“Because it kind of seems like, with S.H.I.E.L.D. down for the count, you might have to, I dunno, readjust? Find another employer?”
Characters (this chapter): Natasha Romanoff, Monica Chang
Content Warnings: Canon-typical violence.
Rating: Teen & Up.
Natasha counts the number of operatives surveilling Monica Chang.
There are seventeen. Four of them are Hydra. Two are United States military. There is a team of six reporting to Chinese intelligence, but they are minimally armed, and it’s clear they’re about to pack up. Four more are private security. And there is one agent with leftover allegiance to S.H.I.E.L.D. following her around like a lost puppy. Nick Fury’s ex-wife does not seem to care about any of them. And the back seat of her car is clean and comfortable. Easy to hide in, too. Natasha conceals herself until Chang sits down behind the wheel.
Chang flinches when Natasha presses the barrel of a gun to her temple.
Chang grinds her teeth. It is a painful habit.
“How long have you been hiding in my car?”
“Two hours and thirty-six minutes.”
“Everyone out there is getting fired.”
Natasha smiles in the rearview mirror.
“Like you need them.”
“My son is staying with me.”
Natasha isn’t sure what to say to that, children are a notoriously thorny subject, so she waits.
“Did you disable all the recording equipment?”
Standard protocol. Natasha nods, handing her the mangled remains of the recording devices that had been planted in the car when she arrived. Monica tosses it all into the passenger seat without examining it.
“I don’t know where he went. Nick and I aren’t speaking.”
Natasha quirks her brow, a gesture she’s picked up from Rogers.
“Nick Fury is dead. He’s not talking to anyone.”
“Knock it off. I know he’s fine.”
Natasha waits. People are generally uncomfortable with silence.
“Can I help you, Romanoff?”
Natasha hands her the receiver for the device she’d planted in Rogers’ phone earlier.
“Someone needs to be on watch duty for Captain America.”
Chang looks at the receiver.
“And you think that’s my job now?”
“It would be temporary. Just until he’s fully recovered.”
Chang takes a deep breath, releasing it with a hiss.
“Should I bother asking what you’ll be up to?”
She groans, fingers tight around the steering wheel.
“And you’ll call it even?”
Natasha nods; Chang watches it through the rearview mirror.
“Fine. I’ll start tailing him when he gets discharged.” Her lips curl. “Think you could recommend a decent babysitter? My last one defected to the fucking Nazi science division.”
Natasha smiles in a way she has been told is charming.
“You could always bring him with you. Get him started in the family business.”
Monica leans back in her seat.
“Are you joking, or do you genuinely have no idea how old my son is?”
Natasha calculates; Monica Chang gave birth five years, six months, and thirteen days ago. She doesn't understand her misstep.
“Never mind just- do you want me to drop you off? Or drive past somewhere and let you roll out?”
“Gas station in Columbia, off the Broken Land Parkway. I’ll direct you.”
Chang starts the engine, leaning over the back seats without looking at Natasha as she backs out.
“Will we be taking the scenic route?”
“You’re craving coffee and and egg-white sandwich.”
Chang’s expression tightens.
“Of course I am.”
Natasha waits until they’ve cleared the parking lot, then swipes Chang’s laptop.
The drive-thru line is long, which gives Natasha time to search through the files she’s just released. Erasing her trail would just send up red flags where she doesn’t need them; fortunately, the American public loves a scandal, and millions of people are sifting through the information. Trying to hone in on Natasha’s search, made on a computer she’s never used via a public network (which is running slow because there are four other people using the same network and accessing the same file sources concurrently) would be more difficult than any euphemism can illustrate.
There is nothing associated with the name Operation: Orphan. No projects, past or present, and many of the files are extremely old. Hydra must have been digitizing their catalogue. How efficient of them. Perhaps they hadn't reached the entirety of the Winter Soldier program. Those files would be about seventy years old. And dense.
She continues to search while Monica orders, downloading any relevant-looking documents. References to an article published a few hours ago keeps popping up; an orphanage in Afghanistan that was burned to the ground in the late nineties, but she closes the tab. By the time they pull out onto the highway, she has discarded almost all of them as insignificant. Those she deems worth saving are encrypted. She thinks she might be able to break the code, but the original documents are in a language she doesn't know (Japanese, she makes an educated assumption based on the encryption type) so there's not much she can do in the field. She transfers the documents to her phone and sends them to a contact in The Rising Tide, using the alias Skye created for her (a concerned citizen with access to sensitive materials but clueless about their significance). The resurgence after the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. might yield some results.
“Doing anything that’s going to put me on a watch list somewhere?”
Natasha begins deleting files.
“If you’re not already on them I will be very impressed.”
"Just tell me where I'm going."
Natasha recites the directions she'd memorized while she drove. Her body is tired, but she ignores it. There will be time for that later. They pull into the gas station, and Chang glances at her through the rearview mirror.
"Fill your tank. I'll pay."
Chang gets out, shrugging.
"Fine by me."
Natasha goes inside the gas station, grabbing a bag of beef jerky and a bottle of orange juice. She stalls for a few moments, pretending to browse the magazine selections. There are articles on the front page of every daily periodical regarding the senate hearing, but her face is absent from the front pages. Chang waves at her from the car when the tank is full. She pays in cash, staring down at the counter. She can see the reflection of the cashier, he's leering, but it's because he doesn't know how to react to anyone female, and not because he recognizes her (assessment: did not bother to read the news today, annoying, but not life-threatening). She will have to monitor her public image. This is not something she has considered before.
Annoyed is not a strong enough word for how she feels about that.
She crumbles the receipt and tosses it in the garbage outside. She walks around to the driver's side window, waiting until Chang rolls it down.
"Rogers is staying at-"
"I've got it." Chang snorts. "I'm retired. Not dead."
"Sam Wilson has been checking on him. He's got combat experience, and he's definitely not Hydra."
Chang accepts the information, though Natasha is sure she's going to look into Sam's history with a thorough eye. It's the kind of thing you have to do for yourself. It will be a waste of time, but Natasha chose Chang because she doesn't follow blindly. The time spent is an acceptable loss.
Sam would probably be bothered by the invasion of privacy, if he found out, but Natasha intends to use a selective amount of honesty with him.
"I'll be ready with an update when I get back to DC. You know which number to call." She scans Natasha. "Unless you're going somewhere that doesn't 'do' phones."
Natasha shrugs, giving nothing away.
"You'll watch him."
"I keep my word. You'll stay alive."
Natasha contorts her face into a cocky grin.
"I'll do my best."
Chang sighs, rolls up the window, and drives off.
Thank you so much for reading! That Agent of Shield I promised a few weeks ago will be making her appearance really soon!