|Behind Door Number 1|
|What: Bucky's memories have brought him and his friends to Washington DC, chasing down a lead at the Dhary Adoption Agency. No one knows what they will find there, but all is not as it appears...|
The sounds of the city fill the air all around -- cars, busses, pedestrians... all of it -- as a party of friends stand on the sidewalk just outside the ground floor entrance to a building of modest height, here in the heart of town. The building is a muted peach in hue, with plenty of signage out the front:
Dhary Adoption Agency, it reads.
Through the windows one can see the employees going about their daily business, working behind desks in the main lobby -- and in private offices -- dealing with normal everyday citizens... seeking to adopt. The walls are heavily adorned with beautifully framed photographs of new families, supposedly brought together by the agency.
On the wall behind the receptionist hangs a portrait of the company's owner and founder: Dr. Dhary -- a man in his seventies, smiling in a grandfatherly way at all who come to the front desk. Beside his portrait is a plaque explaining the company's history:
<Dhary Adoptions was founded by Dr. William Dhary in 1916, and has been uniting families with over 10,000 orphans for more than a hundred years. The main offices are located here in Washington DC, but Dhary Adoptions has outlets in over twelve different countries. Dhary Adoptions: the Dhary family is your family.>
Dugan reads the signs and looks askance at Bucky: "An' you said this place was givin' ya nightmares? Afraid o' babies?"
It's not really any secret that Bucky's been getting some bad memories back with the good. That said, he doesn't often talk about it, and if anyone keeps tabs, he's disappeared a time or few as well. Sometimes while he's off grid there will turn out to be a trashed HYDRA base shortly after.. sometimes though there's no sign of what he might be investigating. This time though Bucky made a call, saying he remembered an address that he wanted to check out. No comment on why the change, but the offer was extended where none was before. Anyone that was able and willing to come along finds themselves now inside the pretentiously homey lobby, with Bucky looking around with a perplexed expression. He's wearing his usual heavy navy coat and the unmemorable sorts of clothes that usually accompanies, though he has his hair tied back at the nape of his neck in at least a passing effort to modify his appearance. "I like kids just fine." he answers Dugan quietly, eyes still roaming. "But something's off with this place."
The travel down to DC was a bit faster than Peggy recalled, but then she hadn't been back to the capital since the 50s. So much had changed. Peggy's still in one of her suits, not worried about being recognized in the least -- the greater world has long forgotten about Margaret Carter. The expression on her pale face is one of set concern, watching Bucky as much as she does the surrounding area. She's still looking thin, the dozen or so pounds she lost over her time missing aren't going to come back on all that quickly, but she's hiding the hollowness of her cheeks with a good job of make up. It also hides away that old scar of hers, but her suit is not fitting quite so bespoke as usual.
Her eyes scan the place, deeper now, as he says something doesn't seem right. She's looking for all the details that should be here -- Happy children on the walls, letters from adoptive parents, messy crayon somewhere in a corridor, the sound of children down the hall. She's looking for every single thing that should be here and will take note of anything that has been left out. Meanwhile, she also pulls out her new StarkPhone, having had the old one replaced, and runs a quick search on Dhary Adoptions to see what history she can get on the Google. "Child trafficking, maybe? 12 countries is a lot for a single agency to deal with in adoptions. Learning the legal proceedings of one country is overwhelming enough. 12 seems impossible for the size of this place." Peggy's voice is quite hushed as she whispers that.
Natasha Romanov is dressed very conservatively, for her anyway. A business suit, with a heavy winter coat on top, and a large brimmed hat that not only hides her hair, but the rather obvious patchiness caused from her head wound. Even though she doesn't need the bandaged anymore, the injury is readily apparent if not covered. "I hate orphanages." she whispers, a mix of emotion in her voice. "Too many bad memories, most I can't place." She wraps her arms around herself. She's been keeping an eye on Peggy the whole time on the way here, obviously worried, but not saying anything. "James..." She walks over and takes his left hand in her right. She's wearing nice driving type gloves. Now her eyes scan over everything, just like Peggy's - but her eyes linger on the children for far longer.
The 'peach' theme continues throughout the many offices of the agency, which the party can see once inside. In the lobby, consultants discuss 'options' with prospective parents in little booths, while there are attendants at the main desk greeting people as they enter...
Such as a smiling, Afro-American lady who walks straight up to Peggy and Natasha, dressed in a business suit. "Hello! I'm Bridget. Welcome to Dhary Adoptions. Are you both couples?" he looks at the men, wondering which one goes with which woman, and appears to decide that Bucky is with Natasha and Dugan is with Peggy.
Dugan half-chokes, half-coughs and gives Peg a sidelong glance as if to say, This weren't a part o' the deal!
Further away from the lobby desk, certain people on the floor appear to pay more attention than 'normal' to the four newcomers. A young couple (supposedly here to adopt) keep stealing glances at the four comrades, while a balding man immediately does an 'about-face' and heads back to the elevators.
As for intel on the agency, Peggy discovers something interesting...
Bucky holds Natasha's hand and manages to flash a winning smile Bridget's way while Dugan is sputtering. Rolling with what he assumes was a deliberate move on Natasha's part, he leans over to kiss her cheek affectionately.
"Yup! We heard a lot 'bout this place, you don't mind if we look around, do you?" in fact Bucky's already walking briskly in the direction of the retreating man, still holding Natasha's hand.. and scanning those in the area to see who holds themselves like they're combat trained.
Since Dugan is giving her THAT look, Peggy just rolls with it, like it's a part of their relationship. She gives him a too-sweet smile, fingertips running reassuringly against his massive shoulder, "Well, George and Diane here are really excited and ready. Frank and I have been talking, but we're not certain yet. We were all talking about it at card club and we figured we'd come along and learn, at least. Give some support. Right, Frank." She squeezes his arm as if to coach him the way a slightly over bearing woman would. Her accent is also completely American now. It's weird coming from her lips, but she manages over bearing midwestern VERY well.
However, subvocal comm units are a wonderful thing, especially as she puts her cellphone away with her other hand. To just their local comm band, she subvocalizes low quickly. 'There's previous records online of this place being accused of getting children illegal. Trafficking, the like. They manage to always keep it out of court, but it is nearly impossible for a single adoption agency, much less one of this size, to bring children in from 12 countries. The laws are simply too varied and complicated. We are also being watched.' And her smile sweetens in Dugan's direction.
"Ah, George-! Honey, a-are you s-sure? I-I mean..." Natasha sounds exactly like a sweet woman from Kentucky who suffers from a stutter.. She lets 'George' tug her along, although she glances back at Dugan and Peggy. "Marsha, you w-were always s-s-saying you w-wished for twins..." She grips Bucky's hand tighter at Peggy's whispered words. She replies in the same manner, holding her hand up to her mouth and coughing harshly to disguise her lips, just in case. 'Well dammit. How much do you want to bet, that most of the adopters know about it?' Unspoken is her assumption.
"Aw, Marsha..." Dugan laments with a hand raised to his face, pinching the bridge of his nose in consternation that he does not have to fake. "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha -- ya haven't been talkin' 'bout the twins thing again, have ya?" And he glares at 'Diane' (Natasha) before smiles wanly at the consultant, Bridget.
"She wants twins," he tells her flatly, in a tone rife with defeat and 'please talk her out of this'. Of course, this is all going on, on the surface. Dugan is more interested in the elevators... and a secretary bending over to pick up a fallen cup of pencils and pens.
Bridget, looking dubious, puts on a brilliant smile and tells the group: "Of course! How about a tour, first, shall we?" She motions with a hand to a corridor that goes past the elevators and into a block of small offices used for private consultations.
"Right this way," she says, walking towards a particular office. One exit. End of the hall. No windows. Certain couples and consultants continue to eye the four friends, sometimes whispering among themselves. Music plays softly in the background from the Classical channel. Mozart.
At least one elevator looks familiar to Bucky...
Bucky breezes into the hallway, offering a, "Come on, darling. There's no time like the present, right?" back to Natasha, and though he's playing along decently, he isn't really disguising his voice. Part of him knows the people they'd really need to fool they probably have no chance to.
He was moving into the hallway already, and as Bridget steps past the elevators towards the kill-box of a conference room at the end of the hall, Bucky stops by one of the elevators with a suddenly abstracted expression. Even as one of the employees nearby starts to say, "That elevator's out of order," and tries to direct them to the conference room, Bucky presses in a piece of the decorative plating while pushing the button, and the doors slide open onto a much less adorned elevator.
Peggy Carter gives Dugan's arm a tight squeeze, her smile turning beatific as they mention twins, like she could just beam and glow. "Of course I am! You know twins would be perfect. Then they'd always have someone to play with, they'd always have a best friend for the rest of their lives! And we have the money for twins, honey. Just two little babies from China. Or maybe somewhere in the middle east. Don't those poor babies need someone to love them? Teach them good Christian values?!" Oh, Peggy, you have clearly been reading up on your current news and her portrayal of midwestern is just almost painfully accurate. Hopefully annoying enough that people might actually cease to pay attention to her.
She's adding a bit of cluelessness to the act, too, especially as Bucky pulls them down the hallway and touches that elevator they were clearly just warned away from. Peggy blinks and grins, staring with a wide eyed curiosity at the elevator, "Oo, where does this go? Does it go upstairs? We want to see everything! Want to make certain our babies come from the best! Come on, Diane, let's go upstairs, maybe we can see the city from the big windows! I bet they have a great view here, I haven't ever been to a city this big before! Come on!" And she's eagerly stepping into the elevator, trying to tug Dugan along. She very much looks like a woman who isn't going to take no.
A less professional woman might be caught off guard by Peggy's bimbo demeanor. A less trained agent might startle at an surprise like the elevator. Natasha does neither, instead letting Peggy and Dugan push her into the elevator, more or less. She's still holding Bucky's hand, and tugs him inside, still acting like a demure and shy Appalachian woman. "D-d-don't p-p-press any b-buttons, Marsha! Th-they s-s-said it was out of order!" Of course, as soon as Bucky clears the entry, she'll be stabbing the close door button, if there is one.
"...things'll be a whole lot more normal once we got th' kids in th' glee club at school," Dugan agrees with his 'wife'. He looks like he might be ill, but soldiers on with the subterfuge regardless. "A good, Christian school with good values 'n uniforms... Every kid should -- ooh!" He sees what Buck does with the elevator and grins.
"...and here is where we conduct our private meetings with -- " Bridget explains, walking a bit ahead of the group when she realizes what is happening. "You can't go in there," she explains in a hurry. "It's restricted!" Her eyes widen with shock at Bucky (who somehow knows how to unlock the elevator), and then her face just... hardens.
The woman is not fast enough to reach the button before the doors close on the four friends, but she does give them a glimpse of the 'real' Bridget: a fierce and angry agent of chaos. No doubt she is already planning on counter-measures.
Dugan turns to Bucky and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Dagnabbit, if I'd had ta keep that up a second longer I reckon I'd have lost my last meal... Hey, how'dya know about this elevator-thing?" he glances at the girls. "We're in the shit now."
The elevator descends.
And Mozart continues to play.
Pulling Bucky along into the elevator is not a difficult task, and soon the doors are closing shut on the suddenly wild-eyed tour guide. Bucky seems pale as he steps to the back of the box, but he forces another smile, shooting a look between Peggy and Natasha. "Knew it'd be a good idea to have you two along to show us up. Seriously, never gonna get used to you doing that." he tells them both of their disconcertingly good acting.
Looking up in the direction of the musical speakers, Bucky answers Dugan, "I dunno. But yeah, probably." his right hand hovers over one of the various concealed weapons on his person as the elevator slowly drops.
Peggy seemed perfectly fine with it, still wearing that beatific smile as the elevator doors close and she gives an annoyingly cute wave to the furious Bridget. But then they are going DOWN instead of UP and her smile quickly is dashed into embers of nothing. "Shite. This could get complicated. Yes. We are in the shit now." She confirms her 'husband', that accent as quickly gone as it came. Seriously, if their covers weren't blown before, there is no way they were going to make it out of this without a fight now. Or maybe not.
"We get down there and we just tell them we're lost. Supposed to be out of order but now it's working and we wanted to go upstairs. Maybe this will be fine." Peggy doesn't even sound convinced by her own words. She carefully reaches one hand up to unbutton the jacket of her suit, making that gun on her shoulder all the easier to grab in a single motion. Just in case.
"Oh come on Dugan, you think that was bad?" Natasha asks with a quirked eyebrow. She's already rearranging her coat as to make it far more functional for fighting, and she's pulling something on over her gloves. Her Widow Bites. Clearly she's missed getting into trouble. "I want to know what tipped them off - they were onto us as soon as we entered, practically." She glances over at Bucky, and leans over to give him a kiss on the cheek, just like the one he gave her earlier. "No way we're bluffing out of this, Peggy -- I saw that woman's face. We are quite deeply in the shit. So, I vote we kick ass, take names, and generally just ruin whomever's down there's entire week." Yep, she's definitely missed being in the field. She's starting to sound like Tynan.
The music plays.
No matter how far down the elevator goes, the music plays. Dugan looks around at the walls and starts tapping in places. He reaches up to bat at the ceiling, hoping to open a grate or hatch to get onto the elevator's roof. There is such a grate, and so he ignores everyone else in order to punch his fist straight through it.
"I ain' waitin' fer no welcomin' committee," he says to no one in particular.
The music stops.
A high-pitched whine fills the air of the elevator's interior, followed by a voice. It is feminine, chilling as an episode of Dexter during a Russian winter, and calm. So very calm.
"Congratulations." It is Bridget. "Agent Carter, Agent Romanov, James Barnes and Timothy Dugan... you found our facility -- but you missed the end of my tour. As I was saying -- with all our customers here at Dhary Adoptions, we like to provide the very best of quality service. We take great pains to match our customers up with the ideal additions to their family. Preparation is everything at Dhary Adoptions, and rest assured -- we are prepared for you, too. We feel it appropriate for such VIPs to waive the usual three-month vetting period and get straight down to business. It was lovely meeting you! And we hope you enjoy your stay. Dhary Adoptions -- a Dhary family is a family forever."
Dugan looks around the room and itches the back of his head. "I reckon I've seen that commercial..." he mutters.
And the music resumes.
Natasha Romanov had been feeling very confident, although not overly so. After all, there were four very well trained people in this elevator. Good odds, in her experience. But then that voice rings over the intercom. "...Okay, we really are in the shit. How the HELL do they know Dugan?" she hisses, hands flexing so much it triggers a small crackle of electricity in her Widow Bites. She looks up at the vent Dugan punched a hole in. "I say we climb up on top. This elevator's a god-damned deathtrap." Without waiting, she tries to climb up, though the hole.
The whine makes Peggy wince, just a bit. Then that entirely too calm voice comes across the intercom and announces her name, among all the others. Well, so much for keeping the gun under her jacket. She pulls the piece out, immediately, and her thumb slides off the safety without a thought. Yes, she looks just a hint unsettled by those words, her eyes a touch too wide and hackles up. Adrenaline has kicked in now and she's ready to fight, her stance just a bit wider than before on her high heels. "Well, Natasha, it seems you are quite right. A fight it is. And they knew us... they had to have files on all of us. Tim and I aren't even legally alive again, I have no clue how they knew him. If this isn't HYDRA... well, we've got even more stalkers than I originally thought." She'll lean down, trying to help give Natasha' a boost through the grate.
An angry sort of noise escapes Bucky. "Getting pretty sure it is." he agrees with Peggy. He steps over towards Dugan's opened grate to help give Peggy a boost in turn, though he's watching the doors with a frown. "It's gonna open soon, anyone going up, hustle." For his part he'll tuck against the front left corner of the box once anyone who wants to go up is up. He's drawn and readied his own sidearm, his left hand holding a knife. "Opens onto a hall going forward, rooms open onto it, I think. Wall to the left, space to the right."
Dugan withdraws from the grate to give Nat a chance to get up there -- and then leaps up behind her. On the roof of the still-moving elevator the shaft whizzes past, but with decreasing speed. There are no other floors -- no doors going past -- not yet, anyway, but there ARE plenty of ventilation tunnels, easily wide enough for any person to use.
The elevator slows down.
"You have reach your final destination," says Bridget's voice over the comm. In the wall right above the door there is a vent-tunnel that would take someone straight above the corridor outside the elevator.
Dugan glares. "I'm really startin' ta hate her."
As the doors open, the narrow space in between them suddenly fills with gunfire as agents -- in HYDRA gear -- fire automatic weapons into the elevator. The bullets rip into the back wall, narrowly missing Carter and Barnes. It continues for several seconds longer, then pauses when the opposing agents reload...
Bucky Barnes isn't visible in the corner, and he doesn't wait for a lull in the fire either. With a grim expression he pulls out a grenade.. a HYDRA grenade no less, collected from one of his old 'safe' houses since he's still not cleared for SHIELD munitions. After catching Peggy's eye to make sure she knows what's coming, he tosses it left handed out into the hall beyond, judging the distance half from foggy memory and half based on the noise of their attackers suggesting the largest concentration of them.
That should put a nice start on that bad day Natasha suggested.
Two up, two down really seems to have been the wisest choice. Peggy tucks herself back on the opposite side of the elevator as Bucky, using the lip of the elevator as cover. Suddenly, she's a bit glad to be down a dozen and change pounds because it makes being as tiny as possible behind the narrow side of an elevator easier. She draws her gun up, elbows folded, pistol ready to shoot the moment she has opportunity. Well, that's clearly not the second the doors open. She almost yelps, half wincing as the bullets just *rip* through the space where Dugan and Natasha were a moment before. The rain is too heavy to do anything but wait. And give a sideways look at Bucky's grenade. She blinks, the man actually surprising her a moment, but she tucks closer to the wall as she waits for it to go off. Once a rousing explosion echoes down the way, that is when she leans out and takes a few sharp shots, using the distraction to get any advantage she can. She doesn't trust them just reloading to keep her safe from being shot.
Natasha Romanov takes a deep breath, glad she's clear of the elevator as machinegun fire turns the back wall into some much steel Swiss cheese. She doesn't bother with trying to aim downward -- too much chance. Besides, there's a rather convenient vent up here. Without any words, she gracefully runs to the vent, and sets about trying to get it open, producing a small tool from... somewhere on her person, to aid with the task. Her goal is to use the vent to get behind the enemy, and then take them out.
The decor of the area without the elevator is gray-ish: white floors and ceiling and gray walls. The lobby looks like a dark-mirror version of the same lobby upstairs, but with the flat tones one might fight in a bank-vault, not an adoption agency. While the hall continues dead ahead, the lobby appears to have been converted into a meeting area/mess hall for the agents stationed here. One wall houses lockers for said agents, while another is home to hundreds upon hundreds of little safety-deposit boxes, each one numbered.
On the walls hang pictures of children -- of all races and ethnicities -- all younger than 18mths. All ear-tagged. All numbered. All nameless.
Bucky's grenade strikes the ground in the centre of where most of the gunfire is coming from. Almost instantly, cries of "Grenade!" and "Move, move!" can be heard as HYDRA agents scramble out of the hallway and into the lobby-like area (to the right of the intrusion team).
The grenade goes off.
Waves of Tesseract energy spread out in a sphere around where the device had come to rest upon the ground, and the implode -- drawing all the debris into its centre. The blast takes out a good chunk of the wall and the floor, as well as three adversaries -- all of whom are missing rather important limbs and body parts, their wounds cauterized.
The hallway is clear. For now.
When the explosion shakes the basement, that's when Bucky rounds the corner as well, his left arm leading with knife in hand, his right leveling a gun in the direction of the lobby.. and the others might get an idea what they'd been missing on those other disappearing acts he pulled.
The gunman rallying the group has barely shouted the next syllable of orders when a bullet catches him square in the head, toppling him back and only adding to the panic of those remaining. Meanwhile the few HYDRA gunmen with quick enough reactions to be firing back.. just don't hit. Weather he reads their motions and simply fakes out their aim or blocks the shot with a wave of his left hand (which also results in a thrown knife catching in the throat of one of the closer enemies) he advances, efficiently aimed bullets still firing.
Natasha Romanov kicks out the opposite grate and leaps into the hallway after Bucky's grenade clears it of hostiles. She's got a gun in one hand, and a long combat knife in the other. "Nice toy." she tells Bucky, smirking. "I'm a bit envious." She tags a few soldiers with very well placed shots, staying low to the ground to minimize her profile. "Looks like a snake pit. Well, glad you called us in for the ride." She side-glances at the walls -- and freezes for a second at the sight of all those babies. Tagged like cattle. Her face loses most of its color, and her eyes suddenly have a far off look...
The grenade had an effect Peggy did not expect. It's not completely unseen before, but she didn't realize he had the fancy ones, or that they had managed to minimize that technology to the point the whole building wasn't swallowed. "You must let me know here you go munitions shopping." She deadpans to Bucky as they swing around the elevator doors and into the now-cleared hallway. She flanks left just as he flanks right, covering the room expertly while working with a partner she trusts. Another few sharp, quick coughing shots are taken at some stirring operatives. Peggy isn't using ICER rounds from the look of it either, very red blood coming up from every bullet of hers that hits home.
She falls in easier with the backup from Natasha, but that doesn't last as the woman freezes. Peggy frowns, eyes not having much time to look to her friend, but she can make guesses where the woman is. "Romanova, eyes front, now!" She snaps, all military command behind her voice. It's the tone that was made to pull soldiers out of flashbacks and motivate forward charges.
Hopefully it works.
TO BE CONTINUED...