Hardison jumps at the sound of Eliot's annoyed voice coming from right behind him. Man needed a bell or something to keep him from sneaking up on people like that. Before Hardison can react any further, Eliot goes on, "Why didn't you tell me that Captain America was going to be at Emerald City Comic-Con?"
"Uh… what?" Hardison continues to stare at his computer monitor for a moment as he tries to process the fact that Eliot – Eliot of all people – was asking him about a comic book convention.
"Captain America is going to be in the Pacific Northwest in just a couple of days," Eliot says, enunciating each word, "and I want to meet him."
"I-I didn't know you were a fan."
"Oh yeah, he's got a whole collection of Captain America stuff in his storage unit." Parker's voice drifts down from somewhere up in the rafters.
"Dammit, Parker," Eliot snarls, "That was locked up for a reason."
"You only had a padlock and five-digit passcode on it. That's practically unlocked."
Hardison nods in agreement. "She's got a point."
"We're getting off the subject," Eliot says, coming up to Hardison's side and leaning against the desk. "Can you get me a ticket to Emerald City Comic-Con or not?"
Hardison fights to school his features into an expression of exasperation. "Tickets to Emerald City Comic-Con sold out within two hours of going on sale. Scalpers are charging thousands for a single day pass. Your boy being there means everyone wants to go to this year's con."
"Dammit, Hardison, that doesn't answer my question."
Hardison's lips split into a grin. "Of course I can get you a ticket. This is me we're talking about." In fact, thanks to a script he'd written, Hardison had bought the first three tickets the exact instant they'd gone on sale. Just as he'd done every year since the crew had moved to Portland. He'd never gotten up the nerve to ask the other two to go with him, though, so every year he gave the extra tickets away to kids hanging around the outside of the convention center.
"Thank you, Hardison." Eliot claps him on the shoulder. "But don't think I'm going to wear one of those foolish costumes."
Parker lands on the other side of the desk with hardly a sound. "Costumes? What kind of costumes?"
Emerald City Comic-Con was even more packed and noisy than ever before. The line to get pictures taken with America's hero, Captain America, stretched nearly the entire length of the convention center and not even Eliot's glare could convince people to give up their spot in line.
Hardison has his phone and laptop to keep him occupied, but Parker gets antsy after about two minutes of waiting. She wanders in and out of line every few minutes, no doubt robbing the poor vendors blind. Hardison would get her to show him what she stole later and then electronically reimburse the vendors; a lot of those people's only income came from what they sold at cons and it wasn't fair for them to lose out because Parker couldn't help herself from stealing whatever caught her interest.
Eliot is arguing with a Deadpool cosplayer and for just a moment, just a split instant, Hardison semi-regrets convincing him to dress up as Wolverine. It's just a simple flannel shirt, a pair of jeans, and foam claws (thank god he'd vetoed Parker's suggestion of using real blades). He was going to leave it at that, but after seeing a picture of Wolverine, Parker had insisted he style his hair like the character. But the distinctive hairstyle instantly marks him as Wolverine.
The Deadpool cosplayer is completely in-character, harassing the hell out of Eliot who is acting like his usual grumpy self which can be mistaken as being in-character for Wolverine. Hardison keeps an eye on the two to make sure Eliot doesn't do anything rash, but he's enjoying watching the cosplayer rattle Eliot's cage a bit. But he knows when Eliot's reaches his limit and smoothly steps in to tell the Deadpool that there's a sad looking Spiderman on the other side of the convention center. Deadpool rushes off screaming, "I'm coming, Spidey-Love! Don't be sad!" and Eliot smacks Hardison upside the head.
"Dammit, Hardison. Why couldn't you have done that ten minutes ago?"
Hardison shrugs, rubbing the sting out of his scalp. "Dude, you really need to lighten up and have fun."
Eliot merely growls.
Finally the trio reach the front of the line. Eliot nervously runs a hand through his hair, messing it up. Parker sighs and hands her purple stuffed dragon (which feels suspiciously heavier than when they'd arrived) to Hardison so she can fix Eliot's hair. Parker had been entirely gung-ho about going in costume and Hardison had expected her to go with Catwoman since the character and Parker shared many similarities, but she'd instead chosen Kitty Pryde because "how cool would it be to walk through a vault wall?"
And Hardison was John Stewart, Green Lantern. Together they make an unlikely group of superheroes, but hasn't that always been the way?
Parker grabs Lockheed back from Hardison as they're led behind a curtain to where the man himself waits. Hardison isn't as much of a fanboy as Eliot, but even he's a little bit star-struck in the presence of Captain America. The Star-Spangled Man towers over all three of them and can probably bench press a truck, but he exudes a sort of protective aura instead of the macho bullshit so many strong guys projected. Much like Eliot in a lot of ways.
"Captain Rogers, it's an honor, sir." Eliot snaps off a smart salute, his back ramrod straight as he holds the position until Captain America returns the gesture. "My grandad's stories about you were the reason I enlisted. He was in the 104th and my gran was one of Dilly's Girls at Bletchley Park with Peggy Carter."
Captain America's smile is genuine as he shakes Eliot's hand, just a hint of gleaming white teeth peeking out from between his lips, but there's a bit of sadness there as well. Hardison doesn't recognize the woman's name Eliot mentions, but he guesses that it was somebody who'd been close to Captain America during the war.
"Quite a distinguished lineage you've got there. Always an honor to meet a fellow soldier."
Parker steps up next, her hand out to shake his before he'd even extracted it from Eliot's grasp.
"Hi, you're really strong. Do you think you could throw me up into the rafters?" she asks, leaning in and taking a sniff of his uniform. Hardison shakes his head, hiding his smile behind his hand while Eliot hisses, "Parker!"
Captain America blinks down at her, nonplussed, then slowly raises his gaze to stare at the ceiling, some twenty or thirty feet above their heads. "That shouldn't be difficult, but why would you want to be up in the rafters?"
Parker laughs. "Why wouldn't I want to be up in the rafters, silly?"
Hardison hurries forward to save Eliot from even more embarrassment in front of his idol. "Don't mind Parker, she just loves heights." He gently nudges Parker away from Captain America and toward Eliot.
"I should introduce her to my friend, Clint. His feet barely ever touch the floor either."
"Don't encourage her, man."
The photographer, a short, fussy man with frizzy hair and glasses clears his throat impatiently.
"Right, the picture." Captain America clears his throat and runs a hand through his short blond hair. "How do you want us set up?"
The photographer gestures to a lackey who drags in a chair. He sits Parker in the chair and positions Captain America right behind her with Eliot and Hardison to either side. Cap's iconic shield, he positions so that it leans against Parker's knees.
"Happy now?" Hardison asks Eliot as they browse the merch booth right outside the photo area.
"Shut up," Eliot snaps, casting a glare Hardison's way, but Hardison can see the awe and delight shining in his eyes.
"He smells like cherries. I like him." Parker wedges herself between the two men and grabs a signed eight-by-ten photo of Captain America posing with Iron Man. "I want this one," she says to the vendor, handing him a twenty.
Eliot and Hardison both look at her with surprise.
"What? You don't really think I'm going to steal from Captain America, do you? That would be, like, treason or something."
Hardison is about to reply, but one look at Eliot's face stops him. He has his serious face on, the one he wears when he suspects trouble.
"What is it?" Hardison asks, clutching his laptop case to his chest.
"Dunno, but the flow of people changed. Somebody's blocked one of the exits, I think."
"Okay, so maybe somebody got sick or something. This many excited people cooped up in one spot with crappy food choices, it happens."
"Maybe." Hardison knows that Eliot isn't convinced.
"Fine. Earbuds in, just in case we get separated and there's trouble." Hardison put actions to words and, as Eliot and Parker do the same, his partners are suddenly in his head.
"We stick close to the photo booth; if there is trouble, Captain America's the guy to have on your side."
As they speak, the energy in the convention center turns from excitement to tense in an instant. Scattered shouts sound from around the perimeter of the room, but are almost immediately silenced. Hardison, Parker, and Eliot share a concerned look. There's definitely going to be trouble.
The PA system screams with feedback for a second before fading away to be replaced with a man's voice. "Captain America. We have this building surrounded. If you don't want us to begin shooting civilians, you will surrender yourself peacefully. You have one hour before we open fire."
The PA system cuts off with a crackle just as Captain America storms out from behind the curtain, his shield clamped in his hand. All around them, people are screaming and running about aimlessly.
"Whoa, big guy." Eliot lays a hand on Cap's chest and nearly loses his arm as the hero wrenches it away.
Hardison jumps in front of Cap and holds both hands up in front of him in a calming gesture. "Hold up. You can't just go marching in there without a plan."
"People will die if I don't." Captain America doesn't flinch as he speaks. His bright, blue eyes, so warm and welcoming while they'd been taking pictures, were now cold and hard as ice.
"You will die if you do."
"Better that than the alternative." Captain America's gaze flicks around the room, taking in the pandemonium. People are screaming and running in all directions.
"Look, whoever is out there, they gave you an hour. That's more than enough time to put together a plan that doesn't involve anyone dying."
Captain America stares down at Hardison, confusion written large across his face. "Who are you people?"
"I'm Alec Hardison, this is Eliot Spencer, and that's Parker. We sort of do this stuff for a living."
Captain America stares at them a moment longer before a smile splits his stern face. "I know you guys. SHIELD has files on all of you. You do some good work. Aren't there two more of you?"
Eliot shrugs. "They retired a couple years back. It's just the three of us now."
He grabs Cap's shoulder and steers him into an empty merchandise stall, Hardison and Parker following behind. He positions Captain America out of sight behind a column.
"You really think we can get out of this without getting innocent people killed?"
"We can't promise that there will be zero casualties, but we'll do our best," Eliot says.
Captain America nods with understanding. "Then call me Steve."
Eliot's expression doesn't change, he's still in his cold, calculating assassin mode, but Hardison can tell he's about ready to pee himself he's so excited to be on a first name basis with Captain America. "It'll be tough with just the four of us, but I think we can do it."
"I've got a couple of friends with me, but they're back at the hotel and I don't know how we'd get them inside even if we could contact them. There's too much interference for my phone to work in here."
Parker grins and bounces on the balls of her feet, this is her specialty. "Hardison, get me a layout of the building, specifically air ducts and ventilation shafts. Anything that will lead outside. And see if you can hack into the convention's security feed. We need to know how many of these goons we're dealing with."
Hardison nods, his fingers already flying across his laptop's keyboard. "Building schematics are easy, but the security feed might take me a few minutes."
Eliot rummages around in Hardison's bag, coming up a few moments later with a small plastic case full of earbuds. He holds the container out to Steve who takes it without question.
"Stark made?" Steve asks, gingerly picking one up.
Hardison snorts. "Nah, man. Those are Alec Hardison made."
Steve nods with appreciation and inserts the bud into his ear. "Nice, almost as good as Stark's."
Hardison is grateful that his screen hides his blush. "Okay, I got the schematics."
Parker peers over his shoulder, her eyes roving over the screen, mapping her route.
"There." She jabs a finger at a spot near the outer edge of the layout. "That's most likely the best way out of here without being seen. Guess who's going into the rafters!"
She looks over at Steve who nods once and cups his hands together. He bends at the knees while Parker tosses her stuffed dragon to the side and backs up in order to get a running start. Hardison holds his breath as her foot hits Steve's palms and he launches her into the air. She sails straight up with a child-like grin and grabs for a support beam. She hauls herself up and disappears into the maze of columns and beams.
"She'll be okay?"
"Parker? Yeah, she lives for this sort of thing."
"Hey, Steve." Parker's voice sounds in everyone's ear. "What hotel am I going to and who am I bringing back?"
"Natasha Romanoff and Sam Wilson are at the Grand Plaze in Suite 317. Tell them Rembrandt sent you."
"Okay, back in a flash!" She sounds far too cheerful for the dire situation they're in.
"Natasha Romanoff?" Eliot says, a bit of awe in his voice. "The Black Widow?"
Hardison glances up from his screen. "Who's Natasha Romanoff?"
"Who-who's Natasha Romanoff?" Eliot's adorable when he gets offended by Hardison not recognizing an obscure name. "Only the best assassin ever. The woman's like a living weapon. I once saw her single-handedly take out an entire squad of Russian special forces."
"So she's the female-version of you. Gotcha." Hardison goes back to typing for a minute before crowing with success. "Got it. This place's security is top-notch, but I managed to crack it. Give me just a second and I'll have the security feed up."
He punches in a few more keys and there's the feed like he said. It loops through more than two dozen cameras, each one showing three to four heavily armed and armored figures.
All told, they were looking at between twenty-five and fifty bad guys. Fifty versus six. And that wasn't even counting any that might be in civilian clothing or not in an area with cameras. Even with Captain America, Eliot, and this Black Widow, Hardison doesn't like the odds. And neither do Steve or Eliot.
"Soviet rifles, but their armor is Swiss made. There's no coherent hair cut among them, but I see Navy SEAL, SAS, EKO-Cobra, SSG, and KGB. Considering who they're here for, I'm going to say they work for HYDRA."
Steve looks at Eliot with the same look Hardison and Parker have given him many times before. "You can identify which special forces unit they're from based on their hair cut?"
Eliot shrugs and looks away. "What? They're very distinctive hair cuts."
Steve shakes his head, a new respect in his eyes. "So, how we gonna do this?"
"I'm hacking into their comms now, but it's a modified Stark system, so it might take me a minute." Hardison looks up at Steve with no small amount of irritation. "That man is more paranoid than my Nana on Devil's Night. I have yet to encounter a piece of his work that doesn't have three times the number of security measures needed."
"But you can get in, right?"
"Of course I can get in. I'm Alec Hardison, baby!"
"Steve?" A woman's voice that wasn't Parker's comes over the comms.
"I've got a cute blonde here who says you sent her. That there's trouble at the convention."
"Yeah, Nat, listen, we've got about fifty HYDRA agents surrounding this place, threatening to kill civilians. I need you and Sam in here with us."
"You trust these guys?"
Steve looks over at Hardison and Eliot who are trying to pretend like they're not hearing this conversation. "I don't see that I've got much choice."
"Can they get you out?"
Steve shakes his head even though Nat can't see it. "They're going to kill civilians," he reiterates. "I'm not running away."
"Fine, then just sit tight. We'll be there in five."
"Captain America, you have forty-five minutes before I order my men to start killing people."
The screams had died down, but they resume at the sound of the threats. Steve moves to exit the booth, but Eliot stops him with a shake of his head.
"Whoever's up there, they're deliberately stirring the crowd up," he says with a glare toward the column-mounted PA speakers. "You go out there now and you'll have half the people calling for your head simply to save their own skins."
"So what are you saying? That I should just sit here and hide while you people risk your lives for me? I can't do that."
"That's not what I'm saying at all, but you can't run out there half-cocked. We need a plan. The camera is going to pick up your location eventually and then they're either going to send in a team to get you, or they'll simply announce your location and let the crowd do their work for them since they know you're not about to fight a bunch of innocent people who are simply scared for their lives."
Hardison glances up from his laptop. "I put the camera closest to us on a loop, but I can't do that to all of them or keep it up indefinitely. There are too many people and too much movement; they'll spot it instantly. But what I can do is create a rolling path of looped cameras to get you out of this section."
Eliot looks Steve up and down. "Do you have anything to wear other than your uniform? You'll stick out less if you're wearing street clothes."
Steve nods and gestures back toward the photo booth. "Yeah, I've got a change of clothes in my bag back there." He moves to get it, but Eliot stops him once more.
"I'll get it. No telling if they've got people waiting for you in there."
Eliot disappears behind the red, white, and blue curtain only to reappear a moment later, a black backpack in his hand. He tosses it to Steve just as two human forms plummet to the ground. Eliot and Steve square up to face the threat until they realize that one of the people is Parker.
The second person, a woman about Parker's size but with auburn hair instead of blonde and wearing a skintight black catsuit says, "Easy cowboys."
Parker unclips her zip line and hops over to Hardison clad in the same black catsuit and crows, "She's letting me play with her tasers." She holds up a sparking black box.
Eliot and Hardison momentarily share a worried look before they both shrug. Parker's dangerous with a taser, but at least it isn't a gun or knife.
The woman with Parker gives a brief nod of her head to both Eliot and Hardison. "Natasha Romanoff."
"Eliot Spencer. That's Alec Hardison."
"You look familiar," she says, eyeing Eliot with curiosity.
"Gomel, Belarus. Two thousand four."
She cocks her head to the side and stares at him for a moment longer. "That was you? I like you better without all the…" She smiles, a slight quirk of her lips that's just a little bit flirty, and waves her hand over the lower portion of her face.
"Okay, guys, as touching as this reunion is, I managed to hack into their comms and we need to be getting our asses out of here. They've got two teams heading this way."
"You said something about being able to clear us a path with the cameras. Which way should we head?" Steve asks, stuffing his uniform into the backpack. He's now wearing a simple black t-shirt (about two sizes too small, Hardison thinks, staring at the way the material molds itself to the man's chest) and pair of jeans and sneakers. Natasha slaps a baseball cap on his head and he's now just a normal guy enjoying the convention instead of HYDRA's most wanted.
"The teams are coming from opposite sides of the room," he gestures out to either side of himself, "so I say we go that way." Hardison points toward the back of the convention center, away from the main doors and windows. "Give me a count of five, then walk for about fifty feet, pause for another count of five while I sync the loop, and repeat. You've got four cameras that way."
"You're not coming with us?" Eliot's worried which makes him even gruffer than usual.
"Hell naw. I'm going that way." He points in the opposite direction toward the front of the building. "They shouldn't catch me hacking their stuff, but if they do, I don't want them tracing me right to you guys."
Eliot stares Hardison down like he's going to object, but finally he simply bumps his forehead to Hardison's. "If they catch on to you, just leave your stuff and disappear into the crowd. We'll find you when we're done."
"Right, right." Hardison clasps his hand to the back of Eliot's head, holding him in place for a moment longer. "And you make sure you and Parker come back to me, you hear."
Parker punches Hardison in the shoulder and gives him her lopsided smile that makes him melt. "Eliot and I will be fine. We've got Captain America and The Black Widow with us."
"Thirty minutes, Captain America." The PA system blares, cutting their goodbyes short. This time no screams accompany the announcement. "You're going to get a lot of innocent people killed if you don't surrender yourself to me."
Steve gnaws on his lower lip, his expression conflicted. "If something goes wrong, a lot of people are going to die."
"Steve, no." Natasha stares up at him, her expression soft. "He's trying to get into your head, get you to make mistakes. Just focus on the task at hand."
"Right, we make it to the other side of the room. Then what?"
"Then I'm going to need Eliot to get a couple of those uniforms."
Steve holds up a hand, interrupting Hardison. He looks around at the group with worry. "Wait, where's Sam?"
A black duffel bag lands on the floor at Steve's feet. "Making your jobs a whole lot easier."
Everyone turns to face a handsome black man wearing an armored vest similar to the ones the HYDRA agents are wearing.
"Sam Wilson." He nods toward Eliot and Hardison. "Thank you for helping my boy out here."
"How did you…" Eliot gestures toward the vest and rifle slung across Sam's back.
"Ah, you know, a bunch of big black vans parked haphazardly in the parking lot. Nobody around guarding them. I thought I'd take a look-see." He removes the rifle and tosses it to Eliot then begins shrugging out of the vest. "You haven't laid out a concrete plan, but I'm going to assume it involves you leading Steve to whoever's in charge and taking him out. Am I right?"
Eliot gives a slight nod of his head. "Seems like the easiest thing to do."
"If they're HYDRA, they're going to know our faces," Sam gestures between himself and Nat, "so you guys will have to be the ones to bring Steve in as your captive. We'll follow and play backup."
"Great," Eliot mutters. "Let's steal us an American icon."
"We've got him, sir," Eliot says into his HYDRA-issue headset. He's ditched the Wolverine claws and exchanged his flannel shirt for Steve's black t-shirt, but there's nothing he can do about the jeans. He just has to hope their plan works and nobody has time to question his attire. "He surrendered himself to us by the registration desk."
"Excellent. Bring him up to the security office."
"Yes, sir. There were two others with him; what should we do with them?"
"Natasha Romanoff and Sam Wilson, no doubt." The voice on the other end of the headset chuckles. "Once you're out of sight of the crowds, kill them."
Eliot covers the mouthpiece to the headset and breathes out an annoyed, "Hardison?"
"Already on it, my man, just give me a minute and those security cameras will show them whatever I want them to see."
Eliot and Parker march Steve who is back in uniform but without his shield which is still in the photo booth, Natasha, and Sam through the crowd to the hallway leading to the security offices. As the heavy double-doors slam shut behind them, Eliot reaches for the pistol at his side.
"Snap our necks," Natasha murmurs, her lips barely move, but everyone can hear the words clearly through their earbuds.
"Snap our necks and Sam and I drop to the floor, then you drag us into that supply closet. That way Hardison doesn't have to simulate muzzle flashes or blood spatter for the camera."
Eliot nods then exchanges a look with Parker. They reach for Sam and Natasha at the same time. Almost as if they're synchronized together, they mime snapping their respective captive's neck. Sam and Natasha fall as Steve starts screaming and struggling against his bonds. Parker hits him with a shot from her taser, dropping the big man instantly.
"Sorry," she whispers as Steve twitches against the tile.
Eliot drags Natasha and then Sam into the supply closet, shutting the door on their "corpses".
"Now you two bring Steve up to the security office and we'll follow in a minute," Natasha whispers. "Hardison, I need you to make sure they don't see this door opening or us leaving."
"I'm on it."
Together, Eliot and Parker drag Steve down the hall and around the corner. They stop, uncertain, as they come face to face with four HYDRA agents with guns aimed at them.
"We've got Captain America. We were told to bring him to the boss."
The security room door opens and a fifth man enters the hallway. This man isn't wearing the same tactical vests the rest of the HYDRA agents are; his is much more complicated and bristling with weapons. But what makes him stick out the most is his metal arm. Eliot swears under his breath so that only the team can hear him.
"Eliot, speak to me, man. What's going on?"
Steve had kept his eyes on the floor, giving the appearance of a beaten man who'd just seen his friends murdered. Now he raises his face to assess the newest threat. His eyes widen in disbelief.
"Bucky?" he whispers.
"Who the hell is Bucky?" Eliot asks, shoving Steve in the back for good measure.
"Bring him," the man with the metal arm says. He barely even glances at Steve, his stare is reserved solely for Eliot.
Eliot's blood runs cold under that stern regard. The man, the Winter Soldier he's called, is a myth amongst those in Eliot's league. Any time a near-impossible assassination is pulled off, the Winter Soldier's name is always whispered.
Eliot wants to grab Parker and Hardison and run as fast and as far as he can. He doesn't want the two of them mixed up in anything involving the Winter Soldier. But it's too late. The only thing they can do is grab Steve under the arms and drag him down the hall.
"Bucky!" Steve calls out, struggling to get away.
The man ignores him. Whoever Steve thinks he is (and Eliot has a pretty good idea even though it would seem to be an impossibility), the Winter Soldier refuses to acknowledge the name. The Winter Soldier holds the security office door open for them and they push Steve inside. The chair in front of the bank of cameras spins around, revealing an unassuming man in a suit. Two HYDRA agents flank the chair while two more stand on either side of the now closed door.
"Captain Rogers, I'm Leonard DuRocher, and I want to thank you for doing the right thing and surrendering yourself to me. I really didn't want to start killing people." He looks between Eliot and Parker and smiles. "Well, innocent people, that is."
Eliot has to physically restrain Steve who lunges for the man. Eliot's arms are nearly ripped from their sockets; he'd known Steve was strong, but knowing and experiencing are two entirely different things. He's just about to let Steve go, just about to let him tear into the smug son of a bitch, when the Winter Soldier steps forward and places his metal hand on Steve's chest.
"Bucky?" Steve whispers in confusion, staring down at the hand on his chest.
Leonard DuRocher sits calmly in his chair, not even batting an eyelash at Steve's rage-fueled outburst. Instead, he turns his attention to Eliot and Parker.
"You were going to shoot the Black Widow and Mr. Wilson in the head, but then you both hesitated and snapped their necks. Why?"
This is a test. The man obviously does not trust him and possibly suspects some sort of trick. It's up to Eliot to convince him otherwise. He hates this part of the job. He can do it, but he'd rather just hit somebody.
"You're right, sir, we were going to shoot them, but that hallway echoes real loudly. We didn't want the people out in the convention center to hear the shots and panic."
"And you care so much about them?" Leonard DuRocher nods his head toward the security feeds showing the convention center.
"Not as such, sir, but if they panicked they'd end up stampeding for the exits. They'd overwhelm our men out there and he," Eliot pushes Steve's shoulder for emphasis, "wouldn't have much reason to continue playing nice."
"Sound reasoning and judgment, son. I appreciate that. What's your name?" The man nods, his eyes still assessing Eliot. He just needs to keep DuRocher's attention away from Parker. They hadn't bothered to craft cover stories because it was supposed to be a simple get in, take out the head, mop up the rest sort of job; they weren't supposed to stick around and talk to anyone. The Winter Soldier being here made everything a lot more complicated.
"Lieutenant Nicholas Woodson, sir."
"I like you, Lieutenant." He gives Eliot one last nod before turning his attention to the Winter Soldier. "Kill Captain America."
The Winter Soldier's hand moves from Steve's chest to his throat and Eliot tenses. He's not sure if he's capable of taking out the mythical killing machine and he's pretty sure that Steve isn't going to be much help. The metal fingers tighten around Steve's throat, but Steve doesn't resist. He's merely staring at the Winter Soldier with what looks to Eliot like regret.
Eliot glances between Parker and Steve, conflicted. If he engages with the Winter Soldier, she's very likely going to end up getting killed, but Steve is Captain America. How can he just stand there and watch him be murdered right in front of his eyes?
Sucking in a deep breath and silently cursing everything about this job, he makes his decision. But before he can move, the Winter Soldier catches his eye and winks. Faster than Eliot can react, he drops Steve to the ground and spins, slamming his fist into Leonard DuRocher's face.
Eliot is in motion before the blood from DuRocher's mangled face begins to patter to the floor and the next few minutes are nothing but a blur of fists hitting flesh. The fight is over before any of the HYDRA agents even realize it's begun. The Winter Soldier takes out Durocher and the two agents standing behind him while Eliot and Steve, his extraordinary strength snapping the zip ties around his wrists like brittle wood, take out the two by the door.
Parker stands out of the way, staring mournfully at the carnage. "I didn't even get to use my tasers on any of them."
"There'll be more than enough guys for you to tase. Now c'mon."
The Winter Soldier opens the door, all of them prepared for another fight, but the four agents waiting in the hall are already down. Nat and Sam lean against the far wall, their arms crossed over their chests.
They immediately stand upright at the sight of the Winter Soldier and Nat mutters "Fucking hell" in Russian. Steve hurries out into the hall to reassure them that he's okay, and Eliot and Parker give them small waves from behind the Winter Soldier.
"Nat, Sam, you remember Bucky," Steve says, forced joviality in his voice.
The two don't share his enthusiasm.
"So, is your little game of Hide and Seek over now?" Sam asks, eyeing the Winter Soldier with trepidation.
Steve turns to address Eliot and Parker. "May I introduce you to Bucky Barnes. Bucky, this is Eliot Spencer and Parker. They have a third member of their team, Alec Hardison, who is elsewhere, manning the tech."
"It's about damn time somebody remembered me," Hardison gripes. "All I hear are grunts and thuds and people threatening to kill other people. What the hell is going on over there?"
"Hardison, we've taken out the mastermind up here and made a new friend," Eliot says, grateful to hear Hardison's voice. "We'll rendezvous with you to put together a plan to take out the rest of these bastards."
The Winter Soldier, Bucky – Eliot can't believe he's entertaining the idea that this is James Buchanan Barnes, Steve's childhood friend. Nothing his grandfather told him about the Howling Commandos ever suggested that Bucky had received the same serum as Steve. – lays a hand on Steve's shoulder and both Nat and Sam tense as if they're waiting for the two to start fighting.
"You're going to have to make that plan fast," he says, glancing back into the security office. "If those men out there don't receive confirmation of your death from DuRocher, they're going to start killing people."
"Are you kidding me?" Eliot snarls. "Hardison, did you catch that?"
"Yeah, man. Don't worry, I've got it taken care of."
"Don't worry? Don't worry? What part about them killing people shouldn't I be worried about?"
Bucky, the only one without one of Hardison's earbuds, stares at Eliot like he's lost his mind.
"The part where I've been recording all of their communications and can rig you up a soundbyte of his voice saying whatever I want him to say."
"Remind me to kiss you when we get back there," Eliot says with no small amount of pride.
Steve relays what Hardison said to Bucky who shakes his head. "He can't do it yet."
"What? Why not?"
"It's a failsafe. Confirmation over the PA system only and the only transmissions over the PA system are to come at fifteen minute intervals. Anything other than that and the order is to kill everyone in the building."
They all exchange worried glances.
"How much time do we have?" Sam asks.
"The last PA system address was thirteen minutes ago."
"Hardison, did you hear that? You've got less than three minutes to put that soundbyte together."
"Working on it."
Eliot tries not to worry, he has absolute faith in Hardison's abilities, but there are so many lives at stake. Anything short of perfection will get a lot of them killed.
Seconds tick by and the group paces nervously around the hall. It takes them almost no time at all to disarm and secure the agents that are still alive, so there's nothing left but the waiting. If Hardison doesn't come through for them, they're all ready to do whatever they can to rescue as many people as possible, but even with the addition of Bucky to their team, it seems like an impossible task.
Eliot's phone beeps, signaling the end of their time and they all hold their breath in anticipation.
"Captain America has surrendered himself peacefully to me. Release the hostages in an orderly fashion and await further instructions."
It's perfect. Not even Eliot can detect the spots where Hardison spliced words and sounds together. He really is going to kiss that man when he sees him.
A ragged cheer echoes through the convention center as the doors are opened and the HYDRA agents begin shepherding people out. Eliot breathes out a sigh of relief, but their part in this isn't done yet. They patiently watch the security feeds as everyone in the convention center is escorted away.
"Guys, we've got a problem."
"Hardison, we really can't handle anymore problems right now."
"Well, that's too bad. See, the cell phone reception and wifi in the convention center sucks and HYDRA managed to dampen all that even further, so nobody could call out."
"Yeah, and?" Eliot needs to be getting ready to kick some ass, not arguing with Hardison who needs to just get to the point already.
"Nobody could call for help, Eliot. Nobody outside the convention center knew what was going on. But now? Now everybody's going to be calling the police, tweeting, tumblring, you name it. All manner of federal agents are going to be swarming this place in about ten minutes."
Yeah, that's bad.
"Right. So we kick some ass and then hightail it out of here in nine." Eliot looks around at the rest of the group who nod in agreement.
"Sam, do you have your wings with you?" Steve asks to Eliot and Parker's confusion.
Sam nods. "I left them out in the car. Didn't think I'd have much flight room in here."
"Good, you and Nat blend in with the crowd and get outside. Once the crowd disperses, take out the agents surrounding the building. Hardison, can you take out their comm system?"
Hardison chuckles. "I can do you one better than that, my man. I can cut off their mics and feed a loop of their own chatter back to them. They'll never even know they're silenced."
"Excellent. We do this fast and silent."
Everyone nods and they split up to clear out the halls surrounding the main convention center. The noise from the emptying center masks the sound of bodies hitting the floor as Eliot, Steve, and Bucky lay waste to the agents who don't know what hits them. Parker, meanwhile, gleefully tases any agent who manages to slip past the deadly trio.
Not only did Natasha give Parker a normal looking taser that's anything but normal, she also gave her small flying discs that emit a massive electrical charge capable of taking down even the largest HYDRA agents. Eliot reminds himself to tell Parker to keep them away from Hardison's gear.
It's fast work, only about a dozen agents in total, but there are still at least thirty more to take down. The last of the convention-goers are exiting the building and the HYDRA agents not herding them out are beginning to congregate by Captain America's photo booth.
Bucky heads down the hall and Steve follows at his heels. Eliot and Parker shrug at each other and take up the rear.
"We play it like you did before," Bucky says over his shoulder. "I'm bringing Steve out as my prisoner with you two as backup. Once the others have dropped their guard, we take them all out."
"You're going to have to make it fast, people," Hardison says. "Local PD is about five minutes out." There's silence for a moment, then Hardison continues, "Where was convention security in all this? Shouldn't they have been able to contact the police when you guys stormed the building?"
"They were all HYDRA agents."
There's no more time for chatter because they're just about at the photo booth. Bucky's walk morphs from a normal fast-paced walk to a strut that telegraphs violence with every step. He's the Winter Soldier now.
The closest HYDRA agents turn at the sound of their approach. Some give smiles and nods of approval while others fist bump.
"Where's DuRocher?" one of them asks, looking askance at Eliot and Parker. "And who are they? I don't remember them coming in with us."
Great. Just great. DuRocher had been too busy gloating over having Captain America to notice anything amiss with Eliot and Parker, but these guys are trained to spot things that are out of place.
"DuRocher is waiting in the security office. He'll clean things up when the cops get here." The lies spill from the Winter Soldier's mouth without hesitation. "These two were inside plants. They're the ones who brought Captain America to DuRocher."
"But-" He never gets to finish his objection. The Winter Soldier's metal arm flashes out and grabs him about the throat.
"Are you questioning me?" he asks, his voice low and dangerous, but loud enough for everyone to hear.
The man in his grasp slaps at the hand for all the good it does him. There's a faint whir of gears as the metal fingers tighten, crushing the man's throat and spine, killing him instantly. The Winter Soldier drops the corpse to the floor and stares out at the rest of the group who are all conspicuously looking elsewhere.
"Does anyone else want to question my orders?"
"No, sir," echoes from around the group.
"Good. Now circle up, we need to get going."
The HYDRA agents surround the group, laughing and joking at a job well done. One of the agents hands Steve's shield to the Winter Soldier.
None of them suspect a thing when Eliot and Parker spin about and lay into the closest agents. But these are world-class killers and their confusion lasts for less than an instant. They close ranks and go on the offensive, forcing the four away from each other.
Parker cries out in pain and Eliot's heart stops beating. They've gotten separated in the chaos and he can't see her over the mass of bodies.
"Parker?" he and Hardison call out at the same time, the same fear in their voices.
"I'm okay," she pants, "It's just a flesh wound."
Eliot breathes a sigh of relief, but his mental state of violence readiness is shattered. All he can think about is Parker getting seriously hurt. Or killed.
"Eliot," Steve says over the comms, "I've got her, don't worry."
Out of the corner of his eye, Eliot catches sight of a dark blur soaring into the rafters. A moment later, Parker is raining electric terror down on HYDRA. With that worry lifted from his shoulders, Eliot can let himself sink back down into the killer mindset and vent his worry and fear out on the armored bodies in front of him.
The only saving grace is that the scene is too chaotic for anyone to even think of using a gun, but many of the HYDRA agents have batons or knives. Eliot takes a stunning blow to his mid-section that knocks the air from his lungs, but he can't stop moving for even a moment. He folds his body over the baton and uses his weight and momentum to rip it away from its wielder.
Now they're all armed and Eliot can start doing real damage.
This fight lasts longer than the previous ones and Eliot's entire awareness has narrowed down to nothing but pain – his own, which he does his best to ignore, and the pain he's inflicting on others. He's exhausted, bleeding from several slash wounds, every inch of his body has taken multiple hits, his ribs are cracked, and at least two teeth are loose, but he refuses to give up. He's in this until the end, whether that means all the HYDRA agents are taken out or he's taken out.
The pile of dead or unconscious HYDRA agents is growing and it's hard not to trip over a splayed arm or leg. Eliot uses this to his advantage. He fakes a fall, letting the body beneath him cushion the impact. The agent he's fighting, a tiny, whip-quick woman, lunges after him, her knife raised to stab him through the chest. At the last second, he lashes up with his foot, catching her in the stomach, and uses her momentum to throw her over and past him. Her trajectory takes her past the Winter Soldier who slams her to the ground where she lies, unmoving.
Eliot leaps to his feet, ready to take on another, but the room is clear. The only people standing are him, Steve, and the Winter Soldier. Parker shimmies down a column, her face beaming with the most glorious smile he's ever seen. As soon as she's close enough, he grabs her about the waist and crushes her into a hug, ignoring the stab of pain from his ribs. She kisses him, hard, passionate, full of relief and fear.
"Hardison," he vaguely hears Steve say into the comms, "what's the ETA on the police?"
"Steve? Eliot? Parker?" Hardison's voice is frantic, pulling Eliot back into the moment. "You guys made it?"
"Yeah, Hardison, we're okay."
"Good, cuz y'all need to get your asses out of there. The police are just about to pull into the parking lot."
The sound of running feet echo through the near empty convention center and everyone turns, fearing that Hardison's estimate had been off, but it's only Natasha and Sam. They're both covered in blood and bruises as well.
Parker's eyes light up when she sees the mechanical wings strapped to Sam's back and Eliot knows he's going to have a hell of a time convincing her that she's not allowed to try them out.
"There's a black 'Vette parked just outside the loading docks. The keys are in the ignition," Nat says as they skid to a stop just outside the circle of carnage. "We've got just enough time to get out of here before the cops pull in."
Steve shakes his head. "I'm staying here. Nat and Sam, I want you here with me as well. We can explain all of this away without mention these guys. Then we'll meet back up with them and have a beer or five."
He turns to Eliot, a pleading look on his face. "Eliot, I need to ask you a favor."
"Anything for Captain America, man."
"I need you to take Bucky with you." Bucky opens his mouth to protest, but Steve shakes his head. "Please, Buck. I've been searching for you for the last year. You were part of this mission for a reason. Go with Eliot and them. Wait for me, please. There's a lot we need to talk about."
The two men stare at each other with so much emotion on their faces that Eliot is forced to turn away and give them some privacy.
A moment later, Bucky strides past him with a clipped, "Let's go."
Parker and Eliot follow with quick waves to the remaining three. Eliot's mind is racing as he slides into the passenger seat of the Corvette. He's going to have Captain America, the Black Widow, and the Winter Soldier in his pub. What the hell is he going to cook for them?