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Bad Altitude

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Natasha Romanoff tumbled more than sat in the copilot’s seat. The brief twinge of pain in her right knee would have annoyed her had a panel in the side of the wall not popped loose. “Oh, sweet,” she said, and the blonde in the pilot’s seat looked up so sharply that Natasha suffered from sympathetic whiplash. “There’s a bar in here.”


The woman’s tone somehow managed to convey a multitude of emotions, all of them some variation of panic. But, Natasha thought approvingly, there was also a note of judgment in there, too, like Natasha had no business on focusing on anything but the console in front of them. That was probably true. Natasha couldn’t actually drag herself to care.

“Bar,” she said, twisting her body in the seat to reveal the compartment that had been artfully built into the wall, revealing tiny bottles of Jack Daniels and Seagram’s. “It’s pretty innovative, using the wall panel like that. I wonder if the air outside keeps it chilled adequately.” She thought about it. “Maybe he’s a warm whisky guy. We could ask him.”

The blonde made a noise in the back of her throat that was once again panic and judgment in one hyper-textured sound. There was also some distress.

“Since I hit him hard enough to knock him out for at least seven hours, though, we’ll be left hanging for awhile.” Natasha hmm’d and settled back against the seat. It was probably less comfortable than the pilot’s seat. But the blonde—Flora? Felicia?—had insisted on taking that chair for herself. Outside, the clouds were puffy and the sky was a crystal blue that didn’t seem fair, considering how close they were to China, smog capital of the world. It seemed ideal, save for the blonde’s panic. “I suppose I could wake him, if you want to know. I could beat it out of him. I would like that.”

The blonde’s look turned sardonic. “Yeah, I’m just beside myself to know if the pilot you assaulted and nearly killed likes his scotch on the rocks at room temperature,” she said.

Natasha started to get up. “Excellent,” she said, pleased to finally have something productive to do. “I can find out.”

The blonde grabbed a handful of her shirt. “That was sarcasm. I don’t really care. Stay put.”

Natasha sighed and reached for the nearest bottle of Jack. The blonde smacked her hand. “I’ve killed people for less,” Natasha said.

Instead of looking terrified, as was proper, the blonde clenched her jaw. “God, I hope you’re kickass when you’re not tranqued out of your mind because right now, the Black Widow isn’t inspiring much faith that you could save a kitten out of a tree, much less the world.”

It took Natasha a moment to parse that statement, mostly because her mind was happily and comfortably ensconced in a floating sensation where nothing really mattered. “I’m drunk,” she said, elucidating every syllable. “This is drunk, not tranqued.”

“I saw that guy tranquilize you myself.”

Natasha gave her an unimpressed stare. “I don’t think you did, Flicka.”


“Whatever. However you look at it, this is what drunk feels like. I haven’t been drunk in a long time, but this is definitely it. Nobody sneaks up on Natasha Romanoff with a tranquilizer.” It was a point of pride with her. Clint Barton could get himself knocked out on every mission, and usually did, but Natasha stayed awake, dammit. “So that’s our story. I’m drunk, and you’re Frederica.”

“Felicity,” the blonde said between her teeth. “And that’s not our story because our story is that we’re going to die because somebody here karate chopped the pilot in the neck and now I’m never going to find what I was looking for because instead I’m going to give three or four salvage operators the dubious pleasure of digging my bones and twisted, charred flesh out of the burnt remains of fuselage or whatever remains after I crash this plane because I’ve never flown anything but a flight simulator and you’re drunk!”

Natasha tried to find the thorough line of that sentence. When nothing came to her, she shrugged and proudly did not burp. “We’re not going to crash,” she said.

Fillippa gave the panels a dark look. “You can’t be sure of that.”

“I’m the Black Widow.” Natasha shrugged and had to blink rapidly a few times to make the cockpit stop swaying like Thor after a night of Asgardian mead. “Of all the ways I’m going to die, a plane accident is far too pedestrian.”

“You’ll have to forgive me for not taking comfort in that because I have a really high IQ and we’re definitely going to die.”

“Civilians,” Natasha said since Clint wasn’t here to say it for her. “Always with the drama.”

Oh, interesting. Her accent was coming back. She was pleased about that; she’d missed the throatiness of her vowels.

“I’m not a civilian,” the blonde said, again through clenched teeth. Natasha wanted to tell her to relax, that that much stress was going to lead to something like angina. But at the moment, the entire cockpit turned green and the yoke between her knees started to sing a mariachi tune. It seemed a little more important to pay attention to that than to the level horizon on the CRT screen in front of her.

She wasn’t supposed to be on a plane. Granted, she wasn’t supposed to be drunk (tranqued), either, so she wasn’t really doing well with the things she shouldn’t be doing. It was just her luck that she had a memory like a steel trap—rusty and illegal in thirty-seven states, but still pretty damned effective when she wanted it to be—and she’d recognized one of the men on her Most Wanted list at Fukuoka Airport in Japan. Gilbert Crane seemed to be doing an honest business these days, transporting people in his Gulfstream, but Natasha remembered the haunted faces of little girls and boys that he’d separated from their parents. And she’d followed him right onto his plane, hiding in the bathroom until they were in the air.

Somewhere along the way, though, tranquilizers had gotten involved, the pilot was now unconscious in the bathroom, the passenger who’d paid honest money for the charter to wherever-it-was-Fiona-was-going was in the pilot’s seat, and the yoke had switched from mariachi to the Macarena.

Natasha kicked it. She hated that song.

“What the hell!” Florence threw herself across Natasha, shoving a really bony elbow into Natasha’s clavicle as she did so.

Natasha grabbed her by the scruff of the neck. “Hey!”

“Stop that! You’re going to crash us, you psychopath—”

“I hate that song—”

“What song? There is no song.” Francine struggled and pulled off an impressive block to get out of Natasha’s grip, which told Natasha there was some kind of training there. She narrowed her eyes, but Felicia was glaring at her, one hand up in a fist. Brave little blonde duckling, the somewhat sober part of Natasha’s brain piped up. “Have you lost your mind? Seriously, are you insane? Nobody ever really brought that up that one of the Avengers is a complete and total lunatic.”

“One?” Natasha laughed. “We’re all lunatics.”

“Great. I’m going to die and I’m going to die in the company of a lunatic. And not even the lunatic I usually—” Abruptly, Fred turned an interesting shade of green and snapped her mouth closed with an audible click. “Ignore that.”

“You have a lunatic?” She wouldn’t normally be curious, but she’d been in Japan for two freaking months and she hadn’t seen anybody but Tony, who didn’t count because he’d spent the entire time daring her to eat puffer fish and prying into her love life in that smugly Stark way he had. So she missed… “I have a lunatic, too.”

“Oh, great.” Fedora put her face in her hands. “You have a lunatic.”

“He’s an archer.”

“Join the club,” Flower said between her hands.

“You have an archer?”

“After a fashion.” Her companion sighed and lifted her face from her hands. “He’s the reason I’m here and probably going to die with the drunk Russian Avenger. If it weren’t all so ‘oh, God, I can see the flaming wreck and I really wish I’d hugged my dog more before I left,’ it would almost be funny.”

Natasha reached into the mini-bar by her leg and offered her a bottle of Jack.

“Really don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?” Natasha asked, still holding out the bottle. “We are sharing secrets and commiserating and I am, as you say, Russian. That calls for a drink.”

“One of us needs to be the sober pilot, dude.”

“I am not a dude.”

Flipper’s eyes cut down to Natasha’s bustline and then back up and Natasha had the absurd pleasure of watching her go red all the way down to the neckline. “Sorry—I wasn’t checking you out, I swear, I’m really not that into women, though if I were, I’m sure you’d be very nice and my type, given that you could kill me with your pinky finger and that seems to be a thing with me, but why haven’t I stopped talking yet? In my head, I stopped talking, but no, I’m still going and it’s going to stop now.” For a second, the woman’s too-bright lips did stop moving, but it didn’t last. “Any second. Any second now.”

“Maybe you don’t need alcohol,” Natasha decided, and put the bottle back in the cooler. “We’re not going to die. I can fly a plane.”

“You’re tran—drunk!”

“That is why they invented autopilot.” The yoke started singing a lullaby, which was much better than the Macarena, though it did have the side-effect of making Natasha’s eyelids feel like they had individual lead weights attached to them. “I think I’m going to sleep now.”

“You can’t just fall asleep—what if something happens to the plane? What if something goes wrong? What if we hit a goose or missiles come down out of the sky or the engine fails? Do you know the odds of a thunderstorm happening in this part of the world? I studied the weather patterns, you know, before I took this trip. I do the research. That’s my job.”

“Wake me up when that happens,” Natasha said, her jaw cracking with a yawn. The lullaby was rather insistent. She felt like she was so heavy she might actually melt through the floor. Everything in her brain was disconnected and woozy. As much as she liked the sensation, part of her knew it was bad.

If she slept, it would go away. Things went away when she slept.

“And then what?” Frankie asked. “You’ll do what? Slur at me in Russian some more?”

“Then I’ll save our lives,” Natasha said, as it should have been completely obvious. “The Black Widow isn’t useless, you know.”

Putting her head back, she closed her eyes and let the sleep overtake her. But it hadn’t fully claimed her when she heard her Fern whisper under her breath, “Figures. I finally get out of Starling City, and before I really get to see the world or him again, I’m going to die with a ‘drunk’ redhead.”

Natasha fell asleep, wondering who he was.

She woke to beeping.

That was never a good thing. Never. Not once had she ever woken to the sound of shrill beeping where it had been a good thing. Alarm clocks didn’t count: the Red Room hadn’t believed in them, Clint put arrows through anything that dared wake him (which included various humans brave enough to try), and she’d always had an internal clock rivaled by none other, which meant she’d never needed one. So if something was beeping and she was sleeping, then trouble was near.

She reared back to life, trying to lunge forward. The safety belt, however, had other ideas. Before she was quite aware of what was going on, Natasha was jerked back against the seat, gasping for breath.

“What—” She struggled for air and reached for the knife in her thigh holster. Her hand came away empty. “What—”

“Something is wrong! Something is very, very wrong, and I can’t—I don’t know this system, for God’s sake, I am not a pilot, I am an IT consultant for one of the top companies in the world and my heart just can’t handle this stress!” Her companion—Felicity—was frantically pushing buttons, and Natasha realized that not only was everything beeping, but she was pressed back against her chair and the entire cockpit was shaking. The CRT monitors were flashing on and off, which never meant good things.

But her knife was missing.

“Did you take my knife?”

Felicity flicked an annoyed look at Natasha, and for a second, the redhead couldn’t help but be impressed by the sheer amount of aggravated vitriol in the look. “Will you focus? We’re about to die!”

“My knife—”

“I took it because you tried to stab me in your sleep! Now, if you’re the Black Widow and not useless like you claim, you’ll fix this.”

Natasha didn’t remember trying to stab Felicity, but given that her thoughts were kind of wrapped in gauze at the moment, it seemed plausible. She yawned and grabbed the throttle, easing it forward. If the plane was shuddering like that, the engines were struggling, about to stall. She eased the throttle forward.

It didn’t move.

“Huh,” she said, and flipped a couple of switches. She jiggled one, but the monitor in front of her continued to throw out random lines of code that weren’t at all helpful. “What happened? Lightning?”

Lightning? Oh, god, is that common? I know lightning hits the Empire State Building a hundred times a year, but we’re so little.” Felicity was frantically shoving at switches, her hands actively shaking.

Natasha guessed from the recital of trivia that they hadn’t actually been struck by lightning. Which, she reflected, didn’t help her much. “So you don’t know what happened,” she said.

“It just started flipping out. I don’t know what’s wrong. Can you just fly it manually?”

“I could, but it’s locked into autopilot, and the override isn’t working.” She should probably care about that, Natasha thought, but there was a pain developing right between her eyebrows, like a blade shoved up under the side of one eye and straight into her brain. Queasiness roiled through her midsection, but at least random things around her had stopped singing.

She really didn’t understand people that dropped acid. This royally sucked.

“What do you mean, the override’s not working?” Felicity’s voice rose three octaves.

“Computer’s busted. There are too many signals going through, so it’s going to crash us.”

Normally an announcement like this would have sent somebody like Felicity into a panic, Natasha thought, but instead the opposite happened: the blonde’s eyes focused and a quiet intensity came over her face. “The computer’s busted?”

“It’s locked me out. Unless we fix it, you and me, we’re going out in a blaze of glory.”

“Computers. I can fix computers.” Felicity startled her by pulling out Natasha’s knife—where had she been keeping that?—and prying at the joining at the edge of the monitor in front of her. “I think this is a wiring problem.”

“IT, huh?” Natasha asked, continuing to flip switches to see if she could get any response from any of the instruments. The throttle pushed forward again and the plane tipped forward. Hell. They were now pointed toward the ocean.

That was probably not good.

Indeed, Felicity let out a squeak and with seemingly superhuman strength yanked off the cover of the monitor. “We’re not going to die,” she said under her breath, the words racing to get out of her mouth. “We’re not going to die, we’re not going to die, we’re not going to—well, shit, we’re probably going to die.”

“What is it?” Natasha’s stomach was now in her throat, another sign that they were losing altitude fast. She really wished her system weren’t rebelling. She had a feeling that if she were completely in control of her faculties, this entire flight might be going better.

That was probably her fault for waiting until midair to attack the pilot. She’d had better ideas. Damned tranquilizers.

“The wiring here, it’s not—wait, never mind, it is, I can fix this. I can fix this.” Felicity’s hands began flying over the wiring, almost too fast for Natasha to follow. Since she did seem to know what she was doing, Natasha decided to focus on trying to override the autopilot manually. She’d never flown the G150 before, but she’d flown its predecessor and surely things couldn’t have changed that much.

“Eureka,” Felicity said, and shoved the monitor back on. She entered something into the keypad and both monitors flared to life.

Upside down.


Before Felicity could lunge forward and yank the monitor cover back off, Natasha swept her left arm out, clotheslining her neatly back into her seat. While Felicity coughed, eyes watering, Natasha reached forward and thumped the console with the side of her fist.

The display righted itself.

“See? It’s fine.”

“We’re still in a dive! Also, ow.”

Natasha muttered a curse in Russian about damned civilians mucking up her ops. Without taking her eyes off of the display, she reached over and flipped a series of switches, turning off the autopilot with practiced ease. She eased the yoke back, hoping to nose them out of the dive as gently as she could. They’d lost a lot of altitude, enough that her ears had popped a couple of times, but they still had plenty of time before they hit the sea. The plane strained, pressure shoving them back against the seats. Natasha gritted her teeth and moved the throttle again, hoping to compensate.

From the sounds of it, the woman in the pilot’s seat was saying a Rosary—and not very well.

“You’re not actually Catholic, are you?”

“Jewish, actually.” Felicity crossed herself, backward. “But it seems like a good time to hedge my bets.”

“I don’t believe in God.”

“Please, please don’t give us an opportunity to see which one of us is right,” Felicity said. She was kind of pretty, Natasha noticed. She’d taken in general details before—blonde, slim, liked bright colors if her shirt and lipstick were anything to by—but the woman just didn’t look like the typical IT nerd. But then, Natasha herself didn’t look like the typical hacker, so judging was far below her. Still, she sensed that there was a lot more to her companion than even the blabbermouth in the seat next to her let on. “Can nothing go right today? Anything at all? I just wanted to charter a friggin’ plane!”

Finally, Natasha leveled the plane completely. She checked her gauges and shrugged before starting to climb again. “You’re still on the plane you’ve chartered.”

“But the woman who knows how to fly it is drug—drunk.”

“You seem to be doing okay yourself.”

“Spending hours playing Airplanes Versus Zombies does not one a pilot make.” Felicity sagged back into her seat and rubbed at her collarbone, which Natasha had probably elbowed earlier. “Today is the worst.”

“We’re still alive.”

“For how long, though?”

Natasha shrugged. “You seem to be rather pessimistic for somebody that believes in God and also fixed the plane’s navigation system mid-flight.”

Felicity—what was her last name? Had Natasha even known it? This was suddenly quite important to Natasha to know—let out a long, explosive breath. She was still slumped in the seat, rubbing her index fingers into her temples like she had a headache to rival the likes of the one pounding at Natasha’s head. “Sorry, you’re right. You’re absolutely right,” she said. “But it’s been the summer from hell. Everything went wrong, and it’s all a mess, and now I’m on a flight halfway across the world from Starling City. Did you know that the farthest I’ve ever gone was Coastal City? And now here I am, alone on the other side of the world, trying to get to an island that doesn’t exist on any maps.”

“With a pilot who’s a child trafficker,” Natasha said.

Felicity looked up to gape at her. “Is that why you hid in the bathroom and took him out?”

“I did not want to give him a chance to get away.” Natasha paused as something occurred to her. “Wait, you did not know that?”

“I thought you were a nut job! Oh, God, was he going to kidnap me, too? I’d be the worst sex slave. I talk too much during sex, my last boyfriend told me, but you know, it wasn’t like he was providing the stimulation to get me to shut up.” Felicity looked vaguely horrified by the words coming out of her mouth, but she straightened her shoulders and put a good face forward. “So there.”

“I could give you a few tips. Could you do me a favor first?”

“Do you want me to check on the pilot?”

“No, I want you to program the island you’re talking about into the sat-nav since you must know the coordinates.”

Felicity gave her a wide-eyed look. “We’re still going there?”

“I deprived you of a pilot. Seems only fair that I help you out.”

“But—but you probably saved my life.” Felicity cast a look over her shoulder, toward the bathroom where Natasha had stuffed the pilot.

“Even so.”

“How are you going to land?”


“And take off again? Because he told me the runway can be tricky, which was why I hired the best pilot I could find. We should probably just go to Taiwan and I can try again.”

“What’s on this island, Felicity?”

“Holy crap, you used my name,” Felicity said, and Natasha gave up and reached for the mini-bar. Before the blonde could stop her, she swigged back a gulp of Jack Daniels. Immediately, the pressure behind her head began to ease. “What are you doing? Stop that!”

She didn’t make the mistake of grabbing it out of Natasha’s hand this time, thankfully. “My head hurts,” Natasha said, her accent slipping. “This makes it feel better.”

“You can’t land the plane if you’re drunk. I have—I have stuff. Hold on.” Felicity scrambled out of her seatbelt and out of the cockpit, nearly elbowing Natasha’s neck in the process. She was back less than a minute later, lugging one of the largest purses Natasha had ever seen. “What do you need? I’ve got Advil, Aleve, Aspirin, and that’s just the A’s. I’ve got Tylenol in here somewhere. A veritable walking drugstore, at your service.”

Taking one of those drugs would probably be like trying to piss on a fire to put it out, but Felicity looked so eager to help that Natasha took four Advil and tossed them back, drinking the water that Felicity handed her rather than the Jack she would have preferred. She distinctly heard Clint laughing at her in the back of her head. “Switch spots with me,” Felicity said.

Switching spots would mean she was farther away from the mini-bar. On the other hand, she could take Felicity Whatever-Her-Last-Name-Was in a fight, so…

“Fine,” Natasha said, taking the pilot’s seat. “Get to programming. We’re going to this island of yours to fetch…whatever it is.”

Though Felicity looked uncertain, she sat down in the copilot’s chair and plugged away at the screen. It took only a minute for the autopilot to kick in once more. Natasha sat back in her seat, relieved to be free of that duty for now. The alcohol had loosened some of the ache in her head.

“Mind if I make a call?” she asked, more to be courteous than to actually ask permission.

“The tower? I thought you were only supposed to contact them in emergencies.”

“Somebody else.”

When Felicity merely looked puzzled, Natasha took that as acquiescence and keyed in SHIELD’s special frequency, giving a short code-phrase in Russian. Clint came onto the line about half a minute later. He sounded sleepy, like the operator had rousted him from sleep.

“What’s up, Tasha?”

“Little bit of a situation,” she replied, in Russian, and explained that she had Gilbert Crane locked in the bathroom of a Gulfstream G150, a talkative copilot, and the need to land on an uncharted island off the coast of China while fighting off the effects of tranquilizers.

By the time she got to the end, Clint was openly laughing. “You missed me that much? You didn’t need to concoct a bullshit story to get me to come pick you up, you know. I’d be happy to.”

“Oh, baby,” Natasha said, her voice dry, “you’re all I think about, day and night.”

“Uh-huh.” She could hear him thinking, and probably scratching the back of his head. His hair was probably sticking up. She wondered what new scars he would have when she saw him next. “Guess it’s been awhile since I’ve been out that way. I’m due. You got your tracker on you?”

Natasha confirmed that it was active.

“I’ll head out. Be about six hours or so. You going to be okay landing the plane on your own?”

“She’s a heavy bitch, but I’ll be fine.”

“Stay safe, then.”

“You, too.” It was as close to sentimental as either of them would get on a public frequency, even if they were speaking a different language. Natasha’s fingers lingered over the call button before she disengaged it and focused on the screen in front of her again.

“Boyfriend?” Felicity asked, and had Natasha jerking. The IT nerd looked chagrined. “Probably a bad time to mention I speak Russian.”

“I did not expect that.”

“Somebody is coming to get us? Is it one of the other Avengers?”

“My partner.”

Felicity’s eyes went wide. “So we’re saved?”

Natasha couldn’t decide if she was insulted or not by the hope that arose on the other woman’s face. Perhaps the fact that she’d chugged Jack Daniels straight from the bottle after getting hit with high-grade tranquilizers just didn’t instill much faith in her companion, though, so she let it slide. “We still have to land first.”

“We can do it.”

“So now you’re choosing to be the optimist. What’s on the island, Felicity?”

“It’s not a what, it’s a who.” Suddenly, Felicity seemed to gain a couple of years and a great deal of confidence, for her shoulders straightened. There was a bright, hard look in her eyes that Natasha recognized. She’d seen the same look in the mirror a few times. Felicity No-Last-Name had been through a great deal, too, which made sense, as nice, quiet girls didn’t typically charter planes to find unknown islands off of China. “My boss, Oliver Queen.”

“That name sounds familiar.”

“He owns half the planet, I think.”

And he probably wasn’t just her boss, Natasha thought. But the story wasn’t clicking into place. Why did she know that name? She’d been rather busy fighting one Armageddon after the next in the past couple of years, and then she’d been assigned to the mission in Japan, so she had truthfully been a little out of it. So if she knew that name, he had to be somebody important, at least to SHIELD.

And then she remembered where she had heard the name Oliver Queen. Felicity had said something about an archer, too, which really cemented it in Natasha’s mind. They’d had a person of interest file on Queen open for years.

“So that’s where the Hood’s gone,” she said. “SHIELD has been wondering.”

Felicity’s head snapped up. “I never said he was the Hood!”

“Somebody really needs to teach you how to lie,” Natasha said.

There was silence from the other half of the cockpit for once, and then Felicity scowled. “You really are the scariest drunk I’ve ever met.”

“Thank you.”

She didn’t bother calling in to SHIELD to update them on the package awaiting them on the island, mostly because she really didn’t want to discover how many languages Felicity Smoak—her last name was Smoak, Natasha discovered by rifling through her purse and finding her passport while she’d gone back to fetch them bottles of water—spoke. If she’d had her SHIELD equipment, she would have done a run on the woman, who was turning out to be more and more interesting the more the tranquilizers in Natasha’s system wore off.

Thankfully, by the time they were within fifteen minutes of the island, Natasha was left with a dozy feeling and a headache and not much else.

“So, uh, how confident are you about this?” Felicity asked as the autopilot guided them toward a substantially sized island. It was covered with trees, but Natasha could see a surprisingly well-kept runway on the southern part. “That you can do this, I mean?”

“You know I’m not going to answer that honestly,” Natasha said.

“Even so, I would really appreciate the lie that we’re going to be all right.”

“What good would that do?”

“It would keep me from replaying the horrible clip that’s going on in my mind, where we end up on the runway in ten thousand pieces. It’s like an animated GIF on a loop, only instead of Grumpy Cat telling me NO, it’s of this plane rolling over and over and eventually coming to a literal dead stop before exploding into a fireball that would make Michael Bay jealous. And you know, you could crack a smile or something. It would really help morale.”

“I’m more comfortable with deadpan,” Natasha said.

“Gee, I am shocked. Shocked.

Natasha’s grin at the exasperation was natural and quicksilver. “Anybody ever succeed in getting you to shut up?” she asked conversationally.

“Nope, not to my knowledge. Without duck tape, at least.”

“Don’t have any handy.” Natasha eyeballed the altimeter and then the tree level and decided to disengage the autopilot and lower the landing gear. She aligned the runway between her legs and pointed the nose down, easing back on the throttle. It had been a long time since she’d landed anything that wasn’t a Quinjet; compared to the advanced technology SHIELD had at its disposal, this plane felt old, slow, and clunky.

Felicity’s hands were white on the edge of the console. Natasha didn’t bother to tell her they were going to be fine. That just wasn’t a policy she lived by.

The world wavered a little, vestiges of the tranquilizer in her bloodstream, as she eased the throttle back further. The plane began to protest, but she didn’t second-guess herself. At a couple meters off of the ground, the plane began to buzz around them.

“Oh, god! Is that normal? Is it supposed to do that? Oh, god, oh, god, oh, god—”

Natasha gritted her teeth. Too late to adjust and try to land again, she thought. She’d hoped to come in a little slower than that, but—“Gonna be bumpy,” she said, and they hit the ground.

The impact was hard enough to knock two of the bottles of Jack out of the mini-bar and onto the ground. Both women grunted, tossed about like rag dolls in their seats. The plane bounced, and Natasha cut the throttle hard, a stream of swear words echoing about her head and amplifying her headache. The plane cut left, heading for the tree line with a speed that made Felicity gasp, but Natasha nudged the right pedal to correct the course and had to keep doing so as the plane careened down.

When it finally rolled to a stop, there was absolute silence in the cabin. Natasha could hear herself breathing and felt sweat at the back of her neck. Whether it was her body rejecting the drugs or the stress from landing an unfamiliar airplane, she didn’t care to decide.

“Well,” she said. “That happened.”

Felicity surprised her by being the first one to get to business. She unstrapped herself and, shaking a little, climbed out of the cockpit and into the cabin. Without a look at Natasha, she shouldered the backpack that had been lying on one of the seats in the cabin. “He’ll have seen us coming,” she said, businesslike. “Which means he’s going to hide somewhere close by and investigate. You might want to be careful. I don’t know what mood he’s in. He might shoot first and ask questions later.”

“Then I will kill him,” Natasha said, shrugging. She was grateful she’d worn boots instead of heels that day, though all she had on her were her Glock and her knife, which she’d retrieved from Felicity earlier. Having so few weapons on a terrain she didn’t know made her feel almost naked.

“Yeah, that’s what worries me,” Felicity said, sighing. “Just…give him a chance. He’s gone through a lot. We all have.”

“My piloting is not that bad,” Natasha said.

“That wasn’t what I mea—just don’t look like you’re threatening me at all, okay? That’s a trigger with him. I can talk him down, if it comes to that, but it could be a problem.”

“And when you can’t?”

“I can talk him down,” Felicity repeated, and the steely look was back in such force that Natasha shrugged. If Felicity thought Oliver Queen wasn’t going to shoot her, then Natasha had to put her faith in that for now. Maybe it was goodwill over the fact that they’d just survived an almost-crash-landing together. She fashioned a pack out of the pilot’s bag, packing in extra water and the camping gear she found tucked in the back, and eased that onto her shoulders, her head pounding a little.

When Felicity led the way off the plane, Natasha made sure her gun was tucked away out of sight, knowing that the Hood was almost as good a marksman as Clint and that she was hopelessly outmatched in a ranged fight. If this was the island where Oliver Queen had been marooned for five years, then he also had the advantage of familiarity with the area.

She hoped Clint wouldn’t take too long with the Quinjet. She really didn’t want to spend hours trekking through Chinese jungles on top of what was already a lousy day.

She needn’t have worried. They stepped off the plane and two hundred feet down the runway was a solitary figure. He had a bowstring drawn to his ear, an arrow nocked and ready to go. Natasha’s hand eased toward her Glock, blood that had settled from the landing beginning to race again.

Felicity, on the other hand, let out a strangled cry and immediately dropped her bag. Natasha saw the archer flinch and had a split-second vision of her copilot getting skewered through the neck by an arrow, but instead, Felicity was racing across the runway as fast as her boots could carry her.

The archer didn’t move until Felicity absolutely launched herself at him, tackling him hard enough that Natasha saw the Hood take a step or two back to compensate as he dropped his bow. She edged closer, watching the tableau they made in the distance, the woman with her bright shirt clinging to the strange, hooded man. Felicity didn’t seem to be talking at all, she thought, but was instead clinging hard.

Natasha’s eyebrow went up when the man finally hugged her back. He didn’t say a word, either. She had to figure Felicity might be crying, but she couldn’t tell. It didn’t seem to matter. The only sounds Natasha could detect were the wildlife of the island.

“Huh,” she said to herself and decided that they should have some privacy. She climbed back into the plane and headed for the mini-bar once more. “Guess there is somebody that could shut her up,” she said to nobody in particular, and raised one of the tiny bottles of liquor in a toast that nobody returned. “Never thought I’d see the day.”