Eliot and Hardison don’t ever talk about the thing. The thing where superheroes battle in the sky, but Parker can out maneuver the best of them. The thing where Hardison can feel the right way to bypass anything electronic. The thing where Eliot heals just a little too fast, moves just a little faster, can see bullets coming at them. The thing where Sophie was just a little too good at getting people to do what she needed. They just don’t ever talk about the thing.
They really wish Parker would extend the same courtesy. Or at least stop calling them “freaky inhuman” in front of potential clients.
Even Parker never mentions the thing where Nate’s plans never failed, not even the ones that failed horribly. The thing where Nate could just look at someone and know.
No, none of them talk about that.
When Captain America blows up half of DC and reveals thousands of sleeper HYDRA agents, Eliot knows that he made the right call to leave SHIELD’s wetworks division years ago. That the Nazi special sciences division still exists should be shocking to him, but, quite frankly, it would explain several things he and his team have run into over the years.
He looks over at Parker and Hardison with no little concern. Hardison is very patiently, and very carefully, explaining to Parker what HYDRA actually is, focusing on the “Nazi” aspect of them and less on their subtle infiltration and manipulation of world events to further their goals.
The last bit just sounds way too similar to what they do. Hardison and Eliot really do not want to repeat that time in New York, when Parker had wanted to help Loki steal a transdimensional power.
Eliot still gets chills remembering Parker’s confused protests that “it was a sound plan.” And, she could do it “better than the grandstanding job that arrow dude did in Germany. It should be 18 minutes in and out of country. He doesn’t even have a harness or any rope!“
It had been one of those sharp reminders just how legitimately insane Parker is. He loves her, but he stands by his initial assessment.
There’s no crisis at the moment. Even Parker equates “Nazi” with “bad”, so Eliot turns back to the news. He can’t help but start to catalog old co-workers — friends — and wonder just how screwed he would be if he were still in. He finds himself remembering John Garrett’s interest in him and his past and some conversations on darker nights.
A year after SHIELD so spectacularly shatters on the national stage, Eliot’s phone rings. He’s not surprised that the caller is on the side of angels, but he is surprised the caller knows Eliot is as well.
“Coulson, I’d heard you were dead,” Eliot answers, switching on his com so the others can hear.
“Oh. That,” Phil seems taken aback for the moment, as if he’d forgotten. “I got better.”
“Given how many people are turning out to be HYDRA, I’m a little surprised you’re calling me, man.” Eliot was done with playing things close to the vest. These days, he charged headfirst.
“Yes, well, as I see it, you had the good sense to run screaming from John Garrett years ago. And you and your team have been doing real good. I’m proud to know you.”
From any other soul than Phil Coulson, it would sound like condescending bullshit. Hell, from anyone other than Coulson, it would be condescending bullshit. But it is from Coulson and Eliot can’t prevent the smile or the swell of pride.
“All right, you’ve buttered me up enough.”
“Are you sure? I have a whole file of Things That Make Eliot The Best Ever. It seems a shame to let it go to waste.”
Eliot laughs. He’ll have to cut this short, even Hardison’s call screenings and redirects can only hold up so long against SHIELD. “What can I do you for, Coulson?”
“Well, you could start by opening the door.”
The smile disappears, as Eliot spins to look at the door in question. Parker and Hardison walk up to flank him. They are in the latest screening room and no one has been told the location yet. Not even Nate and Sophie.
Silently, Hardison presses something on his tablet and the monitor shows the hallway outside.
Phil Coulson stands patiently waiting by the door, phone pressed to his ear, and quietly nodding his head to some internal waiting music.
A couple of hours later, Parker is in rare form. Normally, Elliot would expect her to be paranoid of such a blatant government man like Coulson. But once Coulsen cheerfully assures her that no, the Nazis have been removed from the flying “boats” and that, yes, he will gladly lend her some cool icer bullets, Parker is in love.
Coulson claims to be there as a client, producing a thin file. Before Eliot or Hardison can do anything, Parker has it, flipping through it curiously. Eliot has a sudden sensation of someone walking on his grave.
Agent Parker of SHIELD. The world wouldn’t survive a day.
Hardison must agree with him because he’s rapidly removing the information from Parker’s grasp, before he, too, is drawn into the file.
Coulson just smiles at Eliot and, damn that bastard, Eliot finds himself wandering over to look.
James Buchanan Barnes aka “Bucky” is a familiar face to Eliot, who can still remember the stars on the wall at the old Triskelion. First to die, never forgotten, and, apparently, now as reincarnated as Coulson and Captain America.
Parker has a deceptively mild look when she comments, “Cool metal arm.”
Hardison sighs and patiently begins listing all the valid reasons why Parker should not steal the cool metal arm. Coulson just looks contemplative and says to Eliot, “The implication is that she could.”
Eliot shrugs. “She might yet. Why us? You’ve got what’s left of SHIELD.”
Coulson looks sad for a moment. “Bucky Barnes grew up protecting Steve Rogers. He was drafted from home, sent to Europe, captured and tortured by HYDRA and rescued by the boy he used to protect. Then, he followed Captain America and fought HYDRA until he fell and even Cap couldn’t save him.
“From there it’s sketchy. HYDRA obviously experimented on him, when they originally captured him. He survived the fall, but just barely, ending up in the hands of Bolsheviks corrupted by Red Skull. Ended up back with HYDRA.”
“He passed from hand to hand like some sort of Cold War foster child.”
Eliot has not forgotten how good Coulson is. He now has Parker and Hardison’s undivided attention.
“We don’t know it all, just that he ended up stateside and under Pierce about five months before the battle at the Triskelion. We’ve recovered some surveillance and security videos from where they were holding him. As far as we can tell, when he encountered Captain Rogers in DC, something shook loose.”
Coulson hands a tablet over to Hardison who brings up the files without comment. It is hard to watch. The “asset” is beyond broken but, somehow, finds the will to rebel. The team watches as he refuses instruction and stubbornly insists he “knew him” — a reference, no doubt, to Captain America.
Pierce appears and it quickly turns violent. Eliot winces. The violence is mild, but the very casualness of it tells the hitter more than any overt signs of torture could. He notes its effect on Barnes — the guy just shuts down and meekly lies back as the men around him calmly talk of “wiping” the way Eliot asks Hardison to shovel out the drive.
Eliot is really beginning to hate HYDRA.
Just before the wipe begins, they can catch Barnes’ lips moving. A last, muttered, “But I knew him.”
Hardison stops it when the screaming begins, but Parker keeps staring at the image.
Silence hangs heavily in the room. Coulson has the grace not to apologize for it.
Parker is first to break the stillness. “You didn’t answer Eliot,” she says, finally looking up to hold Coulson’s eyes. “Why us?”
Coulson looks unusually uncertain. “We want to help him. If anyone has earned an out, I think its safe to say Barnes has. But he’s running from us as much as HYDRA. Worse, he’s running from Cap, who is as close to home and family that he has left.”
Coulson collects his files and tablets, leaving some copies about Barnes’ more recent sightings and intel. “What he needs isn’t SHIELD. We’re part of the pressure on him. So I was hoping you could help.”
He stands and puts his glasses on with a smile. “What he needs is some leverage.”
And, before any of them can call him on the arrogance of stealing their line, goddammit, Coulson leaves.
They don’t talk about it for several minutes. Time enough for Eliot to finish grumbling about stealing their line. Time enough for Hardison to invent and discard seven new security measures and implement another five. Time enough for the men to realize that Parker is still staring at the image of Barnes, only she’s not talking about the cool metal arm anymore.
She’s not talking at all.
Eliot and Hardison share a silent, oh shit, and make their way to sit beside her. For better or worse, they are in this together. It’s just how it is now. They may go solo sometimes, but they are never alone.
“So what are we going to do, Boss?” Hardison asks.
Parker’s bedeviled smile starts to appear. It grows as she looks at them and the elation he always feels, when they take a case, fills Eliot’s head enough to drown out the doubts. After all, when have they ever let common sense dictate their lives?
Parker gets up and moves to their planning table. “Come on guys. Let’s go steal a HYDRA asset.”
Taking on a secret Nazi science division requires letting Nate and Sophie know what they’re up against. They do it on all the bigger jobs, not as back up, more the comfort in knowing that someone will know if they all die on a mission.
But for the first time in years, Nate tries to talk them down. After another four hours of arguing, he and Sophie appear in the airport, casually demanding earbuds. Nate’s only slightly annoyed when Hardison’s already packed extra, just in case, for them.
Eliot feels almost sorry for HYDRA until they get to New Jersey and get into some of their safe houses. The notes and corrupted ways of even talking about food - food. They even corrupt cooking. - remind Eliot just how much he hates these guys.
Parker, Hardison and Sophie are with him, but it’s nothing compared to how much Nate hates HYDRA. Eliot hasn’t seen him this rageful since the early days. Nate, in typical Nate fashion, seems determined to bring down as much of HYDRA as they can.
They run a con, of course. For an organization so good at infiltration, HYDRA is incredibly bad at spotting it used against them. Nate even picks the con in honor of Barnes - the classic Brooklyn Bridge.
Sophie runs point and Eliot shadows her constantly, killing the only three HYDRA guys that spot the con. Within a month, they’re sitting on slightly more than a billion euros of HYDRA’s own funds, having sold various HYDRA leaders secret bases that either didn’t exist at all or had already been exposed. Eliot’s even used to having his hair this dark and is excellent at imitating the defeated body language they’d seen Barnes use.
Parker is still insane. While Eliot is “doing his Winter Soldier thing” and Sophie’s distracted, she marches to straight up the remaining HYDRA idiots and salutes them. “Hail, HYDRA!”
As they salute back, Eliot kills them.
Within another week, they’re on the bridge itself, and they’ve done what SHIELD and the Avengers couldn’t do in over a year of trying. They’re standing within five feet of Barnes, who isn’t running from them, trying to kill them or forcing them to attack.
He’s just staring at Nate, who’s calmly explaining why, after today, HYDRA will no longer be interested in capturing or killing him. “Oh, and one last thing,” Nate remembers, “You’ve got a swiss account with a little under a billion euros in your name. You can leave it if you’d prefer.”
“But whatever else you need, or decide, to do, you need to come with us, now,” Nate indicates their van, which is not named Lucille, Hardison, and the HYDRA helicopter approaching in the distance.
Parker steps forward and speaks in a rare moment of sanity and seriousness, “It’s okay. We’re not SHIELD. We’re not good guys. We’re just bad guys being good.” Some mischief returns. “Also, that is a really cool metal arm.”
She walks into the van, followed by Hardison, who is busy reminding her that they have previously covered the reasons not to steal the amnesiac assassin’s cool metal arm. Hey, no offense, man. You carry the whole Bourne thing off with style.
Barnes, who hasn’t uttered a word that they’ve heard in two days, remains silent but gets in the van. The rest follow, but don’t really breathe easier until they’ve reached the safe house.
Barnes remains silent, but calm, at the safe house. His eyes track Hardison, as he complains to Nate, “Wait. Waitwaitwait. Why is there slightly less than a billion instead of slightly more? What expenses? Man, this. This right here is why I need to be the one to handle the money.”
Parker takes Barnes by the hand, the human one, and leads him to the kitchen. She’s as silent as he is, simply handing him food and a bottle of water. He accepts cautiously, and Parker leads him around, showing him the escapes, still not saying anything.
Once returned to the couches, Barnes watches television with them, staring blankly at the screens, until Eliot leads him to the workout room. He can feel the sniper’s eyes tracking him and tries his damnedest not to let it unnerve him. He gestures in invitation to Barnes, who just shrugs and punches the bag with his cool metal arm, sending it sailing through the safe house. Eliot takes that to mean, he’s good.
He never attempts to leave, but Eliot’s never sure, if it’s because he wants to stay, or if he doesn’t really believe he can go. Sophie tries her charms, but there’s no difference.
Parker’s the best with him, never speaking unless she has to, just bringing him along and making sure he’s included and eating. Barnes isn’t catatonic by any means, but he’s still far from human. No one mentions SHIELD or Cap at all, even when Barnes isn’t in the room. They all wait for a bubble to burst.
After two weeks of being led, Barnes suddenly gets up and walks himself to the kitchen to grab a bottle of water that isn’t offered first. The next day, he retreives one after Hardison asks the room in general for it.
It feels like Christmas.
None of them have ever been good at sitting idle. So, it’s with a sense of relief that Nate and Sophie stumble upon a client. A local family business being worked hard by a wanna be mobster. It’s a cakewalk and a very welcome distraction. Hardison and Sophie, always a dangerous combination, get creative with various “character options” that will allow them to move quietly in Brooklyn without attracting attention.
Barnes is given an italian suit and designer shoes, that Sophie croons will bring out “those soulful looks.” He takes the clothes and stares at them, but not blankly, he’s clearly remembering something. They leave him to it and head out to the job.
It goes smoothly. They know Barnes is listening, the com sometimes picks up the sound of the refrigerator, and there is an odd buzzing sound that could be the electric razor. But Eliot hasn’t even heard him walking around for nearly an hour.
They wrap it up. The only thing they need is for Parker to do her thing, get into the mark’s condo and grab the briefcase with the money and the deed.
Parker is busy complaining that the roof has no good anchor points, steadily ignoring her teams pleas to just go in. It’s the Bank Tower. No one jumps a stepped building. There’s no security past the lobby, Parker just take the stairs.
They are predictably getting nowhere, as Parker continues to look for some place to anchor her ropes, allowing her to swing out the way she needs to. Hardison isn’t even trying to conceal his grin, as he and Eliot hit the stairs to collect their wayward thief.
They are almost to the top, when Parker suddenly starts talking to someone else. The sense of alarm is overwhelmed by surprise, as it sounds as if she’s talking to Barnes.
“Oh, hi. Hey, Sophie was totally right about that suit. You look great. I love the hair. No, stand here. That’s perfect. Now just hold this. Like this. No, with your cool metal arm. Finally!”
They reach the roof and open the door, just in time to see her launching herself, over the side. Sure enough, it is Barnes, who has not only changed into the suit, but has cut his hair and shaved to match the boy in the WWII pictures.
He’s standing over Parker’s rapidly unspooling rope, holding it loosely in his cool metal hand, watching intently, as the marker tape begins to show. He doesn’t acknowledge Hardison’s “hey, man” or Eliot at all. He does begin to close his cool metal hand to slow the rope, coming to a perfect stop as the marker tape reaches his fingers.
Parker is jubilant over the coms and the three men gaze out over the now taut rope disappearing over the side.
Barnes turns them and quietly says, “She’s insane.”
The other men say, in unison, “Yes, she is.”
Parker crows over the com, “His first words are about me!”
All her partners, including Barnes, just sigh. Barnes isn’t smiling at all, but his demeanor isn’t beaten, his expression is not tormented.
It’s better than Christmas.
Barnes makes Eliot sound like a chatterbox, but he keeps talking.
He asks Hardison to turn up the tv when baseball plays. He agrees with Parker that Eliot’s cookies are fantastic. He gives Eliot an “osu” in warning before kicking his ass in the workout room. He argues softly with Nate about Bruins vs Rangers. He asks Sophie for more suits.
Parker has been continuously taking his picture with her phone since the day they arrived. Barnes finally asks her why.
“Oh, they’re for your friend, Steve,” she openly admits.
Everyone can see the demons rising behind his eyes, but Parker squares off in front of him, fearless, as always. Eliot’s suddenly trying to judge how long it would take for him to cross the room.
Parker grabs Barnes by the shoulders and leans forward. “It’s okay. We won’t let him here. He doesn’t know where here is. This is ours. He just wanted to see that you were okay. And you are. So it’s okay.”
Barnes has tears looming, but he nods. He leaves the room as soon as Parker lets him go.
He’s disappeared by morning.
He’s back by dinner, carrying fresh produce for the meal, in an obvious apology no one comments on.
The morning after, he poses for the picture Parker takes, holding his hand up in greeting.
At dinner, Parker gets a text that makes her smile. “Your friend, Steve,” she says in lieu of explanation to Eliot, who’s sitting across from her.
Eliot nods in understanding, as they all return eating and ignoring the agravated looks Barnes is giving them.
“I hate you all,” Barnes mutters into his food, as he, also, continues eating.
Later, as Hardison is cleaning up - hey, Eliot cooked, someone else gets KP - Barnes asks to see Parker’s phone. She does so after pulling up her texts.
Eliot pretends to watch the news, but Parker blatantly watches Barnes, tracking every twitch of his face.
Barnes finally looks up at her and just says, “He doesn’t sound upset.”
Parker offers a half smile, and agrees, “Weird, huh? Like, he knows you and still likes you.”
She looks over at Hardison, but Eliot isn’t sure she knows it. “You know, sometimes people in your life understand when you want something you can’t say.” She leans in conspiratorially. “And they get it. And even when you don’t want it, and go away, they’re still there, when you come back. I think it might be ‘family’ or … something.”
Parker becomes awkward, intense emotion always does that to her. Eliot gently puts an arm out and tolerates a hug, while Barnes just gazes at her phone thoughtfully.
Nate wakes Eliot up in the night and indicates to follow him quietly. They head to the screening room, where Parker is sitting on a chair hugging her knees, enraptured by the roof’s camera feed.
Sophie brings Hardison in, who gets the sight up on the wall where they can better make it out.
Barnes is alone on the roof, talking into Parker’s phone. Entire sentences strung together — talking.
“No, I’m telling you, they kept the facade, but it’s all one gigantic store, on the inside, now. It’s horrible. I did see that Dave’s is still a pizza place, it’s just not called Dave’s anymore. I’m not sure if the laudromat’s just not there, or if I just got lost. The streets look so weird with the trees —”
Barnes stops to listen for a moment before continuing. “No, Farrell’s is still there, they just let women in now.” A soft look crossed his face. “You… you still owe me a beer there, Rogers. I—”
He squares off his shoulders, “You wanna meet there now?”
Cap obviously answers with enthusiasm and Barnes smiles at the phone. The Leverage, Inc members all suck in a breath. On the screen, Bucky Barnes is alive, not just going through the motions. Eliot can see the man who once protected the smallest kid in the neighborhood.
The feeling it creates is not something Eliot has words for. Hardison tries, of course, to find one. “Man, this is like… like —”
“Redemption,” Nate says, pulling Sophie in for a soft kiss. “The word you’re looking for is redemption.”