My fic
My fic
Body of Evidence Chapter 21: Suppressed
"Do you want to help me?" His pupils go wide. "Yes," he whispers. Characters (this chapter): Natasha Romanoff, Bucky Barnes Content Warnings: Guns, Violence, Blood Rating: Mature Getting into the country unnoticed is difficult, though Natasha anticipates more difficulty when they exit. She doesn't trust the Soldier, trust is a liability. But he functions in predictable ways on a mission. When they walk, she doesn't have to remind him to be quiet. Around people, she doesn't have to teach him how to blend in, to make himself unremarkable. When they swim, he needs breath less often than she does, and they maneuver between mines and nets and underneath the hulls of boats as they enter the heavily monitored waters. Rising from the surf, she checks her gear, and knows without looking that the Soldier is doing the same. Everything is in order, and he gives her a nod to let her know that his equipment is all accounted for. Well-armed, in hostile territory. If he wants to try and kill her, now is the time to try. He doesn't. Natasha is pleased, and a little confused. "The map said it would be a few miles east." She unzips her wetsuit. "If the map was right." They've already had this conversation, but it is good to review facts. They collaborated, scouring the internet and the internal records of the Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean governments, piecing together as much information as they could about the current landscape. Satellite footage revealed a compound that most likely houses the information Natasha is looking for. As well as a few dozen operatives, if the reports are correct. "We're on schedule. Six hours until sunrise. No unforeseen difficulties." She nods. The Soldier's demeanor doesn't alter as they both change into dry clothes. Natasha catalogues his scars, and she is sure that he is doing the same. The shot to her shoulder has healed completely. The muscles in his back are under strain from the arm, and there are old injuries on his legs and arm that were not entered into the report she acquired. Cause undetermined. Some combination of defensive and training injuries most likely explanation. Hers are similar, though not the same. More time was spent making her body attractive, erasing the injuries. She feels them, underneath the surface. And there were others, many, that were impossible to write over. They abandon the instruments they no longer require, sending them away with a riptide, and start moving. There is only one populated area between their location and the target. It is easy to avoid. Parched farmland, yielding little. The soil has been starved. Natasha's night-trained eyes can see that it gives way to rough little houses, unpaved streets. It is a small community, and does not require the excess of surveillance activity they observed in the satellite images. They find coverage in trees and tall grass, walking on animal trails, without making footprints. They work in tandem, leading and following in shifts, erasing their tracks as they move forward. They don't need to discuss the routine. When they arrive at the base, they both perform a full check walking the circuit and reconvening when their reconnaissance is complete. The hangar is stocked, and a small fleet of planes awaits them. There are more guards than indicated in their report, but they had prepared for this possibility. The patrolmen are armed, but half of them are focused on the inside of the building, suggesting that there are prisoners inside. They are working to prevent a potential breakout as much as deter trespassers. Easier to distract and confuse, if the teams are split. "They have check-ins, every thirty minutes," he whispers. Natasha frowns. "Those are long intervals." The Soldier shrugs. "They're not rotating either. Easy to slip past them without setting off any alarms." "All right," she murmurs. "The corridor on the west side is the most vulnerable, but the one on the southeast is closer to what we came here for." He raises an eyebrow at that, and she grins through the darkness. "No bars on the windows. Paperwork's not going to escape." "Ah." He pauses. "You're sure it's hard data, and not a person we're looking for?" After walking the perimeter, she is extremely sure. Her steps fell into familiar patterns, though the trees have grown taller and the season has changed. Natasha nods, and waits for him to catch up. "Ladies' choice, then?" The Soldier swaps his confusion for a cocky grin. She raises her brow. "You'll follow my lead?" He shrugs. "You already know the way." They wait until the searchlights turn away to scan the rest of the perimeter. Then, they run, crouching low to the ground, weapons in hand. Natasha leans up against the exterior wall, waiting for the Soldier to join her. He has the advantage of height. She squats, lifting him on her shoulder so he can check inside. "All clear," he mutters. He grabs the windowsill with his metal arm. One he's got a steady hold, Natasha leaps off the ground, landing with her hands on his shoulders. She flips her body over and forwards, her feet touching soundlessly down in front of the window. She grabs his flesh arm as he offers it, and together they have enough leverage to lift him up to join her. Natasha picks the locks without a struggle, disabling the minimal security system before she opens the window. There isn't much moonlight (waxing cycle, cloudy night, they chose appropriately), but she doesn't need it to see. The grain of the wood beneath her hands is not strange, and she lifts herself inside without a sound. The Soldier follows her; she can track his presence, even in silence. His shadow blends with hers. "What should I look for?" Natasha circles the room, taking in the floor-to-ceiling filing cabinets, the almost-unfamiliar languages, the dust, the smell of old paper, the hint of mold rising up from the loosely-tiled floor. Recently cleaned. The concentration of bleach is familiar. The smell requires further examination. "Pripyat," she replies automatically. Of all the information she recovered from the Moranbong storyteller, that is the most connected to her own history. It is important that he still believes her past is what they came for. The Soldier furrows his brow, but he sifts through the files without further instruction. Good. The possibility that he will discover anything new is a low risk. He did what was right, not what he was ordered to do. As a result, thousands of people died. The rasp of the storyteller's voice punctuates the memory. Natasha doesn't remember boys in training with her, but that makes sense, they would have been segregated. "Anything related to a factory explosion." She crouches, rubbing the back of her wrist against the cool floor. Smooth. She absorbs the scent as much as she can. The Soldier watches her. "All right?" She rises. "Data for later." He nods. "Anything else?" She shakes her head. "I can get the rest." After that, they move. Natasha judges the age of the information by the degree of decay of the paper. Some of it is hardened and crisp, but the more she searches, she finds more documents are written on sheets that feel lighter and thinner than silk. Ears open, they duck and hide when a guard passes, flashing a light through the doorway without precision. Routine check. Natasha scans the files, but there is nothing that explicitly mentions Operation: Orphan by name. Her fingers grow tacky with old grime as she sifts through the documents, absorbing everything. Her lips go through the motions of speech, forming the words without air. When she sees him, she notices that the Soldier has been taught to do the same . There is documentation on Room 39 that Coulson will find useful. And files with переписывать in prominent red letters. She finds something else there. He'd tried to say it, hadn't he? The storyteller, his pronunciation mangled by his pain and unfamiliarity alike. And then, there it is. Cassandra. Alive, apparently. Natasha refuses to feel anything when she makes the discovery. "Time." The Soldier glances up at her. "You have everything?" She nods. "Do you?" The look he gives her is rough. "Yes." "Good." She draws her gun again. "Because getting out is going to be a bitch." Her fingers perform their checks on the weapon without prompting. "Don't forget anything, got it?" He doesn't respond with the same levity. Spoilsport. "Let's go." Their retreat plan is precise. They will fly one of the planes parked outside as far as they can, parachute off it when they're out of sight, and leave it on autopilot, to be shot down by the North Korean military before it can leave the country. From there, they will have to walk, and then sneak out using a military vehicle. They have both memorized the regular delivery routes, and they both know when it will be safe to deviate from them. It is a reasonable plan, and accounts for any mishaps along the way. They have backups. Natasha remembers. Failsafes. The first three patrols go down before the guards realize that they are under attack. Natasha stabs one in the jugular, covering his mouth with his own hand. She leaves the body where it falls. The Soldier has grabbed one by the throat, and the other he shoots in the head. The sound is muffled, but it echoes in the unadorned concrete. When the sound of backup arriving bears down on them, he defers to her. "Left." Her voice is sure, her feet leading the way. "I can hear three more up ahead." "I'll get the ones on our six." The sounds of his efficient disposal chase her. Natasha grabs the gun of the closest man, shoving her shoulders against his collarbone and pointing it at the other two. She slams her head backwards into his nose, and the gun slips from his hand. She delivers more precise shots, then leaps into the air, vaulting herself off the wall as another two stream into the wide corridor. She lands on one man's shoulders, throttling him with her thighs, bending over so he can't slam her head against the ceiling. It strains his back as he struggles, making his aim imprecise. The other man is shot between the eyes as he tries to aim at her. The man underneath her crumbles, and Natasha somersaults off him, dodging a stray bullet she sees coming for her in her periphery. She glances back at the Soldier. With a snarl, he tears the arm of the shooter from its socket, and the spray of blood paints the walls. The man, screaming, crumbles to his knees. The Soldier kicks him in the face, breaking his neck. The screams are cut off instantly. "I shouldn't have let that happen," he glares. She shrugs. "Shit happens." He's still glowering at the corpse. "You coming?" His eyes snap up to meet hers. "Do you hear that?" Rumbling. She does. "Going to have to move faster, then." The Soldier nods. He leaps over the bodies, grasping her arm briefly as they run together. Heavier guns, of course. The building is well-equipped. The fastest route to the hangar is through the middle of the building. The courtyard. Square and barren. She can feel the cold concrete through her boots. There's little coverage from the firefight that meets them there. The Soldier shoves her behind a column seconds before the shots are fired. Bullets ricochet off his metal arm, and one lands in his thigh for his trouble. He doesn't wince. Natasha gestures to the tanks to their left. He nods. He takes aim, providing cover for her as she darts out, reaching the gasoline storage quickly and with minor injuries (three bullets graze her body in non-lethal areas). With her right hand, she picks off the nearest attackers, shooting her targets with minimal visual confirmation. She can hear the Soldier doing the same over her shoulder, shooting through walls when he has to. All of his shorts are deadly. In her left hand, she builds the detonator. She doesn't give the Soldier any warning. There's no time. She merely runs, and he joins her, reloading while she fires at the moving shadows ahead of them. Their assailants fall, and she can hear the panic behind her, but they won't be able to stop the reaction in time. On schedule, the tank explodes. The Soldier gets ahead of her, barreling up a narrow flight of stairs, clearing a path towards the hangar. The secondary explosion singes her skin, and the deafening sound drowns out the howls coming from the walls. Her clothing fuses with her skin as it melts, and she keeps running. First, Natasha sees the antiaircraft cannon, and knows she needs to disable it. There are more troops on the roof. The Soldier is already disposing of them, his hands bloody. There's a new bullet wound in his thigh, deep, but he's elected to ignore it. Natasha grapples with the first guards in her path. She disarms one with a high kick, breaking his wrist when she makes contact. His gun sails over his head, falling off the roof. While he is distracted by her minor application of pain, Natasha crouches, making herself a smaller target for the idiot waving his gun around, trying to shoot her without taking proper aim. She uses the momentum of the soldier charging at her, catching his abdomen, sending him careening over her head as she rises. The soldiers collide, and she shoots them before either one can recover. There are lights flashing all around them. Natasha can see the Soldier, not struggling as he combats the fresh guards following them up the stairs. She plucks a gun from one of the corpses, shooting seven more guards as she heads for the cannon. It's not a complex design. Five men are taking cover behind a barricade nearby, shooting blindly at her. She darts in between their bullets, and realizes that she is going to fall. The ledge is too close, and there is another soldier on her heels. Natasha grabs a rope from her belt and wraps a lasso around the cannon as she runs past. She can use her momentum to drag it off the roof. When she reaches the edge, she will stop, she will spin, and she will let the weight of the attack pull her down, and the leverage will be enough to drag the canon down after them. She will have to be quick, maneuver around the canon to sustain minimal damage when she lands, and she has already reached the edge... She stops. She spins. The attack arrives as anticipated. She aims the man's gun away from her, over her head, unbalancing him, and she drags him, and his weight does the rest as he falls, and she's going to follow him- A cold metal arm wraps around her ankle. The Soldier pulls her backwards, and she lands on her feet, body jerking. The remaining guards are dead. Natasha looks at the Soldier. He shrugs. "What about the canon?" The Soldier glares at it. He grabs the barrel in his metal hand and crushes it. "What about it?" She snorts. "Let's get out, before reinforcements arrive." He nods. They step cautiously, staying out of the light, but the hangar is unguarded. Most likely because all of the guards are occupied: dead, or hiding, dealing with the fire that is quickly consuming the prison, or running from the wreckage. Natasha abandons the weapons she'd borrowed from their attackers, grabbing an extra case of fuel. Above her, the propeller of a plane roars to life. The Soldier is leaning out of the cockpit, and the motor is running. Natasha does a last check of the perimeter and an assessment of their supplies before she accepts his hand. The place is burning. Smoke is filling the sky. The Soldier lifts her into the plane, flying without any direction. It's an older model, but fast, and lighter than the others. Natasha approves of the choice. They pierce through the veil of smoke and soar up to meet the sky. They ascend slowly, cautious of the way dramatic changes in pressure affect their bodies. Natasha consults her internal compass, using the fading stars for guidance, but they are flying in the direction they'd planned. The plane hums underneath her. Natasha locks her eyes ahead and focuses on the scent she impressed against her wrist. Cleanser, the kind that will cut through bodily fluids. Like acid, leaving nothing behind. It reminds her of sturdy sheets against her cheek, and a cold, solid floor supporting her bare toes as they scraped past short, slender bed frames. "Agent?" The Soldier's voice rumbles over the sound of the plane. She refocuses. They still have a few miles left to fly. "Have we been spotted?" "No." He grunts. "They won't." She raises her eyebrow, then remembers he can't see her. "You sure? You don't sound sure. Maybe you want to expand on that." His lips curl, she sees the reflection in the control panel. "We should go back to DC." She hadn't planned on staying in his company for much longer. There's not much point. "I left something there. It's important." He chews on the inside of his cheek. "I left his shield." Natasha reaches underneath her seat for her pack, taking out their parachutes. She passes one to the Soldier, and he adjusts the straps as he wraps them around his chest and shoulders. "Why?" She shouts over the sound of the wind as he opens the cockpit. "I was too injured, when I fell. I wanted to." He grimaces as he enters the last command sequence for the plane. Natasha watches his fingers moving across the screen. The plane will be shot down before it crosses the border. "After I saw you," his voice carries back to her, "the first time. You said he didn't want me dead." He nods, and she jumps. He follows her, dropping through the air above her. For a few moments, the only sound is the air as it passes by her. He opens his parachute first, and as soon as he's safely out of range, Natasha does the same. They float to the ground. The landing is jarring, shakes through her entire body. Behind her, the fabric of the Soldiers' parachute is fluttering. He connects to the ground with a dull thud. "I remembered it. It belongs to him." He discards the straps, loosening himself from the tangled material. "It was made for him, I know that." His lips part before he speaks. "Hydra shouldn't have it." Natasha nods, because she agrees. The shield is a useful weapon, and it would be difficult to replicate. Rogers most likely feels a sentimental attachment to it as well. Vibranium is also rare. It is possible now to replicate it, but the process is difficult. That shield survived the Second World War, a deep freeze in the arctic, and Captain Rogers himself. "And you left it in DC?" "Hidden." He grins. "Glad I gave you the tracking chip when I did." The grin is a wild one, a memory of wicked misbehavior. "The Smithsonian had a replica." Her mouth twists. "Had." He chuckles. "I doubt anyone will look for it there." "Probably not." She releases her smile. "All right. We can both go back there." She considers it. "I know somewhere safe. If you want to rest. Before you make your report." He stiffens. "I don't want to." His body is speaking to her. Shoulders are a stiff, stubborn line. Pupils wide. His eyes look dark and shaded over in the early dawn light. His legs are wide apart, feet digging into the loamy ground. He's angry and he's scared. And he's trying to hide it all behind his strength, metal arm hovering in front of his body like a shield. Her well-trained eye observes a glimmer at the corner of his tear ducts, the tremor in his stomach muscles, the scent of an adrenal response tainting his sweat. "Soldier?" "I will." the language slips away. He becomes a calm, moving machine again. It is necessary. She watches him, wary, as he takes the lead, stepping around her, towards the horizon. He glances back at her over his shoulder. "Sorry." A sense of the old smile returns. "I thought you knew." "I did." She had suspected, because it was prudent to suspect. He has a report to make, and someone to report to. There is no reason to feel disappointed, but his responses indicate that he expects her to be. She starts planning their route to DC. They'll have to wash off the blood. Thank you for reading! Let me know if you'd like to be tagged in future chapters ^_^
Body of Evidence Chapter 20: Anosognosia
A dead end. A literal one. (She makes it literal). Characters (this chapter): Natasha Romanoff, Bucky Barnes Content Warnings: None Rating: Teen She sends the suit back to Tony. He should understand the gesture as one of gratitude, but just in case she instructs Jarvis to verbally express it. He doesn't mind taking the credit for dismantling a Hydra cell, and this way she won't have to expose her source. Five days later, she is climbing up the shaft of an out-of-service elevator in an upscale Hong Kong hotel. The wind makes a shallow, barren sound as it whooshes through the hollow metal corridor. She grabs the unstable pipes and braces, the cold steel rough in her hands. It's not a fast ascent, with sparse anchors to support herself and a pervading dampness from the recent rainfall, she has to take cautious steps upward. Natasha reaches the top within her predicted timeframe, prying open a ventilation screen with minimal noise. The soldier, as expected, is already there. She listened to him making the climb hours ago. He's been silent ever since. His clothing looks fresh, well-fitted, and better suited for the weather (waterproof, light weight, sufficient protection from the wind, dark colors, subtle). He nods in greeting, revealing no response at her timely appearance. "I saw the explosions." Her lips quirk. She inclines her head. He's lightly armed. One knife on his belt, another concealed in his boot, strapped to his ankle. One gun, and extra bullets, holstered over his shoulder. Natasha takes out a wipe and rinses her hands, removing the grit and blood left there by the climb. "I think, by now, the entire world has seen the footage." He shakes his head. "No, I watched. From a few blocks away. Lot of good vantage points in this city." He smiles. "I wanted to see what you would do." He gestures to the edge of the roof, and sits down, leaning his back against the short railing. Natasha takes a seat beside him, legs stretched out in front of her. Their boots brush. Her lips twitch, and she doesn't try to discourage the smile that twists across her face. "You like what you see?" He snorts. "It was a good imitation." She hums. "You've seen Tony in action?" The soldier shrugs, and the sleeve of his coat whispers against her arm. "I was briefed." She has nothing to say to that, and it seems that he is content to let the subject lie. Her own briefing on Tony was sparse. For all that he's led a very public life, there was too much information to sift through, and very little of it useful. After some consideration, Natasha acknowledges that any practical briefing on Tony had to come from her own observations, submitted to S.H.I.E.L.D. So, the soldier's understanding will be colored by her own bias. Requires more data. She dismisses the thought, for now. The soldier is still solemn when he speaks again, his voice thin. "Did you get what you needed?" She clenches the inside of her cheek between her teeth. Still sore. Should have dealt with it while she was in New York. The suit was more important. "There's a trail. The network limits internal communication, and the storytellers themselves are isolated." The corner of her mouth turns up. "The next step is a visit to North Korea." His breath escapes in a huff. "Pain in the ass." She clicks her tongue. "No more than expected." "Let me help?" He licks his lips when she stares at him head on and waits for him to speak. "I can. I'm not- I won't." He closes his mouth, before finally deciding on: "I can help you." His eyebrows draw together, like he's trying to sort something out. Perhaps he's confused because there's no command that overrides his assistance. Or he might be surprised that he's chosen to offer. Maybe it's something he's been trained to do, look guileless and frail. Natasha remembers those skills, they feel so innate, living underneath the surface of her skin. Doesn't seem like a skill the Soldier would need, not with his build, it would take too much work to be believable. Steve would believe it, good decision, keeping them away from each other, but the Soldier will have been briefed on her, will know that she recognizes vulnerability for what it is: a tactic. He would know better than to use it. Probably a true feeling then. Genuine reaction. Doesn't mean he's safe territory though, never does. There's no telling what he's reacting to. Not enough information. His assistance would make the mission faster. She monitors the muscles in his face. "If you're still sure I have to find what I'm looking for before I can take down Operation: Orphan-" "Yes,” he rasps, and his voice is tight, constricted vocal chords. "Has to be. Incompatible." He closes his mouth again with a sharp click. He looks at her, looks away, and then forces himself to look back, eyes slowly rising up from the ground to her face. Not an indicator of attraction, there are none of the markers of arousal. The lines around his chin are tight, eyelashes low, jawline clenched. He doesn't want to prevent her investigation, so he must not know what she's really looking for. Can't know where it is. She's certain now that his orders would restrain him if he knew. "All right." When she speaks, he sighs. "Do you want to help me because it will mean I can help you faster?" He swallows. It's a struggle. She makes the question easier. "Do you want to help me?" His pupils go wide. "Yes," he whispers. Thanks for reading everyone! ^_~
Body of Evidence Chapter 19: Nerves
"The data is analog. It's secure in some respects. But extremely vulnerable to human error." Characters (this chapter): Natasha Romanoff, Jarvis, OC, some Hydra jerks. Content Warnings: Torture (& blood) Rating: Mature *Heads up, the rating is mature for this chapter. I'll post a censored recap if anyone needs it!* The armor responds to her, just like Stark told her it would. "Brand spankin' new", he'd called it. She had ignored that, listening to the details about advanced weaponry and enhanced protective paneling. Filtered out the stray thoughts about previous decommissioned models, the pros and cons of starting over, and his interesting but irrelevant concerns about his own anxiety. "Do you need my help?" She'd ignored that too. Standing on the roof, arm outstretched, Natasha summons the suit, waiting a mile away from the target. Out of sight, with the light pollution and smog, so far up no one will see the flashing lights as the flying parts assemble themselves over her body. Even though the armor has a reflective coating that should cloak it from a cursory glance, Natasha isn't willing to rely on inattentiveness or dumb luck. Tony had stressed the fact that it was a prototype, that the armor isn't as thick or as strong or as durable as he'd planned, that the weight is too heavy in the feet and too light in the shoulders, and she had listened to all of his concerns as she walked and ran and flew through his lab, filing them away should they become pertinent. All she needs to do is tear through a few layers of metal. And deflect a few bullets. And fly. Tony had been confused. It didn't sound like the most subtle approach. He had expected her to laugh at that. If she wanted to be subtle, she wouldn't be borrowing a bright red robot. That's the point. She flexes her fingers, and the machinery hums and whirrs around her muscles. Jarvis is a chipper, clear voice in her ear. "All systems online, Agent Romanoff. I assume you're aware of the video cameras on the street and inside-" "Got it." She scans the city below her, vision enhanced by the screen floating in front of her. Seventeen operatives on the southwest corner, another ten on the east. Two escape vehicles for every operative, nineteen incendiary devices planted in the outer walls, anti-tank reinforcement on the interior ones, as well as acid bombs planted in the floors. There is one grizzled commander overseeing the operation- a retired hit man from the mob. Natasha looked him up, he has an impressive resume, though not one that impressed her. He will be intelligent enough to run before she has to deal with him. She has calculated these odds several times. With the armor deflecting their bullets, she should be able to dive in, tear open the wall, and retrieve the target with minimal personal damage. Her leg throbs. Can't delay. "Agent Romanoff, if you are going to be impersonating Mr. Stark, might I suggest-" "Yolo," she drawls, cutting him off. She dives. As impersonations go, it's on-point. She lets gravity carry her down, activating the flight mechanism at the last second. The effect of her retracted impact is immediate. Cars parked on the street shake and lurch, and a few of the operatives are thrown with the force of her aborted landing, a rush of air blasting through the glass windows of neighboring buildings. She floats, legs spread to accommodate the suit, deactivating the retro-reflective panels. When Natasha is sure they can all see her, she offers them a cocky salute in greeting, and waits for them to open fire. They recover fast, and the bullets clatter against the armor like hornets against a windowpane. Natasha walks, swaying through her hips. One of the younger ones runs, gun firing , but he gets too close. She grabs his throat with her left hand, tossing him forwards, into the pit of operatives using the cover of a lopsided SUV to secure their vantage point. "Agent Romanoff, might I direct your attention to-" "The bazooka on the roof?" "Yes ma'am." She'd accounted for it in her initial plan, tracking the purchase through an unregistered gun show outside the city. It was sloppy, a barely concealed transaction. She can't abide by unsubtle arms dealers. "Might I recommend the missiles in the gauntlet?" Yes, yes you may, Jarvis. She fires one at the wall in front of her, and another at the rooftop, then plucks the semi automatic from her waist and begins to pick off the guards on the north side of the building. She has until the dust settles before she needs to adopt Tony's careless swagger in earnest, to wear his identity as convenient as a glove. She uses the time to shoot, vaulting over vehicles in her path to get to the sidewalk. Natasha flips, circumventing gravity. The concrete rubble crumbles beneath her feet (heavy, yes, but not impossible to maneuver with the added support of the flight capabilities). Her landing secure, she kicks the first operative that tries to attack her, the metal toe of the suit dislocating his jaw as he falls backwards. Another onslaught of gunfire, from above, but the armor is still deflecting it, though she can hear the scratches and dents forming on its surface. Superficial. Not the point. She senses another attacker behind her, and swings her arm, connecting her elbow to his sternum. Returning the gun to her waist, out of sight, she fires with the palm of the suit, taking out three, four, seven. It's efficient, but imprecise. Property damage abounds. She looks around at it, and shrugs. She turns back to the building; the target is still inside. "Ready, Jarvis?" "Of course, Agent Romanoff." She steps through the wreckage she's made of the wall, adjusting her gait to account for the weight of the mechanics, the pressure-sensitive security protocols, and her impersonation of Tony. The guards inside are prepared for her. Bullet-proof vests, full combat gear. Their weapons are sturdier, and they've taken defensive positions behind well-fortified walls. Someone sets off one of the incendiary devices planted over her left shoulder. The explosion vibrates through her, but the suit absorbs the impact, and she doesn't lose her footing. When she speaks, her voice alters, words clipped and heavily dosed with snark. "Wanna run that by me again?" Of course, they retaliate. Natasha flies, careful not to scrape the ceiling, vaulting over the traps in the floor. She fires as she moves, alternating between her left and right palms. The shoulder of the suit groans a little, but the damage, Jarvis assures her, is minimal. Not life-threatening. Bullets trail her back, causing her flight to stutter and jerk. She lands, feet scraping. Natasha shoots, blasting holes in the fortified walls. The gunfire coming from that angle ceases. She rolls her shoulders. "How many more alive, Jarvis?" "Seven, Agent Romanoff. Not counting the survivors on the roof." One of the seven tries to set off the acid bomb on her right; Natasha soars into the air, grabbing the back of his vest. "And how far away are the reinforcements?" She flings the operative into one of the exterior walls, and it cracks with the impact. "Several blocks. You have fifteen minutes, if traffic patterns remain unchanged." She scoffs. "I'll be out it in five." More gunfire, this time from an unmanned machine gun in the ceiling. Natasha runs, then slides, and the gun tracks her across the floor. The suit lines up her target for her, the camera inside the gun. She aims, and fires. Natasha is pleased at how used to the kickback from the gauntlet she's become. "Watch my six, Jarvis." "Of course, Agent Romanoff." She stands, crouching over the weakest point in the wall. She penetrates it with the gloves, digging the mechanical fingers into the core. She can feel the damage the suit is sustaining, the electronic pulses trying to compensate as she crushes the circuitry. Ignoring it, Natasha twists, using her entire body to pull and tug and tear. The suit cracks and snaps around her arms, joints and plates splitting and clattering to the floor as they fracture from the exertion. With a groan, the wall shudders and breaks. Natasha tosses the pieces over her shoulder, ignoring the loud bang as it hits one of the incendiary devices in the wall. "Very nice aim, Agent Romanoff." Natasha chuckles to herself, wondering if Tony is aware he programmed his AI to encourage him every step of the way. The target is inside. Old, yes, but he appears younger than he is. His file had only indicated a country of origin (Korea, prewar) and a security clearance (carte blanche, essentially). The lines around his brown eyes and forehead are thin, and his dark hair is streaked with gray instead of dominated by it. He's got his back to the wall, and a gun in his hands. And he doesn't point it at her, but at himself. "Don't come any closer." His English is accented, but comfortable. Quick, she slaps the gun away, and he shouts. Not enough. She forces the right hand of the suit to retract, grabbing the man's jaw with her left. She digs inside his mouth, finding the false tooth. She yanks, and blood coats her fingers as the man howls. She inspects the rest of his mouth, making sure there was only one cyanide capsule. Reviving him will not be convenient. Satisfied, she lets go of him, and he chokes, coughing up splatters of saliva and blood. "Let's go for a ride." She doesn't give him time to argue. Wrapping her arm around his waist, Natasha shields him with her ironclad body as she rises, cradling his neck before soaring out of the building, firing the repulsor rays as she makes her exit as explosive as possible. She ascends over the damage, monitoring the smoke her target will be inhaling unfiltered. He is screaming, and struggling, though a fall from this height would be lethal. He won't be able to slip out of the armor's grip. There are already helicopters circling, so she reactivates the cloaking mechanism, obscuring as much of her captive as possible. She circles Hong Kong, making sure she's not being followed before she heads south. The safe house is remote and discrete, disguised as an abandoned farmhouse on the outskirts of a destitute village near the water. The farmhouse itself is in an area still heavily laden with land mines. No one goes near it. It's not a long flight, and the exaggerated speed of the suit is ideal. The air over the ocean is chilly, even in the spring. Natasha lands, blasting open the door. She doesn't give her captive time to regain his footing, shoving him inside. He turns on her. There is blood trickling from his lips, and he's snarling. While the helmet is still on, she mirrors his expression, teeth bared and eyes vicious. "Do you have any idea what you've done?! Whose wrath you've incurred, you sniveling, useless coward, you-" She shrugs, deactivating the voice modulator. "Who, me?" The man cuts his tirade short. "Who are you?" She points at the chair behind him. "Why don't you take a seat?" Gulping, he does. She strips out of the armor, tossing the helmet over her shoulder with an aggressive clatter. She grins like a shark at its prey, all teeth and hunger, noting the flicker of recognition when he sees her face. Natasha sheds the gauntlets and gloves, letting them slip through her fingers. The target winces as with every stuttering clang as the machinery hits the floor. Glossy laminate on top of cold concrete. Easier to clean. The target's eyes are tight, pupils straining against the thin, weedy light. He's more angry than afraid. Obviously not prepared for physical stress, if he's eliciting so many uncontrolled emotional responses. She would be suspicious of such transparency, if not for the presence of the nervous, twitching fingers, the heartbeat hammering out a frantic pulse in his neck, the acid sweat thickening on his skin. He's trying to hide his fear, poorly. Natasha tears away her breastplate, and the backplate falls from her shoulders. She steps out of the boots, approaching him with confident steps. "I'm in the mood for a story. Know any good ones?" He wets his cracked lips. "You're the traitor." She smiles, letting it spread with slow precision across her face. "Oh yes." His body jerks as he tries to stand; Natasha reacts, too fast for him. She grabs his wrists, slamming them down on the armrests of the chair, and cracks her forehead against his skull. He yelps, groaning as he settles back down, head lolling, expression lax. Disoriented, but no risk of immediate unconsciousness or death. "I wouldn't do that, if I were you." Natasha activates the recording device stored in a pouch underneath her shirt. The man is gasping, eyes closed. He'll hold, for a little while. She decides to start with his toes. Crippling damage, limit opportunities to escape. Pain receptors connected to other parts of the body will deliver extreme and thorough discomfort. "I have nothing of use to you." He shakes his head. "I don't have the story you're looking for." She crouches, looking up into his face. She grasps his chin, using a delicate touch. He opens his eyes. "I'll be the judge of that." His wealth of knowledge begins after the Korean Civil War. He has rehearsed this part of the story, though the way he speaks, Natasha suspects that he has not been given the opportunity to tell it out loud for some time. Three years of espionage. The details are vivid, and she can imagine it without difficulty. She has to break both his smallest toes before he will tell her whose side he was on. "Why did Hydra have you record the stories of its enemies?" She rubs his ankle, applying a soothing amount of pressure. "If Hydra had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. in South Korea, why did it matter what was happening on the other side?' He grits his teeth, holding back a whimper. "If you don't know, I won't tell you." He does, though. She is peeling back the nail on his big toe and he is howling when he begins. Enemies, yes. Hydra insinuated itself within S.H.I.E.L.D., making enemies of the Russians early on. The battlefield in Korea was a small one, but the victory was important to both sides, using the lives of the people on the ground as pawns in an international pissing contest. When the more colorful language appears, Natasha changes tactics. She asks him if his leaders care. If he thinks they're coming for him. She wipes her knife clean on his trousers, implying that she is finished with it (she's not, she never is), while she speaks softly, forcing a trickle of pity into her throat. Of course Hydra will kill him when they find out what he's told her, but she can keep him safe, yes, safe. It doesn't matter what's true. What matters is what she can make him believe. That's the point. Alexander Pierce begins to feature prominently. He was the one who suggested the alliance, the failsafe for Project Insight. An Agent gone rogue, a traitor, the inspiration for the monopolization of power. Most of the details are not useful. Those chapters of her life are already an open book, she posted them all online, and she can remember all of this, should she choose to. This is not what she needs, but it is pieces of it. "Allies." He winces. "Not yet." She refocuses, staring into his eyes. "Tell me." He claims he doesn't know, but he has too many tells. Natasha plunges a screwdriver into his hip, cracking into the bone. He writhes and squirms, but she twists it, coaxing, prodding, and holding him in place. His throat is hoarse and his voice is cracked when he starts begging. She pretends not to hear him at first, leveraging the edge of the tool grind down against his marrow, nerves screaming with every twitch and swivel. The handle grows sticky and wet. He tells her: "Perip... peripisy-" mangling the pronunciation, she finishes the word for him, encouraging him, "Yes, good, the program was successful, tell me what it's being used for now." Test facilities in Haeju. Doctors employed by Room 39. Such a delicate procedure, on a large scale. Possible, of course it's possible, anything is possible. She makes him go backwards, out of a sense of obligation. "The Hunan Province, the massacre, the 0-8-4, tell me about that." Whispers, rumors. Very little to do with the Moranbong chapter, which is not surprising. Natasha doesn't hear anything new, but perhaps Skye will find something useful. Natasha will give her the transcript, with the bitching and moaning redacted. He is tired. Dehydrated. Bleeding. Natasha leaves him, whimpering, to retrieve a bottle of water. She holds it to his lips, doling out carefully measured sips. Enough to regain lucidity, not enough to ease the soreness. She waits, his throat working as he swallows. There is sweat soaking through his shirt, cold now. He shivers. Exertion and seeping adrenaline are lowering his core temperature. Natasha allows it. "You wanted to know..." he rasps. "About something else," he rasps. "Why." She cocks an eyebrow. "I'm multi-tasking." His voice cracks. "There was a child. In the facility in Pripyat, just before the explosion. New to the program, it was part of their training. Follow orders, or do what their handlers wanted? Only one child failed. He did what was right, not what he was ordered to do. As a result, thousands of people died." His head lops forward, chin hitting his chest. "The consequences there led to the initiation of the program in Haeju. That is where the Moranbong chapter begins." Hs breath is coming in uneven ways when he looks up at her. "That is all I know of that chapter." She grows more specific, now that his defenses have been broken. She asks pointed questions, about Operation Orphan. A training program. Fine. Training for what? Everything. Be more specific. Ballistics? Combat? Espionage? Command? Weapons development? Yes, his voice trembles, slick. All of it, all of it, yes. Some of it is familiar, some of his words reverberate in her body as she remembers being young, warm and dry and isolated and... no, that's wrong. It was cold in Russia. So much snow. And there were so many others there with her, though so few survived. He has a location. He has names, and code names. Not the purpose, because the mission head did not clarify, because even the mission head was not supposed to know. And who is the mission head? No, no, no, please, no more, but she pried open his leg anyway, dragging a blade through his femur, popping off his kneecap. He didn't have the answer. He doesn't know where the Bolshoi is, has never encountered the person tasked with carrying that chapter. A dead end. A literal one. (She makes it literal). Her body feels weak. There are aches all over. Her hands remember learning these skills, but her skin remembers something different. Endurance training, or resistance training. Cold and wet and dark, her body shivering because it had been losing blood and there had been a hose full of ice water and her eyes ached from the spotlight and then the dark. Her hands remember learning how to torture someone, how to send excruciating tremors through the nerves and her voice remembers the words to say to warp the mind and take away time, but her body remembers surviving it. Natasha cleans her equipment, methodical, thorough, hands moving fast, but without the urgency of stress. Her heartbeat is calm. Her breath is smooth. The injuries she sustained during the capture are minor, healed. Even her leg, where Nefertiti gouged out a piece of her flesh, feels whole and fine. Natasha drinks what remains of the water, and eats half of her supply of nutrient bars. She discards her clothes and burns them. She stored a spare set in the safe house before she set it up. It's comfortable to put on clothes that aren't hard with dried blood. Gathering everything she needs, she dons the suit again, cloaked, stepping outside to fly. When she's airborne, she sends a blast down to engulf the house, and the body inside it. It will be mistaken for a mine explosion. No evidence. Thank you so much for reading everyone!
Body of Evidence Chapter 18: Emulation
"Is it stealing if I promise to bring everything back in one piece?" Characters (this chapter): Natasha Romanoff, Bucky Barnes, OC Content Warnings: None Rating: Teen Natasha leans away from the scope. "Soldier." He was quiet when he approached, but the wind changed and gave him away. Unpredictable, at such heights. Any half-decent sniper would know that. And any undercover agent would prepare for that. The Winter Soldier is perhaps one of the finest snipers in the world, and he's been presumed dead for seventy years. She concludes that he wanted to alert her, which means he does not wish to dig a bullet out of his chest after startling her. Excellent choice. "You found it?" She rolls her stiff shoulders. "I found someone." He sits beside her, looking without seeing, at the heavily guarded building ahead of them. The lights of Hong Kong feel brighter than sunlight down on the street; from above, the city is a brilliant mass of technicolor and sound. Barton once mentioned that he enjoyed views like this one, that it made the word feel small and safe when he could look down at it from far away. Natasha is still not sure what he meant. It is 19:36 in Pakistan. He will be finishing dinner. "Do you have more information for me?" The Soldier shifts, reaching into his breast pocket. She tenses, watching his hands. He's not braced to assault her, and his position is not advantageous. From the folds of his coat, he plucks two candy bars, wrapped in bright foil. "Long surveillance means it will be difficult to eat." He hands her one of the bars, unwrapping the other one. He bites into it, halving the chocolate. He chews more thoroughly than he did before, swallowing methodically before he finishes the candy. She opens the one he handed to her, sniffing it. "I didn't poison it." He looks at her, one eyebrow arched. "But I can't fault you for checking." She takes a small bite, letting the smooth chocolate melt across her tongue. It tastes sweet, and makes one of the molars at the back of her mouth sting. She swallows, and takes another bite, avoiding that section of her mouth. His voice rumbles. "You said someone." Watching him in her periphery, she sees the Soldier blink. "I did." He licks his lips, chasing traces of chocolate. "I thought there would be more than one." She adjust her scope as the security team undergoes a shift change. "Why?" He crumbles the candy wrapper, storing it inside his coat. The material is thin. More suited to the streets beneath them. It's colder at the top. "I thought there might be others they were telling their stories to." Natasha feels her lip curl. "The point is not to tell." The Soldier grunts. Minutes pass without movement except for the shifting wind. It smells like rain. Below, the shift change is complete. No contact made with the target. "What about Operation: Orphan?" He is silent. "I looked. There's nothing in the digital files I released. Not by that name." The Soldier swallows. "The Mission Head forbade documentation." A reasonable precaution. But the information needs to be somewhere. Well-guarded, inaccessible, not the kind of data that can be unencrypted or downloaded. Hydra began as the Nazi science division, but it has grown since then. It's brilliant, she can recognize that this is brilliant. A person, a number of persons, assigned specific pools of data. Not connected to anyone, isolated from one another, compiling and memorizing the missions and operations for which no documentation exists. The Soldier's chest rises and falls, she can see the barest hint of movement reflected in the glossy surface of her rifle. She needs to know if he knows. "The data is analog then." There's a flicker of movement down below, but it's only a meal delivery. "It's secure in some respects. But extremely vulnerable to human error." He hums. "It is contained." He sounds sure. Perhaps he has looked. Perhaps he did not find what she found, buried in shipping manifests and translated from a language she doesn't speak. Perhaps he is not aware that the Moranbong chapter is said to contain information regarding Operation: Orphan, and that it contains nothing about Agent Natasha Romanoff, the defector, previously Natalia Romanova, code name черная вдова, call sign second, short for second sister. There is too much about the Soldier that she cannot be sure of. His clothes are new and indicate only that he has been in Hong Kong, the scent of traffic and food and neighborhood smells clinging to the material. He has been near public transit. That is all. He is not clean shaven, but the growth of his facial hair is even, and calculated to obscure his face without drawing attention. She has used similar tactics. His posture is comfortable. Accustomed to waiting. There is nothing she can glean from him. He is spotless. "The last time we met," she leans away from the scope, "you said it had to be this way. That I would find what I was looking for first, and then I would destroy Operation: Orphan." He doesn't move. "Can you tell me why?” He isn't as tense as he was a week ago when he answers, "I can't override the command." She nods. There is a command then, one which forbids him to tell her why she must follow her own history first. It is frustrating. But it is also a good sign. She is confident she could overtake the Soldier if he tried to deter her, or prevent her from pursuing the target because the Soldier's commands dictate the order of events. He has not tried to stop her. It means he doesn't know what the Moranbong chapter contains. If it truly does contain the history of Operation: Orphan. Which it might not. There is only one way to tell. "This is going to take some time." He stares at the scope. "Have you accounted for-" "Of course." He grins, small and shy, but his eyes glitter, picking up traces of the sparkling lights beneath them. "Well done." She returns his smile. "There's a hotel two miles south of here. Very scenic. “Same altitude, six days from now?" He offers her his hand. She takes it. They shake. She finds a new place to sleep every other night. There is a neighborhood to the south where addicts sleep in condemned complexes, and she blends in well enough as long as she obscures her features to conceal her whiteness. The same is true of the Uigher colony on the outskirts of modern civilization. She adapts the affectation and stride of the younger men, makes a digital copy of an anonymous face (an amalgamation of several missing persons), and says a few words in the relatively obscure language and she passes for uninteresting. She sleeps in a binder, because she can't take it off, too public, too much chance of discovery, and she bruises her ribs. Her equipment is disguised as a tent, anonymous and obscured by the reality of homelessness scattered across the city. She returns to it as necessary, swapping out her roughshod disguise for the glossy veneer of a European tourist. She eats dressed like this, at bars that pretend to imitate local cuisine, per their English language advertisements. A woman traveling alone attracts attention, so she signs up for tours of the city, photographing potential escape routes and attractions alike. There are millions of people in Hong Kong. After her survey of the target, she is sure that she is indeed only looking for one. The security detail is well-structured. Personnel rotate frequently, limiting contact with the target. No time to establish a relationship, isolation tactics. The routine is usually reserved for prisoners. The Hydra secret-keepers must occupy a similar position. She has concluded that the safety of the storytellers largely relies on secrecy. The Japanese S.H.I.E.L.D. office couldn't have known the value of their captive. They made no effort to torture him. That is the flaw. It is impossible to resist prolonged torture. The only guaranteed security is to ensure information is never carried in its entirety. You can't give away what you don't know. The Russians understood this. The taught her how to forget anything. To forget so completely, she might as well have never known. She wonders if the woman tailing her was taught the same skill. The gloves give her away. It's too warm for them. The face she's wearing is digital. Natasha recognizes the facial structuring algorithm. Her hair is neat, and the wind as it picks up barely touches it. A wig then, one that's been woven close to her scalp. Once Natasha recognizes the disguise, she can infer that the woman is hiding something underneath her gloves. She's constructed herself to appear Punti, but she needs to conceal her hands. Her skin tone must not match. And there's no way to digitally transform hands. The woman knows how to walk. Natasha sees the training in the way she trails her down the sidewalk. Slow, uninterested, glancing at street signs, paying attention to vendors. She knows the elegant choreography of covert tailing. One of her sisters, then, though she would have been part of a satellite program. There are no dark-skinned sisters in Natasha's memories of Russia. Natasha goes into a hotel, and the other allows herself to be led. Up, she knows there will be empty rooms, further, somewhere that will not pose the risk of civilian casualties, climbing, somewhere they will not be seen. The tail follows her, and her body changes. She drops the cover once they are out of sight completely. She understands what Natasha is trying to tell her. They part from one another, but Natasha knows the other will find her. She waits, patient and calm. The face has been removed when she arrives, and she is tugging at her gloves. Posture, firm and prepared. Her skin is dark, cidery brown, and her body is round and slender. Her eyes are emerald green. Natasha recognizes those eyes, though she has never seen their like before. They are as significant as her own shock of blood-red hair. Something tampered-with in their DNA. Something that marks them. "Sister." The other inclines her head. Her voice is deep and firm. "Likewise," Natasha follows the gesture, as innate as her next breath. It indicates a familiar signal. I have been trained the way you have been trained. Different bases, different rooms, but the training did not resist duplication. We are evenly opposed. The original model was efficient. Natasha knows it is up to her to make the first move. Efficient, and she sees that effective motion reflected back at her, the way it was for so many years. The training was hard. What happens now will hinge on luck. They don't need to speak the words to understand the message. It is an invitation. Natasha doesn't need much momentum to kick off from the floor, running across the side of the wall, giving herself more height as she begins her assault. The other is prepared, and counters with knives. Her throws are excellent. Natasha dodges the first, hearing it lodge in the wall beneath her feet. She catches the second, and the third nicks her ear as she lands. She slashes, and the other sways, feet crossing serpentine. Natasha knows the other will be expecting a brutal attack in response, so she makes a different choice, tossing the knife so she catches the blade. She drives the handle up, underneath the other's jaw, leaving herself open. The blow to the abdomen is not damaging, but her body's response cripples her attack. "Where were you stationed?" The other stretches her jaw as she speaks, assessing the injury. Minor bruising, at most a chipped tooth. Natasha is equally unconcerned. "Kiev, at first. You?" The other uses the knife planted in the wall to vault into the air. Natasha catches her leg, and they spin. Natasha slams the other into the wall as she tumbles to the floor, landing badly on her knee. She's expecting the gun and catches the other's arm before she can aim properly. They grapple, and Natasha groans from the wild kick to her kidney that lands as she empties the magazine. It clatters as it falls. "Algeria," the other's voice is hot against Natasha's ear. "What is your mission?" Natasha thrusts backwards, maneuvering her shoulders to sandwich the other between herself and the wall. There is an arm around her throat, digging the empty gun into her shoulder socket. She will have to dislocate it to slip out of the chokehold. "I was an assassin. Covert. Until I defected." She bites on the wrist in front of her. The grip doesn't loosen, but the pain is a distraction, and Natasha uses it to tug one of her own knives from her belt, slashing at the other's abdomen. "Now I'm searching for Hydra’s secret keepers." Fabric tears behind her, and the other lets go. Natasha spins, deflecting the kick. The other is bleeding, but the scars across her belly are more interesting. Caesarian. At least five years old. An emergency surgery, she must have been in the field. Probably ectopic, judging from the quick slashes made to her gut. Her body doesn't heal like Natasha's does.But like Natasha's, it cannot be rewritten. Blood drips on the floor. Natasha yanks her shoulder back into place. They assess one another. "My body remembers," the other rasps, blood escaping through her fingers. "I am called Nefertiti." "I was Natalia." Other smiles. "I know." She resets her posture, forgetting the pain. It was not a lethal injury. "I have been sent here to kill you." Natasha has never considered herself lucky. “Good luck," she assumes the other is the same. Nefertiti smiles. "You as well." It did not need to be said, it was communicated in the way her body twists and prepares, but the sound of her voice shaping the words was a kindness. Natasha leaps and kicks, lets Nefertiti's fists land on her forearm as she attacks. She gains enough leverage to flip her, but Nefertiti follows, aiming a kick to her face. Dodging, she crashes into the wall, and plaster crumbles all around her. Nefertiti punches, and Natasha ducks, yanking her knee. Nefertiti allows herself to fall, grabbing Natasha's shoulders. They roll, unsheathing knives and burying them in flesh. When they separate, Natasha has a thin knife buried in her thigh, and one of her own is lodged in Nefertiti's shoulder. Their sweat smells sanguine, coating the air with their heat. Nefertiti lifts her index finger. Hold. "I am being told to abort." Natasha plucks the knife from her thigh, and Nefertiti mimics her. They return each others weapons. There is no point in keeping them, there will be no useful evidence attached to them. "Until we meet again, sister." Natasha nods. Nefertiti kicks down one of the doors; she will be picked up. Natasha can hear the helicopter flying above them. Yes, there is the shattering window. And there will be a cleanup crew en route to deal with the blood. Natasha steps through the broken door, watching Nefertiti jump. It would be a waste of time to follow her; Natasha has neither the resources nor the patience. And the target is more important anyway. She tears one of the sheets to make a bandage, and disguises the bloodstains underneath a coat she steals from the closet. Algeria. It might be worth looking there. Thank you so much for reading everyone! Nefertiti is the first major OC in this fic and I'm excited to finally introduce her :D