Three months after riding out of New York on his motorcycle, Steve Rogers came riding back in.
He wasn't sure what had become of the place in Brooklyn that SHIELD used to rent for him, so he ended up heading right for SHIELD's Manhattan headquarters at 46th and Broadway. From parking outside and as he walked up the building's steps toward the lobby, he drew the suspicious attention of surrounding agents. It wasn't that he'd been gone for some time, it was that people often had a hard time recognizing him. Usually they expected someone older, but this time it was probably more the fact that he was packing a week's worth of road dirt, with his last shave being over a month ago and his last haircut was shortly before the invasion.
Clint Barton, standing in the lobby with a duffle bag over his shoulder, craned his neck back as he saw what he initially assumed to be one well built though less-than-hygienic hipster in a weather-beaten leather jacket. His eyebrows rose as Steve recognized him, and with a nod greeted him,
"Captain Rogers?" asked Barton's as his eyes narrowed, "You look like shit."
Steve gave a small chuckle as he shook Barton's hand.
"Well, you look much better."
"Yeah," Clint smirked, "My days as a brainwashed pawn of an evil alien overlord are behind me. Are you here to see the boss?"
"Something like that."
"Okay." Clint nodded as he looked Steve up and down, "Um, maybe I'd better take you up."
An hour, a shower, a shave and a change of clothes later, Steve was sitting in an armchair before the director's desk inside Fury's office, which had the air conditioning turned down to a chilling degree. Fury himself was behind the desk, reclining in his massive leather-bound chair as he put out his Cuban cigar.
"Nice to see you made it back in one piece." Said Fury with a smirk. It was his way of putting people at ease by appearing obnoxious, which oddly worked. It was when he was being genial that people clenched up, "Did you have fun doing the whole Kerouac thing?"
"You can say that." Steve said as he nodded. He'd learned to brush off all those references everyone was keen on making.
"Glad to hear it. Where'd you go? Grand Canyon? Mount Rushmore?"
"Yeah. I spent a couple of weeks in San Francisco, too. On the way back I camped for a week in Yosemite Park. I've been to Hoover dam. Niagra falls were beautiful."
"Yosemite Park?" Fury asked as he furrowed his eyebrows. The surveillance detail mentioned nothing about that. And then Steve gave him an amused look and cocked his head.
"Huh." Fury said, smirking with genuine amusement, "Okay. I see what you did there."
"I'm not such a big fan of being watched all the time."
"Few people are, kiddo." Fury commented as he reached for the bottom drawer and pulled out a bottle that he placed on the table, "Bourbon?"
"It's nine in the morning." Steve commented as Fury reached back down for glasses.
"Is that a no?"
"Ah, I knew I liked you for a reason."
Fury poured two glasses of Bourbon and pushed one gently across the desk's surface to within Steve's reach before he leaned back and picked up his own.
"So how have you considered my offer?" Fury asked before taking a sip.
"I have indeed." Said Steve, holding his glass and contemplating the copper color of the drink within.
"And I can tell you've made a choice. You're gonna say 'yes', but first you're going to be coy about it."
"Oh, am I?"
"Yes." Said Fury, his smug smirk returning, "It's fine. I like sweet-talking a girl before getting her into bed."
Steve gave a small joyless chuckle as Fury began,
"You're not career-military," Fury began, "Instead you enlisted in a time of war to fulfill a duty. You're a fit, physically and mentally young man who has come into an amount of wealth in the form of decades of backpay from the D-O-D. You could do whatever you want; go to college, perhaps pursue your long-suspended artistic aspirations, maybe even meet a girl and settle down. You could transition back to being a civilian."
"But you think I won't do that."
"You're a soldier." Fury said as he set his glass down on the table, "You didn't think you would, but you liked the action action. Maybe not the combat or the killing, but you like strategizing, you like the thrill of being under fire, and you live to fight the good fight."
Steve took his first sip right then, keeping his eyes on Fury as he did so, and then said,
"The Avengers fight the good fight."
"Of course. Stark is setting up at that tower of his, and with his money and resources, you won't longer need be a SHIELD operation in any form. You could move into the tower like Doctor Banner and Thor."
"Thor is back?"
"He is. Apparently they used the Tesseract to rebuild their rainbow bridge. Anyway, you could rejoin the Avengers, talk to their omnipresent A-I. You could play houseguest to Tony Stark, spend all of your time with him, learn to put up with his… everything. All while you sit tight and wait for the next alien invasion, or for JARVIS to go Skynet.
"Or, and this is just a thought, you could not spend your days hanging around Stark's cool kid clubhouse and get a job instead. Taking care of problems before they escalate into global threats. Problems like…"
Fury paused to tap the surface of his computer screen, and then began to enumerate,
"Transian ultranationalists trying to instigate a conflict with Latveria. The Hand and the Maggia fighting an international gang-war over the bootleg Iron-Tech game. The Beyond Corporation's insane broccoli weapons programs. Or AIM deploying MODOC squads in Madripoor. And if that wasn't enough, it turns out some ex-KGB personnel have been setting up a private sector Red Room.
"Rogers, these are problems of the type that can't to be smashed at with a hammer, but need to be sliced apart with a scalpel."
Steve took a sip as he considered.
"'A stiletto to the heart', huh?" Steve asked, quoting a Polish spy he once knew, "And you think that's why I'll join SHIELD? To be a cloak and dagger type?"
"No, I'm saying that you could make a good cloak and dagger type. But that's not the reason you're gonna join SHIELD."
Steve placed his glass, half-full, on Fury's desk.
"Well why will I?"
"Because you think I'm a weasel with a little too much power." Fury stated mater-of-factly, "And you would rather be on the inside, keeping an eye on me."
Steve pursed his lips and nodded.
"Well, that's true."
"So, my place or yours?"
"I don't know. Which place would indicate that I agree to become an agent?"
Steve stood up, and Fry followed suit.
"Well, I have some conditions." Said Steve, "But, aside from that, your place it is."
"Outstanding." Said Fury as he extended his hand, which Steve shook with little hesitation and little enthusiasm, "What kind of conditions?"
"Well, to start, don't call me 'Kiddo'…"
Several weeks earlier
Phil Coulson had been lucid all morning. It wasn't the first time since being brought to 'The Icepick' that he'd regained consciousness, but the times he did were brief and ended with him falling into comas that lasted for days. Doctor Pym had explained the above as he was perched by his shoulder, which was a sight that had made Coulson doubt that he was lucid at all. The good, small doctor further explained what 'Icepick' was, but reluctantly refrained from divulging anything further before the director got there.
By the time he did, he'd had enough time to pull his mind together and figure out a few things for his own. SHIELD seemed to be still in operation, and Fury was within reach. Getting stabbed had done the trick, the Avengers had came through, and the side of the angels had prevailed. At what cost remained to be seen.
When Fury got there, the two went through the motions and exchanged the situation-appropriate concerned remarks before they got down to the business at hand.
"The world thinks you're dead." Said Fury, his voice soft, but otherwise devoid of any semblance of regret, "We had a funeral and everything."
"Wow." Was all Coulson could say. He was feeling hot, with a twisting pain at the bottom of his neck that was dulled by lack of movement. Altogether he was still too tired to emote properly.
"Yeah. We 'buried' you in Green-Wood cemetery." Fury said as he slouched in the armchair next to Coulson's bed, "A nice oak coffin, like the one we buried Neal Tapper in, except this one had an LMD in it. It was a sunny day."
"Who knows I'm alive?"
"Aside from the staff? Just me."
"Not even Hill?" Coulson asked before realizing a greater exclusion, "Wait, not even Sharon?"
Fury hung his head, and this time he did seem regretful.
"Right before the attack, they were about to walk." Fury spoke softly, "They found out about 'Phase Two', and they were already at each other's throats and… Your death pulled them together.
"But then the battle was won and it was peacetime and they still thought you were dead. And you were dead, Coul. The thread you were hanging by was hanging by a thread of its own. I couldn't give them… I couldn't give her any false hope."
Coulson stared up at the ceiling without uttering a word and remained as such for the better part of a minute. It had been weeks while he slept, and his little girl had thought she'd lost him.
"Well, I'm not dead or dying now. We should come clean."
"Yeah," Fury said hesitantly, "About that… Something's come up."
Coulson turned his head to the best of his ability, ignoring the pain the motion brought on.
"I have reason to believe without a shadow of a doubt that World Security Council has been infiltrated by the Zodiac group. I need you on this."
Coulson stared at the director for a moment before he chuckled faintly.
"Sure. I'll do it. But you're gonna have to gather the Council and Zodiac in this room and ask them not to be a pill about the staying-embedded-in-the-executive-arm-of-the-world's-largest-spy-network thing."
"Dr. Pym says you should be able to be in condition for the field in nine days."
"Nine days?" Coulson asked in bewilderment, "Jesus, what the hell is this place? How much is this costing-"
Coulson was struck silent.
"This is big." Fury said, "The Council and I had a bit of a falling out. I'm getting to keep my job for now, but they've been bending me over a barrel, keeping a close eye on things. They find out I've been sniffing around them, it's over. This needs to be beyond covert. Everyone thinks you're dead, and that's why it can only be you, Coul."
Coulson took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment before opening them again.
"An op like this would take be a long haul."
"Most likely a year." Fury said, "Maybe more."
"And everyone has to be kept in the dark?"
"No… I understand, Chief. Don't worry, I'm your man."
Fury sighed. He was both relieved as well as ashamed to have asked such a thing.
"You're true blue, Coul."
They sat in absolutely silence for another minute, before Coulson spoke again,
"Is there something you're not telling me?"
"Yeah." Fury began sheepishly, "It's your trading cards. I, uh, I got blood all over them."
"What?" Coulson asked flatly.
"I really wanted to bring the point home with Rogers, so I smeared your blood all over them. You know, for effect."
Despite the pain, Coulson turned his head to stare at Fury blankly. Fury looked away awkwardly after a couple of moments.
Coulson turned his head back to its previous position, sighed in annoyance, and growled,
Some have asked if I was going the Vision route. I'm afraid not. Thanksfor the reviews and the follows, everybody!