Hello, everyone! Welcome to what I hope will be a very enjoyable and long-running story. It will span two eras—the nineteen-forties and the present day—and will be written in chronological order. The first chapter, which takes place in 2014, is the only exception.
While I will try my best to keep everything as historically accurate as possible, I know I'm not perfect, so please forgive me in advance for any errors, and feel free to let me know if I've missed anything.
DISCLAIMER: I'm just playing around with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its characters.
"Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?"
- John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale
An arrow sliced cleanly through the stale air, soaring high over the cavernous ceiling above and arcing down over the rows of rusted, ancient computers, finally cutting its target perfectly in half. The rope snapped, and the weight of the balcony it had been holding up collapsed with a deafening crash, briefly throwing a cloud of dust and debris over the area. The facility had obviously been abandoned for years, perhaps decades, and judging by the technology of the computers, had been built in the mid-twentieth century.
Clint Barton leapt onto the ruin of the balcony and pulled himself up onto the railing above with barely a grunt, surveying his handiwork. Not only would it take hours for the debris to settle, it blocked the view of anyone who might happen to walk into the room: not that he expected that to happen—the factory was a hundred miles from any sort of populated area, and it had been completely empty for decades.
"Couldn't resist making a scene, huh?" a sultry voice asked from behind him. Clint spun around on one heel and grinned at Natasha Romanoff, who was leaning against the railing waiting for him, having simply taken the stairs to the second floor. The corner of her mouth was upturned in a slight smirk, but as usual, it was impossible to tell whether or not she was genuinely amused.
"You know it," he said flippantly, reaching around to pull another arrow out of his quiver and string it on his bow. "God, this place is a dump. I'm expecting a ghost to attack me at any moment."
"You're not too far off," Natasha replied, silently appearing at his side. They began to walk together down the catwalk; a solid steel door was visible at the end of the walkway. "This was Arnim Zola's personal laboratory before his death forty years ago. S.H.I.E.L.D. intelligence has it on record that he spent most of his time here under the guise of studying the effects of nuclear radiation."
"S.H.I.E.L.D. intelligence?" snorted Clint, unable to help himself. "You mean everybody's intelligence. I wouldn't be surprised if the CIA and MI6 have already infiltrated it."
Natasha glanced sideways at him. "Not everything was leaked," she said. "Hydra kept certain cards very close to their chest."
"So is that why we're here?" Clint asked, raising an eyebrow. "So you can find out everything about Hydra before Fury does?"
She smiled again, wickedly. "Partly," Natasha admitted. "And partly because I owe Steve."
By now they had reached the door; the metal was rusted and stained, but that didn't stop it from doing its job. Clint reached back into his quiver and drew out a small, oblong rectangular object, flipping a switch on its underside and shoving it into the lock with more force than was strictly necessary. Less than a second later, there was a shower of sparks and the lock completely melted under his fingertips. Natasha shoved the door inward with her shoulder and they stepped inside a dark, disappointingly ordinary hallway—a dim lightbulb covered in spiderwebs hung from the ceiling, and two doors were set into either side of the corridor, giving no clues as to what lay beyond.
"You and Rogers, huh?" Clint asked, stopping in front of the door on the right. It was secured with nothing more than a padlock; evidently Zola had believed the steel door would keep out any unwelcome intruders.
"Don't be stupid, Barton," Natasha snapped as she got to work on the other door, her fingers deftly picking away at the lock. "He saved my life in Washington more times than I'm willing to admit. The least I can do is help him out a bit."
Clint glanced back at her, his sharp eyes zeroing in on her throat: he was secretly pleased to see a delicate silver chain still hanging there—a necklace he had presented to her shortly before her assignment in D.C. He hadn't expected her to actually wear it, but he'd been legitimately shocked when she had put it on just before leaving for the airport.
"See something you like?" Natasha purred in recognition of his poorly disguised jealousy, and Clint realized he had been staring at her. The knowing glint in her eyes made him wonder, not for the first time, if she could read his thoughts. Natasha always knew—or at least she knew more than Clint, something he was perfectly happy to accept. It was one of the reasons why their partnership was so efficient, among other words.
"Maybe," Clint said briskly, recovering himself as fast as he could. Now it was his turn to smirk at her. "But you'll never know." Before she could retort, he yanked the padlock free and pushed the door open. He knew he would pay for that later, likely in the most painful way possible, but for now he could relish the sweet taste of victory.
He stepped forward into an unusually cold room that was completely empty save for a tall, upright metal container standing in the far corner. Fluorescent lights flickered on hazily overhead at Clint's approach, lighting his path directly to it. He thought, with an uneasy twist in the pit of his stomach that he would never dare to even acknowledge, that it looked very much like a coffin. Had Zola been trying to resurrect the dead? The floor was tiled and white, the walls covered with a plaster coating. The room was hardly larger than the hallway outside, and Clint guessed that the main room had been Zola's actual laboratory: this was something no one else had been meant to see. Perhaps Zola and a few doctors, but S.H.I.E.L.D. certainly wouldn't have known about it.
He carefully made his way over to the…machine, for lack of a better word. Up close, he could see that, like the door, it had begun to rust, and a low humming could be heard emanating from inside, as if it was some sort of old-fashioned refrigerator. Letting his curiosity get the better of him, Clint reached out and placed his hand on its side: it was cold to the touch and vibrated slightly under his fingers.
He wasn't so sure he should have agreed to accompany Natasha anymore. There were days when Clint would have scoffed at infiltrating a Hydra base—after all, he had recovered from being possessed and helped fight a god and his alien army—but today was not one of them. Now he just wanted a television and a strong drink.
At the top of the machine was a circular window that Clint could see was covered in condensation. What the hell was this? He could think of no other explanation for it aside from a refrigerator. Maybe the fruits and vegetables were unhappy that they couldn't see outside. Clint snorted under his breath as he wiped the condensation away with one hand. If Zola really had been trying to create sentient vegetables, he called dibs on telling Fury.
But when he leaned forward and peered inside, what he saw was most definitely not food.
"Clint, I've been calling you for the past five minutes," Natasha said in exasperation, striding forward into the room with her arms crossed against the cold. "There's an operating room back there—looks like the surgeons must have stopped in the middle of a procedure; there's blood all over the table, but I don't know how old it is. I managed to retrieve a vial and take pictures." She shrugged, unaffected—she'd certainly seen much worse in her day. "Zola might have brought the Winter Soldier here for further experimentation."
"I don't think so," Clint said, his lips barely moving. "Nat, look."
His dumbfounded tone was one he rarely employed—not letting her interest show on her face, Natasha stepped forward and followed his gaze into the machine. Clint looked over at her, gauging her reaction—her cell phone was already in her hand. An unfamiliar number flashed on the screen as she handed it to Clint, her lips pursed into a thin line.
"Call Fury," Natasha ordered. "He's going to want to see this."