Howard's 11: Situational Reasoning

Summary:
February 09, 2015: Following a less than smooth discussion with Howard Stark, Natasha Romanoff shares some insight with Maria Hill. (Minor language)

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

This lovely little building is starting to feel just a bit crowded lately.


Characters

NPCs

  • None

Mood Music:
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It's a good thing that there are other drinks stashed about the place, after Hill's latest encounter with Howard Stark she could sure use something strong and there is no way in Hell she's going to step back out to where the reinvented inventor is, with his fancy mixed drinks and all. Considering they're all going to have to work together and play nice in a few hours she's just going to do whatever she can to minimize further exposure to the man.

Why can't she just shoot and/or arrest the insolent ones? She'd be doing the world a favor! One busted head at a time.

Since she doesn't quite have this level of freedom with her power she's instead been leaning back against a kitchen counter with a datapad in hand, going over the mission details yet again.

As far as mental distractions go, it's somewhat lacking.

*

There's a narrow window of time between letting Maria cool off and needing to get ready for the evening. The makeup alone is going to be a pain to deal with. Making sure no one on the SHIELD side, such as it is, shoots anyone else on the SHIELD side, is becoming a high priority. As is determining how much she should tell Maria about Howard and their little deal.

She does give Maria some time, but at last she ambles in to the kitchen, apparently casual and composed. She even pours herself a glass of iced tea and leans against the opposite counter.

"So," she says at last. Sip. "How do we think that went?"

*

Maria doesn't look up when Natasha wanders on in. She knows it isn't Howard, ergo it doesn't much matter to her. Anyone who is decidedly Not Howard is just dandy. Going by the efficiency of movement and the general lack of sound created upon passing, she's going to guess it's Widow. The voice certainly confirms it.

"Considering he's busy sucking down expensive drinks instead of collecting various pieces of himself off of the floor, I'd say it could have gone a whole lot better," she replies in a perfectly level tone. "Though by your standards I suppose the current outcome is better than the desired one."

She doesn't leave the statement hanging for long, the hand holding the pad hanging down by her leg as she looks to the other agent. Displeased, as usual. "Are we seriously going to have this talk?"

*

"Depends on whether you're going to listen. What was the desired outcome back there? Tell me truly. Was it to give you an excuse to take the man apart? If you need to get some frustration out, there's a ballroom in here somewhere. It might just be big enough to double as a gym, so if you need to let off some steam, you could try punching me until you get tired."

Sip.

Natasha stretches her shoulders and gives a little sniff. "I mean, I could be wrong. You could have had a goal in there that I completely failed to see."

*

It requires some effort on Hill's part, visible effort for Nat's trained eyes, for the Assistant Director to set her pad on the counter then hook both of her hands along the edge, her posture far from proper. Then again, she's out of uniform. And she isn't caring.

"That man's power is artificial. He thinks that he's safe from the system, safe to do whatever the hell he pleases, build whatever the hell he fancies, and not give half a damn when it ends up stolen. I'm putting all of our lives on the line trying to clean up his mess, the least he could do is help us instead of acting so damn important."

"Every move that we make is with one eye closed. I could be sending every last one of us into a disaster and the only person who would know about it isn't bothering to tell us. If I have any alternate goals here it's to make him realize that he is not safe up on cloud nine and his carelessness is putting a helluva lot of people at risk."

And usually? Putting the fear of God into said person is both effective and theraputic.

*

"That explains why you're annoyed," Natasha admits. She takes another sip of her tea before setting it down, resting her elbows on the counter behind her and stretching her legs out into the center of the aisle. Stretching is nice. She's certainly not trying to stand at attention.

"It doesn't explain why you're letting it show. Maybe this is a difference in Russian spy training? But then again, you're not really that kind of agent, are you? You are actually one of the most straightforward women — one of the most straightforward people — I know. If you're pissed at someone, they know it. Oh, you can keep things classified, but that's not the same thing."

It strikes her, when she says it, that maybe this is why Fury keeps her around. There's no artifice to Maria. That's someone he can trust.

"So the way you're looking at this is: 'I want Howard to do a thing. He's not doing it when I tell him to do it. I'm going to tell him again.'" She puts out her right hand, cupping it upward as though holding a tiny Maria and Howard in it.

Her left hand goes out then: "The Black Widow way is: 'I want Howard to do a thing. Who is Howard Stark? What does he want? How does he get the things he wants, and how do I make him want to do what I want him to do?'"

*

"I'm extremely annoyed," Hill snorts. "I don't enjoy working with children, Romanoff."

The part about spy training isn't missed, either. "There's a time and place for subtlety. In my case this usually means 'just in the field,' which means about ten percent of the time. It's generally not the first tactic I employ. A lot of people don't 'get' subtle."

The following demonstration is observed. Without interruption, in fact! Her next response is chosen with a bit more thought involved.

"This only supports why you're so good at what you do. I generally don't have the time or the patience to play the manipulation card. Of -course- feeding into his ego is going to get us better results, but if we feed that damn thing any further then we'll have yet another Stark-created WMD on our hands."

Despite her words there's more of a tell in her physical reaction, dipping her head forward to lightly pinch the bridge of her nose with a sigh. "In the interest of transparency I am under a -great- deal of stress lately."

As if this is different from any other week.

*

Natasha nods slowly. She steps forward, moving to stand at Maria's side. And when she speaks, it's soft and even a little gentle.

"We were on a wild goose chase when the Triskelion was attacked. There were non-SHIELD agents all over the place, people who haven't been cleared, have had no background checks, and who knows what they might have had to do with what happened? Even if they were all blameless angels, they never should have had that kind of access. We're supposed to have ultimate security, and the asshole we're trying to pick up tonight escaped SHIELD custody while I was within arm's reach of him. Turns out we have no way to protect ourselves from an entire dimension, literally, of infiltration. Fury's pissed. Everyone's pissed, and you're the one who has to stand there and get hit with every piece of shit anyone's throwing, and the last thing you need is a smug son-of-a-bitch robot acting like a six year old."

She takes a deep breath and lets it out, nodding. "I get it. I do. It's why I'm glad I'm not in your position, frankly. I wouldn't be able to handle it as well. You're right: Stark's acting like an idiot. And you have every reason to be frustrated. But."

*

The thing about dealing with someone like the Black Widow, one never knows just what they're going to get. Hill's no stranger to the role, though for as much time as these two have worked together she's still something of a stranger to the person -behind- the role.

It's her own spy training that considers the sympathy and understanding to all be a trick, another subtle manipulation in the name of balance and efficiency in order to get the job done.

The Marine in her doesn't really care what the ultimate motivation is, it's a means to a more desirable end. Work with what's available, make ends meet.

Regardless of what the approach happens to be, Natasha proves that she understands what the situation is. What Maria's been going through lately. Maybe others within the Division have seen it with such clarity but no one else has ever thought to bring it up before. Probably out of fear, which isn't unjustified. Widow just happens to get more leeway.

"But I still need to keep my damn head in the game," she admits with another soft breath.

Looking back up to Natasha, "I'd say the Starks are going to be the death of me but I wouldn't give 'em the satisfaction."

*

That's the thing about Natasha. Who knows what she's really thinking? Who knows what her motives are? She's too good a spy, too good a manipulator for anyone to really know her. Of course, by the same token, Maria is too high up the SHIELD chain for any of the rest of the agents to be truly close to her, and she can't really be honest with any outsiders.

Maybe there's some fellow-feeling. Or maybe Natasha is just pulling the strings she sees so clearly.

"Funny thing," Natasha murmurs after Maria's admission. "I'll tell you a secret about being me. Eighty percent of it is just paying attention. The rest is letting people fill in the bits you leave out."

At the last, though, she flashes a smile and lifts her head. "Oh, the Starks. The Starks are easy once you know how to handle them. Once you know who they are and what they want. One thing they have in common, Howard and Tony: both of them want to feel like they've won. Like they've gotten away with something. They're like little boys who feel so satisfied that Mommy hasn't noticed the cookie jar is a little low."

*

"And I walked right into it," Hill mutters with what might be a hint of genuine dread.

As it turns out, a good spy can also make a good therapist. Watching and listening, it's true!

"You're right. They do. They're also -exceptionally- talented at continuing to push matters while never falling off of their tightrope." Usually she can wait for a slip then maul the other individual and call it a day.

"I just hope this excuse is good enough for Fury if he wakes up to find half of the Big Easy erased from the map." She'll try not to worry about it until it becomes an actual problem. If she's lucky it won't matter anyway because she would have been vaporized right at ground zero. Silver linings!

Now, Hill isn't much of one to drop the 'thank you' card. Instead, she says "I owe you a drink, Nat."

*

"They are, aren't they? But if you want one of the secrets to dealing with them… Let them have their little victories. Let them think they've won. Even if they're pretty sure you're letting them win just because it makes your life easier, they'll still take it. And they'll roll over like puppies who want belly rubs."

She snags her tea, adding: "Besides. Howard Stark is one of the people who founded SHIELD. He's pretty pissed at us for the whole 'treating him like a piece of luggage' thing when we found him, but can you imagine him not caring if the city blew up? No. Listening to Howard is like listening to jazz: it's all about what he doesn't say."

Raising her glass, she adds: "Anytime you like."


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