, but Loki nodded regardless.

The two brothers stepped towards the portal, and as they went through the familiar sensations of travelling between the two worlds, they landed upon the roof of the new Avengers base.


 

At the moment they landed, Thor reached for Mjolnir and with it came a round of lit up skies and the familiar loud rumble of thunder. Loki rolled his eyes, finishing off his trailing thoughts. “Such a flair for dramatics.”

Thor laughed, seemingly jolly as they made their way down into the elevator. It seemed strange to be in such a different world with mortal contraptions.

Thor turned to his brother. “What is it that you need to retrieve, brother?”

Loki smiled as the lift opened to the girl and the patriot.

As Thor walked out to greet them both, Cat and Steve both seemed alert. Loki smiled sweetly to Cat before pulling her into the elevator and closing the door quickly with his own magic.

“What are you doing?” Cat asked, confused.

“What does it look like I’m doing?”

“You know, dragging people into lifts isn’t the way about going things. It’s a bit dodgy.”

Loki said nothing whilst ignoring the girl’s inherently annoying questions until they reached the roof. “Where are we going?” Cat had not yet realised that her questions remained pointless, as Loki was giving nothing away.

Loki looked up to the sky and nodded.

Suddenly she felt Loki’s arms wrap around her and the gut-wrenching feeling of travelling to Asgard. Within seconds she was standing in front of Heimdall, feeling quite sick and not quite able to see yet. Loki released her, and she looked to Heimdall for answers. He laughed and looked towards Loki.

“I see nothing of this.”

Loki smiled back and Cat just stood with her mouth dropped in disbelief. Loki held out his arm as she stood, looking so confused. Seeing as she was unresponsive, he kept a hand on her shoulder and before she could say anything, was steering her into Asgard.

“What are you doing? Why have you taken me here?” she was desperate for answers, and rather alarmed.

“Be calm, my dear. I am taking what belongs to me.” He spoke gently, as if explaining to a child.

“Stop calling me that, you weirdo. What belongs to you? I don’t have anything you would want!” her confusion was only causing more questions than answers to form in her head until she noticed Loki was looking at her in a rather strange manner.

“What?”

He said nothing, but quirked an eyebrow before eyeing her up and down.

“Stop being creepy, Loki. Seriously, what the hell do you want?” she asked, stopping in her tracks. His grip on her shoulder tightened and she looked at him, finally getting what he was hinting at.

“Oh no. Oh, definitely no.”

He raised his eyebrows both, this time, surprised.

“Nuh uh. You have got to be kidding me.”

“Do I appear to be joking with you, my dear?”

This angered Cat even further. “Do I look like an object to you? You cannot own me.”

Loki laughed, dismissing her notion. “Of course I can.”

Cat’s eyes widened and the volume of her voice began to rise. “This is why the world needs feminists! You are not better than me! I can’t be owned!”

Loki seemed genuinely confused by her outburst. “But of course I am better than you. I am Asgardian – a god. I am superior to you in many ways. What is this feminism you speak of?”

Cat was close to Hulk-ing out. “Feminism calls for the equality of women and men!”

Loki frowned. “I am not superior because I am male. I am superior because I am a god.”

That’s when Cat slapped him.

As hard as she could.

It was a shock for one of them.

The other one?

Not so much.

Cat stalked off into the direction of city, not having a clue where she was going.

She forgot all about going back to Heimdall and continued into the vast world ahead of her. Loki’s magic was not so restricted in his own home, so he managed to quickly find her.

He appeared in front of her, causing her to step into him.

“Leave me alone, you arrogant asshole.”

“Now that’s not very nice to say to someone.”

“It is to your kidnapper.”

Loki chuckled, stepping back.

“This is not a kidnapping.”

“You taking me to Asgard against my will is not considered a kidnapping?”

“You can leave.”

She raised an eyebrow, to ask if she really could.

“No, you can’t.” He mock sighed. “My mistake.”

He grabbed on to her arm and then teleported out of the rolling meadows of Asgard. They landed in the palace, and Cat started to feel more and more nauseous.

“Stop doing that! Jeez!”

“It is only necessary, my dear.”

“No it isn’t! Stop calling me that.”

He reached to put his hand on her shoulder again, but she swiftly moved it off.

“So how long do I have to stay here?” Cat asked, sounding grumpy.

Loki ignored her as he led her into the throne room.

“Loki.” Odin greeted his son coldly.

“I have brought a mortal. I wish for her to remain with me.”

Odin seemed interested – Loki wished the company of a mortal?

“Why so?”

This was when Cat interrupted. “HE’s kidnapped me and claims I’m his-“she glared at Loki, auctioning speech marks. “-because he’s superior.”

Odin went back to looking uninterested.

“Do you wish to stay, Midgardian?”

Cat looked at the All-father as if he were crazy. “What? No!”

Odin and Loki at this point seemed to be having a non-verbal conversation, with Cat as a baffled onlooker. A few glances in her direction and a sigh of frustration from Loki’s part, he took her by the arm and did the teleporting thing again.

He didn’t seem happy, at all.

As they landed back to Heimdall and his cool gateway, Cat was grateful that Loki’s father had listened to her more than Loki’s weird seasoning. Who the hell did he think he was, thinking he owned her?

She almost scoffed to herself, when Heimdall smiled at her knowingly and sent her flying back to Earth. Landing on the roof, she hit the flat of the roof hard, groaning in response.

Well, that was strange.

Heimdall approached Loki.

“Maybe gaining her trust would be the best way to go around this, Loki.” His deep voice boomed, echoing across the large dome.

Loki didn’t want to listen to anyone’s advice. Small details, otherwise his plan was perfect. The girl was far too stubborn. He knew his plan was almost perfect.

Heimdall laughed. “Do things the mortal way. Woo her. Gain her trust. Don’t kidnap her.”

Loki glared, even though he knew Heimdall was right. He had grown too fond of the girl, and he wanted her. So he would get her. Eventually.

“Give her choices. The Midgardians do not appreciate our traditions.”

Loki grumbled somewhat of thanks and made his way back to the planet he never understood. He landed back on the roof, noticing the metal door was closing. He kept it open ad pushed it apart easily, stepping inside to face her again.

He nodded a greeting and she ignored his presence completely.


 

The floors opened to the group scattered across the floors, Clint was cooking, Natasha was throwing popcorn into Steve’s mouth as a target, Bruce and Ela were nowhere to be found and Thor was laughing in conversation with Tony and Sam and Bucky was probably off brooding somewhere.

“Brother, where did you disappear to?”

Cat started to speak, but she felt her lips seal together. Loki turned to look at her with a warning glance ‘do-not-say-anything-ever’. Her lips unsealed and she glared at him as she went to help Clint in the kitchen. “I required help finding something. Where is the green beast and the other girl?”

Tony laughed. “Don’t call him that to his face. They’re up on 62.”

None of them really trusted Loki, but they were used to him not really trying anything anymore, so they didn’t mind him wandering around looking fishy at times. He stepped back into the glass box, looking through the buttons and pressing in 6 and 2. He entered the lab to the two working separately, Banner looking nervously over to the girl every now and then.

Loki walked towards the girl, and she looked up from her task and smiled as she saw Loki. “Hey Loki. What’s up?” she asked casually, resting her hands against the table.

“You are not angry at me?” he asked, clearly expecting another reaction.

“Of course not, you gave my memory back! I owe you a thanks.”

“I nearly killed you.”

“Nearly being the key word there.” She shrugged and patted the seat next to her, throwing some books previously placed on the table.

“I require your assistance.”

“On what?” she asked, curiosity piqued.

Loki spoke so quietly she nearly didn’t hear, but she was grateful for her new heightened senses. “On acquiring the girl.”

She spoke normally, and he winced a little. “What girl?”

“The beautiful one.”

“You don’t know her name?”

That was when Ela remembered Frigga’s favour.

“Cat?”

Ela swore she saw his cheeks colour a little and she grinned.

“You want to ask her out?”

“Court her, yes.”

Ela laughed. “Sure thing. What do you need to know?”

“How will I enter her good graces? How would you mortals approach this task?”

She almost pinched his cheek, she found him asking her so adorable.

“What did you do to piss her off?”

“I took her to Asgard, so she could remain with me.”

Ela nearly spat out her drink. “When?!”

“Just now.”

She shook her head. “No, no. That’s definitely how you don’t do things.”

Loki mumbled a “I gathered that.” Causing a laugh from Ela.

“Talk to her! Ask her about herself, tell her about yourself. Create some understanding. Take her out to a restaurant or something.”

Loki’s next statement dripped with sarcasm. “That worked so well last time, as I recall.”

Ela glared and gritted her teeth. “Do you want my help or not?”

Loki nodded and she smirked. “Listen then. Take her on a tour of Asgard or something. But wait until you know more about each other and I will do the rest.”

“What will you do?” Loki was worried.

Ela tapped her nose. “That’s for me to know, and you to find out.”

Loki nodded before he stood up to leave. Ela coughed, folding her arms. “What do you say, Loki?”

He didn’t understand until a moment later, where he then mumbled (looking quite uncomfortable). “Thank you.”

She cupped a hand around her ear and smiled mockingly. “What was that? I didn’t quite hear it.”

Loki glared and spoke louder through gritted teeth. “Thank you.”

She stood up and stepped onto the chair where she was sat, patting him on the head. “Good Loki.”

Loki snarled and Ela laughed.

Chapter Text

 

They were all sat eating dinner when Tony announced the news.

“As it turns out, Ela here is ditching us.”

Ela looked up, choking on her noodle. Sat next to Cat, who was patting her on the back, she drank some water and rasped out a “What?”

Tony pouted. “She’s going back to the compound.”

Everyone looked at the watery eyed girl, freshly recovered from nearly choking on her Pad Thai.

“I blame Bruce.”

Everyone turned to Bruce, who held his hands up in defence and then pointed to Tony.

Tony looked for someone to turn to before putting the blame on JARVIS.

“JARVIS did it. Whatever he did.”

Ela looked scandalized. “You were in it too Tony?!”

Tony shrugged. “What did I do?”

Ela looked at the moghul with slightly crazy eyes. “Spy on me!”

Tony picked up his bowl of soup, pushing a spoon in his mouth. “I still blame JARVIS.”

“Sir, you requested me to keep an eye on Miss. Kale.”

Ela was even more freaked out. “What the hell does that mean? I’m not a time bomb, I don’t need looking after!”

It was Natasha who spoke next. “We’re just looking out for you.”

Ela stood up with narrowed eyes.

“I don’t need to be looked out for. I’m fine.”

“What is up with you?” Sam asked, putting his chopsticks back into his bowl.

Ela was startled by the question before her blank expression made a clear appearance. “If you’re gonna treat me like I’m gonna explode, I’m probably going to end up doing so.” She looked for anyone who dared to disagree.

“And I’d rather not be here if it does.”

With that, she pushed her chair underneath the table, the sound scraping against everyone’s ears and walked away.


 

It took some persuading (and embarrassment) for Loki to persuade Thor to let him go back to Midgard.

“What is your reasoning to visit Midgard so often, Loki?”

“I do not believe that is any of your privilege, Thor.”

Thor grinned smugly. “It is when I can persuade father to let you go.”

Loki scowled. “The girl – Cat – I would like to pursue her.”

Thor laughed. “In all seriousness Loki, what is the real reason?”

Loki stood in disbelief. “That is my real reason, brother.”

Thor’s eyebrows raised in a peculiar way, before smiling. “I did not expect you to gather liking for a mortal.” He nudged Loki and chuckled.

“Oh, shut up.”

Thor laughed again. “I shall get father to give his permission for your request. However, he will disagree in your choice.”

Loki’s voice grew cold. “Why should he care? I am not of his blood.”

Thor shoved his brother. “Stop wallowing in your own self pity, brother.”

Loki scowled again.


 

Bucky wasn’t becoming like his usual self again.

Steve wondered why.

“Hey Buck.”

Bucky turned to face him before returning to punching the sandbag.

“What’s going on?”

Bucky stopped at this, fully turning himself to converse.

“Whaddya mean?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

Steve wondered how to go about asking about their relationship problems. “With the PTSD?”

Bucky furrowed his brows. “It’s fine.”

Steve questioned him further. “Fine as in gone, or fine as in still there?”

Bucky turned back around to his target. Steve held onto the bag so Bucky could no longer punch it.

“Fine as it’s still there.”

Steve frowned. “Do you want to see a therapist?”

Bucky snorted. “I’ll pass thanks.”

With a sigh, Steve stood in front of his friend, concern filling his eyes. His tone softened and the volume of his voice quietened. “What’s really going on?”

Bucky was adamant to let nothing out. “I don’t get what you mean.”

“With Ela.”

Bucky froze at the sound of her for a moment, before placing an impassive expression on his face. “What about her?”

“I know that it’s been a pretty bad few months Buck and she was dead but now she’s here and you’re avoiding her like crazy.” Steve tried to tread lightly, but with Bucky’s responses, he had no choice but to just ask.

“It’s been fine. Just spaced out for a while.” Bucky was unsure of this himself as he spoke.

“Are you sure? Do you need some time alone together?”

All of this concern and worry was flying over Bucky’s head too quickly and it was annoying him. “Do you wanna know what’s going on, Steve?” his temperament was rising and quickly, at that. Steve nodded, giving Bucky the go ahead to continue.

“We were never together. I forced her to pretend so you and everyone else would get the hell off my back. It worked. That’s it.” Bucky was snapping now, and left the room – leaving Steve in a state of shock.

Bucky was in so much denial, even his denial knew he was in denial. He loved her, goddamnit and there was no way around it. He hated her for making him like that – she hated him for making her like she was now: cold, distant and blank.

 He was angry. Not annoyed, not pissed. He was enraged. He hated whoever the fuck decided to fuck with his life so much – he hated her for making him actually ending up liking her, he hated Steve for being so damn nice to him and understanding and patient, he hated Stark because he had everything, he even hated Natasha because she redeemed herself with these people.

He was nothing,

Since he had nothing to lose, he decided to make one thing right.


 

When Loki first asked Cat about herself, she thought he was trying to sell information to HYDRA.

“So, Lady Cat, what is it that you do?” he asked, sitting next to her as she watched the computer on her lap.

She looked at him strangely before resuming watching. “What do I do, where? And it’s not lady, it just is.”

“Ah, I see. Is Cat, what do you carry a profession?”

“Is there any particular reason you are trying to make conversation with me?” She ignored the misunderstanding of titles.

“I would just like someone to talk to.”

“Maybe we could paint each other’s nails and watch America’s Next Top Model too!” she exclaimed sarcastically. Sighing, she shut the lid of her laptop and turned around, folding her legs and resting against the arm of the sofa.

“What do you want?”

Loki replied simply. “To find out more about you.”

Cat was now suspicious. “Why?”

Loki shrugged. “You seem interesting.”

“That’s got to be the worst excuse in the world. Are you double-crossing us for HYDRA?”

Loki was irritated by her lack of trust. “No. I don’t know of any hydras in this world. Many on other planets, but none here.”

“Hydras exist?!”

Loki nodded. “Were you not aware?”

Cat shook her head, considering the information he had just given her. If there were hydras in any given world, what else might there be out there?! So Loki wasn’t double crossing her, but why would he want to know more about her?

“I work here and help with whatever I can.”

“Ah I see.”

“What do you do?” She asked back, unsure of what response she’d get.

“I usually help with defence tactics in wars. Not so much anymore, but I used to. You don’t get to do much if your brother is Thor and father Odin.”

Cat was intrigued. “Why do you say that?”

 “I’m constantly overshadowed by them both.”

“Can’t you make yourself not overshadowed?”

Loki chuckled. “I certainly did when I tried taking over your planet.”

Cat let out a small ‘oh’.

“I don’t plan for anything like that anymore. A throne is not my first conquest.”

“Conquest? You sound like something out of Game of Thrones.”

“What is this game? I have never played it before.” Loki almost seemed offended that he hadn’t been invited.

“IT’s a TV show, not a real game. It’s really great – about all of these houses competing for the biggest throne in their world.”

“What is their world? It seems intriguing enough to pay a visit.”

Cat laughed harder than she should have. “No, Loki!” she was too busy gasping for air to form a proper sentence.

“I don’t find the hilarity in this situation.” He was confused at her outburst of laughter. What did he say to amuse her? Was she laughing at him?

“No, you wouldn’t. It’s not real; it’s made up – like a fiction book.”

Loki nodded.

Cat had an idea that would prevent future questions.

“Would you like to watch the first episode with me?” she asked him.

Loki nodded, being briefly familiar with the human concept of television. At the beginning of the episode, he was startled by the concepts – but by the end he was enthralled and asking a mass of questions.

“Does it finish there? What a terrible ending!” he asked, disappointed by the lack of plot. Cat grinned, shaking her head.

“No, there are more episodes, so the story continues.”

“Can we watch another one?” he asked, excited.

Cat laughed as she set the laptop on the table and played the second episode.

By the end of the night, they had finished the entire first season.


 

Ela was preparing to leave. She had packed all of her stuff, and she had her foot out of the door when Tony slammed it metaphorically in her face, trapping her back in.

“We’re taking the Quinjet.”

“I thought I was taking the train?” She questioned herself more than him.

“With HYDRA minions everywhere? Not at all. Quinjet it is, and we’re taking a roadtrip!” he said, excitedly.

“I thought the Quinjet was a jet.”

“It is.”

“Why did you call it a road trip- never mind.”

Tony smiled as he helped her move her stuff into the back of the small hovercraft. As soon as they were ready to go, she realised she had missed her train and that Tony was working a little too slowly. He started up the engine – only to realise that it hadn’t worked and the engine failed.

Tony made a dramatic sigh as he confessed. “Oh no! We don’t have anything else to drop you off with.” He shrugged. “Sorry, kiddo.”

Ela narrowed her eyes. “You totally did that on purpose.”

“How can you accuse me of such a thing?” he asked, mock-hurt.

“Cut the crap, Tony.”

“Okay, no, I made it fail. We need you here.”

“No you don’t. I can still do everything I need to at the compound.” She stated.

“No, we need you here because we want you here.”

She blinked.

“You’re part of the team.”

“So is Coulson. He’s not here.”

“But he can’ be here. He’s meant to be dead.”

“So am I. We can form a club.”

Tony was starting to get annoyed. “What is your problem?”

“I don’t have one.”

“I know you couldn’t give a shit about the whole spying thing, so what is it?” he asked as bluntly as she had been speaking to him.

Her voice softened at his stern gaze. “Tony, after New York, you told me that you were pretty messed up, right? You had nearly died.”

Tony nodded.

“I’m pretty messed up too. I remember not remembering anything, and for once I relate to Barnes so much more than anyone in this damn place, and he’s not even talking to me.”

“So it’s Barnes.”

She nodded, not even trying to deny it.

“Look Tony, I’m going to have to explain the entire thing to you before it makes any sense.”

Tony helped her down from the back of the Quinjet, and they sat against the heavy aircraft. “So Barnes hated me at first – like really hated me. I didn’t know why or if I had done anything but there was nothing. And then apparently Cat and Clint and Steve saw us in the middle of a fight – which looked compromising since we were on the floor-“she coloured as she heard Tony chuckle. “-we were actually fighting, but anyway, you get the gist. So they thought we were together and that we hadn’t told anyone about it because we wanted to see if it would work out or whatever; but then Bucky agreed to the entire thing without even consulting me first.” She finished for a second so Tony could catch up to speed.

“So you weren’t together?”

She shook her head, continuing. “No, we weren’t. Bucky just told me to go with it – he didn’t even tell me the real reason why. So we both stuck with it in this fake relationship, and then that’s when I started actually liking him. At first I thought it was just a phase and that it would pass, but I really like him Tony and ever since all that stuff happened, I’m kind of freaking out a lot because of the Erskine thing and the memory loss thing and the torture thing and the almost dying thing – it’s like the entire few months has been a blur that everyone else can’t seem to understand, but I can!”

Tony took another few seconds to consider this all.

“So JARVIS seems to think you have anxiety, and panic attacks – just like I did.”

She agreed. “I thought so too, but I try and avoid diagnosing myself at all costs because I end up worse than I started.”

He stayed silent.

“I don’t know what to do. I can’t sleep, I feel like some steroid pumped zombie half the time, and everyone’s treating me differently. It sucks.”

Tony sighed and looked at the tired girl besides him. She let her head rest against his shoulder. “I know Ela. It sucks big time. But you can’t just run away from it all. Even Barnes learnt to deal with it – and not to burst your bubble – he had it worse than you. I know you’ve been through a lot and you might even wish none of this had ever happened, but you’re so important to us now. Although you don’t do the fighting or the cool stuff-“Ela laughed. “-but you’re just as important to us as Hill or Coulson or Banner or anyone up there. You have to remember that.”


 

Loki had decided on his third trip to Midgard after the incident where his magic nearly failed, that he had learnt enough about Cat to ‘ask her out’, as quoted by her friend.

They were now half-way through the second series of Loki’s new favourite show, when he decided to ask her to stop the episode for a second.

“What’s up?” She asked, waiting for another question about the dragons.

Loki managed to hide his slight nerves pretty well. “Would you like to accompany me on a ‘date’?”

Cat looked at Loki as if he was straight from Arkham Asylum.

“What?”

He repeated his question, this time a little slower. “Would you like to accompany me on a date?”

Her face had turned an alarming shade of red as she spluttered. “Y-you want to go out with me?”

He nodded, not seeing why it was such a big deal.

Play it cool, Cat. Don’t mess this up.

He wasn’t terrible. Plus, he was incredibly (and annoyingly so) good looking. He was polite, intelligent and even charming to certain degree. It wouldn’t be the worst date she had been on.

Unfortunately for her; her mind didn’t take control of her actions for her voice had been raised several pitches higher.

“Okay. Where would you like to go?”

She almost slapped her hand over her mouth as the words left her mouth, and Loki looked more concerned than amused.

“Would you like some water?”

She cleared her throat. “No, I’m fine. Where would you like to go?”

“I would like to take you to eat a meal.”

So much blood had rushed to her face, she felt like she would overheat and collapse.

“Y-yeah, that’s fine. Where would you like to take me?” Her cheeks darkened further still.

“I asked your friend, and she recommended places.”

He asked Ela? She was in on this?

She was gonna have some words with that girl.


 

Eventually, Tony and Ela got up from the cold concrete ground of the vehicle storage and decided to go upstairs and eat pizza.

Whilst waiting, tony and Ela were bantering around about their near death experiences and comparing them (making a competition over whose was worse)

“You didn’t have to carry a nuke to different galaxy!”

“Nah, I was magically lobotomized. But you had a suit and complete freedom of choice.”

“Well you weren’t bound and restricted.”

Ela raised a brow. “Yeah I was. They tied me to the damn table so I wouldn’t get up.”

They both roared with laughter at the possible implications of her last sentence.

Soon, Clint joined them at the smell of pizza, Sam too, stealing a few slices as they had to end up ordering more and the boxes started piling up.


 

“You don’t want to take things too fast, so Asgard after a few mortal dates.” Was Ela’s sound advice to Loki.

“But you mortals are so boring with your entertainment.”

“Aren’t you the one obsessed with Game of Thrones?”

Loki leant against the table she was programming against. “Fair deuce.”

“Exactly.” Ela drawled out, rapidly typing before looking up and pushing herself back in the chair, resting her feet against the table.

“You don’t know if she will agree.” Loki stated, doubting the relaxed girl in front of him.

“Uh yeah, I do. It’s not like I’ve been best friends with her for the past ten years. She’ll say yes. She’d be an idiot not to.” Ela concluded, confident in her knowledge of Cat.

Loki smirked. “Why would she be an idiot not to?”

Ela’s eyes widened. “Because, you know-“she completed her response with a few unexplained hand gestures which made no sense.

Loki pursed his lips together, laughing internally. “No, I don’t know. Please enlighten me.”

Ela’s cheeks had darkened severely, which was a considerable feat due to her dark skin colour.

“Because, you’re not bad to look at, and smart and tall-“she shut herself up at this point, unable to make his line of sight. She heard him chuckle.

“Not bad to look at? I’ll take that.”

She punched him in the arm, and then stuck her cheek to the table to cool her very red face down.

“You’re an idiot.”

“I think you beg to differ.”


 

Bucky needed to talk to her, to tell her that what he felt for her was real and he wanted to go back to that phase where they didn’t hate each other, and she hated him for calling her ‘doll’ and he pretended not to like it when she referred to him as ‘Metal Arm’.

He remembered when she first kissed him.

It wasn’t real, though.

Their entire relationship wasn’t real.

And Bucky really wanted it to be.

He set out to find her, taking a few moments to stare out at the pounding rain against the tower and the dark clouds rolling over Manhattan’s skyscrapers. Appreciating the rain more than the sun, he stepped back quickly to assess the area as soon as he heard JARVIS’ voice startle him.

“Sergeant Barnes. If you are searching for Miss. Kale, she is currently in the testing laboratory with Dr. Banner.”

He gave a small nod to the omnipresent AI, and made his way to the elevator, JARVIS letting him pass upwards through the large tower. He folded his arm, wincing as he felt the cold of the metal touch his flesh, almost like a sting leaving the feeling of inhumanity running through him.

The lift opened to Banner and Ela looking intently at something around a table, noting things down. It was a few minutes since they noticed Bucky, since he was so quiet and taught not to make his presence aware.

“Hey Barnes. You good?” Banner asked him, throwing him a small smile as he pushed his sleeves up.

Bucky nodded and spoke firmly, looking towards the girl who was clearly avoiding looking at him. “I was wondering if I could borrow her for a second.”

Banner shrugged. “Sure, I can do this on my own for a few seconds. Be sure to come back though.” He asked Ela and Bucky heard Ela mumble something like, ‘Her is here and has a name.’ as she walked towards the entrance after placing her goggles and lab coat on the table.

He followed her swiftly, and as the lift closed Ela glared at Bruce, who was now pointing a thumbs-up to her. She watched one of his metal fingers clash with the metal of the ROOF button and focused all of her attention of the instrumental of Tony’s favourite song.

The doors pinged open, and they stepped out onto the terraced roof.

“Sorry, I forgot it was raining.”

Ela shrugged, not really bothered by the rain, but more about the knots forming in her stomach and causing her to feel sick again. She managed to say some words, her eyes fixed onto the rain connecting with the rooftop.

“What’s up?”

Bucky was sick of her acting like he was a stranger. He stepped closer to her, his shorter hair sticking to the sides of his face as he tilted her chin upwards to face him. Ela was pretty sure she couldn’t breathe.

It was the first time she had heard his voice in a very long time, and she found herself missing his deep Brooklyn tone.

“What’s up with you?”

He watched the rain patter onto her face, running down the bridge of her nose and dripping onto her lips. He watched the water get caught in between her eyelashes and as she blinked them out slowly so they wouldn’t run into her eyes.

Before she could even form a coherent reply, he pulled her close to him and pressed his lips to hers. It was like they melted together as he wrapped his arms around her waist and she murmured against his lips.

“Missed me that much?”

He chuckled before he replied. “You couldn’t imagine, doll.”


 

In the meanwhile all of the rest of the Avengers and company were sitting downstairs, watching the blurred live feed of the roof’s CCTV and feeling absolutely no remorse, cheering as the two kissed.

Pepper and Tony sent love struck smiles to one another.

Loki glanced at Cat; who looked at Steve - who was gazing at Natasha, who held a coy smile pointed towards Bruce, who just watched the screen whilst smiling at the couple kissing in the rain.

Sam and Clint were too busy trying to throw or catapult food into each other’s mouths from the ends of the room.

As it turned out, the Avenger’s love lives were definitely not sorted.

Chapter Text

 

HYDRA was definitely not done with the new SHIELD recruits yet.

They had been working on a new microchip, one with a modified version of the Erskine formula. This formula wasn’t to enhance the body – but to enhance the mind – to be able to control the mind. They had used the Chitauri blood, which lead to significant effects on both extra-terrestrials and humans. It was almost impossible – they had no idea that Loki’s attempted war would have been so much use to them.

It wasn’t as harsh as the cognitive recalibration with the chair, and it could be switched on and off. There was only one control board in the entire multitude of HYDRA bases, and the most work throughout the entire history of HYDRA had been put into perfect this one nano-sized chip that could speed up their entire vision.

Of course they would infiltrate SHIELD once again – this time with the intent to break the Avengers apart and to destroy them once and for all. The team trusted the target enough for them not to be suspicious, but his mind was open enough to take in the chip and be in full control by HYDRA.

Their target was Loki Laufeyson.

As Dr. Swann injected the chip into the soluble dart, a small thought caught the back of her head – the small amounts of cosmic radiation that the chip gave off due to the use of the aliens. It was too small to detect without proper equipment, and even then – Loki would be too busy being suspected of returning to his old ways than any abnormality within his change of persona.

There was only one standing organisation that SHIELD knew were using the Chitauri to their advantage.

She pushed the thought aside, knowing that it was almost untraceable; the radiation was too specialised for SHIELD to even consider strange for traces to be inside of Loki, an alien God who happened to be thousands of years old.


 

Loki had decided on a local Italian restaurant to take Cat to dinner. He wore human attire, as he found himself now more often doing so – wearing slacks and a shirt. He was now getting used to the human world, and as Thor was in charge of monitoring Loki – he was only happy for the progress his changed brother was making.

He waited outside of Cat’s room a minute before the time they were set to depart – when Ela walked past clad in pyjamas and a bowl of food.

“How can you possibly eat so much?” Loki asked as she smiled at him. Her smiled dropped and she huffed.

“Excuse me, I don’t have a figure in the first place to watch out for.” She looked back as she walked away, shouting out a compliment.

“Not looking too bad Loki.”

Loki smiled as she left towards the communal area.

Cat opened the door some twenty seconds later and Loki appreciated the effort she had made.

Really, really appreciated it.

She looked beautiful, wearing a dress (which he had only seen her wear one other time) which flattered her figure so much he couldn’t help but gawk slightly.

Cat obviously blushed at Loki grazing her with his eyes, and cleared her throat.

“Can we go?”

He nodded and held out his arm, to which she finally took it as they walked out into the communal area.

Bruce, Ela and Sam were sat watching a film when they passed and Ela squealed so loudly in excitement, they were all wondering why the glass hadn’t shattered yet.

“You guys are too cute!”

They both looked slightly embarrassed as they walked towards the lift.

“Wait! No!”

Cat’s head whipped around to face her slightly crazy looking best friend. “What?”

Ela beamed. “I need to take a picture! It’s your first date!”

“It isn’t.” Cat challenged.

Ela waved it off before snatching Bruce’s phone out of his hand and positioning it to take a picture. They both smiled awkwardly together and Ela took the picture, pretending to get emotional.

“They grow up so fast!”

Cat mumbled. “You sound like my mother.”

Ela laughed whilst showing the others the photo. Sam produced a heart shape with his fingers at the two and Cat dragged Loki into the lift before any further embarrassment.

As the door closed, she apologised. “Sorry about that. She’s overbearing at times.”

Loki looked down to her. “It’s fine. My mother would have been just as overbearing.” he sounded hurt at the sound of his mother, but as they reached the ground and stepped outside into the warm spring air, they launched into conversation about the differences in technology between the two very separate worlds.


 

HYDRA had been very quick to spot the target and the girl as they walked through the busy streets of the Big Apple. They sent out their most covert field agents into the restaurant, dressed like civilians and armed with a dart that contained the chip. There was only one way this plan could fail – but it had to work in some ways before it could fail.

As the well disguised couple sat on a table next to the couple, who were immersed in the conversation, they sat in the corner of the room and as they targeted the dart towards Loki, who was sat directly in front of them. As they aimed and fired the small dart, Loki moved out of the way and the target was missed – however the dart managed to fly straight into the path of the girl.

Returning to their previous positions, they pretended as nothing out of the ordinary had happened as they anxiously watched the case of the dart dissolve against her skin.

They had missed their target.

“What was that?” Cat asked as she felt the irritated skin of her neck.

“I did not see anything.”

Cat shrugged, not really concerned. “Probably a bee or a wasp.”

Loki couldn’t shake off the feeling that there was something very, very wrong.

He was not very happy.

Not at all.

“You had one job.”

He held up one finger at the pair, as his anger was slowly inching its way into his voice.

“Do you know how much it cost to make one microchip? You may have ruined this entire operation due to your stupidity.”

They knew better than to say anything.

He sighed, pressing his fingers to his temples.


 

Cat was starting to feel a little funny.

Her head was hurting and she her thoughts were running everywhere and clashing into each other, causing more of a headache.

“Loki, I don’t feel so good. Could we go home?” she asked, covering her eyes from the lights of the restaurant in an attempt to ease the pain in her head.

Loki nodded before calling a waiter over. Cat reached into her bag and pulled out some cash, passing it to Loki with a small smile. Loki just ignored her as he handed his own money to the waitress.

“Take it!” she told him, pushing the notes in his direction

Loki shook his head. “No, it is only a courtesy.”

Cat was in too much pain to give him a lecture on feminism. She had to hold onto him tightly for her to stay upright, and by the time she got to the tower, she was sure her head would explode.

Loki was very concerned, asking for the help of her friend and Banner.

He placed her on her bed, watching as the two hurried around her.

“What happened?”

Loki knew it was something to do with that mark on her throat.

“She said she felt unwell and so I took her here.”

“Anything else?” Bruce asked whilst sticking a thermometer in her mouth.

“I didn’t see, but she felt something cause that-“Loki pointed to the red mark on her neck, which seemed irritated. “-and a few moments later she felt unwell.”

Bruce and Ela looked at each other for a moment before closely inspecting the angry looking mark on her neck.

“It looks like something’s been injected into her.”

Bruce looked suspicious as he glanced at Loki. “Are you sure you didn’t see anything.”

Loki shook his head, running a hand through his hair before resting his hand behind his neck.

“Nothing.”

“The irritation is caused by a solvent.”

Ela was already running out of the room. “Take samples, I’m running these-“ she held up small glass swabs- “right now.”

A few moments later, Cat was asleep.


 

The science majored members of the crew gathered in Banner’s lab, all searching for what the hell had been shot into Cat.

Loki had left with Thor back to Asgard, and Bruce informed everyone of what happened. All the signs pointed to Loki, but he had no motive that they could prove. Ela disagreed.

“It wasn’t Loki. I know it, and I promise it isn’t him.” She squeezed the contents of a pipette into a small tube which fizzled as the two substances made contact.

“How can you be so sure?” Tony asked, but Ela knew she couldn’t give Frigga’s words away.

She sighed before writing down a result. “Look, all I can tell you is that I learnt some stuff about Loki in limbo. I can’t tell you how and why or when, but I can tell you that this-“ she pointed to the small dissolving needle they extracted from Cat’s throat- “wasn’t Loki.”

“Who else could it be?” Bruce asked, unconvinced.

Ela said her next idea as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “HYDRA.”

They all dropped their tasks to listen to her explanation. “Everyone knows that HYDRA won’t go on until they’ve killed SHIELD and everyone working for it – so whatever they’ve injected her with? They have plans to use it against us. It’s the biggest motive ever and they have a thing for restaurants and compromising people.”

They all nodded in response, now more convinced than previously.

Cat woke up with a start. She didn’t feel like herself – like there was something foreign in her body – something that affected her.

As she woke up, that’s when she lost all control.


 

HYDRA had programmed the target to be controlled with a specific set of instructions as soon as they gained consciousness, and even though they had no visuals, HYDRA knew that SHIELD had no way of stopping their new asset – even if the target wasn’t the same as originally planned.


 

“Hey Cat!” Ela sang as she entered her friend’s room with breakfast on a tray with some pain relief tablets.

Cat stared at the girl with a blank expression, before launching into her attack.

Her orders were to kill targets, install information, back to base.

Her first target matched the criteria of the programme, so her movements matched accordingly to the instructions.

Before Ela could even ask what was up, she had been pinned against the wall, fighting for breath as her best friend strangled her.

“W-what-“

Ela had no option but to knee her in the stomach, causing her to buckle over and recover within the space of two seconds but giving her enough time to escape her friend’s new deadly grasp.

“JARVIS, what the hell is going on?”

JARVIS seemed as confused as an AI could sound. “I have no idea Miss. Kale. It seems as if Miss DuRose is attacking you.”

Ela blocked off another attempt of asphyxiation and managed to jump onto the bed, avoiding the shards of glass on the ground from the glass of orange juice.

“No shit, JARVIS.”

“Should I call for assistance?” the AI responded.

Ela, trying to make a runner for the door, shouted. “That would be lovely!”

She ran out of the door, her sock clad feet slipping across the laminate of the apartment as she avoided the heavy items being thrown in her direction.

“Guys! Help!” She shouted to anyone, her legs now covered in orange juice.


 

“JARVIS what the hell is going on?” Tony groaned as he heard smashing and thudding.

“Miss DuRose is attacking Miss Kale. Quite viciously as I must add.”

Tony sat up, startling Pepper as he jerked his eyes fully open.

“What? Get me a feed.”

He looked at the whirring mechanics of a glass screen appearing at the end of the bed from the ceiling. The footage showed Ela running from an angry looking Cat who happened to be throwing heavy furniture in her direction. He then watched as a book hit Ela in the back, calling her to fall – and before she could get up and run, Cat was pressing her foot to her throat.

“Oh shit.”

He rushed out of bed as Pepper looked at the feed, horrified.

He ran towards his suit, and looked back over his shoulder to see the Ela was quickly losing consciousness against Cat crushing her throat.

Bucky was already awake, making some toast as he heard the sounds of a person struggling outside. He walked outside to see his recently made girlfriend being strangled to death – by her best friend.

His protective instinct taking over, he ran over and threw the girl away from Ela, who was now gasping for breath as he saw the beginnings of a bruise started to form.

She moved swiftly to eliminate her given target – efficiently and effectively to complete the task.

New target acquired.

She made a move for the new target, programmed as the Asset and seen as a liability to HYDRA – therefore must be destroyed.

Unfortunately, HYDRA really had picked the wrong person for the job of wiping out the Avengers.

Seeing as Bucky well outmatched her strength, it was more biased towards the former – very quickly finished and mainly Cat being thrown across the room.

After Ela had finished with her fast recovery, she felt slight empathy for her now possessed best friend as she watched her struggling against the duct tape and the chair.

“The Avengers use duct tape to restrict their victims? Wow, guys – so impressive.”

Bruce and Tony gave her a look that told her to shut her mouth, and do it quickly. Ignoring her remarks was one thing, but trying to find out what the hell caused Cat’s possession was another.

“Cat, what’s wrong?”

They took the tape off her mouth.

“Asset.” She replied blankly.

“What do you mean by asset?” Bruce questioned, trying to take some blood samples.

“I am the asset.”

Bucky’s eyes widened, and Ela winced.

It was Tony who said the thing that everyone was thinking.

“Fuck.”


They decided it was time to have a chat with Phil.

They sat in Tony’s lab; Cat still taped to the chair and the rest of them standing behind her. When Coulson entered the live feed, his surprise was not well hidden.

“Why the hell is Agent DuRose confined to a chair?”

The pixel formed image of Coulson seemed to squint. “Is that duct tape?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Yes, it is. Very high-tech, I know. Not the point.”

Coulson looked into the camera expectantly. “Then what is the point, Stark?”

Ela interjected before the immaturity started (and she knew it would). “Phil-“she swore she heard Agent Hill hiss in the background. “-Cat has been compromised – by HYDRA or Loki. But most likely HYDRA.”

“You can’t say that for sure-“Bruce spoke uneasily, but he was cut off by Ela glaring at him.

“I’m pretty sure we would know if Loki was doing his mind voodoo. This isn’t Loki. This is HYDRA. Especially because she just said she is an asset.”

Coulson seemed surprised. “What the hell happened?”

All of them took turns in explaining the story of the previous day to Coulson, even with Ela gushing about how cute Loki and Cat looked in the pictures, pointing Bruce’s phone gallery to the camera.

Everyone knew Phil was trying not to smile.

Chapter Text

 

JARVIS’ advice was to scan Cat’s body and look for any abnormalities.

The question on everyone’s mind was: how the hell would they get her to stay still in a CT scan?

It was simple – make her unconscious and then she would lie still.

They were all discussing their possible options, still glancing nervously towards the CCTV footage of Cat looking blank within their container.

It was Clint with his first idea. “Maybe we could put her under general anaesthetic?”

Bruce shook his head. “We can’t. We don’t know if it might have an adverse reaction to whatever is making her-“he struggled for a moment with his possible choice of word. “-abnormal.”

Ela nodded at his choice of word, narrowly missing the “crazy” that Bruce had originally planned on saying.

Tony laughed. “We could just knock her out.”

Ela didn’t get the gist and frowned at him. “That’s what we needed to do anyway.”

Tony looked startled. “You mean-“

Natasha continued. “You want us to literally knock her out, or figuratively?”

Ela looked shocked for a moment. “Figuratively!”

Natasha let out a small sigh - hitting Clint’s head against a metal bar was a highlight of her career.

 Bruce followed the small silence with a scratch of his head. “We could just sedate her.”

They considered this and after a moment, nodded in agreement.

Natasha walked over to a cupboard within the lab, picked out a bottle and threw it to Tony.

“Drugging her up is the plan then.”

Tony quirked a brow whilst looking between the open cupboard and the intelligent assassin, head turning slowly. “How did you know that was there?”

Natasha shrugged as she walked out of the glass door, a small smirk on her face.


 

Fingers rested on the gun holster hidden behind his coat, his hand curled around it and his temples throbbed of anger.

“You said there was no way that this could go wrong.”

“The chip works – there is no way that could go wrong.” The man’s usually arrogant tone was now small and squished as he looked at the floor, his muscles aching to run away and flee the danger of his mistake.

“But you didn’t cover the radiation from the chip?” The man was now calm, and a type of quiet that only followed with a fit of rage.

Rage from the base’s chief was never a good thing.

His colleague stood up to defend her partner – Dr Swann was desperate to appease the man in front of her. “W-we were too busy trying to make the chip work, to allow it to control actions, we didn’t think-“

The chief raised his hand as a clear interruption, looking at the elderly woman in a way that told her she should have never spoke in the first place. The both of them swallowed as he pulled the gun out of the holster, pointing towards the man lazily and taking his aim.

He smiled at them both before blinking. “You’re right.”

He shot the man, leaving the woman to shriek in horror.

“You didn’t think.”

Another bullet soared through the air, taking the doctor’s last breath.


 

No one wanted to be the one to drug Cat; so in the end, her best friend was forced to do it.

It was Bruce who had to break the news to her, considering it was a unanimous decision as she was closest to the new ‘asset’ (regardless of if she was compromised or not) and therefore she would be most suitable for the task (none of them wanted to be beaten up by a HYDRA asset) and so as Bruce made his way down to the kitchen, where both Bucky and Steve were telling Ela about their Howling Commando days; Bruce smiled wearily at her.

“What’s the verdict, doc?” Steve asked, as Ela took a swig of her water.

“Ela, you gotta do it.” He looked towards the girl, almost in sympathy.

Unfortunately, Karma was feeling particularly present that day as Ela spat out the water she had taken in -- all over Bruce.

“What?” she half gargled, cheeks darkening as Bruce’s purple shirt became soaked with a mixture of water and her saliva. Bruce looked angry for a moment before taking a deep breath and looking a little embarrassed. Steve and Bucky both were holding in their laughter beneath a few obvious coughs and twisted smirks.

“Sorry.” She glanced at the doctor apologetically before handing him the box of tissues a few feet away from her. After he had cleaned himself up to an acceptable extent, she continued. “Do you not remember the last time I faced her? She nearly killed me!”

Bruce winced at the memory. “I recall, yes. But you’re closest to her.”

“That isn’t her!”

She looked at Bucky for consolation, and he just shrugged. “Sorry, doll. I’m not volunteering.”

She looked at Bruce in some sort of panicked desperation. Cat was terrifying in the current state she was in. “Could you not just fill the place with knockout gas or something?”

Bruce burst out laughing. “You’ve been watching way too many action films.”


 

Having no choice, she went to go ask Tony to borrow Mark 51.

“No.”

“Why not?” She complained.

“Because she isn’t even armed.” Tony replied bluntly as he worked on some new modifications for Natasha’s stingers.

“You saw what she did with that butter knife right?” Ela was starting to sound a little desperate. “What if she breaks my arm off and starts attacking me with it?”

Tony chortled. “Then I would record it and put it on YouTube, calling it 127 Hours: Ela Getting Her Ass Kicked Edition.”

“You suck.”

“There are a lot of things I do, and that isn’t one of them.”

“You are too old to be this gross.”

He grinned as she walked out of the door, bracing herself with an impromptu fight and escape plan. Armed with a small covered syringe filled with the safe (she was reassured by Tony – so not reassured at all then) sedative, she walked through the long maze like corridors of Stark Tower.


 

Sam felt particularly hilarious today, so when he saw the trudging girl, decided to use his new found knowledge of the girl’s weakness, after Tony revealed their secret to the group a few nights ago.

He went for her waist, and within milliseconds, she was shrieking.

“Stop! Samuel! Stop it!”

He continued, lifting her off the ground, still mid-tickle.

“You are such a tickle fiend!” She managed to spurt out between laughs, and she was garnering a cramp in her sides. She had dropped the syringe, where it was now rolling towards the doors to their left. She kept her eyes on it, concerned that she might lose it out of sight, only to find a pair of sneakers stopping it. Following the figure upwards, she saw Barnes and his darkened expression.

She fought the urge to roll her eyes, but she was laughing too hard anyway.

Sam was still tickling her, and she elbowed him in the gut, causing him to put her down on her feet. He held a hand over his now sore abdomen and she let her grin drop as she walked towards the bottle.

Bucky took his foot off the bottle and she picked it up, initiating a non-verbal conversation with him.

What’s with the expression?

His response was a shrug, and a dark look towards Sam who stood aloof whilst staring out of the walled windows.

She rolled her eyes and turned to her destination, not really wanting to deal with Bucky’s jealousy issues.

She felt bad; because she knew that he was in a position where he now wanted to keep an eye on her at all times seeing as she had an affinity towards difficult and potentially dangerous situations, and the fact that he actually liked her. But Sam was definitely not a threat with his inspiring words and occasional bird banter.

He followed her out of the corridor towards Cat’s makeshift containment unit whilst tapping her fingers against the tube of the syringe and she noticeably quickened her pace after she heard Sam call out.

 “Did you just call me Samuel?”


 

She entered the routine scans to enter the confined space with her HYDRA contaminated best friend, hands shaking as she tightened her grip and pushed the syringe up her sleeve, keeping it out of sight so she was out of potential sedation danger.

Cat immediately stood up, eyeing up Ela as if considering something.

 

Attack target.

Target is in the way of completing the mission.

Destroy target.

Complete tasks.

 

As Cat launched herself at the slightly panicked girl, Ela moved out of the way, leaving the former to slam into the padded casing of the walls. She picked herself up, feeling the cold of the metal cover stinging her wrist and closed her hands around the hidden end, waiting for the next move.

Cat kicked out a leg towards her opponent’s stomach, so gathering what fighting instinct she had, Ela grabbed her leg and twisted it, forcing her to fall backwards. Taking this, she leapt at her chance and head locked the girl, dragging her with much resistance. Cat kicked outwards and over her head, hitting Ela’s nose; and Ela felt a familiar crack and a surge of pain. Knowing that she would be in more danger if she didn’t complete this task, she got up and avoided the punches that her best friend was throwing her way.

As Cat punched straight out towards Ela’s jaw, the other grabbed her wrist and twisted it, causing temporary pain whilst she stepped forwards on Cat’s ankle and grabbed her other wrist and twisted it outwards in the opposite direction to the other wrist. With a wince, she managed a quick apology before she carried out the move that Bucky had taught her.

“I’m sorry Em.”

With that she pressed her foot hard onto Cat’s ankle and pushed her back with all of her strength left, and she heard a horrible crack as her friend’s face contorted in pain. She was so distracted by avoiding any more injuries; she forgot about the shooting pain now to the centre of her face and quickly sat on her friend’s abdomen and flicked off the metal cover before injecting it into the girl’s neck, glad that Cat now didn’t feel the pain of her broken ankle. After a few seconds of struggling against her temporary captor, Cat’s eyes closed slowly and Ela took the syringe out, holding it loosely.

She sighed and stood up, walking out of the containment unit and telling JARVIS to tell the others that she had done what she had to do and she was now going to walk to the medical facilities and get her nose checked out, even though she had already felt it click back into lace by its own accord.

Walking past her SO who watched the whole affair; her guilt overbearing to Bucky’s pride.


 

Her nose was adorned with a bandage, which had quarter healed over the next hour as they all looked at Cat’s scans to try and make sense of the situation.

They couldn’t see anything, but JARVIS had already spotted it as they pondered over what the hell HYDRA had done to their team member.

“Sir, if I could just-“

“JARVIS, shut it. Big guys are doing the work here.”

“But sir, I think-“

“No one cares what you think, JAR.”

Steve stood up to the AI’s defence as he hopelessly inspected the scans for the third time, trying to see something from a non-scientific perspective. “Don’t be rude, Stark.”

“He’s an AI. He doesn’t have feelings.”

“I agree, Captain Rogers. I do not. His remarks have no effect on me.”

Tony pointed out. “See!”

“I don’t care, what do you have to say JARVIS?” Steve asked, brows furrowing as he glanced at the pictures that made no sense to him at all.

Tony sighed, nearly giving up as he zoomed in on the scan images.

“I have detected an anomaly in the brain scan. It is nano-sized and resembles a microchip.”

Bruce smiled, Ela lit up, Natasha looked relieved and Tony looked slightly belittled.

“ты звезда, JARVIS.” (You’re a star) Natasha’s thick Russian accent became present as she zoomed in on JARVIS projected image.

“Agent Romanova. I believe you are mistaken. I am not a fixed luminous point in the night sky which is a large, remote incandescent body like the sun. I am an AI, much to your misunderstanding.”

“Да ну!, Что я вижу!” (You don’t say!)  She squinted to get a better visual of the chip, and JARVIS replied to her dripping tone. Bucky chuckled.

“I detect your sarcasm, Agent Romanova. I apologise for the misunderstanding.”

Natasha snorted.

“What the hell is it doing?” Tony pondered aloud.

Bruce shrugged. “No clue. JARVIS, can you tell if it’s transmitting some kind of signal? Somewhere we can track it down to?”

Ela and Natasha nodded in approval to Bruce’s idea. Still unconscious from the powerful sedative, they all turned to her figure, watching as JARVIS worked his magic.

Clint frowned, crossing his arms. “HYDRA better not have messed with my protégée.”

Steve raised a brow. “Protégée? I doubt that, Barton.”

Clint narrowed his eyes, joking aside. “She has the best shot I’ve seen for miles – besides me - if she loses that, HYDRA are gonna have a real’ pissed off archer on their hands.”

Sam seemed perturbed that he was her SO and didn’t know about her skill. “You didn’t tell me, Barton? I’m her SO!”

Clint rolled his eyes. “I didn’t have to. Plus, she’s been training with me in the nest.”

The nest was the part of the gym in the rafters that Clint had claimed his own – no one really knew how he got up there, or how he managed to keep his balance, but the place had Hawkeye written all over it. As a joke, Tony and Sam had put some straw and twigs up there to make it look like a real nest, but Clint never actually got rid of it, so to outsiders, it looked like the Avenger’s gym housed a giant bird.

Steve seemed more impressed by this. “How did you teach her to get up there?”

Clint smirked. “That’s a secret, Rogers.”

Steve shrugged, turning back to the room that held the CT scanner. She lay on a bed besides it, looking perfectly innocent.

Jarvis interrupted their small talk.

“I have detected no signals, but an unknown source of radiation. There are also very small traces of gamma, but they are mainly masked by this unknown source.”

Everyone turned to Bruce. Holding his hands up, he walked towards the lift shouting. “I’m on it!”

Tony was in the lab with Bruce and Ela, trying to figure out what this radiation was where it had been before and if they could find any matches.

Tony had told JARVIS to do all of these things, so they just lounged whilst Bruce and Ela actually contributed to the effort.

Tony made a competition out of it in his head – Team Tony would obviously win. JARVIS was too good to not work fast enough. Plus, human error was the main cause for a lot of things in the world.

“I have a feeling that our best friend’s are messing with things they shouldn’t be.” Bruce stated after scrolling a new file that JARVIS shot up for him. Tony was trying to figure out a Rubik’s cube, which he paused for a second and shot his gaze towards the working pair.

Ela hummed in agreement. “Mmhmm. Definitely should not be messing with this. This is way out of their depth.”

Bruce laughed. “Clearly not. But the last time SHIELD used extra-terrestrial sources to make weapons, we had declared to be prepared for higher forms of war.”

Tony stood up at this, throwing the Rubik’s cube back on the desk he had kicked his feet on, where it bounced off and hit his screen, turning it on.

Ela seemed startled by this – this was clearly new information. “When was this?”

Bruce and Tony looked at her, surprised. They both spoke simultaneously. “New York.”

“Ah.” She knew that they didn’t really speak much about the New York incident, seeing as the destruction and consequences caused by it didn’t really bring any good memories to mind.

Tony interrupted, seeing what Bruce was originally getting at. “Extra-terrestrial? What is HYDRA using?”

Ela stared ahead of her screen for a moment, looking pretty terrified.

“Chitauri.”


 

They had called Thor down for his help.

“How is Loki doing?” Clint asked, trying to make conversation as they walked towards the labs.

“He is fine, but under distress. He cares for Lady Rose.”

Clint was confused.

“Who’s Lady Rose?”

“Why, she is the maiden under control of the three headed serpent beast.”

“Serpent beast?” Clint asked.

“The hydra? Of course, you must be aware. You are currently opposing it, are you not?”

Clint sighed, fighting the urge to facepalm. “No, Thor. Hydra isn’t a beast. It’s a name for a terrorist group.”

“What a strange name.”

Clint was still wondering who the hell Lady Rose was.

“Lady Rose is under the control of this HYDRA, is she not?”

Clint finally realised what he was getting at. “It’s not Rose, it’s DuRose.”

Thor laughed and Clint swore he heard the glass walls vibrate. “I see! Lady Rose shall recover soon from the grasp of this hydra. I have only heard that they can be difficult to destroy, with scales like swords and the breath of fire.”

Clint sighed as he stood through the retinal scan for the lab.

This was going to be a long day.

Chapter Text

 

“Thor! What’s up, god-dude?” Tony asked, holding out his fist for a bump. Thor nearly sent Tony flying across the room with the sheer force of his fist bump.

Bruce pushed up his glasses to the bridge of his nose and cleared his throat, gaining the attention of those in the room. “Thor, I was wondering if you’ve ever seen or heard of the Chitauri being used for weapons?”

Thor’s voice boomed compared to the gamma scientist. “I have not for weapons – but it is used for other purposes. The blood of the Chitauri is known throughout the Nine Realms. It remains difficult to possess, however.”

“Why is it sought after?” Ela questioned.

Thor thought about this for a moment. “They are so different to the other species – they are controlled by their master and do not have free will.”

“Snap!” Tony remarked, laughing at his own pun.

“Thanks, Thor. Now how the hell do we find them?” Ela asked, Bruce scanning the hoards of information around him.

Tony smirked as JARVIS completed the task and announced it with red dot flashing on a map, pointing out the well concealed base only a few miles from them. “I have found a matching trace of the unknown source. It is located within the building of Cybertek Corporation, approximately 6.2 miles from the current point of navigation.

Tony grinned with glee. “Looks like we’re taking a day trip.”

They all sat around the conference room, listening to Cap make his half tactical and half pep talk.

“-we enter through the roof, Natasha, you’re with me and Sam’s with Bucky and Clint. Bruce, we’ll clear the way for you to shut whatever you need to down. Ela’s staying here with Cat-“

She opened her mouth to protest and promptly shut it when she was met by eight angry glares.

“Stark – you do what you want.”

Tony displayed a fist pump.

 “Thor?”

The god snapped out of his own thoughts. “Yes!”

“Just clear the path through the building.”

“I agree!” He slammed his hand on the glass table, causing a large crack to form in the middle.

Tony started with how expensive the glass furniture was and how Pepper was going to kill him before Steve told him to shut up and suit up.


 

Bruce was nervous.

He hadn’t had the Other Guy control him in a while, and he didn’t plan on letting him make an appearance.

But there was something about HYDRA and manipulation that really made his blood boil.

He was sat with Bucky and Clint, both of who didn’t have military grade wings or suits or parachutes, or just didn’t see the point seeing as it was a few miles away. The place was obviously heavily guarded, so that’s what Bucky and Clint were there for – to make sure the security was clear enough for them to get through.

Sitting in the back of the car that Clint was driving, Bucky decided to hold an interrogation of his own.

“You spend a lot of time with Ela, right?”

Bruce nodded. “Well yeah, we have similar tasks handed to us, not to mention we share a lab.”

Bucky tried to pass it off as nonchalant and casual and Bruce was pretty oblivious for the reasoning of Bucky’s questions. “So, what do you think of her?”

Bruce looked affronted. “She’s fine.”

Bucky raised a brow.

Clint cut in, making the reasons clearer for Bruce. “Are you in love with the girl?”

Bruce looked seriously confused. “Of course not!”

At least Bucky seemed more welcoming to Bruce now that had been cleared up.

“I don’t really love anyone since The Other Guy basically ruined my life.”

They both nodded in understanding.

Bruce laughed a little. “Plus, she’s a bit young for me.”

Bucky glared, taking it as a personal dig.

Bruce was definitely more nervous now.


 

For some impulsive reason, Steve decided now was the time to let Natasha know about his feelings for her.

Since they could get no one else to fly the jet, seeing as they were all jumping in headfirst to take down the HYDRA base; Tony called in a favour for Rhodey to do it. He had met the team a couple of times before, becoming good friends with most of them; but he had no idea who these girls were who kept getting themselves into trouble.

He was trying to get the story straight.

“So, Ela-“ he paused to get an affirmative on the name. “-got herself kidnapped by HYDRA, then her memory erased and got the super soldier thing injected into her-“ Steve and Natasha nodded again, mumbling small ‘yes’ to the infamous War Machine sat in front of them . “-and then Thor took her to Asgard or whatever and then Loki nearly killed her – but he didn’t and you guys thought she was dead and then she-“ he sounded in disbelief at his own words. “-popped out of her coffin and said hey?”

“Yeah.” Was Natasha’s response, readjusting her stingers.

“Yes.” Steve said, wondering how to tell the Russian next to him that he was falling for her.

“And the other girl, got herself shot with some microchip that controls her every move whilst she was on a date with-“ he was doubting everything at this point. “-Loki? The guy who tried killing us all last year? Freaky alien dude with daddy issues?”

“Yep.” Natasha almost sounded bored now.

“Aren’t they more trouble than they’re worth?” Rhodey asked, wondering how they had managed to put up with all of this.

“No, they’re not.” Steve almost sounded offended.

“They’re pretty good when they’re not in trouble.” Natasha’s statement rang out clearly, and Rhodey knew not to question them further on the matter.

“Well, you guys. This is your stop.” He announced a few moments later, wincing at the large hydraulics of the back opening and them attaching their parachutes.

“See you later Rhodes.” Natasha finished as they both stepped out into the night of New York.

 

They landed on the roof a few minutes later, both of them crouched and quiet as they took down their parachutes. Quietly, they managed to stop the guards on the roof within a minute or so before Steve finally found his voice.

“Natasha?” he asked as they opened the roof door. She looked at him to continue. “I know that we’re complete opposites-”

She looked at him through the dark with a look that questioned his point.

“-but I’ve been meaning to tell you-“he was cut off with four guards entering from the lift, and with a swift few moves, they were all groaning on the floors with their guns broken. She stopped him entering the lift, and used one of her stingers to incapacitate the camera in the corner of it. With an all clear, they entered.

“Meaning to tell me what?” She asked, leaning causally against the silver wall.

He sighed. “More like meaning to ask you.” He scratched the back of his neck, avoiding her gaze for a few seconds.

“Ask me what, Steve?” she pursued, her patience now wearing thin as the voice announced the floor number.

“Will you go out with me?”

When the door opened, that’s when all chaos ensued.

Chapter Text

 

Ela was guiding Bruce throughout the skyscraper, and the machine itself was on one of the top floors. Tony was trying to find information about other bases and Thor was having a ball, blasting random machines with his hammer.

“Go left Bruce, there should be stairs there. Climb up three flights of stairs and let me know when you’ve done.”

Bruce wearily entered the stairwell, Bucky and Clint behind him on watch and when he reached the third flight of stairs up, he was seriously considering his fitness.

“Wow doc, think you need to start hitting the gym.” Clint remarked, smirking.

Bruce just glared as he got his breath back.

“You there, Bruce?” Ela’s voice rang through his ear.

His voice was hoarse. “Yeah.”

“Good, now go up another three flights of stairs.”

Bucky and Clint burst out laughing.

“Really?” Bruce asked, trudging his way upwards.

“Baby steps, Bruce. Baby steps.”

They finally reached their destination, and Ela continued her instruction. “Wait thirty seconds, guards are running in your direction. There will be at least one with a tag hanging onto a loop hole of their belt. Take them all out and get the tag.” She stopped. “Oh – actually! Keep one conscious. There are retinal scanners.” She finished and the three of them nodded.

Approximately 10 seconds later, a dozen or so guards filed out of the stairwell, and Bruce stood back and Bucky and Clint did their work. After a few minutes, Clint was dragging one terrified guard by the scruff of his neck and Bruce had retrieved the silver, numbered tag.

“Go out of the doors. Turn right and go to the second door on the right. Enter it.” They did as they were told, only to be faced with an empty room.

“It’s empty.” Bucky stated.

Ela laughed. “I know, Captain Obvious. There’s a camera attached to your mask.” Bucky frowned.

“Anyway, that’s what you need the tag for. On the other side of the room, about halfway across, there should be a slot in the floor. Put the tag in, number side first.”

Bruce paced across the room and did as he was told. It took a few moments, but he felt the room move under his feet and they were going downwards.

“Okay, what’s going on guys?” Ela asked with confusion evident in her voice.

“We’re going down?” Clint questioned his own vision.

“Okay, that was the only point I knew up to getting. From here on out, I’m just as clueless as you are.”

“We don’t know anything, doll.” Buck stated.

“Yeah, Barnes I am aware of that. I’ll be your team cheerleader temporarily!”

Clint snorted.

“I can only help Bruce when you actually reach the thing that’s controlling it.” She concluded as the room/elevator stopped moving and the entire east wall moved upwards.

“What the-“

 

The whole room in front of them was seemingly empty of people and full of computer screens and desks and glass cases. That was until they stepped out and an entire freaking battalion of HYDRA appeared.

“Oh, shit.” Clint said, as the three of them faced the hundred or so in the large, technologically ready room.

“Okay guys.” Ela’s voice now held static.

“Bruce, you’ve got to insert the chip into any USB slot – otherwise I can’t take it down. Do it as quickly as possible.”

Bucky and Clint were now in mid fight with several guards at a time, and he felt more and more anxious as he used their cover to get to the biggest wall of the room that was covered in screens.

He saw a lot of people who did bad things, and that made him angry.

He saw his colleagues be nearly dead, and his friends hurt, which made him even more angry.

His anger wasn’t drowned out by Ela’s desperate voice of the other end.

“Bruce, are you okay? Bruce!”

He tried focusing, but he already saw his skin flash green.

The Other Guy needed some air.

“Bruce, you need to get-“

He didn’t hear the rest of the sentence.

He felt his skin tearing open like a mask, and he felt the rational side of his mind completely blow out like a candle in the wind.

He felt rage.

Pure, unadulterated rage.

Ela watched through the small camera how, Bucky and Clint ran away from something – or someone.

She saw the HYDRA assailants be wiped out in chunks, thrown against walls, crushed on the floor, hiding in the corners, like Barnes and Clint were hiding behind the back of a glass case.

That’s when she saw the Hulk.

Oh, shit.

She winced at the constant destruction and the monstrous shouts of anger from The Other Guy, and for a moment switched her view to Cat, who stared through her soul on the other side of the containment unit.

She turned her attention back on the screen, uneasy that her best friend wanted to eliminate her from humanity.

With no other option, she fed herself through JARVIS and into Natasha’s and Tony’s feed. “The Other Guy is here.”


 

Bucky had never seen anything like it before.

He had seen Banner’s files a couple of times before, but this?

This was completely different.

He watched as he slammed people against the screens, punching the machines and prayed to whatever God was out there that he didn’t see them.


 

Tony was busy hacking into the very complicated mainframe that HYDRA had built for them. His soundtrack was overridden as he heard a: ‘The Other Guy is here.” in the form of Ela’s voice.

Things were about to get interesting.

He finished uploading all of the files to the Cloud and hummed along to Highway to Hell as he smirked at his handiwork.

That’s when the floor beneath him fell through.


 

Natasha was too busy kicking ass to care that Steve had asked her out.

But now?

This was a really bad time.

The lift opened and they were instantly covered by HYDRA assailants, all armed – that’s when Steve grabbed Natasha close to him and behind the shield, and just barged straight through the swarm.

Really not a good time.

As she avoided amateur kicks and dodged a few bullets, she was wondering about her own feelings towards a certain doctor as they ran to meet Tony on the same floor. They were still being trailed, but their favourite Norse legend decided to show up, throw his hammer in an arc and leave their opposition with broken and misplaced bones.

“Hello friends!” Thor grinned, catching his hammer in one hand and stepping on some HYDRA security guy.


 

“Bruce, you have to try and listen!” Ela shouted, knowing that it wouldn’t do much good. Fortunately for her, the earpiece was still connected to the Other Guy’s ear and he struggled to figure out where it came from.

Hulk grunted. “No Bruce.”

He punched another important looking machinery.

“Hulk, smash.”

“Bruce, you have to walk in front of you and put the chip – that’s in your pocket-“

Hulk patted his thigh pocket and picked up the tiny card. He scrutinised it for a moment, before crushing it between his meaty fingers and his expression softened as Ela shouted down the earpiece. “Bruce!”

His grunt quietened. “Hulk sorry.”

Ela sighed planning her way around Bruce’s alter ego, talking to herself more than the Other Guy. “How else are we going to destroy the control measures-?”

Hulk was angry.

Hulk ruined the plan.

Hulk wanted to apologise to girl.

Hulk did what he does best.

Hulk, smash.

The giant Bruce took a thunderous step forwards and punched his way into the control, pulling out a bunch of wires and throwing them behind him, before smashing the entire control board.

Ela panicked. What if this had adverse effects? Like there was lockdown function? If the control board was broken, what would that do to the chip?

She turned to her best friend, who was now lying on the ground. Rushing to stand up, she ran and opened the unit door and knelt by her best friend. Checking her pulse, she was happy to know she was still breathing.

“Miss Kale?” JARVIS asked.

“Yeah, JARVIS?” she replied, her fingers still resting on Cat’s wrist. She frowned as the pulse weakened.

“Her pulse is lessening. The chip may be malfunctioning. We must remove it from her immediately.”

Ela grabbed Cat’s hands and propped her up with difficulty. She placed her arms over her shoulders, Cat’s head resting on her own as she walked as quickly as she could to the lab.

On the way there, she called for JARVIS to ring an ambulance.

“I’ve already phoned emergency services. They should be here as you reach the ground floor.”

She thanked the AI, and felt tears well in her eyes and tried to avoid the worst thoughts.

She rushed outside, the night security looking at her confused as she half dragged – half carried Cat out of the door, not feeling the usual breath on her shoulder as confirmation that she was alive. Everything was a blur as she was put on the stretcher and she was rushed into the back of the ambulance, blocking out the concerned calls through her own earpiece.


 

As Hulk had smashed down the control system, he had also knocked down half of the ceiling.

Tony fell through, only to catch himself before a piece of ceiling debris fell on his and he saw the Hulk breathing pretty heavily and charging before him. He flew behind him, and away to distract the big guy – only to find himself laughing at Clint and Bucky hid behind a half shattered glass case.

That second was all it took.

The Other Guy turned round and punched Tony’s suit so fiercely that he cracked a dent in the concrete wall. Feeling his AI malfunction, Tony stood up feeling a little worse for wear.

As Hulk charged towards his little moving red and gold target, Tony thought it better to move out of the way, and as The Other Guy collided with the wall; none of them realised that he had fallen straight out of the building as a consequence.

Chapter Text

Ela waited outside of the ICU surgery theatre as the neurosurgeons worked intensely to get the chip out of the girl’s brain.

Needless to say, they had all been in a bit of a shock when Ela told them what was wrong with her and what they needed to do. They told her that they would try and do their job to the best of their ability, and she had even showed them the pictures she took of the scans on her phone.

It had only been 10 minutes.

JARVIS had informed Tony about Cat and where she was, and Ela called Pepper for somewhat of a moral support. Even though it was late, Pepper still came rushing over to the hospital and waited whilst the others showed up.

After they had called for backup, they arrested the remaining HYDRA ‘weirdos’ as Tony so fondly called them, and went to collect a very dazed Bruce who was lying wearing only the pair of expandable trousers that they had made for him in a crater three feet deep.

“Hey Brucey-kins.” Tony called out, lending him a hand as they all looked over the crater.

Bruce groaned, scratching his head and coughing a few times.

As they all made their way to the hospital, they sat in silence as Tony tried to explain the situation to Rhodey and thinking of an appeasing statement for both the press and Pepper.

They arrived at the hospital, all shattered and seeing as there weren’t enough chairs – some sat on the floor with the paper cups of coffee in their hands whilst Natasha asked around for a spare shirt for Bruce.

Steve had volunteered to go with her, but she ran off before he could hear a response.

They all sat in the hospital café, a dreary place full of inspiring quotes and bland walls with the distinct smell of coffee and disinfectant.

They all sat in silence, waiting for the news, all a little too tired to make conversation.

Steve placed himself next to Natasha as he placed the tray of freshly brewed coffee down and a hot chocolate for Ela, wanting to ask her about a response to his previous question.

“Hey, Natasha?”

She turned to face him with the same expression she gave everyone.

“Yes?”

“Whaddya say?” he asked, handing her a paper cup.

She blinked at him, avoiding the answer. “To what?”

Steve’s patience was wearing out. “About going out with me.”

Both Bucky and Ela looked over to an irked Steve with a look of surprise.

Natasha sighed, placing the cup down on the table. “Look Steve, I’m sorry.”

She looked down for a moment. “There’s this other guy.”

Steve looked surprised, but dejected. “Oh.” He immediately covered his hurt up with a smile. “Is it Barton?”

She and Barton looked at each other –at this point the entire table was listening to their conversation, except for Pepper and Tony who were too sleepy to pay attention – and burst out in laughter.

“What? No!”

Steve’s eyebrows furrowed. “Who is it?”

Natasha tapped her nose and stood up, turning the attention away from herself. “Look, doc’s coming our way.”

The young female doctor blushed as Clint cheekily winked at her, and seemed flustered by his attempts at flirting. Luckily, her speech was still intact. “The surgery was fine. She’s in recovery now.”

Simultaneously, all of them let out sighs of relief.


 

The next morning, Cat had woken up and the hospital had made a special allowance for all of the Avengers to visit her.

“What was the last thing you remember?” Ela questioned, poking at her best friend.

“I had a headache after the dinner with Loki.” Tony waggled his eyebrows suggestively and she flushed.

“Oh good, you don’t need to know anything after that-“ Ela butted in quickly whilst she was cut off by Bruce.

“No you do. We won’t tell you now, though.”

Cat seemed suspicious before being bombarded with questions of how many fingers they were holding up, or if Loki was a good kisser or how the group used duct tape to capture an ‘assailant’.

 

Whilst the room was in the midst of several conversations, a hooded man entered the room with a pair of sunglasses.

It was Natasha who first noticed. “Nick.” She stated more than asked.

He nodded and soon the entire room was staring at him. Pulling his hood down, he got a few looks of surprise.

“Aren’t you meant to be dead?” Tony asked, breaking the silence.

“Yes. I am. But I’m not.” he answered Tony’s question bluntly.

 “Half the people in this room are meant to be dead. I have had it with these goddamn deaths with you goddamn Avengers!”

Chapter Text

 

Time had passed.

Loki had returned from Asgard to visit Cat and kissed her right in her hospital bed, earning a slap from her. They still ended up with each other, in agreement that the other was too moronic to be alone.

Tony finally proposed to Pepper, with the engagement party being flamboyant, and the actual wedding – in a year, planned to be even more so.

Bucky and Ela didn’t hate each other, and Ela even fondly called him Snowflake, do his constant dismissal of it. Bucky was planning to propose, sometime. Maybe.

Natasha had finally convinced Bruce to take a chance with her, and everyone figured that maybe they would be good for each other.

Steve made amends with his old flame, Sharon and they happily saw each other on missions and carried on their somewhat long distance relationship.

Sam was reconnecting with his family, now helping his sister with her own wedding.

Clint was Clint, happily shooting at Steve whenever he was in simulation mode in the gym.

Coulson had been reunited with his own Team, and much to Ela’s dismay – Agent Hill had taken his place.

Chapter Text

A YEAR LATER

“I can’t believe you’re getting married!” Rhodey said, watching Happy sort out Tony’s bowtie.

“Don’t remind me. I’m close enough to flying back to Afghanistan at the thought of it.” Tony replied, his breath hitching in his throat.

“Everyone gets cold feet eventually, and I’m surprised Pepper has still managed to put up with you.” Happy said, patting the completed bowtie.

Tony had decided that the wedding was to be held in Miami, since he had decided he wanted his guests to boil to death, and the entire affair was planned to perfection. Pepper didn’t want a maid of honour, so split the task between Ela, Cat and Natasha who had spent hours putting up with cake tastings and colour co-ordination and flowers and balloons and decoration, but as the Miami heat flustered upon them as the fake palm trees stood on the aisle; Tony stood by the altar, a small smile on his face.

He watched as the music started – a piano version of Kiss’ ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ as per Tony’s request as the traditional bridal organs made him feel sick. He looked up to see his Pepper walk down the aisle, glowing under her white gown, and quite frankly it just made him want to rip it off her quicker –regardless of how beautiful she looked.

He quirked a smile towards her, and she looked up at him through her eyelashes, making Tony wonder how the hell he had managed to persuade such a beautiful, intelligent woman to ever even consider him.

“We gather here today-“

All of his self-doubt mysteriously vanished as she smiled at him in a way that made him want to keep her forever.


 The reception was a better affair for all of the guests.

 

It was now cooler, the salty breeze wafting throughout the Sinatra style singer and the mild chatter. The toasts were over, the cake was cut, and now it was just time to enjoy and do Bucky’s favourite thing.

“You wanna dance, doll?” He stood up, holding a hand towards his girl.

She shook her head vigorously, looking up at his face. “Definitely not.”

“Why is that?” he asked, feeling rejected.

“I will probably end up killing you or breaking your leg.” She stated, taking a sip of her water.

“You can’t be that bad, doll.”

She looked at him in the most serious manner she could muster. “I am.”

“Well, I’ll teach you then-“and without a single warning, he pulled her up on her heeled feet, her professionally made her swishing in the wind.

And, minus a few stepped on toes and awkward bumps, she managed to get in the swing of things pretty easily.

“You’re not that bad, Ela.”

Ela mumbled, still focusing on trying not to step on her partner’s feet. “Not so bad yourself, mister.”


 

Clint was eyeing up an uninterested waitress with a tempting plate of crème brûlée, and Sam was rolling his eyes in his fellow bird friend's attempts.


 Loki and Cat were already on the dance floor, swaying easily along the soft music. They both swayed silently, against each other comfortably when he occasionally twirled her.

“You’re not as bad of a dancer you make out to be, my dear.” Loki commented quietly. Cat smiled against his chest.

He had been wondering how to bring it up to her. He ‘loved’ her, so as the mortals called it, and he’d be damned to the depths of the Universe if he wasn’t going to take her as his own. He had gotten to know her awkward character, how passionate she was about things, how she hid her shy demeanour over a know-it-all attitude and he enjoyed spending time with her. He enjoyed discussing the only show he watched due to his loyalty issues (Game of Thrones) and how he believed it was Arya Stark who would take the throne; he enjoyed watching her get excited over films and food and reading, he enjoyed their intellectual conversations about differences in their culture and technology.

He was now staring ahead of him, watching as the breeze carried the air of the sea to him.

“What’s up, Loki?” Cat queried, still holding onto his shoulders, but now looking up at him.

He cleared his throat. “I would like you to come to Asgard and become my wife.”

She stopped in her tracks, still looking up at his now furrowed expression. Taking a breath she smiled.

“Sure.”

He frowned.

She cocked her head to the side.

“Stop being so dramatic.” She told him.

“What remains your answer?” He asked, his tone cold and brash from her response.

“Loki, I would love to marry you.”


 

Natasha was walking alongside the beach with Bruce, wanting to get away from all of the people and guests and the congratulations and the drink.

“Why me?” he asked, breaking their long silence.

She stopped and took his hand. “Because, Bruce – you don’t give yourself enough credit.”

Bruce didn’t understand.

Natasha sighed. “Does it really matter?”

She stepped closer and put her arms round his neck, their faces so close that it washed away any self-doubt that Bruce held with the tide flowing in.


 

Even Phil had decided to show up, on his own – smiling at the happy couple. He raised a glass in their direction, and for once Tony didn’t acknowledge Pepper’s happiness to see him. He was too busy dazed with his own new wife.

Phil was happy.

And he wouldn’t take back anything that had happened for the world.


 

As the Miami breeze flew through the night, it carried the whispers of words that would hold a place in their memories for a long time.

 


 

FIN.