Loyalties are Tested

When I was a child, I thought like a child. Worse yet, I wrote like a child. That's why I've been cleaning up this story; if it weren't so juvenile, it might be good.
Edited so far: 1, 8, 9, 10

Chapter 1

No Limit

I leaped from the the explosion without a scratch. Back on my feet again, I shook my head. Stupid, I chided myself. Just stupid, thinking he would give you any help. But a grenade? Had that really been necessary?

I shook myself off and opened the door the my car, which had thankfully remained undamaged. I swung into my seat and started the ignition. It was clearly time to get out of here. Besides, I had a job to do.

Rolling down the windows caused a blast of air to drown out the sound of the radio, but I didn't mind. The road was my domain, and the perks that came with it: flying down the interstate with the windows down, unconcerned with anything but the stretch of the highway ahead. For a moment, I let my mind wander, wondering what it would be like to be an average 28-year-old on an average road trip. I laughed the thought away. Average was far from anything I could ever be.

A normal life had never appealed to me, though. Perhaps it was something questionable in my blood that made me unable to settle down -- a peculiar gene that had passed all the regular people by. Whatever the cause, I had finally found some of the adventure I had longed for since childhood.

It would be a while until I reached my destination. New York City. This hub of activity was hours away yet, giving me time to think about my mission from A.I.M. Actually, it was probably better not to think about it. In my range of work, it was best to be out of the loop, so I tried not to ask too many questions. The unruly wind wasn't doing it's job to distract me, so I turned up the radio to tune out my thoughts.

Two hours later, I spotted my exit. Getting off the interstate, I felt a little excited. S.H.I.E.L.D. I thought. I wonder what that'll be like. In what seemed like no time (which impressed me, considering the size of the city), I was pulling into a secluded parking lot. Was this the place? It seemed kind of cut off from the rest of the district, and it wasn't the kind of building you'd expect for a government organization. This was it, though; I saw a wooden sign with nothing but the letters S-H-I-E-L-D on it. I marveled at how they unflinchingly advertised where they were.

I parked and stepped out of the car. Almost immediately, a red-head stalked up to me. She seemed to be about my age, maybe a little younger. "Who are you?" she asked intensely.

"Sarah Adams," I muttered stiffly. I hated my name.

"Oh." She paused a microsecond, and I could only assume she was listening to an earpiece of some kind. "Come with me, then."

I followed along behind her. "What- Aren't we going to go in the door?" I asked as we passed the entrance and headed around the building. Grimacing, I attempted to hold back any further questions. One day my unbridled tongue would be my undoing, as I had constantly reminded myself for years.

She laughed. "If you tried to go in there, you'd get blown to bits."

I childishly made a face at her when she turned her back again. Gah! If there was one thing I couldn't stand, it was a condescending attitude. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, though, and assumed that she'd meant no offense.

We didn't speak to each other again as we continued to the other side of the small wooden building. I scrutinized it, and finally decided that it must be humongous underground.

"Here we are," said the redhead. I laughed as we came to a halt in front of a small window. Yeah, right. We were going to get in through that?

The woman gave me a silencing look as she placed her hand on on of the window panes. It made a slight whirring sound, as if mocking my mental images of climbing in through the window. Suddenly, the very ground dropped out from underneath us and we found ourselves in a large room -- underground, just as I had predicted.

I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to be doing; at this point, I was just going along for the ride. I went to take a step forward, but the woman held me back, so I didn't move.

A man dressed in black walked towards us. "Hello," he said smoothly. "You must be Echo."

I smiled, grateful that he had used my nickname. "Yes, that's me," I told him.

"Good." He was polite, but his tone was brisk. He handed me a folder. "I'm not going to be the one to debrief you, but you're going to need those."

I took them without question, and he left as abruptly as he'd come. I looked quizzically at the redheaded woman, who shook her head slightly as she watched him walk away. "You'll get used to him. That's director Fury," she told me, "and I'm Natasha."

"Nice to meet you," I said. She turned and led me through many hallways. I got a bit turned around, but finally we came to a big room. A few more hallways lead out from it in other directions, and several tables sat inside.

"This is called the cafe," she said. "The kitchen is right through there, and the rooms are this way." She pulled me down yet another hallway, where we stopped in front of door 413.

"This is your room. Mine is right down the hallway a bit," she said in a friendly way. I appreciated that. It was nice to know that even SHIELD agents could be polite. "If you have any questions, just come find me."

She left me to take my light travel bag into my room. It was a habit of mine to bring little when traveling. I shut and locked the door behind me as I entered my room. Setting my bag on the bed, I faced the mirror. I messed with my hair for a minute before deciding it was a lost cause.

I turned with a start as a phone rang on the wall behind me and picked up the receiver tentatively.

"Miss Adams?" said a gravelly male voice on the other end. "Can you meet at the cafe in fifteen minutes?"

"Sure." I was about to hang up when I added, "Who is this?" Unfortunately, the man had already left.

I went back to the mirror, but I didn't feel like dressing up or anything, so I decided to just relax until I had to leave.

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