A/N: Hello everyone! It's been a really long time, and a lot has happened! I hope you're all doing well, and you enjoy this chapter! You've all been lovely, and I can't thank you enough for your support!
"Okay, am I the only one wanting to know what the fuck Project Insight is, and how the Kid knew about it?" Stark asked, sipping a glass of whiskey from behind the bar when Clint and Natasha walked into the main living area the Avenger's shared at the former Stark Tower. Natasha was wondering the same thing; while she trusted Fury to keep her informed of what she needed to be, something about this whole situation just wasn't sitting right.
"No, you're not. You find anything on it yet, or are we going to have to have a talk with Fury?" Clint said, dumping his bow and quiver on the couch on his way to the bar. Stark slid him a glass as he plopped down on one of the bar stools. Tony frowned, swiping a digital display up from the table to the air in front of them.
"SHIELD has this one pretty locked down, I'm not sure how the Kid found it. I can tell you they've recruited thousands for it, engineers, construction workers, software developers, technicians, electricians, security, blah, blah, blah. Whatever it is, it's 's looking like if we want some actual information we're going to have to bring this to the pirate."
Natasha sighed, as she slid into a seat next to her partner. "So what do we know then?"
"We know they've been keeping this hidden from us for way too damn long. This project, whatever it is, has been going on for little over a year from what I've been able to find, and we've heard nothing about it. We know if a complete outsider knows more than us, there is something majorly not right here. And I think we all agree we need some damn answers." Tony griped, tossing back his drink and bringing it down on the table with a loud crack.
"I'm calling Fury." Clint said as he whipped out his phone, setting it on the table on speaker.
"Barton," Fury answered after the fourth ring. "This better be important."
"Why don't you share with us? I would like some answers as to what the hell is Project Insight is, and why the fuck the kid we thought was Red Skull knew about it before us. Sir."
"... Say that again?"
"The rumors of Red Skull being alive were greatly exaggerated. The kid behind the talk calls himself Red Hood, late teens, early twenties, highly trained. Thinks of himself as a vigilante of some kind. He introduced himself and left." Natasha broke in, deciding to give Fury the mission report.
"He left? You're the Avengers, and he just left?!"
"We underestimated him." Natasha ground out. Natasha didn't like admitting that. She was a very highly trained agent, an Avenger, a Black Widow, and the teen had escaped her. That bit at her, and she couldn't help but think if she had still been in the Red Room this failure would be ugly. She hated thinking about that, that time, that place- there was a reason she burned it to the ground the second she could. But that training stuck with her, and had served her well to a degree in her job with SHIELD. Now it was rearing its ugly head again, and in a way she despised. She had nothing against the kid, even respected him and his skill to a degree, but her past was messing with her head here. She didn't like the idea that there could be another Red Room out there either, but the boy's skill and obvious experience spoke it's own story. He'd started young, and had been groomed to fight, and more than likely, kill. The boy had denied there being others, but something about the way the boy had said it… There was something going on there. "Whatever this Project Insight is, he knew about it. It didn't seem to sit very well with him. So, what is it?"
"Above your clearance level. Now, we have a problem because we apparently have a leak that you let get away. Tell me you at least have some goddamn idea where the kid is?"
"I searched every cell phone, traffic cam, and security tape in the area for footage of that chase looking for where he could've gone. There was nothing. So it seems to me, you're not sharing information that we're going to need to figure out what the kid could be next, because right now, he's in the air. " Stark finally broke in, and Fury went quiet for a beat.
"You have any footage of the kid from before he pulled his disappearing act?"
"Yeah, sure, JARVIS records footage from my Iron Man helmet, why?"
"There was a break in at the Triskelion, around three months ago. No sign of how the guy got in, how long he was there, or what exactly he took. The only reason we knew he were there at all is because he chose to taunt us, and when we cornered him, he made an explosive exit. The only way your Red Hood could know about Project Insight is if there is a connection. Either he has a partner, or he personally broke into one of the most secure buildings we've got. I'd like to know which."
"Tell me you've sent me the footage." Stark snapped, his fingers already flying across his holo display.
"Check your inbox."
Stark was already pulling it up next to his footage from the warehouse, Clint and Natasha shifting to look over his shoulder as he did. The right side showed the familiar scene from the warehouse, the boy standing with his feet planted like a tree and defensive, the Red Skull-like helmet clutched tightly in his hands. His face was mostly visible, with the exception of the domino mask covering his eyes, the whites of them making him look eerie in a way. His hair was all black, except for a small tuft of white in the front, tan skin, no clearly visible scars, though Natasha was sure they were there. He was tall too, somewhere around six foot. It was hard to tell exactly with the boots he was wearing, but he was probably around 6'2"-6'3", and he was built like a brick house.
The left screen showed a boy of similar height and build in an empty SHIELD hallway that she may have recognized if they all didn't look exactly alike, though his body language was much more loose and relaxed, and, shall she say, sassy in this feed. One hand on his hip, the other flipping off the camera, a smirk tugged at his lips, his tongue caught his teeth, his whole expression screaming a gleeful dare of you can't catch me! A similar domino covered his eyes, but his hair was drastically different, a firetruck red, with a stripe of hot pink where the tuft of white was in the other footage. The different hair color made his skin look a slightly different shade as well, and while under normal circumstances the whole look would be able to throw off anyone looking for him in public spaces, looking at the two scenes side by side, it was clear they were the same person.
"Holy shit, that hair was an... interesting choice. But they're definitely the same person." Stark said, just as his facial recognition program confirmed it with a quiet ding. Fury cursed on the other side of the line.
"I want you to get the rest of the team on this, now. Whoever the fuck this kid is I want to know every goddamn thing about him, where he's from, who the hell trained him, what he's planning, his name, if he working for or with anyone, anyone he's had contact with, hell, I want to know his favorite ice cream flavor. This is priority number one right now. That kid is highly trained, and loose with information that he should've never had access to, and we don't have a goddamn idea what he's planning to do with it!"
"I'll contact them shortly." Natasha agreed easily, she'd already planned on that to be quite honest. "But you still haven't told us what Project Insight is, and given his reaction to it, that may hold some answers to his plans. I understand why you didn't tell us, nobody can spill the secrets if no one knows them all and all that, but if we're going to get this done it's looking like were going to need to know what it is, Nick."
The man was quiet for a moment.
"Is this line secure?" He finally asked, and Stark sputtered incredulously at the implication.
"Of course it is, who do you take me for?! Justin Hammer?!"
"Project Insight is three next generation Helicarriers synced to a network of targeting satellites. Once they're in the air they'll never need to come down. Continuous suborbital flight courtesy of your repulsor engines, Stark. They will be equipped with new long range precision guns that can eliminate a thousand hostiles a minute. The satellites will be able to read a terrorist's DNA before he steps outside his spider hole, the plan is to neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen. The Project was given the green light within the last year, and construction started a month after that."
"You know, when I gave you that tech, I did not agree to have it used for this." Tony growled, his voice low and with the edge of threat. "There was a reason I stopped selling weapons, and there's a reason I wouldn't give the government my suit."
"Something that the Battle of New York made obvious was that we needed a surge in threat analysis. This is what the council came up with and agreed to. I wasn't entirely sure of it either, but the ends outweigh the means on this one."
"Some things shouldn't be automated." Clint broke in. "If this was in the air when I was sent in to take out the Black Widow, Nat would just be dead. Something like this can't deal in shades of gray, or give people the chance to learn and grow, Fury. This is not the solution! Sometimes things that look like threats aren't, computers can't just evaluate that. Just the other day, I read about how some kid was a danger to society! just because he was a mutant that suddenly discovered he had laservision and didn't know how to control it at first. Something like this would see that first event as a precedent before it took the chance to see he was just a kid in a bad situation, and after he got help at Xavier's it never happened again. Seriously Fury, how could you let something like this pass?!"
Natasha very deliberately ignored the look Stark gave her at Clint's words.
"Insight might not be the solution to every problem, but the fact remains that if even one of those helicarriers had been at the Battle of New York, there wouldn't have been nearly as much death and destruction."
"Maybe, but they're going to be used as every solution, aren't they? So why give them that power?"
"Look, the helicarriers are still under construction. They aren't going to be finished for a few more years. We can continue this conversation at a later date. Our priority right now is finding the Kid. We need to know what he's doing, and we need to know it now."
"Fine, but don't think this conversation is over. We'll call in the rest of the team. Barton out." Clint said, hanging up.
"So I guess we're calling Cap in then." Natasha said, breaking the moment of quiet after Clint put his phone away. Clint just rubbed his face, like he was trying to physically wipe the mix of exhaustion, frustration, anger and anxiety away, and Tony refilled and downed his drink in quick succession, the glass ringing through the quiet as he set down.
"I go fill in Bruce." Tony said as he left the room. Clint didn't look up from the far away spot his eyes had settled on.
"What do you think the kid wants with it?" He asked, his mind still far away. Natasha leaned forward, and placed her crossed arms on the countertop, taking a moment to think about it.
"It seems to me he made it pretty obvious his feelings against it. It's very concept seemed to disgust him, and us by association. The most he'll do with it is destroy it. Honestly, half of me is wondering if the reason he mentioned it at all was to test us. He knew we worked for SHIELD to varying degrees, he wanted to know if we knew about it and supported it. If we did, he'd know he couldn't trust us, and if we didn't, well. Like I said, he wants to stop it. We have more power to do that than he does at this point. And given how we showed our interest in him, he probably thought we'd go after him either way, so what did he have to lose?"
"We know he's the one that broke into SHIELD now, for one." Clint snipped, but his shoulders lost some of their tension and his eyes finally found hers. She gave him a warm simple in return.
"I don't think he expected to be accused of being a war criminal who should've died seventy years ago, to be fair. He wouldn't have taken off his helmet and given us the chance to see his face and make that connection if not for that." Clint gave a soft laugh at that.
"True. And for all that we still have no idea who the kid is. If I'll give him anything, it's that."
Natasha hummed in agreement, and let the quiet settle in again, though this one a more content, if contemplative one. After a moment she let herself fall into Clint, brushing his shoulder to get his attention before standing.
"Come on. We both need sleep."
"Fine, fine." Clint replied with a little laugh, standing and joining her as they left the room.
Jason had been staring at the ceiling above him since he woke up after crashing in bed the night before. To be perfectly honest, he wasn't sure what he should do. He'd been concerned about Project Insight since he found it a few days ago as he was going through the files he found in the hidden room within SHIELD. The files themselves had been encoded, and hidden across multiple files filed under different subjects and subtitles, and Jason was certain he was missing quite a few. It was maddening, like trying to put together a puzzle without all the puzzle pieces. Not only that, but knowing what was on those missing pieces could mean the difference between the project successfully taking off or not, and the lives or deaths of millions.
He knew decidedly little about the project, but what he did know painted a dark picture. It was like if someone had weaponized the Watchtower and pointed it at the world, taking out whoever they decided had done something wrong, whoever didn't conform to their sense of justice. And there were an unknown number of them too! Jason hadn't been able to find how many of the fucking things were going be in the atmosphere at some worryingly near point in the future that he hadn't been able to find either.
Jason might believe that some criminals were best off dead, but holyshit! There was that, and then there was holding a gun to the world's head! Where would they draw the line? What offences would mean a death sentence without trial? And who was investigating to make sure that the bullets they rained down found the real criminal and not their scapegoat? Jason knew that what sometimes appeared to be an open and shut case wasn't always, it was something that he'd always made certain to avoid. Some people deserved to die, and he made damn certain it was the right ones that did when he was the one pulling the trigger. With a system so big it was taking out millions at once, who was there to fact check and make sure they'd gotten the right person? Who was there to make sure they weren't killing indiscriminately, or worse yet, there to stop them if they were discriminating? Because if they were, there was no goddamn way to stop them, because, oh yeah! If you tried, they would have an unknown number of flying mobile bases with hundreds of guns raining fire and brimstone down on you! How delightful. Who had ever okayed this? Jason couldn't imagine such a weapon in the hands of any government going well, no matter their initial intentions, which. Jason didn't even know how to give anyone behind a project like this the benefit of the doubt as to having good intentions.
And he had just let slip he knew about it to the Avengers. Who worked for SHIELD.
Jason honestly wasn't sure if they'd known about the project before he mentioned it, either. If they hadn't known, well. At least they were potentially innocent of the mess that was Project Insight, but what would they do with it now? Did they recognize it for the fucked up mess it was? Would they support it? Would they fight it? Would they do nothing? And if they had just lied their fucking asses off, and had known about it the whole damn time, had helped make it, even! How the fuck was he going to take down a team that had taken down an alien invasion by themselves? That had the whole world's support?
That... That was not a fun thought.
But, at the same time, for the sake of the world. For the sake of the millions, billions, of lives that would suffer from such an evil construction? This world might not be his, but he couldn't stand by and let so many lives be snuffed out for no goddamn reason. So, yeah. He'd do it. He'd be this world's villain. He would kill those they called their heroes and defenders, and the world would hate him. They would despise him. They would do their best to destroy him. But if he succeeded, they would be safe. This world would survive. That was worth it.
He might be getting ahead of himself though. Maybe the Avengers really didn't have anything to do with Insight. Maybe they really had been in the dark, and maybe they would fight it just as much as he would. And maybe, he was depending on too many fucking maybes.
God, his mind had cycled through these thoughts with no end in sight and there were absolutely no answers! Jason was already exhausted, and it wasn't even noon yet. What he really needed were some decisive answers. If he just knew what was going on on the Avengers side of things, at least he would know where they stood and could do something about it.
The thing was, the Avengers had to be talking about their little meeting. Even if they'd already known about Project Insight, surely they would be trying to find out how he knew about it, and if they didn't know they would be trying to find out what the hell he'd been talking about. There had to be answers there. It would just take some hacking, but how hard could it be to get into Stark's computers? At the very least, he worked for SHIELD and their servers hadn't been ridiculously hard to get past.
Still, this might be a risk. It was completely possible Stark had a similar set up to Babs. That while he helped SHIELD, like Babs helped the Bats or the Justice League, his own servers were leagues better. Jason swore he'd seen Timmy cry jealous nerd tears once over Babs' setup: a mashup of absolutely cutting edge, and crazy advanced alien technology that'd Babs had made work for her. The Batcomputer was good, but Babs was on another level, and if Stark's system's were anything like hers there was no way Jason was going to get anywhere with them.
The problem was, Jason truly did need answers. He needed to know what his next step should be, and that was in some part decided on whatever the Avengers did next. Sure in the meantime there were other, more ground level problems he could solve. There was always gang and mafia movement, small crimes, and bank robberies that he could stop. And he didn't intend to stop doing that, but he needed to find some foothold to stop this thing. Trying to hack Stark was an option. A risky one, but an option nonetheless. Investigating SHIELD more thoroughly also held potential, but Jason was almost certain they'd be even more wary of him after these last two incidents. Even if they didn't somehow manage to link together him breaking in a few months ago, and him popping up somehow knowing secret information, which, they had to be idiots if they didn't, they'd be on high alert.
God. There wasn't one good answer to this was there?
Jason finally just sighed, and rolled out of bed. Fuck it, he wasn't finding the answer he needed just lazing around. Hell, maybe he just wouldn't find an answer today! But at least he could go and constructively vent some frustration. There were some mobsters and thugs who were about to have a very bad day, he just knew it, and hey! Maybe while he was out something would come to him, who knew.
Fury hadn't been able to stop thinking about his most recent call. He didn't like it one bit. Out of the blue, some kid shows up, breaks into SHIELD, and then becomes a vigilante. Something about that didn't sit right. How did the kid have the training, and where did it come from? If there was another Red Room somewhere, why hadn't they heard any rumbles about it? The Red Room might have been incredibly secretive, but there had still been whispers of them as the monsters under the bed of so many. There was more to this story, he was sure of it. He just didn't know what!
That was the real kicker, to be honest. Fury was someone who thrived on being the one who knew all the secrets, who knew all the things he shouldn't. He made his career on knowing everything about everybody, and even better, knowing how to use that information. Here he knew nothing. He didn't know how much the kid actually knew. He didn't know if the kid was working for or with someone. He didn't know who the kid was, or where he got his training, or even where he'd come from! All of it was a mystery, and one Fury didn't care for in the least, and one he was determined not to let continue.
Sitwell wasn't sure what this meeting was supposed to be about. When he got the call from Fury he'd just finished filling out the paperwork for the two newbie's who'd somehow figured out how to make one of the Chitauri guns from the battle of New York work. Recruiting the Bonnie and Clyde couple was a risk, sure, but one he felt would pay off, and one Sitwell felt sure Fury would agree with. Fury had okayed worse bets, so it wasn't about that, but that left all the more mystery as to what this was about.
His colleagues didn't seem to know either. Coulson sat across the table with his normal casual professionalism, but the way he watched Hill, who stood arms crossed next to the door, as well as Sitwell himself, told Sitwell Coulson didn't have any more info than he did. Hill didn't seem much better. It may have been well hidden, but her irritation was clear to anyone who'd known her any amount of time. As the door burst open, Sitwell got the feeling they wouldn't have to wait much longer to know, fortunately.
Fury strode in with his usual dramatic flare, his trenchcoat flowing behind him, and Hill took her spot at his shoulder like she was always meant to be there. It was a pity how true that was. HYDRA would be delighted to have someone of her position on their payroll. Sadly, it looked like her loyalty would be her death once Project Insight neared completion. She'd have good company at least, Sitwell thought, as he glanced around the room, even as he came to attention at Fury's entrance.
"As I'm sure you're all aware, three months ago there was a break in at this very base. Despite what I'm told were our best efforts, we have found nothing on the perp. Today, I got a call from Tony Stark that the Avengers had found a kid running around playing vigilante who somehow knew about Project Insight. He did me a favor and compared the footage from his meeting and the break in, and wonder of wonders it was the same person. Unfortunately, the kid's a slippery bastard and he's still up in the air, which is where you two come in, Coulson, Sitwell. I want both your teams searching for the kid as soon as possible. The Avengers are looking as well, but I want as many eyes on this as I can spare. From the sound of it, the kid may be bringing the fight to us at some point, he's taken a disliking to Project Insight." Fury said, sliding two folders across the table to the two of them.
They quickly flipped them open, and clipped to the front were a few stills from video footage of their infiltrator, one with his helmet on, and one with it off but with a domino still covering his eyes. Fury was right to call him a kid, the boy had to be in his late teens, early twenties, at most. Still, that didn't take away from the fact the kid was built like a tank. Tall and muscular, and not the type of muscular that's just for show, but the kind that's seen use and lots of it. And from the kid's apparent ability to not only break into SHIELD without notice, as well as to escape it with notice he'd asked for, but also escape the Avengers while they were actively hunting him, the kid had skill that shouldn't be overlooked or underestimated.
The kid's helmet couldn't help but remind Sitwell of the old pictures of Red Skull in some aspects, but none of the kid's behavior lined up with someone who might share HYDRA's beliefs. Still, Sitwell was curious, why try to emulate Red Skull's appearance if the kid shared none of his beliefs? Or was the resemblance completely coincidental? Surely that couldn't be the case, anyone who opened a history textbook to war world two would be able to see it.
Still, if the boy truly aimed to destroy Project Insight his thoughts on the subject didn't matter either way. He would have to disappear before he could be allowed to get anywhere, if that was true. He would have to inform his superiors of this as well, this could change things. The fact the Avengers knew of Project Insight now was something to consider, they may have to try to push construction on the helicarriers forward if the Avengers decided to interfere… Just for that the boy was probably more trouble than he was worth. Telling the Avengers had the potential to set them back unacceptable amounts, and that too would have to be dealt with. Sitwell could feel himself starting to frown just thinking of it, before he deliberately wiped his expression away.
"We'll take care of it." Sitwell said, looking back up to Fury, closing and tucking away the file. Yes, the boy needed to be taken care of, and before SHIELD could get their hands on him. Sitwell had a call to make.
"Good." Fury gave a nod, before turning to sweep out of the room. "Get it done."