A/N: These stories take place after "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and my story, "Enemies List." The first two will be in chronological order, but they may be random after that.
Picking Up the Pieces
The two boys had taken three buses from their D.C. neighborhood to reach the thin, weedy woods along the Potomac where the third helicarrier had crashed days before.
The skinny black youngsters were intent on claiming a souvenir. Their cousin in New York proudly displayed a piece of debris from the Battle of Manhattan. Sure, it was just a piece of a Coke machine, but no one could deny there was a charred, melted hole in the twisted piece of red metal.
Now that a superhero battle had taken place near their home, Deion and Andru were wild to collect a memento of their own to counter their cousin's bragging.
The woods were not the city boys' native habitat, but they ventured in fearlessly, putting their sneaker-clad feet down carefully and chattering constantly, but quietly. They were sure grownups would deny them their exploration, saying it was too dangerous. But the eight- and ten-year-old brothers scoffed at danger.
"All the good stuff will be down by the river," older brother Deion said wisely.
Andru nodded. They'd been over this a hundred times. "Because the ship crashed in the river," he agreed. "But grownups will be there, too."
Deion nodded. "So we need to stay inside the trees until we spot something to grab."
"No guns," Andru warned. It was their mother's firm rule and she watched like a hawk.
Deion nodded reluctantly. A gun would be exciting, but maybe too dangerous for his little brother, he rationalized. "Nothing that looks like a weapon," he agreed. "And nothing too big for us to carry."
"Maybe we'll find a dead body," Andru said, with a thrill of fearful excitement. They'd caught a glimpse of one once, when the police were taking away a homeless man who had died in an alley.
The idea fired his brother's imagination. "Yeah, a dead body hanging in a tree!" And then, at the same moment, the boys saw an odd-shaped shadow at their feet. It definitely didn't belong to a tree branch. They looked at each other, and then, in unison, they looked up.
As usual, Maria Hill was picking up the pieces. This time the phrase was more literal than usual.
Standing on the bank of the Potomac, the dark-haired woman watched in sardonic amusement as the two government officials with their FBI shadows argued with her salvage crew. First they went to the guy on the skip loader, then to one of the security guards. Both men pointed at Hill, but the group tried the foreman instead. He pointed firmly at Hill and told them to stop bothering his crew.
As they admitted defeat and approached the woman, Hill's earbud crackled.
"What part of 'she's in charge' don't they understand?" the foreman said in aggravation, before he turned his attention back to the crane lifting a hunk of helicarrier engine out of the river and swinging it toward a flatbed tractor-trailer.
Hill took a military stance, tucking her arms behind her back in parade rest, though a clipboard dangled from two fingers behind her, which wasn't very military at all.
"Gentlemen," she greeted the group, a sardonic twist to her voice.
"Listen, missy," the eldest of the men began.
Missy — really?
He flashed National Transportation Safety Board identification at her. "You can't just come in here and take this debris."
"I can," Hill corrected. "I am."
"Hill, isn't it?" sneered one of the FBI men — Logan, she thought his name was. She'd met him once or twice in her previous life.
"You don't have SHIELD authority any more," Logan snarled. "You have no authorization to be here."
"Here's my authorization," Hill said briskly. She brought the clipboard forward and plucked off a paper, which she handed to the eldest man.
His sputtering dried up when he read the document.
"That's a court order," Hill explained for the benefit of the others. "U.S. District Court Judge Rivera has authorized Stark Industries to reclaim its equipment from the crash site."
"Reclaim?" the second NTSB man asked. He was a modest looking man with sharp eyes — reminded Hill of Phil Coulson.
"Mr. Stark prefers to not make weapons these days," Hill explained politely to the man who had asked politely. "He only leased the energy source for the helicarrier engines to SHIELD. The contract stipulates that the reactors can be repossessed if used for nefarious purposes."
"Nefarious!" Logan scoffed.
Hill shoved another document under Logan's bulgy nose. "Paragraph 12, section 2. It specifically indicates 'nefarious purposes.'"
"Who writes a contract that uses the word 'nefarious'?" Logan exclaimed.
"Tony Stark," Hill answered, her unsaid "duh" hanging heavily in the muggy air. She continued, "The judge agreed with the Stark lawyers that targeting thousands of people for death qualified as 'nefarious.' So SI is reclaiming the engines. Of course, we will do what we can to repair the riparian ecosystem as we work. Fortunately it's a clean energy source, so no pollution there."
"But we haven't finished with our investigation," the second NTSB man said mildly.
"What's there to investigate? The ships blasted each other out of the sky on national and local television and websites around the world."
"Crashes have to be documented," the man replied.
Hill softened her stance for the one man who was acting reasonably. "We are willing to let your people work alongside ours. I assure you that my people will be better able to recognize anything unusual or suspicious in the wreckage."
"Just who do you think you are to dictate…" the older man started.
The younger man was wiser and dragged his superior away, loudly thanking Maria for her cooperation to drown out the other man's rant. The disgruntled FBI men followed.
Maria watched them go with a smirk.
"I like a take charge woman," said a young voice from behind her.
Hill turned to see two black youngsters standing just within the tree line. The eldest of the two stood with what he fondly thought was a sexy, streetwise pose.
Maria wasn't attracted by 10-year-olds, but she had a certain fondness for a smart-mouth — just as well, considering her new boss.
"What are you boys doing here?" she asked mildly. "This area is dangerous. The pollution alone could kill you."
"You just said there wasn't any pollution," the youngest boy pointed out.
"I said the power source wouldn't pollute the river, but there are other things — metals, lubricants, burned plastics, corpses — those are all potentially toxic," she said reasonably.
She noticed the two boys exchange a glance when she mentioned corpses. Her brow creased in a frown. "Why are you here?"
The younger boy scuffed his foot nervously, but the older raised his chin in a challenge. "We found something important. We'll show you for $100."
"A hundred dollars?" Hill said skeptically.
"We wanted a superhero souvenir," the younger boy blurted. "But we ... it's too big."
"We'll sell it to you for $100," Deion said firmly.
Hill was intrigued, but said firmly. "Take me to it and I'll tell you whether it's worth $100."
Deion looked as if he'd like to argue, but Andru confidently said, "It's worth it." He looked at his brother. "You know it is."
"Lead the way, gentlemen." Hill gestured toward the woods.
The oddly assorted trio introduced themselves on their short jaunt into the woods. The boys told the skilled interrogator all about their boastful cousin in New York and how they wanted to one-up him.
They stopped in mid-story. "What?" Hill asked. The boys pointed up.
Hill looked up. Dimmed by dirt and scratches, a star shined down on her. She smiled. She pushed a button on her comm, changing the channel. "Can you loan me a hundred?"
"Is that all they want for it? I wondered what they were up to. I'll be right down."
The shrill whine of repulsors filled the air. The boys looked up and their jaws dropped open. Iron Man descended. He hovered for a moment, untangling the treasure from the branches, then landed in front of the boys.
The boys were still gaping when Tony opened his helmet.
"Catching flies?" he asked. "This is a good place for it," he admitted. He batted away one of the many bugs that swarmed along the riverbank.
The boys snapped their mouths shut, then the youngest opened his again. "You're Iron Man!" he said in reverence.
Tony preened. "Miss Hill, would you introduce me to your friends?"
Hill made formal introductions.
"Appreciate you finding this," Tony told the boys. " Cap would look unfinished without it." The scorched, scratched and filthy shield rang like a bell when Iron Man's metal finger tapped it. "What are you kids doing down here?"
Deion explained about their cousin and their hunt for a souvenir,
"I'm surprised you didn't keep this, then. It would be the ultimate souvenir."
"We couldn't steal from Cap," Deion said piously. "He's a good guy. We saw him at school once, talking about bullying."
"And we didn't think we could smuggle it onto the bus," Andru said with devastating honesty.
Deion glared at his brother, then sighed. "And even if we got it home, we'd never hide it from our Mom. She'd whup us good for taking what didn't belong to us."
"A wise woman," Hill said with approval.
"With two smart sons," Tony agreed. "Hill, take a picture of me with the boys. They deserve a souvenir."
Hill used the boys' phone to take several pictures — Tony shaking hands as he accepted the shield, Tony and the boys posing with the shield, Tony smiling with his arms over the kids' shoulders.
Tony Stark had a soft spot for kids, who knew? Maria thought with amusement.
Tony walked with the kids to the street and sent them home in his limousine, each clutching a hundred dollar bill.
"I never knew you were such a softy," Hill said.
"A smart kid saved my life last year," Tony reminded her. "I like smart kids. I'll keep an eye on these two."
"I'm surprised you didn't find the shield first," Hill commented.
"Who says? I spotted it just before they did. I was curious to see what they'd do."
Hill looked at him skeptically, as if he was just trying to save face.
Tony made a scornful noise. "Please, it's the only significant concentration of vibranium outside Wakanda. Of course I could find it."
Hill frowned. "I never thought about it being so distinctive. Doesn't that compromise Cap in any stealth situation?"
"I said I could find it." Tony said. "By its nature, vibranium reflects, no, redirects force. It absorbs and transmutes energy. You have to know what to look for to find vibranium."
"And you know what to look for."
"My Dad made this baby," Tony said, rocking the shield in his arms like an infant. "It's practically a member of the family. Come on, kiddo. Uncle Tony will take you home until Daddy Steve gets out of the hospital," he told the shield.
He launched into the air, leaving Maria Hill behind him, shaking her head in amusement. Then she went back to picking up the pieces. — as usual.
A/N: Next, Clint and Nat reunite in "Suburbia."