2016-02-01 Nature or Nurture
This scene is rated Everybody
Warning: Contains some coarse language
Players: Agent Tracer & Director Carter.
GMed by N/A
Title: Nature or Nurture

It is late.

By this time, any self-respecting person who wants a decent night's sleep would be in bed. Not Danny Tracer, Agent of SHIELD. Sporting a gash across his forehead (already treated) from a recent covert op, the young man paces outside the Director's office, his facial muscles all tight with stress - to the point of being 'stony'.

He taps his cane against the floor and the side of his foot as he paces back and forth. He is wearing a suit - as per usual - and his hands are gloved - also as per usual. He eventually pauses in front of the door and extends one hand toward the opening mechanism… and hesitates.

He almost removes the glove.

Touching the door mechanism with his bare hand would reveal something - something of the emotional state, even recent history, of those who have used it. Or it would reveal nothing - and likely get him in trouble. Again.

Of course, SHIELD computers are smart. Maybe even smarter than JARVIS some days because they have sense. The pacing of him outside of her office was alerted to the very awake director, even if it's a ridiculous hour of the night, closer to dawn than anything. She waited inside, curious, her office having been vacated by another but ten minutes before. And he doesn't knock. And he doesn't announce himself. Peggy waits longer, letting him draw out the agony it seems. Finally, though, the woman has had enough.

"Open the door and tell him to come in." She calls to the computer. A moment later, the door does slide open an a neutral voice chimes, "Director Carter says to come in." Her office looks normal, no sight of the mess of an operation… Until one steps around the corner and looks at the sitting area. Peggy is sitting on the couch, her ribs already taped tightly, but she's got a nasty wound in her arm, deep enough it's through muscle, that she is trying to stitch with her off hand. Probably one of her more poor ideas. But the woman is determined. She stares up to him with an arched brow. "Tracer. Can I help you?" She's in nothing but track pants and a sports bra, looking strangely modern for it, the scrapes and wounds.

"Thank you, Marm — ," Tracer hesitates as he steps inside, catching sight of the Director's injuries. The young man's jaw tightens and he has to resist the urge to clench his hands into fists. He is wearing a suit — nothing unusual there — although it looks rumpled and scuffed as if he had worn it for a day or so, slept in it… even fought in it. The gloves hide the bruises on his knuckles, but not some of the other minor cuts and scrapes on his face and neck.

"My apologies," he tries again, coming to a halt some feet away. "I… just wanted to make sure you were alright." Inwardly he curses himself. This is not how a typical field agent should behave. He can feel that 'slippery slope' yawning before him as he stands upon the edge. A few wrong words here and there will be no going back…

Of course, hiding something from Director Carter *rarely* goes well for anyone. Those sharp, dark eyes flicker up to him, a touch of impatience in them but also a gaze that is reading every inch of his body for the things he's not saying. She sees the struggle in him, the worry, the entirely too emotionally invested nature of it all as he stands on the threshold of her office. Her brow arches slowly, "…At five in the morning, after we've both taken a beating on missions? Bull shite." Peggy states flatly, before looking back down to her arm and carefully trying to tug that skin together with another stitch. "Someone tried to kill me. It's just usual Tuesday. Nothing uncommon. I'm fine."

"You're wrong about that."

The words are out of Tracer's mouth before he can stop them, and he lifts his gaze heavenward — perhaps half-hoping a kindly Being in the sky will strike him down with a merciful lightning bolt. Alas. Letting the security computer shut the door for him, Tracer walks over to the desk, picks up a chair — not the Director's — and plants it on the floor some feet away from the couch upon which she rests.

"Director — Marm — excuse me. That was abominably out of line." He had almost made some excuse, turned about and attempted to leave… but there is no way she would have allowed it. She had already read too much in his behaviour.

So many things were already too late.

Positioning the chair so that he can make a dash at either the door, or the window — it is only good spatial awareness for any agent — Tracer sits down in the chair and rests his elbows on the arms.

"It was not 'nothing uncommon'."

Silence for another few moments, a heartbeat. Two. She's trying to get another stitch in but, honestly, it's a losing battle. She might finish in an hour, unevenly as sewing up one's own bicep is an act of self-defeat. She's having to pop her injured shoulder forward just to even get a look at the wound as she tugs sterile thread across the outside edge of her bicep and that nasty gash. It looked clean, at least, she'd managed that much. Whatever did it had to be trying to take off her arm to get through her uniform's armor deep enough to do that.

She ties off another stitch.

Once that is done, she exhales a slow breath and turns back to him. "No. Uncommon to see someone…Enhanced doing it. Much less a ghost-legend with a metal arm. But not uncommon otherwise. Now, I've said my piece. Your turn. Why the hell are you here?" And the wound is being ignored now, her eyes straight on his, that sort of gaze that just looks to his damned soul.

Tracer is silent for a long time.

His expression changes minutely as he considers his response; there are so many things he could say. Some of them would almost certainly be lies — and the Director is far too good at spotting those. Other things… could put his life — and hers — in jeopardy if he spoke them aloud. Still…

Something has to be said.

"I swear you'll think me insane…" he murmurs, half to himself. The young fellow purses his lips, then steels his jaw and looks directly at Carter.

"December 3rd, 1948. Do you remember it? It was the day you decided to…delay one aspect of your life, to focus upon something else: that being, the creation of SHIELD." Then he waits.

She moves like wind. Even injured, cracked ribs, arm gouged open, body exhausted, she moves faster than any person should. If there is doubt that the infinity serum she was given had any affect, it probably disappears because in one moment she was holding into her arm and the next he's flat on his back, chair knocked aside, and she's on top of his chest like some sort of predator. Anger in her eyes, shock, disbelief, a thousand other emotions that makes that normally cold, distant director come to life in a way that says he's got about 30 seconds to live…

Because she also has a knife at the side of this throat. Where that knife came from? Who knows. Maybe her track pants. Maybe the couch. Hell it might be HIS KNIFE. But she's got it and that blade presses ever so faintly where jugular beats as she stares down into his eyes, "How do you know anything about that? You have ten seconds to explain yourself before I take care of the only other living person who knows why that date means anything." She hisses to him.

There's a reason someone like Peggy Carter was able to intimidate the soldiers of the S.S.R. back in the day. It's the same reason she became a progenitor of SHIELD — and the same reason she runs the organisation now.

One does not mess with Peggy.

Danny Tracer is discovering this (even if he already knew it, but experience trumps knowledge every time), and he has to take a moment to gather himself after being thrown onto his back. <~ She's injured too, ~> he murmurs quietly to himself in his mind. <~ It's no wonder the blasted assassin wasn't able to — bloody hell. That's my knife! ~>

"I was born…" he starts to say, hesitating after a few words to swallow and clear his throat. "I was born… in 1990. But… I was conceived — to put it delicately — sometime during the 1940s. I understand why you did it, why you… delayed, or… never told him. Agent Danny Sousa. My… father…"

If it wasn't for the fact that he looks like his father — and he does — the fact that Peggy thought he looked like Danny from the moment he walked in her office, she'd probably shove that knife into his throat and not think twice. But he looks like Danny. He has Danny's eyes. She's staring down into her husband's eyes as she's poised on top of the younger man who bears his skin and hair but her nose. She says nothing, breathing a bit too hard, not letting up on his body quite yet but she's also not putting pressure there.

The first sound between them is the echo of the knife as it drops against the floor. Peggy's hand is shaking. She actually looks like she might be a little bit sick, or ready to hyper ventilate, or *something*. All that power, all that poise and speed which had been there is gone now. She shakes her head slowly, blood drained from her face and lips. "…this can't be possible." She finally rasps out, but there's no assurance in her voice. Something in her knows it's true.

"I'm sorry," Danny apologises, although not quite sure why he is, at the same time. At least the knife is no longer pressed into his throat. "I don't think… I was ever supposed to find you, let alone talk about the truth. I had to know…" He doesn't try to sit up just yet, but props himself up on his elbow at the very least.

"The facility was destroyed," he goes on to explain. "But the, uh… the embryos — they, I survived. I don't know much, and it took a lot of digging just to find out who you were. And Agent Sousa, that took even longer."

<~ Stop talking. Stop talking. Stop talking. Stop talking… ~>

Tracer lets out a breath and lies back on the floor, his head thudding against the carpet. "You'll probably want to verify all this," he says to Peggy — while speaking directly upward, at the ceiling. "I would caution against telling anyone. Respectfully. Uh… someone is bound to use this against you. Or me. Marm."

While the knife is no longer against his throat, Peggy still remains pinning him, her entire world reeling and she doesn’t quite trust herself to get off his body without swaying. She just stares into his eyes, eyes she knows so well, eyes that were so very much his father’s. She swallows back tightly and, finally, just sinks to the side. It hurts, moving like that. Everything about her ribs hurt right now and she was feeling her body’s protest at moving that fast, now that the adrenaline had cut out into shock. She sits there, on the floor, next to him, his knife forgotten. She just stares into the room a few moments.

Finally, her voice comes feather light, just the barest crackle of sound into the room. “Yes. I… will want to get this verified. And yes, it should be kept a secret. They would use it against me. Against… us. That was part of the reason I never did in the first place. Too dangerous. Not… not enough time.” She can’t look back to him now.

For the first time since Danny Tracer met Margaret Carter, she doesn’t seem like some indomitable robot of a woman, distant, professional, looming. SHe doesn’t seem like a living legend, a statue of a woman. She seems like just a woman. A broken bird, really, sitting on the floor, all breath and strength gone from her. She almost looks fragile. And she looks so, so very old. Behind her young features there’s a century in her eyes.

Tracer pushes himself up into a sitting position.

There are a million things in his mind right now. A million questions he could ask, things he could explain — or try to. And there are some things… some things he knows she can never know. Must never know. The young man lets out a breath from between his lips and tucks his legs up underneath him in preparation to stand up.

"I had to know," he murmurs just loud enough for Carter to hear. "I had to know you…"

He had done it now. His handlers would never forgive him for telling the truth — even just this much of it — to his mark. The Director of SHIELD. His mother. His target. <~ Sod the handlers, ~> he mentally tells himself. <~ Sod them all. They'll be after us now. Both of us. The next assassination attempt will be full-scale. Both of us. They've probably already killed the idiots who tried to kill Carter — mother — before my mission was complete. ~>

He sighs.

With any luck, Carter will never know what bothers him so in this moment.

<~ They'll be coming, ~> he reminds himself, standing to his feet and heading toward the door. He says nothing to Carter for now. Enough has been said. Tonight was hard. Tomorrow will be harder still. <~ They'll be coming… ~>

He gives his mother one last look before opening the door and stepping through. <~ At least, ~> he thinks. <~ At least, before the end, I got to know her. If there's a God up there with half an eye trained this way… maybe she'll get to tell me of my father. Before the assassins find us. ~>

<~ Maybe. ~>

While some may accuse Peggy Carter of being a mind reader, and the way she can read body language definitely implies it at times, she isn’t actually a telepath. She can’t pick up on his exact thoughts, even as she watches a thousand tensions and considerations flicker across his face as he sits there across from her. She just takes those few moments to catch her breath, staring at him, trying to piece everything together in the chaos that is her own mind.

And then she watches him moving to stand and turn to the door. She pops a single brow, skepticism on her face. “Young man, you are not walking out of this room like nothing just happened. Don’t even think about it.” The tone of her voice is like a mother disciplining their child for back talking, strangely maternal and disappointed as much as it is severe.

She then shifts slightly, the ache in her ribs doubled for the motions, but she manages back up to her feet with no help. She nods to the chair next to the couch, eyes sharp, staring him down practically. He will sit or she will make him, that’s the look on her face. “I have questions. How did you know? Who told you? Are you certain?” She waits, not sitting herself. Just watching.

Halfway through the door, Danny Tracer halts. His eyes briefly closed, he tries not to smile, and lets out a brief snort of wry humour.

<~ So that's what that feels like, ~> he tells himself, and turns around.

The eyes of the son meet the eyes of the mother and they are full of sadness. How can he lie to her? This is Peggy Carter. NO ONE lies to Peggy Carter. Well, no one lies and gets away with it. Did his father ever succeed? Did Captain America? The truth. Nothing but the truth would suffice.

"I know," he replies softly. It strikes him as strange that he is no longer speaking to 'the director of SHIELD'. Something has shifted. Something… "I know you have questions — I do too. What if… what if I were to tell you that there are some things that are better left unsaid? You won't like what you hear, Marm."

All true.

But true enough? Unlikely.

The smirk on her lips just deepens as he mentions not liking what she’ll hear. Her arms shift, crossing over her chest instead of resting on her hips now. That might have been a poor choice as pain lances up her side, but she doesn’t even let it show other than a slight tightening of her breath. She just stares at him and waits. Of course, he had her AND Daniel’s stubborn nature, so this was probably going to be a bit of a staring game. She finally sighs.

“Daniel.” It was odd, saying that name again and knowing, somehow, someone knew the connection. Knew his father. That he was given that name and it wasn’t random coincidence but it had a very deep meaning. “I… I am not a woman who does well without having answers. If you don’t give them to me, then I will track them down, come hell or high water, and I promise it will go far more poorly for you and whomever brought you back from the dead, than if you just told me. So sit down and tell me how. The fuck. This happened.” Peggy’s voice is tighter now, the absolute tone of a command in it. She wasn’t asking him. She was giving him an order.

And, in, truth, he was back from the dead for her. She’d assumed that spark of life killed, destroyed in Stark’s labs somewhere to protect everything. She now was realizing it was a poor assumption, but that’s on her. Still, the child she thought dead before it ever breathed was now alive, here, in front of her, and Peggy was clinging every last hardened part of her personality to keep her from breaking down into a mess of a thousand pieces.

Or even just to keep her from touching him. Kissing him. Hugging him. Her son.

But instead, she waited. Wrapped up and held in by the cross of her own arms, eyes even more full of ice than that he was used to seeing their stern director.

Tracer takes a breath.

Eyes lock with Carter's. It was usually easy for him to stand up to anyone — especially knowing what he could do if he touched them. It made even the most gruelling of interrogations much more bearable — even if he were the one being interrogated. This was partly why his superiors had chosen him for this mission. Infiltrate SHIELD. Get close to Director Carter. Learn her secrets, then manipulate her into doing their bidding…

But they had not properly considered one thing.

Even Danny Tracer wanted to know.

Slowly, he closes the door and walks back into the room, but not to the chair. Instead, he half sits, half leans upon the edge of Carter's desk. A deliberate gesture of confidence? Probably. A juvenile act of defiance? Possibly.

"I was delivered by a surrogate mother in 1990," he tells Carter after a while, his gloved hands resting in his lap. "Don't ask me about her, Marm, I never met her. I don't even know her name — attachments were… not encouraged."

He takes another breath, and tucks in his chin, thinking.

"A foster family raised me, in Surrey, England. They called themselves the Westons: Uncle Jack and Aunt Emma. Those were… not their real names. Nothing was real."

He gives Carter a look of regret.

As he finally begins to speak, Peggy lets out a touch of that breath she had been holding and steps a bit closer. She no longer needs to intimidate, or so it seems, so she folds down into gently sitting on the very edge of the couch where she had been stitching up that arm. It’s now bleeding again, though slow than before, the already stitched part helping the smaller wound to clot. But it will take time. She ignores the blood down her arm, too focused on the man in front of her.

“Why were you… raised in such a manner? Why have someone carry a 40 year old embryo anyway? I know most everything that happens in this organization — it wasn’t us.” Though there is a single trace of doubt in her eyes there. She had only been awake for a year. Maybe there were divisions they didn’t tell her about. Director or not, did she have the highest level of clearance? SHIELD always had been wheels within wheels. Maybe she wasn’t as in the know as she thought.

But she doesn’t give voice to those doubts, she just watches him, hard eyes waiting almost impatiently for the meat of this subject. “You said nothing was real. Tell me what is real, Tracer. Tell me the truth.”

Tracer removes his hands from his lap and places on the edge of the director's desk, either side of him. Leaning his rump against the desk, he leans forward, letting his head bow somewhat as he ponders his next move.

Every word brings him closer to the truth.

The real truth.

It is the kind of truth that gets one incarcerated — or killed.

But Daniel Tracer is no one's fool. His superiors had thought him completely under their thumb; what a pity it was (for them) that they realised his full gifts too late. Had trained him too well… Slowly, very slowly, he lifts his gaze to look straight at Carter.

"No, you're right. It wasn't you." Note that he says 'you' instead of 'us'. "SHIELD had no knowledge of my existence, neither then nor now. You… hid me well. But others were watching." He pauses, gritting his teeth and turning his face partially to the side — away from the Director. His mother. When he eventually does look back, his eyes are sad and he slowly, meticulously, begins to take off his gloves.

"I was trained more than raised, and with a purpose. You. Between my parentage and my gifts, I was the perfect sleeper. Unfortunately for 'them', I saw too much too soon. I hid it well. They'll be coming for me now. Whoever ordered that assassination attempt upon you did not factor in ''my'' mission, or me. If they had succeeded… then my usefulness would have changed. But since they FAILED…"

The young man starts to chuckle. How could he know anything about the assassination attempt on the Director? Especially when he speaks of it as if he had inside information, or at the very least knows the people responsible.

"They have NO idea what I'll do, now."

Even processing shock and in pain, Peggy Carter is sharper than most knives. Very little gets past her, so as he begins to lay it all out, starting with ‘You’ instead of us, her mind starts filling in the unspoken. What little color was left in her face slowly drains, breath shallowing just a bit. She’s never had a panic attack in her life, but there is the smallest part of her just ready to flip that switch. If knowledge of his existence was a shock, this is her every nightmare come true.

If he ever wanted to finish his mission, to take her out, this would be the time. She’s a sitting duck, not even totally present in the room any more as she hears the last, unspoken words behind his statement. HYDRA.

HYDRA had stolen her child. HYDRA birthed him. HYDRA trained him.

“… say it. I need you to… say it.” Peggy manages to breathe out, though her words sound distant, like she’s saying them in another room or another life time, shock pulling her out of her own body. But she keeps speaking. “… tell me… HYDRA … is as much your parent as I am.” And she waits. She needs to hear it, not guess at it. She waits and stares, so unmoving she may not even be breathing even as her heart rockets madly against her sternum.

Tracer's jaw turns to steel.

There is a lot about that organisation that angers him. There is a lot that turns his blood to molten metal in his veins, burning him from the inside out. And yet… they did bring him into the world. How does one properly define in one's own heart how such realisations should make one feel? The consternation is etched heavily into Tracer's face as he considers his answer. Carter needs an answer — she DESERVES an answer.

So he looks at her.

"I was raised, trained and sent by — ."


A hole appears in the window, where the was none mere moments ago. Tracer looks down at his chest to see red welling up all over his shirt. Eyes wide, disbelieving, he looks from his wound to his mother…

"Of course they did," he murmurs in tones best suited to talking about the weather as he topples forward. "Bloody bastards…"

There was no time for panic attacks, or heart attacks, really. Just as Peggy is about to hear it, to know that every nightmare she’s ever had is coming true in this moment, another nightmare is added on top of it. She dashes forward as she sees that blood blossom on his chest, screaming at the computer system, “I need medical here NOW!” With the rasping, screeching sort of panic that only a mother watching her child die can feel. It’s earth shaking and awful.

She skids forward then, on her knees, reaching for him to put pressure on that spot at his chest. Maybe it wasn’t too deep, maybe it missed his heart. Maybe they still had a chance. She reaches one hand against his flesh, digging beneath shirt, not caring for respect or propriety as she looks for a vein that she can help close off or something to stop the bleeding. Her other hand reaches for his palm, holding on tight.

“Daniel, you listen to me and you hold on. The medics are but a floor away. You’ll be fine.” She growls out, that distant shock gone from her voice. She’d have time for it later.

Tracer grips Carter's hand, his eyes focused upon her intently. His thoughts, however, wonder (as though from very far away) about how the sniper got his shot in through the window. Those had to be reinforced, tactical glass. Thank God he was wearing his vest or he'd be…

He tries to speak but his mouth fills up with blood.

Instead, he grips Peggy's hand even tighter — skin to skin contact — and opens his mind…

//An office in a tall building, overlooking… is that Big Ben? London? With the setting sun behind the clocktower. So wherever this office is, it is high up, just to the East of Big Ben, and the time? There is a clock in the Spartan room! It reads: 13:37, Tuesday the 3rd of October, 2014…

A man in a bowtie stands just to the side. His face is obscured as if the camera — or eyes? — through which this vision is shown, were angled down. Forbidden eye contact? Or something else?//

<~ Very well, ~> says the man. He has an accent. German? No, AUSTRIAN. <~ Now tell me again. ~>

<~ I am to infiltrate the upper echelons of SHIELD, to report to Director Carter but to make NO UNNECESSARY CONTACT. I am to play the loyal SHIELD agent until such time as my prime directive is activated. Epsilon Protocol will wait for authorisation — from you, of course. ~> There is a smile. Am I smiling? Is HE smiling? Are these thoughts or words Tracer's? or Carter's?

<~ Good, ~> says the Austrian. <~ Hail HYDRA, Agent Tracer. ~>

<~ Hail HYDRA! ~>

Back in the Present, Tracer struggles to remain conscious as the medical team bursts in the door, their medkits and instruments ready. The image he had just shared with his mother fades, distorting like an old movie from the Second World War, when the film ran out, leaving only a flickering screen behind.

His eyes roll back in his head, as he gives in to oblivion.

Peggy falls back from where she’d been holding him, his blood all over her hands. She doesn’t say anything or even move. It’s pretty obvious what happened. She’s just staring at him in the sickened shock of what she just saw, what he told her. Of everything that happened. It’s hard to breathe again.

It’s not until two other agents come and try to pull her away from the glass and clearly compromised room that she even blinks into reality. They were behind the medical team and she hears them murmuring something about the room being unsafe and there being an active shooter around with armor piercing rounds (to get through the glass), but she doesn’t really respond. The bloodied, shocked director is picked up off the floor, ushered out of the room like some rag doll. For a few moments, they wonder if she’s been injured too. But there is no wound on her.

The morning breaks into chaos as people fight to save Tracer’s life and teams are dispatched to the buildings across the street to search for the shooter.


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