“Where are you going?” Tony shouted after Natasha as she walked away from him. His only response was a raised middle finger over her shoulder. “Yeah, all right, I probably deserved that,” he muttered. “Whatever.” He should take her in himself, but he didn’t have the heart for another fight. Not now, and not against Natasha, who would undoubtedly have a whole load of nasty surprises just waiting for him if he tried.
Natasha waited until she was well away from the facility and had changed clothes and cars (twice) before stopping at a gas station to find a payphone and make the call.
“I’m in the clear. Stark didn’t come after me.”
“So he’s not all that stupid,” the voice at the other end of the line said tartly. “Come on, Nat. Hurry up or I’ll fucking well leave without you.”
“I’ll be there in two hours.” Hanging up, Natasha hurried back to her stolen car. She had no doubt that Laura meant every word.
Driving up to the farm, she wasn’t really surprised to see the quinjet parked out front. “I thought Clint would have taken it,” she called to Laura as she parked the car up by the barn and hurried to the jet’s open rear ramp.
“We do have two, you know,” Laura threw her a sardonic look. “There were quite a lot of them going begging after SHIELD fell. Didn’t take much effort to expand the hangar under the barn to fit a second one. Of course, it meant I didn’t get my sunroom finished, but, you know. Priorities.” She was carefully securing little Nate’s carseat in one of the quinjet’s jumpseats. Lila and Cooper were already buckled in, serious expressions on their small faces.
“Do you want me to fly?” Nat took a step towards the cockpit.
“No.” Laura turned to face her. “Forgive me if I don’t quite trust you right now, Natasha, with that. Tony is honourable enough that I’m pretty sure he’d never reveal our location, but I never truly thought you’d take sides against Clint, and you knew he’d never sign up to the Accords if only because it would compromise us.”
“He said he was retired,” Natasha defended herself, but Laura’s searching stare made her drop her gaze. “Someone needed to take the reins,” she said quietly. “After Ultron…”
“None of which was your fault. Stark needs to deal with his own raging guilt complex, not take it out on other people,” Laura snapped. “And these Accords are not the way, Natasha! Did you read them?”
“There was a lot of legalese,” Natasha mumbled a bit defensively.
“Well I was a legal secretary, once upon a time. I did read them, and while yes, there’s a fair bit about peacekeeping in there, there’s also clauses that would allow the UN to command you guys to invade anyone they didn’t like the look of. If Clint had agreed to sign that I’d have shot him myself.” Laura’s lips tightened and she gave Natasha a condemning look.
“It doesn’t matter now anyway. I broke the contract when I helped Steve and Bucky get away in Leipzig. I… I realised when Tony brought the kid in, that I’d made a mistake. Any side that recruits child soldiers to fight its wars - he’s only a couple of years older than Cooper.” Natasha cast a look at the oldest Barton child, settled contentedly into his seat with a book.
“I believe I shall be having Words with Mr Stark when this is all over,” Laura said grimly, stalking towards the cockpit and settling into the pilot’s seat. “Strap in, Nat.”
“Where are we going? Fury? I know he keeps tabs on you…”
“Perhaps later. Right now I have another stop to make. Some friends to pick up.”
“Do you really want to drag more people into this?” Natasha asked as Laura punched buttons and flipped switches, closing the ramp and starting the jet’s engines.
“Trust me,” Laura gave a private little smile, “these people would be very angry if we didn’t ‘drag them in’.”
San Francisco wasn’t a location Natasha had expected, but Laura didn’t seem disposed to answer questions. Just sent a quick text from her phone after they landed on a vacant lot, and a few minutes later an old van came rattling up the street. Four people hopped out and came jogging swiftly over.
“Laura?” a woman’s voice said.
“That’s me, and you must be Hope.” Laura smiled and stepped forward, offering her hand.
“I am.” The woman stepped into the light, and Natasha put the pieces together and suppressed a gasp. Hope van Dyne. “And this is Luis, Kurt and Dave.”
“Ma’am,” one of the men, tall and black, nodded politely. The second, a lean guy with a wolflike, Eastern European look to him, nodded too. And the third, a round-faced Latino, grabbed Laura’s hand and shook it eagerly.
“Thank you for letting us come along, Mrs Hawkeye. Me an’ Kurt an’ Dave, we was just starting to put together a crew of our own, but a land-based prison break, that’s pretty challenging, you know? An ocean one is a whole ‘nother level.”
“Barton, Luis,” Hope said. “Mrs Barton. I’m sorry about them,” she said in an undertone, “but I don’t think you and I can pull this off without their help, and they really are very good at what they do.”
“I don’t mind Mrs Hawkeye, actually,” Laura said with a grin, “but you can all just call me Laura. And this is Natasha.”
There was some side-eyeing, and some straight-on eyeing from Luis, who looked as though his eyeballs might actually fall out.
“Preetty murder lady on our side?” Kurt asked eventually.
“Yes. She is.” Laura’s tone was definitive, and they all nodded, taking her word for it.
Natasha found herself relegated to sitting in the back with the men and the Barton kids, who were by now all soundly asleep, as Hope went up to sit by Laura.
“So,” she said eventually, finding herself slightly bothered by the silent staring, “what are your specialties?”
“Hacker,” Kurt pointed at himself. “But since Mrs Hawkeye have you, I am thinking she not need me.”
“I think she’s brought me along for my other skills, actually,” Natasha disagreed. “You?” she looked at Dave.
“Getaway driver, but… this is a plane. I can’t fly, and since it’s an ocean prison…” Dave shrugged self-deprecatingly. “I guess I’m just here because Scott’s got himself in the shit again and I’d like to help him get out.”
“Don’t put yourself down, you is the best distraction man, look at when that prick Pedro was trying to hit on my cousin Emilia, you did a great job of flirting with her to put him off,” Luis chided. Natasha saw Dave’s smirk and guessed that Luis might have slightly misread Dave’s actual motives in that situation, but hell. Where they were going, any extra bit of manpower couldn’t hurt.
“And what about you?” she asked Luis, thinking privately that with his mile-a-minute talking, he’d be good at distracting people too.
“I punch people,” Luis said cheerfully. “Very hard.” He smiled at her, showing his teeth. “People who get on the wrong side of my buddy Scott.”
Natasha thought about the way she’d zapped Scott in the airport. “That’s good to know,” she said, keeping her voice even. “I’m just gonna check with Laura how long it’ll be until we get there.”
Hope looked up at her with a not-very-friendly expression as she entered the cockpit, and Natasha wondered just how much of the airport fight footage she’d seen. And just how close she and Scott were.
And just what Hope’s specialty was…
“Where are we going now?” she asked Laura, not particularly hopeful of an answer. She got one, though.
“You… do know that T’Challa fought against Cap’s team, right?”
“He was there for the sole and simple reason that he thought Barnes killed his father. Now he knows it’s not true, he’s had a rethink,” Laura told her, glancing around. “He’s had a rethink about the whole Accords, actually. Since they presumed to tell him what he, as Black Panther, could or could not do even inside the borders of his own sovereign country, never mind in its defence outside it. He’s a whole lot less impressed with the Accords now his people have been through them with a fine tooth-comb.”
“Yes,” Natasha murmured. “I can imagine. So… you’ve been talking to T’Challa, have you?”
Laura returned her attention to the flight instruments. “Nobody thinks of me as a threat, Natasha. You know that.”
“Men can be fools,” Hope said sardonically.
“It’s not unique to men,” Natasha said, “I’ve done a few foolish things myself. Some of them in the last few days.”
Laura said nothing, but Natasha saw a small smile curve her lips.
They landed in Wakanda shortly after daybreak. T’Challa himself was waiting to meet them, his face calm and regal. Natasha had to suppress a sudden, unexpected urge to throw herself into his arms. He nodded to her in greeting before bowing to Laura.
“Mrs Barton. It is an honour to have you here in Wakanda.”
“Thank you, your Majesty.”
“And you have my personal guarantee that your children will be safe here, no matter what happens. Nobody will ever harm them.” He gestured, and three motherly-looking, smiling women came forward.
“Thank you,” Laura said, and visibly hesitated before kissing Lila and Cooper, taking Nate in her arms for one last close cuddle before handing him over. “But I’ll be back. Soon, with my husband.”
“I do not doubt that you will.” T’Challa bowed more deeply to her. “Anything I can do for you, it is yours.”
Laura smiled. “Just the one thing, if you would…”
“Yes, Mr Secretary, I am on final approach with Romanoff in custody,” Laura said calmly over the radio. Natasha shook her head in amazement at Laura’s cool forethought. Programming a vocal synthesiser to mimic T’Challa’s voice when Laura spoke was a touch of genius. Wakanda hadn’t yet withdrawn from the Accords, and Ross was more than ready to believe T’Challa had indeed brought the Black Widow to the Raft to join the rest of the ‘traitors’.
Laura lowered the jet into the Raft’s open hangar with a delicacy Natasha could only envy. Clint had done a lot of flight training with her, she thought, feeling the aircraft touch down lightly on its landing gear.
Hope came striding back into the jet’s body wearing some sort of suit in royal blue and gold that looked suspiciously like Ant-Man’s, except with gauzy-looking wings attached at the back. Natasha’s eyes widened as she looked at her.
“You do the shrinking thing too?”
“They call me the Wasp,” Hope’s smile was feral. “Dave, you and me, we’re on weapons pickup. I gotta get Scott’s suit back. Let’s just pray nobody’s started trying to take it apart yet.”
“Yeah, pray for them,” Dave responded with a nod.
“What do you want me to do?” Natasha asked humbly as Laura strode past, pulling an arm guard on and reaching to pull a bow and quiver from a rack.
“You and Kurt need to hack the control systems, keep the Raft on the surface and get the hangar doors back open as soon as possible. They go deep, we’re sunk. Literally.”
“We’ll need to take the central control room then,” Natasha said, accepting the guns that Laura offered her. “Casualties?”
“I don’t give a fuck about casualties. They are holding my husband in this filthy place, the prison designed for the scum of the earth, without a trial or even a fucking lawyer. They haven’t even given him one damn phone call.” Laura wasn’t calm, Natasha realised at last. She was holding onto sanity by the edge of her fingernails.
“We’ll get him out,” she said quietly. “We’ll get them all out, Laura.”
“Yes, we damn well will. Luis,” Laura jerked her head towards the quinjet’s manual rear hatch handle. “Ready.”
“Yes, Mrs Hawkeye,” Luis grabbed the handle as Laura chose an arrow, fitted it to her bowstring and drew back. Natasha took a deep breath and stepped up beside Laura, a pistol in either hand; sensed rather than saw Hope move up on her other side.