There Are No Bargains Between Lions And Men




If there’d been a little more noise, a little more warning, Steve might have been able to keep his feet. But the deck drops beneath him and he just about hits his knees.

Pierce and his posturing can wait.

He turns for Sharon, gets a hand out, gets a hand on a tactical weave sleeve–she’ll have words for him later for tipping their hand so blatantly, but right now he wants to keep her upright first and the Iliad upright second. Between him and the altitude controls, the S.T.R.I.K.E. team draw weapons, start shouting.

At Bucky.

“NO–!” but it feels too late even before the sound leaves his mouth.

Bucky knows, seconds too late, that he’s made a mistake, that he gave in all-too easily to the persistent draw of– not panic, but—

He can’t tell which hits the hardest– the raw desperation in Steve’s voice, the unyielding demand in Sharon’s, in Maria’s, or the continued presence of the neon-red specks littering his body– waiting, and he can’t help but feel as if their lingering might just burn through him.

     ( in a sense, they might )

It’s not a quick look– just a slow slide from somewhere off (camera feed–? no, control panel) to him, but it’s telling (and something in it ticks, something giving and falling into place that he can’t quite distinguish) purposeful, and it happens in seconds that seem to fracture under their own weight.

The S.T.R.I.K.E. agent fires almost in tandem with Bucky’s own shot, enough of a lull between the two for the Helicarrier to heave, enough to throw his aim off and for him to watch Maria Hill take the bullet intended for her agent.

(In the Academy, they teach you to recognize caliber by discharge sound; it’s an effective skill to have. 

At least you’ll know how you die a split second before you do.)

9mm sounds sharp, staccato, first one – Rollins, she’d recognize his face anywhere, it’s a testament to her own distraction that she hadn’t before now, and how he’s still allowed anywhere near the goddamned Directors with an AR-15 after what happened to Trip is a fucking embarrassment, it’s a crime —

(The breakdown happens in slow motion.  Unstoppable.)

Sharon watches the muzzle of Rollins’ weapon trace a pattern through the air, sliding toward Bucky – a scream dies in her throat, no – then away, and the split-second Sharon wastes looking over her own shoulder to try and track the trajectory is the only one she had.  Another 9mm – Bucky’s, no, please no – and then the entire ship groans like it’s in pain from the chaos reigning deep inside it, another pitch and shift almost unsetting her own footing, dragging Maria crossways —

NO — 

Rollins’ bullet finds a home in the access panel that controls the room’s surveillance, a crackle of electricity drowned out by shouting the only warning they have that they’re isolated now, dead air and silent to anyone outside this room.  Bucky’s shot seems to take a lifetime to cross the small room – time unspooling, backward, sluggish – but Sharon swears she can hear the impact of it, feel the echo inside her own chest, finger squeezing the trigger blind, hysterical, her own shot – .45, sounds more like a bass tone, hollow – aimed, true, for the space between his shoulder and his throat.

(Inside her head, somewhere in the bedlam, she remembers the four vital shots – gut, you bleed out in minutes, spine or head and your body withers instantly, heart and you can end a man’s life inside a second – and doesn’t take one.)

Five S.T.R.I.K.E. sights illuminate the bullet’s pathway through Bucky’s jacket, at the ready, and she can’t let that —

GET DOWN before I put you down.”

(Sharon’s ears are ringing – from the shots fired, the adrenaline, the agony of both – but the distant sound of an explosion overtakes everything else.

The sudden shift of emergency lights, the echoing scream of metal rent apart, the overwhelming smell of smoke flooding the ducts —

What have they done?)

Three shots crack the air into equal parts- an electric shock that only registers after she’s on the ground, ears ringing ( the movement that’d dragged her across the space forgotten in the presence of an immediate jolt to her midsection ). Pressure at her ribs, the force of the hit radiating like she’s taken a baseball bat to the torso; Maria inhales once and then twice, coming up empty.

                 She’s on the ground heaving beneath the emergency lights as the next several moments unfold, a palm pressed to the flat of her ribs while she’s willing her lungs to catch air. There are words welling up and dying at the back of her throat, another heave and she’s coughing- a good enough sign and there’s a sudden influx of oxygen in her system. Enough so that when she’s able to pull her hand away she can see that it’s clean and dry.

( She’s alive, she’s breathing, there’s not a source of bleeding- all of these are good things and they center the tangled mess of thoughts whirring in her mind. )

Maria’s on the ground ( still) when the explosion shudders through the aircraft and she can feel it in the deep ache of her body when she moves to sit up. There’s movement several feet away from the soles of her shoes, she can see it just outside of the legs of the S.T.R.I.K.E. team moving in to cover her.

It’s become incredibly clear that they need to get off of the ship. Several rapid blinks and her right hand opening, closing- service weapon gone, having skittered across the floor with various other loose items while the Helicarrier keeled. Palm flat on the floor, Maria presses a boot to the surface in an effort to will herself upward, toning out the emergency alarms, the groaning of metal being ripped apart by changing air pressure. Utilizing a nearby ankle for support, the Director hauls herself into a half-crouched position, turning to the first presence that materializes off of her right hand shoulder.

                     “We need to move-” the words come out scratched, jagged along her molars and the punch of pain at her ribs sends her hand back to the site of impact, checking again for blood. “Now.”


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