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It Stays in Budapest

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Why couldn’t he ever have a normal Halloween?

Clint Barton was thinking this as he listened to Tony Stark talk about their travel plans. Slouching in an over-stuffed chair, arms crossed, he tried not to nod off. He was awoken at 5 a.m., tossed on his clothes, chugged some coffee and was good to go, arriving at the Avenger’s Tower in a half an hour.

“We’ll use one of my private jets,” Tony said as he paced back and forth with nervous energy. “Lear. One of these days I’ll design a better one. When I’m not trying to invent the perfect coffee maker.”

Clint’s attention came back online with the mention of coffee. “I’d like to see that.”

“And you will.” Tony pointed at Clint for emphasis. “The hardest invention I've ever worked on, but I’m a genius, so there’s that. That’s the coffee maker not the plane. That will be easy when I get the time.” He stopped pacing and stroked his beard. “What was the problem again? Kind of hate to leave with Pepper having tickets to the ‘Phantom of the Opera’, the Halloween showing.” He clapped his hands together rubbing them. “Better yet, can’t wait to get going, musicals aren’t my thing—they’re Pepper’s thing. So when do we leave?”

Tony looked around expectantly at the other three there – Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff and Clint. The other two, Bruce and Thor, were busy or were not called in. Clint didn’t know which.

Steve just rolled his eyes giving Tony his patented ‘you’re an idiot’ look before he spoke. “There’s a village near Budapest that has some possible Hydra activity. There has been a report of sudden disappearances of some villagers. Rumors of ‘space aliens’.”

And it was Clint’s turn to roll his eyes. Budapest. Also Clint could practically hear the air quotes around the words space aliens.

“Which seems hokey, but you remember what happened in New York so we can’t afford to not check this out,” Steve added.

“Hokey-dokey,” Tony said.

And Natasha smiled at that and Clint tuned out the rest of the meeting as he got his own silly, sappy smile on his face. He felt like he was in high school again sliding a glance at the prettiest girl in the school. Except he was years out of high school and this was Natasha, super spy.

 

*****

They were all on the jet for the long flight so Clint thought he’d catch up on some sleep. That was before Natasha slid into the seat next to his.

“You okay?” Her voice pitched in a concerned whisper.

“Budapest, it has to be Budapest.” He rubbed his eyebrow, frowning.

“What’s wrong with Budapest? It’s one of the most beautiful cities in central Europe.”

“You know why," he sighed as he ticked off each point with his fingers. “Besides—‘you know what’—there is money laundering, contraband, smuggling and the central hub to international crime.”

“Why do you have to be so negative? The thermal springs alone make it worth it.” Her eyes widening as she gave a quick nod.

“Tasha…” He gave an exasperated huff.

“Okay, okay.” She rested her hand on his knee. That small gesture had all his protests silencing in his throat. A warmhearted feeling came over him as he gave her a quiet look and said no more.

 

*****

Ten hours later, Clint was standing with the others in an open field near a barn and homestead just outside of Budapest. They had questioned the villagers, and they directed them here with scared whispers and nervous looks. Yes, there were people missing, about thirty, and rumors told.

“It happened at midnight,” a frighten shopkeeper said.

“Strange lights at the Fodor farm,” a grocer said.

“Janos didn’t come home from the tavern last night,” a waitress said.

“Dark, strange beasts are in the woods,” the village drunk said.

They were all staring at a pentagram, painted in pig’s blood. The protective salt circle broken.

Tony finally broke the silence.

“Okay kids, who all thought this was a good idea?” He threw up his hands. “Did someone just summon some demon spawn on Halloween? You’re kidding me, right? That only happens in B-movies or young adult novels.”

Natasha was kneeling down inspecting the salt ring. “It looks that way.” She glanced up.

“What? Are you an occult expert now?” Tony asked.

“I know a lot of things. Some things I’d really rather not know. So yeah, you can say I’m an amateur occultist.” Natasha stood up brushing her knees off.

“And where would I go if I was some creature of the night—underground. That’s where. There are some caves nearby. Let me figure out which one is closest.” Tony pulled out his Stark phone and tapped it a few times. “Done.” He pointed with his phone. “Closest cave is that a way. Two miles north of here. And large also, maybe two miles long.”

Steve crossed his arms. “That’s convenient.”

“The Buda Hills,” Natasha said.

“Huh?” Clint turned toward her questioning.

“Just another thing about Budapest and Hungary. Caves.” She shrugged.

“Are we back to that?” Clint raised both his eyebrows.

“I never stopped.” She smirked back.

 

*****

“Break ‘em and shake ‘em,” Clint said as he passed out the glow sticks.

“Is there an innuendo in there somewhere?” Tony asked as he took the stick and did as instructed.

“I don’t even want to know.” Clint shook his head.

“But you do.” Tony pointed a finger at him. “I can see it in your resting ‘serial killer’ face.”

“Can it, Tony,” Steve said as he clipped the glow stick to his belt. “We have to concentrate on the mission.”

“I am concentrating. I just do it better when I am talking.”

“I noticed,” Steve quipped.

 

*****

For the search, Clint and the others didn’t bother to change out of their casual clothes. Except for Natasha, who was in her full Black Widow garb, because she said, ‘why not’?

They made their way into the mouth of the cave. Even though this cave wasn’t one of the tourist attractions, there was a lot of recent traffic. It was evident by the disturbed dirt and broken plants. Once inside, Clint had to admit the natural formations were stunning and beautiful. Their glow sticks casted an eerie yellow light on the many stalactites and stalagmites. But he wasn’t sure this was where the people were taken, it seemed like such a long shot. They needed to search it quick and move on to the next logical place to look. Tony was first to mention an idea about that.

“And splitting up in a dark, unknown cave is a good idea?” Steve’s sarcasm was dripping with each word.

“I didn’t say it was a good idea, but more efficient,” Tony said while putting on his tinted glasses. “Besides we all have phones so we can keep in touch. Which I provided, by the way, thank you very much.”

Steve turned to Natasha ignoring Tony. “Nat, what do you think?”

Natasha was in her thinking mode. Her brows knitted together, hand brought up to rest under her chin. “I say we do it. The search will go quicker. It’s not a great idea, but not a bad one either.”

Tony scoffed as if offended.

Natasha looked at Steve and nodded. “You and Tony go together and I’ll pair with Barton.”

Clint just hoped Steve and Tony didn’t kill each other.