Prologue: Coulson Meets Connors
"Yes, sir, I'm at the penitentiary right now."
Coulson exchanged a few closing remarks with Nick Fury on the phone and closed the car door behind him. After ending his call, he slipped the phone back into his inner suit pocket. Coulson cut an imposing figure as he stood in the middle of the prison's guest parking lot. His dark suit and tie coupled with his dark sunglasses practically screamed government agent, and he could see that the guards shifting nervously out of the corner of his eye were more than aware of that. It wasn't often that Coulson took pleasure in this, but right now he purposefully wanted to leave an impression of authority. After all, later he would need to make sure they wouldn't be tempted to speak of his visit too loudly; it would help if they were imagining what might happen to them if they crossed him in any way.
Coulson smoothly pressed down on the front of his suit jacket and walked steadily toward the visitor's entrance, the gravel crackling under his well-polished dress shoes. He thought momentarily about the new mess he'd been assigned to handle.
The Avengers hadn't been available to help with the sudden giant, green lizard incident, but the situation had quickly come to SHIELD's attention after they'd begun their investigation of Oscorp and its most recent activities. Oscorp had already been on low level surveillance because of their regular contracts with the Army for bio-chemical weapons, but once SHIELD had picked up on the new advancements that the Cross-Species Genetics Department had made, they quickly focused their attention on figuring out what had gone wrong.
It was especially fortunate for them that the newest bio-weapon to be created by the Osborn Corporation, Dr. Curt Connors, had been left relatively unguarded in Riker's solitary confinement. SHIELD could discreetly set up a meeting with the recently out-of-work scientist now that Oscorp's PR department denied having anything to do with the felon. SHIELD was well aware that there was more going on with the Lizard, Spiderman, and Oscorp than was visible from the surface, and the only one that they could get access to was the imprisoned doctor.
Coulson had called ahead to explain the situation, so he'd only needed to flash his badge at the entrance to reach solitary confinement unbothered. When he'd finally reached the cell, Coulson looked through the bars at the man sitting alone in his cell and nodded at the guard.
"Hello, Dr. Connors," Coulson greeted as he walked through the doors and then he waited for the doors to close behind him, letting the tension between them build. "My name is Agent Coulson. I'm here to talk to you about what happened a few weeks ago."
The man had been staring down at his feet, only giving him a small glance when he'd first introduced himself, but as the sound of the last sentence hung in the air, he slowly picked up his head to stare at the stranger in front of him. After a few moments with no response, Coulson walked over and grabbed the empty chair on the other side of the room.
"I hope you don't mind..."
Coulson gestured at the chair he had placed a few feet away from Connors, and then sat down without waiting for Connors to say anything. The two of them sat like that for a while, in silence, Connors staring and Coulson waiting patiently with a polite smile on his face, more a slight curving at the lips than anything else.
Finally Connors broke the silence, "Who do you work for?"
"SHIELD," Coulson explained, and when the only reaction that garnered was a blank stare, he elaborated. "Also known as the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division."
"Right," Dr. Connors said, looking off to the side a bit. "So, you're government."
"Yes," Coulson said. "We'd like to clear up some of the discrepencies we've encountered in your story. Your cooperation would be appreciated."
"Why not?" Connors said almost whimsically and he shrugged. "I've got nothing better to do."
"Thank you," Coulson said as if Connors actually had a choice. "To begin, you agree that your name is Dr. Curtis Connors, and until recently you were the top researcher in cross-species genetics for the Osborn Corporation?"
"Good. However, first, there was something I found interesting when I was searching through your files. Why did you hire a high school student as your head assistant?" Coulson asked. "Miss Gwen Stacy? Surely, as the number one researcher in cross-species genetics you could easily hire the best and the brightest."
"You assume that because she was a high school student that she wasn't the best or the brightest. Miss Stacy was one of the best assistants I've ever had, and I wouldn't underestimate the brilliance of her age group."
At this point, Dr. Connors looked almost sorrowful, the lines of his face deepening as he looked down at his feet once again.
"Yes," he said softly. "Don't underestimate any of them. There's more to them than you can even begin to imagine."
"I assume you're referring to your sudden contact with the son of your former colleague?" Coulson said, catching Dr. Connors' undivided attention once again. "Peter Parker, son of Dr. Richard Parker who was formerly your only peer in cross-species genetics...we've been keeping tabs on you, Dr. Connors. We're well aware of what you've been doing."
"If you were aware than why didn't you stop me?" Dr. Connors pleaded, looking almost desperate. "God, I didn't want to do the things that I did! When we finally made a viable formula I refused to go straight to human testing! And for my refusal to cooperate, I was told to resign and that I would never get a chance to-"
At this, Dr. Connors cut himself off suddenly, his voice breaking and he gestured weakly at his severed limb.
"I did what I thought I had to do," he said forcefully when he finally managed to compose himself. "They were going to take it to a Veteran's hospital… I had to stop them."
"Why did you take the serum yourself then?" Coulson asked, softly, mindful of the doctor's fragile state of mind. "Did you need to take it in order to stop them?"
"I didn't need to, no," Connors said, sniffling slightly and rubbing at his nose.
He paused when Coulson offered the scientist a handkerchief from his breast pocket.
"Thank you," he whispered, and he cleaned his face before carefully folding it with his one appendage, and handed it back.
"No, I didn't need to," Connors said more firmly, looking Coulson in the eye again, the stringy fringe of his hair falling into his eyes. "I'll admit, a large part of me saw this as the last chance I was going to get to fix myself, but another part of me rationalized that if I took it, and it worked, then it was okay for me to let them take the serum. And if it didn't work then I would be an undeniable example that they needed to go back to formula before they did anything else. Even if I was dead."
"Okay," Coulson nodded. "But what went wrong?"
"The…the serum. It does things to you," Connors confessed, a slight tremor went through his body as he recalled those last few days under the influence of the Lizard. "Not just the physical side effects. Even after the physical effects had worn off, it still had a grip on my mind. I didn't notice until I was given the antidote, but it was like I had another voice inside my head, right beneath the surface, telling me what I should do and think. It was ruthless, and so I was ruthless, and I did so many things that I regret."
The two of them sat in silence for a moment. Coulson was turning the Doctor's words over and over in his head, pondering the implications of what he'd just heard. As far as SHIELD was aware, Oscorp still had custody of the serum and the rest of Connors' work. He'd heard rumors that Connors' research had been of special interest to Norman Osborn for some years now as well. In particular, the regenerative qualities a successful cross-species formula would yield were of special interest. However, given the fact that their number-one researcher in that field was now out of commission and the one serum that they were in possession of had possible psychological side effects… the thought was more worrying than Coulson would have liked to admit.
"What about the formula that gave you the viable serum?" Coulson continued, deciding to put the Osborn dilemma aside until he left the prison.
"What about it?"
"Come on," Coulson goaded him. "You don't have a breakthrough after nearly 15 years and then your old research partner's son visits and you suddenly have a viable formula? That doesn't sound suspicious?"
"Peter…is brilliant, yes," Connors admitted, understanding that the SHIELD agent wouldn't be easily fooled. "He gave me the formula that made the serum possible, but I don't believe for a second that he had any of this in mind when he gave it to me."
"He came up with it himself?"
"I…I'm not sure. It's possible, he certainly understood what he was talking about. However, it is possible that he simply found something of his father's and gave it to me."
"Right," Coulson said. "And why did you go after him? Or was it Gwen Stacy?"
"What?" Connors said, looking confused. "I-"
"Well, you attacked Midtown Science High School where both Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy go to school. So, I assume that since you're connected to the both of them, one or the both had to have been your reason for going," Coulson clarified.
"I-" Connors cut himself off, looking heavily conflicted. As if he wanted to defend himself, but knew that he couldn't. "I can't say. It's hard to recall my reasonings at that time."
"Right," Coulson said again, his lips twisting slightly. "Well, that's all I have for today. Thank you again for your cooperation."
Before Coulson could get up and leave, Dr. Connors grabbed the agent's arm. Coulson stilled and stared calmly at the other man. The only thing that was stopping him from breaking the doctor's wrist was because the man only seemed to want to stop him from leaving, not hurt him.
"Agent Coulson," Connors said, his voice rough and desperate. "Whatever I did, don't let Peter or Gwen suffer for it. Keep them out of this. If you start investigating them more openly... the kind of attention they might receive from..."
"Don't worry, Dr. Connors," Coulson assured him. "SHIELD is more than capable of being discreet. We'll make sure the two of them are safe."
"Thank you," he said, holding eye contact a little longer before letting go and averting his gaze.
Coulson stared down at the doctor for a moment more and then signaled the guard to open the door.
"Until next time, Dr. Connors."