Pam agreed to meet on neutral ground, striking out most of the continental USA, the better half of South America and all of Eastern Europe. She sipped tea from a gold-patterned glass in one of Cadiz's many North African-type tea houses. Tucked away from the main plazas, the tea house patrons were an anonymous mix of younger locals and wintering tourists from northern European countries. Nick slid into a chair across from her. She'd never understand how a man of his size managed to move so silently.
Nick slid an attaché case across the mosaic table between them. "He left these for you."
"You looked through them?" Pam rolled her eyes. "Of course, you looked through them."
"Landy, I'm not the enemy."
"That remains debatable from where I'm sitting," she snapped. Taking another sip of tea, she pulled the case off the table and tucked it beside her, within reach.
Nick leaned back. He ordered a darker, sweeter tea from the waiter in flawless Andalusian Spanish. Then, inexplicably, he makes small talk. "Are you on vacation?"
"Oh, stop yourself. You gave me the package; now go."
"I promised Cheese I'd look in on you."
"You've looked. I'm fine."
"You're not fine, Landy."
"If I'm a little less than calm it's because of Phil."
He closed his one good eye. "Yes, Pamela. Phil is dead. And there isn't a single goddamn hour when I don't wish I had been me instead."
"Bullshit, Fury. Your ego's too big for that. Your 'mission' is too important." The tea was almost gone now. The waiter refilled her glass half a second after serving Nick his order.
"It's your mission, too," he said softly. "We built SHIELD into what it is today because of it."
"And what the hell is SHIELD today, huh, Fury? We're supposed to be different from the agencies we left but we take Howard Stark's drunk scribbles and built an invisible spaceship that we use to spy on the world. We're supposed to have volunteers from different countries to guarantee neutrality, people who have passion as well as level-headedness, but we take a retarded kid from Reno and convinced him to juice up into a superhuman marksman. We take orders from a council whose Plan B was to nuke Manhattan, and let me tell you, the economists in Europe nearly made like lemmings on a cliff when that news broke out."
"But we stopped the nuke and an alien invasion with relatively low cost of human life. That's what SHIELD does."
The damnedest thing about Nick Fury was that he said nothing but the truth. He just knew how to present it-- via omissions or over-revelation-- to make others do what he wanted them to. Pam wished she had the skill. Instead, she, like Phil, took information in and made wildly accurate connections.
"I was supposed to go first," she said. "I'm older."
"He's the field agent," said Nick.
"I'm his big sister. I'm supposed to make sure he's safe."
"The way I hear it, not even a tornado could keep Cheese from doing what he wants."
"What he thinks needs to be done," Pam corrected.
Nick nodded. "Sonuvabitch was always right, too."
They took their tea, three refills each before speaking again.
"This Avengers Initiative--" Pam began.
"Dismantled until further notice," said Nick.
"I'm going to have to insist that the Avengers remain independent of our organization." At Nick's raised brows, she said, "They're too public, especially with Rogers and Stark. Jesus, Tony fucking Stark. I knew taking him on would be as much of a headache as dealing with his dad. With Banner on board, we're going to have USDoD on our asses and we can't have our hands tied by rubbing off that much military intrastructure. Barton's still attached on paper to Outcome and the Red Room will know Romanova by mission if not by sight. SHIELD operates best when no one knows we exist and thanks to your fender-bender on the East River, there are a few clues to our existence."
"There's the Landy we all know and love," said Nick.
"I mean it, Fury, you will back the fuck off the Avengers. I know it goes against every cell in your body, but them play house with Stark. Feed them intel if they ask for it but then hands off. Clear off. I don't want SHIELD spending any more time tracking the Avengers than they would any other groups of interest."
"And if the World Council asks about pay offs?"
"Sweet talk them. You're good that that."
"Landy, that almost sounded like a compliment."
"Shut up. I'm still mad at you. And I'm going to stay mad at you." Standing with the attaché case in hand, she threw a few bills on the table to cover her order and his.
Nick laced his fingers together, his thumbs tapping an indiscernible pattern which either meant he was sending something in code or he was genuinely discomfited. "Until when?"
"Until you give me my baby brother back," Pam said sharply. She walked away, steady on sensible heels, most certainly not clutching Phil's attaché to her chest as smoke from a passing scooter stung her eyes. Before turning the corner, she looked back at the tea house. Nick still sat, rolling his empty glass between his hands, his chin dropped to his chest. She took no joy in his grief.