Clint jerked awake, tied down, naked, and- Natasha was bent over him. “Go back to sleep, Clint.”
“What the fuck,” he croaked.
She efficiently slit one of the ropes holding his left wrist. “You were drugged. You're safe. I have you. Go back to sleep.”
He passed out.
The next time he woke he was clear-headed and sat straight up, feeling for weapons in the bed. None. Damn. “What.”
Nat stepped in from the hall. “Don't know yet. Kidnapping. You were it.” She tossed a pile of clothes on the bed. “Hurry up.”
Twelve hours later after he'd slept off the drugs in Nat's safe house and eaten a ham and cheese sandwich, “Who do we know who'd grab me and not kill me? Why? HOW?” He asked Nat again.
She shrugged. “Blow gun, the right drug, it isn't difficult. I dislike how they walked you out of the reading room of the library in the middle of the day, though. Someone's showing off. Spies showing off is always bad.”
Showing off. For who? “Stay or go?” Clint asked her. He was supposed to be the senior agent, but honestly.
“I'd sure like to find out who wanted me, and why.” Clint mused.
“So we go to the ballet, as we planned.” Nat decided.
This was not going to end well. He knew it. He was going to get his ass handed to him for this decision, but.
Yeah, they were going to the ballet. Why fool himself? He wanted to catch whoever had grabbed him, and Nat, well, Nat would go to the ballet in hell, if anyone good was performing. Or even if it wasn't a good production.
Two dances in, Clint unbuttoned the jacket of his tux, slid his arm around Nat's shoulders, inhaled her shampoo, and breathed out, “They're searching the boxes.”
“I see.” She breathed back, not taking her eyes from the stage.
Clint loosened the handgun under his right arm, shifted to feel the bow and quiver he'd hidden under their seats earlier that day. Then he waited, duck on a pond in a box at the National Opera House, to see if the searchers found them before the first act was over and they could escape into the crowd at intermission. Or pull them into the box and do some enhanced interrogation to Prokofiev. He could think of worse soundtracks.
“Stay or go.” Nat asked.
Clint REALLY wanted a piece of whoever had kidnapped him the day before. So far he'd seen two people searching the boxes. They could handle those numbers, especially loaded for insurrection as they were. “Stay.”
“You over the stage, me in the box. They cannot resist little old me alone in my box. So helpless. You can shoot them all and I will knife anyone left.” This was pretty much Natasha's plan for everything from the ballet to the grocery store, 'you shoot, I knife' like it was hardwired in her nervous system.
Clint wished he'd had another cup of coffee before they left the hotel. Or some amphetamines. “Intermission. I'll go across as soon as the house lights go down, after.”
They took off clothing that would get in the way, and in Clint's case pulled a giant black cowl down over his head and shirt to cover the white. Hunched at the closed door, Butch and Sundance, and counted down together.
Door open, they were off, Clint running full out the length of the second level of the House, making for the plaster-work over the stage. He was barely aware of two men and a woman going down with flashes of silver to their throats, Nat at his back. Up the stairs, jump to the balcony, balance for one second as the house lights fade, two arrows one stage right and one down into the audience, then leap and run across, slippery with dust and gilt, like a worn-out tightrope.
He planted one knee, turned back the way he'd come, and began picking off anyone making toward Natasha. She got back to the box as the music started up and Clint took a look around. “We kicked over an anthill,” he gritted into his throat mic. “I count at least a dozen. This isn't one asshole with some assholes on hire.”
“No.” Nat agreed, swathing herself in her lace shawl to hide her body armor and seating herself in the front of the box for better sight lines – both for her and anyone shooting at her. “This is the cream of Europe's for-hire crowd. I recognize some of them. Who the hell could come after us with an army? And would?” For all that the two of them pissed off half the world by existing, if you had access to an army, you don't go after them, you went after who hired them.
Unless you were an asshole.
Clint saw a couple people heading toward the Royal Box, didn't like how they had noticed he existed, and shot them. “Pull the fire alarm, clear the joint?”
“Civilian casualties. The faster we clear them out, the more there will be.” Nat said shortly, and threw a knife over into the cheap seats. “How many do we have to kill?”
“You had to ask.” Clint saw a glint of handgun and loosed another arrow. “We can try to make the next intermission, get out in the mess. Hope they still won't want to make a scene. We'd have better odds if you'd chosen a damn Italian composer.”
“Cretin.” Nat spun, knifed someone entering the box, pulled the body inside, sat back down.
They got through maybe one dance and Clint was NOT letting himself hope, that would be stupid, “They're going for the Royal Box again. Don't know why.”
“In the fucking way.”
“What did I tell you before we walked in here?” Nat said through her teeth, watching two extremely large men come up both sides of the house toward her box.
“That this is a historic building, one of your personal favorites, and any damage I do to it, you will take out of my hide.” Clint shot one of them, but the other knew he was there and was staying out of sight. “Did you tell the other guys that? What happens if THEY damage it?” Because he'd really like an explosive arrow right now.
“I slit their throats.” Nat snarled, and threw another knife.
Fair enough. “How many knives do you have? Got any claymores?”
“Not enough, and historic building.” Nat stood slowly and backed toward the back of the box. “I don't think we're going to make intermission.”
“Never again with the Russian composers.” Someone almost directly below him started to pull a gun and he shot down, putting the arrow down through the spine into the seat. Before someone could notice THAT, Clint pulled his two show arrows, put them on the string, and looked down at the stage... oranges. “Stage right, meet at the exit doors. Go.”
“Da.” Nat replied, and he saw the light as the box door opened. He let the arrows go and took off running for the side of the stage before they landed. As he cleared the blind spot from the chandelier, he glanced, and “GATLING GUN IN THE ROYAL BOX! SHIT!” Plaster and bullets and crystals from the chandelier flew and Clint did his damnedest to dodge and RUN.
No answer from Nat but he could see her running along the second level, a knife in each hand, full Black Widow, and he was smiling as he jumped for the velvet curtain, also dusty GOD DAMN IT, pulled out his handgun as he slid down along it, shooting two of the guys coming up behind Nat. He jumped to the second floor railing, ran along it a ways, kicked a guy in the head and took his gun. “GO. Secure the stair well, get a vehicle, I'm right behind you.” He jumped down to the balcony and ran back along it toward the stairs, picking up all the guns he could carry as he went. He needed the rest of his arrows for the explosive points.
Someone threw a grenade at Nat. Clint caught it as it went by and threw it over his shoulder, up into the air as hard as he could, his usual for grenades when Nat was in front of him. It went off, and crystal shrapnel splattered everywhere, including into his body armor and across the skin of his arms. “Fuck.”
Oh fuck, the chandelier, Nat would have his balls. He turned with a stolen handgun, shot everyone still moving he could see, then went through the stair door after Nat and jumped down the landings, dodging dead guys. All of them missing their guns.
Best partner ever.
She yelled something at him about the goddamn historic building, and threw a knife. He ducked sideways and a woman all in black went down behind him.
Outside there was still shooting, he got the last two as Nat rolled up in a Maserati and jumped in. “Are you shitting me.”
She laughed. “It was right there.” Then she turned on the radio. It was Creed.
“OH MY FUCKING GOD.” He'd brought her in a couple years ago. They'd become friends, he'd tried to socialize her a bit, get her used to American life. She WOULD choose RIGHT DAMN NOW to figure out how to enjoy the weird shit in life. “Fuck. Fuck my life.”
She laughed again and took off, three blocks northeast, then got on the - “What in hell are you doing getting us on major roads?”
“This way we miss the Jewish quarter, I'm supposed to be culturally sensitive, yes?”
“You wanna drive like a bat out of hell through Budapest.”
Nat didn't answer, unless you counted jerking the emergency brake to slide them around a corner.
Clint rolled into the back seat and nearly dislocated both his kneecaps when he landed on a trove of weapons. Nat had been picking them up, apparently. “Nice.”
“You're welcome, Doushenka.” She ducked to see out from under the roof of the car, up through the wind screen. “Find the RPG, there's a helicopter coming in.”
He dropped down, covered his head. “Get going up past a hundred, then pop the roof.” Giggling, she did, and as soon as the convertible top lifted enough for the air to catch, it was gone. Yay, better visibility and no cover. “Don't leave the city, double back around the Eighth District. We'll ditch the car, hide in there.”
Between the two of them they knew half the crooks, fences, and arms dealers living there. He wasn't wild about going straight back to Nat's safe house. If that was the only hole they had in this city, they needed to keep it safe.
He had his hand around the RPG, pulling it loose (guns went together like fuckin' Jenga, he swore) when Nat called “At the river, hang on!” and they slid left a little and settled down as the helicopter opened fire, coming up the road at them.
“Speed up!” Clint heard himself call, dear god his life, and tried to wedge himself into the tiny back seat. He rose up, and as they passed under, he fired upward into it with the RPG and he ducked back down to avoid rotors as it landed on the assholes behind him. “Amazing Hawkeye, bitches!” he shouted, fuck it all, and Natasha laughed. “Two cars, stay on here until I take them out, then we'll double back.”
He got a machine gun, rose over the seat to fire, and-
“Crazy Ivan! CRAZY IVAN!”
“You just said WHAT to me?” Nat bellowed. She jerked the wheel to the left and took them down an alley and they were thankfully missed by the guy who had his own RPG. “NYET. YOU USE THAT COLD WAR IGORANT AMERICAN SPY SHIT ON ME AGAIN-”
Fuck. A car slid in behind them and he calmly shot out three tires and the engine as Natasha's rant rose in his ears. “OKAY I AM SORRY FOR INSENSITIVE CULTURAL CODING TURN LEFT AGAIN AND GET US BACK TO THE CITY GODDAMN IT!” She did, and he slipped and rolled across the back seat full of guns and pointy things, shouting the whole way, until he slammed into the space behind Natasha's seat, ass up. “I hear you laughing.”
“But it's such a lovely night. Look up.”
Above them, three helicopters were converging on their location. “If they're in the air-”
“We've got them coming in around us on the ground, too.” Nat nodded, sped up. “Well of Nereids.”
“What?” He'd run into some mythical figures the year before-
“The square Phil hangs out in, the plinth, statue thing in the center. Good cover.” Before he could argue, they slid to a stop. “We can't take on air and land, driving around in a Maserati.” Nat parked it across the road, popped the hood. “Get behind the column, get ready. When they're down, we're heading that way-” Nat pointed to her left, vaguely north east again, “into the Eighth District and trying to hide until morning.”
“We find a phone and call SHIELD.” Clint's comms gear had disappeared when he'd been grabbed. Nat's had been crushed during the full-contact ballet.
“No. We call Coulson.” Nat reached into the back of the Masterati, loaded herself down with whatever weapons she could reach that were left, and went to the alley she'd decided to use as their escape.
“I left my lucky grenade in the car. When I say, duck behind the fountain. There's going to be ammo going off.”
“This is low impact? What happened to historic buildings?” They were still in the old city. In fact he was worried about any explosions dropping them through the streets; the Cold War had not been kind to the infrastructure. He was leaned out around a solid column of marble with a statue on top of it, watching cars full of bad guys drive in, holding his fire until they were close enough to hit. Visibility was too bad and he was too low for some of his more dramatic shooting.
“I don't care about the historic buildings, I care about the Opera House.”
Clint thunked his head against the stone in front of him. “Watch out for Phil's bakery!”
“Incoming.” Natasha called, and Clint ducked. It was your classic European statue-on-a-pedestal-in-a-square with their stolen car parked across the main vehicular entrance to it. He had witnessed Nat's 'lucky grenades' up close. No one at SHEILD knew where they came from, but they were very well-made bombs. Adaptable, able to be reconfigured by hand on site. She'd probably wrapped it around the damn fuel line.
He took one second to think of the damage they'd already done, and was about to swear when Nat set off the explosives and he gave it one second for the ammo left in the car to go up, then leaned out and started shooting. Not surprisingly, after Nat's mess there were only one or two guys still standing. They took off into the Eighth District, trying not to rattle as they ran.
About two blocks down, they heard an engine rev and turned to stare as a vehicle crossed the square they'd been in, crashed into Phil's favorite bakery, and burst into flames.
Natasha fell back against the nearest wall, laughing.
“Dammit! That was Phil's favorite!”
“Make him what do you call, cream puffs, he will be fine. Apologize to him with your big blue eyes and he will forgive you.”
“The hell you say. You KNOW what Phil's like when it comes to pastries.”
“I know what he's like with your big blue eyes.”
Natasha rolled her eyes at him in her most European manner. “Come on.”
They ran down through narrow alleys and covered walkways, avoiding the helicopters overhead and the cars all through the streets. This, stealth, was exactly what they knew how to do, and by about two in the morning they were huddled into a colleague's empty apartment, Clint sprawled on the floor bleeding lightly and Nat perched in a window, keeping watch.
“Any idea why the entire quarter's empty?” Clint asked her. It had been spooky on the way in; where they'd hoped to find friends, allies, or at least maybe someone willing to make a buck, nothing. It was ghost town. And the ghosts were pretty damn loud.
The power was out, the phone lines were down. They weren't even getting shitty wifi from a teenaged data junkie in a basement, and that was really unusual.
“I don't know. Something's up.” Nat shrugged at his look. “I don't know. Nothing about this is making sense. If you have the power to hire an army and clear out a city, why in hell play cat and mouse with us?”
Clint didn't like it either, for all the same reasons. He was running through people who would enjoy killing him slowly and was very unhappy with the answers. Natasha's list would be infinitely worse. “Let me have an hour, then you take one.”
Clint was finishing his watch when he saw it. “Nat.”
She was immediately awake and at his side. “Damn.”
She'd always had far more experience with wholesale destruction than he did, even after his gig in the Marines. It always made him shake his head. “How much, do you think?”
“Got to be two or three blocks on fire.”
They watched as another building caught, a little closer to them. Sirens were coming from everywhere. “Phil knows we're in Budapest, right?” Natasha asked.
“Yeah. Told him we were taking a long weekend.” Phil liked to know where the hell they were. Since he had to answer to governments for them and they got up to major shit, Clint thought it sounded kind of reasonable. Nat didn't.
“We won't have to call, then.” She gestured. “He knows we're in Budapest, and three blocks go up in flames? After what they'll call a terrorist attack at the Opera? He'll be here by morning to rescue us, so he doesn't have to fill out the paperwork. All we really have to do is stay alive until he gets here and finds us.”
“How long do you think that will take?” Nat was infinitely better at people than he was, and it was stupid to pretend otherwise.
Another building went up and Nat gave a dark laugh. “Getting to be less by the second.”
True. “It's about four. Stay or go?”
Natasha considered. “They'll keep lighting buildings on fire.”
Leave. “Where to?”
“Safe house, if we can get there.” Back across about sixteen blocks of the old city, the river, and on to Nat's place. They were unlikely to make it across the river in a car; they'd be watching the bridges. The were both getting tired, even if they avoided any major injuries so far, it was a miracle they couldn't count on any further. Only way they were going to make it was stealth.
She looked at him, and he raised an eyebrow. This was grim and about to get worse. Up against an unknown enemy willing to burn down a city for them? He hoped it wasn't the North Koreans.
Even if they got captured, Phil would rescue them.
They were now down to wondering if the person after them would torture them long enough to get rescued, or kill them on the spot. “All right, let's get going, then.”
He took them across the roofs, because it would be fast and unexpected. At a full run they could make the bridge in ten minutes in ideal conditions. Tonight? Both exhausted, half the city looking for them? He was hoping dawn. Usually things like this quieted down a bit in daylight. They had two hours.
The helicopters had to re-fuel, so as soon as they went down, they went out, running along ridges and sliding down to hop across alleys. The trick to running old European slate roofs was to start high and slide the rest of the way. (He loved Paris.) They'd crossed about four blocks when even Clint's crappy hearing could pick up the sound of helicopter rotors – one this time. They ran full out, made it another four blocks before it got up above the roof line. Clint pulled Nat into the cover of a water tank and stared her down. “Go for the river, I'll try to catch up to you on the Elizabeth Bridge.”
She looked over his shoulder at the helicopter, looked into his eyes, and began unloading her pockets into his. Two grenades – how? - a few magazines of ammo, and then both machine guns she'd been carrying. “I'll go faster with just a handgun.” Her eyes flicked up to his again. “You want me to leave you, you do it my way.”
She met his eyes one last time, deadly serious, and nodded. The Black Widow was out to play. Her mission was now staying alive to keep him alive, and fuck anybody who got in their way. He felt the same so he let it ride.
Then they did their usual Butch and Sundance, bursting out from behind the water tower, except instead of getting shot by the Bolivian army, Nat slid down a combination of roofs to the ground and Clint opened fire on the tail rotor of the helicopter with the largest caliber machine gun he had.
Ooooh, this was going to be messy. Taking down helicopters was very easy. Taking them down neatly, on the other hand?
Well, they were called 'ten thousand unrelated parts moving in loose formation' by the Marines for a reason. When the tail rotor failed, the helicopter began spinning as it dropped, tail slashing through buildings and vehicles and power lines, before it finally lost the fight against lift and crashed to the ground. He was pretty sure it landed on top of the bagel place Phil used to go to. More sirens went off, almost impossible to discern against all the others already going in the city.
The only good thing about this entire fucking night was that with the shoot-em-up at the Opera House followed by the car chase, the fires still burning, and now the helicopter? Emergency Services was too busy to look for them.
Unless they called in the army. Which... wasn't entirely outside the realm of possibility, especially in an old Eastern Bloc country. They still did things a little differently.
Clint let himself sigh heavily once, then tossed aside the empty machine gun and ran for the bridge.
It was maybe a half hour to dawn when he got to the river, turned right, and jogged along it. He was following a bike path littered with the bodies of mostly men wearing black. Most had been knifed. Mist was rising off the Danube, mixing with the smoke blowing in from the Eighth District into a horrible smog. He hoped Nat was using her spy vision to find him or some shit, because-
He got dragged behind a lamp post and had his fist up before he recognized the hand on his shirt. “Fuck.”
“Dobre dein.” Nat hissed back.
Great, she was speaking Russian. THAT always ended well. “Let's try to get over the bridge before the fog lifts.”
She nodded and took off; she had this ground-eating stride that he knew would keep going long after he'd dropped. He fell in directly behind, having her back, knowing she was pacing herself for him.
Down on the river, someone shouted “There!”
Clint turned and shot the three men in the boat who'd been trying to bring a machine gun to bear. “RUN. I'll be right behind you!” He hoped.
Nat took off like a gazelle and that occasional stray idea she could be enhanced got pushed aside to shoot four more people on the river and then run after her.
He made the halfway point of the bridge and something small and dark dropped out of the sky in front of him. Fast, down into the mist in front of him. “NAT?” He shouted.
She shouted something. Something in heavily accented, gutter Russian he wasn't QUITE sure of the meaning of. The last time he'd heard it, someone said it to Natasha. She'd broken the guy's jaw and both his arms.
Clint ran faster, toward the sound of the- There they were in the mist, two women of similar size, build, and oh shit, training. They were circling each other, slashing with knives, Jesus, and a bullet pinged off a post next to them so he turned and shot the people coming up behind them.
He turned back and Nat had the other one down and kicked her in the head like she was starting a soccer game. “RUN.” Then said to each other.
He had to shoot six guys coming up the bridge the other way toward them, how in fuck many people were on their asses? And as they ran past, Natasha grabbed all the weapons he didn't and he felt like he was in a fucking video game.
They stopped at the end of the bridge to check over the weapons they'd stolen and for Clint to catch his breath. “Friend of yours?” he gasped out.
“Yelena Belova. Red Room.” She met his eyes squarely. “She's after me. You're the dessert. Or the preview. Or whatever she can use you for to hurt me. That's what all this is about. She hates me, this is her idea of fun.”
“One of the Heathers, then.”
Natasha's eyes went distant. “I think there was a guy...”
Clint tried to laugh around the lack of oxygen in his bloodstream. “Right. You know her. Where to?”
“The Citadel.” She pointed, almost straight up a half-wooded, half-grass slope rising above the smog. “Clear view, we can find a corner and shoot all comers until Phil gets here.”
The sky might be a little lighter in the east, it was hard to tell with the fires still burning. Dawn was coming, he could almost smell it, like any old soldier. “You know if I were her, the first thing I'd have done is put a sniper on the Mariott and we're dead as soon as we break the smog cover.”
Nat smiled a little. “That's because you're a sniper. She's a petty, short-sighted assassin who was micro-managed her entire life. She hired more people exactly like her because that's all she knows.”
“Who?” Nat asked, genuinely confused.
“Well now I know why we have to live.” Clint clicked the safety off the handguns in his hands, raised his eyes to Natasha. “Ready when you are.”
“You're more tired than I am. Take the lead.” Nat said baldly.
He fucking hated it, but she was right. “On three. You call me Butch now.”
“I will not.” But she smiled.
He counted three, and ran like hell. Straight up the slope, skin crawling, feeling the track of a bullet to the back of his head. He was a sniper, he knew there was a bullet out there for him. It was only when. Made the tree line, felt like he could breathe again, kept going, up to the wall, through, swerved to the side and turned, arm out to cover Natasha.
She rolled in under his arm, in a new tangle with Belova. “Fuck.”
Both women rose, more knives in Nat's fists, none in Belova's. Clint tried to draw a bead on Belova through the flashing feet and hands, wondered for a split second if he was supposed to try and bring her in like he'd brought in Natasha.
Thought of Natasha cutting him free of that bed as he regained consciousness, got serious about shooting Belova as soon as someone held still.
There was a blast of air and sound, and a figure dropped out of the sky into the middle of the fight, kicked Belova in the chest, and opened fire. Ten rounds, the part of Clint's brain who always counted the shots provided. Guy took a pulse, turned, and stood.
“You ASSHOLES.” Phil told them both. “Outside, fast. May's got a QuinnJet.”
They followed, exhausted. Phil ran them outside, leaped onto gangplank of the hovering QuinnJet and ran inside. May turned and took them west, out of the city and away from the disaster. Through the smoke and the flashing lights of every emergency vehicle in the city, the sun was cresting the horizon. Clint grabbed Phil's hand when he reached to close the hatch, held Phil's hand in one of his and watched the sun come up.
“Wondered if you'd see that one?” Phil asked, genuinely curious. He was an old soldier, too. He'd know the feeling.
“Yeah.” Clint took a breath, tried to settle into the body he'd be inhabiting for a while longer, looked like, and hit the switch to close up the plane. “Thanks for the rescue.”
“There is no way you are not doing the paperwork for this.” Phil snapped, suddenly remembering why he was there. Figured. Well, the few minutes of peace had been nice. “Go sit.”
Melinda May was in the pilot's seat, and Nat in the comms seat behind her sipping tea, so what the hell. Clint dropped down into the co-pilot's seat. He was fit to fly. No, really! “Yo, Cav, thanks for the rescue.” They traded fist bumps.
“I wouldn't have missed this. Some things have to be seen to be believed. Nice weekend off? It's barely Sunday, I could drop you in Geneva for the rest of it.” Melinda wasn't even pretending to take this seriously. Well, that was nice while he was still catching his breath.
“Do it and I will write you up for everything I can think of.” Phil growled. “Who's hurt worse?” He had the first-aid kit slung over his arm.
“Cut in Clint's arm.” Natasha said immediately. “We couldn't get it closed.”
Phil glared, then sat down in the navigator's seat. “Let's see it.”
Clint turned the seat, held out his arm, tried not to wince as Phil unwrapped the bandages they'd put on it in the Eighth District apartment. Now that he was sitting still and not in mortal peril it kind of hurt like hellfire in a broken tooth. It was a pretty good gash, running most of the length of his right arm at a weird angle.
“What the hell caused this?” Phil asked.
It WAS a strange angle for a knife fight. “Shrapnel.”
“That leaves clean cuts?”
“It was, uh.” Fuck his life. “Crystal.”
Natasha sat up slowly, that cobra thing she did, oh fucking HELL, “YOU.”
“It was not my grenade!” He tried not to wince as Phil started on the stitches – without a local, thanks, Phil.
“DOES 'HISTORIC BUILDING' MEAN NOTHING TO YOU, YOU. You motherfucking asshole motherfucker!” She lapsed into Russian and Clint tried to not understand it as he cringed through his stitches with Phil asking him “are you okay?” like a fucking dare.
He was surrounded by assholes.
“Now.” Phil finished re-bandaging Clint. “If you're all right other than this, I'll begin the list of the paperwork you're both going to be filling out. Rest now, debrief will be with Fury.”
Clint tried not to cry.
Natasha's head came up again. “You make us fill out paperwork, it officially exists. You sure SHIELD wants to pay the bill for this? I can give you a way to lay all this on the Red Room. But. It can't be, if it's our fault.”
Nat and Phil stared each other down for a long, long, time.
“FUCK.” Phil Coulson shouted, and stomped out of the cockpit.
Nat smiled like a cat and took a sip of tea.
Goddamn his life was glorious. Clint fell into a doze to the sound of Melinda May laughing. Debrief was still gonna suck.