“Sir, this is a page.”
Clint frowned, and tried again. “And you want me to make contact with her, knowing next to nothing about her.”
Natasha shifted uncomfortably next to him, shooting him an unreadable look. Clint clenched his jaw. “It says here that she can create illusions – how exactly are we supposed to find her, let alone even know what she actually looks like.”
Fury finally turned back to look at them, face dark. “Listen. I need her under control – she’s been causing trouble in Hungary, and the wrong people are looking for her. I need you to make contact and establish SHIELD as an ally – do you understand? It was my belief that you two were agents of SHIELD, not agents of whatever-the-hell-you-please. You bring her here, you keep her safe – Got it?”
Clint realized the man was really worried. He nodded, submissive. “Yes, sir.”
Natasha finally spoke, running her finger over the picture of the woman’s face. It was the only photo they had of her; an old mugshot from the Chicago police department – before she dropped off their radar and on theirs; “Where are we headed?”
Budapest was cold.
That was Natasha’s first thought – mind flashing quickly back to the snow covered hills of Russia.
She swallowed thickly, and quickened her step imperceptibly, catching up with Clint.
He was frowning up at the tall buildings of the dark alley, his hair getting damp from the falling snow. The young man who had supplied the address had looked terrified as he agreed to show them the way. He was scurrying ahead of them, shoulders hunched.
Hopefully, the woman wouldn’t take it out on him when they found her.
According to the boy – Black drank at the dingy bar twice a week before heading back to her apartment building, which he had gone to once. His cheeks had coloured as he spoke – and she wondered what an illusionist was like in bed.
Natasha stopped when the boy did, pointing a shaking finger.
They were at the end of the alley, the smell of the river coming through on the biting wind. The buildings were right on the edge of the water, and though it appeared as though it would be worth money, the buildings appeared dilapidated and abandoned.
The very last building was a large warehouse.
A flickering light shone from the ajar door.
Clint and Natasha exchanged looks, and un-holstered their weapons, Clint nocking an arrow to his bow.
Silently, they moved as one, movements smooth and practised – towards the sliver of light. There were no windows, and no other entrances they could see – and so they eased open the door. The boy shook his head, but followed them in.
Natasha’s eyebrows jumped.
Inside looked like it had been decorated in 1682 for French royalty. It was opulent, in shades of red and gold, crystal dripping unnecessarily from lights and scones and even curtains. A large marble fireplace took up most of the back wall and a large velvet couch was in the centre of the room.
Natasha tore her eyes away from the decorations as the boy stepped further into the room. “Úgy néz ki, hogy nincs itt.” Looks like she's not here. He fingered the edge of a detailed tapestry as he spoke. Natasha exchanged a look with Clint, ignoring his words, and keeping a hold on their weapons.
Together they scoured the room, Natasha running her hand over the various silks and velvets absently.
The fire crackled merrily – and she paused in front of it, drinking in its warmth. “Hol lenne?” Where would she be?
The boy shrugged, throwing himself down on the couch casually, and folding an arm under his head. “Nem tudom. Ő megy mindenhol.” I don't know. She goes everywhere. Natasha’s hair on the back of her neck prickled. She nodded slowly.
“Mióta ismert rá?” How long have you known her? She asked casually, picking up a crystal glass from the mantelpiece. It was half-full of a red liquid. She shot Clint a warning look, and his eyes narrowed, raising his bow silently – arrow aiming at the boy’s head.
The boy was watching her carefully. “Két év.”two years.
Four things happened at once;
Natasha released the glass, and it fell – liquid splashing out onto the white rug as it did so.
Clint let his arrow fly.
Natasha lifted her gun and fired.
The boy disappeared.
There was a low chuckle – echoing menacingly from everywhere at once.
And then the room began to disintegrate.
Crystal shrank into nothing, and marble cracked and crumbled into dust as the bright colours of the fabrics faded into grey, and then white and then disappeared altogether.
The warmth of the fire went out, and she whirled as the fireplace was sucked into itself like a black hole – everything disappearing – until finally, they stood in an empty warehouse, with no back wall, and a crumbling roof.
The river was right outside, and a wind whipped off the water, making her shiver.
The boy stood silhouetted against the gleaming water, and the light from the city and the moon.
“I almost had you. But I forgot how long I had been here. It’s only been a year, hasn’t it?”
Natasha raised her gun again, Clint’s warm body beside her a welcome anchor. The boy’s voice was the same, but he spoke with a crisp American accent.
“Show yourself!” Clint said suddenly.
The boy laughed again. “Now why would I do that? I know why you are here. Your little friends have been following you since Romania.”
Natasha and Clint exchanged glances. “We came here alone…” Clint said unsurely.
He twitched slightly. “I don’t believe you.”
Clint lowered his bow. “I can promise you. My name is Clint Barton and this is Natasha Romanoff. We’re with SHIELD, an American based agency. We were sent alone.”
He must have heard the truth in his voice, because the next thing they knew – he had stepped forward into a patch of moonlight, exposing his frowning face. “Who are the others then?”
A gunshot rang out – and Clint and the boy’s eyes jumped to her, but she shook her head. That wasn’t her. Then another whizzed past her ear.
“Get down!” She hissed, and they hit the floor. She looked at Clint making the hand gesture for sniper.
The boy’s eyes were wide in fear, and as she watched, his face wavered suddenly, going almost static – like bad reception on TV.
Clint crawled over to him. “We need to get out of here. Where’s the exit?” he whispered. The boy gestured to the open wall, and the river – but as they watched, a black boat with quiet engines pulled into view, and a spot light was turned on, illuminating the warehouse.
Clint rolled out of the light as it turned on where he was – looking back at the boy.
But he had disappeared.
There was a shimmer in the air like a heat wave, and he reappeared behind Natasha. “I can get us out of here – we just need to be quiet.” He murmured. Natasha looked at Clint, making a split second decision.
They nodded in unison.
The boy clenched his jaw, and a thin membrane of something appeared over his skin. He could still see Natasha and the boy – but their forms were blurred as the membrane shuddered around their skin.
An illusion of invisibility.
The boy led the way, skirting around the light as the boat got closer, and down the crumbling bank to the river.
As he slid in, the illusion flickered slightly.
Clint realised why as he hit the water.
It was freezing.
They swam out and around behind the black boat, and Natasha hopped aboard.
She was dangerous enough visible – but invisible, she was more than lethal. She made quick and quiet work of the five men that had stayed aboard, before she reappeared over the side, and helped the boy up.
Clint swung himself up and over, shivering as wind hit his wet skin.
A second later, the engine was on – and they powered away from the warehouse – listening as cries from behind them echoed across the water.
Natasha swung the second last man overboard, smiling as he hit the water with a cracking sound.
The last man she kept, securing him to the boat with rope.
A cracking sound echoed off the water, and the man jolted awake. Natasha lowered her smarting hand.
“Kinek dolgozol?” who do you work for?
The man regarded her with baleful eyes. “Отвали, сука.” Fuck off, bitch. He snarled. Natasha reeled back as if she’d been shot.
“Если вы KGB, будут проблемы ... скажите мне сейчас. На кого ты работаешь?” If you are the KGB, there will be trouble... tell me now. Who do you work for? She hissed furiously, grasping him by the chin with one hand – and whipping out a knife with her other.
The man took one look at the blade and laughed. “You think zat such limited methods vill get me to talk, you are mistaken.” He said in a heavily accented voice.
Natasha growled furiously.
If she had more time, more tools, then she could get it out of him.
But they had to get the boy- no, girl to safety first.
“Would you like me to try?”
The boy’s voice startled her, and she turned, to see him wrapped in a huge towel. He nodded towards the man. “If you ask the questions – I can get him talking.”
Natasha frowned, but stepped to the side, allowing the boy to crouch in front of the man. The boy narrowed his eyes – and then the man started screaming.
Natasha flinched in surprise as the man writhed and screamed – ropes pulling taunt.
The boy lowered his gaze, and the man stopped. Natasha wasted no time, yanking his lolling head up to her, and growling out her next question.
The man shuddered, eyes rolling crazily in his skull. “HYDRA will not be-” he screamed again, and Natasha looked back at the boy, who’s eyes were blank as he stared at the man.
“That’s enough.” She said lowly.
The man’s screams turned into something more of a howl – like a dying dog. His eyes were bulging out of their sockets every tendon raised, the very veins popping from his skin as he strained against his restraints.
It was Clint’s voice that made the boy stop, tearing his eyes away as the man dropped, twitching slightly.
“I am-” for a second, the boy’s voice was female, husky and sweet. He shook his head, form flickering like bad reception. “I-”
Clint’s face was blank – but to Natasha, she could see the pity, the sorrow. He reached out and touched the boy’s shoulder. “Come and sleep. We’ll wake you when it’s time to get off.”
It had been some time since she had done that.
Maya stared at the ceiling, letting go of the illusion around her, feeling it slip away like silk off her skin. She flexed her hand in front of her face.
Yes. Still her.
It was a fear of hers, irrational, but a fear none-the-less – that one day she wouldn’t be able to be herself, that one day she’d create an illusion so powerful she lost herself in it.
She’d almost lost herself before.
It wouldn’t be the first time she’d killed someone, but it would be the first in 12 months.
She’d been happy in Budapest. She really had.
She was uprooted again. And she had to think about how to get away from these two so called SHIELD agents. She couldn’t afford to be slack. The second they touched down on land again, she’d have to go, she’d lingered too long already, and because they’d brought along whatever HYDRA was, she’d have to be even more careful.
She hadn’t been chased by government bodies in a long time.
She was getting sloppy.
Maya made a great deal of ‘waking up’ – she’d been up before sunrise, and her illusion had been secured for hours.
“Come on kid, we’ve nearly reached Dunakeszi. We’re heading straight for the airport.” Clint patted her on the shoulder before leaving the room. Maya waited a second before rushing to the small window and removing the blind. He was telling the truth. They were still on the Duna river, but they were approaching Dunakeszi.
Luckily for her, she knew the city and the airport like the back of her hand. She had made it her business to know.
Natasha was manning the controls, a pair of sunglasses obscuring her eyes, and from her posture, you’d think she wasn’t paying attention – but behind the dark lenses, Maya knew she was watching her.
That wouldn’t do.
The woman had to trust her if she was ever going to slip away. An illusion could slow them down – even stop them, but for some reason…
When Clint felt her gaze on him, he smiled warmly.
Natasha nudged a bottle of water towards her without looking eyes on the horizon.
For some reason, she didn’t want to.
Maya sat heavily on the edge of the boat, watching as the dock drew closer, her thoughts more tangled than ever.
“There’s a high chance they’re already watching us.” Natasha muttered to Clint. “If they’re Russian-”
Clint splayed a hand on her back, and she shuddered slightly, but calmed.
Maya watched with remote curiosity at the exchange.
They were an interesting couple – not together, of course, not romantically- the red head was too cold for that – but they did share some bond she couldn’t quite understand.
Both of them were contradictions.
She was too sharp, too well trained to be an ordinary agent – she had a look in her eye that Maya had only seen once before, a look of an old, old soul. Not quite tired, but definitely weary and wary.
And he was too… nice. Not to mention his bow and arrows that he held like they were religious objects. He was kinder than anyone she could remember meeting. He was like – and here Maya couldn’t be sure, because she didn’t really remember – but he was like a father.
“I can change us.” Maya was surprised at herself when she spoke up. The two agents turned around, faces identically startled. Maya cleared her throat, still unused to sounding like a male. “It won’t take long.”
They exchanged a look. Natasha was the first to look away. Clint turned back to her, smiling. “That would be great, Maya.”
She nodded, and closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, the illusions were active. As always, she herself could see through them, to the forms below.
Clint shot a look at Natasha and squawked in surprise, hands flying up to cover his own mouth at his voice.
Natasha was now male, tall and silver haired, and classically handsome. She was built, form concealed under a navy blue trench coat.
Clint was a curvaceous blonde-haired woman, breasts exposed from a low-cut woollen body con dress. His blue eyes were wide and doll-like as he blinked down at his own body.
Maya herself had taken on the form of an old man, heavily leaning on her cane. She tipped her hat at their expressions. “Do you like it?”
Her/his eyes sparkled merrily from the wrinkles on his face – and despite the situation, Natasha couldn’t help but smile.
Eyes breezed past the three pedestrians walking along the footpath towards the airport.
The strangest thing about them would be the pace the ancient old man was making, ahead of the attractive couple walking arm-in-arm behind him.
To the average passer-by they were completely and entirely unworthy of any second look.
Maya smiled to herself, mouth hidden under age, shadow and a thick red scarf. It was a good day. Everything was going to plan, and soon they’d be going their separate
The hairs on the back of her neck prickled, and she stiffened, slowing. Behind her, Natasha and Clint stopped as well.
Very slowly, Maya turned her head, and met eyes with the man across the road to them. He was watching them, one hand on his ear, one hand holding a pair of infrared binoculars up to his eyes.
Infrared displayed the illusions, but also the real form. If she created an illusion and she stood completely invisible inside of it, it would show up as completely blue, and she would be perfectly clear. Same went for cloaking illusions.
“RUN!!” Maya interrupted Clint, and bolted.
She felt the illusions slip from her the second she sprinted in her panic.
Gunshots rang out as two large black vans rolled up and men poured out. Civilians scattered, running around like headless chickens.
Maya bellowed at the people in front of her. “GET OUT OF THE WAY!”
Bullets ran out, and she threw herself down, rolling behind a car. Explosions and male cries told her that Natasha and Clint were returning fire.
Just like she’d been taught, she steadied her breathing and focussed her energies on what she knew best; the Illusions that came to her. the only thing she could count home.
She stood, covering herself in invisibility, and running at the nearest man. He never knew what hit him.
She picked up his fallen gun, and aimed it at the three men approaching a car with a group of civilians cowering behind it.
Three quick shots and they were down.
Time for some fun.
She closed her eyes, and focussed.
Fresh screams rang out as her illusions descended on the bridge.
It was chaos.
They were surrounded, and She was sure this was were it would end; a cold day in Budapest, next to her best friend. There were worse ways to die.
Then the illusions.
Natasha felt like she was dreaming.
Aliens swarmed the low foot bridge, charcoal grey and snarling. The men – panicked – turned their fire on them. When they hit, they disappeared like smoke.
One of the men she hit dropped, finger still on the trigger, bullets flying wildly in a huge arc. The aliens shuddered but stayed steady.
One by one, they picked off the remaining targets, the aliens providing a useful distraction.
There were wails of approaching sirens, and she leapt over the car, Clint following close behind. She couldn’t see any civilian injuries, but she couldn’t see Black either.
But the aliens were still there, restlessly prowling the bridge. One by one, wavering like static, they disappeared.
“Where is she?” Natasha hissed. “She’s probably run off.” Clint didn’t reply, squinting at something. “What?”
His eyes widened, and he broke into a sprint. Natasha swore, but followed him. He dropped to his knees in the middle of the road, and Natasha frowned at the odd patch of red – floating – above the bitumen. “Maya.” His voice was quiet.
With a low groan, the air shivered like a heat wave, and the prone form of Maya Black was revealed.
She was olive skinned, but her skin was pale with blood loss, and shining with sweat. Her eyes were a vivid blue, the pupils blown huge. She was thin, gaunter than she looked in her file. And she was bleeding, from the bullet wound in her stomach. One of her hands was pressed weakly to it, blood pumping out still. The other was clutching a handgun.
“Okay, Maya. Maya can you hear me?” Clint asked.
The woman laughed weakly, blood bubbling up at the corners of her mouth. “No shit, Sherlock. I’m not deaf.”
Clint laughed shortly. “Well I am. Mostly.” Maya choked on her apology. Clint smiled. “It’s fine. Zilch in my left, and only a little in my right. But SHIELD hooks me up with good tech so I don’t notice it much.” he looked up at Natasha, who was on the phone, ordering extraction. When he looked back, Maya’s eyes had slid shut. “Hey! Wake up, kid!” he moved her half into his lap so he could put pressure on the wound himself. He shook her, and her eyes slid open dreamily.
“I have never been so tired.” She said listlessly. “I hope you’re strong. You’ll have to carry my body.”
“Don’t talk like that.” Natasha spoke suddenly. She crouched down in front of the woman. “You saved the lives of two SHIELD operatives. America’s granted you a full pardon. You’re going to go back home, okay?”
Maya smiled, eyes closing again. The sound of a helicopter distracted Clint from waking her again. He lifted her, and ran for the helicopter, Natasha by his side.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
The four year old giggled wildly as he ran unsteadily through the field – he was so small the long grass almost covered his head. His assailant followed him, eyes narrowed.
“Cooper Barton, you get back here, or so help me I will never cut the crusts off your sandwiches again!”
The boy stopped – so suddenly he tripped over his own feet and disappeared.
Crusts? On his sandwiches?
Tears welled up in his eyes as he lay face first in the grass.
He hated crusts!
A familiar pair of strong arms hooked him around his middle and swung him up. “Oh, Coop! Honey, did you hurt yourself?”
Cooper shook his head, burrowing his face into the neck of the very worst person in the whole wide world. “Y’gonna leaf the crusts on!” he wailed. Laughter shook his body and he growled lowly. “Y’meanie, Maymay!” he pulled his head back to frown at her, poking out his bottom lip dramatically.
Maya Black sobered her laughter, imitating the young boy’s pouting face. “Sorry, Cooper. But it was the only way to get you to stop running.” She turned with him still in her arms, both of them settling comfortably into each other – Cooper balanced on her hip.
“Oh. Thas okay then.”
Maya smiled. “I’m glad you forgive me. Now we really need to get inside. We’ve got a special guest coming!”
“WHO?!” Cooper yelled excitedly, “Who, who, who?!” Maya winced at his loud voice, and he started whispering it instead, breathing heavily in her ear.
“Okay, okay!” Maya laughed, “I’ll tell you, you little brat! Aunty-”
“AUNTY NAT!” Cooper screamed, spotting the lithe form of Natasha Romanoff climbing the front steps of the Barton farmhouse. The boy wriggled in her grip, and she easily let him go, watching fondly as he sprinted over to the red head.
Natasha waited for Maya, smiling softly at the way she looked against the setting sun. Dangerously beautiful.
She’d hate her for it, but Maya was exactly what she needed on this mission.
“M.” She greeted the black haired woman, opening her arms.
Maya fell into her embrace. “It’s good to see you, Nat. It’s been too long!” she said reproachfully, tucking herself under Natasha’s arm as they walked into the house.
Natasha smirked. “Missed me?”
Maya scoffed. “As if, carrot-top. More like I was hoping Clint would stop whinging.” Natasha jabbed Maya with her elbow playfully, and Maya laughed.
They both laughed.
It was good being here. Almost like home.
It was dark in the living room, the only light was from the fire Clint had built up. The kids and Laura had gone to bed – though Maya knew that in approximately an hour, little Lila would wake up to be fed. That baby was like a little alarm clock.
“Not that I’m not glad you’re here, Nat, but can I ask why you came so soon after your mission?” Clint sat back in his armchair, surveying the red-headed assassin.
Natasha looked uncomfortable, as she turned to Maya. The blue-eyed woman shifted under her gaze. “M, I know I said that I wouldn’t ask you to do something unless it was life or death-”
“Just tell me.” Maya said, voice low and face unreadable.
“We- SHIELD – we need you to keep an eye on Tony Stark.”
“Tony St- Stark. Like Howard Stark’s kid, the billionaire?” Maya asked, eyebrows raised. From what she remembered, Tony Stark was a young boy genius. The last time she’d seen him in the news, he’d been maybe 21, and baby faced – taking over his father’s company. His father she knew more about. He was something of a SHIELD legend – he’d not only single-handedly financially supported SHIELD at it’s formation, but he’d also known Captain America. Howard Stark was someone she had personally studied, out of personal interest. But Tony Stark she knew nothing about. Natasha nodded, looking vaguely uncomfortable.
“With your talents, it’ll be very easy for you to, um, watch him. Closely.”
A sudden thought sent her reeling back. “Are you asking me to sleep with him?!”
Natasha shook her head, but then stopped, looking thoughtful. “Well-”
“What the fuck, Nat?” Clint spoke up, frowning at her disappointedly. Natasha raised her hands defensively.
“Listen! I don’t know anything but that you need to keep a close eye on him. Keep him safe until SHIELD can establish a connection with him.”
“And if I say no?” Maya asked.
Natasha sighed. “I want you to know that this isn’t me. I’m just the messenger-”
“You will be deported and most likely incarcerated in Hungary for crimes against the state.” Maya stood automatically, hands clenching into fists. Natasha reached for her as she paced in front of her. “Maya, please. I don’t want you to go. And its only until SHIELD has his allegiance firmly in hand.”
“That could take years.” Clint murmured. Maya growled under her breath and Natasha shot him a glare. “What?! Maya has to understand what she could be doing! Stark is a certified wild card. Ever since Afghanistan he’s been strange – well, stranger. SHIELD does need his allegiance that’s true, but we don’t know how long it could take-”
“I’ll do it.”
“And the fact that Nick made you come and ask is another thing-”
“I said I’ll do it!” Maya snapped, cutting off Clint. She covered her face with her hand. “You know, I never thought I’d be doing another organization’s dirty work.”
Clint and Natasha exchanged a look.
They didn’t know much about Maya’s checkered past, but from what she had told them, when she was young – she’d been under the control of a faceless global organization. They’d taught her about her abilities and how to use them – but also made her use them for their own purposes. The depth and darkness of the purposes she had never been clear about – but Natasha always remembered the blank look on her face as she tortured a man with nothing more than an illusion of pain.
Lila’s cries suddenly cut through the silence.
Without a word, Maya left the room. Minutes later, the crying stopped.
Clint pinched the bridge of his nose.
At least she was good at taking care of children. Stark should be a piece of cake. Hopefully.