The Black Widow
With both Steve and Kat possibly being under surveillance, it was agreed that they would use the diner’s phone to call the Black Widow. They didn’t know if Nat’s phone was being tapped but it was a risk they had to take.
Of course she didn’t answer but Kat knew that she checked messages often, so she plowed ahead with the script she and Steve had devised. “Hey Nat! It’s Kat. Steve and I decided that we wanted a night out on the town and were wondering if you wanted to join us for a few drinks or maybe something to eat. ” Kat gave the name of the diner and the address and hung up. She and Steve then sat down to wait.
“Did you know Nat before the Battle of New York?” Steve asked Kat.
Kat looked surprised but answered, “Sure. I knew both Nat and Clint before all that happened. You forget that I am a SHIELD baby; I know practically everyone!” Kat smiled briefly as she thought about all the SHIELD legends she’d met and befriended through the years. Her smile faded as she started wondering how many of them were Hydra.
“What about Banner and Stark? Did you know them?”
“No, not back then. Bruce was always so elusive, convinced that SHIELD would shut him away if he was caught.” Kat sighed. “I understand and don’t really blame him for staying away but he would be absolutely fascinating to work with! I mean, we all talk about being rage monsters at times and he really is one!” She smiled. “And of course you recall that Tony didn’t really care much for SHIELD either. He’s too much his own man and way too suspicious of a group like us. But I would have loved to work with him too. Just imagine: Bruce is bipolar and Tony is a narcissist, so together they’re a psychologist’s dream…or nightmare, depending on how you look at it!”
The two of them laughed together and then grew silent for a moment. “So you knew Agent Coulson too?” Steve persisted.
“Yes,” Kat whispered, looking down at her lap. Phil. The loss of him still cut pretty deep. He was such a treasure to Kat. She’d known him practically all of her life as he had been good friends with her parents. Phil had always made time to talk with the young Kat and his gentleness combined with his excitement about old things, new toys and heroes like Captain America forged a strong connection with her. He had been a big part of the reason she’d wanted to work for SHIELD.
Of course, as she got older, Kat teased Phil mercilessly about his fanboy obsessions but she always respected his dedication and enthusiasm for his job. In the days following The Incident, Kat would have done anything to have been able to talk with Phil, hear his perspective and accept his calm comfort. The loss of Phil was never more acute than during that period of time. Combined with the damage she sustained during that weekend, the loss of Phil had made it almost impossible to keep going. Yet now the memory of Phil Coulson had moved into a stage of half pain, half comfort; he was still there for Kat in her memories. If he was still alive, she would be absolutely certain he was not Hydra.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up painful memories,” Steve said after a moment when it became apparent that Kat wasn’t going to say more. “He seemed like a good guy. I wish I’d known him better.”
Kat shook her head. She didn’t want to forget Phil, especially now when she knew she would need thoughts of SHIELD agents like him to get her through this. “I wish you’d known him like I did. Phil was a great guy. You would have liked him even though he would have annoyed you by going on and on about how great you are. But maybe once he got to know the real you, that would have stopped,” she teased.
“Most definitely,” Steve agreed. “And Thor?” he asked with a slight smile on his face.
“Nope, I never did get to know him.” Kat also smiled slightly. “But I would have loved to work with him too. He’s so dreamy.”
Steve laughed. “So what did you know about Nat?”
“Oh,” said a casual voice from behind Steve, “just that she had a tough life from a tender age and was an incredibly successful assassin before she was recruited by Hawkeye to join SHIELD and become one of the good guys.” Natasha laughed at Steve’s jump that caused him to hit his knees on the table. “Kat saw me but you were too interested in getting my backstory” she said mischievously as she slid in on Steve’s side of the booth.
Steve tried to cover his embarrassment, especially because Nat had just caught him being nosey about her history. It wasn’t that he was romantically interested in her – he knew she was with Clint – but she was just such a mystery. Nat rarely got surprised or let things get to her, so Steve often felt at a loss when she was around and he didn’t like that. It would have been nice to have some way to figure her out, if only to know what to do to be a better friend. Nat was so great, she deserved that.
Kat shook her head at the Black Widow’s dramatic entrance. She didn’t know what to make of Nat either sometimes but she suspected that much of her theatrics were a way to keep people off-balance enough to let her be in control. Kat didn’t believe Nat was a control freak but that she used being an enigma more as a protective mechanism, born of emotional pain and her inability to be in charge of her own destiny. Kat just wished that Nat would trust them enough to let them in, to realize that she didn’t always have to be on her guard. Unfortunately, the news they brought wasn’t going to help.
“So, what’s up?” Nat asked looking at Kat. “Your message was cryptic enough to make me suspect that either evil is afoot or Stark is once again demanding that the Avengers go on a scavenger hunt.”
Despite the seriousness of their situation, Kat laughed. She just got a mental image of Thor trying desperately to find a car with a bumper sticker stating, “Visualize whirled peas!” She quickly sobered and launched into story, once again starting with, “Well, I don’t know anything for sure but…”
Like Steve had been before, Nat remained silent throughout Kat’s presentation of her thoughts. She also kept quiet when Steve joined in telling about some of the strange things that had been happening to him lately. However, despite their attempt at stealth (well, Nat’s effort more than Steve’s), Kat caught the significant look that passed between them. Her heart sank a little as she realized that they didn’t believe her. She decided to save them the effort.
“So you don’t believe me,” she said resignedly.
“Kat, it’s not that we don’t believe you, it’s just that…” Steve started.
“…you may be emotionally compromised right now,” Nat finished. “It hasn’t been that long since you were hurt and now you’re looking at things differently. You’re angry and exhausted and it’s possible that you’re not thinking as clearly as you would otherwise. Besides, organizations go through periods of transition. SHIELD just went through a big one with the Battle of New York. They’re still picking up the pieces of that, figuratively and literally! Everybody is re-evaluating things, so maybe that’s what you’re seeing.”
Kat leaned back in her booth and closed her eyes. She could understand their reluctance (and denial) but she still believed that her hypothesis was correct; too many things didn’t add up. She had hoped that Steve and Nat would see things her way but perhaps that was too much to ask of them. But she couldn’t just let it go.
“OK. Maybe you’re right; maybe I’m not seeing things correctly. But say for a minute that I’m right. What should I do about it?”
Both Kat and Steve looked at Nat who, in turn, looked back at both of them. “You have the most experience with deception and lies,” he explained with a shrug.
Nat nodded and sighed. “Ok, don’t tell anyone else about this for now. If you’re right, this information needs to be contained. If you’re wrong, the fewer people who know about it, the better. If you insist on going forward with your idea, then I recommend compiling your data into a report and taking it to Maria Hill. But Kat, I really think you should just sit on this. Give it a few months. Maybe you’ll see things differently then.”
Kat nodded, already hating the idea of going to Maria Hill but knowing that Nat was right. What else could she do?
Steve looked unhappy. He knew Kat well enough to know that she would not heed Nat’s advice and give up but he wanted to be supportive. Finally, he sighed into the silence, leaned forward to take Kat’s hand and said, “I wish we could help you more, Kat. I hope you know that I always have your back.”
“I know, Cap,” Kat said teasingly. “OK. It will take me a few weeks to work up a report and get on Maria’s calendar. I’ll let you know how it goes.”