Sharon looked up from her half-eaten dinner. "Hm?"
Agent 56 swallowed her latest mouthful before brushing black hair aside to scrutinize her friend better. The two of them had initially met during training after recruitment and became steadfast friends despite their different career paths. Sharon was pursing a career in the field while 56 was content to remain a member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. security staff. Although their respective paths kept them busy, the two of them tried to have dinner together at least three times together…it gave them a sense of a familiar routine.
Tonight just happened to be one of those nights.
"Okay Thirteen, you're making me worried. We've been sitting here for forty-five minutes and that hamburger is still sitting on your plate half-eaten." 56 leaned in slightly. "And to top it off, you've barely said a word about anything. Did you have a nasty breakup with a boyfriend I didn't know about or something like that?"
"Wait, what? No, I'm not dating anyone, never was…no, there wasn't anyone. I'm just thinking about tomorrow, that's all," Sharon said finally, setting her fork down and pushing her plate away.
56 sighed before pushing the plate back in front of Sharon. "You need to eat, especially if you're leaving for your mission tomorrow morning. You don't know when you'll have a decent meal at a table again," she said, refusing to budge when Sharon tried to push the plate back toward her.
"56, this is just a day-long surveillance mission a few hundred miles to the south. Not some week long mission in Europe." Sharon smiled and said, "I'm sure that my mission partner will have to eat too at some point, so if I do end up skipping breakfast, then I'll grab something at lunch."
"I don't know. I heard from my supervisor that Special Ops isn't kind when it comes to increasing training difficulty." 56 tilted her head at Sharon. "Who is your partner anyway?"
Sharon shrugged. "I don't know."
"Well, at least it isn't an Avenger. I thought they'd never leave. Can't believe that Fury had to threaten Iron Man with physical harm if he didn't get his team off the helicarrier. I think he just wants to continue running his operations in peace without Avenger interference," 56 said, snatching some of Sharon's fries.
"Mmhmm." Sharon didn't bother looking up as she picked at the food on the side of her plate that was closest to her. It was better too that Captain America was gone also; she could now relax and at least pretend that he hadn't come back and that her life could right itself back up and move on. But she didn't dare voice that to 56; like all of the other security staffers, was unusually perceptive and if 56 discovered that Captain America was the source of Sharon's unease, then she'd never leave Sharon alone until she found out why.
"But, I'm kinda sad they're gone, they provided a decent source of entertainment from an otherwise boring routine." 56 fell quiet for a moment, before she said thoughtfully, "Although…I'm still not sure I buy Captain America's resurrection story. No one can get flash frozen in the North Atlantic for fifty freaking years and expect to survive. That sounds like something my crazy great-uncle Edward would do. He's a total copycat."
"Then why did Fury tolerate him?"
"Because Fury is just weird like that. Maybe he knows to set aside his personal feelings about the matter because it's more important to have the icon again." 56 fell silent for a few more minutes, silently thinking. Before Sharon could speak again, 56 said, "But I can tell why you'd not want to tell those stories while Captain America was around. That would have been too awkward."
Sharon smiled, hoping it hid her grimace. "You saw that, huh?"
56 shrugged. "Kind of hard not to. I was on duty yesterday, and you were sitting outside Fury's office."
The two women were silent for another couple of minutes. 56 finally broke it again by pushing the plate toward Sharon again. "Just eat a little more. Make me happy and I promise I'll stop mothering you." 56 grinned suddenly, warning Sharon of the sudden change in topic. "Soooo…who are you going with? On your mission I mean? Or are you going alone?"
Sharon shrugged. "Fury said he'd introduce us tomorrow. Didn't you see that when I was talking to Fury?"
56 shook her head. "Nah, Fury's office is one of those few rooms in the helicarrier that doesn't have a security camera and isn't personal quarters. So obviously I didn't get the gist of your meeting until you told me." 56 looked grumpy as though she wasn't used to being kept out of the loop and hated it so far.
Wait a minute.
Sharon stared at her half-eaten dinner as she mulled over 56's words. "The bit about Captain America being in the ice for fifty years, I thought that was just a rumor. Did that really happen then? Where did you hear that from?"
56 snorted before leaning in conspiratorially. "Well, I can confirm for you that it's the truth that Captain America was frozen in the North Atlantic for five decades because my boss overheard him telling Fury," she said, grinning. "He was in the office at the time because he'd escorted the Captain, Iron Man, and Jones to the office from the docking bay."
Huh. Rick hadn't said anything about a security guard escort. But then again, it was so commonplace for visitors to have an armed escort that Rick hadn't thought twice about not mentioning it. Sharon shrugged the thought off before she leaned forward, still interested. "Any other rumors you'd like to put to rest?"
56 took a gulp of water before checking around as though to check and make sure there was no one else listening. Then she leaned forward and whispered, "Do you remember that Captain America had a girlfriend from the war that he was looking for?"
Sharon felt her gut twinge uncomfortably. "Yeah, what about it?"
56 sighed. "Fury managed to figure out yesterday that Margaret Carter died several years ago. He spent all day today pinpointing her last recorded address, and found the address in the records of that whacko Dr. Faustus. So anyway, Fury and Captain America are going to the house this Saturday so that they can get her resting place. Captain wants to pay his last respects," she said before taking some of Sharon's fries.
Sergeant Willis. That talker. And there really wasn't anything she could do in retaliation either. Instead, she asked, "How did he find out she was dead?" Either Wilson told Captain America without realizing whom he was talking to or Sharon had been set up.
56 answered her unspoken dilemma without realizing it. "Captain America heard it from Sergeant Willis…you can't blame either of them, Thirteen. I think Willis took pity on the poor man and just told him. Then the Captain told Fury. Easy as that."
"Oh…okay, you're right." Sharon stared at her plate, the anxiety twisting her guts into Herculean knots. There really was no chance of her finishing dinner now, not in the state she was in. She put on a nonchalant expression before standing up. "Well, I have to go and finish packing since I'm leaving tomorrow morning…"
"Wait!" 56 yelped, grabbing Sharon's hand and pulling her back down. "Where are you going?"
Sharon stared at Agent 56. "How's this, I'll tell you when I get back?" Sharon suggested as she stood back up and grabbed her tray. "Like I said, I still have things to do before tomorrow morning, and can't dawdle." She smiled. "Good night, Fifty-six."
56 smiled back. "Likewise, Thirteen."
Sharon's lips thinned as she left the mess hall, leaving her tray in the appropriate area. Everything was moving too fast for her. While yes, it was a good thing that the Avengers left the helicarrier, she knew she wasn't quite out of the woods yet. Her attempt to send Willis, and apparently Fury as well, on a long wild goose chase by dropping a name for them to use had failed spectacularly. If anything, it only encouraged the two men. She wished she knew what address they had…it would make her job easier.
Sharon mulled over her last conversation with her father as she walked down the hall, her fingers gently playing with her phone in her pocket. It had been two days ago, and Harrison had no doubt immediately started checking the strength of his security measures once he got off the phone with Sharon. She'd tried to make his job easier by not telling anymore Captain America stories, but even that failed when Willis pestered her.
Fine, you win.
She finally pulled her phone out and dialed her home number. Yes, it was still around dinnertime for her family, but this information was important enough to warrant an interruption.
Besides, Harrison would answer no matter what. Regardless of the situation, he always answered the phone whenever he returned home from work.
Even though her father couldn't see it, Sharon smiled at the sound of his voice. "Hey Dad, it's me, Sharon. How's everything going?"
"Oh, you know, the usual. Peggy finished another scrapbook today and we are not even in 1944 yet." Harrison fell silent for a moment. "Now, I'm guessing you either have information for me or this is a simple social call."
"Neither. It's more of a warning." Sharon took a deep breath and said, "I did what you told me to do, if people asked about her and where she lived." Lowering her voice, she added, "The thing is, I, uh, embellished a few details and said she was dead. Now I just heard that my boss, Director Fury, managed to locate her last known address. He and Captain America are planning to visit her 'last residence', this weekend, just locate her final resting place."
Harrison was quiet for a moment, and Sharon wondered if she was about to be scolded for the lie. To her surprise, Harrison finally swore. "Damn Fury. I hate how he always forces my hand," Harrison growled. "D.C. I can forgive but this is just crossing the line. What address does he have?"
"The one he lifted from Dr. Faustus's records," Sharon said, glancing up and down the hall just in case.
"Hm. I think he'll have her old New York residence then…she did stay there for a while before falling into Faustus's clutches. Fury won't have access to her medical records; I removed those from the system years ago." Harrison finally stopped as his brain took over, giving Sharon a chance to lean against the hall corridor, trying to relax from standing with stiffened muscles.
"What do you want me to do?" she asked wearily.
"Let's roll with this. Just keep doing whatever it is Fury wants you to do…speaking of which, what is that?"
"I'm going on a surveillance mission with a partner in Richmond tomorrow morning. I don't know what I'll be watching or whom I'll be working with, but Friday morning I get to come home," she said, wistfully picturing her home, her parents, and her aunt. A nice little family tucked away in the Virginia countryside. She hadn't seen them since Christmas.
Harrison snorted. "Careful. In case Fury is playing a game or something. I'll probably be out of town by then, but I'll see you when I come back."
Sharon just had to ask at this point. "Dad…do you know Director Fury or something?"
"Not really. My only run-in with Fury consisted of a glance as we walked past each other in the hall in Washington D.C. But other than that, I haven't had much face-to-face interaction with the man. Now has he screwed me over before? Yes. Have I forgiven him? Hell no. Sharon, just be careful on this mission please. And leave Peggy to me."
"Of course, Dad. Good night."
Just like that, Harrison hung up.
Sharon released a breath from between her teeth as she slipped the phone back into her pocket. Stay on task while her father dealt with Fury. Sharon could do that no problem…she hoped.
Starting with the surveillance mission tomorrow.
She started heading to her quarters, disappointed that she wouldn't have a chance to hunt down one of her old teammates, one she hadn't seen since yesterday. She was particularly interested in talking to him because Agent 27 had this unnatural tendency to talk to anyone about anything. Which was why both Willis and 45 were sure that 27 would never amount to anything above field agent. Which again worked, because 27, as far as Sharon knew, had no plans to go beyond his current rank. In fact, if she closed her eyes and concentrated hard enough, she imagined she could hear 27 yapping away right around the corner…
Wait a minute.
"Twenty-seven!" she snapped, rounding the corner quickly.
"Acck!" 27 squealed while jumping and startling the person he'd been talking to. "Thirteen, I…" his voice trailed off when he guessed her mission and then the guilt painted itself across his face. "If this is about Willis and those stories…"
Sharon smiled. "Whatever gave you the impression that I wanted to talk to you about that?" she asked, getting an idea. "Well, I was going to talk to you about something related to our team, but now that you bring it up, what's so special about the stories?"
27 gulped. Granted, Sharon didn't tell him not to continue spreading those around, but she planned to fix that right now. "Well Thirteen, Captain Rogers here was just being nice about it and I couldn't say no!" 27 wailed as Sharon yanked on his uniform collar in order to make him turn around to face her. "I mean, it was just a story like you said and…"
"It's all right ma'am, I asked him to tell me," a man said, stepping forward as though to break up the fight. Sharon released 27 to step back and get a better look at the newcomer.
The rank insignia on his S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform was absent, but his uniform had the dull gold shoulder band that indicated his status as a member of the Special Operations unit. Sharon took a slight step away; Special Ops was a completely different department than hers and was even located in a separate part of the helicarrier. Sharon herself didn't know much about Special Ops only because she personally had no intentions with tangling with anyone from there yet.
"My apologies ma'am, I had asked Agent 27 about the stories. I had just gotten back when I heard that the Avengers had visited, and I asked 27 here to tell me about their visit. From there, we started talking about Captain America. 27 only said he'd heard these stories from someone else, he didn't actually tell any," the newcomer said, holding his hands out in a placating manner. Blue eyes met her suspicious ones.
Giving the man a quick once over, Sharon shook the feeling that she might have seen his face somewhere other than the helicarrier before. She asked, "Have you been with S.H.I.E.L.D. long?" They may have been in different departments but she just had a small gut feeling that something was slightly off about this person.
"Seven years." Oops, her mistake. The man smiled, unaware of Sharon's mental reprimands to herself. "Name is Steve Rogers," he offered, extending a hand.
"Agent Thirteen," she replied, accepting the extended hand. "Sorry for being all wound up like that, it's been a long day," she added, glancing apologetically at 27. "I'm sorry for scaring you like that."
"It's okay, I'm used to it," 27 chirped. He frowned when he realized that both Sharon and Rogers were staring at him, wearing stunned expressions. "What? Willis yells at me a lot more than either of you did just now."
"Hey 27? All I wanted to ask was if you could refrain from repeating the stories, I don't want them to get warped too much," Sharon said, offering him a sheepish smile.
"It's okay. I didn't think I was doing the stories justice anyway, that's why I didn't tell any of the stories to Captain America when he was here. Thirteen is a good storyteller, you can ask her to tell you," 27 said while Sharon silently shook her head behind him, and Rogers nodded slightly in acknowledgement. "Well," 27 said, straightening, "I've got to go now. Forty-five says we're headed off to Dallas, Texas tomorrow. For what, I have absolutely no idea."
You usually don't. Instead of voicing her thoughts aloud, she said, "Good night then," and smiled in an attempt to reassure 27 that all was forgiven.
Rogers smiled and waved as 27 turned around and drifted down the hall in a sort of dreamy state. He waited until the two of them were sure that 27 was completely gone before he turned back to her.
"Again, I'm terribly sorry about the whole fuss. The last couple of days have been a bit stressful," she said, managing a faint smile.
Rogers nodded. "I guess I can sympathize. I just got home and Fury's already sending me off again."
Home? "You consider the helicarrier to be your home?" The words were out of her mouth before she realized what she said and to whom. "I'm sorry, that was incredibly insensitive…"
Rogers laughed, startling her even though to her the laugh seemed a little forced. "It's all right. The last mission I was on lasted a little longer than I thought it would, but it still served as a reminder of why I didn't settle with a permanent home in the first place. It's easier… to have the helicarrier as my home…" his voice trialed off uncertainly.
"Hey," Sharon said, placing a hand on his shoulder. Despite his claim of having seven years' worth of experience of working for S.H.I.E.L.D., he seemed a little lost…or distracted. Or both. He was hard to read. When he turned back to face her, she said, "It will be all right."
He quirked a small smile, but it didn't mask a phantom pain in the back of his eyes. "Are you psychic now or something?" he asked with a slight tease in his tone.
"I prefer optimistic," Sharon replied, stifling a small laugh.
There were a few minutes of awkward silence between them. Sharon debated whether if she should tell him about the adventures (okay, it was more like hell) that the Avengers had given Fury or if she should ask Rogers about the mission he'd apparently just gotten back from. Then she remembered what 56 once told her; Special Ops agents strongly preferred their privacy…and personal space.
And they disliked anyone who tried to interfere with either.
Choosing to drop the subjects altogether, she simply smiled again, patted him awkwardly on the shoulder and then said, "Well, it was nice talking to you. Good luck with everything."
Dear God Sharon. Just get the hell out of there before you make yourself look worse in front of this guy.
Not that she actually cared about what he thought of her. No sir, she had better things to do at the moment, such as packing for tomorrow's mission and agonizing over the identity of her mystery partner.
It wasn't until six minutes later, when she was punching in her key code to get into her room that she suddenly remembered that 27 had called the other man 'Captain Rogers'. As in, the military rank way above hers.
So not only had he'd been a higher military rank, but he was in a 'higher' department than hers.
And she treated him as though he was just another teammate.
Although she tried to reassure herself that she would never see Steve Rogers ever again, she still didn't believe herself. It was going to be along night. She wasn't going to be in the right shape for the mission tomorrow morning.
A/N: Mission time next chapter! :) Also, anonymous reviews have been enabled.