New York City, 1923
Clint Barton hesitated by the door. It wasn't that he was afraid of anything that could possibly be behind it. He had handled himself pretty well in the past. He wouldn't be the most feared detective in the city if he hadn't. Flying through the New York streets at night, solving cases with his sharply analytical mind and eyes that never missed a single detail. Dispatching some of the city's most wanted men with a perfectly aimed arrow to the chest. It was a common misconception that he was working for the police. The Crossbow hunted alone, to bring justice and silence those who threatened it.
And now, standing at this door, Clint Barton, a shy, reclusive writer by day, felt too proud to ask for help. Clint was not vain by any means, but he felt so safe in his methods he felt as though the interference would spoil his exact art. He had no choice in the matter, though. This case was simply beyond him. And that was why he needed the help of one N. Romanoff. A shadowy figure- Russian, guessing by the name. An assassin, specialising in guns. This man was rumoured to be lethal, perhaps even more so than The Crossbow himself. Recently arrived on a ship from Europe, he had quickly set up a living space in a decrepit apartment building and was taking matters into his own hands. Whispers of a new hero for this changing city slipped through bars and quiet corners, and The Crossbow had stumbled across someone who happened to be 'One-Shot' Romanoff's eyes on the street, and had now attained an audience with the man himself. Pushing the door open with a sigh and walking up the stairs, Clint noted the unpleasant smells of urine and damp and the peeling walls. One-Shot must have come here with little else but pistols and lint in his pockets.
He finally reached the door. A piece of paper taped to it read 'N. Romanoff- please knock' on it in a careful, neat hand. He did as the note told him to do, and a woman's voice answered.
"Who is it?"
"Er, The Crossbow, ma'am. I'm here looking for a Mr. Romanoff. Is he your... husband?"
"Husband?" The woman sounded puzzled, but a second later the door opened. "Come with me."
Shutting the door behind him, Clint followed her into a room that had been set up with two black leather office chairs opposite one another with a small wooden table in between. This setup, paired with the low, flickering ceiling light, served to make the whole thing look like an interrogation room. Clint sat down, and the woman seated herself, catlike, opposite him. It was the first time he got to look at her face. She had coppery red curls, short around her neck, framing her face, which was truly beautiful by anyone's definition. Her full lips and soft skin would have made angels cry. Her eyes were round and doll-like, grey with long lashes. Clint didn't realise he was staring until she interrupted him sharply.
"Please state your case, sir. I am quite busy, you understand."
"Oh, er, yes. I'm The Crossbow. I'm a... detective, of sorts. I'm looking for a Mr Romanoff."
"... Mr Romanoff?"
"Your... husband? Boyfriend? Brother? One-Shot?"
The woman's eyebrows lifted with realisation. "I can assure you there is no Mr Romanoff living here. The only Mr Romanoff you could have meant is my father, but he is long dead. Or my grandfather, but he is even longer dead." She smiled.
"So One-Shot is...?"
"That would be myself. My name is Natasha Romanoff."
Clint realised his mistake and replied, flustered. "Oh! Sorry, ma'am, I thought you were a man." He regretted it as soon as he said it.
"Nyet, Mr Crossbow. I am not a man at all. You haven't heard of a female vigilante before?"
"No, ma'am. I'm truly sorry. I didn't mean to-"
Natasha waved her hand dismissively. "Not at all. Forgive me for thinking America was like Russia. But anyway, what brings you here?"
"To cut a long story short, Miss Romanoff, a man I have been pursuing for a while has employed a team of deadly assassins. I cannot handle it alone." It was uncomfortable for Clint to have to admit his shortcomings to such a formidable woman. If Natasha had noticed, she didn't say anything about it.
"No problem, sir. They are deadly, but I am deadlier. People never take me seriously. They never suspect the petite lady has pistols concealed in her winter coat. Nobody can deduce my years of training from a glance at me. Back in Russia, my trainer said I was like static. Invisible in plain sight, but a spark of electricity in the darkness, no bigger than a moment. You barely have time to shiver, then the static has finished with you."