Chapter Forty-Six

AN: Hey Guys,

Been a long time. Sorry for the wait.

For those asking what happened in Budapest, I didn't include it. Sufficient to say it was one of those missions which led to lots of enemies, bullets, explosions.

What did happen was Clint somehow managing to lose his pants at some point.

Clint's in denial about what happened, partially because of embarrassment and partially because they were split up during the timeframe. Whilst Clint was hiding and playing cat and mouse with no pants on, Natasha was taking down former KGB operatives with her usual deadly skill... hence why they both remember Budapest differently.

Sorry it's not an actual chapter but I really am ready for this story to be done. It's been three years now. I thank you all for sticking with me. There will be at least two more chapters after this one. who knows?

Enjoy this chapter.

Stay Tuned :)

S.

Natasha looked at her shoulder and inwardly sighed. The blood was clotting at last, something she was grateful for. It should only be another fifteen minutes or so until it was fully healed. The serum was perhaps the only thing she was grateful for from the Red Room, it certainly made life easier for her. She leaned her head back to rest, she had lost quite a lot of blood after all.

"It was him. He looked right at me and he didn't even know me" Steve stated, shell shocked. Yeah Natasha was not about to tell him right now that she knew Bucky. Not like she knew it was Bucky but still. It was not a discussion she was up to having.

"How's that even possible? It was like seventy years ago." Sam questioned. Natasha couldn't help the little smirk playing on her lips at that. If only he knew.

"Zola. Bucky's whole unit was captured in '43, Zola experimented on them. Whatever he did, it helped Bucky survive the fall. They must have found him" Steve looked both incensed and sad at the thought.

"None of that's your fault, Rodgers" Natasha stated, trying to get him out of the funk he had put himself in. They all needed to work together to get out of the situation they were in. And they needed functioning brains in order to do it.

"Even when I had nothing, I had Bucky" Steve said morosely, ignoring her. Sam looked at Natasha and finally caught sight of the bullet hole which looked worse than it was. He looked at one of the guards,

"We need to get a doctor here. If we don't put pressure on that wound she's gonna bleed out here in the truck"

Natasha was about to reassure him that she was fine when one of the guards suddenly pulled out their electric rod threateningly. Sam fell silent but they were all stunned when the guard flipped it in their hand and stabbed the other guard with it before kicking him in the head, neutralizing the threat. By now all three of the prisoners were looking at the guard in shock even as said guard pulled off their helmet. Maria Hill revealed herself,

"That thing was squeezing my brain" she stated in greeting before looking at them all. Sam looking the most confused, of which Maria addressed first, "Who's this guy?"

"Sam Wilson" Sam answered slowly, unsure who the woman was but figuring that she must not be Hydra if her actions were anything to indicate.

"Commander Hill, Ma'am" Natasha greeted respectfully, as she straightened up as much as she could. Maria focused on her and nodded,

"Agent Romanoff" she acknowledged, before frowning at her Agent's shoulder. "Shot, again?" she questioned.

"It's fine, Commander" Natasha dismissed it. Maria raised an eyebrow,

"I'll be the judge of that, Agent." she turned to Sam again, "You, switch places with me and begin to cut a hole through the bottom of the car." She ordered, handing him a very powerful but small blowtorch. Sam gaped at her but switched places after a glare. "You can start whenever you want." Maria added, not looking at him as she focused on Natasha's shoulder.

Sam just continued to look at her in shock. Steve shook his head and took the blowtorch off him,

"Thanks for the rescue, Commander" he stated. Maria looked at him,

"Not rescued yet, but you're welcome for the help, Captain" she stated before going back to the gunshot wound. "Why is it always you?" she muttered quietly as she unzipped Natasha's leather Jacket to get a better look,

"Just doing my job, Ma'am" Natasha responded quietly. Maria looked at her and saw her Agent wasn't even looking at her, rather at her still cuffed hands.

"Hey." She stated, using one hand to gently lift Natasha' s head up, "You did good today." she gave her approval. And with that one sentence, she told Natasha that she had her Commanders' trust. "I'm sorry for not believing you, Natasha. You've always shown nothing but loyalty."

"It's fine, Ma'am. It was an obvious suspicion." Natasha forgave. Maria shook her head and sighed but didn't push the point though she did feel guilty, Natasha had never given her reason to doubt her and she inwardly was wondering how Natasha was going to feel towards both her and a certain someone back at the secure facility.

"Well, your shoulder is healing well but I know you've lost at least a pint. When we get to our new destination, you will get it replenished." She spoke sternly as she took a set of keys off her belt and unlocked her Agent's hands.

"Yes, Ma'am" Natasha responded softly with a nod. She wasn't about to disobey the Commander in anything, especially right now. They both looked round as a thud was heard. It appeared that Steve had finished his given job. Maria nodded,

"Good work, Captain."

"Thanks" Steve responded, handing the blowtorch back even as his wrists were uncuffed at the same time.

"When the van next stops at a traffic light, we're going to escape. You're going to have to move fast" she ordered. They all nodded,

"Understood" Sam finally got his hands uncuffed.

They waited in silence for several minutes before feeling the van slow down. "Captain, you first. Go!" Maria ordered. They all watched as Steve lowered himself down before disappearing. "Wilson" Sam was already moving. Maria looked at Natasha, "You next" Natasha inwardly wanted the Commander to go first but didn't argue as she gracefully lowered herself out of the hole and rolled away. The Commander quickly followed and soon they were all hiding behind a parked car, waiting for the vans to move along before moving themselves.

"That went well" Sam stated as they watched the three Hydra vans glide through the traffic without being any the wiser.

"We need to move" Maria stated, ignoring the statement. They followed the Commander to a pre-determined alley where an ordinary, average looking van was waiting for them. "In" She ordered crisply.

Once again, none disobeyed as they got into the back as Maria got into the driver's seat. They couldn't take the risk that facial identification would match any of the others from the CTV cameras. Maria was still, thankfully believed to be arranging Fury's funeral therefore Hydra wasn't interested in her that much right now. Though that would soon change if Project Insight was any indication. Maria stopped outside an abandoned factory of some kind and opened the vans slide doors to let the others out. They all walked towards the set of steel enforced doors where Maria imputed a code before opening it.

"Wounded?" A man called, running towards them as they entered the facility.

"One GSW that's healed though she's lost at least a pint." Maria answered.

"Maybe two" Steve added, the man nodded,

"Let me take her" he demanded.

"She'll want to see him first" Maria stated emotionlessly. She was not looking forward to Natasha's reaction. She led them towards the hospital area of the facility and opened one of the doors before stepping back. The three battle weary combatants looked in only to see a severally wounded Fury looking back at them from a hospital bed.

"About damn time" he stated in greeting. He got shocked looks from Natasha and Steve and confused looks from Sam. Natasha's eyes did show betrayal for a second before she covered it up. Her typical emotionless expression replaced any kind of emotions that had been showing on her face.

They'd lied to her. To her. Had she not proved herself loyal? Proved herself to be trustworthy? She had given them everything they had asked for and more. She had obeyed their orders without question, had completed every mission they had given her without hesitation or question. Had she not given them enough?

"Lacerated spinal column, cracked sternum, shattered collarbone, perforated liver, one hell of a headache." Her attention was brought back as Fury listed every injury he had sustained.

"Don't forget your collapsed lung" the doctor stated as he pulled Natasha over to a chair to check the wound himself.

"Oh, let's not forget that" Fury responded sarcastically, "Other than that, I'm good."

"They cut you open, your heart stopped" Natasha stated, her tone bland and distant. Fury looked at her and inwardly winced, he knew he had hurt her and now his most loyal Agent aside from Hill herself was withdrawing.

"Tetrodotoxin B. Slows the pulse to one beat a minute. Banner developed it for stress. Didn't work so great for him, but we found a use for it." He answered.

"Why all the secrecy? Why not just tell us?" Steve demanded. He was getting fed up with all the secrecy and shady government intervention.

"Any attempt on the director's life had to look successful" Maria answered from where she was standing with her arms crossed by Fury.

"Can't kill you if you're already dead. Besides, I wasn't sure who to trust." Fury looked at them all but his eye turned apologetic when he caught Natasha's eyes. Natasha merely blinked, not letting any of the hurt she was feeling to show.

"I think I need that blood now". Natasha announced quietly. The Doctor nodded instantly,

"Yes, you do" he led the woman out of the room, leaving the other four to watch them leave silently.

"I understand not telling me" Steve stated quietly, looking between the two of them, "I know I haven't been a part of SHIELD long. But her" he shook his head, "Natasha's been loyal to you for over a decade. I don't get how you can screw her over like that. SHIELD's her life." he told them before leaving as well, Sam following quietly.

Maria slumped into the seat next to Fury and sighed,

"Do you think we messed up with her?" she asked quietly. It had become obvious very early on that Natasha had not betrayed them.

"It had to be done. We needed to keep the circle small. She would have done the same thing" he answered.

"That doesn't answer my question, and informing Natasha wouldn't have made the circle much bigger. The woman keeps secrets better than anyone." Maria retorted. Fury sighed,

"Perhaps" he admitted, "She never did give us any reason to doubt her."

"But we had to be sure" Maria finished tiredly.

"Give her time to come to terms with it before talking to her. Explain why we did it. She'll understand." Maria nodded slightly as she stood up,

"That's the thing, Nick, she shouldn't have to. We promised her that SHIELD would be different from the KGB. That she would find a home here, somewhere that she could trust. We betrayed her, Nick, not the other way around." with that, Maria Hill left the room.

After allowing the bag of blood the doctor had inserted into her to run its course to replenish her own loss, Natasha slipped away to find somewhere out of the way and isolated. She'd lifted a cell phone on route and placed a basic scrambler on it to throw anyone off her scent if they happened to pick up the call. Typing in Tony's number, she called him before placing the phone to her ear,

"Natasha!" Tony instantly answered,

"Stark" she replied, assuring him,

"Thank god. I saw Hydra taking you in on the news and prepared for the worse." He responded.

"I'm safe. The Commander broke us out enroute to wherever they were taking us"

"Tell Hill, I said thanks."

"I will, once this is all over." Natasha responded.

"Hey, you alright?" Tony could clearly hear that Natasha was a lot more emotionless than normal.

"I'm fine. Fury's alive" Natasha answered bluntly, "They didn't tell me, didn't know who to trust."

Tony was silent for a minute, he knew how much that would have hurt his red haired fellow Avenger. Even he knew just how loyal the woman was to the Organisation who had given her a second chance.

"I'm sorry, Natasha" he said finally.

"It's fine" Natasha repeated. "How's the tasks I set you?" she moved them on. Tony allowed the change in conversation, understanding that Natasha was getting uncomfortable,

"Most of the tasks you set me are completed. I will need access to Level Ten Alpha to do the last two." He reported. Natasha nodded,

"I'll contact you when access is available. I'll leave a hole in the system for you to sneak through"

"Thanks." He paused for a moment, "You'll be saving a lot of lives doing this, never doubt that" he told her uncharacteristically gently. He understood what Natasha was trying to, trying to limit the damage that could be done by Hydra.

"Thanks, Tony" she responded softly. Hearing footsteps approaching she stiffened, "Someone's coming, I've got to go. I'll keep you updated much as possible."

"Understood, good luck, Nat" Tony quickly responded just before the call was cut off. Natasha quickly placed the phone back into one of her pockets before busying herself to look like she had simply been snooping all along.

The door opened and she turned causally to face whoever it was. Natasha instantly snapped to attention however when the newcomer was revealed to be Maria Hill.

"Commander Hill" she greeted with a salute before standing back at attention. Maria looked at the blank expression on her Agent's face and sighed softly,

"At ease, Natasha" she spoke quietly. She watched at the older woman placed her hands behind her back in parade stance and continued to look straight ahead, just like any soldier would do when face to face with their Commanding Officer. "I'm sorry." she stated.

"There's no need to be, Ma'am. You had a job to do and you did it." Natasha responded emotionlessly. Maria strode forwards so that she was a foot or two away from her Agent.

"There is. We, I, should have told you sooner. You have never given us reason to suspect you were anything but loyal to SHIELD."

"I understand the need for secrecy, Ma'am. Your actions were justified." Natasha responded distantly, not letting on how much the betrayal hurt her. Maria sighed,

"Natasha, please" she stated, "You may be my Agent but you're also my friend. I know I hurt you as does Fury. We should have trusted you and we're so sorry we didn't." Finally, Natasha shifted her gaze so that she was looking at Maria,

"You did, hurt me that is." she acknowledged, "But I understand logically why you did it. My past played against me. I guess I'll always be the killer first before anything else." added with slight bitterness.

Maria winced at that, no matter the sting that Natasha's words caused her, she knew it was deserved.

"I'm sorry" it was all she could say.

"Accepted." Natasha responded. Maria could understand the underlining message, it was forgiven but not forgotten. She just knew that Natasha was going to be even more closed off towards them all from now on, no matter where they went from here. "Are we meeting soon?" Natasha changed the subject. Maria nodded,

"In fifteen minutes" Maria answered. "We have a conference room set up on the floor above us, third room from the end."

"Understood. Permission to leave, Ma'am?" Natasha responded. Maria looked at her sadly, she wondered if their friendship had any chance of being fixed.

"Permission granted, Agent Romanoff." she stated. Natasha saluted once more before disappearing out of the room as quiet as a ghost.

"This man declined the Nobel Peace Prize. He said, 'Peace wasn't an achievement, it was a responsibility'." Fury stated as they all looked at a screen with Peirce on it. "See, it's stuff like this that gives me trust issues" he stated. Natasha looked at him emotionlessly, her typical expression since arriving,

"We have to stop the launch." she stated.

"I don't think the Councils' accepting my calls anymore" Fury retorted before opening a case, revealing three computer chips.

"What's that?" Sam asked, nodding at the chips.

"Once the Helicarriers reach three thousand feet, they'll triangulate with Insight satellites becoming fully weaponized." Maria answered.

"We need to breach those carriers and replace their targeting blades with our own" Fury stated. Maria leaned forwards so that her hands were firmly able to reach the table,

"One or two won't cut it. We need to link all three carriers for this to work, because if even one of those ships remains operational" she paused for a second and swallowed, "a whole lot of people are gonna die."

"We have to assume that everyone aboard those Carriers is Hydra. We need to get pass them, insert the server blades, and maybe, just maybe, we can salvage what's left…"

"We're not salvaging anything. We're not just taking down the Carriers', Nick, we're taking down SHIELD." Natasha watched them argue with blank look on her face. If Tony managed to come through for her, the situation would not be so dire as what Steve was making it out to be. She, personally, did not want to take down SHIELD, she was after all a loyal Agent but she knew that until Tony came through with her, it was just too much of a risk.

"SHIELD had nothing to do with it" Fury argued back.

"You gave me this mission, this is how it ends. SHIELD's been compromised, you've said so yourself. Hydra was right under your nose and nobody noticed." Once again, Natasha felt guilty for not having noticed but did feel that Steve didn't have the authority he was giving himself. Just because he had been given a mission, it didn't mean he got to make the decision that would effect hundreds if not thousands of lives.

"Why do you think we're meeting in this cave? I noticed" Fury retorted.

"And how many paid the price before you did?" Steve fired back.

"Enough" Natasha stated and they all turned to her. "I understand where you're coming from, Rodgers, I do. But you do not have the authority to make the decision that will affect thousands. SHIELD has many loyal Agents, it's our duty to at least attempt to help them before flinging them out into the cold. Yes, SHIELD needs to be disbanded from what it is right now, but it also needs to be rebuilt. The world needs SHIELD" She stated firmly. Steve looked at her, a wounded expression on his face,
"So you agree with him? Natasha, they tried to kill us!" Natasha rolled her eyes,

"Did you hear nothing I just said? I don't agree that SHIELD as it is can be salvaged but I am saying that the world needs it in some capacity and the Agents who are truly loyal need us to protect them. That's the basis of SHIELD; to protect" she growled at him, her eyes flashing in irritation. Maria and Fury looked at their Agent with proud expressions, how far Natasha had come from being the notorious Black Widow.

"If this is about Barnes, I didn't know" Fury stated, looking at Steve. Steve looked back,

"Even if you did, would you have told me? Or would you have compartmentalized that too?"

"I would have told you. I may be a Spy, Rodgers, but I still have integrity" Fury answered firmly. Steve looked at him for a moment,

"Thanks." He looked then at Natasha, "This SHIELD needs to be taken down, alongside Hydra" he stated, "They're too intimately linked. If some things can be salvaged to rebuild, fine. But that is our priority" he told her. Natasha nodded slightly, agreeing. It was better than what she'd hoped.

"He's right." Maria agreed with a sigh, "SHIELD as we know it, is too corrupt to salvage, Nick." Fury sighed before looking at Sam who simply shrugged,

"Don't look at me. I do what he does, just slower." Fury inwardly felt amusement at that comment before he moved his gaze to Natasha who shrugged and looked away. Finally, his gaze landed on Steve,

"Well… looks like you're giving the orders now, Captain" Steve nodded firmly. The jobs were divided up between them and plans were made before they went their separate ways.

Natasha was currently in one of the abandoned computer areas of the facility. The technological mask she was going to be wearing as part of her mission needed to be configured into the exact replica of Council Member Katrina Henshaw. The voice scrambler had already been done as had her latest update to Tony. Hearing Fury slowly making his way down the stairs, she stiffened,

"I didn't think you'd make it" she stated, not looking at him. Fury chuckled as he limped towards an empty seat next to her,

"It took a while" he agreed. Natasha continued her work, not ignoring him but not including him either.

"I see you're prepared for tomorrow" he stated, trying to get a conversation going with his top Agent.

"Almost. Just a few things more to do" Natasha answered, finally looking at him. She swallowed, "I thought you died, Nick" she whispered. The hurt she had felt at the betrayal was evident in her tone, the assassin not even attempting to hide it.

"I had to keep the circle small" Fury replied though his tone was contrite, "You would have done the same thing." Natasha sighed,

"I know. But that's the problem." She responded, "This shouldn't affect me as much as it has. You were doing your job, you did nothing wrong and I understand that."

Fury gingerly placed the hand not in a sling on the woman's shoulder and squeezed gently,

"It might have been the job and I won't apologise for what I did, but. I do apologise for hurting you, Natasha. Like Hill said, you've been nothing but loyal to me. Believe me when I say it wasn't personal."

"I believe you, Nick." Natasha answered tiredly.

"Good. Now, tomorrow, don't think I don't know you've got something planned. You wouldn't have argued quite so vehemently against the Captain if you didn't." Fury told her sternly. Natasha swallowed and paled slightly,

"Sir, I" she fell silent as Fury held up a hand.

"I don't need to know right now. I expect I'll find out tomorrow. Just remember, you will always have my support." He squeezed her shoulder again before standing up with a groan. "Those stairs look incredibly unappealing right about now" he added. Natasha huffed a slight laugh,

"I can carry you up, Sir, if you'd prefer."

"Romanoff, your offer, whilst appreciated, can remain unfulfilled. I'd rather suffer than lose more of my dignity." Natasha's lips quirked up into a smile,

"Yes, Sir" she agreed neutrally. Fury gave her the Look before nodding,

"I will see you tomorrow, bright and early." He stated before beginning the trek up.

"Goodnight, Sir." Natasha responded before getting back to work.