"I keep my word. You'll stay alive." Natasha contorts her face into a cocky grin. "I'll do my best."
Characters (this chapter): Natasha Romanoff, Maria Hill, Jemma Simmons
Content Warnings: Canon-typical violence.
Rating: Teen & Up.
The walk from the gas station to the car is not ideal. It's difficult to look inconspicuous, walking along the side of the highway, so she has to step through the overgrown flora on the side of the road. It crunches underneath her boots, and she winces, even though the sound of wind displaced by the speeding cars a few feet away masks the sound.
She has three mobile phones stored in the glove box, and she picks one she hasn't used before. Natasha opens up the back of the phone, replacing the battery with one of her own; it will scramble the signal and place the call as originating from a tower in northern California. Wine country. She replaces the cover and waits for the phone to reboot. She places a test call to one of her servers. Four seconds after she hangs up, she receives a text message indicating the cell tower the call can be traced back to. Satisfied, she steps out of the car and opens the front hood, staring at the engine like a befuddled driver with car troubles. The performance should be sufficient for the approximately zero people noticing her as they drive past.
Hill picks up on the fourth ring.
"I'm outside already."
As if she couldn't hear. "Excellent." Natasha leans inside the hood of the car. She's already checked it for surveillance equipment, but she repeats the routine.
"Skip the pleasantries?"
"It's the polite thing to do. Who do you have for me?"
She can hear Hill grinning.
"Jemma Simmons. She's been with Agent May's team."
Natasha runs her fingers underneath the battery.
"She comes recommended by the best."
That would be Agent Coulson.
"Doesn't get much better than that."
Hill hums in agreement.
"And she has the skills I requested?"
"I'll send you her file."
Unnecessary, any S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel files will have been part of the leak, but Natasha thinks this is probably a gesture of goodwill.
"She might need your help with something too. Our friend mentioned the possibility of an alternate career path for her."
Undercover, someone loyal to Coulson but working within Hydra. It's necessary.
"She's already on her way?"
It's the kind of task Natasha used to be excellent for, before she publicly and decisively shared the collective secrets of the world's largest spy agency and that same agency's rivals with the entire planet.
Maria makes an affirmative noise. "She's about three hours away. On the Amtrak."
Coulson will want Natasha to set this Agent up. It seems like a fair trade, for services rendered.
"Not a problem. Tell Agent Simmons to go to the ATM closest to the southeast corner of the cemetery. Use a prepaid card, bought with cash. You know the kind?" She listens for Hill's nod. "She is going to check her account balance, take a receipt, and then wait on the corner."
She can hear Hill frowning.
"Is this really necessary?"
Natasha leans back, closing the hood of the car.
"Usually you're less..." Hill sighs. "I'd say paranoid, but given the circumstances-"
"Fine. Southeast corner, account balance at the nearest ATM, wait at the corner with the receipt. Anything else?"
"Switch Tony Stark's coffee to decaf for me?"
Natasha can hear her chuckling just before she hangs up.
Agent Jemma Simmons arrives on time. Her photo matches the file Natasha has memorized. She had a small carry-on bag with her, rolling smoothly along the sidewalk, but judging from the bulk of her purse, Natasha assumes that all of the essentials are in there. Smart. Simmons is petite, and her physical reflexes aren't well-trained, not uncommon in her division. It shouldn't be an issue. Her credentials are impressive, and Natasha thinks that Dr. Banner might like to be introduced to her. Simmons has done a lot of work with sedatives that proved effective against Centipede subjects. Natasha doesn't understand all of it, but she thinks there might be other applicable uses. It's the kind of thing Dr. Banner would appreciate.
Natasha, parked across the street, watches as Simmons arrives at the ATM. She follows the instructions accurately, and makes a valiant effort to keep herself from fidgeting too much. Natasha can tell she’s nervous, but Natasha has been training for several years, and she is more sensitive to minor changes in demeanor and emotional state than the average person. Agent Simmons will do just fine.
With a little extra instruction.
The Romanoff crash course in opaque facial expressions, the art of espionage, and aloof detachment from a variety of violent acts. Natasha finds herself smiling at her private joke.
Agent Simmons walks towards the cemetery, and Natasha waits six minutes before turning on the car’s engine and following. Traffic is congested for the first block, but Natasha passes Simmons soon enough, and is parked and waiting by the time the Agent arrives. She steps out of the car and stands in her path, standing at ease. Her features are familiar enough, to former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents as well as the general population. Natasha doesn’t need to do anything else to stand out.
Agent Simmons stops short. Natasha nods towards the car.
“Get in loser, we're going shopping.”
Simmons doesn't laugh. Her pupils are wide. Natasha tries an appeasing smile.
"It's from a movie. You know-"
Agent Simmons jerks. "Oh! Of course. Sorry. I. Well. I wasn't sure what to expect I suppose."
Natasha smirks, nodding at the car.
"We can talk about it on the way."
Simmons nods, loading her bags into the back seat before joining Natasha up front. They ride in silence for exactly fourteen minutes and thirty-six seconds, enough time to reach the highway, and Natasha lets the Agent stew for all of them.
Simmons restrains herself from asking the anxious questions that are obviously piling up. Interesting tactic.
“You weren’t expecting me.”
Simmons glances at her.
“Agent Hill didn’t tell me anything.”
“Why did you come, then?”
Her lips twitch.
“You’ve just discovered that the agency you work for, and everything it stands for, has been corrupted by an insidious rival. Yet you chose to trust Maria Hill, who gave you next to no information about your next mission. Why?”
“Is this a test?”
“Glad you caught on.”
Simmons considers her next response.
“Well. It’s not Agent Hill I trust. I mean, I admire her, but I don’t know her. But Agent-” she stops herself.
“I have clearance. Don’t worry. I know Coulson is alive.”
A little bit Simmons’ tension slips away.
“Ah. Yes. Well, you know him. He told me I was needed, he relayed the message. I knew, wherever I was going, whatever I was doing, he’s got my back.”
Voice is conveying emotion, but her tone is even, she’s not perspiring in excess, no nervous tics or twitches. Natasha will have to monitor the woman’s tells, establish a clearer baseline, but for now she can accept this information as the truth.
The next silence is more companionable. Simmons relaxes into her seat, eye tracking the scenery as they drive. Natasha pulls into the far left lane, monitoring speed, other drivers, the rain clouds up ahead.
"You should know before we discuss any more that the work I'm asking you to do is not under the purview of any official agency. We have no authority. You can never reveal what you've done, to anyone. It will not only compromise the integrity of the mission, it will jeopardize your safety." Simmons is staring at her, breath baited. "Is this acceptable to you?"
Agent Simmons takes a second to consider before nodding.
"You were with Captain Rogers." Her jaw is firm. "You're doing what needs to be done, Agent Romanoff. That's all I need to know."
Cultivating a friendship with Captain America sure has its perks.
Thanks for reading everyone! That Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. character I promised had finally materialized! And of course you know they're going after Bucky.