III

Error


"I fucked up."

"Don't say that, it was only your first day on the job."

Sharon Carter didn't remove her face from her hands. "I let Tony get under my skin and lost my temper, all in front of my charges. How is that not a mistake?"

A sigh. "Tony requires a special brand of patience and stubbornness. You'll get better as time goes on."

"You don't get it," Sharon said, looking up. She was well aware she looked like a complete mess; it was past midnight and she was pushing a full twenty-four hours of being awake. At least while she'd been in Moscow, she and her three teammates had taken shifts when staking out a potential hideout for a group of Soviet Union loyalists. "Because Aunt Peggy knew Howard Stark, Tony was at my house for six summers until I was twelve and all but drove him out of the state. I was such a little monster then. This is his revenge!"

A laugh this time. "It's all right, Sharon. This is a huge responsibility, and it wasn't fair of Fury to dump it on you right as you got home for the first time in months."

"I still screwed it up. I snapped at Captain America for crying out loud!"

Sharon slumped in her seat, but relinquished her hand when she felt the other seeking it out as though for comfort. "Everyone is just still unsettled by the alien invasion. All I can suggest for the future is work on holding your temper in check."

"You make it look easy."

"That's because I've had practice. I knew what I was getting into when I signed up. Fury at least will cut you slack in the beginning, he knows that it wasn't fair of him to dump this all on you when you weren't ready."

"Then why did I get picked for this?"

"Because you were the best candidate at the time. You knew the ropes, and that was the swing factor in Fury's decision. You're not alone. I'm here, Fury, as unapproachable as he may seem, is also here."

Sharon felt the slight squeeze around her fingers, and bowed her head to take solace in such a simple gesture.

"What is going to happen next?"

"My great-aunt is coming, she wants to talk to Fury, and then the Avengers. About what, I don't know. I just know that she's coming soon, once she feels ready to travel and everything's calmed down," Sharon said, looking up. Grimacing, she said, "I bet Cap's just waiting to rat me out for being so awful…"

"Captain Rogers isn't like Tony, I promise. Tony, well, I can't promise what he might or might not do." Squeezing her hand again, and then "But just keep it professional from here on out, save your anger for the punching bags."

Sharon nodded quietly before hugging herself slightly. "This is all messed up," she whispered, drawing her knees close to her body and resting her chin there. "You're there, I'm here, and the Avengers are the hottest topic in politics, and…" she let her voice trail off, ducking her face out of sight.

A soft chuckle. "Tell me about the Moscow trip. I didn't get to read that particular report."

"Dead end. Fury sent us there to get rid of me because of Captain America," she said, scowling as she looked up.

"He was just worried you'd skin the poor man before he even had a chance to get back on his feet."

"I'm not that volatile!" At the pointed look, she calmed down and slumped in her chair again. "Fine, fine, Fury may have had a point. But it would have been nice to know, I mean, if I'd known, I could have been here, help fought…"

"You may have been among the dead. Not only would your parents grieve, but also would your great-aunt. Even you wouldn't want to do that to her." A pause to breathe, and then "Speaking of which, how is she?"

"As fine as she could be, given the circumstances. It's not fair that she has to get dragged out of retirement just because the World Council is angry with Fury. This whole thing with the pissed politicians is just completely stupid, the Avengers saved their fucking lives and-"

"Sharon, take it easy. Everything will turn out fine, I promise. I've been at this long enough to know that Fury knows what he's doing."

"I know, it's just that…" Sharon sighed, defeated. She couldn't think, could barely function she was so exhausted. She briefly entertained the thought of going to bed and just sleeping, but then remembered the mountain of paperwork waiting for her back in her quarters. "I don't know how you managed this," she said finally, sagging in the hard plastic chair. "All of this."

A soft laugh, which turned into a series of violent coughs. Sharon winced, and then began to stand up. "I should let you sleep, I'm sorry for bothering you," she said, carefully wiggling her hand out of the weak grip.

"To be honest, you look like you're the one who desperately needs to sleep. How long has it been since you slept?"

She shrugged. "I lost track."

"You need sleep. You'll feel much better and less overwhelmed."

"But Fury-"

"Will understand. Believe it or not, he sleeps too."

She sighed. "I don't know if I can come back soon," she said, picking up her jacket. Her civilian one, she was going home to her apartment in the city below. She was one of the lucky few whose apartments managed to escape unscathed from recent activity.

"Well, it's not like I'm going anywhere, am I?"

"You could come to my apartment to crash, you know, once you get out of here. I imagine you'll want a serious change in scenery after spending weeks here," she said, grinning slightly as she slipped her jacket on. Her smile faded when she thought of something. "Is there anything you want me to do?"

"Bring more reading material. I don't care if it's a gossip magazine, just something. Anything is better than listening to numerous shouting matches through the day and night."

Sharon smiled. "Well, lucky for you, I know just the thing," she said before reaching out and squeezing the nearby hand. "I'll try to come back when I can."

"But not at the risk of your own health."

Sharon laughed, pleased to get a smile again. "Sure thing. See you later," she said before scooping up her purse and leaving the room.


A/N: I said it was short, didn't I? I'm having fun with this ;)