Pairings/Characters: Natasha/Pepper, Steve/Tony, Clint Barton, Bruce Banner
Continuity: The Avengers (2012)
Genres: Holiday, Horror, Hurt/Comfort
Warnings: Major character deaths, Gore, Violence
Summary: On Halloween, Natasha comes home to Avengers Tower and finds horror awaiting her.
Date Of Completion: October 27, 2016
Date Of Posting: October 31, 2016
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, Marvel and Paramount do, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 1830
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
The entire series can be found here.
All are dead,
My heart has bled,
Sense has fled.
"Tolls The Bell"
The wind was cold as clouds passed across the face of the moon, momentarily blocking its silvery light. The street was empty of pedestrians and only a few cars drove by as it was fifteen minutes before midnight. A display of grinning Jack O’Lanterns glowed at the entrance to the park a few blocks away.
Natasha pulled her black coat closer around her. For someone who had grown up in Russia, this October cold should be of little consequence.
You have grown soft here in the West, she thought wryly.
She fished out her key card, pausing before swiping it. She looked up and down the street, aware that it was Halloween. One always had to be extra vigilant on this night.
She swiped the card and entered the lobby of Avengers Tower. Her footsteps echoed faintly across the lobby. The clouds shifted and moonlight streamed in through the tall front windows, creating a barred pattern on the tiled floor. She pushed the button to summon the elevator, glancing over at the empty reception desk. Had a shadow moved over there? Uneasy, she stepped into the elevator.
As the elevator ascended to the main Avengers floor, Natasha tried to relax. She had been on a strenuous undercover mission for S.H.I.E.L.D., able to pull it off with a good disguise and skill. She was grateful to still be able to undertake the occasional assignment after her sudden notoriety after the Battle of New York as part of the Avengers.
She leaned against the wall with her arms crossed and closed her eyes. A headache lingered behind her eyes. She had suffered a bad one a few days ago. She suspected a black-out, because she was certain she had lost time. She could ask Bruce to examine her. She felt better going to him first even though he would inevitably advise her to consult S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors since he was more scientist than doctor.
First she would scare up a snack in the kitchen, then head to bed. She would talk to Bruce tomorrow.
The darkness and lack of a receptionist in the lobby indicated that there was no Halloween bash going on upstairs, which suited her just fine. She was too tired for Halloween hijinks.
A frown crossed her face. There had been no security guard in the lobby, either. She shrugged mentally. Maybe he was watching monitors somewhere else.
The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. Natasha opened her eyes and exited into the floor. She started for the kitchen but paused.
There was a sweet, cloying smell that hung heavy in the air. She automatically slid a hand into her coat pocket for her gun. Cautiously she walked down the hall to the living room, staying close to the side of the entrance. She peered into the room. It was as dark as the lobby, the only illumination coming from the moonlight spilling into the room. The smell of blood was strong.
Natasha eased into the room, her gun out and ready. She saw a dark shape on the floor and bent down to check it out.
“Steve,” she breathed. She checked for a pulse and was horrified to find none. She realized there was blood splashed over Steve’s torso and back from multiple stab wounds. Had they been too quick and numerous for his healing factor to kick in? What had happened to Tower security?
“JARVIS,” she whispered. Silence.
She pushed aside her grief. The Red Room had taught her to suppress any emotion and focus on the job at hand. She inspected the rest of the room but found no one else.
With practiced stealth, Natasha went down the short hall to the kitchen. She stopped at the entrance and felt shock calcify her bones.
Clint lay in a pool of moonlit blood, his throat neatly cut. Natasha knelt, and with trembling fingers, confirmed no pulse.
Who had been capable of overpowering Steve and coming up behind Clint? Why hadn’t JARVIS warned them, or why had no one came to their aid? Were the rest of the Avengers out?
She noticed that the butcher knife was missing from the knife block, and there was no sign of it in the kitchen. Her fingers tightened around her gun.
She heard a noise and whirled, still in her crouch. Nothing. Could the sound have come from Tony’s lab? Were he and Bruce holed up there? And where was Thor?
She rested her hand for a moment on Clint’s hair and stood, quickly but carefully using the stairs to go down to the lab level.
The lab door was unlocked. She nudged it open, listening for any sounds. It was mostly dark here, too. Silently she slid her slim flashlight out of her coat pocket. She had no desire to knock about in the dark in a lab with chemicals and bots. She let her eyes adjust to the moonlit room, small windows high up allowing the light in. She could detect no breathing or rustle of clothing. A search of the shadows suggested no intruders. She flicked the flashlight on.
Natasha played the light around the lab. Beakers and test tubes were on the floor, some of them broken. Their tiny shards glittered in the light of her flashlight. Tony kept a neat lab. Her heart began to pound. With a growing sense of dread, she walked around the table.
Propped up against a bank of cabinets underneath the next table was Tony, his head bowed and his limbs sprawled. She saw the hole in his chest where the arc reactor should have been glowing.
“Oh, Tony, what’s going on?” she whispered.
The blood throbbed in her ears as she remembered Pepper telling her before she left on her mission, “I should be back from Europe by Halloween.”
Natasha threw caution to the winds as she ran out of the lab and up the stairs. Her conditioning allowed her to run and run, desperate to reach the suite she shared with Pepper.
Oh, please, oh, please, let her be all right!
She had no idea whom she prayed to: God, the Goddess, Asgardians? The Universe itself?
She pounded down the hall and turned into the suite, running until she skidded to a stop as her heart threatened to thud out of her chest.
“No,” she whispered brokenly.
Pepper was sprawled across their bed, her sheer white gown spread out like a fan beneath her. The multiple stab wounds gleamed red in the moonlight.
Natasha let the pistol slip from her grasp to drop to the lush carpet. On shaky legs she approached the bed.
“Zvyozdochka,” she moaned. “Nyet, nyet, nyet.”
She touched Pepper’s strawberry hair, tears blurring her vision. “Why, why, my love?” Her throat ached. “Who could have done this to you?”
“Who do you think, Natasha?”
Natasha’s head snapped up. “Bruce!”
Bruce entered the bedroom. He looked incredibly tired.
“Who did this? Where are they? I’ll take care of them.” Her face grew cold, her eyes hard. She was the Black Widow in every sense of the word in that moment.
“Take a look, Natasha.” Bruce pointed at her and she looked down.
She gasped as she saw the bloody butcher knife in her hand, spatters of blood on her clothes. She dropped the knife and jumped back. “Wha…?”
“Your black-outs, Natasha.”
“What about them?”
“Your black-outs are the key.”
“What key?” Natasha snapped. Her shock was only kept at bay by her training. What of it if she was screaming inside?
“You were here earlier this evening.”
“Yes.” Bruce’s face was in shadow. “You came and did what you do best.”
“I…I did not kill my friends! I did not kill Pepper!”
“Think about it, Natasha. You’re trained to kill.” He pointed accusingly at her. “You’ve got a sea of red in your ledger.”
Natasha looked down and felt sick as she saw her hands covered in blood. She tried to scrub it off but it grew darker. “I can’t get it off.”
“Of course you can’t.” Bruce’s voice chilled her. “You’ll always kill those you love, because you’re a monster.” He emerged from the shadows and transformed into the Hulk. “Just like me.”
Natasha screamed in terror as the Hulk lunged toward her, massive fingers closing around her throat.
Natasha’s throat felt raw as she screamed and screamed. Her body shook violently and she heard shouting as she struggled. She was going to die, and hell was next.
“Natasha, honey! Stop! Wake up! ‘Tasha!”
Natasha’s eyes snapped open and she saw Pepper’s concerned face instead of the Hulk’s angry visage. Confusion flooded her as she tried to make sense of what she was seeing.
“Pepper?” she croaked. Her heart pounded wildly.
Relief shown in Pepper’s eyes as she smoothed Natasha’s hair back from her sweaty brow. “It’s all right, honey. Just a bad dream.”
Natasha continued to shake. “You’re alive,” she whispered.
“Of course I am, sweetheart.” Pepper’s voice was soothing but her eyes were worried.
A square of light appeared as the bedroom door opened. Steve’s distinctive silhouette appeared, with two others behind him.
“Pepper? Natasha?” Steve asked, worry in his voice.
“It’s all right. A nightmare,” Pepper said.
One of the shadows moved behind Steve and pushed his way past him. “Nat?” Clint asked.
Natasha held out her hand and Clint took it as he knelt on one knee next to the bed. She squeezed it. “Go back to bed. Pepper’s taking care of me,” she said in a hoarse voice. “Thanks, all of you.”
“You’re sure?” Steve asked.
Steve and Tony turned to go back to bed. Clint was still looking worried.
“Hey,” Natasha said. “Tell Phil I’m okay.”
Clint smiled ruefully. “You know us too well.”
“Come on, I’m the Black Widow.” Her smile was wan.
Clint looked at Pepper. “Take care of her.”
Clint gave Natasha’s hand a squeeze and left the bedroom. After the door closed, Natasha said, “Yeah, the Black Widow.”
“That’s who you are.”
“Listen,” Pepper said as she got more comfortable on the bed, “You are an amazing woman.”
“I’ve got red in my ledger, Pepper.” Natasha looked at her hands, clean of blood…now. “I’ll hurt you or worse.”
“I love you. I know what I’m getting into.”
Pepper cupped her lover’s face. “I’ll take my chances.”
“Really. Rolling the dice.”
“You could come up craps.”
Pepper gently kissed the top of Natasha’s head. She put her arms around her woman.
“You’re safe now. It was just a nightmare.”
“Just a nightmare,” said Natasha in exhaustion. Her eyes began to close.
Pepper curled up beside her and both women fell asleep, feeling safe in each other’s arms.
Moonlight flowed into the bedroom, glinting off a bloody butcher’s knife lying in the plush blue carpet by the window.