A Quiet Joy

March 25, 2017:

An ugly hostage situation in Williamsburg, VA prompts Phil Coulson to call in the aid of one Captain America.

Williamsburg, VA

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Williamsburg, Virginia.

5582 Musket Drive, a single-family ranch-style home in a suburban neighborhood that trends straight up middle class, neither upper nor lower. The home is a shabby shade of pink, but that's not the most important thing about it right now. It has three entrances: one back door, one front door, one garage door. The doors and windows are handled by burglar bars…a fire hazard at the best of times, and a real problem at the worst of times.

Right now, SHIELD vans are parked around this house and SHIELD snipers surround it. This is the worst of times.

Inside the house one will find one Patrick Larson, a guy who until this morning was as normal as the neighborhood. He's a truck driver, and his 18-wheeler rig is parked right outside the house, blocking some of the view of it. He has a wife who keeps house and four kids. All four kids: Teddy, age 17, Sheila, age 14, Mary Ann, age 11, and Frankie, age 6, are on the index as latent telekinetics. They were marked, but never surveyed. Latents only typically manifest in 12% of cases without some sort of catalyst. This was a low-risk house.

But for whatever reason, Mary Ann's abilities sparked today inside of that house, a sunny Saturday morning with bright blue skies all out of keeping with the seriousness of the situation. Given the Mists, given various bits of alien technology and huge threats popping up all over the place it was easy for them to miss Patrick's descent into certain meta-bigoted organizations. First, chatrooms. Then? A paramilitary group. Patrick, with his financial troubles and his dashed dreams and a mountain of disaffected sentiment, reacted to dirty dishes and morning breakfast spinning through the room and shattering on the walls by taking his entire family hostage. And now SHIELD has a giant mess on its hands, because this is precisely the sort of trauma that can spark the other two.

The call went out to Captain America within the first hour. Someone on the scene believes special help will be required to resolve this one.

Someone was one Phil Coulson, who is currently staring grimly at the techs inside the command van, waiting for Cap to arrive. Normally he'd be beside himself with joy to meet his one true hero, but right now there is too much at stake. "It's been twenty minutes. Call Mr. Larson again," he says, fire in his eyes.

—-

"Agent Coulson."

When the man turns around, he will find the one and only Captain American looking back at him. Dressed in his usual garb for battle and his shield slung over his back, the First Avenger looks toward the SHIELD leader as well as those around him. "Has there been any change since the call went out?"

Blue eyes scan in the local scene. He's sure that SHIELD has already evacuated the area, but it's clear he's double checking. But not only that, he looks to see the other houses. Every detail is checked. Fields where a conflict can rage without hurting others, assurance that there isn't news copters in the sky, to see if it is just SHIELD around or other people mixed in from law enforcement.

"Do we know what was the trigger to this, if there was any?" he asks, his voice coated with concern as he continues to watch the area, as if the solution was in some forgotten detail or finding the 'Waldo' that can offer the important clue to this mystery of hurt and rage.

—-

There are SHIELD copters in the sky; a perimeter has been set up and that includes all the houses up and down the street. He can't really see any cars in driveways; the protocol has been followed to a letter. The man running this operation is as deeply committed to safety as Captain America is. There are news copters, but they are distant…well outside of the airspace thanks to the SHIELD patrols.

"Honor to meet you sir," Phil gets in, because he can't help himself, but his expression doesn't change a whit. "No change," he says. "The oldest got the call to the police and the police called us. We don't know why the girl manifested. Maybe she's just a 12-percenter. We've only had one contact with him, where he screamed if we touched his lawn or his driveway he'd kill everyone in that house. It's not even clear what he wants yet. I couldn't get a word in edgewise, but we moved back as requested as a show of good faith. We haven't heard any gunshots yet; that's the only good news here."

He fixes a determined gaze on America's Hero and adds, "Were this a normal hostage situation I'd be more comfortable spending the next several hours on pure negotiation if we had to, but…" It's kind of anything but. And Coulson can't exactly send a bunch of normal, every day guys in there, guys who might get themselves or their weapons flung around. If they could even get in without tipping the gunman off.

"Ugly," Coulson says, with the air of a man who won't be satisfied unless all six of the people in that house walk out alive. Even the gunman. "This whole situation is just ugly."

—-

As Coulson offers his thoughts, Rogers listens intently, nodding periodically as he given the skinny on how the situation is going, which is… not good. As Coulson paints a bleak picture, Rogers nods. "Well, it's clear you've done everything you can. It's great work. Even if everything goes wrong, at least we can keep the causalities as low as possible. But-" Steve looks toward the house. "That family deserves a second chance to be happy. I'll trust the operation to you. Don't tell me the details. It will keep me honest."

What does he mean? What is Cap going to do?

"I need you to hold this for me," Steve states as he unslings his shield. Unaware of what he is doing, or perhaps ENTIRELY aware of what he's doing, he hands Agent Coulson his trademark stars and stripes. Once he's assured that the older agent will do what he's asked, Cap will actually look toward the house and calmly walk a few feet toward it. "Is there a way I can talk to them? Not sure if you guys have talked about having someone go in there to talk or not."

—-

It's true. Cap starts saying relatively cryptic things and Phil looks actually kind of confused. It flickers very lightly across his face, like a rock skipped across a pond: there and gone again. He doesn't show much on his face, like any good agent, but it's still possible to perceive what he feels when he's not actively trying to hide his emotions. He's not bothering now.

His hands shake as he takes the shield with reverent hands. He clutches it close. That, and his little swallow, is the only sign of the deep emotion he's feeling.

"Going in to talk to them?" he asks, slowly.

Meanwhile, the black agent speaks. "We contemplated taking over their alarm system, since they have 2-way voice installed on that one, but we were afraid that he'd take it as a hostile act and freak out. We could still do that if you don't want to…you know. Walk right into the house."

Coulson holds up a hand to his subordinate, silencing her. He looks at Steve. "How can we best support you?" he asks. "Besides. You know." He just sort of hefts the shield a little bit.

—-

As the modern agent speaks of high tech solutions and reducing risk, Steve gives a slow frown to shows his lack of approval. "You're right. If you take power away from someone, you make them eager to take it back. People want to be strong. Feel like they have control," Steve theorizes as he folds his arms. "So let them feel they have a position of strength or at least equality and you have a chance to come out with a good solution."

"I might be old fashioned, but I'll trust you to handle the details. I've heard from your fellow agents you've got sound judgment. That you care about life just as much as I do, but you have a tactical mind. So, if things go sideways, do what you need to and I'll follow your lead. While I'm used to calling the shots, I can be a team leader when I need to be." As if trying to give proof to his words, he looks toward Coulson with a sheepish grin. "If that works for you."

—-

Coulson gives a slow nod in response as Steve adds his own two cents. "Originally I was going to try to distract them on the phone and maybe try to send you in to at least sweep the kids out as fast as you could, any he wasn't looking at but…that takes power from them too." He hesitates, then cocks his ICER pistol. "And the kids might have gotten frightened and— well. Four kids with out of control telekinesis, if that happens, will probably result in a smoking crater." He palms a few other pieces of equipment, frowning thoughtfully.

His tactical mind is working overtime as he considers. "He can't see everywhere at once. We know he's near the front." He's still awkwardly holding the shield but…really, actually…

"I'm going to go in through the side yard over there," he says. "I'm going to get in position by the garage door." He offers Captain America an earbud. And a megaphone. "Once I'm in position, use that to ask if they'll let you come in and talk. Tell him to flick the lights twice if he's willing. You're not just anyone, you're Captain America. I'll be there to step in and start providing support if something goes wrong, and we'll just move hard and fast to try to put people down non-lethally. But I think you can actually negotiate them down."

"Sir," Clarinda says with a frown. "This plan is madness. If we were going to send people in we could have just sent the strike team."

"Send the strike team and everyone dies."

"Sir, this is seriously your mid-life crisis talking."

"I love you too, Clarinda."

He looks at Steve and says, "You can be a team player…so can I. If you have protests…" Well then Phil will scrap this whole idea right here! But since Cap was already thinking about walking up and having a word…

—-

As Clarinda gives her opinion, Steve offers his rebuttal. "I always believe in carrot and stick. Always offer people a better way, but always be ready to protect the safety of others. It's a tough balance, but it seems Agent Coulson has the idea."

A hand reaches out, moving to clasp the shoulder of Phil. "And you're Agent Coulson, so I know I'm with good company," he states, doing all he can to keep himself from being elevated… Which always seems to only do the opposite. "You have this and I'm just helping as best I can. I'll wait for your cue." That said, the shoulder is released and Steve moves back a few steps, letting Coulson move to his position as Steve puts in earpiece.
Phil nods resolutely as his hero builds him up. He's still got the shield; but…it's now kind of part of the plan. He dashes around the back of the perimeter, moving through the neighbor's yards, keeping his head low.

Clarinda gives a dry chuckle. "You know he's practically your biggest fan, right? I suppose if you both get killed today one of you will die happy."

She still hates the plan.

Phil positions himself next to the door, shield up and gun down. He touches his earpiece and says, "Okay. Whenever you're ready, Captain Rogers."

Clarinda offers up the megaphone to Captain America. "Well. Good luck, hero. You're going to need it if you're going to try to have a conversation with Captain Crazypants in there.

—-

The house remains, ominous, silent. The choppers click-clack overhead, maintaining their circular pattern. The strike teams shift, tense, guns trained on the building, even though many guns are swung away because they've got one of their own pressed against the door that offers zero visibility to anyone inside. It has burglar bars too but…Phil seems unconcerned by them. Probably one of the gadgets he grabbed will do for those.

A nod is given before Cap is reminded that people can't hear a nod. "Roger that, Agent," Steve replies to Coulson before taking the Megaphone offered to him by Clarinda. He doesn't really remark on the 'biggest fan' comment, not sure really how to take that, more so during a mission. "Fair enough" is all he manages to say to the woman, mostly in response to the talk of the importance of the megaphone.

Slowly, Rogers takes a few steps toward the house, making sure he is visible as he speaks. "Mister Larson, this is Captain America. I know you're concerned and need someone to talk to, I'm here to do that. If you tell me what's wrong, I'll see what i can do to help. If nothing else, I've been told I'm a great listener."

—-

A few tense minutes pass.

Then the phone rings.

Clarinda starts. Then she says, "Patching it through to speaker, Captain Rogers." Whatever idle conversation she's willing to make while people are getting into position and while there's nothing she can do, she gets right on point when it's time to actually move. Graceful fingers fly over the keys, and then he's got Patrick Larson on speakerphone.

"I want my daughter back. They took my daughter and replaced her with one of those things," growls a tense, male voice on the other end of the line. "I will shoot this thing in a heartbeat."

In the distance, a weeping girl yells, "Daddy, stop!"

He snarls, "SHUT UP," and hisses, "You hear me? This isn't my kid. My kid is pure. This thing has infected my whole family and I want you all to fix it. Or I will have to shoot us all to save us."

It is definitely a snarling mess of crazy. The question is whether or not the calm resolve of the Man with the Star Spangled Plan will win the day, whether he decides to stay on the phone or walk in as he'd originally anticipated. Nevertheless, he definitely commands the attention that Phil couldn't.

—-

The megaphone is lowered and Steve begins to speak to the man on the speakerphone. His gaze is on the house, trying to find shadows of people. He has a feeling that the people will likely be in the center of the house, trying to stay away from the windows.

"I know it's hard to deal with change. Trust me, I understand that it can be hard. To see that the people you once knew are no longer the people you remember," Steve states. "But you can't be afraid of change. You have to focus on the things that are the same." Rogers lowers his gaze, perhaps offering a silent prayer. This is not something he's really trained in. While he is a 'people person' and considers himself a skilled speaker, there is a lot at stake. When someone is this angry and frustrated. It's hard to see what the trigger is. A well-intentioned bid for support and commonality could result in an emotional minefield going off. But Rogers can only do his best. Nothing less. Nothing more.

"If you look at your child, I'm sure she has the same eyes. The same smile. Even has the same smell. I've been told she's different. Your family is different. I don't know if it's because of the Mists, genes, or whatever, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't change the fact that you're her father and she loves you. That love, I'm sure that love will never change unless you let it."

The American Icon doesn't look for Coulson, perhaps fearing that if the family is telekinetic, that it might not be that far off from them developing other powers such as telepathy… And honest deniability can be useful.

—-

There are some faint shadows that mostly support the conclusions that Steve has come to. They're in the center of the house, perhaps in a hallway that allows Larson to continue watching the front of the house.

There's a long silence. Because Steve is getting through? Or because that minefield is getting tripped? It's impossible to tell. For a moment nobody near Steve even seems to breathe. Inside, on the phone, Steve can hear the sniffles of the crying family but…they don't seem keen on tipping the emotional balance either.

"This wasn't supposed to happen. Not to my family. We're good people. We do right. You hear me? I raised them right. I raised her right. If it's her, if it's really her, then why would she do this to us? If she loves us why would she allow such a darkness inside of herself?"

Clarinda rolls her eyes, but…there are reasons she's running the tech, not trying to negotiate herself. Her fingers are still flying. There's a fair amount of fuzzy static on the line. She's cleaning it up with every keystroke. By the man's final plea, it sounds exactly like he's standing right next to Steve.

It also sounds like it's right next to Steve when the gun cocks. "Maybe she didn't. Maybe it's just taking her. Maybe I have to save her this way, and the rest of my family too." There's a shriek from inside but…no shots yet. He's still got the line open. He's come down from shooting all of them. It's progress of a sort…of the messy sort that so often marks these kinds of situations. Everyone is at least still alive. It's just a twisted labyrinth inside of this guy's skull right now.

—-

As the gun is prepped to fire, Steve swallows. There is a brief clenching of his fist, but when he speaks again, the fist slowly eases up. "Bad things happen to good people. Or things that seem bad at least. Everything can be turned to good, if you let it. People who suffer addictions help other people realize and conquer their own addictions," Steve states, his tone soothing and slow. "She could be a hero when she learns to control her powers. You could be a hero in helping others learn to cope. I know there is still good in her, there is good in you. It's going to be hard, but I'm sure you have the strength to work with us. The strength to see what good your family can do in the future."

Steve's eyes lift toward Clarinda's, giving a nod of approval to her tech work and a silently mouthed 'thanks'. To Rogers, everyone's important on a mission. He understands that while he was known as the WWII hero, each of the Howling Commandos were vital to his success and that of the Allied Armed Forces. In today's age, women and men like Clarinda are no different… Even if they are the sort to roll their eyes or always have a snide comment at the ready.

It's no small thing, really, being told that you could be a hero by THE hero. This man might not like metas, but…Steve Rogers is not a meta in the eyes of a lot of those groups. He was a War Volunteer. It may not seem like much of a distinction, being injected with a bunch of experimental something and changing versus being born with abilities or strange appendages, or even suffering an accident, but some people do make said distinctions. And…if those groups are mostly about feeling powerless, there's something else here that Steve is offering. What Steve is offering is something empowering.

There's tense silence yet again.

—-

Steve mouths thanks, and Clarinda gives a nod; though her fingers come to a rest. She can't do anything more right now, a fact that seems to fill her with nervous energy. Her leg starts bouncing as she holds one hand to the earpiece of her headset. Up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down.

The man's voice is heavy, leaden, defeated, as he admits something that many men do not enjoy admitting, even in the relatively free-wheeling age of the 21st century. "I don't know what to do."

Steve may not be looking at Coulson, but his head snaps up a little, hopeful. A veteran negotiator himself, he recognizes this as a turning point in the conversation, an extremely positive sign. They're not out of the woods yet. It's also one of the most dangerous points. A teetering seesaw of emotion that could go either way.

—-

"If you don't know what to do, remember you have options. You always have options. They might not be the ones you like, but they are there. You could try and go back to the way things were, but I think you'd be disappointed. You could try and end it all here, but… That doesn't seem like a proper end for your family. It seems… empty."

The words are swift here, as if Steve is doing everything he can to let the Plan C not be withheld from the man struggling with desperation. "Or you could let us help you. That's what we are here to do. We want you to be proud of your kids. We want you to be the best father you can be. I promise you, there isn't any judgment here. SHIELD has helped hundred of families in this same situation. It's not easy, but the best plans often take work and time. Taking the help takes strength because it isn't easy, but as I said before, if you have the strength to stand up to SHIELD then I think you have the strength needed to work with SHIELD."

Steve's words soften, the technology improvements allowing him to offer as much emotion as possible to try and reach the man in this 'moment of truth'. He's spoken so much so he lets it all carry on a simple word. The magic word, as his mother once told him:

"Please."

—-

There's a very important sound.

It's the sound of someone clicking on the rifle safety.

And then another important sound. Someone unloading the gun.

Lawson's voice is heavy. "I'm sending my family out," he says.

"Gonna send the little one first. Don't shoot them."

Nobody cheers yet; the air is tense. The strike team weapons rattle in sudden readiness. Clarinda's leg continues to bounce; her fingers join it, tap-a-tap-tap on the knee of her black jeans. Phil, over by the garage door, gives another one of those expressive swallows. The wind shifts through the trees; it's still weather more than suitable for a picnic, a day where a family ought to be out sharing ham sandwiches, sodas, pie.

The door opens a crack. Then little Frankie steps out, rubbing the back of his hand against a runny, snotty nose, face stained with tears, a very traumatized look on his face. He just…walks out to the porch and stands there, looking utterly lost, like every part of his whole world has shattered.

The sound of Lawson's breathing, heavy and tense on the line, his fragile emotional state teetering, teetering, back and forth, scales tipping, wavering, precariously steady for now.

—-

It is difficult to keep in the emotion when dealing with something so tense. In a battle, sure there are lift or death choices, but it's all so fast that in the split second you hold your breath, you are back to trying to avoid a giant ape with a man's intellect ripping out your spine. But in this situation, the stakes are seemingly smaller, but the struggle is still just as important.

The children come out and while Cap is tempted to go out to them, he doesn't, letting the SHIELD agents who are ready come for them. When it's clear they are safe and the agents are ready, Steve will wave them in.

"That's the first step. I know that was hard, but we will get there. Just focus on coming out calmly. No matter what happens, we will do everything in our power to keep you safe."

Rogers moves a little forward, a bead of sweat winding its way down his face. The reason for Cap's change in positioning is simple. There is a chance there could be a break. Maybe one of the kids, maybe the father himself. If the powers are unleashed on Rogers, he's okay with that. He's been hit with worse before and can dodge a lot faster than most. He speaks to the other agents. "Unless they attack with intent to kill, do not use lethal on them. They are nervous and their powers might activate. If that happens, ICER rounds only and only if they are putting themselves or someone else in danger. If they lift a shrub, let them lift it." Control the variables as best you can, he seems to say, but don't let things veering slightly off plan change the mission objective.

—-

Glances are exchanged, but the various agents nod their heads. The girl comes out last—the actual telekinetic, and she doesn't seem intent on willfully lifting anything. But things are moving; things tremble as she passes. The agents let it happen per Cap's instructions.

She's panting, doubled over, skinny arms wrapped around a body in a faded blue jean dress. Her dark brown braids have red bows at the end of each braid. The hose coils and uncoils like a snake. A wagon, maybe Frankie's, lifts a foot into the air and spins wildly about. ICER pistols are cocked and raised as she stumbles towards Captain America, but…it's not to attack.

She suddenly flings herself at him, tries to wrap her arms around him, sobbing. "I can't make it stop. I didn't mean to do it. I just can't make it stop. I haven't been able to make it stop. Daddy's gone crazy, my head is killing me. I just want to make it stop, Captain America, I didn't want to do this, I didn't wanna ruin my family, I tried to be good."

She is a crumpled mess of tears by the end.

The mother wanders out next. And in all this sobbing, in all of these moving objects and parts…it might be easy to miss the next important sound. The sound where a crazed, despondant man is alone in the house with his gun and the realization of what he's done.

Fortunately, Phil Coulson does not miss the sound. He is tense and against the door and focused on what's inside. Or perhaps he just has an instinct. He suddenly slaps a device to the burglar bars, which vaporizes the door in a second. He steps in, raising Cap's shield high against what might turn into a rain of bullets.

The sound of two bullets ping-pinging against the SHIELD. The sound of one ICER round, precisely fired. The sound of a heavy body hitting the ground. The gun goes off again, but it shatters a window, maybe going off when it's dropped.

There's a sharp exhale in Cap's earpiece, then, "He's fine, I'm fine."

—-

As the girl is sobbing, Cap takes her into his arms, moving her swiftly toward a point where she is behind a car, both to shield her from possible fire as well as seeing something if things do not go according to plan. He wants to have her away from him so he can move toward the house and ensure the father's safety, but extracting himself without triggering the girl further will take time. Time that Steve doesn't have.

"It's okay, we have a nice agent here that will give you something to help your head stop hurting, I'm sure." A glance around is given toward the first person who volunteers aid. "Just go to them and they'll be able to help."

The mother comes out by the time that Rogers is able to stand child free again and by that time the mom is walking out and it's too late. As the sounds of battle rage there is silence and Steve holds his breath for a second and then… the relief. "Good to hear, Agent Coulson. You truly do SHIELD proud."

—-

A SHIELD doctor named Timothy Higgins does indeed step forward. Tim kneels down next to the girl and says, "Swallow these, sweetheart." They're two little white pills; inhibitors which will shut her powers down for a time. Probably Mom and all the kids are going to be evaluated; Mary Ann most certainly will have to receive some training. They're probably all going to be indexed at this point, and perhaps even placed under an index agreement, but it's all one step at a time.

Phil clears his throat a little and says, "Thank you sir," even as he steps out of the house. He waves some agents in to go retrieve Larson and Larson's weapon. "Sweep the house," he orders. "I want to know everything we can know about what went on here." He grimaces— reading some little girl's diary is not exactly a nice thing to do, but…her diary is probably going to get read, among other things.

Phil then turns off his earbud, even as Clarinda shuts down the link. He is already approaching Captain America directly, all to the benefit of shyly offering the iconic red, white, and blue shield back to its proper bearer.

—-

A calm hand reaches out and takes the shield, sliding it behind his back where the special harness locks it into place. The other hand moves to give a side pat to Phil's shoulder. "Great instincts in there, made a difference today," he states simply to Phil before looking back to little miss tech. "Thanks, Agent, definitely couldn't have done it without you." As usual, seems like Rogers is more than willing to share the praise for a job well done.

A glance is given back toward the children. While Steve doesn't know exactly what SHIELD does in these instances, he slowly is getting the picture. It's not exactly how he would do it, but… well, he understands that he would do a lot of things in SHIELD differently if given the chance, but perhaps it's best that way. After all, idealism can get you far, but likely not enough to protect the world.

—-

Phil will take that side pat. He looks…about 10. While he does. It's an odd thing to see on the face of a 53 year old man, but there it is. But soon his age returns. In fact, looking at the little family adds about 10 years to his face. "Thank you for everything, Captain Rogers," he says in his soft, gentle voice. "I hope we get to work together again." What can he give Captain America that's akin to being handed THE shield? "Maybe someday we can take Lola for a spin too. I'll let you drive."

That's right. Though Captain America may not know the significance of this, mouths drop open all over the place, because yeah. Driving Lola, touching Lola, being anything other than an extremely honored passenger in Lola, honored to be a passenger and careful with how one SITS…is kind of a big deal.

But Phil doesn't stick around for long. He moves towards the little family, intent on offering what compassion and guidance he can.

Clarinda, meanwhile, ducks her head a little. "All I did was clean up some feedback, sir, but thanks. I'm glad you didn't die. Can I arrange a ride back for you or anything like that? Some food? A hotel?"

—-

Not understanding the meaning of Lola test drive, Steve just gives a grin. "Nothing special needed, just doing my job, same as you," he replies cheerfully before concluding with "Until next time, Agent Coulson" before Clarinda moves up to speak to him. "At the moment, I'm fine, I have my own ride, but thank you. With that, Rogers moves toward his motorcycle and just as swiftly as he arrived on the scene, he's zooming back out. As he does, a quiet joy fills him. It's rare that he gets to make a difference like this and save every life entrusted to him.

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