Tacos and Truth-telling

May 12, 2015:

Natasha comes to visit Emmett. They both know that he knows the truth about himself. Both of them finally admit it.

Argyle's Apartment

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NPCs: None.

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Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Emmett Argyle has always been a very reliable SHIELD agent. But lately, he's been almost clockwork-reliable. He's right on time, and he also clocks out right when he's supposed to. He isn't putting in a lot of extra hours, or making much headway on side projects. Those things used to be his passion projects, but he hasn't felt very passionate lately. There's still nothing to complain about in his work. He's been steady, reliable, punctual.

It's garbage day, and the pile outside his building is overflowing. When Natasha walks up the step, a piece of glass crunches underfoot. There's a broken picture frame with a bent photo of a family posing outside a restaurant on Bourbon Street. The boy in the photo is 12 years old. He took over Argyle's life at 17.

*

The boy did exist. The family did exist. Natasha reaches down to pick up the photo, shaking it free of the glass and the twisted frame. She looks at it for a long moment before glancing over the rest of the trash. The photo, though, makes it into the inner pocket of her coat.

It should be easy enough to see if Argyle's home. Knocking usually helps. And if he's not, she can certainly let herself in. That, however, might somewhat undermine the 'you can trust me' aspect of this conversation.

So when she knocks and Argyle presumably opens the door or at least looks through the keyhole, he'll see Natasha in her street clothes. There's a large paper bag clutched in one hand. The aroma suggests that at least one thing inside is green chile tacos.

*

There's other miscellaneous things poking out of the trash - some actual garbage, some clear pieces of memorabilia. A high school diploma from New Orleans, a handful of other photographs, a painting of the facade of Argyle's Bar and Grill in the French Quarter. Everything looks like it was tossed out roughly, with no care for its condition.

The door opens. Emmett is standing there in a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt with a reproduction SSR logo on it. A Secret Santa gift from Julie in accounting a few years ago. His hair is wet from the shower and his face is newly-shaven. He sees her, then walks away, door open. He retrieves a bottle of beer from the counter and takes a swallow. "Y'here to kill me? Is this how it ends?" he flicks the bottle cap towards the trash, "…with tacos?"

*

Natasha Romanoff says, "With… tacos, beer, I think I have some chips in here, some street corn and guacamole…" Natasha glances over the bag before stepping in and closing the door behind her. "And a six-pack, but it looks like you've started on that already."

She ambles in, setting the bag down on a table. "I'm not here to murder you, Argyle." She leaves it without saying that if she were, he'd never have seen her. They'd never be having this conversation. "I'm here to do what I should have done a long time ago. I'm here to talk, if you're willing to listen. You probably have a lot of questions. There's not many people apart from me who can answer them."

*

Emmett turns around and leans agains the wall. There's several spots on the walls where pictures used to hang, as evidenced by nail holes and the slightly brighter squares of paint beneath. His apartment has never had a lot of personality, but what was left has been stripped and thrown in the trash. "And why should I believe a goddamn word you have to say, Romanoff? Hmm?"

*

Natasha shrugs slightly. "Because I knew you before you were Emmett Argyle?" She watches him, eyes following him as he moves, as he leans, but she keeps her distance. "Because I do know more about you than almost anyone else alive. I know who you were and who you are and what lies in between. I know why you were sent to SHIELD, and I know why SHIELD kept you. Because I campaigned to tell you the truth, and now I'm here because Fury didn't send me. I believe I'm making the right call, because I knew the man you were and I know the man you are. You feel betrayed. You were betrayed. I'm here to make the amends that SHIELD would be too late for."

*

"You're here because I caught wise and you want to do damage control," says Emmett. "You look me in the eye and tell me you'd still be here if things hadn't started slipping the last few months." He advances on her. To anyone else, this might seem threatening, but they both know that despite his size and training, she could put him down before he'd have the chance to blink.

"You know what the kicker of this all is?" He sets his beer down and folds his arms across his chest. "I understand. Y'all have trained me so well that I understand. Hell, if I had been a few levels higher and this had happened to someone else, I woulda been a willing participant in covering it all up. Cause I get the logic of it. I'm a goddamn pragmatist. But that don't make it right. And that don't make it any easier to accept that my whole life has been a fucking lie."

*

She does look him right in the eye, standing foursquare there. Foursquare but about a foot shorter. Big guy. Tiny woman. She doesn't look intimidated, though, for pretty obvious reasons: they both know she's the more dangerous of the two.

"You're right. It doesn't. And I knew that when I found out you were in SHIELD. I went to Fury the day that I found out you were in SHIELD, because I thought I was bringing him news. And yeah: turns out they knew all along. I don't need to explain to you why they did it; I'm sure you can figure it out. And even being the utterly pragmatic creature that I am, I still told them it was wrong. That things like this were why I left my former employer. Using people. Treating them like tools. I didn't like it then, I never started liking it, and I don't like it now."

She waves a hand at the bag. "Tacos are kind of a lame peace offering. I was thinking about something a little more substantial."

*

Argyle turns and retrieves his beer. He takes a rather large mouthful of it and then walks further into the apartment. It's an odd sort of invitation to come into the dining area. "So what happens now? You try and convince me to stay on even with all this shit out in the open? You tell me there's a way to break this whole…Southern brainwashing thing coming over me?" he waves a hand over his face. "You know, after I found out, I tried to stop talkin' like this. I couldn't do it. I've always been lousy with accents, but I thought I could drop it once I knew."

"Actually, I'm here to talk to you about what you want." Natasha shrugs expansively, following Argyle into the dining area. She's still keeping her distance, though. "And to talk to you about who you are. Because who YOU are is who you've made yourself. I know, I know. You have memories of being a kid named Emmett. You might be surprised to know how little they had to do to alter your memories. About how much of the man you were you still are."

She smiles very faintly. "You're pissed. Of course you are. And you can keep on blazing at me as much as you want; I've earned it, and more. But when you want to talk about a way forward, I'm here for that, too."

*

Emmett pushes his tongue against his cheek and looks like he doesn't quite believe that. He drops into the kitchen chair and finishes off the last of his beer. "So I'm the same guy, except for every single detail of my life. And the fact that I'm a fucking Russian agent. S'funny you and I didn't get along better, given that lil detail, huh?"

He looks away, then up at her. "See, that's the problem. I don't see a way out of this other than me running and lookin' over my shoulder for the rest of my life, or the sniper you probably have across the street putting a bullet in my brain. I wanna know who I am. And once I find that out, ain't no way in hell Fury's gonna keep me around."

*

"Boy, do I know that feeling." Natasha smirks a little, leaning her hip against the table. "We have a hell of a lot more in common than just being a couple of Russians. I guess you could say that's the real reason I'm here."

She doesn't sit. She goes on standing, watching Argyle. Meeting his eyes. "Because I know what it is to have no idea who you are and to hate the people who made you that way. I know what it is to be a tool for someone else's agenda. And I know what it is to run away, to dodge every assassin and every sniper sent after you, to make your life using the only skills you have, which is more or less killing people, and not really caring who you're doing it for because that's all you are anymore, isn't it? A tool. At least you're doing it on your own terms instead of someone else's. And I know what it's like to find yourself in the middle of all that and realize that you don't have to be a tool anymore, but you've gone so far down the wrong path that you don't know how to turn around. I know that desperation and that hopelessness. That nihilism, that self-negation. I know what it took to pull me out of that, too."

She smiles a bit weakly. And there's… well, maybe she can fake that kind of thing, but there is an honesty in her face. Even in her eyes.

"I thought I'd save you the trouble."

*

Argyle watches her as she speaks. He listens. Skeptical listening, but attentive, nonetheless. "I knew you had one of those pasts. But obviously I'm not cleared for all the details. You must be older than you look if you knew me when I was a kid, cause I was under the impression that I had a few years on you."

He idly peels the edge off the label on his beer. "So what, you saying I should take the bullet? Or do you have some kinda third option I can't see?"'

*

"There's a lot of things you don't know about me. Hell," Natasha replies with a slight smile, "there's a lot of things I don't think anyone knows, including me."

She looks Emmett over, tilting her head to one side. "I can tell you what happened to me. I got away from the people who… 'trained'. me, who made me who I was. I worked freelance. Then someone at SHIELD gave me a chance. They had no reason to. Hell, I was on a contract to kill them. But they figured 'well, everyone gets one chance. Everyone deserves that much.' You? You're not with the people who made you what you are. You're with the people who found you, trained you, and kept an eye on you. The people who didn't know how to fix you. The people who should have tried."

There's just a tinge of bitterness at that last sentence. She gives her head a little shake. "I'm proposing to do for you what I wish I'd had someone do for me. Break down the conditioning. Reunite you with who you were, if you want to be. And let you choose from there."

*

"And what about the people who did make me? What's to stop them from coming after me? I'm guessing the only reason they haven't yet is they still think I'm an asset." Emmett pauses suddenly, and a thought comes over him. He runs a finger over his hair, then looks up at Natasha. "You want me to trust a damned word you're staying, you gotta do something for me. And you gotta do it without telling Fury."

*

"What's to stop them?" Natasha echoes. "You." A beat. "Well, and me too, and SHIELD themselves. See, you've got something really rare here. I'm actually committed to helping you. And while I'm possibly the last person you'd want nearby, there's few better people to have on your side." A very tiny smirk.

She pulls out a chair and sits, then, nodding once. "What is it?"

*

"No offense, Romanoff. But I think you're on your side first, then SHIELD's, then maybe other concerns. And god help if a lower priority conflicts with a higher one." Emmett says that almost with admiration. "I also think you might be way overestimating my value to SHIELD. They got a hundred scientists smarter, and at least eighty agents who're deadlier." A beat, "…maybe 70, 75."

Then, the request. "I want everything SHIELD has on me. My entire file. And I want the one on the Winter Solider, too."

*

Natasha considers that one for a moment. "They don't have everything I have," she says at last. "But I can do that for you. As far as the Winter Soldier? There's files I don't have access to, and there's a hell of a lot for you to look through. I'll do you one better: I'll help narrow it down. Because he deserves the same thing you do."

She brushes a lock of hair behind her ear, glancing away a moment. "I know him. He… he's trying to break away, isn't he?"

*

Emmett works his jaw to the side. "I don't know. He's real confused. Fucked up more than I am. He's the one who told me, but I'm guessin' you figured that part out. Had to be you who tailed me. Anyone else mighta bought that story." He smiles, but it's not a very warm expression. "They got him so turned around, he don't know which way to go. And he's still dangerous as fuck. He's beaten me around a few times. But he's never been close to killing me. Tried to convince me SHIELD is the enemy. I told him, yeah, probably. But that don't make HYDRA my friends."

*

"Sounds about right. SHIELD are assholes," Natasha admits. "We really are. But of all the organizations out there, I like to think we're the least monstrous. I'm at least half-convinced I've gone straight with these guys. And the Soldier… let's just say he's had a really long time to get fucked up. And possibly some more active fuckery, for that matter. That, though. You know that. That's not just your programming. The kid you were, he knew that too. But the Soldier? He trained me. If there's anyone out there who's as dangerous as I am, it would be him. You do realize why he wants you, right? I mean, yes, part of it is some fellow-feeling. You've gone through some of the same experiences. But you must have figured out the real reason."

*

"Now, I'm not a shrink. Even if I were? For that guy, I'd charge double. And this is a guy with multiple personalities sayin' this. So I know my crazy." He digs around in the bag. It smells good. It's getting cold. Might as well eat. He cracks a beer when he finds it, too.

He takes a bite and pushes a bit of cheese back into his mouth. "I'm guessing you don't mean for my body." The joke falls flatter than it might have under different circumstances. The humour comes up as a defense mechanism, but his heart isn't really in it. "Projection. That'd be my guess. Some part of him realizes he's under the same kinda brainwashing I am. That, and…" he wobbles his head. "He wants me on-side to help tear down SHIELD from the inside."

*

"Sure. Like everything, he's split. Boy, is he split. He wants to tear down SHIELD, because that's what his programming says. And he wants to break down his programming, because that's what the man within really wants." Natasha lets out a small puff of air through her nose. "It's funny. I really thought I was bringing back a revelation when I realized who he was. Turns out they knew. But he knows about the Fogburner that brings out your mediator-personality. The… what's it called? Keeper? The man he was, the one who's trying to come out, I'm willing to bet he wants to see if he can use that stuff to break his own conditioning. And in you, he has the perfect lab rat."

*

"Gee, now I'm all crushed. I really thought he'd respect me in the morning," drawls Emmett. The beer's going down pretty quickly, and unlike SOME people, he can actually get drunk. Oh boy can he. "Can you get me some? The Fogburner stuff? I wanna know what's keeping me under. I mean, I'm no biochemist, but maybe I can have some idea of what they've done to me. S'possible that there's no way to get me off it without entirely losing my fucking mind." Yep. There goes more of the beer.

*

"I can bring you what SHIELD scientists have on the stuff, but it's not much. We could possibly get someone else to take a look at it, as long as they don't know it's related to you. Many things I know; this stuff, not so much." Natasha takes a deep breath. "You should realize the big problem. Keeper knows I know now. The next time you see the Soldier, he's going to tell him."

*

Argyle bites the edge of his lip. He avoids eye contact. "He don't like you very much. You're worse than a SHIELD agent. He thinks you're a traitor. Never mind that's what he's tryin' to turn me into. Or is he just trying…" he sighs heavily. "Goddamn. I don't even know which side I'm supposed to be on." He pinches the bridge of his nose. "I don't think he's gonna be in a hurry to inject me if I'm cooperating. He didn't tell the other me that he was gonna spill the beans. He uh…he videotaped me talking to him while I was under the drug."

*

Natasha considers this, putting her head on one side. "That's… helpful. I wondered how he convinced you. You have some failsafes, I think, if you just start thinking things are weird. He would have had to show you some pretty incontrovertible proof. And even then, you probably had some monster headaches after."

She leans forward, clasping her hands on the table. "The side you choose is up to you. Everything is up to you. I'd start with being on your own side, though; the rest… I think you'll figure it out as you go."

She smiles faintly, putting her head on one side. "I'm sure he's furious with me. Not just because I left. Because leaving meant I broke my programming enough to be able to get out. He can't. That makes him madder."

*

"He told me what I already knew. Well, not the details. But I've known somethin' was wrong for a very long time. You showing up here after the first time he grabbed me was a bad move. S'not like we're buddies. You had no reason to give a damn about me unless it was related to a mission." Argyle doesn't know for sure the first time was the Soldier, but by assuming it is, he leaves it up to Natasha to correct. "I got some kinda tracker in me, don't I?"

*

"Sure. Pretty sure I do, too, somewhere." Natasha raises her arms and looks herself over as if she could find it in a pocket or a fold of her clothes. "The last place he took you, I'm sure you know the power plants interfered with it. That's why you found me cranky as hell at the bar. That was pretty telling, I'm afraid."

*

Emmett reaches into the bag and pulls out another beer. Instead of opening it for himself, he slides it across the table towards her. "You get me those files, Romanoff. That'll help me decide if you really are on my side. Call it a high compliment that I have a hard time believing a damned word you say to me."

*

"I am a world-class liar," Natasha admits. "And in general, the last person you should trust. But in this instance, I'll do what I can." She takes the beer, opening it with a sharp twist of her hand, which… it was a regular bottlecap, not the twisty kind. She shouldn't have been able to do that. But she flicks the cap onto the table and takes a swig, kicking back.

"Pass some of those chips, would you?"

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