cat_77: Black Widow (Black Widow)
cat_77 ([personal profile] cat_77) wrote2017-07-30 11:26 am
Entry tags:

Avengers - Antumbra

Title: Antumbra
Genre: Gen/Friendship
Rating: PG-13
Length: ~4,150 words
Warnings: Violence, gore. I'd warn for character death, but this is a Highlander-esque world, so maybe "non-permanent character death" instead?
Synopsis: They don't play be the same rules as everyone else. Thankfully, they have a team that understands. Kind of.
Author's Notes: Part of my Shadowverse AU - a fusion between the Avengers and a pseudo-Highlander universe.

Also available on AO3.

"We have a lead," Steve announced when he jogged into the room. A tablet was under his arm and she knew it held the latest intel, the latest slim possibility. She also knew she wasn't going to be around to see it.

Rogers was good with tech, especially for a man out of time, but he still was not nearly as good with it as she was. He would carefully place the tablet in its little holder, checking and double checking that the pins were aligned. He would then pull up the program and then the file and then scroll to what he deemed the important part. By the time he announced his findings and finished a review of comparable intel she would be in the car Stark had ready and waiting, the car that had been ready and waiting since he sent the same lead to her three full minutes before it hit the feeds of the rest of the team.

Anything longer he would not be able to explain by the variances of transfer delay. Anything shorter and they might even have the chance to stop her. It was a chance he was taking, a risk as Banner would suspect and could hint just enough to the others, intentionally or not, and expose him for what he was: an extremely loyal friend.

She reached the tea house in record time, hoped Tony had left the specific address off the alternate version so that they'd have that tiny extra delay when Steve asked JARVIS to pull it up. She didn't even bother with the farce of the front and kicked down the panel to the hidden room with ease, anyone who might possibly stop her already incapacitated.

Three men stood in shock, midway between seated and pushing themselves up from the small table. Two were taken down in an instant, unconscious but available for later questioning if needed. The third though, she backed into a corner, weapon at the ready.

"They don't even know what you are, do they?" she asked with a barely concealed scoff. She watched as he fidgeted with the ring on his finger, the telltale sigil of Hydra catching the light. He was so young, so brash and loyal and incredibly stupid to wear such a thing so openly. He didn't reach for any weapons, but it was possible he didn't have anyone more than the Beretta she had already knocked to the side. She tilted her head, considering. "Do you even know what you are?"

"I'm not one of you monsters! I've never been augmented with that faulty science you SHIELD loyalists believe in so much!" he sneered in denial. "And I will never-"

She tired of him, not having the time to waste for his game. A shot and he collapsed to the floor, dead before his skull bounced off the delicate tile. She pocketed the gun, small caliber and unlicensed, and waited, blade at the ready.

She heard the bang of the door as her team entered the main room near simultaneously with the gasp of the man's first and last restoration. She placed a borrowed blade near his feet and stood above him with her own at the ready. "You are a monster, just like me," she confirmed. "Which means you will tell me everything, whether or not you ever speak another word again."

Her sword came down in an arc, fluid and true, just as Steve tore around the corner and skidded to a stop barely within the room. "Widow, are you-?" he tried to ask, voice going from angry to concerned as he took in the scene before him.

"Stand back," she warned, the tendrils of energy beginning to unwind in the tiny area. She let it consume her, as weak as it was, felt the sparks along her skin and the crumble of once fine mosaic beneath her feet. She embraced it, bathed in the very essence of it as she tried to grasp anything and everything of use, not worried that one so new and untested could ever compete with her own trained mind. She let the images wash over her, a boring and standard childhood, the initiation into something more, the organization he sold not just his life to but the lives of dozens of others.

It was that final truth that betrayed him. It seemed whatever the holder tried to keep back always painted the brightest picture in the end. She saw the building, the layout, the winding corridor. He had never gone farther than the door, but knew what lay behind it.

And now she knew as well.

She opened her eyes to find herself slowly collapsing towards the now upturned table, strong arms near immediately wrapping around her to steady her there. She didn't fight the sensation of fatigue, knew it worked in her favor to further her farce. She turned to look at Rogers, had a brief moment of wonder if he knew exactly what she had done and why, if he truly protested the means or if it was all for show. It didn't matter though, as she was close enough to see the relief in his eyes when she said, "I know where they took Barton."

They let her rest in the transport back to the Tower, a transfer always taking so much out of her kind. This one had been minuscule in comparison to others she had dealt with in the past, but she wasn't above regrouping while she could. She didn't let herself fall fully unconscious though, not until they were home and she was more carried and less escorted to the nearest couch on the residential levels. In the interim, she listened to what they had found, what they had suspected, what she would let them believe.

She had no idea if everyone was in on it or not, but was grateful all the same. The official story was that she had gone off on her own, a minor infraction in the larger scheme of things and one likely to be waived since everyone knew how inseparable she and Clint were for far more than a single reason. She was attacked and took down the normal, mortal henchmen, only to discover one of her own kind hidden in their midst, it being highly likely that an Immortal opportunist would side with the enemy. An extremely truncated battle later, and she had defended herself at the cost of the attacker. The transfer of energy gifted her with insight into the man and, from there, they had a solid and true hint of where Barton was being held, the first in over three days' time.

The not quite a nap was enough to restore her, especially given how pathetic her opponent had been. She found tendrils of his blind belief in the greater cause of Hydra and their methods randomly circling her thoughts, but common sense won out and those were easy to quash. His lack of morality melded with her own, and she made a mental note to question anything that might be deemed extreme to see how it compared to what she would have been willing to do in the past. She gave herself a day to work past it as anything else was a sign of just how compromised she really was at the moment and would lead to considerations of her field readiness that she truly did not want to have.

Not that she was about to remove herself from the mission, far from it. She was more likely to sabotage the official Avenger and SHIELD teams and simply decimate the enemy on her own versus stepping back to the sidelines. Thankfully, her team seemed to write off any shortness or attitude as stress mixed with the unpleasant forced blending with a Hydra operative, and gave her far more leeway than she could have hoped for.

That leeway also came with support of a sort. She'd snap that something was taking too long, body jittery with the need to move to pace to fight. Instead of condescending requests to back down, she received promises that they were moving as fast as they could, that they stood by her in this, that they were taking what shortcuts they could afford, that they understood what she was going through.

Not that they could fully understand. Clint and her shared a bond of lifetimes, some of them their own. She hated herself for the reliance, but she knew she would feel incomplete without him, like a limb had been hacked free, leaving her less than whole and less than capable of standing on her own. She adored her team, appreciated how close they had become and how well they worked together. It still paled in comparison to decades spent sharing the lives of others, protecting and being protected, the energy coursing through her colored with his battles and experiences even as his undoubtedly coursed with her own.

More than once, she had been able to use that tie, that energy, to find Clint and bring them both home. More than once, she was certain he had done the same. They rarely spoke of it, usually only if vast amounts of alcohol were involved, but it was a tangible thing none the less. An itch beneath her skin, one that grew in intensity as they grew closer, one that faded when they were torn apart.

Which is why it was troubling that she had felt him for the first day, maybe more, and now there was nearly nothing at all. The itch, the pressure, was replaced with nothingness, a glimpse of what it would be like if he ever did meet his final end. She had spent years apart from him in the past, and yet knew he was still around before she ever received any letter or token confirming it. The man she used though, the man she had killed to gain access to a hint of his memories, had been convinced Barton was alive as recently as earlier that day. He hadn't known what state he was in, had suspicions only, but he had truly believed Clint lived and breathed and had no reason to lie to her in his final moments, if he happened to have that level of control at all, which was incredibly doubtful for one who hadn't even taken his first head. This told her that, whatever the actual state may be, she could sum it up as "not good" and assume that the timeline needed to be sped up to "right the fuck now."

No one even questioned if she was in any physical state to go with, which was a good thing as she would have hated to disable and lie to them twice in a single day. She was handed fully charged gauntlets, a cadre of knives, and two fully loaded pistols. Those she added to a larger blade very recently cleaned and sharpened and waited with barely contained impatience for the others to suit up and be ready to stand beside her.

The compound, when they arrived, was Hydra standard. This meant it was right out in the open with the facade of a reputable business and enough oblivious foot traffic for them to blend in if needed. They didn't bother with the front entrance and landed a cloaked Quinjet on the rooftop instead. This was not exactly a standard Avengers mission and they did not want the associated media frenzy they tended to gather if they could avoid it. Bruce stayed with the jet, extra security protocols in place in case Hydra was dumb enough to try for the Hulk, but ready and willing to assist if and when the time came.

Clint was, of course, not exactly kept in a penthouse suite. She let Steve, Tony, and Thor do sweeps of the individual offices and conference rooms if they wanted to while she headed directly for the stairwell. There were no sub-basements or anything cliche like that, either on the official blueprints or per Stark's scan upon their approach. There was, however, an area originally designed to be a shelter, be it from storms or nuclear fallout, that had since been reinforced with cell doors and more than a single camera.

The nice thing about the recent tendency to use fingerprints as passcodes was that the scanner did not care if the person being scanned was actually conscious. In truth, it didn't really care if the hand was attached at all, but timing was key on those instances if she wanted to get the heat signature right.

"I could have saved you the trouble," Thor offered as he appeared at her side. Mjolnir crackled with electricity as if to emphasize his words and she felt her lips lift into a smirk despite the seriousness of the situation.

She gestured to the security room set just off to the right after the initial scanning station. There were video feeds and door controls and four armed men inside, three of which moved as if to try to stop them. "By all means, have at it," she told him, and didn't bother to pause to check on his success as she knew he would do just that.

The door to Clint's cell lit with tiny tendrils of blue as she approached, as did every door that lined the brick corridor really, and there was a tiny click that signaled the lock being overridden. She reached for it and there, only there, when her hand touched the cooling metal, did she finally feel a sliver of Barton's presence for the first time since entering the building.

She let out a far shakier breath than she was willing to admit to anyone, herself included, and pushed the door open to discover just what level of mess Barton had managed to get himself into this time.

It was impressive.

She knew Hydra was not exactly known for providing all the comforts of home to those they captured. She knew Clint would be seen as a hostile asset, a potential fount of information to be used if they could break him or bribe him just right. She also knew Clint would never fall prey to either, so it came as no surprise that his treatment had been less than kind.

If given the chance to go back in time to when she disabled the guards only and instead take them apart piece by piece, she suspected she would have chosen a different path.

There was a chair with restraints stained with blood and a small table with standard interrogation tools to the side. The chair was empty as the person who was clearly its former occupant was no longer capable of sitting upright, even with the assistance of the buckles and cuffs that currently hung open. There was no mattress for him to lay on, so Clint was sprawled out on the hard cement floor, hands and feet chained together with a lax length between them. There was blood, a lot of it, and there were bruises and open wounds and things his body should have healed by now unless they were either that recent or he had forcibly fought against the healing as to not give away his secrets. Given that he was panting out harsh wet breaths in an empty room, she doubted that the latter was the case.

"Clint?" she asked as she approached cautiously.

He licked a froth from his lips, only for more to gurgle upwards when he tried to speak. It took him several tries, but he eventually whispered in a voice either harsh from screaming or harsh from simply the struggle of breathing, "The bastards wouldn't do it..."

She crouched down beside him, hearing the words and knowing they had a deeper meaning. She looked closer and saw that the wounds, while plentiful, were superficial or close enough to it. They were designed for discomfort, for pain more than actual threat of death. On a normal human, they would scab and scar and be permanent reminders of what had happened. There would be the risk of infection, but even Hydra would have the means to treat that should they want to, should they decide they needed to keep their guest alive to extract further information.

"Why aren't you healing?" she asked, voice no more than a whisper of her own on the off chance someone was listening. She had done it herself before when she was held for interrogation. Let it out bit by bit, gathered her strength for her inevitable escape. Never enough to tip off her captors save for the one time her control had slipped but, to be fair, they had been torturing Coulson one cell over and she hadn't thought they were paying quite that much attention to her at the moment.

"Trying," he insisted. He coughed and a watery red joined the drying stains on the floor beside him. "Gave me something..." He drifted, voice wavering and eyes flickering upwards as though unconsciousness was winning the battle.

"Do you have any idea what it was? Any at all?" she asked, trying to bring him back to the present.

He shook his head, dragging his scalp against the rough concrete. The red around his lips dripped with the movement, making him look more garish than he already did. "Decon," he finally said. She thought of full decontamination procedures, the scrubbing and chemicals that would tear his wounds further, but might find an actual source and from that a cure. "Cleveland. Do you remember? With the...? He got inventive because we took everything else away. It tasted like that, but not."

That she could work with.

She stood and began a search of the area, making a beeline for the table of tools. There was a syringe there, knives and clamps and assorted other things, but most importantly there was a gag soaked in something determinedly not water or saliva. It smelled wrong, the color off, and she knew she was on the right track. It was near the door that she found it though, a small glass bottle kept right in Barton's line of sight, right next to his most likely means of escape. It was even labeled as Hydra did so love their organizational skills and hierarchies.

Brodifacoum. Rat poison, in essence. It thinned the blood, could cause someone to bleed out internally, organs shutting down one by one, while the victim slowly suffered from from dehydration atop everything else. It would take Clint days to die from it, weeks to recover if the treatment was given in time.

She had a different solution.

"You might hate me a little for this," she warned as she returned, blade unsheathed and at the ready.

Instead he sighed an appreciative, "Thank fuck."

She keyed her comm and was proud of the way her voice barely shook as she ordered, "Thor, I'm going to need you to make sure those cameras are off."

The sound of footsteps covered his reply of confirmation. She turned to the door, ready to take out anyone dumb enough to interfere, but found only Rogers, a questioning look across his features when he took in the blade and the way Clint was laid out on the floor, her boots leaving neat tracks of her best friend's blood as she turned in a careful circle around him. "Natasha, what are you doing?" Steve asked, one hand held tentatively forward as if trying to calm a spooked horse.

The camera over his head blinked once and she warned, "You might want to move. If those things aren't fried yet, they will be shortly."

"Natasha no!" he shouted. "There has to be a better way!" He lunged for her and she realized his mistake, his misbelief before he did himself. A side step and a sweep and the knowledge that Steve would never intentionally try to hurt her and her supposed team leader was on his ass, iconic shield clattering to the ground behind him.

She returned to the task at hand, knowing Steve was good and stunned and that she had at least seven more seconds before he would right himself for a counterattack as he still questioned her intent. She flipped the blade in her hand, her grip sure and steady, and asked, "Ready?"

Clint coughed again, and there was more froth. His skin was already so pale, not white but almost tinged with yellow as his organs began to fail him.

He stretched himself out in supplication as much as he could manage in his current state. "Make it clean," was all he asked.

Steve stood now, barely on his feet before he threw himself forward to try to stop her, but he was too late. He skidded across concrete, his gloved hands grasping nothing but emptiness as she easily avoided him and brought her blade downward through tattered fabric and flesh and bone.

"I hate you," Steve offered with relatively little emotion from somewhere just left of her feet. His words were nearly drowned out by the last of the camera's sparks, his features thrown into sharp relief as the power to the entire area failed and the emergency backups surged to life.

She yanked her blade free, realized Clint's shirt was pretty much toast anyway, and wiped the worst of it off on the torn fabric. Blood poured freely from the new wound in his chest, heart forcing the last of it outward before it failed completely. She could feel the tendrils though, swore she could see the healing process begin though it would look like a macabre murder scene to anyone else.

"I was uncertain as to if there were backups," Thor's voice sounded in apology through the comm. "Stark has arrived to make certain no trace of what has happened in that room remains."

She let him know she understood and that she appreciated his thoroughness. She then sat heavily on the cold ground, letting the blood and anything else seep to her skin and leave physical stains to go along with the mental should fate so choose. "It will be hours before he heals, if not a day or more," she warned. "The damage... It was extensive. Not enough to trigger it on its own though. Not yet. It would have taken days, maybe weeks. This? This was humane."

She was babbling. It was annoying. The only other person currently able to hear her didn't seem to mind.

Steve pushed himself up beside her, disregarding everything else that surrounded them. "Now what?" he asked, and he sounded so very tired.

She shrugged, knowing the worst of it was over even if it didn't seem that way. "Now we wait," she replied. She readjusted herself into a slightly less uncomfortable position. "I'll take first watch."

"We can't stay here and you know it," Rogers said, not unkindly. "Hydra will be sending reinforcements any minute. Even if we take them all out, they will suspect something, have backups to the backups or a single agent will catch wind..."

Her blade lay now across her lap, her pose meditative as she attempted to calm her mind and still be available to protect if the need arose. She cocked her head slightly to the side and asked, "What do you suggest? Because I can't carry him and shoot, not when he's essentially deadweight."

The very corner of Steve's lips lifted, an expression mirrored and magnified by Thor who now stood at his side and Tony in his suit behind him. "Then it's a damn good thing you're not alone."

In the end, it was Steve that carried him out, shield on his back and teammates as a physical barrier around him. He cradled Clint close and Natasha shot anything that got near them, Stark clearing a path and Thor striding behind them to cover their six.

Natasha stood watch on the ride back in the Quinjet, and then stood watch again once they returned to the Tower. They laid Barton down in his usual room despite the mess, familiarity always a welcomed thing upon reawakening. She stayed at his side for three days, eating only when food was brought to her, sleeping only when JARVIS put the room in lockdown and the others swore they would keep watch as well.

It was 11:16 am when she felt the tiniest stirrings, the slight crackle against her skin that served as prelude to the first gasp for breath. She held him then, he gripped her arm and she gripped anything she could reach while she began what had become a ritual of sorts to them both.

"Your name is Clint, current alias Barton. You are in the Avengers Tower, and you are not alone."

He smiled up at her, still too pale and too weak for much more though even she knew that wouldn't last long. His gaze drifted towards the door, acknowledging the less than subtle commotion behind it as JARVIS had undoubtedly announced his status to the others. "I rarely am."


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