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Title: Heavy in Your Arms (13/15)
Author/Artist: Koren M. (cybermathwitch)
Disclaimer: Not mine. If they were, there'd already be a Black Widow/Hawkeye movie.
Pairing: Clint/Natasha, Coulson/The Cellist, Fury/Jin Mae (OFC)
Rating: Adult 17+
Warnings: language, violence, eventually sexual content, dub-con if you feel that mystical/destiny sorts of compulsions qualify as dubious consent (Natasha might agree with you) THIS CHAPTER: mentions of forced medical procedures/general Red Room evilness, violence and explosions (all pretty canon-typical levels of such)
Spoilers: None
Word Count: 4,243
Summary: Wherein things might explode.

Author's Notes: See Chapter 1 for more notes.

kadollan and sweetwatersong are both still amazing. :D



Previous Chapter


James Buchanan Barnes had become an expert at showing nothing in his eyes but blank boredom, and they were egotistical enough to believe he was entirely their creature, without a will unless they gave him one. They were wrong, of course. He'd remembered enough for years now to know who he'd been before the ice and snow, even if it usually felt like a story someone had told him a long time ago.

The only person, in all that time, who had ever given him any hope that maybe there was something more for him than this life, this life of death and horror and cold, was Natasha. In her, he'd seen something of himself he'd thought was irrevocably lost, something he thought maybe he'd just imagined. So he would do this, for her.

The communications room was laughably easy for him to get to. He was a legend here, and most of the regular staff and military personnel lived in awe and no little fear of the creations the Red Room had produced. They didn't question someone as high up as he was, it didn't occur to them to do so. So they let him in, and he accessed the system, and typed in the simple string of numbers that Natasha thought could save her.

He didn't think anything could save them from this, but for her, he was willing to try one more time.

*****

"What've we got, Coulson?" Maria asked when he walked into her office.

"I'm searching all the traffic cameras, video feeds, and facial recognition software we have access to in southern Germany, eastern France, and Switzerland. They're both good at their jobs though, and know how to take precautions and countermeasures."

She nodded. If Romanov didn't want to be found, she certainly wouldn't be, and Barton was a quick study. He'd be almost as hard to track. "Did we get anything from the forger in Amsterdam or the members of the drug ring you rounded up?"

"Other than they'd really like Romanov dead? No. They're still in custody, but I doubt they've got anymore useful intel. The surveillance is our best bet, slim as it is. Have you thought about how you plan to handle it if we get them back?"

She had, although she didn't want to make any concrete plans until she'd heard what Barton had to say. "They gave me enough leeway that it really depends on Barton, and on what Romanov can bring to the table. They'll want intel, if they can get it, if she's smart she can use that as a bargaining chip. If she has enough of any value, I should be able to keep arguing that he was trying to act in SHIELD's best interest and preserve an asset. Since he managed not to kill anyone on his way out the door, they'd probably take that. Hell, they probably won't care how I write it up so long as they get their data. He acted in self-preservation, because the orders from Fury could've been interpreted as deliberate suicide." Since it was just the two of them, she rubbed a hand over her eyes and rolled her neck to try to stretch out some of the tension hiding there. "I can probably get him off the hook with an official reprimand in his jacket depending on how Fury's trial shakes out."

"And his connection with Romanov?"

"Well, that's up to her, isn't it? It wouldn't be the first time we've turned an enemy agent and used her for our side. If she actually does make a solid connection to Barton, that's another point in her favor. I won't know until I have all the variables, Phil. Right now, let's just focus on bringing them home."

*****

It took all the control she possessed to go quietly when they came to lead her to the lab. She could remember, in bits and pieces, having been there before, and she understood what would happen when she got there. They would drug her and she would sleep, and when she woke up, she would be someone else. Nightmares sometimes touched on the bits in between, but she never let them take up residence in her mind. So her instinct was to fight, even though she knew it was futile, even though she knew there were too many and she was restrained and still weak from the sedative the night before.

But if she fought now, they would lose whatever chance they had. Resistance would seal their fate, and trap all three of them in the near endless cycle of wiping and rewriting that Yasha - James, she reminded herself - was already in.

The corridors were dimly lit at night in the sub-basement levels. Alexi and Mikhail flanked her on either side, and one of the orderlies brought up the rear. He looked just as fit as the two agents, and she imagined he was, if not equally well trained, still no slouch at hand-to-hand combat. She tracked in her head the number of steps, noted the position of hallways, doors, and air vents. All potential escape routes or hideaways should they need them.

If he'd been able to send the message, if SHIELD had received it, how long could she reasonably assume it would take them to respond? Would they respond at all?

She had to believe they were coming, because the alternative was unacceptable. If they were still searching for them in Europe (and they had no reason not to be), they had the capability of being there in a matter of hours. Until she could look at James face to face, she wouldn't know for sure if he'd sent it, and even after she had confirmation, she wouldn't know how long. But if he'd managed it and if he followed her lead, the lab would be the best place to break free, particularly if they waited until after they'd started pumping the drugs into her system. They would let their guard down then, and James would have the element of surprise. She'd have precious few seconds to disconnect the IV and still remain useful, but it was a risk she had to take.

James had warned her they'd already put Clint under, but she still felt her heart rate double and her stomach clench when the doors opened and she saw him there in one of the tanks. They always looked so calm and peaceful, when she knew very well the reality was anything but.

There was no way to know, until they got him out, how much damage they'd done thus far.

"Natalia Alianova," the supervisory researcher, Gribkov, greeted her as if she was a beloved patient stopping by for tea. The aging, stooped man had always made her skin crawl. "Always my most successful creation, and now we will go beyond our expectations, won't we? Just strap her in over there," he directed, and Alexei jerked her roughly across the room.

When they reached the table, he physically picked her up and set her on it, making quick work of transferring her wrists from the manacles to the attached restraints. She struggled, just enough to seem plausible, but not enough to break their grip. Egotistical as he was, Alexei only sneered, rather than suspect her sudden weakness and silence. She had always been able to play him that way.

She turned her head away from them, and that put James directly in her line of sight.

Please, she thought to herself, give me some kind of sign.

"Start the first drip," Gribkov ordered, and she felt the needle sliding into her arm, but saw the subtle, almost non-existent tilt to James's head.

Then the entire building shook.

Hope flared in her chest and she tensed her body, ready to strike. James didn't disappoint her, either. He was sudden and swift, and even as she felt the beginning of the medicine hitting her system and another blast echoed in the distance, he struck out and there was a sickening sound as Mikhail's head hit a nearby bank of equipment. Alexei was similarly caught off-guard as she twisted her body and caught him hard in the side with her legs. He stumbled, but didn't go down. He moved enough to jerk the line out of her arm though, and that's what she'd been aiming for. He made the mistake of grabbing her legs, and she used her momentum and the resistance of the restraints to put her entire force behind throwing him towards the ground. When she looked up, James had leveled his pistol at Gribkov and the smile on his face would've turned her blood to ice if she'd been on the receiving end of it.

"I've waited a very, very long time to do this," he said coldly, and she saw blood bloom between Gribkov's eyes as the gun went off.

Alexei tackled him then, abandoning her in favor of the unencumbered threat, and she struggled with the drugs that had made it into her system and tried to get her hands free. He tackled James to the floor, but while Alexei was good, one of their best, he was unenhanced and didn't have the years and years of additional experience and instinct that James had. She heard Alexei's neck break, and couldn't find it in herself to be upset about it.

"It sounds like the cavalry's here," James murmured as he worked to unfasten her wrists. As she sat up and shook her head to try to clear it, he went to the door and made sure to engage the security locks. "That'll buy us a little bit of time, but if we're taking Barton, you'd better get him out of there."

Natasha was already looking over the consoles, but none of them made any particular sense. She was good with computers, but she needed time she didn't have. "Any chance you know how any of this works?" Her hands were surprisingly steady as she worked the controls, but she knew that if she made the wrong move she could do more damage than good. In the tanks, the machines were doing all the work for his body, breathing, fluids, everything except the actual beating of his heart was being controlled by the system.

James pushed her out of the way, scanning the electronics. "Get adrenaline from that cabinet over there," he pointed across the room and cursed as more alarms started going off and the system shut down. "We'll break the glass and do it old fashioned way!" he yelled over the increasing noise. There were sounds of a battle being waged outside, maybe a few corridors over or just above them, she couldn't be sure, but it was getting closer.

She sifted through the vials and syringes as quickly as she could, finally finding several doses in pre-filled injectable pens. She jabbed one into her own leg, then brought the rest over to where he was using a fire extinguisher tank to try and break through the bullet-resistant tank walls.

"How do you know that won't kill him?"

"Back in the 80's, there was an emergency evacuation of one of the research facilities. They had to break the tank because the systems were all shot, so they filled us full of stimulants to jump-start our systems and hoped for the best. He's not enhanced like we were, but we don't have the luxury of another option right now." The glass finally gave with a sickening noise, and the fluid inside started to flow out onto the floor. He kept bashing at the edges until they had an opening large enough to reach in and disconnect the wires and tubing, then pull Clint out and onto the floor.

"Use three to start with, hopefully his heart can take it," James instructed. He left her to it and went to Alexei and Mikhail's bodies to strip them of weapons and anything else useful he could find.

She muttered under her breath as she jabbed one pen after the other into him, frustrated that all she could really do was wait the precious seconds it would take to see if he would respond.

The door shuddered from some kind of impact, and James slipped behind a bank of servers and gestured for her to follow. She hooked her arms under Clint's from behind and pulled him to cover, then took the pistols that James handed her.

She heard Clint moan and saw his eyelids start to flutter just as the door gave way, and then she had to focus all her attention on taking out the guards who came pouring in. James went through two clips, and she went through one before it seemed to slow and James stood up to actually go and look through the doorway down the hall.

"Is he awake yet?" he asked, keeping his gun trained on the corridor.

She checked, and Clint's pulse seemed steadier, and she could tell he was trying to open his eyes.

"Clint? Clint, come on, I need you back with me, alright?" She slapped him, not exactly gently, but more to startle than to bruise, and by the third time his hand shot up to grab hers.

"Stop that!" he coughed out, then grimaced in pain, his throat still raw from the tubing.

"Welcome back to the living," she said in reply, and it was more affectionate than she'd meant for it to sound. "You've got to get up, can you stand?"

"Not sure. Did ya get the number of the train that hit me?" He wobbled on his legs and she had to help support a good deal of his weight. Seeing the problem, James came back over without taking his eyes off the door to help support Clint's other side.

"There was no train, Clint."

"It's an expression," he mumbled. "Damn my head hurts."

"That'll happen," James offered, not sounding terribly sympathetic. "Ready to go?"

Natasha nodded, and, much more slowly than she'd have liked, they started making their way out of the lab. This part of the building hadn't been designed for battle scenarios, there were too many curves and blind corners, but if they were quiet enough, they could mostly hear someone coming before they saw them.

She could tell there was still quite a battle raging above, but had no clear way of knowing who was winning. When they dropped a heavily-armed guard wearing a headset, she took the time to pick it up and put it in her own ear to get an idea of what was going on.

"They've got three teams on the roof, and another six still in the buildings, but it doesn't sound like it's going very well. It sounds like they've taken the trainees out the back way, and that she's left someone to coordinate destroying the physical materials here."

"He's going to blow the facility?"

Natasha nodded. Of course they would rather destroy everything they could rather than let it fall into SHIELD's hands.

"How long do we have?" Clint croaked out, trying to balance his weight on his own feet between the two of them.

"Maybe three minutes? Possibly less if he's already triggered the countdown."

"Then what are we waiting for? What's the fastest way out of this dump?"

****

The fastest way turned out to be the stairs, sending Natasha up first to clear out any hostiles that might be ahead of them and then James bringing up the rear with Clint thrown over his shoulder, a move that Clint had protested right up until he'd realized that he couldn't move nearly as quickly as the uninjured, enhanced super-soldier could.

The main level was a madhouse, which surprisingly worked in their favor, as the Red Room operatives had switched from defense to evacuation. The SHIELD agents seemed to have picked up on the change in behavior, because they, too, seemed to be mostly occupied with getting out of the building in the wake of the shrieking alarms that had started going off. The message to evacuate the premises was in Ukrainian and Russian, but either they all spoke one of the two, or the tone of voice transcended the language barrier.

At the top of the stairs Clint had struggled enough James had put him back down on his own two feet, and they all limped along out of the building and onto the pavement and gravel beyond. They'd made it about fifteen feet away when the charges blew, and everyone flattened themselves face-first onto the ground.

Natasha's ears rang, and she groped along until she found Clint's hand, relaxing slightly when he gave hers a good strong squeeze back. She rolled over and sat up, and saw to her left that James was doing the same. To her right, Clint had flipped over onto his back and was just lying there, dragging in air like someone who'd just been drowning. She shook her head and a fine dusting of debris fell from her hair.

"Oh, thank god," she heard a voice say, and it was vaguely familiar. She looked up to see the same agent that had met them when they'd first gotten onto the Helicarrier a week prior. Beside her, James had out one of his guns pointed directly at the man.

"No need for that," the agent said almost pleasantly. "Barton, what the hell did you think you were doing?"

"Thought you needed a little adventure, Coulson. I found you a present." He gestured with one hand towards what was left of the facility without bothering to lift his head up off the ground.

The agent's eyes flicked up and down the building burning behind them. "A present. Next year, how about we stick with something more traditional like a tie, or a nice pen?"

"You're no fun," Clint muttered, but Natasha could see he was almost smiling. "So're you gonna kill us now? Fury'd said something about that..."

"Fury is no longer in charge," Coulson said carefully. "Whether or not Hill wants to kill you will probably depend on just how much of a financial drain this little rescue mission turns out to be."

Clint started to laugh, relief and adrenaline combining to just the right side of hysterics, and to her surprise Natasha found herself wanting to laugh along with him. James still had his gun out, but as two other armed SHIELD agents approached, he decided better of it and slowly laid it down, putting his hands up in the air.

One of the agents, a dark haired woman, holstered her weapon once she was close enough to really see them, and fisted her hands on her hips. "You're going to owe me big for this one, Barton, you can count on it."

"Hill," he sighed, and it almost sounded happy. A friend then, Natasha determined, though that idea still seemed foreign to her, and not something to be used in conjunction with superior officers.

"We're going to have to cuff you, all three of you," she continued, and the gentle teasing of her previous comment fell away under a very business-like tone. "Barton, we'll have to work out what to do with you once we get this wrapped up, but-"

"He didn't betray you," Natasha found herself blurting out. "I forced him to help me, and brought him along. He didn't give up any information about SHIELD. I can give you everything I know about the Red Room, but please. He doesn't deserve to be punished for something he didn't do."

*****

Clint blinked, then he did force himself to sit up. "Nat, you don't have to-" he wasn't sure how to put it. He had an idea of what she was expecting to happen, but he wasn't sure quite how to reassure her because he still didn't know, himself, where all this was going. But one thing was sure, he wasn't about to have her exchanging one cage for another. With more effort than he would've liked, he struggled to his feet, and the agents around them let him, mostly because of the warning look both Maria and Phil shot them when they started to take a step forward.

He lurched towards them, just enough to brace himself against Maria when she reached out to help and then to pull her a few feet away from the group.

"I don't know what you've done or how you managed it, and I know I'm at the top of your shit list right now, but I have a huge, huge favor to ask you."

The look on her face was more concerned than angry. "Clint, whatever you're about to say-"

"Maria. Please." He made sure he was looking her straight in the eyes. "Whatever disciplinary action you have to bring against me, that's fine. I disobeyed orders, I broke protocol, I helped an enemy agent. Whatever. I'm just asking you for two things, here. That's it. I will owe you everything, for just these two things."

She met his stare, and waited for him to continue. "Don't kill me, because it wouldn't just be killing me... and let her go. I know-" he rushed on, because she opened her mouth to protest, "I know how important her intel would be. But she's been a prisoner her whole damn life. All she wants is a chance to be free. Really free. We take that for granted every damn day and she's never had that. The things they've done... you have no idea. You can say she vanished in the confusion, or that you think she was killed in the fire, or something. Anything. But please, just let her walk away."

"I thought you two were bonded. Don't you-"

"We are. It doesn't matter. This is what she wants, I know it is. That's what matters."

"I made a deal with the Council, Clint. Part of the way I convinced them that you hadn't gone completely AWOL was by arguing that you were protecting valuable intel against Fury's orders. They agreed because they want what she knows. Without that, I can't promise what they'll do in response. They can countermand my orders," she added, and he knew what she was implying. The Council could order his execution just as quickly as Fury had.

"I have intel. The same intel she does, probably more."

They both turned as the other man, who Clint had surmised was James, spoke up.

"And you are?" Hill asked in what Clint thought of as her no-nonsense "military" tone.

"Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, formerly of the US Army's 107th and the Howling Commandos."

It was the closest Clint had ever seen Maria Hill come to doing a double-take. "You were killed in action in 1944." And of course she'd have that fact close to hand, Clint thought to himself, because he wasn't the only one who'd listened to Phil wax rhapsodic about it time and time again.

"Didn't Twain say something about the rumors of his demise?" James said with a wry twist to his mouth.

"We'll have to take you into custody, but if you've got useful information we can see where we can go from there," she finally relented, and he nodded, setting his hands behind his back so that the nearby agent could cuff him. They'd already cuffed Natasha, but Clint, now mostly mobile, took her by the arm and guided her off to one side.

"Give them a minute, agent," he could hear Hill saying but suddenly it was just background noise. Once they were at the edge of the area SHIELD had cleared away, he unfastened the cuffs with the key Maria had just slipped him and took them off her wrists.

"You're free to go," he murmured softly, reaching up and brushing some of the dusty hair back away from her face. He looked into her eyes trying to figure out what was going inside of her. He could feel it, mostly, but didn't think he had the words for the insane tumble of emotions that he could feel running through her.

"You heard her. Even with James's intel, if they go back without me-"

"No one will do anything. As long as they have the information they want, the Council won't care."

"And what about you? About us?"

He cradled her face in his hands and she brought hers up to grip his wrists.

"I'll live. I'll miss you like hell, but I'll live. Don't think for a second that I don't want you around, because I do, but I understand why you need to go. That's one of the perks of this whole arrangement, right? Being able to understand one another?"

Through that understanding, he knew that very few things had ever made her cry, and also that she was currently on the verge of it, and a part of her hated that fact. So he kissed her, hard and deep, distracting them both for a second. "I'll really fucking miss you," he repeated as they broke the kiss and he rested his forehead against hers. "You'd better go before she changes her mind."

"Close your eyes," she whispered softly, and he felt her lips ghost over his one last time. When he opened them, she was gone.


Chapter 14

Comments

( 1 comment — Feedback is an Act of Love )
crazy4orcas
Apr. 23rd, 2014 02:03 am (UTC)
So, I'm reading this again and see that I neglected to comment on this chapter! Shame on me!

Awesome action -- just the right amount of descriptors to keep it exciting without overdoing.

LOVING the banter between Clint, Coulson, and Maria.

AND HE ENCOURAGES HER TO GO AND BE FREE! OH MY FEELS!
( 1 comment — Feedback is an Act of Love )

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