Chapter 1 - Shadows


The gaping maw of night. The ravenous mass of infinite terror that slows devours everything and leaves nothing in its wake. Nothing but…fear.

When I was younger, I was told to stay away from the dark and close to the light as the world was full of shadows and within them were monsters. Great terrible beasts that would snatch me away from those who loved and cared for me, away from the light. And what a light there was, a warm, comfortable light that embraced me with love and kindness keeping me safe from the dark.

I was 8 when I learned the truth when I learned what light and darkness truly were.

They were nothing, lies told to keep children close to their parents, lies adults told themselves so that he could impart meaning to a world that had none.

The light is nothing, an illusion created by people so desperate, so afraid of the chaos around them they painted the world in false brightness. Creating the illusion of order, creating the veneer of reason, creating a world that they could lie to themselves about and teach their children to adore. Teaching them that the world made sense, that the light was safe, warm and wondrous, teaching the lies.

The darkness was supposed to be foreboding, terrifying the place that even angels feared to tread, that is what we are taught. Stay away from the shadows, stay away from the dark for within it thereby dragons, monsters and nightmares. It is the abyss that no person can come back from, that no person wishes to remain in, that once lost to darkness the only way back is to try to find the light.

All of that was lies.

In the dark, once someone has pushed past ignorance, pushed past the veneer of reason and order we created, pushed past the boundaries of order that we imagine there to be we can find it. The thing that lingers just out of reach, that exists deep within all of us, that we crave, that we strive for, that we would give anything to obtain but yet do not dare risk for. For it is only in the dark that we can find it….meaning.

It was in the darkness I was reborn, it was in the darkness that I first saw it, that I created it and it created me. An idea so childish, so utterly ridiculous that it was to be dismissed as mere grief, simple loss, that once spoken people pitty you as broken, deluded and lost or worse mad. Yet I knew it was more than that I felt it then as surely as I feel it now, what was born that night could not be contained could not be stopped only unleashed.

For when my world was destroyed and I was brought into the dark to stand before the abyss, I did not cower nor break. I stared unblinking undaunted into the void into the gaping maw of the night the ravenous mass of infinite terror that slows devours everything and leaves nothing in its wake, nothing but…fear. It was then I understood, it was then I knew, it was then it claimed me… was then I became something more, something greater… was then I became fear.

(January 30th 2009 - Atlantic Ocean US Eastern Seaboard - 5 miles from Gotham City Harbour)

"Sir this fog isn't getting any lighter, if anything it's getting worse and the nav system is starting to fritz again" The young helmsman stated turning to look over to his boss who was casually leaning with his back on the rusted metal wall of the aged cargo ship.

"Shut the fuck up and just steer the boat kid." The scared older man shot back, lighting another cigarette that he brought up to his lips. "You've been fucking jumpy since we've had to change course and head back in. You're paid to keep quiet and pilot the boat not fucking moan. So do the latter more and the former even more so"

Limbani shook his head as he watched the young man quickly look back to the fogged banked window now quiet as a mouse. He suppressed a sigh not wanting the kid to think he was going soft on him, which he wasn't. They had been smuggling nearly 20,000 tons of high A-grade weapons out of the country when a freak storm in the Atlantic had forced them back to the coast and into port. He knew it was the port in question that was making the kid jumpy, Gotham was a city that every criminal in America and the world knew, they knew to avoid it.

Thirty-odd years ago it had been a paradise for criminals the right kind of mixture of broke, depressed and corrupt that made it the perfect city to do whatever you wanted, drugs, guns, prostitutes you name it Gotham was the place. It had been a thriving cesspit where all of America's filth ended up and due to the corruption that had seeped in no one had ever made the attempt to clean it up. It had allowed criminals like Limbani's father and grandfather and their generation to thrive, if you couldn't move it anywhere else on the Eastern seaboard you could move it through Gotham. The only real difficulty with Gotham was the amount of other crime in the city, Limbani could remember his father telling him Gotham could be a warzone at times.

However, that was 30 years ago, since then Gotham had become a black hole in the crime scene with every manner of rumour and hearsay coming from the city. According to the stories a demon had descended on the city's underworld and began a brutal campaign against so-called 'evil doers'.The demon had smashed the smuggling rings, decimated the organised crime families, shattered the drug trade and sown so much fear into criminals that those who were left had fled the city to spread the demon's message.

Stay out of Gotham.

Gotham was now reported to be one of the safest cities in America, according to one report crime just didn't happen there. Limbani didn't believe in the urban myths, of course, his business was mainly overseas working for his boss but he had spoken to people who used to work in Gotahm, and he knew a cover-up when he heard one. The stories about Gotham were simply coverups for the police force brutalising criminals and abusing them until crime went back down, the city must have just gotten too bad to ignore so evidently the state and local officials had green-lit off the book actions then co-oped the urban myths to explain the sudden drop. Honestly, the idea that there was anything supernatural was just absurd, that a demon stalked Gotham was laughable.

"Hey boss, we've just crossed into Gotham waters," The young helmsman's voice broke Limbani out of his musings, the kid shifted evidently uncomfortable still with the idea of Gotham. "We should probably get on the radio to the harbour ma-"


The sudden sound caused the young criminal to stop talking as suddenly every single light and piece of electronic equipment around him turned off leaving them in complete darkness. Limbani suddenly felt the hairs on the back of his head stand on end like something ominous had just enveloped their ship. The kid's shaking and almost whimpering however quickly forced him to get a grip, stuff like this happened with older ships especially when they had been caught in the storm and being pushed as hard as they had.

"It's, it's, it's, it's, it's the b-SLAP!" The young man at the helm started stuttering panic gripping him until his boss' hand struck him clean across the face.

"Fuck sake kid, get a grip," Limbani cursed at the near-whimpering mess as he pushed the boy out and then managed to fish out a flashlight for a draw and sent up a small prayer when it turned on. "Jesus you're not fucking working for me again. The ain't nothing special about Gotham, the ship's like 40 years old and we've been running it hard the engine must have just seized up. Now fucking get your shit together or I'll throw you overboard."

"Ye-ye-yes boss," The kid swallowed hard as he quickly moved back to the helm not able to do anything but wanted to get away from the man threatening his life.

Limbani tried his radio, wanting to signal the engine room and find out what had happened but was only met with garbled sounds and static. Suppressing a sigh he shot the helmsman a look and just shook his head as he saw the kid become a greater bundle of nerves. He then grabbed his thick coat from the hook, placing it on before heading out of the bridge into the cold, foggy and rainy night. He was shunted slightly as a wave hit the now stationary ship forcing him to hold onto a handrail to steady himself and curse, he hated boats and much preferred when they smuggled stuff by air.

"You alright boss!" A heavily Russian-accented female voice grabbed his attention as he steadied himself and waved he was alright. "I was just coming out of the cargo hold. Then the power went out I was just heading up to see you,"

The voice called out from just below him down the stairs next to him that led to the main deck. He didn't even really need to peer down the stairs to know who the voice was, although there were a few Russians aboard there was only one female member on this trip. He allowed the smile to grow on his face as he shakily descended the stairs, the woman was stunning even in dockworker attire her top heavy-hourglass figure and red hair were impossible to hide. Truth be told the Russian bombshell had been hired mainly because of her credentials and references more so than her looks but they big bonus for him, however. When they arrived in Qatar to unload he was looking forward to getting to know her better and taking her up on all of her lingering gazes and teasing statements.

"We're all good, we're actually near port not that you can see it in this fucking fog," He cursed as he looked out to the water and couldn't even see 5 feet into open air let alone see the ocean. "I think this old piece of shit is finally giving up on us. I'll fucking tell Klaue to get us a new one,."

"We're near port?" The Russian asked in surprise, which was understandable as he had not told anyone apart from the helmsman and the engineer their course, when working with criminals keep everything on a need-to-know basis.

"Yeah, fucking storm rocked us about too much, not fucking ideal given our cargo and deadline but can't be helped and we've got the papers so no worry." He smirked as he started moving across the deck towards the stairs that led to the engine block. "We're forced to head into Gotham, I doubt the harbour master is going to look too closely, the port's busy as it is he'll just want us gone."

"Gotham huh? I've never been, anything you want me to do to help us get there?" The woman asked giving Limbani an almost flirting smile as they stopped at the hatch that led to the engines.

"Nothing you can do, I'm going to get Arthur to sort this out." He stated as he opened the hatch with some effort fighting the wind that seemed to be picking up, "Just go check the cargo again, make sure it's secure and keep the idiots down there sober okay? I've got enough to deal with already"

"You got it, boss," The woman nodded with a smile, turning to head back to the cargo hold and somehow managing to sway her hips suggestively even as she shakily walked away on the swaying ship causing him to gulp.

When she heard the hatch reseal, Natasha dropped the act her eyes rolling as she again found another man that reinforced her very low opinion of the gender. She and Barton had been tracking this weapon shipment ever since it popped up on SHIELD's radar, normally weapon smuggling was a bit below her and Barton's radar but this was different, very different. An entire cargo ship full of next-generation Stark weaponry had just come into play and SHIELD had almost missed it, so short on time and wanting an answer SHIELD had sent their best.

Stark Industries was given a lot of leeway due to its position in SHIELD's history and being the agency's main supplier of tech but even SHIELD had noticed odd things starting to pop up. Ever since Howard Stark had died Stark weapons had become more prolific each year on the black market, in the past two years alone the number had spiked to unignorable levels. History and reputation aside that was something they couldn't ignore and SHIELD was close to demanding answers from Tony Stark himself and not in a friendly way.

"Barton, do you read me?" Nat brought up her hand up to her earpiece to make sure it was still working, Barton was disguised as a crew member too and she had tried to reach him but the radio was shot.

"Pssssaaat crnkllsht psssshtt" The earpiece just sounded in a series of garbled sounds and static noises.

"Come in Barton, do you read me?" Nat tapped her earpiece a few times trying to reset the device and get it to go to one of the back-secured channels

"Sorry, give me a sec, I had to reset. I can read you now," Barton's voice came clear over the line the sound of wind and waves was also audible so the man was somewhere on deck. "Nat, the power's out all over the ship was that you?"

"I was about to ask you the same. Limbani thinks it's a power outage" Nat scoffed as she started moving quickly across the deck ignoring the cargo hold instead heading for her quarters.

"Yeah, a power outage that takes out the backup generator and knocks out comms," Batron's sarcasm was palpable and Nat could almost see his smirk. "My money is on a double cross, just like Johannesburg. The client doesn't want to pay so they hire a few of the crew to cause a problem and then seize the ship. Money on those Chechens we took on, where the hell are we anyway?"

"Limbani says we're just outside of Gotham storm forced us to port, it was the nearest one," Nat replied as she processed Barton's bet. It was a good sound bet but something in her stomach told her something else was up, she just didn't know what. "I'm heading to the long-range comms give Fury an update he might want to send a team in, if we dock in American port again especially unscheduled it could give enough cover to seize everything and force Limbani to flip."

"Understood. I'll keep an eye out up here. Say hi to the old man for me," Barton signed off leaving Nat alone with her thoughts as she headed to the hatch that led to the crew quarters.

A mass of blackness moved just above her.

Nat froze and spun around her hand immediately retrieving the gun Limbani had given every member of the crew ready to fire at the shape except. Nothing. Nat's trained eyes scanned the sky, the containers piled high and even the tiers the ship had and saw nothing. A regular person might have been willing to chalk it up to nerves, tiredness, the fog and rain or all of them together but Nat wasn't regular people. Her enhanced sense, training and a lifetime of doing just this meant her senses never betrayed her, never mislead her, something had moved and then vanished.

Nat slowly put the gun back where she had pulled it from tucking it gently into place but positioning it better for a quicker draw. She kept her eyes scanning as she feigned ignorance of what had just happened hoping to maybe lure whatever it was back into the open but found herself disappointed. As she walked through the dark hallways to her room lifting a flashlight to light the way she felt something she had not felt in years, apprehension. She could feel a tingle going up her spine, every sense of hers was screaming something was going to happen but none of them could say what.

She spent a few moments shifting pieces around her medium private room that she had managed to talk or more accurately flirt Limbani into giving her. A few moved pieces and she pulled out a small silver box that was no bigger than the palm of her hand, although it didn't look like much the box was her and Barton's lifeline if anything went wrong. She made sure the door was sealed and did another sweep for bugs before pressing her thumb onto its top and saying her security code, a few seconds before a holographic screen was projected into the air showing her boss Nick Fury.

"Agent Romanoff good to see your alright," Fury was looking at something someone handed to him before passing it back to someone off-screen and placing his full focus on her "Your comms was off and so was the ship's responder. I was about to send out a search party with a tactical team. What's the situation?"

"Developing sir, we got caught in the Stormfront that developed over the Atlantic, the ship took a beating and rather than risk the cargo they've decided to head into port for basic repairs and ride out the storm," Nat reported trying to keep a calm demeanour but felt something tingling on the back of her neck. "However, I am requesting a tactical team, something isn't right sir, we've lost all power to the ship and something is jamming communications even SHIELD frequencies. We have entered US waters only a few miles from port and are in distress so it should give you cover to come in."

"Hmmmmm….I do want to know who was going to pick up those weapons but I trust your instincts" Fury sighed processing the request and slotting it into the myriad piles of other information in his head. "I'll send Coulson with a full tactical unit disguised as FBI to keep us off the radar. He'll love it. You said you were near a port, which one?"

"Gotham, boss. We should al-" Nat cut herself off as she suddenly saw her Boss' face fall and go very pale. "What's wr-"

"GOTHAM, you sure it is Gotham," Fury's face went from pale to deadly seriousness as his one good eye formed a frown.

"Yes we are about -" Nat felt the tingly feeling up her spine intensify into a cold icy grip

"Romanoff get Barton and get off the ship now, that is an order." Fury almost lunged through the holographic in his urgency his tone harbouring no room for discussion.

"Sir what is i-" Nat was about to ask why her boss was reacting the way he was only to be cut off once more but this time not by Fury but by a familiar sound.


The gunfire cut clear through the sound of the waves and rain as Nat twisted her head before twisting it again towards a different wall in her room. Her enhanced senses weren't helping her today as she was hearing sporadic fire from all over the ship. Without thinking she turned and closed the communicator cutting Fury off mid-sentence this time.

"Romanoff wait you don't -" Fury's hand shot up almost as if he could reach out to stop her but could not prevent her from turning off the device, pocketing it and then rushing outside.

Despite the darkness and the ship now starting to sway even more, it took her less than a minute to exit the crew quarters and be back on deck, the sight that greeted her was a confusing one. There was nothing, no signs of a firefight to seize the ship, no hijackers storming onto the ship, no other vessel in sight, no helicopter above, no double-crossing crew members seizing control, absolutely nothing. Nat felt a feeling go up her spine again this time it was something even rarer than apprehension, something she hadn't felt since she was a little girl, fear.


Nat's head snapped to her right as the sound of gunfire was accompanied this time by a flashing of light coming from just the other side of the ship behind a stack of shipping containers. She rushed over to it hoping to find out what the hell was going on as the area screamed with bullets. However, as she rounded the corner she found the area that had been moments before had clearly been a storm of bullets quiet and deserted. Bullet holes were dotted all over the area and the smoking handgun was laying there on the floor abandoned with no sign of its owner anywhere the area was now silent as the grave.

"What the hell is-" Nat looked at the bazaar scene in front of before the sound of automatic gunfire sounded out causing her to run towards it lifting her hand to her earpiece. "Clint, are you there?...Dammit it Barton, answer me."

"Nat, I'm here," Clint's tired panting voice came over the line clearly he had been running and was likely doing the same as her trying to head to the noise of gunfire that was still sounding off. "What the hell is going on? I'm near the bridge the whole ship sounds like a bloody but when I show up no one is there."

"Same here, something is attacking the crew, link up and will go from there," Nat ordered pushing herself to move faster as she sprinted past the bridge to the back of the ship

"Got it," Clint responded his breath becoming slightly more laboured as he pushed himself faster to link up with her.

As Nat rounded the final she was finally greeted by the sight of an actual person, the young helmsman was hefting an automatic rifle and desperately trying to jam another magazine into it whilst holding a flashlight up. The young man was terrified he was sweating profusely despite the cold rain and fog, and he had shot to hell his surroundings with smoke still coming from bullet holes in the deck and wall. Nat's arrival spooked the lad as he whirled around to face her he tried to pull the trigger whilst jamming the magazine in and holding a flashlight but only accomplished dropping all three.

"No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, come on, come on," The man ignored her dropping to his knees and scrambled not for the gun but the flashlight grabbing it like it was oxygen and he was drowning.

A movement directly in front of her caused her to pull out her own weapons one hand going to the gun the criminals gave her the other pulling out her SHIELD-issued one. She froze as she saw Clint appear he had abandoned his disguise and was openly carrying his bow and quiver he lifted a hand causing her to relax. He edged towards Nat who was now standing over the muttering and near-petrified young man who was desperately trying to finish loading his gun whilst jumping at every shadow his flashlight found.

"Nat what is going on, I just checked the bridge and swept the deck everyone is gone," Clint's voice was steady but had a hint of apprehension as he moved to stand in front of Nat gesturing to the man in front of them. "Well everyone except hi- What the hell?!"

Nat looked down and found her eyes widening as the man who had been moments before kneeling in front of them had vanished. Nat and Clint quickly sprung into action going back to back and lifting their weapons as they looked at the eerily silent soaked swaying deck. Nat saw something move out of the corner of her eye and adjusted ready to fire only for it to appear on the other side of her, causing her to jerk around trying to track it. She knew she wasn't seeing things as Clint was also moving awkwardly against her back his bow kept raising and lowering something was toying with them, and she was starting to get ticked off.


The familiar sound of Clint twanging bowstring rang in her ears it almost brought a smile to her face however she froze as two things that always occurred from Clint's shooting didn't happen. The first was that he didn't reload instead he just froze his posture not moving at all. The second and more alarming for Nat was that there was no shout of pain or piercing sound that always accompanied his shooting.

"Clint, what's wrong?" Nat asked, fighting the urge to turn her head to look at him and thus nullify her field of vision

"...I missed" He whispered shock clear in his voice as the unthinkable occurred however before he could process it fully he quickly reloaded and let loose another arrow. "Ha, gotch- oh shit Nat move!"

Nat quickly dived out of the way as Clint's explosive-tipped arrow soared through the space they had been standing on and over the side of the ship before exploding in the water. Nat quickly recentred herself and stood up hefting her weapons only for her to freeze as she saw what had not only dodged one of Clint's arrows but somehow thrown it back at them. It was darkness, a solid mass of darkness stood not 10 feet from them it was humanoid in shape and what little light there was seemed to flee from it. She had no idea why but staring at the ominous black shape she felt fear going through her, it was almost like she could taste fear in the very air, the unfamiliar emotion caused her to seize up as she just froze looking at the dark figure.

Clint lifted up his bow ready to lose another arrow only for the dark mass to fling its own projectile first. The small shooting blackness shot forth from the main darkness and impossibly sliced Clint's reinforced bowstring causing the notched arrow to clatter to the floor. Clint had no time to stare in disbelief as the solid mass of darkness shot forward leaping into the air before coming down. Clint lifted his reinforced bow to block the incoming attack but found it useless as his attacker's strike shattered the bow and struck Clint so hard his head collided with the deck and he fell into an unconscious slump.


Nat seeing her partner go down had snapped her from her stupor, she fired directly at the mass pushing past the fear she was feeling, seeing and sensing all around her. Each round sounded out but the only accompanying noise was bullets striking metal as Clint's attacker sprang away from her and started to manoeuvre around her annoyingly nimble and flexible for something of its size. She was already tensing and ready for what was coming next when she finally heard the twin sounds coming from her hands as her handguns emptied.


The sound noise was like its own starting gun as the figure whirled expertly in place pivoted and then struck forward. She managed to raise her arms into a guard to block the strike but quickly regretted it as she found herself knocked backwards and pain shooting through her forearms. She then had to pivot and then flip out of the way as two more blurring strikes shot at her, the first missed the second struck her hard on the ribs, she heard the crack before she managed to get out of range. She managed to reposition herself quickly enough that it warded off another attack and allowed a moment to collect her thoughts.

'Shit, not good, focus, Barton's down, get your head in the game girl'

Nat's breathing was heavy now she normally could go hours before getting tired but this thing was freakishly fast and it was taking every ounce of her skill and energy to stay away from it. She lifted her arms and squeezed her hands into fists feeling pain in her arms at the act as she took stock of her situation.

'Forearms, hairline facture at least on both, one no two ribs cracked. Need to get a strike in, change tempo get it to go on defence.'

Nat shot forward her arms shooting forward in a faint as her leg sprang up into a kick with enough force to decapitate a stone statue. She fought both shock and praise as the figure dodged the attack, as well as her follow-up ones, sidestepping and twisting out of the way, with what frustratingly appeared to be with ease. The actions just caused Nat to become more focused and her enhanced body to flood her with adrenaline her pain disappearing as she started to strike faster and faster her hands becoming a blur.


Nat froze as she managed to strike the figure in the face causing it to stumble backwards and her eyes to narrow at the figure. It wasn't a mass of darkness, it was a man, a very large man, wearing black armour but a man nonetheless. The solid blow had combined with her elevated heart rate, adrenaline-flooded system and already superior senses to push past the haze she had been under. She could taste it now there was something lingering in the fog that had been clouding her senses, suppressing her rationality and feeding her fear. She finally had the chance to really observe what the man she had been fighting and even without her sense clouded she wasn't sure what she was looking at.

The man was tall well over 6 feet, extremely muscular with broad shoulders, large hands, powerful arms and a very prominent square jawline. He was dressed in some sort of armour or at least that was the closest thing Nat could describe it as it looked moulded perfectly to his physique and seemed to consist of both fabric and plates of armour with a belt visible on his waist. The ensemble was completed by an armoured cowl that made his face appear angular with pointed ears and nose with slightly white glowing slits for eyes and a cape that could easily envelop his body. It was all solid black in colour with no discernible features except one, on its chest was a large Bat symbol. In fact, now that her senses were more focused and she could see the man in his entirety it was clear his entire ensemble was meant to make him look like a bat.

"I am SHIELD agent stand down," Nat ordered trying to project the authority and confidence into the command that she wasn't at all feeling whilst squaring herself off against the tall Bat dressed figure. "That's an order, you are interfering in a SHIELD investigation stand down now,"

The figure didn't respond verbally instead he just lifted his large right armoured hand from underneath his cape and merely with almost palpable sarcasm gestured for her to come at him. Nat tensed her muscles and raised her own hands in fits keeping herself calm and focused ignoring the man's taunt as she quickly accessed him now free from whatever had been influencing her. His size and obvious strength gave him a large advantage over her she didn't want to slug it out with him, normally she would get in close and overwhelm him with speed and precision strikes but the man was freakily fast, especially for his size.

Nat instead elected for a different tactic, she subtly managed to activate her electrified bracelets or Widow's Bite as Barton called them. Her own skills weren't proving adequate in stopping him so maybe technology would provide the key to victory. She turned them up to maximum enough force to stop 3 charging rhinos and an elephant in its track, despite the man's skill she had managed to land a blow and with the charge at the moment that's all she needed to do.

She lunged forward, starting with a strong front kick that she then brought back down into an axe kick hoping the unusual strike would surprise her opponent. It didn't. Much like before she found herself unleashing her full extensive range of marital art skills to absolutely no avail, her bat-themed opponent was just dodging and sidestepping her attack like he was simply taking a stroll. It wasn't so much his avoidance of her but the sheer ease and casualness in which he did that was starting to piss her off. However, unlike before she actually had a plan this time she was waiting for the right moment to throw everything she had into one surprise attack one strike was all she needed.

It took her a few minutes of exhausting pointless strikes against empty air but she was starting to see a pattern in his dodges it was very subtle but there she just needed to wait for the right one. She threw a forward punch followed by a leg swipe which again the man dodged lifting his left leg and pivoting to his right just like she wanted. Nat pushed off from the ground the move catching the man off guard and allowing her to deliver a flying punch to his armoured cowled face.


Nat smirked as her fist and Widow's Bite managed to deliver enough force to crack the white lenses of his cowl revealing a sapphire blue eye. Electricity arced from her bracelet directly into the man's skull his armoured cowl causing it to dance all over his head illuminating it in a terrifying electrical glow. Her triumphal smirk disappeared quickly however as instead of going down or being rendered unconscious the man impossibly just stood there taking it his eye widened only for a second before forming a clear scowl. She could only stand there frozen in complete shock as the man just took the pain, he slowly raised a single hand to envelope her own his hand wrenching the attacking limb away from his and holding her up by it, making her feet dangle just off the floor like she was a doll.

"What the hell are you?" Nat whispered as she just stared at the man.

"I'm Batman," The man replied lifting a single large fist which was all she saw before her world turned black.

(January 31st 2009 - SHIELD Helicarrier Atlantic Ocean - Medical Bay)

"What's the report doc?" Fury stood there looking at his two best agents laying in bed, Barton was out cold whilst Nat was bandaged but sat upright looking at a pad she had.

He didn't know what to expect when he had scrambled the Helicarrier to move to Barton and Romanoff's last position. Dealing with Gotham had always been a headache both for him and he knew it had been worse for his predecessor Peggy, at least Gotham was quiet these days twenty years ago it had been a hotbed of….well crazy. Looking at his agents and knowing the cause he wasn't sure that assessment had changed all that much. He had found the ship conveniently adrift outside Gotham waters, with the crew beaten to a pulp tied up, Barton and Romanoff tied up as well and the weapons dismantled with key parts destroyed.

"All in all sir pretty good compared to the crew of the ship, a lot of them are never going to walk or move their arms normally again. They were subjected to some sort of toxin as were the crew it' passed through them and I can't identify it from the trace amounts left but it doesn;t seem to have a lasting effect " The SHIELD doctor reported looking over his chart as he gave his report. "Barton's still out for the moment he took a massive blow to the head but should be alright by tomorrow the day after tops. Romanoff took the worst of it but with her enhanced biology she'll be good to go in a week or so."

"Understood, leave us alone would you please Doc," Fury ordered as he moved into the room fully the Doctor normally would have protested but decided it was pointless and just left. "How you feeling agent?"

"Like I just got my bell wrung boss," Nat joked with a hint of sarcasm and clear disappointment in herself. "Doc said I should be fine…..Nick, what was that? Who the hell is the Batman?"

Fury's usually stoic and unreadable face visibly tensed causing Nat's eyes just to widen in shock as one thought entered her mind. 'He knew about it, about him!' Fury's reaction only lasted for a second but it told her all she needed to know Fury knew her attacker and from the glint of his eyes that recognition came with at least a modicum of fear. However, Fury quickly fell back into his master spy persona and straightened himself to his fullest height.

"Agent Romanoff I am telling you the same thing I'll be telling Barton when he wakes. This never happened, there was no ship, no attacker, no BATMAN understood" Fury fixed her with such a stare that didn't even conjure up a remark, instead, she could only nod. "Good, stay here and rest up. The report will say you and Barton took out the weapons as per my order and disabled the ship, but sustained injury whilst doing so."

"Yes sir," Nat responded her eyes fixed on Fury who was acting like she had never seen before.

"Good," Fury nodded, satisfied with her answer before glancing at Barton and then turning to leave.

Nat sat alone unmoving for a few moments before she picked up the pad she had smuggled in and resumed her search for a single word BATMAN. The SHIELD files were a complete dead end, she had tried a few variations but nothing relevant came back so either there was nothing or it was buried deep in SHIELD's redacted files, in an area even her access couldn't get to. Nat grimaced she could get into those but it would take time, she put that to the side for one moment and looked at what her wider search had brought up.

She had widened the search to any database that SHIELD had access to and what she had found was even less helpful. Now there were too many results and going through them she knew most of it was useless, the vast majority came from conspiracy theories boards or crackpot websites about urban legends. All of them centred on Gotham City or within its city limits although Batman popped up occasionally outside the city and even in other countries but only rarely and nearly always regarding something related to Gotham. The seemingly only official reference to Batman that existed was in testimonies of convicted criminals from about 20 years ago and about a decade before that, none of them were factful, just ravings of terrified criminals about a massive bat creature that attacked them.

Nat set down the pad for a moment and sighed before looking over to Barton who was still unconscious, a frown forming on her face. She wanted answers and she would willingly admit it was more than just the fact that she was pissed or that she wanted to get back at who had hurt her friend, she was curious too. The man that had attacked them was skilled more than skilled he was incredible, Nat wasn't one to brag but she and Barton were amongst the best fighters and covert operators in the world and he had not only surprised them but beat them with seeming ease. Fury's reaction had all but confirmed that SHIELD or at least Fury knew about their attacker and the lack of records suggested a cover-up, so somewhere in SHIELD's files there were answers and she knew who to go to.

Taking her eyes off her partner Nat slipped out of bed and quickly got redressed, she winced as she felt discomfort in her chest and knew the Doctor would be screaming at her but she didn't care. She took a moment to make sure that said Doctor didn't catch her slipping out before heading first to the ship's kitchen to obtain her bribe, namely one large pizza before heading deep into the Hellicarrier itself. She normally could have made the entire journey in a few minutes if she wanted but her injuries slowed her down considerably and knew by the time she reached her destination that the medical staff would know about her escape. However at the moment, she didn't care as she entered the secure server room that operated as the makeshift lair of her target, she didn't bother knocking instead just slid down the small ramp on the other side with ease.

"Oh great Orcale I beseech thee tell me the future I bring an offering most fair!" Nat sang out as she sauntered into the room, one entire wall was taken up with screens and desks whilst the rest were packed with computer servers.

"Very funny Nat, you know I hate that nickname," The voice came from the desk, as a red-haired woman in her early thirties turned around in her wheelchair fixing the woman with a look. "And before we get to why you look hell and not in the infirmary that offering better be a Chicago-style offering or I'm not helping at all."

"Only the best Babs straight from the oven," Nat smiled as she moved over to her friend and SHIELD's top analyst setting the deep-dish pizza down on the very limited free space of the desks.

Baraba Gordon was not only SHIELD's top analyst but also the agency's top information complier, hacker, tech designer and digital tracker. Nat had first met the woman when she had managed to track down Dreykov for SHIELD from only a single bank transfer, and since then the woman had only impressed her more. Barbara was a one-woman spy agency by herself and on the rare occasion Nat couldn't find someone, Barbara could. She watched as Barbara wheeled over to the pizza and examined it for a moment with a critical eye before taking a slice and wheeling back to her desk.

"Hmmm, a bit dry and not enough toppings but I suppose when your few hundred miles in the air your options are limited." Barbara gave a smirk as she wiped away some source from her mouth before manoeuvring so she was again facing Nat. "So I guess your offering is acceptable. Now what the hell happened to you?"

"You don't know?" Nat raised an eyebrow at her wheelchaired bound friend, Barbara was SHIELD's information hub and had a higher clearance than anyone but Fury and Pierce, so you usually knew everything before it even happened.

"No, I've been buried in this mess developing in the Middle East with this Ten Rings group hadn't had two seconds to eat let alone go snooping. Even if I weren't Fury your mission file scrubbed no data for me to divine from." Barbara replied taking the opportunity to steal another slice from Nat's offering. "I don't even know where we are at the moment or what you were up to."

"Actually we are just outside your old home. About 2, 3 miles outside Gotham City's limits" Nat moved over to lean against the desk to Barbara's left remembering one of the few pieces of info she knew about Barbara's past, the woman was even more secretive than her when it came to the past. "Fury's covering something. I need you to look into this, me and Clint we attacked by an individual who called himself B-"

"Nat drop this," Barbara cut off the master assassin manoeuvring herself around so quickly she almost ran over Nat's foot, a look Nat had never seen before on her face. "I am serious, whatever happened last night drop it and forget about it."

"Clint is unconscious in the medial wing!" Nat shot back standing up feeling only a little bad that she was using her height against the handicapped woman, but she wanted answers and this was getting stupid now. "Because some lunatic in a Bat costume interfered in a SHIELD investigation, and I want to know why I'm not supposed to talk about it! Why doesn't Fury want me to know about this? Why is there no mention of this guy anywhere official? And how has someone that skilled stayed off people's radar"

"I am sorry about Clint, I really am," Barbara took a deep breath as she steadied herself the conversation making her back tingle and unpleasant memories coming to mind. "But I swear to you it's best if you drop this and forget about it."

"But-" Nat opened her mouth to fight her corner only for to be cut off by Barabara's hand slamming into the metal desk and denting it.


"Nat I am serious! Drop it!" Barbara glared at the spy with a look so intense that Nat felt a shiver go up her spine,.

However, it also caused Nat's eyes to narrow as well it was the same look that she had seen last night. For a moment she didn't see Barbara's face but the slightly damaged armoured cowl of the Batman and that one dark sapphire blue eye staring at her. Nat just stared at her friend for a few moments before she turned around and left, leaving Barbara all by herself in the slightly dark server room with only her screens for company. The red-haired woman collapsed in her chair feeling drained as she had just relived a night of her active youth in three seconds flat, both physically and emotionally drained.

She let out a deep sigh before moving over to a desk in a darkened corner of the room, her hand opened a dusty drawer that she hadn't touched in years. The drawer was heavy and filled with memento's she knew it would have been healthier to have thrown them away but she never had the strength to. It took her only a few seconds to pull out what she sought, it was a heavy desk picture frame displaying an old worn photo of a much younger version of her sitting in the middle with 4 men surrounding her.

As her eyes traced the photo she couldn't help the smile that came to her face as she remembered what had seemed to be much simpler times, a time where they almost pulled it back together before it all had gone horribly wrong. The first man made her smile broadly Alfred stood there straight as a ruler his suit clean and hand perfectly behind his back as he stood just to one side. The man to her left caused her smile to become bittersweet as she finger-traced Dick Grayson's youthful smirk and face, she could almost hear his laugh. That laugh turned haunting though as she glanced at the young man to her right, she couldn't long look at very young Tim Drake's wide smile and hopeful eyes before that terrible laughter came ringing out, causing her smile to drop. However, as her eyes darted away from Tim she was left with only one person to look at standing behind the three seated youngsters, and her smile came back although very fragile this time.


She whispered the name as she looked at the silent image of the man she had not seen in years, he stood like a protective statue over his three apprentices a faint smile was on his handsome face as he looked not at the camera but at the three of them. It was his real smile, not the one he gave to the public but the one in private that although never large could warm the room when he wanted it to. Her smile fell completely as she remembered that this picture was the last time he had smiled, as it wasn't long after this had been taken that everything had gone so wrong. The thought caused her to snap to the present as she glanced up to the door from which the infamous Black Widow had just left her alone.

"Oh Bruce, what have you done this time,"