A/N A few quick important things about this story. It's based after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier with a few distinctions: S.H.I.E.L.D was not dissolved and Nick Fury commissioned the Winter Soldier to be taken in on a rehabilitation project.
Chapter Rated T for several accounts of swearing.
I have another bad, restless night so my workout starts early again, just as dawn breaks.
There's a fine vapor of morning mist in the air that turns my face dewy and sticks my fringe to my forehead; the sunrise is diluted into a haze in front of me through low cloud. The only sound is the regular inand outpant of my breath and my sneakers crunching against gravel as I run.
It's nice. The rest of Washington D.C is still sleeping. There's the occasional blare of a car horn from the depths of the city as delivery vans start their rounds, but here, by the river, even the birds are still sleeping.
I reach the Boat House and do some stretches on the river bank. I try to really feel the sensation of my muscles relaxing like my therapist told me to, so I can practice replicating it in situations I find stressful. Exercise is now my main prescribed medication; strictly non-confrontational activities though, obviously.
After the third cycle of stretches I feel the near-constant knot of tenseness in my lower back finally start to unravel and fish the keys to the boat shed out of my rucksack along with my headphones and iPod. This is a cheat; all music is strictly supposed to be calming and uplifting but I'm competitive by nature and that kind of stuff doesn't quite cut it for me. As I kicked off the dock in my little one-man rowing boat I stuffed the headphones into my ears, letting the familiar crashing rhythm wash over me. The world successfully blocked out I dip my oars into the water and pull, each stroke becoming more powerful than the last as I fall into a familiar rhythm. Over the loud music I can barely hear the splash of the water; my swift little boat darts along and it feels like I'm gliding over the river.
By the time I reach my half way point – the bridge which arches over the widest point of the river to transport the main traffic into the city – the sun is almost fully up and there are other joggers running along the adjacent paths. I turn round and head back for the boat house; so focused on my rowing that I never notice the figure on the bridge, coat flapping ominously round their knees.
Its past 8 AM by the time I've replaced my lean little boat onto its rack amongst all the other boats and locked up. The music's still going, my body pulsing with the relentless crashing beat as I bend over to ease the stitch in my side.
I sense his presence before he makes himself known and straighten, wrenching the headphones out of my ears in irritation and stuffing them into my rucksack on the ground before straightening up and slinging it aggressively over my shoulder.
"Do you know what forced retirement means," I snap, stalking down the path towards home with out checking to see if they were following. "It means we have a mutual agreement never to see each other again."
"Your retirement was conditional."
"You're mental health. It was stipulated on the forms –"
I whirl round, wrenching the hood of my jumper down, my hair practically bristling with anger. "You dropped me for PTSD you cold. Heartless. Bastard."
"You're redundancy package was quite substantial if I recall correctly," replied Nick Fury, rolling his eyes. Or eye. I confess I was surprised to see him patch-free, his right eye starting unseeingly into me, the kind of milky opaque colour that makes kids scared.
"If you recall correctly," I echoed, sneeringly. I turn round and carry on walking, shaking my head. "You have the compassion of a sledgehammer to the face, Nick."
"It wasn't a decision taken lightly to drop you, Alex. You were one of our greatest out on the field."
"Oh, you lost one of your top, but perfectly dispensable spies, did you? Let me play you the world's tiniest fucking violin. Do you have any idea how it felt for me to lose my job? That was my life."
"Good. Then you should be jumping at the chance to have it back, then."
I turn round and punch him in the face. Hard.
"Don't you dare try to contact me again. Don't even think about coming near me," I spat. "We are done, Nick. You made that quite clear over a year ago. My time at S.H.I.E.L.D is through."
He didn't say anything, just held a hand to one side of his face, working his jaw silently.
I turned and walked away. This time he didn't try to follow me.
Dr Angelina Quick has probably dealt with hundreds of other ex-field S.H.I.E.L.D agents like me over the years. You can tell because she seems to have a way of dealing with us down to a fucking science and nothing ever seems to phase her. She's always unflappably patient and calm – and believe me, I've tried to break that cool exterior many times.
As I sit, wound up like a ticking time bomb across from her, she voices the question that I've been asking myself every time I come to one of our sessions.
"Why do you still come to these meetings, Miss Tsvetkov?" she asks, leaning back in her chair and steepling her fingers on top of my file. So far she hasn't written in it. Yet. "I've had many patients of your sort of temperament over the years who just…disappear. Use their acquired skills to hide somewhere even S.H.I.E.L.D can't find them. Live out the rest of their lives under a new aliases. Quieter lives. Better lives, maybe."
"Believe me, I've been tempted," I snap, snidely.
Dr Quick leans forwards over her desk, the S.H.I.E.L.D pin on the front of her white coat briefly catching the harshly bright overhead lighting. "And yet, here you are," she says, opening her hands slightly. "Still here. Even after all this time."
I feel my hands ball into fists. Still here. Like a good doggy. Like an unshakeable shadow. The thought triggers my hands to curl up a little tighter, my nails biting into my skin. "Yeah. After all this time. You know why? Because I'm still having panic attacks. Because I still can't sleep at night. Because whenever I think about Bulgaria I get this feeling in my head like it's going to god damn explode." I suddenly can't see, like there's suddenly some kind of red mist over my eyes. I'm aware that I'm stood up. That my chair's toppled over behind me and that I'm yelling. "One year! You were fucking supposed to make it all stop! That was the deal! That's what you promised me!"
"Is that true?" she asks, so calm that I want to throttle her. Voice so steady that I want to throw something.
"Is what true?" I snarl.
"You've been having panic attacks?"
"Cut the bullshit, I know you've been watching me. I know my apartment's bugged. I see the guys tailing me in their little black SUVs 'incognito'."
"Why didn't you take up Fury's offer to take you back?"
I laugh in her face. "I thought therapists were supposed to have the patient's best interests at heart. Not their bosses."
"I was merely asking how the situation made you feel; why you didn't accept his offer. Do you know why he wants you back?"
"Well I didn't wait round for a fucking job description if that's what you mean. And whilst you're feeding all this back to Fury after our little 'therapy session' you can tell him that there is no way I'm going back out onto the field. Ever."
Dr Quick surveys me closely for a several seconds, her brow furrowed. "Alex what if I told you – truthfully – that Fury had no intention of re-hiring you as a spy."
"I'm not taking a desk-job," I said flatly, folding my arms. "So he can go to hell."
Something in her eyes flickers and I'm perversely glad that my stubbornness is finally starting to irritate her. "No, that's not it, either." She reaches for my folder and slips out a chunky file, pushing it across the table towards me. "Of course," she says, "you'll be aware of the recent events of HYDRA's infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., it was all over the news a few days ago and you –"
"Obviously kept a few tabs on S.H.I.E.L.D, yeah," I say, absentmindedly, picking up the folder and rifling through it.
"-well Fury wanted to assign you to a rehabilitation project. The Winter Soldier - or, rather, James Buchanan Barnes."
I looked down at the tortured image of a young man lying in a hospital bed, all manners of wires and electrodes taped to his head. It was the final date in a long report – the picture taken only yesterday. I swallowed, my hands suddenly shaking slightly. "Why…why me?"
"Take the file home for the night. Read it. Sleep on the idea," said Quick, suddenly busying herself with tidying her desk. "If you decide yes…well, you know where to find us."
I role my eyes. Of course they weren't going to tell me their true motives yet.
Still, I looked back down at the file, something nagging at the back of my head. I turned and righted my chair silently, sliding the file carefully into my rucksack. Fully aware that Dr Quick's eyes never left me as I slipped out the room.
A/N So there's the first chapter! Please review if you're interested and would like more. Of course, constructive criticism is always welcome.
Last Of The Lilac Wine.