Captain Steven Grant Rogers of Brooklyn, New York walked in the main entrance of the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, closely following the man who had picked him up from the airport. The man flashed a badge and muttered a quick, "He's with me," and Steve was allowed to pass right through the security checkpoints. Were this not a matter of utmost importance in regards to national security, Steve might have been concerned about the lack of security at one of the world's foremost intelligence agencies.
Then again, if the CIA had suspected him as a threat, they would not have invited (read: summoned) him here.
His guide exchanged smiles and small talk with nearly every person they passed, but Steve could not for the life of him remember the man's name. He thought it may have started with a C or a K, or maybe a G. Regardless, his quick pace told Steve that the man was efficient and respectful of others' time.
They passed through corridors upon corridors of white walls and tile, until they reached a large conference room with walls of windows. Steve was fairly certain that they were for looking out, not in.
"Captain Rogers," said a tall man with dark skin and a patch covering his left eye. He was not dressed as Steve would have expected a high-ranking official to be dressed; long leather coats seemed inappropriate for the CIA, but who was he to judge? Steve was just an enlisted kid who walked into a string of luck.
"Director Nicholas Fury."
Extending his hand, Steve said, "Pleasure, sir."
"I trust Agent Coulson has been helpful in your move to DC."
It took Steve a moment to catch what Director Fury had said. "I'm sorry; move to DC?"
Fury crossed his arms. "I thought that's what the deal was. We needed a man of your caliber to handle this mission, which can only be handled from here."
"Excuse me for saying this, sir," said Steve, "but I'm in the Army. I'm not a spy. I was under the impression that I was here to consult on something due to the nature of my enlistment."
"Have a seat, Captain," said Fury, gesturing to one of the chairs a little down the table. Steve sat, as did Agent Coulson. "After much deliberation and searching for an alternative, the CIA has determined that you are the best qualified to handle this sort of a situation. What do you know of sleeper agents?"
"Not much, sir," replied Steve, taken aback at how straight-to-business Fury was and frustrated by the lack of communication. He had not planned on moving any time soon, but considering the circumstances back home… "It is an espionage tactic used by the Soviets to bring spies into America to steal information."
"I see you're familiar with the Hollywood version of spy business," Fury said, exchanging a look with Coulson. "Highly trained and incredibly patient, sleeper agents are put into position years before expecting to be used. They create lives and alibis until the appropriate time to strike, passing on information to their handlers if it seems notable. We are aware of around a dozen sleepers in the US currently, spread across the country. They are not our primary concern. We are concerned with an elite Russian operative called the Black Widow."
Agent Coulson set a stack of manila folders on the table and opened the topmost one, turning it to face Steve and pushing it towards him. Before looking at it, Steve raised his hands and said, "With all due respect, sir, I'm a soldier, not a spy. I don't think I'm your guy. I don't even know how I got on your radar."
Fury had the audacity to laugh—a bitter sound. "Captain Rogers, ever since Dr. Erskine's hypothetical 'super serum' actually worked on you, you've been on nearly every radar in the country, if not the world. We've kept interested parties off your back for three years now, and that includes doctors who want to use you to cure various illnesses. We've just been waiting for the right time to bring you in."
Steve knew he had been beat. He sighed. "What can I do to help?"
Fury gave him a cold grin and looked at Coulson. The other man had a genuine smile on his face as he referenced the file before Steve. "Black Widow, Soviet assassin. Presumed female, age unknown. Dozens of kills in the last near-decade have been accredited to this alias. She is quite possibly the deadliest assassin in the world, and she's on American soil."
Tapping his fingers on the table as he looked over the first page of the thin file, Steve asked, "How do you know?"
"A Soviet defector was able to give us this intel before he was killed. We only know it is legitimate because he said the Widow was already in deep cover. The Soviets wouldn't pull her out if she's doing something important because of something one traitor said. She can handle herself, if her track record is anything to go by."
Coulson shook his head. "We cannot even confirm the Widow is female. None of her victims has ever survived. Our source had never met the Widow. We just assume her gender based on what seems to be her preferred method of killing. She sleeps with her targets and then kills them." Steve's eyes widened. Coulson clarified, "Well, not all of them. But most. She does the average shooting and stabbing every once in a while, but we can't prove they were her. Not that we can prove any were her, but—"
Fury cleared his throat.
"Right," Coulson said. "We believe she's in the DC area. We don't know why or how she got here, or what she's even here for."
"And you want me to find her," said Steve, feeling his stomach sink.
"We believe you, Captain Rogers, are the only person who can handle her physically. None of our other agents have ever made it back except in a body bag. On our turf, we have the upper hand," explained Fury, "and we think we know her target."
Coulson opened the second file of the stack. "Anthony Edward Stark, former CEO of Stark Industries." A picture of the sour-looking man stared up at Steve. "He used to manufacture weapons to sell in the Middle East, but was kidnapped by Afghani militants while on a business trip. They wanted missiles to fight the Soviets, but he was able to escape without giving them much."
Steve looked up at the agent. "I don't remember that being in the news."
The man looked sheepish and Fury said, "We were able to contain that information."
"Anyway," continued Coulson, "the Soviets have been interested in Stark for years. But now that he's officially out of the weapons business, they fear he is contracting solely with us and want to take him out."
Coulson smiled. "Of course." He set aside the folder and opened the next. On top of a pristine and lengthy resume was a photo of a beautiful woman. "Virginia 'Pepper' Potts, former personal assistant to Tony Stark and current CEO of Stark Industries."
"I do remember that from the news," interrupted Steve, picking up the photograph. It had been a big deal for a woman to go from being a PA to CEO, even though she was not the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. People doubted her, but Steve didn't see why. She seemed plenty capable of doing her job.
"Yes. We've got people inside Stark Industries right now to protect her. We think the Widow will go after Potts to get to Stark. That's where you come in. We want you to befriend Potts openly as a known associate of ours. She does not know there are CIA operatives working for her, but she has agreed to a protection detail from us. Captain Rogers, we'd like you to spend some time with her and Mr. Stark, get to know them and the people around them. Stark Industries has only allowed us access to some of their personnel files and we don't trust the employees with close access to Ms. Potts and Mr. Stark."
A phone began to ring. Fury looked down at the conference phone on the table. "Excuse me," he said, rising from his chair and exiting the room to answer the call from a different line.
Left alone with Steve, Coulson continued. "Stark is a bit of an ass, but he means well. Most of the time." He opened another file. "Clinton Francis Barton, one of ours. He doesn't do undercover very well—he thinks it's too boring and his skills are put to greater use elsewhere—so he's probably the most incompetent employee Stark Industries has ever had. He'll be your partner. Another thing he hates; he works best alone, but we need the best of the best to take down the Widow. When it comes down to it, Barton will take the Widow out. He's the second greatest assassin in the world.
"We've brought you on to handle the search and confront her if necessary until Barton can get into position. She's the best the Soviets have and she's in our backyard. This is the catch, Captain Rogers: the Widow is in deep cover and we have no idea what she looks like. There's the potential for another source we are negotiating with, and he might have some idea of what she looks like but until she makes a mistake, we're in the dark. Our analysts have narrowed down probable cover stories to four." Coulson opened the last file. "Spend the afternoon choosing an apartment, Captain. You're gonna be here for a while."
"Agent Coulson," said Steve, "I don't know what you expect me to do. I have a life in New York."
Coulson gave him a sad smile. "Sorry, Captain, but when Uncle Sam calls, you gotta pick up the phone. Your things are being delivered later this evening. Have fun house-hunting." Coulson left the files on the table and stood to leave. Just before exiting the room, he turned back and said, "Just a hint—don't let Barton know you know his middle name. He hates it."
"Yes, sir." Steve looked back down at the Widow's file. There was nothing useful in it, except some investigative testimonies, each containing a different description of the possible Widow, and some low quality photographs of her victims. Steve's stomach turned at the sight of the victims, some with bullet wounds between the eyes, strangulation marks around their necks, stab wounds in their chests, or evidence of castration.
Somehow this job seemed like suicide.
Steve pulled the key out of his pocket and unlocked the front door of his new apartment, glad to see that the delivery men had already been in and out. He was surprised at the quality of the apartment considering it was being paid for by the US government. It was large and in a nice area, not that he knew much about Dupont Circle.
He sat on his old couch that had belonged to his mom and opened the container of Chinese food he'd picked up. It had been a long day. When he woke up this morning, Steve had no idea he would have moved to a new city later in the day.
Honestly, if he hadn't been utterly alone in New York, Steve wouldn't have even considered it. Thanks but no thanks. But his friends and family were gone, and he didn't really have a job, other than doing some recruiting for the Army. This would be good for him.
After finishing his dinner, Steve located the box that contained his small TV and started the arduous process of hooking it up. Once everything was functioning properly, he settled on his couch and tried to find MTV. Just as he found the channel, there was a knock on his door.
Steve groaned as he stood up and walked to answer it. Standing before him was a shorter, very pretty woman holding a plate of cookies. She smiled up at him. "Hi," she said, her voice low and sweet. "I'm Natalie. Six-B. I saw that someone was moving in today, so I thought I'd bring something over." She held out the plate for him.
"Oh, um, thanks," said Steve. He still felt horribly incapable of talking to women, no matter how much he had improved from high school. "I'm Steve. Steve Rogers, I mean. I just moved here."
She laughed, and Steve really looked her over for the first time. She was small, but not short by any means and had collar length auburn hair. "Yeah, ha. Well, if you need anything, just let me know. I'm usually around in the mornings and evenings."
"Right, thanks," he said, trying to decide (without being creepy) if her eyes were blue or green or grey.
"Well," Natalie said, a small smile on her face, "see ya."
"See ya," said Steve, backing into his apartment and closing the door as she began to walk away. Taking the plate of cookies with him, Steve settled back onto the couch and returned his eyes to the screen, where even though it was February, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was playing.