Author's Notes: Thank you to the very lovely people who reviewed and encouraged me to continue this: Tic Tac Toe 03, Crumpled Paper Hearts, Artemis0simetra, KrazieeeeeeeKatieeeeeeeee (did I get all the Es in? Heh), and NF. You guys are total angels. :D
I can't guarantee all updates will come as quickly as this one since my work commitments are pretty heavy duty, but I'm super stoked about this fic and providing the inspiration stays as it is now, I'll be churning chapters out in no time. I hope you all enjoy! And please r&r and all that shizzle. I will love all over you.
Chapters written in italics denote Natasha's memories. They won't come in chronological order as memories rarely do, but the timeline can be derived by the location which I will always include.
Natasha just wanted to find a quiet place to work, was that really too much to ask? But despite the amount of rooms the base had, none of them seemed to be standing empty and she was beginning to feel more than a little bit claustrophobic.
Finally, she came to Bruce's lab. Bruce, of course, was in the lab, but Natasha found she didn't mind that so much. Natasha found Bruce's company calming; some might have found it odd considering Bruce's personal circumstances, but Natasha didn't question it.
Bruce was hunched over his desk and hadn't noticed her so Natasha cleared her throat; he glanced up, spectacles resting low on the bridge of his nose.
"Uh, hey. Natasha." Bruce's attention had already gone back to his work. It wasn't that Bruce was rude, he just became so absorbed and his mind moved so quickly that he was often a few paces ahead of anyone else, sometimes it took him a moment to get back onto even ground with the rest of the world.
"You don't mind if I…" Natasha nodded to one of the few empty desks; the lab was cluttered with assorted notes and experiments.
"Oh… sure, no, yeah, go ahead." Bruce waved abstractly in the general area. He bent over a microscope but his glasses got in his way and he had to adjust them to rest on top of his head. "I'm afraid I won't be much company…"
"Just what I need," Natasha said wryly.
"Hmm?" Bruce glanced up again, he seemed to only see her for the first time and he straightened, stretching to ease an ache the small of his back. "Are you ok?"
"Yes, just," Natasha waved a hand, like it could wave her bad mood away. She set her laptop down and leant back against the counter, facing Bruce. "Stark."
"Ah," Bruce said knowingly with a smile. "I think he's bored. He was asking me a load of questions the other day. A lot of them about Kolkata, weirdly."
Natasha hummed quietly and her eyes drifted to the work Bruce was busy with. He had a selection of what looked like blood samples in slides. Bruce noticed her interest and he picked up one of the slides, passing it from hand to hand.
"Do you want to know what I'm doing?" he smiled. Natasha hesitated, she was curious, but she also liked to pry in the business of others about as much as she liked others prying in her business. But Bruce was offering. Eventually she nodded.
"Steve let me take a few blood samples from him," Bruce explained. He held up the slide in his hands. "This one's mine. You already know I got my uh… condition… trying to recreate the procedure that turned Steve into a super soldier."
"You're trying to work out what went wrong with yours," Natasha concluded.
"Pretty much," Bruce said.
"Do you think you'll be able to control it?"
"Maybe… if I figure out what 'it' is. I'm just making notes mostly… Having Steve around gives me a lot of opens I never had before." Bruce gave an almost self-conscious laugh and glanced down, he rubbed at the patch of skin just behind his ear, right where his glasses rested. "I guess it's a little dumb, but it gives me hope. You know, maybe…"
"It's not dumb to feel hope, Bruce," Natasha said without hesitation. Her conviction seemed to surprise Bruce and they stared at each other in silence for a moment, then his eyes warmed and he glanced down at his blood slide, still playing with it between his fingers.
The lab's intercom beeped to life and Nick Fury's detached voice filled the room. "Listen up kiddies; I've got a mission for you all so if you'd kindly meet me on the bridge asap." There was brief static and then Fury's voice again, "and that means now Stark."
The team, sans Thor who remained in Asgard with Loki and the tesseract, assembled on the bridge awaiting the arrival of their esteemed leader.
Bruce and Natasha had made their way in together and stood to the side for their own personal reasons. Bruce because that was his natural stance; to separate from most given situations thus giving him that all important detachment. And Natasha because she was still desperate for her own space; and because she was still a little pissed at Stark.
Fury entered with his usual flare for 'take no bullshit' dramatics and he looked at them all sternly with his one eye. "I'm going to keep this brief," he said, "we can go over details on the way. Shit's going down in the capitol, there's a trio of Russians in their own tailored suits running around blowing shit up and robbing banks."
"Wait, wait, wait," Tony interrupted, "Suits as in…?" he gestured to himself. Fury nodded and Tony let out a moan of annoyance, throwing his hands into the air. "Is there anyone that doesn't have their own suit now? Geeze do people not get the concept of 'one of a kind'?"
"Sir," Steve said, interrupting Stark mid gripe. "I thought that had been… sorted. Where did the suits come from?"
"Russia," Fury said, rolling his eye. "They're not as powerful as Stark's, but eyewitness accounts say they've got this neat little gimmick that locks the suits up in palm sized discs, explains how they even got them over here in the first place." Fury levelled his eye on Stark. "Apparently they're buddies of your friend Vanko."
Tony sighed. "Of course they would be," he muttered.
"They've been holed up since their last hit, but we've got a pretty good idea of where they're hiding, so I'm gonna' need the lot of you to suit up and flush them out. Preferably with the minimal amount of damage this time." Fury looked to Bruce. "If you can, try and get one of the discs undamaged. I figure it could come in handy for you to have a look at, find out what technology they're using." Bruce nodded in acknowledgment.
As the team filed out, Fury called out Natasha's name and tipped his head, signalling her to wait with him. Natasha did so and once they were alone, Fury turned to her.
"I didn't want to say anything in front of everyone else," he said, "But the trio call themselves The Green Liberation Front, and one of the men is named Boris Bullski."
Natasha felt a cold jolt rush through her at the name. Outwardly, she barely reacted, but she could feel the adrenaline course through her, quickening her heartbeat. "That's impossible, sir," she said as she stared over Fury's shoulder. "Bullski is dead."
"It turns out he's not," Fury said, "he's very much alive and fucking shit up in the capitol. I'm telling you because I'd understand if you want to sit this one out."
"I'm fine sir," Natasha told him and she held herself very carefully, "I want to go."
"Romanoff, I'm not asking you if you want to go, I'm asking if you can go. And I'm not just doing it for your benefit either. This'll be a pretty simple cut and paste mission providing there's no complications, I don't want to risk there being complications."
"There won't be," Natasha stared directly into Fury's eye, it was sometimes hard to make eye contact with the man with his patch, but Natasha made the effort to meet and hold his gaze.
Fury didn't seem particularly happy with this answer and he frowned long and hard at Natasha. Eventually, he breathed out heavily and shook his head. "Fine," he relented. "Go ahead. Make sure everyone's ready to go on the hour."
"Sir," Natasha acknowledged, and then she walked as calmly as she could from the bridge, all while her heart thumped behind her rib cage as unbidden memories flooded her mind.
"They pick us for what we are good at," Boris told her one day. They were lying together on the roof during one of their rare moments of down time. Boris lay on his front and Natasha lay on her back, staring up at the grey sky above them. The sun burned red, a tiny pinprick amongst the clouds. "They picked you because you're quick and graceful. They picked me for my strength." Boris squeezed his hand into a fist and the muscles in his arms bulged with blue veins spider webbing over them. He had the body of a tank but with the face of a boy still.
Natasha examined Boris' arm and then touched a finger to it, tracing one of the veins to his bicep.
"Where did they find you?" she asked. "Before you came here?" she realised that for all the time she had known Boris, she'd never once asked this. She'd never once wondered the origins of any of her peers. Sometimes she found herself forgetting her own.
Boris shrugged. "I do not remember," he admitted.
"Doesn't that upset you?"
"Sometimes," Boris said. He stared absently at his arm, turning it as he flexed his hand. "Isn't that funny? That vein twitches when I do this," he flexed his hand again and Natasha watched the vein dance.
"Did you have parents?" she asked.
"I think so." Boris seemed mildly irritated by her questions and he was keen for her to finish whatever thoughts she was cultivating. "Why, did you?"
Natasha thought of her Ivan, but he'd faded in her memory. She remembered tobacco and a limp when he walked, but that was all. "No," she said finally.
"We're all orphans now," Boris said without a hint of irony.