Characters (this chapter): Natasha Romanoff, Jemma Simmons
Agent Simmons is pleased. Successful gesture. Simmons has also completed her work on the anesthetic. Natasha appreciates the efficiency.
"You were right, judging from the blood work, a normal dosage wouldn't completely incapacitate him. Would slow him down, for sure, but he would probably metabolize typical drugs more quickly as well. This-" she hands Natasha a bottle, "is very similar to gamma hydroxy butyrate, though the adverse-"
Natasha hands her a slice of pizza.
"Eat. Then you can tell me all about it."
Simmons takes the food, but she stops herself mid-bite.
"But don't you need to-"
"Change of plans. It doesn't seem like Hydra's planning on taking him in, so his capture is less urgent. I'm going to leave the Soldier to his own devices for a little while. See what he does."
Simmons takes a bite, nodding.
"He may inadvertently lead you to- oh my goodness this is delicious. You have no idea, earlier I was thinking, I'd just kill for something covered in melted cheese."
"Wouldn't want that. Not when you're going undercover in a few days."
She looks pale. Natasha considers her options.
They arrange the food on the center of the workbench, sitting on opposite ends. Natasha sips from a bottle of water, handing Simmons an unopened one. She takes it, fiddling with the cap, but she doesn't drink. Natasha waits her out, working on her own slice of pizza. She's halfway through when Simmons starts to speak, practically stuttering in comparison to her usual breakneck pace.
"I know," her fingers tighten around the bottle. "Agent Coulson asked me to do this because it's important. And because- well." She takes a slow, even breath. "Because we both agreed I would be more useful in the field right now."
"I trust his judgement. But you're still nervous."
She offers a weak smile.
"I'm a terrible liar."
"So don't lie."
The agent's eyes are wide.
"Terrible liars make great undercover agents. People trust them."
When nothing else seems to be forthcoming, Natasha keeps talking.
"If you're going undercover, every lie you tell is going to have to be another lie to remember. They won't hold up under pressure."
Simmons gnaws on her lip.
"I spent years training with the most ruthless spies in the world. And the first lesson they taught me about lying is how to use the truth."
Simmons' throat works.
"Drink. You're thirsty."
She breaks the seal on the cap with more force than is necessary. Natasha waits while she takes a rough gulp.
"All right. Tell me."
Her determination is valuable.
"You can't think of the people you're working with as the enemy. Because when you're with them, they're not. They are your coworkers, your friends, your neighbors. The only lie you're telling is about who you really are."
Simmons reaches for her discarded pizza, chewing thoughtfully.
"And who I really am is loyal to Coulson."
"I would omit that detail, if it were me."
"Especially seeing as reports of his death were greatly exaggerated."
Natasha takes another sip of water.
"It's one detail to keep to yourself. Forget it. Most of the time, it's not important. All you need to do is remember at the last moment where you belong."
Simmons finishes her slice, and reaches for another one.
"I'll likely be asked to do something," her brow furrows, "I'd be opposed to. To prove my commitment."
"And how should I-"
"You followed S.H.I.E.L.D.'s orders just fine. Even without the big picture. Did Coulson never ask you to do something unorthodox?"
"He always had a reason-"
"And he didn't always share." She shakes her head. "People don't follow Hydra because they're villains. They do it because they believe that there's a reason behind what they're doing. It might be above their clearance level, but they trust their superiors to lead them. Because they know best."
"But they don't! They're..." Simmons shakes her head.
"They're the same people that were leading you before."
Simmons opens the water again, finishing the bottle. When it's finished, she gasps.
"God, I wish that had been something stronger."
"Save it for the Hydra office party."
Preparing Agent Simmons is easy enough, after that. The file Natasha recovered contains promising research, the kind of thing Hydra would regret losing. Natasha instructs her to hand it in, as a show of good faith. Obviously, they'll know Natasha is the one that stole it, but it is reasonable to believe Jemma Simmons might have been the one instructed to study it, or at least to deliver it. It is a solid plan. Simmons packs up their leftovers and clears away the garbage, and Natasha boots up one of the spare laptops she'd stored in a hidden compartment in the warehouse floor. She checks to make sure it hasn't been tampered with, but it's still in factory condition.
First, she checks on the status of the files she'd sent to The Rising Tide. Most of the documents have been decrypted and translated. She skims. The documents all appear to be storage manifests for different locations across the Asian continent. There's one mention of Operation: Orphan. Beside it, a word that didn't translate properly. Natasha copies it and pastes it into a search engine. Rakugoka. A Japanese stage performer. A storyteller.
Simmons, digging through her overnight bag, perks up.
"Something I can help with?"
"Doubtful." She shakes her head. "Hydra's not being very opaque about where they store their dirty little secrets. Surprise, surprise."
"I could ask..." she shakes her head. "Well, one of the agents I was working with-"
"Skye." Natasha quirks her brow. "Who do you think tipped Coulson off about her?"
Simmons lets out a startled laugh.
"No. Wait. Are you-"
"The Boxer?" She looks up, smiling. "Don't tell Coulson." He wouldn't be upset, but shared secrets make people feel more familiar. "I don't want him to cut off my supply of Russian candy bars."
They chat like that for another twenty-six minutes before Simmons decides to get ready for bed. Natasha is prepared to stay awake for the rest of the night, searching through the documents she recovered on her flash drive. She pulls out another computer, one with a bigger hard drive, and begins transferring files while she goes outside to check for unfamiliar surveillance equipment and intruders. They're secure. There's no sign of the Soldier, either, but that doesn't put her at ease. Confident that she could win in a lethal fight against him, if it came to it, Natasha is aware that he could remain undetected for a long time if he chose.
Returning, she sets a few traps by the most likely access points, then sits down to read.
By the time Simmons wakes up, Natasha has the name of a 'rakugoka' that was being detained by the Japanese branch of S.H.I.E.L.D. before Hydra's takeover. The Moranbong chapter. Frequently referred to as one individual. Natasha is still suspicious, but for the moment, it appears the information she got from Rumlow wasn't completely fabricated. There are people responsible for keeping data about Hydra's history stored on them, either in physical form or in their memory. While Simmons prepares breakfast, Natasha finds the location of a remote handler responsible for the security detail placed on the Moranbong chapter. They're in America. That's convenient. She chooses the best candidate for infiltration from the personnel files of the people she'd killed in the evening, running a program to replicate the woman's face and vocal patterns.
Agent Simmons appears calmer. It's a good sign.
"Ready to start spying?"
She grins. A very good sign.
"Good." Natasha takes a bite of cold pizza. "You're going to give me a ride."
Sorry for the delay everyone! I was hoping to post this sooner but life got in the way.