1963-12-08 - Firewalking
Summary: Moira MacTaggert finds her undercover operation in Weapon X threatened when one of her colleagues pulls her into a dangerously frank private discussion.
Related: Piercing the Veil; Plot: The Superior Man
Theme Song: None
natasha moira 

While Moira dislikes the work, dislikes the sneaking around, the doubling back and doing everything she can to hide her coming and going from the institute, she still keeps with it. Mainly because she can very carefully sabotague their work from the inside and has. While they thought they'd make progress so much faster, their experiments have been coming up with very little luck since the start of the project. Moira's reassured everyone that this is a part of science, to be expected, and no one should get discouraged. It took her decades to make her advances. They couldn't do this in a year.

And her sabotague carries on.

Right now, she's heading towards the tiny little coffee room, having just piped a whole other line of test tubes and they need time to cure, so she's actually getting something to drink. She's still in her usual white lab coat, dark hair pulled off her face. She's a bit slower going on her crutch, the weather making the pain in her hip and knee even worse than normal. But life carries on.


Even on the days when she's scheduled to come in, Gretchen Steingate doesn't spend much time in the facility's hallways anymore. If she isn't with a subject, she's in a lab, chatting amicably - or professionally, given the tension still lingering amongst the odd employee - with a scientist; or alone, making as little noise as she possibly can. This is partly because she's a woman who doesn't like to waste time when there are things that need doing, and partly because she's long since memorized the layout of the place and gotten a read on the movements of at least some of its employees after her first days on the assignment.

So when the labcoat-clad redhead rounds a corner to stroll through Moira's corridor, it has all the makings of a fluke or a coincidence - two co-workers headed down the same hallway in opposite directions - until, just as they draw parallel to one another, she snags the geneticist's forearm in a grip with little tolerance for struggle and proceeds to try dragging the doctor towards a storage closet across the hall and a door away from the coffee room.

A soft "Shhh," hisses from her lips to Moira's ears in the moment of contact.


The first instinct from Moira is to scream, but then she really didn't want to draw attention to herself here, and there wasn't any weapon in the other woman's hands. There is also a hiss in her ear, so Moira listens, stumbling slightly towards the closet, but she goes inside. Her heart's now going a million miles an hour, a trapped bird in her throat, as she's utterly certain she's finally been caught. Maybe this is where she dies. Or her brain gets wiped, or worse. She stares up at Natasha in abject fear, body stiff and now slightly trembling.

"W-what? What? I didn't do anything! What!" She breathes out raggedly, once the door is shut. Denial is an awful thing and she's not really all that good at lying, but the insistant words keep coming out of her mouth as she frantically looks for some way out of this situation.


If it helps her panic any, Moira at least gets her arm back as soon as they reach the dim of the closet.

Once the door is shut behind them, Gretchen edges back to lean against it and peer down at the frightened scientist with pursed lips and a gradually arching brow. This continues for as long as Moira does, plus a couple beats more to give the other woman a chance to catch her breath.

"You're gonna wanna work on that," she finally murmurs with a slow shake of the head and a sympathetic wince. "I'd suggest a mirror and a strong imagination, or maybe a man with a rough voice and hands. Anyway:"

The redhead's mutedly red lips draw up in a faint approximation of a smile.

"How'd you first hear of Weapon X, Doctor MacTaggert?"


There is still panic in her features, but being that the woman hasn't yet accused her of sabotague, or anything really, and also hasn't drawn a weapon? Moira isn't entirely certain why she's panicking any longer. Only that the woman who makes her the most nervous in this place has drawn her somewhere private and she has no clue why. She takes in a few pants of breath, trying to calm, but she's not all that good at it. She really should work on it.

"…I…they…they were using my work… I heard it through the… research grapevine. You know how it goes." Moira lies. It's a BIT more smooth than the first lies, but still not good for someone who knows how to read people and get information out of suspects. Moira is not good at this espionage thing AT ALL.


"I do," says Gretchen with a small, amiable nod. "A project on the cutting edge of mutant-centric R&D? Of course you jump in, especially when they've already demonstrated how valuable you are to them. It's a career-maker— or, in your case, maybe more of a legacy-cementer?" The redhead's shoulder rolls and her arms fold across her chest.

"Which is why it's so impressive to me that you seem as— mm, what's the word for it— subdued as you do," she softly continues, "in the wake of the Director's announcement. Most people in your position would be overjoyed to know that they've contributed to a breakthrough on that level, but not you!" Her hands reach for one of Moira's and her eyes seek to capture the scientist's.

"You're an inspiration, is all," she concludes, gripping Moira's hand tightly if able. "What's your secret, huh? I gotta know."


While Natasha isn't physically backing her up into a corner, Moira feels like it, pressing herself a bit tighter against the wall, her chin leveled, pulse still pounding in her throat. She doesn't even fight to get her hand free, the redhead able to grip tight and hold on for dear life. Moira just stares, frantic, trying to look for a good lie but she's awful at lying, especially under pressure. "…Secret? No.. no secret. Science just takes time, that's all… it takes a lot of time…" The repeated words she's given to every 'failed' experiment or messed up control group. It's a tired excuse, especially in this closet.

"…I…I just want to make certain no one is hurt. That… my…work is used… Ethically." Ahh, there it is. There is the truth. She is protecting her work. And, from the look in her eyes, she doesn't really agree with what is going on here. She's careful about those words, not saying WHO is using it ethically. But, at least she's spilled something of worth for Natasha.


"By the organization that had lost its top brass to a scandal surrounding the brainwashing and weaponization of mutants," Gretchen casually tacks to the end of Moira's last statement, nodding and smiling along all the while. Mercifully, she lets Moira's hand fall afterwards and clasps hers loosely in front of herself. "Makes sense, sure. Your name's still attached to the foundational work, after all. And everything that's been done since; God forbid if you found yourself directly tied to some scandal or another, you could be ruined. Which does sorta lead me to wondering who else's work may have been co-opted this way— I mean, they weren't all recruited, right? Not all of them necessarily have an ear to the 'grapevine', I'd bet— not to mention that plenty of them would probably have a hard time with the idea of coming to work here. Ethics and all, you know. You must've at least thought about trying to reach out to some of them— if only to give them a chance to have the same kind of agency you lucked into; professional courtesy, and all."


"…I…well, I mean, really…most of it is my work. The…ground breaking things, at least. There are a few others, Professor Xavier out of Oxford, after all, but he's stopped researching in the recent years." At least publicly. Natasha can read the subtle changes on Moira's face as she speaks about him, even if she TRIES to make it professional, she cares for the man. Is in love with him, probably. There's just a slight dialation of her eyes, a certain way she speaks his name. But she shakes it off and tries to stand her ground, "Why are you doing this? Why stop me?! If…if you think I am not good for this project, why approach ME? I…I just want to make certain no one is hurt. We… we do this right. Or…we don't do it at all." The last words are softer. Far more true. And the hope behind her voice can't be hidden. That is why she's here, to stop it. Though she's never said that directly, it's read all over her face.


More nodding and a soft, thoughtful, "Mmm," meet Moira's response— and then she manages to collect herself and push back.

Gretchen regards this with a gradual cant of the head and a knowing twitch of her still-present smile.

"Well," she exhales while tossing ruby locks over a shoulder, "you're clearly engaged in some kind of espionage here, but you're also clearly very bad at it? Which is why we are where we are now: you are nervous and blatantly morally conflicted and on track to possibly getting yourself killed once someone who isn't me notices you." All of this is said in a light, casual - and barely audible - tone, the redhead leaning ever nearer as she speaks.

By the end, the cornering is quite real, with mere inches separating the pair.

"I, however, am pretty good at this. You can tell, because I've been embedded here for the past several months. So, I want to offer you a deal: put me in contact with your contact - whoever it is you're inevitably going to report to after one of your shifts - and I'll teach you what you need to have a real shot at getting out of this alive. We can share intel; I have a sneaking suspicion that you've already seen some of it."


If there was any color left in Moira's face, and there almost wasn't, the rest of it fully drains out as Natasha just calls her straight on the carpet about what she's doing and just how bad she was at it. Her jaw drops, lips opening to say something, anything, but she simply can't find words. No protest. Caught. She was caught red handed. She clutches against the wall a moment harder, almost considering passing out, but that would be awful unseemly. So she keeps herself upright and stares.

As Natasha goes on, her head tilts a bit more, staring, incredulous. This wasn't happening. "…H-how…how do I know this…isn't a trap? You're trying to get me to admit… I'm doing something…against the project. How do I know you aren't?" Moira asks, a little more stiffly, trying to regather herself, but the jig is clearly up. Her brain just hasn't entirely figured that out yet.


At first, Moira's question earns her a firm, two-fingered tap to the forehead as a corner of Gretchen's smile rises a little.

"Your instincts aren't completely shot, here," she murmurs. "Good. Does your 'grapevine'— "

Air quotes.

"— happen to extend through the Baxter Building?" she queries in turn. "Because that was the first place the files I took from the Coney Island facility went. Because I needed them examined by an expert, who - via recommendation from Doctor Richards - would have been you. You may ask him if he's ever met a vigilante by the name of 'Black Widow'; we had a real interesting chat about it, maybe he remembers. Also, you had an appointment on your books with a 'Miss Johannsen' for a time, back in September. But she never showed, because I was tied up in an emergency at one of the facilities."

Gretchen then rolls back back onto her heels, putting at least a little bit of extra space between them.

"Now, I could still be a trap of some kind despite those things, maybe, but the odds aren't great: I would need to be downright astonishing at this thing we're doing, and possibly also a little psychic."


It's not until Natasha says 'Johannsen' that it all clicks in with Moira. She might be awful at espionage, but she is still a genius. She remembers her appointments, especially those that are missed. So, either this is all true, or Natasha is a psychic which, in any case, the jig is up anyway. Moira's shoulders slump a touch and she nods quietly. "Johannsen. Yes. I…I remember. So.. you… we… We're on the same side?" Moira whispers, ever so softly, but there is a crack of hope across her face now. She wasn't alone here. Maybe they could take this down.

"…Not through the Baxter building. Up north. There's… a school. I work there… they got some of our students, the first time around. It was… awful. I… I swore I'd do anything to take this place apart. I still will." Now that she's decided it's safe, she's just dropped ALL guards, spilling almost everything, apparently, in relief and the need of an ally.


Black Widow's hands unknit as that crack forms and reach for Moira's shoulders.

"That's right," she whispers with a small nod and a squeeze. "You aren't alone here, and you never were."

The school and its plight receive slow, understanding nods as the redhead's features twist into shock, then disgust— then collected, resolute rage. Students! Here! Towards the end, she tries to draw the scientist into a tight, if brief hug.

"What've you done so far?" she quietly wonders. "What are you going to do? They obviously cannot be allowed to complete this, this abomination they've conceived of, it would be a nightmare. Not to mention what would happen when the procedure found its way into even wronger hands."


The hug is unexpected but, in truth, probably desperately needed. By both of them. Moira sinks forward into it, her bird-boned body leaning heavy against Natasha for a heartbeat or so. But they had work to do, both of them. They had to carry on. She straightens up a bit and is slowly putting herself back together, the panic gone. She's slightly more steady for actually knowing she has some back up here.

"Right now? I'm just… ruining it all. I'm throwing off all the labs. I've actually probably set them back six months but because half the idiots he hired don't understand what they are doing, no one's noticed. I… I've got information I'm feeding back, but we're a school…I am not going to ask the kids to attack this place. Even the grown ones. So…I'm just hoping to grind it all to a halt and free any subjects they take again. What…what are you trying to do?"


"Make their subjects useless to them. Mess with their employees' heads, turn them if I can. Gather enough information for an expose - ideally before someone else decides to push one out and make my job more difficult; also, to push into the hands of people with the capacity to act on it. I'm only one woman, and while I could put a bullet in Colcord's head, I don't think that it would solve much right now: if he has any backing at all, they would find a replacement. Even if he doesn't, he would still be a martyr. Either way, I would probably wind up shot to death, which would make further operations difficult."

Black Widow's shoulders roll as she rattles off that last bit, seemingly unshaken in spite of it. "You ought to see if you can find any of your peers - on the outside - who have been or are being courted, because if they do realize that things aren't running according to their schedule, they may try reaching out for extra help to get things back on track, look for problems, that kind of thing. I'll keep my eyes and ears open too."


The brunette listens quietly, intelligently. Taking orders is soething she can do, changing her focus, figuring out more ways to mess up the project. Moira gives a few quick nods at the question of getting a few other colleagues on board. "I can try. Genuinely, the things I was doing are… so far beyond other scientists, it's hard to find others. But, I will try. I'm trying to get enough information we can have a proper government raid on the place. Sneaking out files where I can…we…we should organize what we sneak out or copy. Maybe we can build a big enough case?"


"Maybe," the Widow cautiously replies, "but I wouldn't go pinning my hopes on a government response just yet, if I were you— not until the program's backing has been investigated. Think of the scale of this— "

Her hand raises for a broad sweep, then falls to lay gently on Moira's shoulder.

"— and what it must have cost in time, resources, bribes, et cetera. The implications of a method to both depower undesireables and empower soldiers, police, and so on at will. How many entities in the world could have both the means and motive for something like this— who would stand to benefit from it as much as a government and its military? Too many questions in the air, just now— too many to put your faith in more than what you can verify, touch. You're a spy now, Doctor MacTaggert." A small, rueful smile plays across her features before they melt into something graver.

"Hope is a liability; trust is a commodity. That said: building a case too big to be beaten or ignored is still wise. Worst case scenario - government and military are wholly, rather than partly corrupt - there's always SHIELD. Miss Johannsen can bring some things by your school, if you like; they may help."


"I…I guess. SHIELD…might not be any more trustable either. But it's a thought. I…well, if you look up that professor I mentioned earlier? Find his school, and you'll be able to bring things there." MOira's almost scared to even mention the school's full name in this building. "Up in Westchester. It's not too hard to find. I… otherwise, I'm just going to keep doing what I was doing. Until I have better answers, I can at least slow them down, right?"

Then Moira's pale eyes flicker back to the doorway, realizing just how long they've been in here. "…we…should probably move. They'll realie we were gone soon. People will ask questions. If… if anyone asks, just tell them you…you were helping talk me through something. Maybe I was having a freak out that… that things weren't working fast enough. You know how to spin it, right? You're better than I am at this!"


"Alright," the Widow replies with a soft voice and vigorous nodding, "I'll find him. It. Keep up the good work. You've handled yourself well so far, considering; the longer you can delay this thing, the more time we'll have to figure out how to burn it down to the roots."

After the flick of Moira's eyes, the redhead dips into her labcoat, retrieving cigarettes and a lighter. One is nudged out, lit, and gently puffed on before it's offered over.

"You had a crisis of confidence, yes— here, puff. You're Moira MacTaggert, and this project wouldn't exist without you; why wouldn't you reach out to someone who could talk you through the anxiety you're feeling, give you some firm advice on maintaining the proper outlook in the face of adversity? You just needed a push to get your head on straight, keep it focused on saving all those poor mutant souls."


Cigarettes? Moira was SO not that kind of woman. She was a nerd, honestly. A true and true nerd. The Sandra-Dee type of girl. But, well… when one is an undercover SPY one does these things! So, she gamely takes up the cigarette and inhales deeply of it. Abruptly breaking into a few rasping coughs before she hands it back, blinking, "Oh god, that's awful how do you people SMOKE those things?" Her voice is definitely a bit more rasping now, half embarrassed. But she tried.

"…Y-yes…I had a moment, pulled you here… you… you offered a cigarette, talked me through it. We're saving humanity, of course. That's…absolutely what we are doing." She actually takes the cigarette again, this time not inhaling, but she tastes it before giving it back, giving one more firm nod, and then she pushes open the door. Back into the lion's den…

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