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Gone to the Dogs

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Natasha isn't at the pickup. Of course she isn't, and everything gets more complicated after that. The other agents are nervous around Maria and Barton, casting them quick glances. It really doesn't come as a surprise when they're escorted to a holding cell as soon as they land on the helicarrier. This is definitely not the way Maria intended for this day to go.

At least they're not splitting them up for now, but then Maria wonders when she started to appreciate Barton's presence. An agent she's never seen before interrogates them separately. He doesn't seem very satisfied with any of the answers Maria gives him, but after dealing with Natasha, she very much doubts anyone can stare her down. She has the bullet wound in her thigh to prove it. He eventually gives up and returns her back to the cell where they're left to stew.

She wonders if they tracked Natasha by now, if they at least have her whereabouts. There could very well be a S.H.I.E.L.D. team on the ground now, trying to hunt down the infamous Black Widow. Maria doesn't know which outcome she should be rooting for.

Fucking Natasha Romanoff.

It's possibly the worst place to get pissed off. It's a terrible place to get pissed off when the only punching bag in reach is Clint Barton. He doesn't deserve that. He could have let her hang out to dry, but he's still there. She doubts punching a wall is going to go over well either, so she threads her fingers in her hair and stares at the door. So much for her promising new career.

Barton must've dozed off or something, but when he wakes up again, Hill seems like she's about to go critical. For a moment, he just sits and watches her seethe, but eventually the silence gets to him.

"Hey. You okay?"

Maria throws him a disgusted look and she gets to her feet, because pacing is going to make this all so much better. "Go back to sleep, Barton."

Barton holds his hands up defensively in front of himself, eyes wide. "Okay, geez, sorry."

Maria growls and turns her back on him, staring at the door. "I swear if I ever see her again, I'll punch her," she grumbles. It doesn't really make her feel better.

"Yeah, I owe her a couple myself," Barton nods, eyeing Hill warily.

"And the only way we're getting a hit in is if she lets us," Maria snorts and leans her back against the wall, staring up at the ceiling.

Barton scoffs in agreement, then lapses back into uncomfortable silence. What more is there to say, really?

Maria can't seem to care to fill that silence, as awkward as it may be. She's gotten used to being locked inside four walls with someone else, but it'd been very different with Natasha and not just because Maria is a detainee as well. At least, she's pretty sure they're not under arrest so far.

She doesn't even realise she's drumming her fingers against the wall behind her, a slow tapping that keeps her on edge, keeps her thoughts on point. Thoughts that have her running in a circle, trying to figure out what she missed. Was there a sign? Should she have known? Had she pushed too far? Had she imagined it all? Had she been played from the very start?

She comes up with nothing, and she hits the wall behind her in frustration before plopping down on the bench beside Barton again.

No sooner does Hill's ass hit the bench then the door bursts open and in storms Nick Fury himself. The door clangs shut behind him, and he fixes the two of them with an imposing glare.

"Okay, which of you wants to be the one to tell me exactly what the hell happened?"

Maria jumps to her feet in an instant. It's reflex, too many years spent in the Army, and it's almost a miracle that she doesn't snap off a salute. She stands to attention nonetheless - that much they won't beat out of her - her hands behind her back and every muscle in her body tensed.

"Starting where, Sir?" she asks, knowing full well Fury knows every word she and Barton have uttered since stepping on the Quinjet.

Both Fury and Barton raise an eyebrow at her.

"Starting with why the hell you're even here, Agent Hill," Fury prompts.

"Romanoff was staying with me, Sir," Maria replies, her gaze fixed on a spot over Fury's shoulder. The question isn't exactly surprising, but it's a little harder to keep her face neutral in front of him. "She proved to be a handful for Barton and preferred spending her leave with me, so I agreed to keep an eye on her. She stayed with me for a week, until she took off this morning."

Fury stares unamusedly at Barton. "And you thought it would be a good idea to just let that happen?"

"I kinda figured she was gonna do what she wanted, Sir. I didn't think she'd run off on Hill, too," Barton stammers, looking uncomfortable.

Fury's eyebrow arches again. "'Too?'"

Barton winces, kicking himself for slipping up. "Yeah, I kind of… lost her? In Central Park. She showed up at Hill's apartment a few hours later. She told me she was going to keep her company and help her out, with her wounded leg and all."

Fury turns back to Hill. "That's how that happened?"

"Yes, Sir," Maria nods, forcing herself not to look at Barton. "She showed up at my place and offered to stay. I figured we'd have a better chance keeping her around if she was where she apparently wanted to be." Or pretended to.

"So you anticipated she'd try to run again?"

"No." She may not snap, but the response isn't kind either. "Natasha gave me no reason to believe she would run. She seemed content with her agreement with S.H.I.E.L.D. She either let me see what I needed to see, or she had another reason to leave so abruptly. If the latter, I can't even guess what that would be."

Fury nods thoughtfully, evaluating Hill's statement. "Barton?"

"No, Sir. It was a surprise for me, too."

After a seemingly interminable silence, Fury heaves a sigh and shakes his head. "Alright. Barton, you had no authority to relinquish supervision without S.H.I.E.L.D. approval. You're confined to quarters until your disciplinary hearing, unless I decide I need you in the field."

"Yes, Sir," Barton grumbles, looking dejected but by no means surprised.

"And Hill… I don't even know where to begin with you."

Maria finally moves her attention away from the wall, meeting Fury's eye. She knows the smart thing would be to apologise, but she wouldn't mean any of it, so she doesn't even try.

"I fucked up, Sir," she says. Not an apology, but an acceptance as she waits for her punishment.

"You can say that again." Fury motions to the observation window, and two agents enter the room. "Barton, you're dismissed."

Barton shoots Hill a pained smile as he gets up and lets the agents escort him out of the room and down the hall. Once the door closes behind them, Fury turns and stares down Hill again, his expression conspicuously softer but by no means relaxed.

"Is there anything else you'd like to tell me, Agent Hill?"

The question catches Maria off guard. The change in her commanding officer is obvious. He's slipped on another persona, one she might have an easier time confessing to. It doesn't exactly make her relax - this version of Nick Fury could be gone as fast as he appeared - but it does tell her that he knows something.

It's an opening, one she'll get slammed in her face if they do figure out what's going on. It's going to hurt either way, but at least this way it really does come from her. In for a penny…

"Romanoff and I got involved while she was staying with me, Sir," she says finally.

Fury blinks at her and almost smirks. "Well, that was easier than I thought it was going to be," he muses. "Thank you for your honesty, Agent Hill. I guess that means you won't deny any of the previous... encounters you two have had?"

The half second of relief Maria felt quickly dissipates and she can actually feel the heat at the back of her neck which she prays isn't spreading across her face. "No, Sir. There were some encounters before we got involved."

The words are detached and she slowly eases her grip, her fingers aching from how tightly she had them bunched behind her back.

"I know," Fury says dryly. "Remind me to deal with that later. You really have no idea where she could have gone? Or why?"

"No, Sir," Maria's response isn't as terse this time, but it takes a fair amount of effort to keep her reply neutral. "Like I said, there was no indication that she didn't intend to return to S.H.I.E.L.D. with Barton and me. I've been going over it for the past few hours; there was nothing."

The slight frown Fury gives her is almost sympathetic. "Alright, Agent, don't beat yourself up. I just need you to answer one more question for me: would you say you are emotionally compromised because of your... involvement with Romanoff?"

Maria tenses up completely at the question. There's a stubbornness to the way she lifts her chin, a denial ready on her lips, but it fades in an instant.

"Yes, Sir," she admits, knowing it's true and the least she can do is keep to her commitments by being honest here as well. No matter how much it smarts that she let herself get dragged into this situation. So much for discretion.

"Huh." Fury's surprise is written on his face for a brief moment. "That's brave of you to admit. Let me rephrase: are you saying you'd rather I throw your ass in jail, pending disciplinary action, than help us get her back?"

Maria frowns and she takes a deep breath. "Can I ask a question before I answer that?"

"Of course."

"Romanoff came to S.H.I.E.L.D. out of her own volition," Maria remarks. "What if she wants out? Will S.H.I.E.L.D. respect that choice?"

Fury gives her a decidedly unimpressed glance. "You really think that's what's going on here?" It's a rhetorical question, but it gives him a moment to think through his answer. "The conditions of Agent Romanoff's recruitment are classified. Suffice to say… she knows how to get out if she wants out. We'll keep our end of the deal if she keeps hers."

"I don't know what's going on," Maria points out, but she nods at Fury's answer. She can only trust that Natasha does know, but if that's the case, her disappearing is only more confusing than it was before. "Then yes, I will help if I can be of use."

"Smart choice." Without preamble, Fury turns and heads for the door. "Follow me."

She doesn't have much of a choice, and Maria falls into step behind Fury. She can't help but wonder why Fury wants her to help when she just admitted to being compromised. She can't help but think that maybe she's the one being used. Fury knew at least some parts of her relationship with Natasha, and the thought leaves a bitter taste in her mouth.

An armed escort flanks them all the way to a large room full of computers, holo displays, and a team of agents who have clearly been waiting impatiently for orders. One agent meets them seconds after they enter the room, standing tensely at attention in much the same way Hill had in the holding cell.

"Agent Simon, this is Agent Hill. She's agreed to help your team recover the Black Widow. Agent Hill, Agent Simon is head of our tactics division. Help him in any way you can," Fury inclines his head and lowers his voice, speaking conspiratorily to Hill, "and I won't take the stupid amount of money I now owe Victoria Hand out of your paycheck."

"Sir?" Maria manages not to wince at the thought, her confusion winning out, but somehow she doubts Fury is going to tell her exactly what bet he lost. "Yes, Sir," she adds quickly.

"Get it done, agents," Fury says as a dismissal before turning on his heel and exiting the room, muttering to himself under his breath. "I was sure she'd have killed her by now. At least shot her a little. Damn!"

Maria watches after him. When she finally looks around the room, she realises what's going on.

There are several displays on, showing different angles of a crowded area. It takes her a moment to piece it together and figure out that she's looking at the live feeds of a train station.

"Penn Station," Agent Simon supplies, following Maria's gaze. "Tracker's located her there, she's been stationary for a while now."

"Any visual confirmation?" Maria asks, her eyes scanning through the images, but the quality is poor.

"None so far, and Fury didn't let us go in," Simon replies. "I guess we'll know where she's heading if she tries to catch a train."

"She won't," Maria gives up on the footage and glances at the people in the room. There's a strike team waiting, some techs pouring over the videos, and then there's Simon and herself. "She's hiding in plain sight, so either she managed to remove the tracker-"

"That's not possible."

Maria glares at the tech who interrupted. "Either she removed the tracker, or she's waiting for us to make our move." It makes no sense; why run and wait? The tracker's going to be there, and taking a hostage isn't going to warm S.H.I.E.L.D. up to take it easy on her either. What the hell are you doing, Romanoff?

"I can send agents in on the ground, but I could have done that an hour ago already," Agent Simon points out. "Fury wanted us to wait. We're not going to catch her if she doesn't want to come with us. My men are good, but this is the Black Widow we're talking about."

Maria nods slowly. "So we need a fly to draw her out."