Howard's 11: Theoretical Betrayal

Summary:
February 08, 2015: Hill's team makes final plans for the sting, and Howard's loyalties come into question.

Rented Mansion — Royal St, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana


Characters

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Mood Music:
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The time for a plan of action is now. The team already knows where the upcoming event is to be held, making it a trivial matter to secure a copy of the floorplans for the building in question. A copy of these floorplans have already been loaded into the holodisplays, which has held Hill's attention for the last handful of minutes as she looks them over in earnest.

"We're operating with limited resources and no backup. We're going to be up against a large number of people, which will make our lives extra crappy if they panic. If our people are here tonight then we can't risk losing any of them because they've decided to slip out the back door. We're going to need more eyes."

Here she turns to Fitz, one arm crossed over her chest with the other hand held up close to her ear. "Think you can rig some motion detectors with facial recognition? I want to know if any of our targets set so much as a nosehair outside of the building."


Natasha has been hard at work. She's been helping with a security plan, including taking an inventory of the security resources they have. It's not much, and while they can rig up some interesting stuff, there's not a lot of opportunity to do it. Over-wiring the place could be its own problem.

She strides in, though, with a tablet in her hand. "The prep team should be no problem. One of their electricians happens to have come down with food poisoning, so they needed someone to fill in for set-up. We should be able to get any security set up where we want it, at least in the public areas. Private offices, a little more sketchy. On this notice, I might not be able to slip anyone into the security team."


"I can do better." Fitz crosses the room and retrieves a case; some of those present might be familiar with it. He sets it upon a table before opening it, revealing eight palm sized yellow globes. "It took a while, but I got the seekers fixed. Motion detection and facial recognition are among their more basic functions."

A smaller bag is drawn from his jacket pocket. Unzipping it reveal a series of tiny earplugs, which he begins distributing. "We'll want to be wearing these. Two way, in-ear comm systems, which mold themselves to the contour of your middle ear to be entirely undetectable." He gestures, then, toward the seekers. "They're also designed to protect us from their 'scream mode', which is something I can bust out of we find ourselves backed into a corner."


Hill turns to give Natasha a nod of acknowledgement. One useful point, one somewhat less than useful point. "I'm sure we can find someone to fill in for an electrician."

Case in point..she looks right back to Fitz.

A moment later and she's taking the offered earplugs. "I knew we kept you on the team for a reason. Do they need external control or can we safely fire and forget without having to worry about them being tagged by outside eyes?"

Looking back to the display then reaching out to manipulate the zoom and angle of the blue light-drawn structure, she points to an area on the upper level.

"There's a lot of floorspace up here off of the beaten path, likely that any dealings will take place in this location. As it turns out, the northeastern window here will provide a decent angle for visual confirmation at range. I'll be camped out at thirty-six meters, which will also give me a good view of the side and back yard."

Back to Widow, as if it needs to be said, "Romanoff is on the floor. We all know what it is that you do, so you do that."

Then to Fitz again, "Get in as an electrician. Your primary focus is surveillance. If you see someone ducking out early that shouldn't be, call it in. If it can't be handled, the honors may well be yours."


"Very nice, Fitz. We're going to have to sneak your proton pack in there somehow as well; probably not too easy unless we have a really elaborate ice sculpture. Hopefully we won't need it, but I'd like it if we were able to talk to the lady without her disappearing."

Gazing over the display, she goes on: "Possibly best if we speak to Ms. Bileau alone. If the pretext is a business matter, it might even be best to make an appointment ahead of time. I think posing as a wealthy investor interested in financing her businesses would be the best."

She pauses a moment, then adds: "Manny DiMarco is going to be there. He wants the rest of Stark's tech and will do whatever he can to get it. Given that even I can't be in two places at once, I'd like to have at least one other person on the floor, preferably two, to keep an eye out for them and make sure we know where they are at all times. I have faith in your tech to find and monitor them, Fitz, but they might need more pressure than a pair of eyes."


"They're controlled by this unit right here." Fitz taps at the controls indicatively. "However, it's quite simple to rig up something that can be remote linked to the unit, perhaps through a smart phone app, or even SMS delivered. I'll set them to stealth mode; it'll be very difficult to catch them."

He pays close attention to the floor plans and Maria's briefing, looking between the two attentively. When she mentions that he'll be serving as their electrician, he grins wickedly. "Perfect. Oh. I, um, took it upon myself to have a box of fresh mussels gifted with a few dozen pregnant roaches. The delivery should be reaching the mansion in…" He checks his watch. "Two hours."

He glances toward Romanoff with a conspiratorial grin. "According to records, the owner has used Sure Thing Pest Control. Exclusively." And now we know how some of the he agents will get in, one of them in particular bearing his Portal Buster.


More people on the floor. There's only so many people here to work with, and where it comes to actual spy games? The best two options they have are Nat, who is already going to be there, and Hill. Which means a change of plans. Which means making a call. If she's needed on the floor as well then she always knows where to look for a sniper.

Nat's given another look. Hill's willing to give Widow the benefit, she's a competent sort. "Fair enough. I'll call Barton in, see if he isn't too busy to lend a hand as a spotter." It's said with just a hint of sarcasm.

Hearing about Fitz's plan just about brings a grin to Hill's otherwise neutral face, though she does mention "Have a Plan B in case they don't want an exterminator showing up moments before the event. They may try to sweep their roach problem under the rug until the guests have left." This would also complicate the matter of how to get the Portal Arrester on scene. Trying to actually deploy it under short notice, if they need to, will be a whole other complication. Still, she'd rather have it and not need it…


"We can still do something fun with catering if need be. Those big tablecloths are useful, and all sorts of things might get stuffed in the kitchen. But Fitz. Roaches in the seafood. Thank you for letting me know; not that I was planning on eating there." Natasha shakes her head with, apparently, rueful amusement.

"Barton would be ideal," Natasha agrees. "Or Coulson, but I expect he's busy, too. What's our plan in case things go bad? Virgil seems the sort who's not afraid of violence or hostage-taking."

Her eyes flick to Maria. Then briefly to Fitz, but then back to Maria. They rest there a moment. Weighing. Considering. Deciding something, she remains silent.


A dubious look is given to Maria. "Have you ever tried to sweep roaches under a rug?" asks Fitz. He is well aware of the euphemism, but in this case, the bastards may quite literally not be able to make do. "Well, this isn't something I'd have kept from you. I happen to love seafood, especially mussels. It… broke my heart a little." He'll have to give some thought to a Plan B, but catering isn't a bad choice.

"If things go bad, we activate the seekers' scream mode. The frequency they emit is precisely calibrated to debilitate the human brain. It's like… imagine if a noise could knock your ass to the floor and make it bloody impossible to move. You can thank Simmons for that. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell you how Bileau's teleportation works, exactly. It may not prevent her from using her mutant ability. Whomever gets the Portal Buster in there, they'll need to stick to her like flies on dung."

A pause. "Sorry, that's… disgusting. But, they'll need to try to stay close."


"Only when I visit Barton's apartment," Hilltells Fitz in a slightly lower 'off the records' tone. Catering isn't a bad idea, at all. They'll both be expected during the event and won't cause anyone to question their arrival. "Maybe someone ordered a really big cake," she thinks aloud with a slight frown.

To Nat, she replies "Suppression." Fitz is on point with this one, too. She nods once more at his response. "Lots of obstacles, few of us, multiple targets. If things go loud then we hit the building with some shock and awe, find our marks, then get out before the guests come to their senses. Not ideal, but Plan B's usually aren't."

Then she's looking back at Natasha once more, holding a level stare for a moment before blatantly asking "Do you have anything you would like to add, Romanoff?"

The Spider may be a better spy, but not everything can stay hidden from the Assistant Director.


Natasha first considers that tactic, cocking her head to one side as she looks over the floor plan. "Plenty of escape points. Between ourselves we should be able to take care of anything unexpected. That is what we're all about."

But at the blatant question, Natasha raises an eyebrow. She even actually smiles slightly. "I have nothing to add to this strategy for this operation. What do we plan to do with Stark through all this? There's every likelihood that Virgil is going to be waving around some of his old tech. We may need him as an advisor. Possibly with you?" So that you can keep an eye on him?


Leopold Fitz is absolutely enamored with Barton. The man is a living legend, he's got very interesting munitions, and he took Fitz into space! It doesn't take much for him to paint a picture based on Hill's words, and when he connects those dots, a crestfallen look comes over him. "Oh. Well. That's… disappointing."

Having little more to add, Fitz busies himself with studying the floor plans, using a finger to point out eight spots that would be ideal dispersal points for the seekers. "No," he murmurs to himself. "Not there… up there." Then, however, he's looking up at the exchange between Natasha and Hill, frowning. It seems he may have missed something, eyes darting between the two for a few moments. "Uh… do we know for sure that Stark isn't somehow involved with all of this? I mean, he's been more than helpful. But do we… I mean, stranger things have happened. Do we have a plan for that?"


Yes, here is the real elephant of the room… What to do about Howard Stark. They -do- need him, there's no telling what manner of devices might come into play and they need to know what they're up against. It stands to reason that the team coordinator would be the most immediate link to this intel. Not to mention she has means of her own to make sure he remains a team player.

More or less.

"-Yes-..Romanoff," Hill replies in a darkened tone perfectly befitting of the -look- she passes the other agent.

With Fitz's disappointment she's quick to shift toward damage control. "It's Bed-Stuy, Fitz. The roaches have roaches."

It isn't the end of their exchange. Some silence can comfortably take place, Fitz looking at the display and Hill weighing the responsibility of having a robotic Stark (ANY robotic Stark…) in her immediate custody. While undercover. At a party. Full of bystanders. Then the scientist drops the previously unspoken bombshell.

Hole in one.

"Stay focused on your tasks, Fitz," she says in a tone which almost approaches that of a warning.

Try to plan for every contingency. As Natasha had said, this is what they're all about.


Natasha nods to Maria, meeting her gaze. Holding it. She can't give Maria orders, but there's a very distinct This Is A Conversation For Later aspect to her expression.

Of course Fitz pipes up then, and though Maria shuts him down quickly, Natasha shrugs and looks his way.

"Thinking like a spy, Fitz? But it's a reasonable question. It's even one I've considered. If you know anything about me, you know I'm at least as much of a paranoid bitch as Maria. No offense," she adds, giving her, ah, superior a nod.

"But my opinion is that it's nothing we have to worry about. The day I trust another human being completely is the day you can put me in my grave, but in my opinion as a professional paranoiac, we have nothing to fear from the theoretical betrayal of Howard Stark."


Speak of the devil and he shall appear. Howard was out, accompanied by a security guard. He is, after all, a very well-known face. It's not reasonable to assume he'll pass by entirely unnoticed by everyone, even though he's wearing sunglasses. Even though his waistcoat and nice suit (and general jazz age inspired style) doesn't exactly stand out in the Big Easy. He's whistling 'Hello, Dolly' as he enters. He has bags. While the spies have been spying, he's been…shopping? "Hellooo?"


Almost immediately, Fitz regrets having said anything. Howard was a man of legend in the scientific community; to suggest that he's involved in his own conspiracy is almost despicable. Then again, in the past month, Fitz has changed more than he ever has. Trust has become a thing he doesn't give so easily, any more.

Well, at least Maria does something to salvage Leo's opinion of Hawkeye. Truth be told, at the end of the day, it wasn't the worst trait someone could have.

For a moment, he doesn't back away from locking eyes with the Assistant Director. However, he's simply not made of the same kind of grit that the field agents are. His eyes flutter and he looks down, inspecting the seekers' controls as if he actually needed to make sure they were in working order. "Yes, of course, ma'am."

The meaning of it all isn't lost on him; he'll keep the possibility neatly filed away in its appropriate corner. However, Natasha then has to go and all but vet Stark, which only serves to make him feel that much worse. He glances up toward her, half smirking, half frowning. "Fitz. Leo Fitz." The quip is followed by a meaningful addition, spoken as if it has a bit more meaning for himself than it serves as a joke. "Shaken, not stirred."

The scientist's eyes all but dart over to Stark as he comes in. Just as quickly, they return to his seeker control interface. "Point of fact, I really ought to get working on the remote trigger for these things."


Yyyep. This is looking more and more like another one of those inevitable off the records conversations for Maria to pull Natasha into. Or vice versa. Later… Later.

"I'm not gonna argue the truth," she replies easily enough to Nat's statement. Of -course- Hill is a paranoid bitch!

In fact, if Fitz happened to catch sight of the sidearm she brought along for herself during this trip he might wonder if she's planning on stopping charging armored transports dead in their tracks. It's more than a little overkill for use against normal people, protected or not.

"Noted, Agent," she replies to Widow's opinion regarding Howard. Then, "So nice of you to join us, Mister Stark! I hope you remembered to bring Cubans and Macallan for the rest of us this time."

Fitz's spoken thought about working on the triggers isfollowed by Hill with "That's an excellent idea." As it stands, she may have to have some words with both a Spider and a Life-Model Decoy.

At least her life is never dull.


Fitz is going to have to learn. It's a hard one, when you're used to being the smartest guy in the room, to have to deal with people who either Know More or Aren't Telling. Not knowing things when you're used to knowing everything? The WORST.

Part of the job, unfortunately. And Natasha grins when he Bonds himself. "You sure you want to be an exterminator? It's not too late. We could get you a tux."

And when Howard swans in? "Speaking of tuxes, I'm assuming Howard brought one. Unless you have one permanently grafted to your skin. Up to important work?" She gives the shopping bags a raised eyebrow.


"Come now, Agent Hill," Howard takes off his sunglasses and tucks them into the pocket on his waistcoat. "You should know that in New Orleans, it's all about the cocktail." He sets down his bags and tugs out a bottle of absinthe, a bottle of cognac, bitters and sugar cubes. Someone's got the fixings for a sazerac.

"Everything I do is important, Agent Romanoff." Which sounds like a profoundly egotistical statement. But that doesn't mean it isn't true. Even when idle, his mind is working. "Just got fitted for one this morning. There's some fine clothiers in this city. They know how to tailor a proper three-piece for one. Sadly, a rare skill these days. But you're not thinking of bringing me, are you? Clearly people are going to recognize me." There's no such thing as incognito for him, unless he's built in morphing technology into his nanobots. Which really isn't a half bad idea.


"Another time," answers Fitz, before grinning just a bit. "Electrician will be fine, this time." With that being said, Leo is smart enough to take a hint. A brief glance is given to Hill, before he begins to gather his things. "I'll need to make the modification is on the Bus, so, I should, you know, get going." Case in tow, he offers a smile to Howard in passing. "Mister Stark."

At the door, he let's the wince show before excusing himself. Good thing nobody's gonna notice it.


Fitz is given a chance to slink out before Maria gets into the next matter at hand, plus a few seconds just to be sure he -is- in fact leaving the area. This gives her a chance to look over the items which followed Stark home. Absinthe, really?

It's all of the reprieve Howard's going to get.

"Then what would you suggest as the best means of identifying your stolen devices on a moment's notice?" Hill questions Howard with a folding of arms and a challenging stare. "Because it seems to me that we -still- don't have a complete list of what all had been taken, what everything does, and how quickly we should be staining our pants if someone decides to push the little red button."

"We know you're hardly camera-shy. There's also bound to be a lot of rich women there who are anxious to show off their assets. You'll fit right in. I just need to track down an inconspicuous enough leash."


Sheesh, is Natasha going to HAVE to good-cop this one?

Well, probably.

"Another good question is how well Virgil and Manny have figured out how to play with your toys. They might be forty years old, but I've learned not to underestimate good old craftsmanship."

Glancing between Hill and Howard, she shrugs: "If Hill's putting you in there, all to the good. You'll be a built-in distraction."

And no, evidently she doesn't give Fitz a second look on his way out. Poor woobie.


"You don't think having me at this event where my own technology is being dealt would set off a few alarm bells? As much as I'd love to attend a swanky New Orleans party, I'm thinking that's a bad idea." Howard sets about making himself a sazerac. He motions to the pair of women by way of offering to make them one as well. "Here's what I think you should do. And keep in mind I'm not the spy here. Wire up whoever's going in and let me be the eyes behind the camera. Either that, or you whip out the half dozen different pieces of disguise tech that I handed SHIELD on a silver platter thirty years ago that has absolutely gone into development and been perfected and let me go in.

The leash comment makes his eyes sparkle. He lifts his chin. "I prefer something leather with diamond studs, if you're shopping. I don't really do inconspicuous." As far as his tech goes. He clears his throat. "There's nothing that Virgil could have gotten his hands on that's going to be a WMD, if that's what you're worried about. The bigger danger comes from his attempts to replicate my stuff without really understanding what he's doing. Or, if he uses the prototype like it's a fully functioning design with no bugs. These things can fail, and they can fail catastrophically. That's why they're prototypes and not production models."


"If we had that kind of relationship you would actually do what you're told," Hill is quick to counter Howard's response. "Which leads me to our -next- dilemma of the day."

While he's busy working on making himself a drink she comes around to the other side of the table and makes a point of holding her palm on top of whichever bottle he's about to pick up next, pinning it to the table as she leans closer to the man.

"I don't particularly trust you being left alone, Howard. The way you decided to run out on us all last night makes me think that you don't fully appreciate our company. Whether we're looking at WMD-grade devices here or not, if you think that you're going to sit cozy with your assortment of drinks outside of the killzone while the rest of us move in on ground zero to clean up -your- mess then you might wish to find someone more capable of building you a proper brain. We have the tech to change your appearance, and you are going to use it. Go in as Mickey Mouse for all I care. You are not sitting on the bench for this one."


Natasha… pinches the bridge of her nose.

"Hey Howard," she says. "Let me put this another way. I'd appreciate your help on the floor of that party. I realize you're a private citizen and can, in general, decide where you go. But you're going to be able to notice things we won't and do things we can't. And you're going to know what to do and what to say. I'm asking you as a personal favor, and because it's the best way we have to get your property back. Nobody else has the resources. I'd like to trust you to do the right thing."

Jesus. Has she been taking Nice lessons from Rogers?


"You continue to operate under the assumption that I take orders from you, Agent Hill," says Howard. He is looking infuriatingly smug. If he's intimidated at all, he's doing a brilliant job of hiding it. "I haven't been a SHIELD contractor since before you were born. And I haven't been a SHIELD agent since your mother was in college." He says this all calmly, then tugs the bottle out from under Maria's hand. That's a subtle demonstration of the fact that he is a lot stronger than he looks. If she doesn't take her weight off it, she might find her elbow slammed into the table.
He splashes the cognac into a silver shaker and glances sidelong towards Natasha. He chuckles softly and shakes his head. "Now see what you've done, Agent Hill? You've made the Black Widow ask me for a personal favour. I'm sure she's not very happy about that." He stirs his cocktail, strains it into a crystal tumbler and sips, eyebrows raised. "Look. I have a vested interest in getting my wares off the street. That's why I'm here." He says this all in a very Reasonable Tone. He leans on the sideboard and sips his drink again. "Natasha asked nicely, so I'll help. Order me around again, and I walk."


Hill could escalate the situation here. Quite easily, in fact. For one, it doesn't matter if Howard is on the SHIELD payroll or not. She has the safety and well-being of her agents to think of. And of the Division. And of every last bystander. And of the -country- and abroad. If Howard thinks that his personal rights still apply in a situation like this?

He's in for a very unpleasant reality check.

This is more than someone losing a car or a family member. This is a very serious situation they all face. Law, order, and due process can take a damn hike. And someone like Hill will do whatever..it..takes..to contain the situation as quickly and efficiently as possible.

If this means she has to shoot Howard with her own sidearm, she'll happily pull the trigger.

If this means that she has to stand down and let Natasha take over, and let Stark be Mister Smug for the rest of the evening, she won't be at ALL happy about it.

But she will stand down.

She will stand down without another word spoken.

Because the next thought she has to share would be, by many, taken as a declaration of war.

After the obligatory stare back at Howard, post-bottle reclamation, she turns and steps aside, passing Widow as she goes. Pausing long enough to mutter to her.

"He's your problem."


Generally speaking, smugness doesn't bother Natasha much at all. She has enough smugness to make a Fortress of Smug for herself with parapets of Pride and battlements of Better Than You.

But there's a goal in front of her and she is going to make sure they get there, and if that means making nice or murdering someone, she's going to get there. That's why she's an asset to SHIELD, and it's why she's the Black Widow. She is the subtle knife, but she is the effective one.

She takes a deep breath when Maria walks out, watching the woman leave. She takes another one when the door closes behind the woman and lets her gaze travel back to Howard. Wearily she reaches out to snag the bottle of cognac herself, but she's grabbing a cut-glass tumbler with the other hand. Assuming Howard doesn't maintain his death grip, she's going to pour herself a double and slam it down the way you really should never do with a cognac.

Then she's going to pull up a chair and sit at the table, giving the man another long, slow glare.

"Bozhe moy," she mutters, "this had better be worth it."


Howard watches Maria leave with a subtle tilt of his head. He continues to grin in that smug, yet still infuriatingly charming way ofhis. He raps his fingers against the glass, then looks back over to Natasha in time to slam the cognac. He winces a bit, because that's alcohol abuse. "It's saving the world, Agent Romanoff. Of course it's worth it."


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