After an extremely awkward car ride with me having to sit in Tex's lap because there was no room, we arrived at the safe house for the Cerberus boys. Once we'd been dropped off, they took the car to pick up Royston.

At least their safe house wasn't a falling down dump. It had running water and the air conditioning worked.

"Kitchen in there. Help yourself to whatever you want." Russo pointed as we walked along. "You can rack out in thereā€¦"

He trailed off, glancing at me over his shoulder.

"We don't really have a private space for you," Russo started and I quickly cut him off.

"I bunk with everyone else," I reassured him. "Trust me, it's nothing I haven't seen and heard all before. I doubt any of you are dumb enough to get grabby with me."

"I may be dumb enough but I'd ask first." Russo flashed a charming smile.

I rolled my eyes but I couldn't hide the upward tug of my lips either. It felt like it had been years since anyone had openly flirted with me. Ben had been the last one and I couldn't bring myself to think of that disaster.

Tex was standing beside me, his own amused smirk on his face. Ignoring both of them, I walked into the bedroom and found a spare corner to dump my pack and weapons down.

"Sleep or food?" Tex asked as he put his gear down next to me. There weren't any beds in here. Just a mismatch of people's gear in different piles.


I was exhausted but I wasn't ready to sleep yet. Especially when my brain gave me a reminder that sometimes I woke up from my nightmares with an awful start. That wasn't something I needed to be doing in front of a group of black ops guys. If I ate it might keep me awake long enough to drop into a dead sleep.

Going back into the kitchen and taking out the spaghetti bolognese MRE was a stark reminder of what I had run out from. The lump of soggy noodles and questionable meat was nothing like what Coulson cooked up. I had no doubt the wagyu steaks Clint had brought on the way home would also be long gone by now. My good scotch would be considerably empty knowing those two..

I really hoped Clint and Coulson weren't mad at me for leaving as abruptly as I did. I could be walking into a major shit storm by going home. Coulson's presence would go a long way to soothing Clint's frazzled nerves. It was one part of guilt Clint might be able to start letting go of.


Inwardly sighing, I went back to poking the MRE with my fork. I was really not hungry anymore. I forced half of it down and only succeeded in giving myself an upset stomach. By the time I was finished, Royston walked in the door.

"Rumlow is on his way," he announced as he shrugged off his pack and weapon. "And he's pissed."

Of course, he would be. In true STRIKE Team Delta fashion, the mission went to shit. Why would I think I would be any less of a shit magnet without my partners in crime.

"And we're just sitting tight until then?" Tex looked annoyed.

I didn't really blame him. I would be too. This was meant to be a simple in and out. He had been relegated to my babysitter and now we were stuck here.

Royston nodded not looking the least bit perturbed as he collapsed into the chair next to me. He picked up my discarded MRE and start to shovel it down.

"What if I wasn't finished with that?" I asked dryly.

"You'll ruin your figure eating too much," Royston said around the mouthful of food "After all, how is it you maintain such an amazing figure?"

I kicked him in the shins hard enough to make him wince. Someone must have seen my interviews. They were going to be the source of my torment for the unforeseeable future.

"The Cerebrus boss will be coming too," Royston said, swallowing his food. "So we all get to get cozy until the bosses arrive and tell us kids what to do."

If it had been Coulson coming I would have laughed at the statement. Instead, I was filled with enough dread that I thought the MRE would come back up.

"I'm going to see if the shower works." I pushed my chair away from the table. "Maybe get some sleep."

The two men nodded and started another conversation before I had left the room.

Luckily for me, the shower was working. There was even soap and the hot water didn't run out before I finished. Twisting my wet hair up into a bun, I was still far too awake. My body was tired but my mind was spinning in circles. I couldn't stop thinking of Coulson and Clint and what their reaction to me leaving was going to be. Then I was worried about what was going to happen when Rumlow got here. I'd never worked under him unsupported like before. I always had Coulson to back me up.

Instead of rejoining Tex and Royston, I went outside. Taking my sniper rifle with me, I sat down and started to meticulously pull it apart. It gave my hands something to do which settled my brain down enough to focus on the task at hand.

It was a beautiful night. Still hotter than the gates of hell but at least there was a breeze to cool it off. We were far away enough from the city that none of the light pollution touched here. The stars blazed brightly overhead. The full moon would be a nightmare for any type of tactical mission. It light up the barren landscapes brightly enough that you wouldn't need a torch to see.


I was so wrapped up in my cleaning that I hadn't heard the approaching person until he spoke. I looked up to see Russo holding two mugs in his hand.

"It's shitty coffee but it's better than nothing."

He pushed one of the tin mugs towards me.


I took the offered mug and blew on it. It was black and still had steam rising off it. He wasn't wrong about it being shitty coffee by the smell of it. At least it would keep me awake.

Russo sat down next to me, kicking his long legs out in front of him. He sat back with a contented sigh, sipping from his mug.

"That is one hell of a weapon. What is it?"

"Custom sniper rifle," I explained as I picked up another part. "My dad was doing weapons development for years before he got made the head of R&D. He's been doing a lot of work to make sure things are light enough for me. It's a beast."

A twinge of sadness hit me that I didn't actually get to fire it this time. It had gotten plenty of use during New York. After that, it had sat gathering dust. No one dared to touch it, just like Clint's bows.

"Same shooting range of a Chey-Tac without the weight and kick back," I kept going. "Combined with that and the new body armour out on the market, my job is a hell of a lot easier when I'm not lugging 80% of my body weight in gear."

"Fuck, I love that new armour," Russo said, taking a sip of his coffee. "Makes our job easier too. My back has never been happier."

"Mine too."

We fell into a comfortable silence as I alternated between sipping on the scalding coffee and putting my rifle back together. I was exhausted but not willing to even consider going to try and sleep yet.

"Would it be weird if I asked you to sign some stuff for one of the guy's kids?" Russo broke the silence first.

"Only if you're doing it to cover for the fact you want something," I said dryly.

It was weird that people wanted my scribbly signature. It was going to be even weirder seeing my face on a toy when they came out.

"No," Russo said instantly, laughing with a shake of his head. "Frank, one of the guys with us has two kids. I'm their Uncle in everything but blood and I'm trying for brownie points."

That made me relax a fraction. At least he wasn't being weird about it. Then again, he was an attractive guy. Very attractive. If I didn't have Clint I'd be seriously thinking about having a drink or two. Maybe even just fucking him and seeing if that was fun enough to do again.

Thinking of Clint made my heart clench. I missed him. Running out on him at such a critical time made me feel like the shittiest person alive. He had supported me through so many bad missions and horrible moments in my life.

"Sure." I pushed the thought of Clint aside. I couldn't let myself go down that emotional path right now "If you give me your address I'll make sure they get some awesome stuff."

"How about my phone number too?" Russo flashed me a charming smile.

"If I didn't have someone else already, sure." I laughed it off. I should have seen that coming. "Though the head of PR would be forcing me to jump on that if she was here to save face of who I'm fucking behind closed doors."

I blamed my tired brain for my rambling. There was no other excuse. I quickly took a drink of coffee to cover my embarrassment.

"Romanoff?" Russo asked curiously.

I could lie. It was funny that Natasha and I were pretending to be a couple. If things had gone that way, no one would have been surprised by the way we acted around each other. We'd been laying it on quite thick for the interviews. I'm sure there were plenty of people who disapproved but a lot of people enjoyed it too.

"Worse. Barton."

I had no idea why I felt the need to tell the truth. In a way, it didn't really matter. It was now common knowledge in SHIELD instead of just gossip. If it got out into the world it would be another thing to piss Constance off. Something I didn't mind doing at all.

"Ouch. That's some naughty fraternization."

To my relief, Russo laughed.

"Yeah we're in so much trouble over it," I said with a small chuckle.

"Is that the reason you're with another team?" Russo asked.

I glanced over at him. I didn't think he was meaning to be nosy. His questions sounded very genuine.

"Partly." I had to think of a suitable stretching of the truth here. "He has some other stuff happen before New York too. He's still on leave because of it."

"It was a hell of a sight seeing you all fighting aliens," Russo said, tactfully changing the topic to my relief. "You made some awesome shots."

"Finally, someone who notices my amazing shooting and not my fantastic ass," I said dryly.

"Well, I noticed the fantastic ass too," Russo joked. "To be fair I noticed it before New York."

"It is a spectacular ass. I'd be offended if you didn't notice," I said easily.

We fell into a steady conversation from there. For whatever reason, Russo didn't seem to be inclined to sleep either and kept me company until it was into the small hours of the evening. I managed to snatch a few hours of sleep when my eyes simply wouldn't stay open any longer.

I woke up to someone kicking my boot. I cracked an eye open to see Rumlow looming over me. I was nearly tempted to roll over and go back to sleep.

"Get up. You're needed."

"Good morning to you too," I grumbled as I sat up. "What's going on?"

"I need you. Let's go." Rumlow was already walking out the door.

I groaned while looking around. Rumlow had disturbed the other people still asleep in the room. Plenty of dirty looks were being thrown his way.

"That's all yours Kari," Tex muttered as he rolled over onto his stomach.

"Thanks for that," I said with a groan as I got up. Getting up, I put my thigh holster on and shoved my P30 in it. I doubted I'd need it but at least I could be prepared.

Rumlow was waiting for me in the kitchen with another middle aged man.

"Kari, Agent Orange," Rumlow introduced us as I walked in. "He's the head of the Cerberus group."

I managed to hide back my scoff of amusement at the other man's name. He certainly didn't look like an agent. He looked like he belonged behind a desk. Agent Orange made no move to say anything else. He only nodded in a barely polite greeting.

"He's agreed to let us stand in on the interrogation. Husayn has the information he needs. Then we can finish it off," Rumlow continued. "Husayn speaks Russian so you can translate."

There was something cold about the way Rumlow said it. Logically it made no sense for me to get a chill to think about taking a life so simply. Yesterday I was ready to take this guy out without hesitation. I was even looking forward to it. Killing someone up close and personal was another thing.

Wordlessly, I followed Rumlow and Agent Orange into the back room where Husayn was being kept. He was hanging by his arms from the ceiling. Someone had stripped him down to nothing but a loose pair of pants that were barely hanging onto his lean frame. As we entered, Hysayn looked up and began to ramble so quickly I nearly couldn't understand the garbled Russian.


It was one word. Over and over again as Husayn was shaking so hard I thought he may dislocate his shoulders.

"He's just begging," I tried to sound as disinterested as possible. "What do you want to know?"

"Ask him where the shipment he stole from Kadyn Hafeez is," Agent Orange asked patiently.

I repeated the question back in Russian. Husayn looked at me in confusion, before his face masked into a bitter scowl. He spat at my feet. I was standing far away enough it never came close to me.

"Filthy fucking whore."

I was not in the mood for this shit.

Striding forward, I grabbed his face with one hand and squeezed hard. He was sweating enough that it took no effort on my part to start letting ice wind over his face, fanning out from underneath my fingertips. It was only a thin layer. It wouldn't do any damage.

It was still enough to make him scream though.

The scream was loud enough that I nearly lost control of my power. I snatched my hand away before I could do any serious damage. Then I swiftly cut off the noise with a sharp slap across the face.

It was like Rumlow had taught me. For a second I thought I might have stepped over the line. I glanced back to Rumlow to check I wasn't in trouble.

He looked pleased. That look make my stomach clench in disgust. I hadn't forgotten Rumlow teaching me how to interrogate, even after all this time. It felt too easy. My skin was crawling as I turned back to Husayn.

"Where's the shipment from Kadyn Hafeez?" I repeated back in Russian calmly.

Husayn kept his lips pressed together in a tight line.

He was scared of my power. It's what had broken Dante in the first interrogation I'd done with Rumlow. I could use it again to my advantage. The sooner I did this, the sooner I could get home.

Stepping around behind Husayn, I trailed my fingers along the bare skin of his arms, lightly pushing my power out. Little trails of ice followed my fingers. Husayn didn't scream this time. He did jerk violently away from me as much as his restraints would allow.

"Do you know the human body is roughly 60% water?" I continued in Russian. I kept my tone even and pleasant. "I can't produce ice from nothing. I need moisture to generate it. Using a human body is a perfect source. I can freeze a human solid in less than five seconds."

Husayn scoffed as he tried to twist away from me. My fingers had reached the back of his neck. I let them stay there as ice spread in a thin layer down his neck and back. I could feel him starting to shiver violently, despite the temperature in the room being comfortable. His teeth began to chatter as the ice fanned down his back, rapidly gathering speed on his sweaty body.

"Then kill me," Husayn said through his chattering teeth. He was incredibly difficult to understand. It sounded worse than Natasha when she was drunk and lost her English. "You're going to anyway."

"Where's the shipment?" I asked again, curling my fingers around the back of his neck.

My power felt like it had a mind of its own as it began to shoot down the front of his body.

From my view, I could see Rumlow and Agent Orange over Husayn's shoulder. Both were standing there patiently as if they were waiting for me to finish having a pleasant conversation instead of using my power to get information out of someone.

I turned my attention back to Husayn. The ice was covering his entire torso now. Husayn's lips were still pressed together in an obvious effort to stop his teeth from openly chattering. This wasn't going to work. I was going to have to do something a little more drastic.

The idea I had was either going to make me vomit or give me nightmares for a month. Possibly both.

"I want one of his hands," I asked stepping away from Husayn, switching back to English.

Husayn sagged against his restraints as I stepped away. The ice covering him was dripping on the floor, soaking through the light pants he had on.

"Like you want to cut one of them off?" Rumlow asked with a tinge of amusement in his tone.

"Well, not cut. He's much more afraid of something else."

I creeped myself out the way it came out. Rumlow got my meaning straight away. Agent Orange poked his head out the door and let out a sharp whistle.

Part of me wanted to admonish him that his men weren't dogs. I'd slap anyone who did it to me. Even if it was Fury himself. I caught Rumlow rolling his eyes when Agent Orange's back was still turned. I caught his eye just as he did it.

Rumlow gave me a small shrug. Amusement briefly flickered over his face but it was replaced by his unreadable professional face in less than a second. It made me feel slightly better to see Rumlow as still human under all of this.

He also wasn't stopping anything I was doing. His faith in me was unnerving me a lot.

It only took 20 seconds before Russo and another guy came into the room.

"I need his hand to break some fingers," I explained.

Russo looked between Husayn and back to me, a surprised expression on his face. Neither of them argued with what I wanted.

Husayn put up a massive struggle. Rumlow stepped in quickly to help the other two get him down from the restraints and down to his knees. Husayn was shouting every curse he could think of as the three wrestled his arm free and managed to straighten it out enough for me to grab his index finger.

"Where's the shipment?" I asked again in Russian, raising my voice above his cursing.

"Fuck you, filthy fucking mutant," Husayn spat at me as he struggled with all of his strength.

I really wanted to go home. It was so dumb of me to even think I was ready to do this. Nothing ever went right on missions when I was involved. Why would I think this one was simple enough that I'd be in and out without any problems? Now I had to do something that I wouldn't have ever contemplated doing.

Swallowing back my bile, I wrapped my hand around the index finger and pushed my power into it. The digit froze solid in less than a second. It took no effort for me to snap the entire thing off.

Husayn's cursing instantly stopped. He went so white I thought he was going to faint. I held the frozen digit up to his face, waving it obnoxiously in his vision.

"Where's the shipment?" I tried again, keeping my tone calm.

Husayn did nothing except stare at his finger with eyes comically wide. Sweat was pouring off him again, melting the remaining ice off his torso.

Throwing the finger to the floor, I grabbed his middle finger and gave it the exact same treatment.

This time Husayn vomited. I barely avoided getting it all over my boots as I stepped back in surprise.

"Where's the shipment?" I repeated once again, this time louder to be heard over the sound of his retching.

Sneaking a glance at Russo, we caught each other's eye. To my surprise, he winked at me and flashed a brief smile.

At least someone thought this was funny. It was a good enough distraction that I managed not to feel like I was going to be sick right beside Husayn for a moment.

Husayn finally stopped retching after a minute. I grabbed his ring finger and went to freeze that one as well.

"I have a supply cache," Husayn yelled, making me jump. "It's not far. It's in there."

The three men released him immediately. Husayn crumpled to the floor, a sobbing mess. Through the sniveling he managed to gasp out the coordinates.

I relayed them back in English, trying to sound as disinterested as possible as I stared down at the broken man.

Had I really just done that? I just took off a man's fingers to get information out of him. Information that someone else needed. This Agent Orange wasn't even SHIELD and yet I'd just done his literal dirty work for him.

"Good job, Kari," Rumlow praised me as he helped Russo and the other guy haul Husayn back up into his restraints.

"Yes, very good job Agent Lyngley."

I turned to look at Agent Orange. He looked impressed which only added to my disgust with myself.

"We'll go check it out," Agent Orange continued pleasantly. "If he's telling the truth, he's all SHIELD's. Lieutenant Castle and Russo, off you go."

Castle. That was the other guy. I really wished I was better at names. Then again, I was barely lucid when I first met both of them.

"That was hot," Russo whispered as he brushed past me.

Hot was not at all what I would use to describe it. Clint said it was hot when I practiced archery. That he enjoyed watching me when I did it in the skin tight shirts I usually wore so they didn't get in the way. I ogled him doing exactly the same, so I get when he said something like that was hot.

Using my power to break someone's fingers off was not hot.

"Flirt," I grumbled, managed to force out a scoff of laughter as I followed them out.

Leaving the room, I felt goosebumps prickle over my skin. My face felt hot and for a moment I really did expect to be sick. I managed to swallow it back with an enormous effort. While trying to hold back my vomit I only just noticed that Rumlow was talking to me.

"Go take a break," Rumlow said, his voice sounding far away to me.

His hand came up to clap me on the shoulder.

"Very good interrogation. Someone taught you well."

"Yeah, wonder who that was," I said dryly. "Must have been someone good. I'll thank him next time I see him."

Rumlow managed a small laugh before turning to Agent Orange. I took it as an excuse to leave. Heading to the bathroom, I turned the tap on and scrubbed my hands vigorously. Though I knew no blood was split during that interrogation I still felt like my hands were coated in it. I wanted to douse myself in bleach and sleep for a month. My hands were never going to be clean. Now I knew how Natasha felt when she said her ledger was red.

Instead, I had to wait even longer before we could go home.

The hours ticked by with agonising slowness. Tex and Royston had resorted to thumb wrestling to pass the time. It was like watching a pair of five year olds squabble over the game. At least it got my mind off how disgusting I felt. It even managed to get a few laughs from me. Rumlow eventually joined us with his iPad. He'd had enough sense to have a few movies downloaded on it to keep us entertained.

That was something Coulson would have done. He would have joked about entertaining the kids with screen time to keep them quiet. Thinking of Coulson only added to how shitty I felt. Was he going to forgive me when we got back?

The sun was starting to set when Russo and Castle came back into the safehouse, hauling a large chest between them. They disappeared into whatever room Agent Orange had been hiding in since we left the interrogation. It only took ten minutes before he came into the kitchen.

"Husayn is all yours," Agent Orange said calmly. "If you want to do it here, we can dump the body on our way out."

"Much obliged," Rumlow said cheerfully. "Kari, he's all yours."

"You want me to shoot him here?" I blinked in surprise.

"Shoot him or kill him with your power, I don't care," Rumlow said with an easy shrug. "Just get it over with so we can go home."

I knew this was the endgame. I'd set out to do exactly this when I took on this mission. Why did this feel so cold? It wasn't like I'd never killed anyone before.

Getting to my feet before I could overthink the situation, I walked back to the room where Husayn was being held. He was still hanging by his restraints and looked up sharply as we walked into the room. His entire body went rigid as he saw me once again.

I went to walk around being him. I couldn't shoot anyone point blank in the face like this. I wasn't an executioner.

"Too scared to look at my face when you shoot me?" Husayn sneered at me.

I caught sight of Rumlow. He was looking at me expectingly.

Why did I feel like this was another test?

Stopping in my tracks, I turned back to come to stand in front of Husayn.

Despite his sneer and rigid posture, I could see the fear so clearly in his eyes. He was about to die and he knew it. No amount of begging was going to change that.

Taking the P30 out of my thigh holster, I held it up to his face.

"I'll see you in hell, bitch," Husayn said defiantly, lifting his chin.

I had to give it to him. If I was facing my certain death, I could only wish I could look it dead in the eye like he was.

"You first."

I pulled the trigger before I could second guess myself. At this range, no one could miss. A neat 9mm bullet hole was in the dead centre of his forehead. His body went slack a moment later as his body hung lifelessly from the restraints. I could only stare at it in the horror of what I'd just been part of.

This is why I prefer to take my shots from far away. It was so much easier to detach yourself from the reality of it all when you were half a mile away. You'd see a bit of blood in the scope and the target wouldn't move again. It was easy and clean. This felt dirty. And wrong. So very wrong.

"That was one hell of a first job back," Rumlow's voice snapped me back to the present.

"Well, it wouldn't be a STRIKE Team Delta mission without everything going wrong, could it?" I managed to joke. It even sounded genuine to my ears.

Turning to look at Rumlow, he looked incredibly proud. It wasn't the same look of pride that Coulson would wear when we did a good job. This felt more sinister. A glimpse of something darker that I had never seen before in Rumlow.

It was gone in the blink of an eye. It had been so quick I could persuade myself that I had never seen it.

"Let's get out of here. The Quinjet is on standby," Rumlow said casually like we were leaving from lunch instead of torturing and executing a man. "You can fly or there's Ambien if you want to crash out."

"Ambien," I said instantly. I didn't dream while on Ambien. Anything to get me out of my own head for a few hours. "I'm fucking exhausted."

It only took us ten minutes to get out shit together and ready to head out the door. As I was about to walk out the front door, Russo came up next to me with a piece of paper in his hand.

"For that thing, we talked about," he said with a flirty smile.

"If your number is on it, I'm going to burn it." I managed to not roll my eyes as I shoved the piece of paper in my pocket. "But I'll get it done."

I could feel three sets of eyes staring at me as I said goodbye to Russo and we headed out the door. Thankfully they all had the good sense to keep their mouths shut and not tease me about it. If they did I may have punched someone.

The safehouse was far away enough out of town that the Quinjet could land easily within walking distance. I'd never been so relieved to see a Quinjet before. We were finally going home.

I dropped my gear into a messy pile. Rumlow was ready with the Ambien as soon as we all sat down.

"Hell of a job guys," Rumlow praised as he handed the little pills out.

"You mean, Kari," Royston grumbled in good nature. "We didn't do shit."

"Apparently, I have to tell everyone they do a good job even if they did sit on their asses and watch movies the entire time," Rumlow quipped back easily. "Some bullshit about team morale or so those bullshit leadership courses tell us."

This felt almost normal. I still couldn't shake that look Rumlow had on his face earlier.

Swallowing my Ambien, I stretched out over the seats. My back was going to ache for the awkward position but I was too tired and strung out to care anymore. Thankfully the Ambien kicked in fast and I managed to stay asleep until our final approach back to DC.

I was too groggy to do anything except grip the seat in terror as we landed. As Quinjet's pilots went, the two we had were very competent. I still didn't trust any other fucker to fly me around. It was nearly midnight by the time we touched down.

Checking my weapons back into the armoury, I still felt half asleep by the time I got on my motorbike. All three of them had offered me a lift home but I waved them off. I'd traveled the road between the Triskelion and my apartment so many times I knew I could do it in my sleep.

It had been raining, leaving the roads slippery and my ride home much slower than I wanted it to be. At least I was still too groggy to mull over everything that had happened.

My feet felt like they each weighed a thousand pounds by the time I got up to my apartment. It was silent in the late hour and I tried to be as quiet as possible as I made my way to the bedroom. I hadn't bothered to turn my phone back on for the ride home so I had to grope through the dark.

As I opened the bedroom door, the bedside light came on.

Clint was propped up on one elbow, blinking sleepily in the bright light.

"Hey," I said softly, padding towards the bed. "I didn't mean to wake you up."

Clint's face broke into the most genuine smile I had seen in weeks. Before I could react, he lunged forward and yanked me down onto the bed.

Hungry kisses muted my shriek of surprise as I found myself under Clint's naked body. Every ounce of stress from the mission melted away as Clint kissed me.

"I missed you," Clint said around the kisses. "So fucking much."

His hands came down to rip my shirt open, sending buttons flying everywhere.

If this was the response I got when coming home from a mission, I may have to go away more often.

Authors Note

Welcome back everyone! Sorry once again for the delay in these chapters. I had a hysterectomy three weeks ago on very short notice for the surgery. Recovery is going well but slow. Seeing the first episode of What If gave me a huge dose on Marvel motivation yet again to finish this chapter tonight.

I want to thank you all for sticking with me. I know the updates on this have been very sporadic. I'm very easily distracted with writing at the moment and keep switching between four different things. I always miss Kari though and I will come back to update. It may just take me awhile to get back on track with it.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you all for your amazing support and reviews.

Until next time.