Vivian’s heart thudded in her chest as she got out of the car and stared around her. The world was loud, so much louder than she remembered it being. Everything was actually just too much. The lights were too bright, the sounds were too loud, and the smells were too intense. A shudder went down her spine as she realized the last time she’d been allowed to interact with the real world was back in 1991. In the past decade, the most amount of contact she’d had with the outdoors was going from the car to the Red Room Academy, and even that felt like some distant memory or maybe even something she’d dreamt up. And Even then, the experiences were still incredibly different as the Red Room Academy was in the middle of nowhere and was nearly silent.
Glancing over as she heard Natalia, Vivian smiled and apologized, “Sorry. Got lost in my thoughts. Let’s go in.”
Natalia looked skeptical, but the two left their designated parking spot and headed up the stairs to their apartment. Unlocking the door, Vivian headed in and stared at the place in wonder. The place felt huge, modern, and gorgeous. Although she honestly wasn’t sure if it was actually any of those things or if she just didn’t have a real comparison in her mind for somewhere people could or would live.
The apartment opened up into a living room and the kitchen. The entire place was already furnished with both things that were typical and things to help sell themselves as Nicole Edwards and Veronica Adams, two women working in D.C. for politicians. Books on politics and current well known books were on a bookshelf in the living room. Their fake diplomas were also on the wall near their television.
Slipping off her shoes next to the door, Vivian then headed down to see that there was a main bathroom and two bedrooms. Each bedroom looked like they’d been decorated for a spread in a magazine. Turning away from them, she then went back down the hall and into the kitchen, opening the fridge to see that the fridge had been fully stocked as well.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay, Nicole,” Vivian replied. When Natalia looked confused, Vivian shrugged, “Just trying to get used to calling you that. Luckily we have a few days before we have to start showing up at work. Gives us time to brush up on what’s going on politically.”
Natalia nodded, not looking like she quite believed it, but wasn’t saying anything. Vivian then picked at her nails for a moment, letting the silence just kind of hang there between them before she asked, “Do you care which room is yours?”
Vivian nodded when Natalia just shrugged. Heading back into the rooms, she glanced at both of them, but then frowned when she noticed there was an envelope on each bed, clearly labeled with their names. Heading into the room with her package, she opened up the envelope and nodded when she saw the finalized versions of some of the paperwork with her alias on them. The ID even had a picture of her with her newly dyed hair. For a moment she’d wondered why they’d bothered making it so that they had to come to this apartment in order to get things like their ID, but then she realized that it meant they couldn’t just take off with their brand new identities.
Not that they’d get far, especially since the organization knew what name was on them, but it was just yet another way to keep them in line .
Vivian read over the documents in the package multiple times, familiarizing herself with the details and memorizing the aspects that were supposed to be just parts of her . Shaking her head and reluctantly sliding off the bed, Vivian headed to the desk in the room and pressed the correct sequence of carvings on the desk to open up a secret compartment. The entire time she felt ridiculous. Why did Hydra even bother with shit like that? What was wrong with a well-crafted safe? Having secret compartments in the desk made someone seem far guiltier than if they’d just had a safe to keep their valuables safe like a normal human being.
Putting the more sensitive documents into the hiding spot, Vivian then closed up the compartment and put the information she’d need more often into her wallet. She then left that on the desk before heading over and knocking on the doorframe of Natalia’s room. Natalia glanced up from her documents and sighed, “Why are you knocking?”
“Because it’s polite, and this is your room,” Vivian pointed out.
“So? You’re the agent in charge of this mission,” Natalia muttered.
“We’re a team , Natalia, and this is your space. You’re the one in charge of this room. I’m not allowed in here unless you give me permission. Got it?” Vivian asked.
Natalia eyes widened ever so slightly, her lips parting before she closed them again, staring back down at her documents. After a few moments of silence, Natalia said, “Thank you. You can come in.”
“Thank you,” Vivian said, moving into the room. “May I sit on your bed?”
“Yes,” Natalia said.
Sitting down, Vivian stared toward the window in the room before asking, “You have any questions?”
“So I’m going to be an intern and you’re going to be a…secretary?”
Vivian grinned and nodded, “Sort of. Apparently the job description for this senator means I’ll also be taking notes during important meetings and such. A whole range of things. You’ll be doing bits and pieces of a lot of the work for no money. Phone calls. Mail. That sort of thing.”
Natalia scrunched up her nose, “I think I prefer our other job.”
Frowning, Vivian reached over and gently tucked a strand of red hair behind Natalia’s ear and sighed, “Don’t be so eager to court death, little one.”
“Why not? It’s what I’ve been trained my whole life for.”
“You’d be surprised how often people end up taking all that training and using it for something completely unrelated,” Vivian admitted.
“Have you ever been anything other than an assassin?” Natalia whispered.
“I tried to be,” Vivian confessed. “Fell in love. Thought about getting married. Thought about having kids. Thought about saving lives instead of taking them. Was about your age, actually.”
Vivian stared out the window and thought about just spilling everything. Thought about telling Natalia the truth about the Red Room Academy and telling her about Hydra. She thought about telling her about finding a home not really in Brooklyn, but in two Brooklyn punks. She thought about talking about falling in love with them and taking a bold chance by asking the three of them to be together. She thought about talking about her time as a nurse and how it’d felt good to do all of that.
She thought about talking about how her time with them had felt like a respite in Heaven, especially now looking back at it. She thought about telling her about how losing Steve had nearly killed her, and how every day she had to leave Bucky with Hydra, it chipped at her already damaged soul. She wanted to say she had a plan to get Bucky out and how now she was getting a plan to get Natalia out as well, but she didn’t say any of that.
“Life happened,” Vivian settled on. “This line of work makes it…difficult to maintain relationships.”
“Was it worth it?” Natalia asked quietly.
Vivian laughed, “Oh, that relationship was worth everything . Would do it again in a heartbeat.”
“Really?” Natalia asked incredulously. “Didn’t it hurt when it ended?”
“Oh, it was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my entire life,” Vivian admitted.
“That doesn’t make sense, Veronica .”
Grinning at the way Natalia stressed her name, looking and sounding more exasperated than she had in years, Vivian just shrugged. This seemed to make the younger woman angrier so Vivian took pity on her and tried her best to explain.
“I know it doesn’t make sense to you right now, but that time of my life was so good and so wonderful and so just…better than a sinner like me ever deserved, really. I never deserved that kind of love or devotion or consideration or kindness or gentleness, but I got it. I got it, and I savored it. I savored it, and I stepped up to try to become worthy of it. For a moment I think I did deserve it, and yes, it did get ripped away from me. It did nearly kill me, but God, that goodness outweighs the pain.”
Natalia furrowed her brow, but didn’t say anything, and Vivian shrugged, “Not everyone cares or wants romance like that, and it’s fine. You’re never going to be forced to want or need something like that. No one can force you to give or accept sex or affection.”
“The file says I need to date around,” Natalia whispered.
“So date around,” Vivian grinned. “Dating has a broad definition, little one. Really all that file wants from you is for you to blend in with people your age. Go to the movies. Go to the mall. Go to the park. Go to the amusement park. Go to a couple concerts. Find out what some of the other interns are doing and spend time with them. The friendlier you are with them and the more they trust you, the more likely they are to open up and vent to you about things that are going on in their jobs.”
“They’ll just…tell me things?” Natalia asked incredulously.
“Yup. It’s called friendship, and it turns out that no matter how much people are told to not reveal secret things, there are people who will do it if they need to complain about their boss or their job that badly.”
“But why ?” Natalia asked, sounding exhausted.
“Because literally none of them are expecting an actual spy in their midst. They watch movies where spies are a thing, but they don’t actually expect them in their lives. And we also don’t really fit their idea of what a spy looks like.”
“What do they expect?”
“Tall white man in a tux ready to fuck a revolving door of leggy young women who respond to really bad pick up lines,” Vivian mused.
“What do they think of us?”
Vivian sighed and admitted, “I think I’d need alcohol before I go into all those bad thoughts men tend to have. I think I’ll just limit it to the fact that most men are complete idiots and you shouldn’t take what they say seriously.”
“Isn’t politics filled with men?”
“Unfortunately,” Vivian sighed. “We’ll have to play docile and agreeable during this one. It won’t be fun, but we’ll find ways to have fun. I do really strongly recommend befriending some of the fellow interns. Date around a bit. I personally don’t care what the gender of your chosen partner is, but the law still does. It’s illegal on the books of many states still. Apparently the supreme court is going to hear about a sodomy arrest. Decide if it was lawful or not. So, if you want to have a really secret relationship, then it’s fine. Just, be careful about it.”
She then paused and continued, “And don’t blackmail anyone over their sexuality.”
Vivian stood up and stretched, sighing before she explained, “Sexuality is complicated. As long as the people involved are consenting adults and there’s no one getting hurt, don’t be the one to cause them pain.”
“I know we are, but the fact that we utilize the power to end someone’s existence doesn’t mean we should flippantly end someone’s life. And trust me when I say someone’s existence and their life are two different things.”
Natalia looked pensive, and Vivian folded her arms across her chest as she continued, “Using someone’s sexuality or their age or their race or their ethnicity or their gender as a means of punishing them is to hurt someone merely for existing. None of those things are things they chose. Just keep that in mind when you’re navigating this world.”
Natalia nodded, staying quiet, and Vivian smiled and then nudged her, “All right. Now let’s get to work. We’ve got to practice all-nighters and I think we should do the extremely modern thing of ordering food to be delivered while we obsessively memorize boring political tidbits and dull intrigue.”
Vivian grinned only for Natalia to just narrow her eyes and then follow her out to the living room. Digging through the drawers while her protégé stood idly by, Vivian then pulled out a menu and announced, “Oh, whoever set up this apartment for us put a big smiley face sticker on this pizza menu. There’s also smiley faces on the menus for Thai, Chinese, Barbeque, Italian, and Indian. Got all sorts of options here. And we each have fancy debit cards that can help us live that capitalist dream of eating unhealthy food that we didn’t have to leave our house for.”
Natalia still remained blank faced, but then her lips twitched as Vivian teased, “C’mon, what’s Nicole want for dinner? And possibly for reheated leftovers in the morning when we’re too lazy to cook when we first get up.”
“I am not lazy.”
The two stared at each other for a few moments until Natalia finally smiled and Vivian grinned, “Fine, all right. Neither of us is lazy, so in the morning we’ll get up and make an actually healthy breakfast with the food we have in the fridge. Happy?”
Natalia merely walked over and snatched the menu for the Italian place nearby and muttered, “I’m not sharing my food.”
Vivian put the rest of the menus up and held up both her hands while laughing, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”