Cultivating a friendship with Captain America sure has its perks.
Characters (this chapter): Natasha Romanoff, Jemma Simmons
Content Warnings: (Mature) canon-typical violence, death, blood.
Agent Simmons is clearly nervous; Natasha tries to put her at ease. “We’re running a personnel retrieval mission. After it’s complete, I’ve been instructed to set you up with a deep cover mission inside Hydra.”
Simmons gulps, but she doesn’t argue. Admirable.
“I have a few ideas. Your file says you have an interest in biological warfare. That’s an angle we can use. There’s no point in hiding your work history. It’s more advantageous to use it, establish a record of employment, and set you up as a defector. It’ll cut down on the number of lies you’ll need to tell.”
Simmons sighs with relief; she’s listening, but when Natasha glances at the passenger side window she notices that Simmons is also toying with a mobile phone.
“Knock it off.”
“Doesn’t matter. If it’s S.H.I.E.L.D.-issue, there’s still monitoring equipment installed.”
Simmons stares down at her phone like it’s betrayed her.
“They didn’t say anything about-”
“Alexander Pierce initiated the protocol a few months ago.” She rolls her eyes. “He probably wanted to make sure nobody slipped through the crosshairs of Project Insight. He didn’t make an announcement, so nobody noticed.”
She’s still rubbing the dormant screen with her fingers.
“What should I do with it?”
Natasha scans the horizon. The next rest stop is newer; too many lights and cameras in the parking lot. She keeps driving.
“When we’re someplace safe, I’ll dispose of it for you. Or,” she shrugs, “I can tell you how to do it properly. Call it lesson number one.”
“All right.” She begins to ask something, stops herself, then asks anyway. “Are you… how did you know, about the phones?”
Natasha raises her right eyebrow, because Simmons can’t see her left.
“Because I checked. That’ll be lesson number two. Constant vigilance, Agent Simmons.”
“Should I be taking notes- oh! Speaking of…” she rifles through her purse, digging out a pale white envelope. “I have something for you, from Skye. I didn’t read it.” She purses her lips. “Perhaps I should have, if I’m going to be doing this fieldwork stuff-”
“It’s fine.” Natasha cuts her off, taking the note. “You only started thirty minutes ago. Plenty of time to catch up.”
“Right.” She rubs her hands in her lap. “May I say… it’s an honor, truly, to be here. I didn’t, gosh, you must get this all the time-”
“Not really.” Natasha turns and grins, conveying the fact that she has just told a joke. Simmons snickers. Success.
“Really, it is. Agent Coulson didn’t say, well, anything really. I thought I might be…” she shakes her head. “He asked me if I would be all right going away for a while, not able to contact anyone. I thought it might be something undercover, that’s no surprise. I wish.” She shakes her head. “Never mind.” She smiles, and the slight tremor beneath her bottom lip betrays the fact that it’s a willful one. “I’m excited to learn from you, Agent Romanoff.”
Natasha inclines her head.
“Don’t get too excited. I haven’t told you what we’re retrieving yet.”
“Oh yes, what is it? Some Hydra weapon?”
“You could say that.”
There’s a less reputable-looking gas station up ahead. Natasha accelerates; Agent Simmons leans back in her seat.
“Agent Simmons, have you heard of the Winter Soldier?”
“He was the man on the bridge?”
Natasha nods slowly.
“He’s the one that fought… that Captain Rogers-”
“Yup. He’s got the serum too, or the Hydra version of it. She watches Agent Simmons out of the corner of her eye. “It’s likely he’s been brainwashed. And now, with Hydra out in the open and scrambling to regroup, we have the best opportunity to catch him before they get him back under their control.”
“We. You. And me. Just the two of us. Against… against…” She shakes her head. “Us. We are going to capture the Winter Soldier.” She takes a deep breath, exhales with a breathy sigh, her cheeks hollowing. “Oh. Oh my. Oh.”
There's new security equipment installed above the pumps at the station; not an option. She signals to get back into the far left lane.
“Yes,” Natasha passes a slow-moving oil tanker. “We are. Alive. Preferably.”
"Oh my God, oh my God."
Simmons is clearly not prepared for this kind of operation. Natasha bites back a groan. This is going to be a pain in the ass.
“Knock it off.” Natasha grimaces. That didn’t work the way she wanted it to. “It's going to be fine." She tries to adopt the tone she'd heard Sam using when he was trying to keep Rogers from doing something stupid, like rescue the Winter Soldier. Which, upon reflection, is approximately what she's trying to accomplish, and perhaps explains why Simmons is electing to panic. Natasha thinks she's done a good job of imitating the calm, rational pace of Sam's voice, but it doesn't seem to be working.
"Please calm down. I have a plan."
Simmons takes a few elongated breaths, fanning herself.
"Right. Calm. Yes." She musters a little reserve. "Sorry. It's just, you're a bit legendary. The Battle of New York, Vladivostok... always going in without an extraction plan. It's all a bit... above my clearance level." She nods, her head jerking. "But I'm ready! I'm fine!" She faces Natasha with a feeble smile. "I can do this."
Natasha waits while another wave of panic overtakes, and then passes through Simmons, before delivering the rest of the briefing.
"I'll be doing all the heavy combat."
Some of the tension dissipates form Simmons' shoulders.
"So you're going to... arrest him, then?" Her jaw is tight. "He seemed quite sturdy on the television footage-"
"I can take him."
Simmons nods, slowly.
"All right." She purses her lips, choosing her words carefully. "So, what is it you need me for?"
Natasha digs into her coat, taking out the sample she'd collected.
"It's not ideal, but I got a sample of his blood. I'm not sure what the off-brand version of the super soldier serum did to the Soldier, but if it's anything like Erskine's, a normal sedative won't work. I need you to build me something that will take him down."
Natasha nods. It is still necessary to be reassuring. "Easy."
Natasha glances at Simmons, using her reflection in the passenger side window to analyze her responses. Breathing elevated and sporadic, pupils wide, fingers drumming in her lap. Clearly Simmons does not think this will be easy. Natasha considers what she knows about the scientist (young, brilliant, a promising career ahead of her), analyzing the data to figure out what interpersonal skills in her arsenal will be most efficient in calming Simmons. She'll respond favorably to authority, but she will respond better to a commander that she perceives to be amiable.
"I bet you've got more to fear from Agent May than the Winter Soldier." It is not even, strictly speaking, a lie. The Soldier will be authorized to kill anyone that attacks him or gets in the way of his mark, but as long as Agent Simmons stays out of his line of fire, she should be relatively safe. Because she's not on his kill-list. Natasha considers informing her of this, but decides it would not elicit an optimal response.
“She is rather formidable.”
It’s what Natasha likes most about her.
“And she’ll tear my head off if I let anything happen to you.” Incorrect, but Agent Simmons recognizes from her cadence the humor Natasha is trying to convey. “And, since I like my head where it is, I’m going to start by teaching you how to get rid of that phone.”
Natasha talks Simmons through the procedure, explaining the reasoning behind her methods, debating the merits of various techniques. The Agent is a quick study, and soon she’s demonstrating her aptitude, explaining why Natasha passes the next rest stop without needing to be prompted.
“Good. Also, try to avoid smartphone-friendly areas. Facial recognition and geotagging are some of the resources used to gather data for Project Insight. Since you can’t move too fast for a clear photo-”
“Because too much speed attracts attention.”
“Right. Which means you have to avoid getting caught on camera entirely.”
The oil tanker is still behind her. Natasha watches it through the rearview.
“So. Where are we stopping then?”
Natasha veers into the right lane, without a signal.
“Gas station up ahead. See? They’re advertising that they carry diesel fuel. It means they’re catering to trucks, not small vehicles.”
Simmons nods, slowly, considering her answer.
“But… it can’t hurt to go in and ask if they have a restroom, right?”
She uses her signal this time, giving plenty of warning to the cars behind her. When she pulls into the exit, she decelerates only the barest minimum she needs to in order to stay on the road. The oil truck follows. As Natasha parks, she hands Simmons the phone, and a twenty dollar bill.
“See if they have energy drinks for sale. If not, grab a pack if cigarettes. Act like the brand matters.”
Agent Simmons nods, stepping out of the car. Normally, Natasha would monitor her, check for any mistakes, and provide the necessary encouragement, but it will have to wait. The oil truck pulls in and stops beside one of the pumps, out of view of the highway and the storefront. Predictable tactical position. Natasha waits for Simmons to enter the unimpressive station before she steps out of the car.
She holds the keys in the palm of her hand, threading the loop between her middle and forefingers.
The driver of the truck steps out, refueling. He's heavyset, but he's concealing military-grade muscles underneath his dingy sweatshirt and worn denim overalls. His boots are heavy; Natasha assumes there's a knife concealed in each heel. This is not a capture mission.
It's the passenger that gave it away. Mercenary. Facial scarring suggests a specialty in hand to hand combat. If that hadn't been enough, the weight of the truck was impossible to ignore. She sensed it as she passed; a truck full of fuel would create a stronger wind tunnel, especially at the sixty miles per hour they averaged en route to the rest stop. Their tank is empty.
They both smile at her. They have underestimated her. She suspects there is a bounty on her head. These two must have been led to her by some third party. If they're dumb enough to come after her like this, without a bigger team and better equipment, they're not clever enough to have found her on their own. She will have to retrace her footsteps, figure out where they got their lead.
"So. How much am I worth?"
The mercenary snorts as he steps down from the passenger seat.
"Enough to retire on."
Her lips twists; she's not trying very hard to conceal her smile.
"Retirement always sounded overrated to me."
She chooses the big guy first. He's closer. He's got a fist aimed for her jaw, but she ducks, grabbing his shoulders when she comes up. She swings forward, overbalancing him. He's quick enough to take a step back, bracing himself against the truck door. She catches a glimpse of the mercenary in the passenger side window; he's trying to take aim. Won't take the shot, worried about hitting his accomplice. Stupid mistake. He won't hit her if he never fires at all. Natasha leans backwards, legs around his chest, compressing his lungs as she drags him forwards. As he falls, she grabs his left arm, using her momentum to swing onto his back. She breaks his wrist in three places as she lands.
The mercenary has a clear shot. She kicks the driver's head into the pavement as she grabs the car door, opening it and deflecting the first shot. Shots. Mercenary's response time is subpar. She jumps into the truck, vaulting herself off of the seat and over the door. She lands on the mercenary's gun arm, crushing his fingers underneath her boot. Before he regains his footing, she slams her forehead into his nose, breaking it and temporarily blinding him. He shouts, choking on his own blood.
She crouches, grabbing his hand. She picks up the gun in his palm, and shoves it underneath his chin. She fires, and lets his body crumble underneath her. She'll have to burn these clothes later. Another good lesson for Agent Simmons.
The first man is groaning and spluttering and making a complete ass of himself. Natasha contains a sigh as she walks back over to him. Is it too much to ask that he even attempt to retain a little dignity in defeat? There's an appalling lack of decorum in the average hit man community. Natasha stands above him, kicking him onto his back. He grunts, even though she didn't even kick that hard. His face is scratched and bloody, his shoulder is dislocated, and he's clutching his thrice-broken wrist as it starts to bruise and swell.
"Now," she puts her hands on her hips. "What's a nice boy like you doing in a crummy place like this?"
"I'm not, I didn't, I was just-"
"Stop whining." By some miracle, he does. "I want to know how you found me, and how many others are looking." He whimpers. She rolls her eyes. "Use your words."
He mumbles an answer, but she gathers the essentials. They were tailing Agent Simmons, saw who she was meeting and decided to try and take them both. Simple enough explanation. Simmons is a valuable asset. It's interesting to note that Natasha Romanoff is wanted dead or alive (at least, in the circles these two suckers were traveling in). It doesn't change her plans at all, but it's good to keep in mind. Perhaps this is one of the downsides of befriending a national icon.
It can't help that his uniform isn't particularly subtle.
She hears Agent Simmons returning before she hears the woman's mortified squeak. Natasha turns, shrugging.
"They weren't using their turn signals consistently. We have about six minutes to clean up and get out. Ready for some hands-on coaching?"
Agent Simmons is a little shaky, but she nods, and it passes.
Natasha does all the heavy lifting, dragging both bodies into the front seat of the truck, but she talks Simmons through it, explaining the best disposal procedures. The circumstances aren't ideal; they can't light a fire, not out in the open like this, but Agent Simmons demonstrates a flair for the creative when under pressure. She's able to create an acidic solution from a few of the beauty products in her bag, damaging the DNA in the blood and hair on the pavement and efficiently contaminating any samples left behind.
Natasha hops into the front seat of the truck, tossing Simmons the keys to their car.
“Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the maps I left in the glove compartment. The DC area follows a predictable pattern. I’ll test you.”
Agent Simmons nods, fiddling with the keys.
“How long should I wait?”
“At least five minutes. I’ll pull over up ahead. Pass me, park a few miles up, out of sight. If anyone pulls over, tell them you’ve called triple-A.”
“Got it.” She glances inside the truck. “Will you be walking then?”
“This won’t take long.”
Natasha watches Agent Simmons until she sits down in their car, closing the door behind her. Then, she pulls out of the lot, slower than her usual pace. The truck is unwieldily, not well-made. One of the tires on the left side is wiggling; the axel is probably crooked. Which explains why it’s not in use, and why her mercenary pals were able to borrow it.
The live one whimpers beside her, and she digs her thumb into the skin beside his eye socket, exerting the barest pressure against his eyeball.
“Knock it off.”
This time, it has the desired effect.
There’s an empty lot up ahead, beside a diner with boarded up windows. An inconvenient dining establishment, but a convenient place to leave a few bodies. The body beneath her slumps as she leans on the brakes. She parks at the far edge of the lot, sticking her fingers out of the window. Downwind. Good news for the trees lining the highway. Bad news for the abandoned diner, and the next hour of northbound traffic.
She reaches into the big guy’s front pocket, finding the lighter she guessed would be there (nicotine stains on his fingers and teeth, empty cigarette packs lining the dashboard, faint impress against the fabric and a stain where the fluid has leaked). He whimpers, and she chooses to leave his eye intact. It’s not going to matter in a few minutes anyway. Natasha fiddles with the steering wheel, opening the compartment underneath it. She unsheathes one of her knives, and immediately regrets leaving the man his eye; the minute he sees the knife he starts begging for his life.
“Shut up. I’m not going to stab you.”
She cuts all the wires connected to the horn and alarms. She takes the time to be sloppy, it can’t look intentional. Natasha double-checks the placement of the gun (in the mercenary’s hand, resting on the seat beside her). Then, she slides out of the truck, slamming the door behind her.
Upon inspection, the axel on the left side is definitely slanted. Figures. She reconsiders killing the second guy, he’s making an awful lot of noise, but she has to keep in mind that her hearing is sensitive, that she’s been trained to pick up on these things. Still, she stays out of sight as she shoves the mercenary’s shirt into the fuel tank. She leaves enough of it out to last for three minutes, and lights it. Then, she ducks under the cover of the treeline, making fast time through the dense foliage.
The sound of the explosion is satisfying.
When she reaches Simmons, the woman gives her a curt nod.
“Yup.” Agent Simmons tries to hand her the keys, but Natasha doesn’t take them right away.
“If I tell you where to go, think you’ll be able to drive us?”
Simmons blinks, then nods, smiling mischievously.
“You did say you intended to test me.”
“Let’s see what you retained.”
Thanks for reading everyone!
Jemma and Natasha are going to have some adventures together. ^_^