It Was the Shooting

September 14, 2017:

Maria Hill finds herself betrayed and alone on a mission in Managua. Phil Coulson shows up to lend a hand.

Managua, Nicaragua

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Captain America, Melinda May, Rin Nakano, Darcy Lewis, Sally Stojespal

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Managua, Nicaragua

Agent Hendricks is dead.

He was shot two minutes ago by forces unknown. He died two inches away from Agent Maria Hill.

Now, a force of 7 unknown hostiles is closing in on her. She's managed to dodge them so far, but street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, they're cutting her off. They're all Hydra for sure. They're all as skilled as she is. And they aren't using stun weapons. They're out to kill her.

7 hours ago she'd been sent to recover an alien artifact from the base of the Masaya Volcano. It's one of many that fell to earth after an honest-to-god space race that took place in the Sol system. This one, after analysis from the remote R&D guys, seems to have a lot of destructive power, a sort of 'clean bomb' capable of wiping out entire cities of people without harming any of the infrastructure. One solid energy pulse of pure heat, something capable of vaporizing everyone. Something damned hard to destroy, with a strange metal outer core that is not vibranium but is damned near as strong. Exactly the sort of crap Hydra should not have.

The mission was classified all to Hell and back, which means someone sold Maria out. A fact which will matter a lot more…

If she can get out of Managua alive.

*

Nothing about this mission has gone according to plan aside from drop off. Hendricks and Hill were under the radar. They weren't supposed to spend time with the locals, just secure the artifact and get out. Standard operating practice says she should've called it in — to tell others she's been made. But level-headedness won.

She was made by one of her people.

Calling it in would give them her location. She'd dropped her earpiece several blocks ago, choosing to run and fight rather than give up. Hill needs to get to the volcano. She needs to get the artifact. And so she ran. Hard.

She'd studied the map before, burning it into her brain to get some impression of what the area looked like. And now she's grateful she'd had some foresight.

Dressed in her tactical navy blue SHIELD uniform with her weapons at the ready, she sprints to one of the many alleyways of the neighbourhoods. She wants to go North but the forces closing in are purposely pursuing her away from the artifact in question. Her eyes trail down the layers upon layers of alleys in a long straight line — catching sight of another Hydra agent some space away. Knowing full well she's already been seen, she curses under her breath and fires the weapon in her grasp. Her eyes flit upwards and she catches the long fire escape leading to the top of the building. "This is a terrible idea," she murmurs.

And then she begins to climb the stairs two at a time.

*

It would have been convenient if that guy had died, but he whips into cover, allowing the bullets to zoom past him. There are still 7 on her tail.

Up and up she goes, two at a time. A Tico woman doing her laundry stares in disbelief as this strange person goes barreling onto the roof. There's an antenna up there that must date back to the 70s and a satellite dish that's brand new; two worlds colliding as they so often do in this country. The roof is flat and gravelly, exposing her to the pounding heat of a near blinding sun. It gives her a break from the bullets, but not for long. She can hear the distant burst of radio chatter. The information that she's taken to the roof road is now bouncing from comm to comm.

They run their operations tightly, does Hydra, just like SHIELD does, making life hard for a lone fugitive on the run, especially one that has to get to the artifact before they do. They must not know exactly where it is or they'd already be on their way to get it, though. They must plan to take that intel off her corpse.

*

The position grants Hill at least one advantage. The eagle's eye view won't last. Her eyes turn to the satellite dish. She angles it to catch the sunlight and reflect it towards the fire escape. And when she does, her cheeks puff out.

She levels her weapon at the fire escape and aims to fire multiple times at the first assailant climbing the escape.

She won't be able to get down without being noticed, but she can try to vault. Having bought herself even a few moments, she turns on her heel and shakes her head again. "So many bad ideas," she murmurs before she breaks into a sprint to vault herself off the roof to the building next. If she can lose them, even a little, it's worth it. And if she can't, at least she left on her own terms.

*

The gambit works and works beautifully, and seven are now down to six, the first bold assailant blinded and shot in the blink of an eye. Maria shows why she is one of SHIELD's most legendary, quickly turning bits of the landscape to her advantage, doing the unexpected, turning tables on enemies.

But Hydra has its own people, and when she vaults onto the next roof she finds three of them waiting to greet her. They level weapons, ready to fire, ready to end this, ready to indeed make it a death died on her own terms…

Only for one of them to gain a third eye from behind. The other two half turn as the tall body falls, revealing an utterly furious (and quite a bit shorter) Phillip Coulson, hazel eyes blazing and mouth set into the grim downward curve which is the only, very slight expression to hint at it…something so mild to hint at something with such depth. His gun is out, still smoking a little from the shot that ended the Hydra agent's life.

One doesn't screw around with Phil's people if they know what is good for them. His only concession to the whole mess is a tactical vest over his shirtsleeves and a hint of sweat trailing down his temples, a testament to the tropical heat and the danger of the moment.

Six become five, and one becomes two, but despite that dramatic entrance the other two are recovering.

*

An agent of SHIELD doesn't dare miss the opportunity. Coulson receives no acknowledgement before several rounds are shot at the pair. She releases her entire clip, needing to stop these agents as quickly as she can.

Fire flares in Hill's eyes when Coulson shoots one of the agents and he receives a curt drop of her chin — a kind of nod of near thanks. But there's more to it. The intensity of Maria's gaze speaks to far more, yet there's no time to discuss it. Her breath rakes against her throat as she gasps to control it.

She gives a tick of her head and she offers, "We need to get down." And back to the volcano, but she doesn't say as much. Her eyes train across the roof to the fire escape here, and, in short order, her paces drive her to the edge to descend the roof and head back to the maze of alleys below.

*

Phil approves of her turning five into three; it's what he would have done. Talk comes later, mission comes now. She is all grace and fluid motion as she makes it to the alley below. He…isn't.

In truth he never has been. He was a data guy who showed a talent for field work and leadership, but while he's strong and skilled his body is a little compact and his delivery a little geeky no matter what he does. He's slower, and he's older, and this all results in him getting there but neither as quickly nor as prettily. It's more of a mad scramble than a descent, and thus a bullet nearly takes off his head as he hits the ground and pulls in a steadying breath. He yanks his head back out of instinct, even as the Hydra agent reveals his position to Maria in the gambit, the one that almost put an end to Phil's aspirations to become as Cool as Captain America for good.

He has no time to spin, no time to deal with it, but the Hydra guy sure has time to try to line up another shot.

*

And, fortunately, so does Maria. Without giving a second thought, she fires three rounds towards the agent aiming at Coulson. She twists away from the fire escape, giving another tick of her head to suggest Phil follow her without needing to say anything. She cuts East. When she's reasonably sure they've either lost the Hydra agents or that they dispose of them, they'll head North. But until then, it's all about disorienting and finishing the mission.

The run Eastward gives them ample mazes of road after road. But when they move far enough, it presents an open market. Hill's eyes cut back to Phil. While she doesn't frown, she also isn't happy.

Civilians.

Lots of them.

Her head shakes silently and she leads back one block to duck behind a building.

They're going to have to deal with the agents before going any further. Especially if they want to eliminate collateral damage.

*

Phil so far has agreed with every one of her decisions. He hasn't tried to take command. The silent signals are returned and acknowledged. He flattens himself on the wall next to her, pausing to catch his breath, gun aimed downward for just a moment. They can't run into civilians, and there are two more to find. Two more who are their equals in skill, no doubt, as they are the last ones left in this deadly cat and mouse game.

Phil holds up a finger to Maria and digs in the pockets of the vest. He hooks something to his watch and hooks that up to his earbud; he taps a few holographic keys and latches onto a couple of radio signals. Occasionally, he's still a big tech nerd. Occasionally, that comes in handy. He's able to bring up a map overlay, pinpoint the two most likely ones in red based on their shared frequencies, the ones that aren't policia and aren't SHIELD. Those two are moving…

"Damn it," Phil whispers.

Maria might realize what Phil realizes almost immediately.

Maria and Phil want to reduce collateral and civilian damage. These two people have staked out locations where they can start open firing on the crowd, all to the aim of drawing out the two agents. They aren't in position yet, but the pattern of their movements more than suggests the shape of their sickening play.

*

Maria's gaze deadens. Her eyes follow the pattern and she levels a look at Phil. "Separate and draw back after," she states plainly. "Or get an eagle eye and sniper them," but she's not that good at shot without the right gun.

She inhales a long breath and gives Coulson another nod. Being an Agent of Shield means accepting risks. Hill moves towards the alley, freezing before she races down it to turn around and utter back to him, "Thanks." Because the mission needs to be successful.

She pursues the farther of the two, running to the position in an effort to get there before the Hydra agents, knowing too well that this is once more another bad idea.

*

Neither is he. That means getting in close. He flashes her a quick, tight smile as she thanks him, but he, too, is mission-focused. She pursues the farther of the two.

Phil notes that, and doubles back towards the closer.

They get into position before either of them can round on their targets, firing into the crowd. The screams of pain and fear, panic and rage, are the sorts of things that echo in nearly every Agent's nightmares. There's mission success…

And there's being able to save everyone. The latter only happens once in every blue moon, and some lives are going to be lost today because two other people decided to make the choice to be real rat bastards.

The good news is, Maria's target is focused on the crowd, all while scanning for her down below, never realizing that anyone is on to them yet. They expect a mad dash to clear civilians, to evacuate those streets, to do what SHIELD agents so often do. And if that were the right play, Phil would have demanded it…

But they don't have the teams, the resources, the back up. They are two betrayed, and they have only each other and their weapons to make this as right as it can be made.

*

Knowing that there's another grants a measure of confidence that Maria hadn't when Hendricks fell. And in situations like these, she can take confidence to the bank.

She spies the agent before he spots her and she pursues hotly, lunging at him with a roundhouse kick across his torso to drop his weapon before he can fire any rounds into the crowd. It destroys her balance, and she counters with a shift in her weight as a kind of pendulum. Her hands reach to the ground, bracing herself so as not to fall over completely and leave herself vulnerable.

She follows the move with a sweep of her opposite leg.

And, like all agents, she's grateful she didn't skip leg day.

*

The weapon clatters to the ground; the Hydra agent doubles over. He produces a tactical knife and comes in hard with an overhead strike with his right hand, even as his left hand snakes out to try to punch Hill in the solar plexus. Across the plaza, the shots from the other fellow stop; Phil has caught up with his target, though how that is going is anyone's guess. The fact that nobody else is dying is probably a good sign..

But there's not a lot of time to read those signs, of course, with this agent trying to give Maria a new hole in her neck. It's now a pitched hand-to-hand battle between two of matched skill, but this guy has some strength and reach on her. She'll be able to see it right away, even as the battle is joined.

*

The hit to Maria's solar plexus winds her and she staggers backwards. But there's no time to stop and gain space — to really find her breath as she hits the pavement. The assault comes in hard. Her survival instinct goes into overdrive and the words from her mentor echo through her mind. Take out the target. If she doesn't, Hydra may well get the artifact and use it as a super weapon. She needs to survive this.

The internal pep talk happens in nanoseconds and sees her thoughts clearing just enough. Her hand finds the weapon she'd just knocked out of the Hydra agent's hand and she levels it at him to fire three times into his head.

It's not what she had in mind, and it lacks the elegance of her SHIELD issued weapons, but hopefully it'll do.

*

Brains and blood say that it will do.

The dead man's radio crackles. Along comes Coulson's voice. "Tell me you're the one who survived that." He sounds breathless, and there were no more gunshots…

Primarily because across the plaza, Phil Coulson had managed to snap his opponent's neck with a twist of his hands that had required a bit of grim-faced thin-mouthed effort on his part. Now he's catching his breath again, and using other people's stuff to verify that she's alive and that they can regroup. If someone else answers he'll have had to adjust. And it will suck a lot, so.

As far as Phil is concerned: here's hoping.

*

The weapon returns to its home on the pavement and for a spare moment, Maria takes a breath. She basks in the little space offered before the radio cracks, raising her heckles until Coulson's voice comes through. Relief.

She nabs the radio from the body and lifts it to reply, "That or purgatory looks an awful lot like my life." A mirthless laugh follows, "Or Hell does." There's no mention of Heaven. She just blew a man's brains out — that probably precludes her from an easy afterlife.

She's already moving to the location she expected Phil's target last. Saying locations over radios that don't belong to them somehow seems unwise.

*

Phil doesn't comment on their final destinations, he's no expert and he's busy searching the body for anything useful and catching his breath. He discovers a few items, which he pockets as she gets there. And one which he doesn't pocket. A pair of car keys, which he sort of holds up and click clicks to see if any of the vehicles below respond. Headlights flash, and he points to a jeep. "That ought to get us where we're going. We've got 2 minutes before the policia and emergency services arrive." He's probably tracking that through his watch and earbud, as he was already patched into communications, but it's important…the wrong agent gets on the phone, and they end up disavowed.

It sucks, not knowing who to trust. "We'll talk in the car," he adds. Then he's dashing towards the fire escape so that he can make his next mad scramble down.

*

When they get in the jeep, relief colours Hill's expression. She hasn't taken more than two moments since Coulson showed up to issue any signs of consideration. But the relief quickly gives way to something else entirely. Maria's pragmatism and calculation have already begun to put things together.

She gladly takes the passenger seat, if only for the moment's breath it gives her. The mission still needs to be finished, but at least there are no longer Hydra agents on their tails. But as she sits there, the curt change of her face and each of its nuances demonstrates the shift in her thinking.

The tension in her face, steeliness of her eyes, and taut nature of her lips all herald determined anger. "Who made us?" she finally hisses.

*

This is something Phil Coulson appreciates about Maria. He drives swiftly and expertly, whipping them through the streets to get to the highway that will get them to that volcano. "I don't know," he says grimly.

And then, "But since I now know you aren't the traitor I can tell you this. There's at least one Hydra agent among the four level 9 agents." It's not Fury, at least, he knows that much, but someone has made it up to the director's level. "And the investigation to figure out who it is…"

Here he shifts; the thing is a stick shift, "Has stalled. I mean it can't move fast, that's how people die, but. Once we wrap this up I could use you in New York, helping us figure out who it is and helping to build the case that will nail them to the wall. Four suspects…and whichever Hydra plants they have fouling up the rest of our organization. We've got to fix this as quickly as we can, if that cancer spreads…"

He doesn't finish the thought.

*

Maria's nostrils flare again. "They killed Hendricks," the observation is even. She's lost agents before, but she doesn't like it, especially when one of the people on the inside is responsible. "They would've killed me. We weren't prepared for this. It was supposed to be covert."

Her head turns to face Coulson. "They left us lame and had all the advantage. It was smart on their part." Her eyebrows draw together, "I'm in. Do you think they know you know there's a leak?" Because obviously this has to stay out of every report.

*

Phil nods grimly. "They know I know. It's kept me out of the bulk of the investigation."

There is frustration there, in the extreme. Phil, of all people, wants to be one of the ones nailing these individuals straight to the wall, doing his own digging. Instead he's playing red herring and decoy, and is occasionally trying to step in to save the lives of agents who he has deemed to be threatened, just by virtue of their assignments, by the mole who is getting, as far as he can tell, more aggressive about tilting the scales in Hydra's favor.

"I've only been able to vet a few agents. May, of course. This kid Stojespal. Rin Nakano. Darcy Lewis. Peggy Carter isn't Hydra but she's been suspended; they went over my head. Captain America isn't, but he's…not really suited for this kind of an investigation. Those four have been informed and are working on it, but…other than Nakano this isn't totally their skillset." May is a fantastic pilot, combatant, and leader, but she's also a very straightforward soul.

*

A laugh follows Phil's needs assessment. "So basically you need a liar," Maria actually smirks at that. "Someone who can get people on point but also make it look like business as usual." There's a tick of her eyebrows and a quirk of her lips. "I can play the politics," she finally asserts while straightening in her seat. "And I can direct people to follow the investigation. But I'm going to need to know everything you've already got."

A sly smile tugs at her features. "And how did you decide that I'm not one of them?" Pause. "Or was it the shooting that tipped you off?"

*

"Pretty much it was the shooting," Phil says apologetically.

Killing the enemy and nearly being killed by them. A time honored strategy.

He pulls the car to a stop at the base of the volcano and pauses to fire a secure packet of information over to her on his watch. Several packets, in fact, which offers both the suspect list and the progress that's been made on the investigation so far. There have definitely been a few actions taken. "I will let them all know that you're part of this now," he adds. "I'll be…continuing to do this. And to play patsy. So do come and get me if I end up chained to a radiator with a bag over my head or something."

Because what he's doing, appearing to be the obvious hunter while actually not hunting and trying to conceal someone else's hunt? Is the kind of crap that is really ripe for either getting shot, or getting chained to a radiator. But if he gets shot, there's not much anyone can do about anything, so he focuses on the better case scenario.

*

It was the shooting, "Figures," Hill replies.

Maria scans the information given to her. And her mind pulls at invisible threads to weave together a strategy for the team. "This may sound like a shock, but my loyalties were decided a long time ago." The facts are plain. Hill continues to be loyal to SHIELD and its mission, but more than that to those who worked early in its recruitment.

And then flatly, to the window she quips, "Never request that. It makes you look like you're losing faith in your team." There's a blandness to the words, but she means what she's saying. "I'll get you myself," she adds. "Unless it compromises the op. In which case I'll send May." Her lips quirk, "Or Lewis."

*

"Epic," Phil quips back. "And I've never lost faith in my team even once."

He's just having a hard time sorting out who is actually on his team these days. The strain of that shows, just a little, around his hazel eyes. And while he's sorry he had to doubt even someone like Hill, well. When one finds trouble this high up in the organization, one has to pretty much question and vet right from the ground up, and that is what he has been doing.

In the meantime, he pulls out a pair of binoculars, and starts scanning the side of the thing, looking for the source of all the trouble. "There," he says, pointing to a small, egg-shaped bronze device with a series of strange symbols in it that seems…pretty well wedged into the rock, really, but it always seems to seem pretty well wedged into the rock.

*

"I'll keep it close," Maria has operated like this multiple times under Fury's direction, but never to find a leak within SHIELD. She frowns slightly but then Phil sees the device. Her door opens and she slides out.

Self-consciously, she casts a long look over her shoulder. Getting jumped once by Hydra agents is plenty. She won't let it happen again if she can help it. But seeing no one close by, she treads to the area in question. "We need R&D to develop something akin to a rock pick," she notes while her fingers check whether it'll just come or will need some coaxing. "But will fit on my belt. Because I am not carrying mining equipment everywhere I go."

*

It'll need a little coaxing, but it's wriggle-able. Phil shoots her a quick, mild smile of the variety that says he's amused but exhausted. "I'm fresh out of dirty tricks for that, but I'll get someone on it, because it's not a bad idea."

In the end, though, she'll get the dangerous thing loose without setting it off, which is a tense point of concern for Phil as she works on it. It is definitely already slated for 'fire that thing into the sun' duty. And personal sheperding to make sure it gets onto the rocket at that. Nobody should be able to reroute that with Phil and Maria right there demanding it go up right that very second.

He's watching her back throughout, at least, but nobody else comes. The thing is valuable, but Hydra, like SHIELD, can only dispatch so many at one go. Mission success.

A dangerous new one awaits.

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