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Six Ways from Sunday

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This was, upon tacit agreement, perhaps not the mission to mention when trying to win over a chamber of jaded committee members that already thought the team was an accident waiting to happen and rather wanted their heads on pikes more than on the front page of the Times.

Banner had become the Hulk sooner rather than later due to an aggravation sourced by an interference only he and Rogers swore they heard. It did not actually appear that the noise had been designed to do just that, but instead simply that those who created the device that could possibly destroy half the Eastern seaboard in a single massive blast simply were not wired to notice the noise themselves as it powered up and therefore had not thought of a way to dampen it against those with superior hearing. Natasha felt more than heard a faint buzz and Stark's instruments told him it was there. Barton was the only member of their team inside the building unaffected, at least in any obvious way.

The noise aggravated Bruce's alter ego the same way it had his more basic form, and said alter ego had lashed out at what he thought was the source. Unfortunately, he had done so just as Tony had fired a repulsor at what he had determined to be a far more dangerous prospect. The debris from the Hulk's outburst knocked Stark to the side and determinedly not on his ass if anyone cared to ask. Though the blast had somewhat hit the original target, it had also glanced off just enough to hit a support beam near the center of the complex. That support beam was, of course, attached to the system of rafters that lined the upper level and, of course, it was within these rafters that Barton had positioned himself to provide them with surveillance intel and take a few shots of his own.

This wouldn't have been a problem as the Hulk had an impeccable success rate at catching Clint from all sorts of varying heights and velocities, somehow always managing to bring him down safe and sound and with no additional injuries beyond what he had before he was incoming, save for the occasional bruise from impact. This time was no different in that he had caught the archer midair and flipped him to allow him to land on his feet. This time was different in that Clint had a shot lined up pre-collapse and the arrow released at the same time the beam had.

Natasha's own quick reflexes had prevented the arrow from hitting her outright, though the combination of the blast and the collapse and the debris meant she was not where she had originally intended to be when it did reach its altered final resting place. In actuality she was on the floor, spine aching where it impacted with hard cement, arrow neatly slotted between her elbow and ribcage, approximately ten centimeters between her and the likelihood of damaged internal organs. Again, this would not have been a problem, save for the fact she was pinned in place by a chunk of metal that was either part of the beam or part of the machine they had been seeking to destroy, and the arrow in question was blinking a little blue light that meant it had yet to release its electrical charge and she was unable to disable it pinned as she was.

Seeing how she was currently surrounded by metal and carried her own miniature electrical charges along as well as wore gauntlets which produced a far more sizable effect, she was potentially screwed.

Rogers was at her side in a moment though, calling orders to the others that she could not see and already attempting to remove that which pinned her in place. "Anything broken?" he asked, the metal like cardboard as he easily tossed it to the side.

"You mean other than the building?" she replied. She was sore and knew she would find all sorts of interesting bruises later, but it was nothing to complain about when contemplating the possible alternatives.

He smiled, a flash of a grin beneath his blue cowl. He reached for her with his left hand, shield steady in his right just a hairbreadth away from the arrow, and yanked her to her feet. She shook dust out of her hair and away from her eyes and heard a tiny little clink of something landing on the cement. She looked down to find one of her own charges had fallen free of her belt. She froze for half a second, unsure as to whether or not it would go off, and then breathed a sigh of relief when it remained inert.

That sigh became a sharp intake of breath when Steve reached down to pick it up with a helpful, "Here, I think you dropped this..."

At least that's what she assumed he meant to say as he never completed his sentence, not in any way she heard. His gloved thumb brushed against the activator in the center, the charge arcing upwards and outwards, across the fabric of his suit, across the conductive material of his shield. He gave an involuntary jerk of surprise and it was enough, just barely enough, for him to move that tiny bit closer to the arrow still awaiting the signal to fire. A signal apparently overridden by the charge that now coursed through it, setting off a cascade reaction or at least enough of one to trigger the firing sequence.

She came to with every nerve on fire, the little bit that she could twitch of her body responding in jerky, harsh movements. Not that she could actually move that much. There was a not quite so inconsequential weight that she strongly suspected was a super soldier on top of her. Whether said super soldier was conscious or not yet remained to be seen.

There was a moan and a grunt and a muttered, "Ouch," against her ear. Conscious then, or near enough to it.

"Rogers?" she tried. When there was no coherent response, she managed a slightly louder, "Steve?"

"Give him a moment because I know I never tested that suit against that level of amps," Stark said from somewhere outside of her field of immediate vision. Given that she could only see gray concrete and scorch marks aside from the red of what she hoped was only her hair, that wasn't saying much.

"The device?" she asked.

"Well and truly fried, much like you," Tony assured her. "Bad guys getting lined up for processing and ambulances getting lined up for the team." He paused and she could almost hear the smirk. "Well, getting lined up for the two of you more than anyone else," he corrected.

She forced her head to the other side, towards where the voice was coming from, and saw an openly concerned Stark gazing down at her with Barton limping up behind him. Clint had a scratch down his temple and another down his arm, but was standing on his own two feet which was more than she could say for herself. "You okay, Nat?" he asked when he crouched down beside her with a barely muffled groan.

"No," she answered honestly. Most of her body still tingled and jerked with tiny involuntary movements. The fact that a good portion of her legs downward also had an numbness to them meant either more damage than she wanted to contemplate, or that Rogers' weight was reducing the circulation. She was currently betting on, or at least hoping for, the latter.

"Can we move him?" Clint asked.

Tony had apparently been trying to do just that and, with some cajoling of, "Come on, Stevie-boy, let's get you up and off the nice lady assassin," he managed the colossal feat.

Circulation returned bright and painful shortly thereafter, along with quite a large number of apologies from pretty much everyone involved. She accepted them all gracefully and flat out refused to move for several minutes as graceful was not something she would use to define her current physical state. Eventually though, she knew she had to as far too many of them hovered far too close and she knew they feared permanent damage even as she knew there was likely nothing of the sort.

Propped up shoulder to wobbly shoulder against a rather contrite Steve later, she slowly sipped at a bottle of water and tried not to think of what a pain it would be to just unlace her boots let alone manage her suit once safely ensconced in the privacy of her own room. The medics were still wanting them both to be checked out at a hospital, which would involve far too much media and far too much risk of her gear being handled by those without the proper clearance.

"What's the chance we can keep this part of the mission quiet?" she whispered to her current partner in chasing medics away with withering glares.

Steve just snorted. "Do you mean the part where Banner Hulked out ahead of schedule? Or where he knocked Stark off target which in turned knocked Barton off target which in turn knocked you on your ass? Or where I then managed to electrocute us both trying to pick you up from said ass?"

"All of the above?" she replied, lips threatening to quirk into a smile.

It was not Steve but the distinctly female voice of Maria Hill that replied, "I'd say you're screwed given that your comms rebooted and cycled back on about five minutes ago and now I know what happened. This one might even top Monaco, and I truly thought that would be impossible."

Natasha ignored the way Steve mouthed apologies and silent questions about the file that was to have remained closed upon pain of death - Barton's death of course, not her own - to glare at the only person who could have squealed. "And how would Maria know about Monaco, Clint?" she asked, proud at the way her longtime partner in crime paled.

Eventually, Clint folded and admitted, "Far, far too many margaritas. Plus, the thing with the squid was just too cool not to share."

"Plus, I laced his fourth margarita with L427 because his report didn't line up with his injuries," Maria commented nonchalantly. It was one of the few drugs that still worked on Barton, and even then it took a trained interrogator to get any results, so Natasha knew she should be suitably impressed. Instead, she knew she had fodder for a lot of groveling in the near future.

"The press, Ms. Hill?" Rogers prompted. With SHIELD technically gone, he was still not certain what to call her. Most opted for Maria, or Director or some other made-up title depending on the day with Stark, but he went the polite and formal route and she had never stopped nor corrected him.

"Will never know that their supposed heroes nearly took each other out in a clusterfuck of happenstance," she assured them. "However, the price of this silence is that you allow the medics to check you over for real this time because the readings I got outside the building were enough to cause concern. You two were at ground zero and the others not far behind. You want your reputation intact, you verify to me that you are whole and hale and all that."

Natasha considered that for a moment and then nodded with Steve in agreement to those terms. He was foolish enough to be the one to speak for them both, which meant she still had a little wriggle room to escape the worst of it. Then again, with the look he gave her, maybe not.

Of course, Maria had voiced concern for the team as a whole, which meant at least she would not be alone in her poking and prodding. Clint would do it out of contrition, Bruce out of guilt, and Tony because they would gang up on him and make him submit to the basics if not more. If the press got word of their need for attention, they could play it off as post-mission physicals to show they were fit and ready for more while being conscious of the danger they faced and all that. She trusted Stark could hack the file before it even crossed Hill's path.

All in all, she was counting it as a win. Barely. With as screwed up as the mission had been, and as worse as it had the potential to be, she didn't dare ask for anything more.