Daniel was sitting in SHIELD's cafeteria, picking at a salad as he read through the files SHIELD had on the civilisations they'd encountered. He was curious about the overlap between the races SHIELD had encountered and those the Stargate Project had, but it seemed like SHIELD's came from much further afield.
He glanced up, frowning, when he heard someone talking loudly as they walked down the corridor toward the cafeteria. A moment later, Thor walked into the large room, accompanied by an agent who seemed to be nodding along every now and then, attention drifting from the Asgardian next to him.
Thor rested the hammer on the table near Daniel and turned to get some food. Daniel rose, approaching the hammer, but not touching it. He'd heard it had mystical powers and was curious.
"Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor," Daniel said absently, reading the runes on Thor's hammer.
"You speak the tongue of Asgard?" Thor asked, turning back to Daniel, eyes alight as he stood, towering over Daniel's not insignificant stature. He hadn't even realised he'd been speaking Asgardian and not translating it until Thor pointed it out.
"A bit," Daniel said, because it wasn't quite the same as the Asgardian he'd learned, but it was close enough.
"I have been told there is one here who travels the stars in a manner similar to the Bifrost. You are this one?" Thor said, resting a heavy hand on Daniel's shoulder. Daniel stumbled a little but managed to keep his footing.
"From what I've read on the Bifrost, it's a similar result, but not quite the same method."
"Fascinating," Thor said. "How did you come by this technology?"
"The remnants of a previous civilisation."
"I was unaware of another culture that advanced," Thor said with a deep frown.
Daniel refrained from telling him there were several. Apparently, these Asgardians lived under the assumption that they were one of the most advanced races in the universe.
"They abandoned their technology thousands of years ago," Daniel said, unwilling to go into the whole sordid history.
"Your adventures must be many," Thor said, slapping Daniel on the back and sending him stumbling a step.
"You know, you're not the first Thor I've met," Daniel said and Thor looked utterly intent upon him.
Alec was on his way back from a pokey little gym he'd found near Logan's place when he saw a tall, muscular blond man run past him. Over the months Alec had been visiting Logan in Washington, he'd seen Captain America a handful of times.
The serum was a marvel even if the thought of it did make Alec shudder. He couldn't help but wonder if Manticore was an off-shoot of Hydra, if it had been an attempt at an alternate method of recreating Captain America. He wondered if their abilities would match up or if Manticore had managed to improve on the formula.
Alec considered it for only a moment before he took off after the captain, chasing at his heels. It took a moment for the man to notice him and then he looked surprised that Alec was able to keep up with him. The surprise faded to a suspicious frown and the Captain sped up to outpace Alec.
Logan was going to kill him for revealing himself, but Alec was still riding high on the idea that he didn't have to hide, not entirely, and cold do what he liked within reason. There was little Manticore and the Familiars could do against him these days.
Alec sped up too. He could feel he was reaching the height of his endurance though and even the Captain looked like he was feeling the strain. Finally, miles later, they both started faltering and eventually stopped, gasping for breath.
"Who are you?" the captain asked, curiosity edging into a demand. "Who do you represent?"
"Captain Rogers?" someone called from a black sedan a little further away.
The captain glanced in the direction of the sedan before looking back at Alec. He hesitated, clearly wanting answers.
"Captain, it's important," the man in the car insisted. Alec heard the captain sigh before moving toward the car.
"Catch you around," Alec said, snapping off a sharp salute. The captain's expression promised that next time he'd be getting answers. Alec grinned before taking off in the opposite direction.
John was tinkering in the lab, trying to recreate some of the technology from his modified module from scratch. It was slow going, but if Earth ever wanted to be able to reach out to the stars faster than they were reaching out to Earth, it was necessary. They needed a quick method of travel that didn't rely on Daniel's gates or an apparently unreliable bridge guarded by a largely spectacularly unhelpful race of god-like aliens.
The first time John encountered Tony Stark, the man waltzed into the SHIELD workshop as if he owned the place. John figured he probably had at one point. Or at least most of the contents of it.
"Are you still using the old plasma conduit core? That's already a year out of date," Stark said.
John remembered Cale saying he ran in the same circle as Stark when they were kids but, when pressed, having nothing much to say about Stark, which probably meant he had nothing good to say. It was as much about his past as Cale had overtly divulged. They'd all been able to gather that he'd come from a privileged background but that it was a long time ago for him. As far as John was concerned, who any of them had been before wasn't nearly as important as who they were now. The last few years had irrevocably taught him that.
"Sometimes, the best ideas come from improvising," John said, turning back to his work. Stark huffed in agreement or at being ignored, John wasn't sure, but Stark settled in next to him.
"That's an oscillating field generator," Stark said in surprise. "Not bad for a SHIELD flunky."
"It's genius," John told him without arrogance. It was based on Sabacean technology, far beyond anything Earth had, even with the likes of Tony Stark.
Stark didn't reply, which John took to mean he agreed but refused to say so.
Some time later, John wasn't sure how much other than that he was now ravenously hungry, he paused in welding tetryon capacitor and looked over at Stark who was still deeply engrossed in his work.
"Hey Stark," John said. Stark didn't respond and John reached over and nudged him. Stark jumped and glared at him.
"Don't do that," Stark snapped before he stopped to look around them. "You're reasonably competent."
It was said grudgingly, as though John had only just kept up with Stark and Stark was doing him a favour by helping out. John raised an eyebrow.
"You're reasonably tolerable," he said. Stark smirked.
"Stark Industries needs reasonably competent people," he told John.
"I'll think about it," John said, smirking faintly. "For now, I'm starving."
Stark thought a moment then looked surprised and he said, "Me too."
John shifted his stance, placing his feet shoulder width apart and squared his shoulders. In a moment he'd raised his hands, sighted along Winona, released his breath and fired.
The target exploded, spraying shrapnel in all directions. John didn't have time for the satisfaction to sink in before he turned and fired again as another target popped up. He moved through one of the lower levels of SHIELD's obstacle course methodically, determinedly not thinking about everything he had left behind. Not Moya or his friends, Aeryn or the baby that shared his DNA. Because that all belonged to the other John, the clone, the man who'd stolen his life.
He was beginning to tire by the time he reached the end. So much so that his last shot went wide. His score was more than satisfactory by SHIELD standards, but it still frustrated him. He turned to fire again when the target was hit by an arrow. John stopped short and spun to see a man in dark purple, almost black, clothing. The man shifted his grip on the bow he was holding so that it hung loosely in his left hand. Somehow, John got the impression that the man could draw it as fast as John could his pistol.
"Nice piece," the man said, nodding in the direction of John's gun.
"You too, William Tell," he said with a vague gesture to the man's bow. "If a little old-fashioned."
The man's grin was just a touch feral.
"You'd be surprised what I can do with it."
"So you know how to handle your weapon?" John asked, waggling his eyebrows. The man grinned at him.
"I wouldn't mind a few pointers," John said with a grin of his own, though he was mostly serious. He'd started as a scientist. Being a soldier was something he came to through necessity, but if there was anything the last few years had taught him, it was that there was always room to improve and sometimes obscure skills saved the day.
"Sure," the man agreed easily. "Want to go get mind-numbingly drunk?"
"Best suggestion I've heard all day," John responded.
"Clint Barton." Clint gave his hand a firm shake.
Logan hurried down the corridor, skidding to a stop that made his back twinge painfully.
"Dr Banner," he said quickly, stopping the other man. "Can I have a moment of your time?"
He'd tried to meet with Banner since New York, but the man didn't exactly make himself available.
"I'm in a hurry," Banner told him, already turning away.
"How would you counteract a DNA targeted virus?" Logan asked, hoping the question would intrigue Banner enough to keep him there, listening for just a little longer.
"Hypothetically?" Banner asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Of course," Logan agreed easily, ignoring the way Banner clearly didn't believe him. Max might have moved on, but that didn't mean Logan never wanted to see her again or go home. After everything he'd done for and with them, no matter what he was doing these days, the transgenics were home.
"Assuming the subject is already infected, there is very little that can be done without a sample of the original virus and years of research," Banner told him.
"And a vaccine?" Logan asked, wondering if that would be enough to counteract the virus.
Banner shrugged, looking at Logan with narrowed eyes. Logan wondered if it was only the fact that there were at SHIELD headquarters and were ostensibly allies that kept Banner answering.
"Without having a look at your hypothetical disease, I can't give you any further answers," Banner told him. "Targeting a specific group isn't an easy thing."
"And targeting a specific individual?" Logan said. "Hypothetically?"
"Why would anyone do that?" Banner asked, horrified at the very idea of it. Logan wondered what he was doing working with SHIELD. Logan might not mind the work too much and even thought they were doing good work most of the time, but even he could see that there were avenues open for corruption.
"Thank you for your time Dr Banner," Logan said, stepping back. Banner took a small step forward, equally curious and cautious, before he caught himself and simply nodded to Logan. Logan had a feeling he might have to answer some awkward questions from his superiors, but at least he'd tried.
Alex pocketed the thumb drive containing the schematics to a new, and highly dangerous, energy weapon. Both his superiors and the Consortium wanted it, for themselves and out of the hands of their enemies.
"It's been a long time," a soft, familiar voice said in Russian. There was nothing soft about the woman who spoke the worlds.
"Tasha," he said, turning.
"Sasha," she replied evenly. They watched each other carefully; tension wound tight and bodies coiled to spring.
She'd always been good at pretending, but he thought she looked good, lighter somehow, since the last time he'd seen her. He wondered if working for SHIELD, if turning her back on everything, was actually worth it. Shaking his head, he turned to go.
"You're making the wrong choice," she told him, stepping to block his path.
"Choice?" he asked with a bitter turn of his mouth. "We only deceive ourselves into thinking we have choices."
He'd been six when Leviathan took him from his parents. He didn't remember what they looked like and had learned not to care about that. Everything since then had been obeying orders and trying to stay alive.
"We deceive ourselves into thinking we don't," she told him. "It's the only way we can live with what we do, what they tell us to do."
"You say that as though we're like normal people, as though we aren't the weapons they forged us into," he said.
"We're more than they made us," she told him. She had turned lying into an art form, but everything about her seemed sincere.
Alex laughed at that, a harsh rasp more than anything, and raised his left arm, wiggling his fingers at her. The metal gleamed dully in the scant light. She didn't look away, didn't even flinch as so many had in the past.
"And if they made us more?" he asked.
"Then make yourself something else."
"That easy?" he asked, mouth twisting wryly.
"Easy?" she responded with a faint smile that didn't hide the shadows in her eyes. "No. Just simple."
He considered her words, examined them and tucked them away in that small part of himself he'd wrestled back from Leviathan. Her jaw clenched and she nodded, understanding his decision as clearly as if he'd spoken it.
Fighting her would only raise the alarm and she might have backup now that she was with SHIELD, but he didn't. He turned and leapt through the window, metal hand first to shatter the glass, and tucking and rolling as he hit the ground. A moment later he was on his feet and running.
"I didn't expect to see you again so soon," Natasha said almost eight weeks later. Alex raised an eyebrow which she met with the barest smile. If they had met again in the field, it would have been on her terms and he likely wouldn't have fared as well.
"I'm making a choice," he told her and held out the drive. Though she covered it quickly, he could tell she was genuinely surprised. The anticipation that made his heart hammer in his chest felt an awful lot like fear.