Sorry for such a long wait—College started and I had some health problems.
Enjoy the chapter!
The Guardians of the Galaxy walked through the Norwegian castle dragging with them three people from the Invincible II. Peter Quill and Drax each had to use both hands to control the surly captain, who despite being restrained at the wrists and having a bag over his head was being quite difficult. Gamora walked confidently with a hand tightly on the bicep of the first mate. The woman's red hair was covered with a similar bag, and she was much calmer than her captain, but she had been much more difficult to restrain in the first place. Rocket, armed with a large weapon, was walking next to the last prisoner. Nebula was on his other side, a firm grip on the back collar of his shirt. His wrists were cuffed in front of him, so not to cause his already broken arm any more pain, and a bag was over his head as well. Groot, who had grown some since he was last on Earth, was getting a piggyback ride from Mantis, who was trailing behind slightly, curious about the unfamiliar things in they passed in the castle.
The troupe stopped in front of a heavy pair of doors in the center of the castle; Peter reached forward and pounded on the old iron doors.
Moments later, they were opened by a petite woman who wore her blonde curls up with a blue bandana in a way similar to Rosie the Riveter. Anna greeted Peter with a hug, then took a deep breath with her hands on her hips. "Well, lets see what you brought me!" She was ridiculously casual for the situation, which was practically a prisoner transfer.
Puffing his chest out slightly, having brought one of his childhood heroes just what she asked for. "Like you said," Peter paused and pulled the bag off the head of the man he and Drax were struggling to contain. "The captain."
Gamora pulled the hood off the Scottish woman when Peter nodded to her; the man continued to speak. "The first mate, and-"
Nebula ruined his dramatic fun by unceremoniously pulling the bag off her prisoner, who was shaking in his boots. "The weakest man among them." The robot hybrid woman promptly ignored Peter's pouting expression.
Anna's face lit up with a sort of morbid excitement. "So, you three speak English?"
The captain responded by spitting out curse words, the first mate just glared at her, and the third nodded his head frantically in the affirmative.
"Good!" Her tone was cheerful, which unnerved the prisoners. "Well, I'll take the three of them down stairs, you guys can have the run of the place."
"You're gonna take all of us down stairs by yourself?" The captain cackled in his smoker's voice. "Little girl, you don't think you might wanna have some man with a gun help you out with that?"
Her smile didn't falter; in fact, she laughed. "You don't know who I am, do you?"
The captain scoffed. "I know damn well who you are, Annabelle Brightman. And I ain't scared 'a you, you blonde bitch."
Said blonde bitch responded by dropping her casually cheerful expression. "Well, if you can get me out of the picture with your hands behind your back, keep in mind you're in still the middle of a castle filled with highly trained, heavily armed Avengers and there's a camp of Asgardians outside. But feel free to fight your way through that."
Anna held the door open, and jerked her head towards the dimly lit stairs. "Go on, I didn't bring you here to stand in the foyer."
When the captain started to walk past her, he made that hocking sound in his throat, like he was preparing to spit in Anna's face. She stopped that pretty quick by hitting his throat with the side of her hand, then kicking his groin and pinning him to the doorframe in quick succession. Inches from his face, she practically growled one word that sunk into the man's very soul. "Behave."
The three prisoners stood at the bottom of the steps and observed their new surroundings.
Lit by harsh florescent lights hung from the ceiling, was an honest to god dungeon. Stone, floor to ceiling, a row of cells with rusty iron barred doors, shackles connected to the walls. A small seating area with more modern amenities was under the only window. Two individuals sat in chairs, playing a card game. Or, they were trying to play a card game. The woman was getting visibly annoyed at the dark-haired man. Only seconds after the prisoners came to the floor, the woman threw her hand down and cursed in Russian, running a hand through her red hair. Compared to the hair of the first mate, this woman's hair was a deep red; the first mate's hair was practically orange. The dark-haired man leaned back in his chair with a smile.
"What took you so long?" The woman asked, standing from her chair, hands on her hips as she walked to Anna.
"Some complications," Anna dismissed casually, eyeing the captain, who was still leaning to one side from the painful kick to his nether regions. After glancing around briefly, Anna sighed in annoyance and looked towards the dark haired man. "Hey! What are you doing? Get over here with the chains."
The dark-haired man gave a dramatic sigh before rising from his chair, bringing with him a handful of shiny chains, each with a pair of shackles attached. The redhead uncuffed the captain first, but before the man could even think of attacking, the heavy steel cuffs were clamped around his wrists. There was about three feet of chain hanging down between the cuffs, which rattled when he moved. The first mate received the same treatment. The third prisoner, the man dubbed the crew's weakest link, began shaking his head rapidly.
"I-I broke my arm!"
Anna held up a hand, stopping both the free redhead from shackling him. She approached the third man, who looked about twenty, and gently pulled up the sleeve of his jacket on the arm he was clearly favoring. After a few pokes and yelps of pain, she sighed. The captain protested loudly when she ripped a panel off the back of his jacket, but quieted quickly when he was hit in the throat as he had been earlier by the redhead. Anna fashioned a sling for the young man and helped him get his arm into it. "After we have a little chat, I'll have that looked at properly." She attached one of his shackles to his healthy wrist, and connected the other to the first mate's chain.
"Well, now that we're all comfy cozy, I'll make some introductions," Anna began in a voice that sounded casual, but when paired with her stern expression and unsettling smile it sounded oddly firm. "You all know me, so I won't waste time with that again."
She nodded towards Natasha, who was leaning on a table a few feet away, examining her nails. "This lovely lady is Natasha, one of the most prolific assassins I've ever had the pleasure of meeting and an expert in some very messy, but very effective interrogation techniques."
"And the gentleman lurking behind me is Loki."
The first mate and young man each inhaled sharply at the man's simple introduction. The captain grumbled out something about dumb fake gods, a mess of curse words, and something about being Baptist.
"Now, are you going to introduce yourselves, or am I going to have to do the work?" Anna asked, taking the tablet that Natasha held out to her.
All three stayed silent; the captian and first mate clamped their mouths shut in defiance, while the young man opened and closed his mout hlike a fish, no sound coming out.
Anna stood in front of the captain, her nose wrinkling as she was forced to inhale the smell of stale cigarette smoke once again. "Ruben Leavitt, army veteran of the first Gulf War. You had a very decorated first tour, re-upped for a second, then deserted. Presumed dead. Left behind a wife, three children, and a whole extended family who thought you died a hero. Then, you surfaced as the leader of a group of mercenaries in South East Asia doing anything and everything for a quick buck. Don't know when you became associated with HYDRA, but I'm pretty sure why you aligned yourself with them."
"Oh really?" Leavitt snarled.
"Oh Ruben, I think I do. They offered you the means to things you like. In your case, booze, smokes, and girls."
Unphased, Anna went to the first mate. "Keziah Everly Ecclson, also known as Kizzy."
The woman's upper lip twitched when her nickname was mentioned.
"You had a pretty cushy early life in Edinbrough, father in the military, mother was a teacher, you were the older sister to a brother and sister, twins. When you were only 22, you volunteered to go to the Middle East on a humanitarian mission. Build schools, teach women and girls that had never been in a classroom before, that sort of thing. You were taken hostage by the Taliban after only being there for six months, and you were there for at least a few years, because like the US, the United Kingdom doesn't negotiate with terrorists. You broke out, somehow, and killed all your captors. You became a freelancer, using your degree in chemistry to become a sought after bomb designer for whoever paid the best. As best as we can tell, you only joined up with HYDRA about a decade or so ago, after an unstable pipe bomb put you in the hospital in Somalia."
The woman's brown eyes stared into Anna's own brown eyes; each showed that the they were unintimidated by the other.
"Do not, call me Kizzy," the copper-haired woman said lowly, her voice shaking with rage.
Unphased, Anna responded. "Oh, right, you go by your middle name, Everly. I'll do my best to remember that." The sass in her voice made Loki smirk from his place over her shoulder. Ever since she invited him to help intimidate the prisoners from the ship, he'd been stuck to her side. He had gotten an elbow to the abdomen a number of times for his 'lurking' but it did little to deter him.
The copper haired woman, Everly, rolled her eyes. "Don't pretend that you know anythin' about me. You've got no idea."
Anna sighed, letting her head tilt to the side slightly. "You haven't been home in almost twenty years—Don't you wanna know how your family is doing?"
"They're fine," she snapped, her thin lips pursed in a deep frown. "Leave them out of this."
The blonde responded by rolling her eyes, adjusting the blue bandanna wrapped around her head as she moved to stand in front of the final prisoner. "Sorry hun, but I don't know your name. No big deal, though, it'll just take me a second to find you on the manifest."
Before Anna could begin swiping through the faces of the crew on her tablet, the young man began speaking. "My-My name is Rumi Adlerson—I work wherever the captain tells me on the ship because I am fluent in Hindi." He paused, looking between those in the dungeon not in chains, then continued. "I was-I was born in Delhi but moved to Austria to live with my father when I was seven. I wanted to go to university for literature and go back to India to teach English but my father died suddenly when I was 17—My father had debts with-with some men in HYDRA and I didn't want my mother involved—I paid off the debt but-but I didn't think I had anywhere to go! My-My mother is sick and-and they said they would pay for her treatment if I remained loyal."
"You spineless little brat!" The captain bellowed, lunging towards Rumi, looping the chain of his shackles around the young man's throat, strangling him.
Everything dissolved into yelling. The surly captain was shouting obscenities and racist slurs to the young man he was choking, ignoring his pleas for life. Everly was aggressively yelling at the captain that he was making the situation worse, standing as far away from the struggling pair as the chain connecting her and Rumi would allow. Natasha and Anna both had their handguns out and pointed at Levitt, trying to explain to him that they would shoot him unless he let the kid go. Loki had finally left Anna's side to stand a few feet away, his arms crossed, a poorly hidden, amused smirk.
Anna made a sharp whistling sound that made everyone stop. Looking at the captain down the sight of her gun, she spoke with chilling calmness. "Don't think I'd hesitate to shoot you between the eyes, Levitt."
With a sick grin, the dirty captain threw Rumi down to the ground. The young man was gasping for air, and the sight was absolutly pitiful. After a moment, Everly rolled her eyes and hauled Rumi to his feet by the back of his collar.
"Oh, but you need sumthin' from me. See, this is why all you good guys never really win—I know how you work. There are only a few ways that I'll tell you anything, and nun'a 'ya got the stones to do it."
Anna continued to look at the captain from behind her handgun, and instructed Natasha to bring Rumi to the infirmary set up on the second floor of the castle. The redhead asked Loki for the keys to the shackles, to which the god nonchalantly responded that the keys were at the Asgardian encampment. A brief argument was cut off by Anna's loud, dramatic sigh, paired with the lowering of her gun and an incredibly exasperated look to both Natasha and Loki.
Natasha took Everly and Rumi, shackled together, to the infirmary while Loki went to get the keys to the shackles. While the four left the dungeon basement, the captain began ranting and raving to Anna, demanding to be taken out for a smoke because the Geneva convention they held so dear permitted him one, he insulted her gender, threw obscenities aimed at everyone she held dear, even her dead family members. As the footsteps ascended the stairs, he began belittling Bucky and bringing up what he'd done while under HYDRA control; that made Anna's eye twitch, but she hardly responded. Levitt was nearly frothing at the mouth with the anger and passion behind his ranting, rattling his chains aggressively as he yelled. All the while, Anna just stood there.
When the heavy doors high above them slammed shut, indicating they were alone and sealed off from the rest of the castle, Anna raised her gun and shot Ruben Levitt between the eyes.
Everly and Rumi, still shackled together and under the watchful eye of Natasha, were sitting awkwardly in front of Dr. Bruce Banner and one very unmotivated Valkyrie. Kara was there to diagnose the broken arm, which was done with just a touch, and Bruce was there to operate the medical machinery that Kara had no interest in learning about. Dr. Banner scanned the damaged arm with a laser, input a few numbers, and sent the machine whirring as it began 3D printing a mesh cast. Natasha and Kara takes casually about a game they had on their phones that Peter told them about, discussing their scores and what achievements they'd gotten. They tried to include Bruce in the conversation, but he was far too uncomfortable with the situation. He stood off to the side texting Ellie, who had some questions about herbal teas earlier.
After suffering through half an hour painfully awkward silence, Dr. Banner was able to fit the plastic cast over Rumi's arm. He asked a few questions about the fit and if it was too tight, which Rumi answered with one word answers. It wasn't until Bruce gave Kara a hard nudge with his elbow that she muttered something about six weeks in a cast, two in a wrap, and light physical therapy. The doctor was just about to tell Natasha that she could take the shackled pair back to where ever they were being held when TJ entered with two thick paper files.
The three people in the room who knew Annabelle Brightman well knew she only printed out thick files like that when she thought a little dramatics would help the situation.
After introductions were made by Natasha, TJ spoke to the shackled pair. "When was the last time either of you had any contact with your family?"
As expected, Rumi blurted out information readily. "Nearly five years ago—The last time I spoke to my mother was when I explained that I was staying with HYDRA and that they would be sending her my wages for her medical treatment."
Everly the Scot was a little less fourth coming, but after TJ simply raised an eyebrow at her, she relented. "A decade ago, maybe more. Told them the same thing he did." She gestured to Rumi with a nod of her head.
TJ thumbed through the files briefly. "Adlerson, the last time you called your mother was on October 18, 2015–Ecclson, it was on July 31, 2007."
With a sour expression on her face, Everly scowled. "What's that got to do with anything?"
Looking her dead in the eye, TJ dropped one of the files next to her on the hospital bed she was sitting on, and did the same to Rumi. Photographs of bloody crime scenes stared up at the shackled pair. Rumi's bottom lip began to quiver, and Everly had her hands over her nose and mouth.
TJ felt some sympathy for the pair, but Anna told him to be stern and hide it. Depending on how indoctrinated they were, they might see his sympathy as a weakness to be manipulated, when they really needed to realize they had absolutely no options. The new super soldier cleared his throat and pointed to the file open by Rumi. "Mumbai police took these pictures on October 30, 2015–Your mother lived on the outskirts of her village, it took a little while for the body to be found. They estimated she'd been dead for a little over a week."
The young man's dark eyes grew glossy with tears as he looked at the photographs of his mother. She had been shot in the back of the head while sitting in front of the TV with a cup of tea next to her. It wasn't long before his tears were dotting the photo paper.
Everly had been frozen in place, hands over her mouth and nose, since she set eyes on the pictures. All four members of her family were dead. Her mother and father, her younger twin siblings—they had been only 13 at the time. All were slain in their beds with a deep slash across their throats, blood fanned out in from their necks. TJ spoke, even though he wasn't sure if it would get through to her. "Scotland Yard went on a welfare check to the Ecclson home on the evening of August 1, 2007, found them like that."
There was a heavy beat of silence. TJ shot a look to Bruce, hoping for some support that he knew wouldn't come from the pair of women. Bruce looked like he was having the same struggle he was; their compassion for human life was battling with what needed to be done to win a war against a ruthless enemy.
"No!" Abruptly, Everly threw her hands down and jumped to her feet, standing toe to toe with TJ, the chain jangling between her and Rumi still on the hospital bed. "No—You're lying! You-You made these images! Doctored them! They said you would use underhand tactics to try to shake our loyalty—How do I know you don't have my family locked up somewhere, huh?"
TJ bristled—He realized that before the serum, he would be cowering away from the angry Scot, but now his heartbeat didn't even flutter when she began yelling in his face. Well, yelling up at his face, as she was a bit shorter than him. In response, TJ shoved the tablet he was holding at Everly. "Check if you don't believe me."
With narrowed eyes, the redhead roughly grabbed the tablet and sat back on the hospital bed. Rumi whispered something to her, which she simply shrugged at. After a few minutes of typing, she let out an anguished yell and threw the tablet at the wall, narrowly missing TJ who's I handed reflexes helped him dodge the flying technology. A black command scree with the HYDRA skull and tentacles flickered on the cracked screen before it went blank.
Breathing heavily, Everly wiped a hand over her face, the chain jangling. When she spoke, her voice was strained and ragged, like she was trying very hard not to cry. "What...What happens?" She looked to TJ. "If we cooperate, what happens to us?"
TJ was surprised, and glanced to Natasha and Bruce for guidance. Bruce gave the redhead a soft nudge, and she let out a sigh as she stood and walked around to the foot of the hospital bed the prisoners were sitting on. "You'll tell us everything you know—Everything. There's no point in lying, we'll be checking everything you say."
"After we tell you everything?" Rumi spoke up, his voice just above a whisper.
"The Hague," TJ explained, crossing his arms loosely across his chest. Everly let out a huff and rolled her eyes, but Rumi's brows furrowed. "The International Criminal Court, in the Netherlands. There's already a case building against HYDRA for the massacre in Afghanistan, you'll be witnesses. And if any other cases are brought against HYDRA, you'll probably need to provide testimony then as well."
"Prison time?" Everly asked, raising a pale, ungroomed eyebrow.
Natasha bit back in a neutral tone without batting an eye. "Depends on what you did."
Bruce finally felt the need to step in when he saw Rumi's terrified expression. He spoke up from his place towards the wall. "-and on how good your information is."
"You will definitely be held while you give your testimony. It depends on a lot of things, but when this all comes to an end, you'll probably get time served."
"Can-Can I go home?" Rumi asked hesitantly.
TJ's expression softened for the first time since he came into the room. "You will both likely be in protective custody for the rest of your lives— an international whiteness protection type of thing."
Rumi was clearly disappointed, and even Everly's shoulders fell slightly. The two prisoners shared a look and some whispered words, after which Rumi reached out to grasp Everly's hand, which she scowled at but allowed.
"Alright then," she announced loudly in her accented voice, looking between Natasha and TJ. "Where do we start?"
While everyone with proper agent training was dealing with the two prisoners who were being cooperative, it gave everyone else in the castle some time to breathe, which had been a bit of a luxury since the massacre. The breathing room was being used to its full potential by many in the castle.
Pietro, Emilia, Wanda, and Vision had left for the French Island of Corsica. In recent years, it had acted as a home to any person with a gift or enhancement, as there was an unusually high number of people native to the island who had a gene mutation that allowed them to do things beyond a normal human. After Sokovia, France had gifted the island a sort of independence, allowing misfit or untaught gifted people to flock there to live in peace without judgement and learn to temper their gifts. The massacre was strategically leaked to the world media, and Corsica was holding a memorial for their slain brothers and sisters. More than twenty world leaders were planning to attend, including King T'Challa and his mother, fifteen more were sending officials, and seven more offered to aid in protecting the event, the island, and the entire Mediterranean Sea. In the coming weeks, Corsica would be the safest place in the world.
An admiral Anna had contact with had sent a surprise for the Asgaurdians; three hundred volunteers from the Seabees, the construction battalion of the US Navy. They brought manpower, skills, equipment, and materials both from the states and donations from other countries to begin the building of a more permanent settlement for the refugees. The Norwegians, Annika and Falk, were doing most of the organizing as blueprints and community planning weren't topics the refugees were particularly adept in, but the Asgaurdians lent their impressive strength to the Seabees and were just about on their knees with gratitude.
Those still in the castle, but not directly involved with the interrogation of the prisoners, floated around. Kara and Dr. Stephen Strange helped in the construction of the settlement where they could, and Tony double checked some of the technical knowledge passed on by the HYDRAs they had. Some of the more mundane stuff he passed along to Peter Parker. With everyone so busy, the teen's education had fallen primarily on Tony's shoulders as of late, which he pretended to dislike a lot more than he actually did.
The Valkyrie, sorcerer, genius, and teenage hero were currently sitting on one of the large patio-like outcroppings of the castle. They'd eaten lunch together by default, as they all got hungry at the same time and there was no point in separating. The two men were enjoying a post-lunch scotch conjured by Strange, while Kara lazily sunned herself in the brief rays that peeked through the clouds, and Peter worked on a tablet in front of him, quickly assessing the complicated equations and theories without much effort.
Although they initially talked about a number of things, conversation inevitably drifted to HYDRA.
"So, what happened to all the other crew on the ship we snatched our two off of?" Tony asked, curious more than anything. The question was directed at Kara, who had been more involved in the operation than Tony or Dr. Strange.
"After Peter and Co got everything secure, Anna had them call in the Australians to keep everything in order until someone came up with something to do with them," Kara answered, keeping her eyes closed and head titled up to the sun. She'd moved to the end of the table so she could stretch her wings and lay them out to get some sun as well. When he first saw them, the feathery appendages had stunned and distracted Peter greatly; he'd walked smack into a wall when he saw them in passing once. Now, he was used to them and hardly batted an eye when the Valkyrie stretched out her gold wings. A breeze made the feathers ruffle, and Kara subsequently shook her wings slightly. "The crew is probably half way to Australia by now and they'll be held for piracy for acts committed on an Australian barge a few months back, but their status will probably be changed to prisoners of war."
Stephen nodded his head slightly, as if in conformation. "I overheard Barnes and Rogers saying something like that. What about the ten on board responsible for the massacre? When's a decision gonna be made about them?"
"The Hague, I'd guess," Tony said before taking a sip. "It's where ours are going."
Kara spoke casually, but the information surprised the men; even Peter looked up. "Our friends with the spaceship are transporting them as we speak."
"Where?" The teen asked, head cocked slightly in curiosity. "I mean, we all had an idea that the Australians would be handling the Invisible II crew—Why didn't anybody tell us?"
"Didn't I give you a bunch of numbers to do stuff with?" Tony asked, raising his brows as he looked at his 'student'.
"Yeah," Peter confirmed. "I finished them an hour ago, I've been going through the HYDRA stuff you gave me to do in my spare time—Why didn't anybody tell us the-the—the main guys—were going somewhere?"
"Let the grown-ups handle the logistics," Dr. Strange said, his tone was pleasant and not at all condescending, but the words still made Peter frown and sit up straighter.
"I'm a part of the team," he insisted. "I've been training with Sargent Barnes and I've been shadowing TJ on the more agent-y stuff—I deserve to know as much as you guys do!"
Rolling her eyes under her lids, Kara broke through the conversation. "They're goin' back to Afghanistan."
"What? Why?" Tony asked, putting the glass down with a harder thunk than he intended.
Groaning, Kara brought her wings back in, hiding them from sight, and opened her eyes to address them properly. "The canyon they were going through is controlled by a tribe who has surprisingly progressive views on gifteds, and don't like that a massacre of any kind was committed in their territory without their knowledge and approval. They reached out to some contacts and somehow phone-tree-ed a message to Anna saying they would like the opportunity to prosecute."
"And Anna actually agreed to that?" Tony asked, eyes wide with shock. "She does know what they'll do to them, right?"
Kara shrugged. "Yeah."
Dr. Strange simply raised a brow at the Valkyrie. He shot a look to Peter who looked as perplexed as all of them, then spoke. "She's sending them to a torturous death—she knows that, right?"
"I thought The Hague already had a case building against them," Peter put in, trying to wrap his brain around the information he was getting.
"The ICC tries and convicts in absentia all the time."
"Just because the tribe asked to prosecute doesn't mean Anna had to hand them over," Stephen thought out loud, frowning. "At the very least, she could have sent them to Australia with the crew and designate them POWs from the start."
Kara sighed, shaking her head, and stood from the table. "You guys just don't get it."
"Explain it, then," Peter blurted out eagerly.
She looked at the young man with an expression he couldn't name; it was soft, almost smiling, but there was a melancholic air to it, like she didn't want to say it, but thought she needed too.
"This is war, guys. A real war, not like the battles we've fought in the past. A real war with two sides and only two outcomes, win or lose. It may not seem like it now, but it's coming, and unfortunately optics are important in a real war. Between both sides ad the public, and from one side to the other. Considering what Slavic has done in the past and what he's surely capable of with HYDRA backing, Anna needs to make sure we look like a formidable enemy, not someone to be trifled with. She has to use his archaic, romantic vision of war against him; an eye for an eye."
The Valkyrie's brilliant gray eyes met with the face of all three men before she walked away, her mind a whirl of memories and facts of Anna's personality.
She was the only one who'd seen Anna in a real war. Kara had seen how Anna operated in times of great physical conflict, she'd been along side her as events shaped her decision making process, and watched as the decades had warped and changed her best friend. Years of battle had hardened her outlook and shifted her thinking into a pattern of "the ends justify the means." She knew in the pit of her soul that Annabelle Jane Brightman would see this through to the end and the good guys would come out on top.
What Kara didn't know, however, was how everyone else would react to Anna was willing to do in times of war.