"Come with me," Natasha says, voice short, allowing no room for argument.
Martha falls in step behind her.
Natasha ducks into a room, then starts going down a different hall, one Martha is not familiar with-- which isn't saying much, since she's only been with SHIELD for two days, but something feels wrong with the entire thing.
And then Natasha is at a window, and opening it that way.
"Uh, Natasha?" Martha asks, a touch timidly. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" she asks, as she pushes the window open. She gestures through it.
"What's going on?"
"I'll explain on the way."
"You'll explain now," Martha says, steel in her voice.
Natasha is glad that she's become more authoritative, so she quickly says, "I don't believe SHIELD is as secure as it should be to help you out, so I'm taking matters into my own hands. Now, please, climb through the window."
Martha nods, then does as she says, maneuvering her way out of the window.
It's not a speedy process, when Martha does it, but she gets through without any injuries, and with some degree of grace.
Natasha is behind her in moments, and then leading her around a maze of hallways.
"Does anybody know you're...?" Martha starts, before obviously floundering for what to say.
"Abducting you? No. Barton should realize in a few minutes, but it'll take him some time to track us down, it's not an issue."
"Alright," Martha says, a touch faintly, but she still follows Natasha.
"You ever ridden a motorcycle before?" Natasha asks, as she makes her way down the alleyway, towards where she’s parked her new Minsk.
Martha shakes her head, but then probably figures Natasha can't see it, and she says, "No."
"Basically," Natasha says, as she holds out a helmet, "hold on, and try not to fall off." She quickly mounts the motorcycle, and starts it up.
"Got it," Martha replies, snapping the helmet on. At Natasha's gesture, she climbs on behind her, grasping her firmly around the waist.
"You on?" she calls, over her shoulder, looking at Martha.
And then they're off, tearing through Budapest, down away from the SHIELD headquarters, heading towards her apartment in the Józsefváros district, but in a more roundabout fashion.
She comes to a stop, half an hour later, having had gone the most roundabout fashion which she could.
"I don't think anyone followed us," she says, getting off, putting down the kickstand.
"Good," Martha says, faintly, stumbling off the bike.
"You should be able to walk normally in a few minutes," Natasha continues, gesturing Martha to follow her, which she shakily does.
They're in a rather ratty apartment complex, and Natasha leads Martha up two flights of stairs, before going down another hall and leading her down a flight, and then she's the second room on the right.
Her apartment is sparsely furnished, with only a couch, a coffee table, and a TV on a stand noticeable in the living room. Her kitchen has one table and a chair and a stool, and her bedroom has a bed and a bookshelf, but there's little else. Aside from the collection of guns and others knives stashed away.
"Sit down," Natasha says, and Martha wobbles over, before falling heavily down. Natasha stares at her for a minute, before she heads over to the coffee table, sits at the edge, directly across from Martha. "Martha?" she asks.
Martha looks up at her, blinking a few times. "Hm?"
"Are you alright?" Natasha asks, trying to sound concerned -- and she is concerned, but she's learned never to let it show, or bleed through.
"I'm..." she shakes her head. "I'll be fine."
"I don't doubt it," Natasha replies. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Martha takes a moment, but eventually sits up tall, strong. She looks at Natasha levelly. "It's nothing. I'll be fine," she says.
Natasha believes her. "We're going to be heading to UNIT to get the vial in the next hour. I'd get some sleep, if you could." And then she's up and heading to her room. She's got small semi-automatics into cutouts of books, and she starts holstering up. There's a false board under her bed, and she starts pulling out her secondary stockade of weapons. She's not sure what she'll need just yet, but it's for the best to just get out the basics.
She's just replacing the boards when she hears the door open, Martha's quiet noise of surprise, and the padding of footfalls.
Natasha rolls her eyes. "You're not that great at stealth, are you?"
Clint frowns. "You heard me?"
"You're not exactly subtle," she told him.
He's in the doorway to her room, hip cocked up against the doorjamb.
She gives him a look. "Are you going to move?"
"You shouldn't've left," he tells her.
She's glad that he's quick enough to get to the point. "SHIELD is no where near competent to pull this off," she tells him. "There's a leak--"
"They think you're the leak."
"Yes, and that means they're never going to catch the real leak. The more attention they pay to me, the more room they give him to go between SHIELD and UNIT, and compromise that information to the Master. They've got a leak, they can't find it, and the world can't wait for them to get their shit together. It's neater this way."
"You'll be put through disciplinary motions."
Natasha slinks up to him, and looks up at him through her lashes. "Who says that bothers me?" she asks, adding a sultry note to her voice.
His gaze goes distant for just a moment, but that moment is all she needs to slide past him into the other side of the room, and sweep his feet out from under him.
He immediately grabs the door to keep his balance, but she follows up with a high kick to his side; he was expecting it, though, and it doesn't send him stumbling into her room -- only to grab the door more. "I'm on your side," he tells her.
"I have no side," she tells him.
"Stop," Martha says.
Natasha takes a step to the side, so she can keep Barton visible to her side, while giving Martha her attention.
"If he says he's on our side, then I trust him. I think we are going to need his help," Martha says.
"You trust too easily," Natasha tells him. She turns to Barton. "You could be the leak."
His expression doesn't waver at that. Confident that she's not going to attack him, he straightens up, and looks at her. "Do you really think I'm the leak?" he asks, his voice completely serious, expression dead-serious.
She trusts fact, and logic, and what she knows, not what she thinks, what her gut tells her. It's worked out well for her. But something in the way he's looking at her...
She looks away, and turns back to Martha. "If Barton followed us--"
"Oh, I knew you had this place before now. I took the necessary precautions not to be tracked."
She stares at him, eyes narrowed.
He shrugs. "I followed you. That's what I'm supposed to do."
"And what did you tell SHIELD?"
"That you were going for a stroll. I gave them bogus addresses for where you could be."
She narrows her eyes even further. "Why?"
"Because if you ever ditched SHIELD, I wanted to be the first person to find you." He gives her a cocky grin. "I seem to have some ability to talk some sense into you."
"'I can either shoot you, or I can bring you in' doesn't require much sense," she points out.
"Wait," Martha says behind them. "When you said he brought you in because the alternative was for him to kill you... I thought you were joking."
"I never joke about the people who could possibly kill me," Natasha replies.
She gives Clint a sharp look, then asks, "Are you sure?"
"I took half an hour to get here," Clint says. "I took a cab, walked, went down side-alleys that don't have cameras, took another--"
Natasha waves him off. "If Barton is telling the truth, and wasn't followed, then I say you get some sleep. We're not going to be going there immediately, we need to wait for the cover of night. Get some rest."
"I don't think I can," Martha says, but then she covers her mouth, and sits up straighter. "I'll try to rest," she says.
Natasha nods, glad at her recovery. She cocks her head towards her room. "I don't need to get any sleep, I've gotten everything I need out of my room, you can take my bed."
"I can just sleep on the couch--"
"Me and Barton need to go over strategy," Natasha tells her. "Go get some sleep."
She rises to her feet, and nods at both of them as she passes them into her room.
"If I'm telling the truth?" Barton repeats, as soon as the door has shut.
Natasha has taken Martha's spot on the couch, and she pulls out a pad of paper she had under a stack of magazines. "Did you get a good look at the schematics of the building?" she asks, disregarding his question.
He looks at her, gaze wondering, not necessarily in a complimentary way, but he sits down next to her -- too close, like he's trying to prove a point.
He isn't, but she'll let him think he is, just for now.
He's left-handed when he writes, she sees, as he takes a pen out of a pocket and starts sketching out the most basic design of the building they saw. A few minutes pass, and he bends over, closer to the coffee table, putting more and more detail into the blueprint.
She makes a few corrections, every now and then (there wasn't a second door in that room, that closet didn't have two entrances, that exam room did), but mostly she just watches him work.
"We go in the ground level," Natasha says, when his hand slowly becomes less and less busy. "You go up the levels, take Martha with you, and I'll go down."
Barton raises an eyebrow. "Do I get a say in this?" he asks, but he seems pleased with her deciding to keep him on.
She ignores his question. "I have a few pairs of radios around here we can use, with frequencies that aren't on SHIELD's radar."
Natasha pauses, and thinks about it. "I don't know," she admits, grudgingly. "We'll have to see."
Barton leans back against the thin cushions of the couch. "So what're we going to be going up against?"
She raises an eyebrow at him. "You're the one with higher clearance than me, I thought UNIT personnel would be under that."
He shrugs. "I'm just wondering, about the Toclafane," he says the word slowly, carefully. "We all saw what they did, the day of the invasion. The message was obvious -- they could wipe us out. So why haven't we seen any since the last blackout?"
"Because he's not going to release them," Natasha says. "They're too callous, too obviously threatening. Easier to threaten us with the threat of them, taunt us, taunt Martha."
Clint stares at the door to Natasha's room at the mention. "You've been good for her," Clint says, nodding towards the door. "She's gotten tougher over the past few days."
"She was tough to begin with, she just didn't know it," Natasha replies.
Clint gives her a hard look at that. "Being completely honest," he says, staring at her, "how honest have you been with me?"
Natasha gives him a long look in reply. "You don't want to know the answer to that."
"You don't know me," Clint tells her. "You don't know what I do or do not want to know."
"I know enough about you from your file to know you've been completely honest with me," Natasha replies, as she gets up, stretching. The radios are stashed in the top of the coat closet -- behind the box of mittens and scarves and gloves and chapstick and extra cash. She pulls two out, and checks their batteries, and sets them down. She doesn't turn them on, she'll wait until they need them on, in case they can somehow give out some way of tracking them.
"How are we going to get to the UNIT base?" Barton asks, behind her.
She had that planned out, before Barton decided to come along. "I'm taking Martha on the Minsk, you can find your own transportation."
"That Minsk is yours?"
Natasha turns around, admittedly impressed. She has a soft spot for the motorcycle -- not just this one, but it's one she's had many of the same model, and she's adored them all. "It doesn't allow for three people," she tells him.
"Damn shame," Barton replies, with a smile.
It's forced, and he's trying too hard, but she doesn't mention it. It only seems polite.
Natasha thinks for a moment. "I know a sedan that I can easily hotwire--"
"Sedan?" he interrupts, frowning.
"It's inauspicious enough not to get noticed."
"I checked out the garage on my way up here, and there are plenty of cars that would work better than that sedan."
"It'll get us there faster--"
"It's only driving you--"
"Is that the best idea? To split up?"
"Yes. If we get attacked--"
"Then the SUV will handle the fire better."
"I'm going on the Minsk," Natasha says a moment later, simply. She likes the bike, she knows how to use it, she doesn't allow others to drive.
As if sensing her train of thought, he says, "I'll even let you drive."
"I'm taking the Minsk," Natasha repeats. Then she heads over towards the kitchen area-- it's not a different room, the flooring just switches to tile for a few feet before there's an oven, sink and cabinets. There are also overhead cabinets, and Natasha starts rummaging through them-- mostly are just empty jars that make it look like she has a lot to bake, and half-filled paper sacks of ingredients, but if she shuffles enough, she finds her reserve of quick energy bars. She would prefer a good meal over a chalky power bar, but she doesn't have enough time, or ingredients to actually make a good meal.
After a few moments hesitation, she grabs a second one, which she tosses over her shoulder, knowing Barton will catch it.
"Thanks," he says, a confirmation of the fact.
She hums in reply, and starts eating.
She had hoped that they would be able to do this, sit here quietly, without any unnecessary conversation, but it's never that easy with Barton.
"The one thing I don't get is that you've had ample time to escape. Why haven't you? Imagine what it'd do for your reputation."
"It only would have helped had I escaped while I was a prisoner, and I was too heavily guarded. Escaping as an employee would have hurt. And put a target on my back."
"Bigger," Clint amends.
Natasha shrugs. "And I owe you. And I don't like owing people."
"What happens when you repay me?"
"We'll find out one day or another."
Martha wakes up half an hour later, looking groggy, but slightly more well rested than earlier. "So," she says, before the word is turned into a yawn. She reaches up, covering her mouth, waving with the other. "Sorry," she says.
"Don't apologize," Natasha says, mostly out of habit by now.
Martha stares at her for a minute, giving her a small smile. But then she turns back to the two of them. "When are we heading out?"
The sun is just starting to set outside.
"We've still got some time before we need to be heading out."
"I think we should leave sooner, rather than later," Clint says.
"First," Natasha says, though, as she heads into her room. She goes to the closet, and starts rummaging through the clothes. After a minute, she comes back, and holds out a fresh pair of clothes, ranging from navy to black. "There are a pair of shoes in there as well that I think may fit."
Martha takes the clothes wordlessly, and goes back into Natasha's room, shutting the door behind her.
Clint raises an eyebrow at her.
She doesn't dignify it with a response.
They leave the apartment building quietly, and Natasha gestures Martha back over to her Minsk.
"We'll meet up in the alleyway to the south-side of the building," Natasha says, as she hands Martha her helmet.
"Where's he going?" Martha asks, watching Clint as he heads further into the garage.
"To hot-wire an SUV," Natasha replies, climbing onto the Minsk. *<3*
It's a fifteen minute drive to the UNIT base from Natasha's apartment, during which she is hyper-aware of Clint trailing her in the SUV, of Martha's arms wrapped tight around her waist, and of the many ways this could go wrong.
"We're going in a side door."
Martha looks dubious. "There's a lot security measures in place-- the only way I would have been able to get in was to have a UNIT soldier bring me in--"
But in the time that Martha was speaking, Clint had knelt down in front of the door, and started picking the lock.
Natasha delivers a sting to the electronic system, and it breaks down. They are able to enter without any security alarms going off.
"We're SHIELD," Natasha tells her, before ushering her in.
"So we're at the southwest corner of the building," Clint says, quietly, once they're inside. "Black Widow, I know you said you wanted to go down, while we go up, but I think it would be a better idea if we both went, flanking her."
"Do you know where the vial is?"
Martha nods. "Third floor, second corridor from the elevators, in a secure medical room."
Clint and Natasha exchange looks, and then Natasha immediately starts them up a stairwell, while Clint opens up his collapsable bow, and has an arrow in hand, aimed and ready to go.
Natasha doesn't start sprinting up the stairs, instead going for a careful climb, eyes wide and listening for any noise that might mean company. The only thing she hears though is Martha's deep breathing, and the sound of Clint's footfalls.
If she's going to work with Clint after this -- and somehow she's actually considering it to be an option -- then she's going to need to teach him how to walk without alerting anyone to his presence. It's annoying.
They manage to get past the second floor when she hears Clint stop moving, and does the same. There's the sound of opening doors, and immediately Natasha leans back against the railing, doing her best to blend into the shadows.
On the step behind her, Martha has done the same. Her breathing has shallowed, and Natasha sets a careful hand on her shoulder.
Clint looks up to Natasha, and she imagines the question he's asking is if he should take care of them.
Natasha shakes her head, though, instead jerks her head up, and they slowly start climbing again, though it takes two steps before Natasha stops, Martha stumbling against her.
Natasha takes a careful step down, and Clint takes an extra step up, and Martha is squeezed between them. "Why," Natasha starts, "would anybody be heading down into the basement? If they know we're here, or will be coming here, why would they be heading down?"
Clint's eyes are wide, and he's gazing past her, assessing the possibilities in his head. He mouths a 'shit,' then turns to Martha. "Who told you where to go?"
"The UNIT agent who we were in contact with back at SHIELD."
"SHIELD was compromised," Natasha says.
"They could be playing us?" Clint suggests, but he doesn't sound too sure of it.
It's a possibility. Natasha doesn't like it, so she says, "You two, stay here," and then she starts up the stairs to the third floor.
Clint hisses her name, quietly, so all she hears is the sound, and not what he's saying, but she ignores him, and breaks into the third floor. The floor is all office buildings.
"What kind of room where you supposed to get the vial in?" Natasha asks, when she rejoins them.
"They said it would be a lab."
Natasha looks at Clint. "Bottom level?"
"That'd be my guess," he says, and then whips out his retractable bow. "We'll stay half a level back."
Natasha draws a sidearm, flicks the safety off, and heads down the last flight of stairs, steps light and quick.
When she gets to the bottom, and sees the door -- and door past that -- she smirks. She tilts her head back and calls up, "Barton, we've got a killbox."
"Well that makes things easier," Barton calls back, and a few moments later he's down on ground level, Martha still a few stairs back up.
"And they were courteous enough to leave up the fire evacuation map," she adds, looking at the laminated map next to the door.
Barton is smiling as he heads over, and stands next to her, studying it with her. "This shouldn't be too hard."
Natasha agrees. The hall isn't that long, and the layout is as simple as it gets -- there are four square rooms on each side of the hallway, and a large lab at the very end. Through the windows in the doors to the antechamber, she sees that there are barricades set up, starting halfway down the hallway, though they're only shoulder high, and should be easy to deal with.
"It's not going to be in the end lab," Barton says.
"I'd guess one of the first two rooms as soon as you enter."
Barton leans to look through the windows on the doors. "You go in, get the closest agents behind barricades, I give you cover fire, and you disarm the men waiting in the rooms?"
She nods, then looks over her shoulder. "Cover me."
"We're kind of on a tight schedule," he says, drawing out an arrow and notching it. "Try not to get too creative."
"But that's half the fun," she replies, before using her Widow Sting to short out the security panel on the outer door. She slips through it, closes it behind her, shorts out the security panel of the inner door, kicks open the door, and immediately drops to the ground.
The crossfire hits eye-level, and Natasha uses the Sting again on the side of the knees of the agents who are bracketing the end of the hallway.
Before they hit the ground, Natasha is already vaulting over the nearest barricade, foot landing solid against the agent's sternum, sending him to the floor.
She hears the sound of glass shattering, and she ducks, and sweeps the feet out of the agent, hitting him with the Sting when he hits the ground. The agent next to him turns and aims at her, but an instant later he's falling to the ground, thanks to a perfect shot from Barton.
A second later, she hears a hissing sound, and sees an arrow imbedded in one of the barricades past her, starting to release smoke.
Barton is in the hallway now, next arrow notched and ready for fire.
Natasha heads back to the killbox, and pulls out her ankle-holster semi, and hands it to Martha, who is pressed into a corner. "Don't follow me into a room before I've cleared it," she tells her, before going to the room on the right and kicking down the door.
There are four agents inside the room, and they're easy to take down, a shot a piece. The next room down the hall goes just the same.
"Is this a disappointing turn-out, or is it just me?" Barton asks, in an undertone, as she passes him, as she heads back to the antechamber.
"I saw a third wave, in the lab at the end of the hall."
"Why do they save all the heavy-hitters for the final wave?" Barton asks. "We're going to be out of here before then."
"Maybe next time," Natasha tells him, though truth be told she shares Barton's disappointment. She reaches the antechamber, and tells Martha, "The rooms on the right are clear. I'd start with the room next door," she says, pointing, just to make sure Martha goes to the right room.
While Martha disappears into the room, Natasha moves on to the two remaining rooms. The two rooms on the left are the same as the rooms on the right, four agents in each, each easily taken down with one shot.
While Martha hurries from the first room to the second, Natasha moves next to Barton, standing clear as he fires another arrow. "Need any help with the cover fire?"
"Some of the agents are trying to maneuver through the barricades, and I'm starting to run out of arrows, so I would appreciate it," he tells her.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Martha emerge from the second room, and she carefully edges along the hallway, and then behind Natasha and Barton.
Natasha is in the middle of replacing the magazine in her semi when there's the sound of gunfire to her immediate left. She swears -- although she had taken the agents down in moments, she had scanned each office, to make sure there were no additional agents, but she must have gotten sloppy -- and is instantly at the doorway where the gunshot came from, when she hears a shatter, and a thud.
She nudges the door open with her boot, and edges into the room, gun raised.
There are the four agents on the floor she took down earlier, but there's also another agent, dressed in darker colors than the usual UNIT uniform, unconscious on the floor.
There's ceramic shards next to his face.
"Martha?" Natasha calls, scanning every inch of the room, gun still raised.
"I'm fine," Martha calls, raising up from behind the desk in the center of the room.
Natasha turns to her, assessing her for damage, sighing with relief when she sees the bullet hole imbedded in the wall. Then she turns back to the fifth agent, and swears loudly in Russian. He's on the floor in front of a door, and when she rolls the body out of the way to open the door, she sees it opens to the other room on this side of the hall.
"What happened?" Barton asks, halfway into the room, glancing between Natasha, and the hallway.
She just continues to swear in Russian.
"I'm fine," Martha repeats, as she walks over to them. Her hand is shaking slightly as she hands Natasha back her semi. "I'm sorry, I couldn't..."
Natasha waves her off, as she takes her gun back, holsters it. "Don't apologize. The important thing is that you're safe."
Barton is looking down at the ceramic shards on the floor. "Why was there a clay plate in the room?" he asks, before turning back to the hallway once again.
"It was a paperweight," Martha replies. "Oh god, I didn't kill him, did I?"
Natasha can see the faint rise and fall of him breathing. "He's still alive," she tells her.
From the hallway, Barton calls, "I'm out of arrows, so we should probably head out before they decide to send the third wave."
As Martha passes her on her way out, Natasha notices that Martha's left hand is clenched into a fist. She nods to it "Is that...?"
"Be more specific," Martha replies, voice slightly faint, but she has a pleased expression on her face.
Natasha smiles. Then she takes the lead, as she heads back up the stairs.
No one follows them, though, and they manage to break out into the crisp night air.
Natasha spares a moment to stare mournfully at her Minsk, before following Barton over to his hot-wired SUV. "I'm still driving," she says, though as she moves into the driver's seat.
It takes moments for Barton to go into the back seat, while Martha buckles in the passenger's seat, and then Natasha takes off, not caring about any speed limit posting.
"Are you sure this position is secure?" Natasha asks, as she pulls the SUV to a stop.
Martha nods. "I was given this position by the previous UNIT agent, who made the arrangements in the first few hours after the Master took over."
"How are you going to make sure the UNIT agent who takes you from here isn't going to be compromised?" Clint asks.
Martha unbuckles herself. "I don't," she admits.
Natasha watches Martha get out of the car, and surprises herself by getting out after her, though she's less surprised than she would have anticipated.
The land around the airport is completely empty, and completely flat. Coming towards them, though, is a Jeep, which flashes its lights.
"Well," Martha says, taking a step forward, then turning to look back at them. "I guess this is it. Thank you."
Clint holds out his arms, and Martha steps forward to hug him. "Take care of yourself."
"You too," she replies, stepping back. Although Natasha is not a very huggy person, she allows Martha to wrap her arms around her a moment. "Both of you."
"Good luck," Natasha says.
They watch her go.
“You think she can do it?” Clint asks, once she’s gone from their sight.
“Only one way to find out.”
It takes her a few months to infiltrate UNIT, but she makes it in with just over a week to spare. The countdown is posted everywhere on the Valiant, and Natasha watches the final days pass by, as she weeds out the UNIT agents who will be ready to take down the Master when the time comes.
The time comes and goes and goes back in time, and Natasha really isn't as surprised as she thinks she should be.
She finds herself being flagged by SHIELD agents for escaping them, and sent to Budapest as a disciplinary action.
Sitwell ends up babysitting her again, and Barton too, though the most exciting part of their stay ends up being when they inadvertently end up in the middle of a bank robbery, and end up taking down the assailants.
Natasha takes the lead, instinctively, and Barton looks surprised that she trusts him to watch her back; it doesn’t surprise her that she does.
And then the world is taken over by a megalomanic alien commanding a secondary race of aliens, and Natasha smiles. "This is just like Budapest all over again."
"You and I remember Budapest very differently."
. the end