Pairings/Characters: Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton
Continuity: The Avengers (2012)
Summary: The Black Widow is stalked by an emissary from S.H.I.E.L.D. at a turning point in her career.
Date Of Completion: February 15, 2017
Date Of Posting: March 13, 2017
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, Marvel and Paramount do, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 1497
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
The taste of ashes
Bitter yet weak,
The sting of lashes
Of a serpent.
Where is my
The landscape was blue-on-white, the sky pressing down on mountains as rivulets of snow ran down like vanilla ice cream on a sundae. The wind blew, cutting into the fleece-lined parka that Natasha Romanoff wore as she surveyed the vastness of this section of Finland, Russia’s long-suffering neighbor. Ice sparkled as the cold flared her nostrils.
Natasha loved the snow and ice. The bleakness of this part of Finland suited her. After a childhood spent in the Red Room, any time spent outdoors was a bonus.
Lately she had felt restless, dissatisfied. A day spent cross-country skiing in her element would be welcome.
Her eyes scanned the countryside. It would be easy to pick up an intruder, unless they wore white camouflage. She highly doubted that anyone was out there, but there was always the chance.
She felt warm in her insulated parka and leggings, grateful for the special boots and gloves that allowed her to stay outside for long periods of time. She allowed herself the indulgence of absorbing the natural world around her.
Don’t lose focus, Natasha.
Friendships were encumbrances that she had no time for, and romance was for the movies, nice fairytales to feed the masses as skillfully as the old Soviet propaganda. She trusted no one, and it kept her alive.
She strapped skis on and started across the whitescape with ski poles. The cold air was bracing, cleansing her as her powerful legs allowed her to make great strides across pristine white. Here there was no red in her ledger. She always felt as if she was starting fresh.
Her arms pushed the poles as she glided, keeping her mind in the moment. One part was aware of her surroundings. She could never turn that part of her mind off, but out here, surely there was no…
She slowed down for just a second, then continued her journey. Her eyes looked ahead, but her senses were tingling for what lay behind.
He’s good, but I’m better.
Natasha headed for an outcropping of rocks just as an arrow whizzed by her head. The choice of weapon intrigued her. She was grateful it was not a submachine gun. She disappeared into the rocks.
She immediately took out her gun. Rock beats scissors. She flicked off the safety and waited.
She scanned the hills. There. A flicker of movement. She took aim. The minutes ticked by.
She heard a slight whisper and whirled around. A man dressed in white snow gear was standing a mere three feet away. Goggles obscured his face. An arrow pointed at her heart.
"Stand down, Widow."
“Not likely, Yankee.”
A slight smile curved his lips. “You’ve got a good ear.”
“Russian spoken with an American accent is not so difficult to divine. You Americans tend to overwhelm foreign languages with your accents. Arrogance, I suppose.”
The smile grew wider, showing perfect American teeth. “You’d suppose right. We don’t stand on ceremony much.”
Natasha’s gun was still in her hand pointing directly at the man’s heart. She cursed herself for being surprised. This capitalist lackey was good.
“So, why the trackdown? Are you C.I.A.? S.H.I.E.L.D.? Assassin-for-hire?”
“You’ve been a busy agent, Ms. Romanoff. I have my orders.”
He nodded. The bow he held was taut and the nocked arrow steady.
He must be an expert with that thing. If I can just distract him…
“You saved that little girl,” he said.
Natasha’s focus wavered, but only for a second. “I don’t kill children.”
“A Black Widow kills anyone.”
Her jaw clenched. “This one doesn’t.”
“I guess the old Soviet programming ain’t what it used to be.”
Anger flashed through her. “What would you know about the Old Ways?”
“There are ways in Russia far older than your Soviet ones.” The arrow remained steady. “But the little girl. You saved her. You’re not just Red Room programming, Ms. Romanoff. You could work for us and enjoy a new life.”
“Who said I needed a new one?”
That insouciant smile again.
“I’ve read your file. The little girl wasn’t the first person you went out of your way to save during your recent missions. My superiors see you as a threat. I see you as an asset.”
“Really?” Natasha’s tone was sardonic. “Are you a psychologist in addition to being an assassin?”
Smirking, the archer said, “Maybe.”
“What if I choose to fight?”
“Then I’ll take you down.”
It was Natasha’s turn to smile. “You think you can take down the Black Widow?”
“A hawk can always take down a spider.”
Natasha hoped that she had not let her surprise show. So this was S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top assassin, codenamed Hawkeye?
Of course. Who else would use a bow-and-arrow?
Her movement was swift as she got off a shot, diving for cover as Hawkeye ducked and fired. The arrow narrowly missed her and she had the unsettling feeling that only her speed had saved her.
She crawled amongst snow-covered rocks, alert for any sound or sight of movement. Her nerves were steady. A Black Widow did not fear death, but she often delivered it.
She heard the tiniest shush of a ski on snow. She turned and fired just as Hawkeye let an arrow fly. His roll to his left barely saved him from getting his head blown off.
Come closer into my web, proud Hawk.
She was certain that she could beat him hand-to-hand.
He’s offering you a chance to start fresh.
No, he’s not. S.H.I.E.L.D. is no different from my Russian handlers. Killing is my business. It’s what I’m good at.
So be good over in the United States. You will find a chance there.
What, and leave all this?
Natasha rolled to avoid another arrow. If it was not for her reflexes, he would have nailed her several times over.
He’s as good as they say he is.
She ran up a rocky incline to flank the archer. He was gone. She swore silently.
Suddenly, a sting blossomed in her shoulder. Numbness spread out from the point of impact and she slid down the incline, resigned to her fate.
Slowly, Natasha became aware of warmth. Her body was warm as she drifted up from unconsciousness. The crackle of a fire was somewhere near. She swore she could smell vegetable stew!
She fought to open an eye. She felt sluggish and heavy.
She finally got one eye open. A rustic cabin’s interior came into view, and she saw an iron pot hung over the fire in the hearth. Her stomach rumbled.
She turned her head groggily. “Why did you spare me?”
Hawkeye sipped something from a chipped mug. “Toldja, I want to recruit you.”
She realized that he was speaking English now and automatically switched over, too. “So what now? Kill me?”
“Still not interested in joining S.H.I.E.L.D.? We have a great benefit plan.”
He moved over to the hearth and ladled out some stew into a bowl. He brought it over to Natasha, adding some bread and a mug of hot chocolate.
“Sorry, no marshmallows for the hot chocolate.”
Hawkeye laughed. She liked the sound of his laugh and sipped the chocolate. Her stomach growled again.
“Eat up. It’s not a hunter’s stew, no meat, but the vegetables I found in the root cellar are good.”
“My last meal?” She dug into the stew hungrily.
“Suspicious, aren’t you?”
“It is your orders to kill me, da?”
“Yep.” Natasha watched as he polished his bow with a clean rag. “But I’ve chosen not to.”
She frowned. “S.H.I.E.L.D. tolerates disobedience?”
“They will if I bring back an asset.” He set his bow down. “You.”
Natasha had noticed that her wrist stingers had been removed, as well as the knife in her boot and her gun. Hawkeye was taking no chances. She would expect nothing less.
She took another spoonful of stew as she noted the single door and one window, both behind her captor. Her training never failed her.
“And if I refuse? You kill me?”
Hawkeye shrugged as he sipped his hot chocolate. “If you choose not to join S.H.I.E.L.D., I’ll let you go. I may turn up again if my superiors keep me on the job, but I’ll leave Finland today.”
Hawkeye looked directly into her eyes. “Because I think you’re ready.”
Natasha slowly finished her stew. She thought about her restlessness these past months, her chafing at her current superiors’ ironclad rules, her desire for more freedom. It would be in an environment in which she was comfortable.
She put the spoon into her empty bowl and picked up her mug. “Hawkeye, I will join S.H.I.E.L.D.”
“Great. And it’s Clint, by the way.”
They clinked mugs and drank a toast to the start of a beautiful friendship.