Phil glances at Maria, standing next to him in the elevator, and finds her glancing back. They raise eyebrows at each other and then smile. "I take it you also have no idea why he wants to see us," Maria says dryly, and Phil shakes his head.
"As far as I know there's nothing of urgency happening with any of our current missions, or persons of interest."
"Which means it's likely something entirely new," Maria says, one corner of her mouth quirking up as they share looks of wry amusement over their boss's ability to track down the strange, dangerous, and potentially useful. "Lovely."
When they step into his office, Nick is scowling at video footage playing on one of several screens filling the large room. They stand and wait, knowing he's been aware of their presence since the elevator doors opened, if not before. He turns after pausing the screen on a still of what looks like bad shakycam footage from a movie on the scifi channel.
Not that Phil stays up until ungodly hours of the morning watching those of course.
"Are the two of you aware of the unusual seismic activity outside of Roswell yesterday afternoon?"
Phil shakes his head, but Maria nods. Not too surprising given that one of the facilities popularly known as Area 51 (SHIELD is far from the only organization with a similar base) falls under her purview, not his.
Fury jabs a finger at the screen, his scowl living up to his name. "One of our satellites recorded that breaking our atmosphere at the same time."
Phil blinks, genuinely surprised, and turns his gaze back to the strange looking craft. "Entering, or exiting?"
"Exiting," Nick says, "Which is why this only a level six event." He turns his penetrating gaze on Maria. "We are not the only ones aware of, or interested in, this occurrence, and the other guys definitely know more than we do."
Maria groans, one of her hands fluttering over the butt of her gun in a sign of clear frustration. "The goddamned Special Unit?" she asks, not even a drop of hope in her voice, and Nick nods. "Incompetent amateurs," she spits, then straightens as her face assumes its usual professional mien. "I'm on it, we still have a contact or two in their 'disbanded' unit."
"Good," Nick grunts, turning back to stare at the footage. "I want to know everything they know, and more, yesterday." He flicks his eye back at Phil. "I want you two to join forces on this one - it may require direct intervention."
"Natasha?" Phil asks, already mentally sorting through his agents and which missions can be reassigned to deal with this crisis.
"If necessary," Nick says, emphasizing necessary, then turns completely away from them, a clear dismissal. "I expect an update by the end of the day."
Phil and Maria ride the elevator back down together and then exchange glances of commiseration before parting ways toward their offices and the workloads that have just tripled.
"I hate the FBI," Maria informs him four hours later, collapsing into the chair on the other side of his desk and pinching her fingers over her nose in a clear attempt to stave off the stress migraine he can see lurking around the corners of her eyes.
"That bad?" Phil asks, settling back in his own chair and reaching for his mug of coffee that has long since gone ice cold.
Maria actually rolls her eyes. "The assholes in the Special Unit seem to have done nothing except devote their lives to creating one clusterfuck after another, ever since 1947." She levels Phil with a serious look. "You know there was a crash, I know there was a crash, I think everyone other than the DEA knows there was a crash and I'm not ruling them out. What we didn't know, because the fucking FBI kept it from everyone, is that there were survivors of the crash."
Phil stares at her, coffee mug hovering in mid air, then sets it carefully back down on his desk. "Survivors?"
She grimaces. "At least four adults, or 'mature specimens', and at least eight incubation sacks carrying what was assumed to be their young. The Special Unit had two of the adults in custody, one of which they tortured to death in the name of experimentation, and the other of which escaped twenty some odd years ago and hasn't been seen since."
Phil realizes his mouth is gaping open and snaps it shut. "And the others?"
Maria sighs, slouching in an uncharacteristic display of exhaustion. "That's where it gets complicated."
His lips quirk into a smile of their own accord. "Complicated is the only thing we know how to do."
She laughs, short and sharp, and then shakes her head. "I wish we'd paid more attention to them sooner, because the trail of dead bodies, broken laws, and human rights violations on this one is a mile long and I know I haven't found everything yet. Nor is that including what they did to the extraterrestrials, who should have been granted rights of their own."
Phil raises an eyebrow, waiting patiently, and her lips curve into a darker frown than he's seen on her since the Budapest incident in '04.
"They kidnapped a sixteen-year-old kid last year, and put out capture or kill orders on several more."
"Fuck." The word, like the previous smile, pops out before he's consciously aware of it, and he works to keep his hands from curling into fists. "Any chance we can fix the mess without it being broadcast on every channel?"
"Yes, actually," Maria says with another sigh, "that's the only good news. At least a couple of the kids involved are most likely either descendants of the survivors, or survivors themselves, depending on how those incubation sacks work. And all of them seem to have been far more interested in avoiding attention than suing the U.S. government for unlawful detainment." She looks at him with dark eyes again. "And torture."
Phil winces, no longer surprised by anything she says. "They tortured the kid?"
"Just about everything out of the 'how to make a terrorist talk' handbook," Maria confirms. "I much preferred the video of his friends breaking into save him. And wow do those kids have some interesting abilities, I guarantee you that Nick's going to want to recruit all of them."
"That should go well," Phil murmurs, contemplating the mayhem that would result from a bunch of traumatized, and apparently powerful, teenagers being added to SHIELD's stable of agents.
In some ways, they'd fit right in - if they make it through the usual Gifted individual intake process.
Maria snorts, then taps her fingers against the arm of the chair. "I'd like to borrow Natasha, send her in to keep an eye on the Unit, and stop them from doing anything to make the situation worse. Whatever happened yesterday has them in a tailspin, and we do not want to see those kill orders enacted."
"No we don't," Phil says with a frown of his own. Kidnapping minors and making such a mess of it? The FBI is lucky it's in everyone's best interests to keep this under wraps, or the organization would be facing a public witch hunt that would put the Red Scare to shame.
"I called her back from her current mission this morning. As soon as she's arrived and we've debriefed, I'll send her over." He glances back at his list of agents. "What about Roswell itself? Do you plan to send anyone in to keep an eye on the ground?"
Maria nods. "I've sent a couple agents over from our Albuquerque facility, on very low profile. If need be, I'm preparing my schedule so I can go myself."
It's rarer these days, for either of them to go into the field themselves. Not rare mind you; SHIELD has too many high priority clusterfucks of their own for that, but rarer. This particular assignment definitely warrants the attention. "I'll send Natasha as soon as I can, and keep prodding my own sources," he tells her. He's already sent her every bit of information the government, and various private enterprises, have compiled about the seismic activity and the spacecraft, suppressing and classifying along the way. He also has a contact in the Marshals' New Mexico field office he's waiting to hear back from.
She smiles her thanks and stands, then glances at his coffee mug. "I'm sending my assistant for fuel, I'll have her grab your usual too."
He smiles back, his first full one since this mess dropped in their laps, and then returns to work as she leaves. He has a feeling it's going to be yet another all nighter, and he needs to make sure none of his other missions fall apart while they deal with this one.
It's almost seven, and his third mug of coffee since he downed the espresso Maria's assistant brought him has gone cold. His e-mail chimes with a message from Maria and he opens it to find empty but for an attached audio file. He slips his headphones on with a sense of dread, which only intensifies when he hears a police scanner reporting that a jeep with four dead teenagers inside it has been found at the bottom of a gorge outside Roswell. The owner of the jeep is one Max Evans, the unlucky young man who'd suffered the FBI's hospitality.
FBI? he sends back, and grimaces at the reply that appears almost instantly.
I fucking hope not. If so, I will actually kill an entire unit.
I'll help. he types in response and then minimizes the window to stare again at the files Maria'd sent him from the Special Unit.
Max Evan's face is white and drawn with pain and fear in the picture on the left, and he stares at it in mute apology. Maria was right, they should have investigated sooner. If they had maybe four teenagers would still be alive.
She was also right about the Special Unit, and even though they can't be punished publicly, something definitely needs to be done about them. Natasha may end up using more than just her impressive infiltration skills on this mission. He doesn't think she'll mind.
It's just past dawn the next day when Maria reappears in his office, passing over a steaming hot cup of coffee before sitting down and sipping at her own. They are both silent for a moment, enjoying the brief moment of peace and the rush of caffeine. They both know they'll pay for it later, but like true addicts that never stops them.
"There were no bodies in the jeep, despite the death certificates that are being processed, and the funerals already being arranged."
Phil takes a moment to revel in the relief he feels that they didn't utterly fail to protect four innocent kids, before raising an eyebrow.
"It seems the Sheriff is in on the secret. It also seems likely that the four missing bodies were in that ship.
"And the ones left behind?"
"Three of them, all definitively human. Liz Parker, Maria DeLuca, and Kyle Valenti, the Sheriff's son."
"Does the FBI know?" he asks, anger still simmering at the thought of all the Special Unit had done, right under SHIELD's nose. They're supposed to better at their job than this, and he knows he's not the only one taking their failure personally.
"That's less clear, and we, or rather Natasha, is doing everything she can to obstruct their investigations." Her lips press together in a firm line. "Those three are still on the capture or kill list, and they're very interested in Liz Parker in particular, the girlfriend of Max Evans."
"Biological contamination concerns?" Phil asks, tone as professional as he can manage given that they're discussing the sex lives of teenagers he's never even met.
"Probably in part," Maria says with a faintly amused smile, "But mostly due to the fact that they believe he healed her of a fatal gunshot wound in '04. That's the event that brought them to the attention of the FBI, thanks to a report filed by the same Sheriff now covering their tracks. And who was definitely involved in the successful escape of Max Evans from FBI custody."
Phil lets out a breath. "Well, they've had a busy two years."
Maria laughs quietly, in it he can hear her own relief. Her smile widens and she cocks her head to the side. "Up for a field trip?"
Phil blinks in surprise, then says "Yes," before he can come up with any of the many reasons why the two of them shouldn't both go into such a volatile and uncertain situation.
He is desperately curious about what the hell has been going on in Roswell, formerly considered a convenient distraction for conspiracy nuts, and he doesn't trust anyone but him and Maria to handle a mess of this proportion. With any luck, they can keep the body count from rising any higher, with real or fake deaths.
It takes effort to keep his expression bland as Phil and Maria step into the Crashdown Cafe and are immediately subjected to a prime example of the kitschy, overdone alien theme that so many businesses in Roswell adopt in order to empty the wallets of curious tourists.
He and Maria are both in jeans and t-shirts in order to blend in, well aware of the reaction any of their subjects of interest are likely to have to men and women in suits, and it's been long enough since they've been in the field together that it's strange to see Maria looking so casual and relaxed. However false that relaxation is.
A small brunette approaches, her smile as fake as the slope of Maria's shoulders and nearly as hard to detect, impressive considering the age and training difference between them. He doesn't need to read her name tag to know who she is, and he takes note of how pale she is beneath the golden tint genetics gave her skin, and the bruises under her eyes that tell of grief and exhaustion.
Liz Parker has a had a rough couple of years, and every line of her body reflects that as she leads them to a table and takes their drink orders.
He watches her move around the restaurant while keeping up a light conversation with Maria that should fool all but the most trained observers. Everyone receives the same friendly, professional behavior they did, and he doubts anyone else sees through it. The only two to earn a genuine response from her are the other waitress, and a boy slouching in a booth in the corner. The waitress, Maria DeLuca, is a beautiful young woman whose hands tremble whenever she's not holding something. The boy is wearing a blue letterman jacket and a heavy weight on his shoulders, and is easily identifiable as the Sheriff's son, although they have yet to see the Sheriff himself. Neither he nor the other girl are as adept at concealing their emotions as Liz Parker, and have tired and drawn faces that remind Phil of the picture of Max Evans.
Not to mention the many similar expressions he's seen on the faces of agents after difficult missions.
These aren't the first teenagers who have had to deal with the kind of pain and chaos that overwhelm even trained adults, but it never fails to anger him when kids are involved. Especially when the trained adults only make the situation worse.
When he shifts his attention back to Maria, he can see similar thoughts in her eyes and they share grimaces barely disguised as smiles. Phil is officially joining Maria's 'The FBI Fucking Sucks' club.
"Any recruitment efforts are going to have to wait a few years, no matter what Nick wants," he says quietly. If anyone even hinting of government approached these kids right now, they'd bolt. And he wouldn't blame them a bit.
She nods, fiddling with her napkin. "I know. I told him that before we left. We are on surveillance only." Her sudden grin is as dangerous as some of Natasha's. "Well except for the Special Unit of course. They're going to get the hands on treatment."
He grins back, knowing Natasha will be happy to hear that, judging by the uptick in texts full of Russian swear words he's been receiving since she went undercover last night.
They continue to watch the three teenagers as they order and eat their lunches, and Phil comes to the conclusion that he wants them to say yes whenever SHIELD does try to recruit them. Especially Liz Parker. During the hour they've been there, she's prevented Maria DeLuca from having three different meltdowns, dealt with two angry customers and a child who tried to sneak into the kitchen, managed to convince her father he can go back to his office and leave them alone, and have an in depth, but silent, conversation with Kyle Valenti, all without revealing more than a hint of her own pain or losing track of any of her customers.
Not to mention her impressive intelligence and academic record. He has a feeling that when they do approach her, SciTech and Operations will be fighting for who gets to have her in their ranks.
She will make an excellent agent either way, and a part of him very much wants to wait to deal with the Special Unit until she's in a position to help them. She deserves to have a hand in their destruction, all three of the kids do.
When they leave, he and Maria leave a very generous tip, despite the risk of it causing them to linger in Liz Parker's memory. It certainly doesn't feel like enough to make up for what they've suffered at the hands of their own government. Maybe he'll join Natasha for whatever action they end up taking, he's feeling a need to get a little hands on.
They wander down the street outside of the Crashdown, playing eager tourist, before crossing at the nearest light and heading for the UFO museum. When Brody Davis had gone off the rails, SHIELD had taken note. The man is rich enough and smart enough that in his quest to uncover aliens he'd managed to turn over several other classified stones, including one or two SHIELD had interest in.
Phil no longer has any doubt that the man has experienced genuine alien contact, especially not after the digging they've done into his and his daughter's medical records. Which is leading to a thorough overhaul of the Albuquerque office, because multiple children in a cancer ward turning up without a trace of sickness should have been brought to their attention as soon as it happened.
Now the only question is whether the man is aware that he'd been employing an alien, quite possibly the one responsible for healing those children if the FBI was right about Max Evans' abilities.
Either way, Brody Davis will not be given the same amount of time and space as the kids before he's given a recruitment offer. Phil has a feeling that simple access to their files and toys will be enough to lure the erratic tech genius in, and maybe adding him to the payroll will delay the aneurysm Fury's going to have over Tony Stark one of these days.
Unlike the teenagers in the restaurant, Brody knows they're government as soon as they step into his office and the man's grimace makes Maria smile while Phil does his best bland. And his best is very good.
"Either I actually found something real, or I've found some other secret you guys were keeping. Unless this is about the company I no longer own. Feel free to tell me that they've violated SEC regulations or something," the man says, real anger buried beneath the snarking tone, and Phil makes a mental note to keep him and Tony Stark from ever meeting once the Stark heir is clued into the bigger picture.
"You're about to be given everything you ever wanted, Mr. Davis; proof that we are not alone in the world, and access to the kind of information and technology you've only dreamed of," Maria says smoothly, maintaining eye contact while Brody's expression ripples through amusement, disbelief, and finally a cautious sort of interest.
"And what is the cost of this olive branch? Because I've already lost my company, my reputation, and according to the public, my sanity, so I'm not sure I have anything left to sacrifice in trade."
"Secrecy, Mr. Davis. As much as you might like to earn back your reputation, the cost is that you will never be allowed to tell anyone: Not your ex-wife, not your company, not even your daughter. You will be an employee of SHIELD, and as such contracted to full confidentiality. In exchange you will be paid, though of course not as much as you were used to, and given access to our data and resources to pursue our research, and your own."
Brody's face is a picture of paranoia, confusion, and hope. It's a familiar expression in their line of work, and it fades into another one: resignation. "I imagine that this offer is not optional."
"Not as such," Maria agrees, smile still in place, and Brody Davis sighs, then smiles back with more than a hint of the eccentricity that had led to rumors of his sanity to begin with. "Well then, bring on the suits and secrets and let's get this show on the road."
Phil hides his own smile, still playing his part as the bland and silent one. SHIELD is going to have a fun time adapting to this one. And Fury is probably going to end with an aneurysm after all.
The urge to smile doesn't last long. Nick calls, voice heavy, and tells them that the World Security Council had ordered that the FBI is to be left alone. The base outside Roswell can be shut down, and anything on the premises confiscated, but that's all. The Unit is to be left to its own devices, and the agents aren't going to suffer any consequences.
Maria's face could stop an army in its tracks and Phil is feeling more than a little violently inclined himself.
He doesn't even want to think about Natasha's reaction.
Someone is protecting the so-called Special Unit and he has a feeling that, orders or no, Maria is going to be investigating who and why. Looking beyond the morals of their actions, the Special Unit has stumbled from one cluster-fuck to another over the past few years and they are damn lucky that no one other SHIELD has caught on or Roswell could become a much bigger tourist spot.
Leaving them in place means allowing for the possibility of more messes, not to mention SHIELD needing to do a lot more observation and protection of Liz Parker, Maria DeLuca, and Kyle Valenti than they'd planned.
The whole situation stinks. The WSC rarely throws their weight around, but he has yet to agree with any of their actions when they have. Nick is harder to read, but he knows the man isn't pleased with this particular decision.
Phil is glad that they aren't recruiting the Roswell teens yet, because he doesn't want to have to explain to them why the Unit that caused so much devastation in their lives is still standing.
Once Nick is done speaking, they hang up, and he and Maria exchange glances that are sharp and telling before Maria turns away, her fingers white as they clench against the air where the butt of her gun would be. "I'm going to wrap things up here," she grinds out. "We can't take them down, but that doesn't mean Natasha needs to be gentle when she shuts down the base. I'll bring Brody in too. You head back and set up our surveillance plan for the kids."
He nods and she looks back at him with a smile that's all steel, the smile that shut the mouths of every agent who'd talked shit when Fury made her his second. "And Phil? Someday we're going to make this right."
He smiles back, just as sharp, and then turns to go. There's a lot of work to do and every detail needs to be done right. He intends for there to be a record of every bit of red in their ledger to be called due when they get the go ahead to take the Special Unit down.
And just maybe those kids will get to help do it after all.