Nick Fury and Red Hargrove had followed trouble most of their eighteen years, or perhaps it followed them. In Harlem, it was hard to tell one from the other. They'd been in too many pool hall brawls and street fights to count, and it eventually caught up to them. Slick Tony was a pusher and a pimp, and when Nick found out his kid brother Jake had been selling his dope for him, he wasn't going to act smart.

The judge didn't care about the vocation of the man who'd ended up in the hospital with four broken limbs after he'd fell out of a window, and gave the two a choice; the service or the stir.

Standing for inspection, as the Drill Instructor chews out that kid from Cleavland, Private Nicholas Joseph Fury thought about Red, sitting in a cell in New York State Penn, and wondered, as he'd often done, which of them had made the right choice.

In Colonel Sawyer's office, a company man called Stryker read from his records. Stryker's slimy and smug, but as he represents the CIA, it isn't the least bit surprising to Nick who'd been in country for some time.

There was another man in the room who wore a bowler hat and a thick orange mustache. No one introduced him or acknowledged him, he didn't speak nor was he spoken to, and Nick understood that it was because he wasn't actually there.

There was some hot stuff in Fury's dossier, good stories, like the one about the time he shot a VC sniper dead. With one shot. From Fury's sidearm. Through the sniper's own damn scope. But there were other stories that were other kinds of hot; possible instances of insubordination that'd been smoothed over, like Lt. Parker, who woke up next to a Claymore mine one morning.

Stryker talked and talked, and eventually, he got down to brass tacks; Staff Sergeant Fury's time in 'Nam was coming to an end, but MACV-SOG would like to offer him a home. Not feeling like leaving just yet, he accepted, and a couple of days later, he got to meet the boys.

There was Castle, of Marine Force Recon; the quiet family man, then there were the Green Berets; Howlett and Creed, the berserker and the psycho, and rounding up the band was Fury's fellow Ranger, Cpt. Thadeus Ross.

Though none share them, each have their feelings about the war. Castle is a little bit in love with it, as much of a family man he is, the war is like a mistress to him. For Creed, it's nothing but good times, his bread and butter. Howlett seems at his element in it, neither relishing nor recoiling.

Ross, however, sees it as an opportunity. He wants stars on his shoulders one day, and figures the 'Nam is where he starts diligently earning them.

Such was why he got along with Castle and Howlett, tolerated Creed, and strongly loathed Ross.

Before they were broken apart short of a year into being in business, Ross' team had gone to work in spots from Laos and Cambodia to the thresholds of Hanoi. There were a couple of new stories about Nick Fury, some too outlandish or horrific to be believed, or to be made-up. The brass saw promise in the hellraising NCO, and saw fit to mustang him into a second lieutenant. He was sent back, as an officer, to lead men into places like Khe Sanh, Hue City, and Kham Duc, the clusterfuck.

But after all the stories, medals and close calls, it was on a routine patrol that shrapnel from an NVA stick-grenade tore into face.

He wouldn't loose his sight right away, the doctors had told him, but he was getting there with certainty.

An award of the Distinguished Service Cross, a promotion to a 1st lieutenant and a posting to a stateside desk job followed; a milk run to finish up his tour before he was cut loose. He'd had a good Vietnam, more or less, but shortly before learning that Red had died in jail, he wondered again if he'd made the right choice years ago.

He was getting pretty short around the time he was shuffling papers in Washington to for a General's funeral, and it was around that time did he receive a call from someone wanting to arrange a meeting with a Professor Jones.

Castle, Howlett and Creed liked, loved or didn't mind it in Vietnam, Ross liked what it meant for his future. Fury didn't know quite how he felt about it. His father had been a hero, captured in Italy and imprisoned in Austira, out of which he escaped with 400 other men, but he thought of himself as nothing but a man on a job, no more, no less. He may had believed in something of a cause at some point, but most he'd really cared about eventually was protecting the men beneath him and making sure they got home.

He wasn't going to apologize for it, nor was he going to sit through the rantings of a silver-spoon-fed academic who'd never had to fight for anything in his life, so he ignored him.

A few days later he was sitting in a hotel bar after the funeral, enjoying a cigar and a scotch, when a lightly-bearded black man of fifty in dress-Greens and borwline glasses took the stool next to him. On his sleeve were a 92nd Infantry Division patc, a two-bar chevron and a bronze pin of a sort he'd never seen before that looked like a wing decal.

The Buffalo soldier ordered some brandy, and out of some odd, scarcely-used sense of paying respect to one's elders, Fury motioned for the bartender that the Corporal's drink was on him.

"Thank you, Lieutenant."

"My old man was 92nd." Fury offered by way of a justification, "You're here for the funeral, I take it?"

"I served under Colonel Philips." Said the Corporal as he extended a hand, "Gabriel Jones, PhD."

"Nick Fury." Said Nick as he shook his hand, and he remembered about Professor Jones who'd called for him.

"I figured I'd come see you in person, as you seem determined not to return my calls. I'd like to talk to you about the Shield Initiative."

Jones talked, alright. He talked about how he, aside from having served under Philips in the war, had been involved together in a secret government program, and offered Nick a spot. He said the people behind the program had the pull to keep him an Army man, but it would be nominal, as he'd be on near-permanent loan to the Shield Initiative.

Fury asked if it was the CIA, and Jones told him the CIA wanted nothing better than shutting them down.

Three months later, when he was re-upped without issue, he took a drive up to Fort Lehigh in Latham, New York. He found the Professor there, as well as a dozen other recruits. There was also a man Fury instantly recognized from Colonel Sawyer's office a few years back, the one in the bowler hat. He said was name is Dugan, formerly of the CIA by way of the 107th I-R.

The recruits were told of an organization, and a man that directed it. The organization's name was Hydra. The man's name was Gruppenf├╝hrer Baron Wolfgang von Strucker.

During the war, he'd been in Poland and the Eastern Front and many other places where horror stories happened. The end of the war saw him escape, like so many of his ilk, to South America through the ODESSA network. In recent years, he'd been reforming Hydra, the notorious rogue Nazi deep-science/special-forces division, as a terrorist organization under his and his friends' auspices. Hydra, as he was told, had had dealings with the Soviet Union, doing work across the globe in exchange for favor and money, places including Vietnam.

The thirteen men were charged with destroying the man before setting to work on dismantling his empire.

On Christmas Eve, Nick found himself riding in a Huey, feeling the old familiar weight of the M16 in his hands.

Castle would be with his family, he'd been sent home a few weeks ago, after whatever it was that happened at Firebase Valley Forge happened. It wasn't very clear what happened, as opposed to what happened to Howlett and Creed which was as clear as day; executed by firing squad after being found guilty of the charge of murdering a superior officer. Ross was now stateside, had just made Major, and was going to continue to rise and flourish.

And Nick was in a Huey making its way into Brazil under cover of darkness, leading men once again on a search and destroy mission.

Leading the life he had, Nick didn't practice much 'hope', but this one time, he hoped things went well.

He hoped his eye wouldn't act up, that he wouldn't lead those men to their deaths. He hoped that for once, the things he would do meant something.

One out of three was better than nothing.

It was several weeks before Nick Fury resurfaced. Dugan received a call, requesting transport from a small town in Texas. It was all Dugan could do not to bark down the phone and demand to learn what the hell had happened in South America and where Nick had been and what had happened. Instead, the CIA spook responded with an 'Okay' before he hung up the phone.

For some time, Nick waited, sitting at a bus stop, looking raged and disheveled. Within an hour, an Army Jeep showed up carrying a couple of MPs. They ferried him the local Air Force Base without uttering a word, and Nick did not crave their conversation. A plane took him to Langley AFB, where Nick had enough time for a shave, a shower and getting into a set of fatigues before Dugan and Jones got there.

In a meeting room, Nick leaned against the wall with his arms crossed upon his chest, watching coolly at sparking blue eyed bellow red eyebrows, like those of a boisterous god out of Scandinavian myth, as Dugan cussed and swore and demanded answers. Jones was more calmly expectant, brown eyes behind browline glasses filled with tense anticipation.

Nick Fury reported to them on the mission.

He told them that Strucker knew they were coming, and that he was gone before the Hueys ever got them in, leaving his men to lay in wait.

He told them about how he was ever going to be the only one that made it alive, about who was killed quickly, who died under torture and who dies during the escape.

He told them of how the things he'd seen and heard before he found an opening, and assured them he took care of the situation at Strucker's compound, thoroughly seeing that it was swept clean of lives and any intelligence, before torching the place and setting out to find the two local assets who'd betrayed them. Through those two, over the course of a few days, he'd managed to get them to be forthcoming about everything they knew.

And then, when he'd given them all the answers they wanted, he offered them all he'd found out about Project Satan Claw. All of it, down to the last horrific detail.

Some very important people were about to become very, very upset, Dugan informed Nick. For better or worse, despite the failure of the Shield Initiative's debut mission, there was no turning back for any of them.

Sitting in the back of a government car taking them to CIA headquarters, Fury thought about how he couldn't wait to meet Strucker, and then he did something he hadn't done heartily in years.

He smiled.

It looked like he'd finally find a war worth his while.