Natasha waited until the lenses of her glasses had darkened sufficiently to step out of La Guardia with the information she had gone there to get. Her informant was long since gotten on a plane to Aruba.
Natasha wished she were on her way to Aruba, at least then there would be a reason for this oppressive heat.
She drove down the highway with the roof of her convertible down, feeling the wind ripple through her hair.
From Newark, she flew down to Florida. If the heat in New York had been bad, here it was offensively egregious. Natasha glared in the general direction of the sky before putting on the persona of a chef looking for the best Key limes for the grand opening of her restaurant. It was a persona Natasha liked, if not one she used often, so she allowed slightly more of a spring in her step than she usually did. Perhaps the chef had found the limes.
One of the Art Deco house of the Miami beach front was boarded up. There was a man wearing a heavy leather jacket and aviator sunglasses leaning against a streetlamp across the street.
She made her way inside and up three flights of stairs. No one stopped her until she reached a desk. This struck her as odd -- Wilson was testing the new wings Stark had made him with Colonel Rhodes. Perhaps HYDRA was spying on the test flights from closer.
"Hi," she told the woman at the desk. "I'm looking for Agent Sitwell."
The woman sighed in relief, but her hand didn't stray from her gun. "You got my message?"
The woman's uniform identified her as J. Drew; this was not a known alias of any of Natasha's informants. Her hand stayed on her gun.
Natasha followed Drew down a different stairway. Drew entered a passcode (3675029822717) and they went down another flight of stairs.
They were alone. The halls echoed emptily, even though Natasha knew this base to still be in operation, and Drew didn't seem worried about this. The hairs on the back of Natasha's neck stood on end.
A trap, then.
She turned around, struck the nerve in Drew's elbow to get her to drop her knife, then grabbed Drew's arm and twisted it behind her back.
Natasha didn't count on Drew being double-jointed, so Drew managed to slip her hold. Drew's sleeve ripped, exposing an armful of spider-web tatoos and scars.
"Sitwell's a traitor to HYDRA," Drew said.
"He was never HYDRA at all," Natasha replied. He'd been Fury's double-agent – she never would have believed it if the man himself hadn't told her. A good man had almost died because of this; another secret for her to hold against Nick.
Drew deflated. She whispered, "Are you here to get him out?"
Natasha stared. Drew was not a SHIELD agent and everything about her positively screamed HYDRA, from her cheekbones to her sensibly tied hair, but she was sincere enough when she asked, "Only – can you get me out, too?"
So. Drew had emptied the halls and attacked Natasha not because she thought Natasha wasn't HYDRA, but because she had thought Natasha was and she herself wasn't.
Natasha had been wearing the uniform.
"Sitwell first," Natasha said.
Sitwell was behind the next passcode (3675029822717 again, sloppy). He asked if Fury had sent Natasha, she told him she'd sent herself. She handed him a gun.
She didn't try to apologise for the incident on the roof. He would not have accepted and she had nothing to apologise for.
They made their way back up the stairwells.
Behind Natasha there was the faint, unmistakeable sound of a gun safety being clicked off. Natasha turned around. There was the glint of sunlight on a metal arm.
"Are you going to shoot me again?" she asked. Behind her she gestured at Sitwell and Drew to get out of building.
"Again?" The voice was rusty from disuse and the accent was all wrong.
"Odessa," she said and traced the scar through her shirt.
For a while, he just stared at her. Eventually, he nodded, but the gun didn't waver.
Natasha waited. She was good at waiting; her ability honed by long years of training with the Red Room. The longer she waited, the more time to get away Sitwell and Drew had.
"I'm not going back," he said. He had switched languages, she wondered if he noticed.
"That's not why I'm here," she said.
The gun gave a small jerk. 'Go on.'
"I didn't know you'd be here." Not until she'd seen him across the street, but she'd thought he'd wait until there were more HYDRA agents inside. Although, given Drew's plan, perhaps she was the only one to have entered the building in days and he had thought this his best chance. "I came to Miami for another thing entirely."
"I am not a thing." The accent was different again, rolling like Southern France.
Natasha resisted the urge to roll her eyes. That he could say this much and believe it was a good thing, even if he'd taken her remark in bad faith. As she had expected he would, if he thought of himself as human.
"You're a person," she said.
He didn't acknowledge the statement either way. Fair enough.
"I'm SHIELD, not HYDRA," she told him. Not that this meant much nowadays, but he had remembered Odessa, he must remember fighting for HYDRA against her.
"SHIELD is HYDRA," he said. His finger left the trigger guard to come rest on the trigger.
This time, she did roll her eyes. It was the easiest way to both ridicule his statement and show she was unafraid of him. She couldn't afford to let him know how much she hated having a loaded gun pointed at her face.
She rushed forward, the bullet flashing past her ear. Her shoulder collided with his stomach. He was built like a brick wall, but she'd built up enough momentum to topple him to the floor.
She grabbed his gun, he came close to breaking one of her ribs.
She landed on his back, momentarily pushing his face into the floor. He kicked out and almost threw her off. He easily weighed time and a half what she did, and that was without counting the arm.
She nestled the gun against the back of his head; from the heft of it, she could tell the magazine was half-full. He went unnaturally slack at the contact, like a puppet without strings.
"I'm not here for SHIELD." She might have been SHIELD and Sitwell might have been SHIELD, but this was not about SHIELD. It was about her debts. "Believe it or not, you're not the only one hunting HYDRA."
She left her finger off the trigger guard.
"I can take care of HYDRA." His vowels and consonants seemed to belong to two different accents.
"I know this," Natasha said. It was a relief to hear the unsurprised, indignant huff he made in reply. "I simply wish you'd take care of HYDRA outside of the continental US." Steve would stick to this continent for now. She knew this because she would make sure of it.
His shoulders shifted under her weight. "Bit hard, right now."
Natasha got up without letting go of the gun. She took several steps back, out of his reach, then another two. Guns were range weapon and she intended to use it as one. He stood up.
She kept the gun on him with one hand. With the other, she reached into her pocket. She held up the flash drive.
"Locations of every HYDRA base not in the leaked files," she said. All the ones she knew of and more than a few from the Red Room too. Her own personal file of targets to strike.
He reached out his hand, the flesh one. He was wearing leather clothes. Was it the long years spent in ice that meant he did not feel the heat?
"They must stand trial," she said. She had not. He had not. Sitwell and Drew would not, but perhaps someone would.
He nodded. She tossed him the flash drive; he caught it. She felt an odd kinship with him. Away in Europe, he would have time to find himself before Steve did. She'd found herself hunting the Red Room and found something better before she was done. The same might happen to him, or it might not, but HYDRA would be hunted all the same.
He pocketed the flash drive and jumped out the window.
There was the sound of dented steel as he landed on the hood of her car. From the height and his weight, she would be lucky if the engine still worked. She was billing Steve for the damage.
She waited one minute, then two. She walked out of the building onto the beach and there were Sitwell and Drew, eating churros. Sitwell held one out to her. She took it. It tasted far too much of cinnamon for her taste, but that was always true of churros in the US.
As she ate, she wondered if Pepper was home.