A Non-Answer

April 12, 2017:

Cutscene. Agent Phil Coulson stands in the remains of Bucky and Jane's dark doings in Alexandria, VA.

Alexandria, VA

Smell that sooty spring air.

Characters

NPCs:

Mentions: Bucky Barnes

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

April 12, 2017, Alexandria, VA, 6:35 AM

It was a chilly, blustery morning, cold and crisp, but the remains of the house still seemed to give off heat despite AFD's studious attentions. The remains of the structure were black grey, an old, stately building now reduced to a collection of wet ashes and useless timbers.

And bodies.

Most of the crime scene was below ground level.

APD had been both relieved and displeased to find SHIELD SUVs rolling up to the scene. They couldn't know that this had been a suspected Hydra outpost for some time. Relieved, because after they pulled out their 15th or 16th body, with more to come, most of the cops had more than had enough. Displeased, because the clearance the man in charge flashed was more than enough to send them packing without a peep of jurisdictional griping.

That man was Phillip Coulson. Today, he was in one of his sharpest suits. The sunglasses he wore protected against the early morning glare, but they also helped to keep his expression even more inscrutable than usual. His own people were pulling out bodies now, working to identify them with technology far more advanced than the PD could ever hope to use.

Around the time Agent Claire Yuan came to inform him that one of the bodies belonged to a Congressman, he felt a vein start to throb right above his left eye. A killer headache was on the horizon. He popped a couple of Advil.

Then, he gave the order that would ensure that information pertaining to the identity of the corpses found here would remain classified, bound only to the members of this team and those at Level 7 clearance or above; a short enough list. He wanted to restrict it to Level 8, but that would draw more attention and scrutiny than he really wanted, would start shining lights into dark corners that Phil Coulson wasn't ready to reveal yet.

A dark blue sedan pulled up, and Phil sighed internally. He recognized the car.

US Attorney David Lee Archer came striding directly to Coulson's side. In direct contrast to Phil, the man's presence was powerful, and obvious. A broad-shouldered black man in a perfectly tailored pinstriped suit, wearing an expensive, spicy cologne, his close-cut beard already trending towards grey. He towered over Coulson physically too. Were they at a cocktail party, every eye would draw towards this man, and they'd be inclined to forget Phil even existed.

Archer was a legal legend. He was also, in Phil's closely-held opinion, a raging prick.

"David," he said, evenly, easily, fixing his smile in place.

"Coulson," Archer replied tersely. He had a deep, booming voice that matched the rest of him. Ignoring pleasantries as always, David said, "I understand this was a Hydra facility. Was this him? Was it Barnes?"

Phil didn't answer right away. Another sheet-wrapped body came out of the rubble. The body count was up in the 20s now. His people were still digging. It irked him that this attorney had pulled the same arson stories that Phil had pulled. It irked him that he'd navigated the complicated maze that was SHIELD's relationship with the United States Government, the government that contributed to about 75% of their funding, to waltz in and corner one of his data analysts. At that point, Archer had effortlessly noticed the same pattern that Phil himself had noticed.

He'd also managed to pull information, dossiers, case files and other bits of vital intel that Phil felt should have remained buried in SHIELD's vaults. In this, despite his rank, he was pinned and pinioned, however. Phil was good at politics. Archer was a master.

An observed pattern wasn't evidence. Archer knew that better than anyone. But if Phil acknowledged the pattern, he could find himself subpeoned as some sort of expert witness. He wasn't interested in being put in the spotlight, and he wasn't interested in becoming a nail in the coffin of Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes. Especially not on behalf of— (here, he checked the body count again)— 29 or so of the world's nastiest people, people he himself might have ended up shooting in the line of duty.

"Coulson?"

"As you can see, David, our investigation is ongoing. There are many suspected Hydra facilities, but when we have enough information to definitively identify one, we tend to move on them ourselves."

"That was a non-answer."

Phil's lips twitched. "Was it?"

Archer's expression turned to stone.

Phil took a few steps to one of the evidence boxes, pulling on a pair of gloves. He reached in and withdrew a particular cell phone, sealed in a plastic baggie. "Our techs have already traced this phone to Raoul Jimenez, one of the most prominent drug lords working the eastern seaboard." It wasn't even a lie. Raoul had been there, but Phil didn't know yet whether Jimenez was among the dead, or whether he'd simply left his phone behind.

"So your conclusion is this was a drug related incident."

Phil turned the phone over in his hands thoughtfully, allowing a warm, tolerant smile to flash over his face as he replaced the phone. He removed his sunglasses, folding them and tucking them gently into his pocket. "My conclusion is…we're still investigating."

Here, he allowed his gaze to drop to the faded coiled cobra tattoo on Archer's left hand. Removal would have made a right mess out of it, so there it stayed. He allowed it to linger just long enough to lean oh so gently on the psychological pain point he knew it represented, but not long enough to be insulting, to be called on it. "If you'd be willing to lend your expertise with drug rings to my investigators perhaps this would all go a little faster…?"

David's eyes flashed. He stood stiffly. His jaw clenched.

Phil Coulson waited.

Archer turned away with a curt nod. "Sadly, I'm short on time. I've got a meeting in D.C."

Phil disciplined himself to feel nothing, not even the slightest burst of triumph that his gambit had worked. "I understand," was all that he said, as if he had genuinely hoped that Archer would pull up a seat at the table.

Then, he put Archer out of his mind, even as he heard him drive away. Composing a to-do list. He could set priorities that would keep the conclusions about this incident in limbo forever, all while using the identities of the bodies to piece together useful and actionable intelligence on Hydra. He pulled up the AR display on his watch and began issuing orders that would make it happen.

It was also about time to pull Barnes in for a little talk. A storm was about to overtake the man, and Barnes was gleefully seeding the clouds without even knowing it. Phil didn't think he could stop the storm, but perhaps he could do his bit to make sure the fellow didn't drown in the resulting flood.

After a time, Claire's voice: "Sir? We've got a final count."

"How many?"

"33, sir."

"Acknowledged, Agent Yuan."

He watched her walk away. If Barnes made it through this Phil resolved to find a way to arrange events so that the former Winter Soldier's thirst for vengeance was put to good use. In the meantime, he would stick to bringing up the earlier incidents. This one, he'd hold in reserve. He might need it later. It was never a good idea to share every bit of your intel at once. It was always best to be the person who knew more than others thought one did. Even if— perhaps especially if— you were trying to help the person you were playing chess with.

He checked the time. 9 in the morning. He already felt like he'd been at this all day.

The man wouldn't consent to come in immediately. He was sure of it.

He gestured to a driver, walking towards one of the SHIELD SUVs parked around the crime scene. Barnes picked up.

Phil spoke in a bright, pleasant voice as he got into the back seat. "Sergeant Barnes, Phil Coulson. I'm doing some case reviews, and your file crossed my desk this morning…"

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