It didn’t go well. Given who Kat was and her high standing in SHIELD, it took only two weeks to set up a meeting with Maria Hill, Nick Fury’s second in command. During the time in which she had to wait, Kat worked furiously, both on this project and others (both to avoid suspicion and to keep herself sane). She stayed in the office past usual business hours, ate lunch at her desk, and rarely participated in social outings or even in the office gossip. Her colleagues noticed.
Jim called Kat into his office a week after her meeting with Steve and Nat to express his concern. “Kat, people are worried about you and that includes me. We thought you were getting better, returning more to who you were before January, but now it’s like you’ve regressed. You rarely smile or laugh, you’ve lost weight, and you look like hell,” Jim said bluntly.
Kat sighed, something she realized she was doing a lot of lately. She felt the weight of her imposed silence and of the gravity of the task she had ahead of her. She was just so tired! She decided to be as honest as she could be with Jim, someone who not long ago she had considered a good friend. “I’m not sleeping much,” she admitted. “When I do, I have nightmares. It’s hard for me to be home these days because I think too much.”
Jim nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe you shouldn’t work so hard. Try taking on fewer projects or ask for help from your colleagues. They miss you! We want to help, Kat. You don’t have to be alone. We’re all in this for the greater good.”
Kat internally straightened at Jim’s phrasing and felt again the loneliness of her task. She no longer knew who she could trust, so she really could trust no one. “Give me a week to get it together, Jim. If that doesn’t work, I’ll figure something else out.” Jim nodded sadly and let her go.
Kat tried to pace herself more over the next few days. She took a lunch hour, came and went at more normal hours but still kept her distance. It was just too hard to do anything else. Her report for Hill was finished, so she used her free time to walk the parks and visit the nearby Walls of Valor. But despite her best efforts, Kat was a wreck by the time she sat down in Maria Hill’s office and Maria noticed.
Kat knew a bit of Maria’s history and, of course, had met her many times throughout the years. While Maria had her own challenging backstory, you would never know based on her rigid demeanor. Kat had always believed that, like the Black Widow, Maria’s minimal expressiveness was her way of controlling the strong emotions she was bound to have. She had seen Maria smile and even laugh a few times, so she knew there was some humanity within her and Kat sometimes amused herself by trying to access it. Still, given Maria’s heavy-handed way of interacting, she never felt comfortable with the Deputy Director yet she knew she was fair and cared deeply about SHIELD. Like her or not, she was the right person to tell about Kat’s Hydra theory.
Like she had with Steve and Natasha, Kat launched into her Hydra hypothesis, bringing out her report that was illustrated with timelines, pie charts and even organizational “families” of the agents involved. Toward the end of the report, Kat had listed agents she suspected of being Hydra. She knew this was a significant risk, because it was purely speculation on her part and the list contained many valued, high level operatives, but she believed it was important to at least plant a seed in Maria’s mind about who could be trusted. It turned out to be her undoing.
Kat had to give Maria credit for patiently listening to her spiel and for at least appearing to read her report with interest. However, when she saw some of the names listed in the back, Kat could tell that she struggled to control herself. “You have Melinda May and Grant Ward on this list?” Maria said in a somewhat higher and more forceful tone than before.
“Yes. I realize that the list may be inaccurate but I put down everyone I thought was a potential based on the intel I have right now,” Kat answered calmly.
“I vetted Agent Ward myself! And Agent May….hell Kat, she’s the fucking Cavalry!” Maria said even more loudly.
“I took that into consideration but, if Agent May was a sleeper agent, she would take great care to maintain her position. And you have to admit that, as a result of Bahrain, she gained a whole lot of trust from SHIELD. She’s almost untouchable and she can have her pick of assignments. Plus, she meets the criteria of a loner without many friends. So does Agent Ward. Although, to be honest, the main reason Agent Ward caught my interest was because of his close connection with Agent Garrett.”
Maria shook her head in disbelief and her eyes widened. “John Garrett?” she said with her voice rising another octave.
Kat nodded again, knowing she was skating on exceedingly thin ice. May and Ward were loners, agents few knew well and whose defense would rest primarily on their records. Garrett was another story. He was well-liked and had built a certain kind of mythos around himself. “Yes. Garrett has a high level of access, something that is needed with the majority of the operations listed in my report. He is good with people and has a strong level of influence with many of the younger agents, Agents Ward and Triplett included although given Agent Triplett’s background, he isn’t a serious candidate. Garrett frequently goes off-book on assignments, doesn’t seem to have much compassion for others, displays many narcissistic traits and goes off the grid more often than most during his down times. His name kept coming up in my research and he has the personality profile for a traitor. If I were a betting person, my money would be on him.”
Maria looked like she had just been slapped. “John Garrett is one of our best agents!”
Kat was getting a bit weary of what she saw as Maria’s obliviousness. “Yes, but anyone who needs the kind of access it would take to infiltrate SHIELD would have to gain people’s trust! They wouldn’t send the screw-ups because no one would trust them with major assignments or sensitive information. Agent Hill, what I am talking about is a major threat to SHIELD, something that has our agents dying when they shouldn’t be!”
Afterward, Kat reflected that she could see the exact moment when she lost Maria’s trust, when she reacted just like Steve and Natasha but with none of the benefits of friendship. She could almost see her thought processes at work. When Kat said her sentence about agents dying, Maria’s facial expression changed, almost as if she were saying, “Ahhh…..Kat is still damaged by and obsessed with what happened to her, so much so that she is seeing conspiracies where there are none.” And then, when Maria looked up and raked her eyes up and down Kat’s appearance, Kat could see her thinking, “She’s exhausted, possibly cognitively impaired. It is impossible that anyone could infiltrate SHIELD to that degree, much less Hydra, our enemy!” And when Maria’s posture relaxed a bit and she sighed, Kat felt a thrill of fear and realized that her time with SHIELD was over.