I Dare You
A/N: O_O your face right? Cause I updated back to back chapters? Is that even possible anymore?
Sure it is when I procrastinate on my projects haha. oops.
They are both serious emergencies.
Oh and this is NOT the last chapter of I dare you. Sorry for the confusion. When the ending comes (soon) you'll definitely know it's over. I Dare You is not over until Budapest is over.
Clearly it can't be over until they leave Budapest.
What happens after Budapest...well that's a different story. Literally.
Natasha in water fun time :D
The second Natasha lost sight of her partner she felt herself get pulled into whirling nightmare of rushing water that was dragging her down a pitch black tunnel. She had no control over her body as she got thrown in all different directions. She got forced through pipes with sharp curves that had her slamming into the drenched walls causing her to black out periodically as the current took hold of her again and again, and again - dragging her along with no control of her own and no end in sight.
Do you know how much she fucking hates not being in control?
The next time she recovered enough from the flashes of blackouts to be semi-conscious she forced herself to curl into a tight fetal-like ball to prevent her injured legs from catching on anything else as she rushed through the flow of icy cold darkness. It's already been 3 minutes and she was starting to feel the burn in her lungs as she continued being dragged, yanked and thrown into spinning twirls through water that was colder than the worst winter night she spent running through survival training in Siberia years ago in her youth while she was still trying to beat out all the other girls in the Widow program.
None of that matter though - not anymore.
Because either she reached the damn river in the next minute or her partner has doomed her to a death by ice water.
She is going to kill him if she dies.
She is going to maim at least if she lives.
But most of all she wants to go back.
She has to go back - but she can't.
'God damn you, Barton! Damn you and your ridiculous hero-complex that is going to get you killed and land me back on SHIELD's number one shit list! She mentally screamed at him in her head as she hit another freezing pipe wall before she felt the rushing water around her sharply curve downward and she was falling backwards into an abyss of black ice.
If this was what being dragged down to a hell without fire felt like she was going to lose her mind well before they reached that particular destination. Because where she was now was worst than hell.
She couldn't scream.
She couldn't breathe.
She couldn't even see.
The second before she felt the pressure building in her lungs start to be too much she felt herself slide into a narrow shaft and forced through an opening. Her head was spinning so fast it took her several moments to understand what just happened.
Everything had stopped.
The rushing feeling was gone. She was left floating in open space. A second after the initial relief she realized her true terrifying reality when she dared to open her eyes.
She saw nothing.
Nothing but darkness.
She didn't know which way was up or down. Everywhere she looked was the same soul-sucking black ice piecing her skin like fine needles and pins. Torture she could stand. Torture was bearable. This- this was just waiting for nothing.
She was suspended in darkness - trapped in a cage as dark as her ledger.
Natasha felt the sharp stab of panic flash through her fading mind - she had seconds left.
She's going to die.
She's going to die alone.
She would have laughed brokenly at the irony that her partner had tried to save her from hell just to end up drowning her in darkness instead, if she wasn't surrounded by water.
She felt her arms and dangerously numb legs start to feel incredibly heavy. She felt herself start to sink slowly - so very slowly. She barely had enough energy left to keep her eyes open. A second later even that bit of energy was extinguished.
She closed her eyes and just let go. Bubbles escaped her mouth as she lost the fight with her lungs as they started to fill with ice.
She felt herself started to fade too.
She didn't know how long she was sinking until she felt something that felt like steel wrap around her wrist. She startled as another length of steel wrapped around her waist.
She fought the iron constraints but was too weak to resist. She felt herself get dragged out of the sinking feeling and the rushing in her head was back as she felt herself get dragged higher and higher.
What the fuck?
Assassins don't get dragged up. They dragged down.
Was she screwing up death too? Just like she screwed up her shitty life? Like how she screwed her partnership - the only meaningful relationship she ever made? Like how she screwed up everything good that ever happened to her?
The next thing she knew she was breaking out of the darkness and freezing rush of air slapped her in the face.
Or was it a hand?
"Romanoff! Romanoff! Natasha breathe!" a steeled voice ordered sternly. The familiar voice rang in her ears and that suddenly there was a sharp shove against her chest so painful she thought her lungs were going to be crushed - and then she coughed violently. She flung her useless limbs in the water and gasped.
And then on the tail of that gasp she started puking disgusting amounts of river water onto whoever the hell was holding her above the surface because she sure as hell wasn't doing the swimming.
She barely managed to crack open her bleary eyes and get a hazy picture of the spinning, freezing and wet world around her. The last face she ever expected to see again in her miserable life stared back at her with striking worry etched across his usually calm face.
She's not in hell - not yet.
"C-C-Coulson?" she croaked as she continued choke as she tried to breathe through the liters of ice water flooding her lungs. Coulson effectively beat down the alarm he was feeling and restricted it to some compartment in his mind so that he could focus on what truly need his attention - the furiously shivering Russian he had just dragged to the surface from the depths of Hungarian waters.
Shivering was good. Deadly stillness was not.
He dragged one heavy soaked arm out of the water and quickly checked her fading pulse against her brutally scarred neck and his already tense expression hardened even further.
Her body was shutting down.
"She has severe hypothermia and is covered in an unknown number of injures. Hill scan the rest of the water, start the car and get Kuna ready on medical standby now," Coulson barked his orders into the communicator pinned to his collar as ice cold waves kept splashing him in the face and trying to pull both of them back under. He felt the cold Russian body in his arms go slack and instantly tightened his hold around her back even as it pained him to feel the welts and scars digging into his arm.
Her back was completely brutalized.
He sharply shoved that thought out of his mind and focused on her bruised face.
"How long have you been in the water, Romanoff?" he asked seriously - but he no longer had her attention because she suddenly went stiff as a board as her glazed-over green eyes stared intensely at something over his shoulder. Coulson's head snapped to the right to see what had captured her attention so thoroughly and felt something heavy drop into the pit of his stomach and burst through the bottom of it.
She was staring up at the west wing of the Budapest Parliament buildings that was blazing in the smoky crisp night sky like it was her absolute worst nightmare coming to life.
Coulson had no idea how close to the truth that was.
"Barton," she breathed out shakily before she started coughing up copious amounts of dangerously dark red water that was creating a large dark circle of crimson staining the black river they were floating in. Coulson's face strained as he felt torn. He didn't know which to address first - the fact that she clearly knew something about the portion of the building that had exploded into flames not mere minutes before they located her or that fact that she was quite clearly dying in his arms.
God damn it.
"Coulson get her out of the water before you both freeze to death!" Hill's sharp clear cutting voice echoed across the rushing water around the handler and his severely tortured field agent from the shore behind them.
Priorities Coulson. Priorities.
He has never had a problem with priorities before.
SHIELD protocols states that 'First priority always goes to survivors that are within the scope and ability of the agent to locate, rescue and provide proper emergency medical aid. Unattainable, pinned down or otherwise unfound survivors are to be restricted to secondary concern'.
The only problem was that deep, deep (dangerously deep) down he knew Romanoff was never his first priority. For one insane moment he considered letting her drown and diving back into the depths of the river in search for someone else.
Disturbing thoughts like that are truly the darkest parts of human nature.
Coulson took a deep breath and slammed his eyes shut as he purposely started dragging the redhead towards the river bank as fast as he possibly could swim in rushing river water with one arm wrapped around her waist and the other slicing through the ice waves. The faster he got her on the land the faster he could focus his attention on 'secondary concerns'.
Just because we all have darkness in us doesn't mean everyone will embrace it.
That is how you keep your humanity.
Back on shore two stiff figures stood side by side as they kept their eyes trained on the water and their ears open to all possible danger around them.
"Blankets. We need the blankets," Tiny muttered swiftly glancing beside him at the stone faced American brunette watching her former partner drag a half drowned looking Russian towards them.
Hill roughly shoved a black emergency equipment bag into his arms without taking her eyes off the two figures still in the water. Tiny glanced down at the bulging pack in his hands and sighed. The second Coulson reached the riverbank they both instantly crouched down and helped drag the coughing soaked Russian out of the water and onto the snow covered ground - which did nothing to help reduce the freezing temperature of her skin.
"Damn it we need to stop the bleeding - she is covered in lacerations," Hill muttered in alarm. Tiny swiftly shook his head.
"No. We treat hypothermia first and we deal with injury after," he said firmly wrapping the vigorously shaking frozen assassin in as many blankets as he could get around her. Hill wanted to argue - but who was she to tell a military doctor how to treat field trauma? Hill felt a shift behind her and sharply spun around just in time to see Coulson taking a step back towards the river.
"What are you doing?" Hill asked sharply as she grabbed his arm in a vice like grip and stopped him from diving back into the ice cold water and dying from hypothermia himself. They already had one half dead SHIELD agent - they didn't need two.
"Barton. Barton has to be in there too," Coulson said tightly trying to shake off her death grip around his wrist. Hill's eyes lost only a small degree of their hardness - but her grip never faltered.
"There was only one bio-signal in the water on my monitor, Coulson. I checked," Hill whispered solemnly. Coulson's eyes darkened as he sharply shook his head in acute denial.
"No. Check again. Maybe his heat signal is too weak to pick up. The water temperature is well below zero. There is no way she got out without him. Romanoff would never leave him," Coulson said angrily ripping his arm out of Hill's grasp and trying to dive back into the black water. His plan got derailed when he instantly felt an arm hook around his neck and the air rushed passed him as he found himself being roughly thrown to the ground. He gasped as his back made contact with the snow covered frozen soil and a solid weight crushed his chest. He instantly started to struggle.
"Coulson! Coulson listen to yourself! Barton is not here and Romanoff is dying from her injures! She needs medical now!" Hill said angrily holding him down with her weight and by sheer brutal force. Coulson's eyes flashed in anger.
"He's the reason she's even here! We have to find him!" Coulson growled as the weight from his soaked winter coat kept him from effectively fighting her off. Hill took a deep breath and sharply shook her head.
"What are you going to do? The base is under a burning government building. That entire sector of the city is blocked off and Hungarian intelligence is swarming the compound as we speak! We have no authorization to interfere with their country's protocols!" she said through clenched teeth as he continued to shove her off of his clearly exhausted drenched body.
"He's my agent, Maria!" he bellowed in her face. Hill inhaled a sharp breath.
Handlers can be compromised too.
"But this wasn't a SHIELD mission. This was Barton throwing himself into a suicidal situation! He knew the risks, Phil! He knew he might not come out if he went in there!" she shouted back. Coulson went stiff as he fought the frustration and panic that was threatening to burst out of his chest.
"What do we do then? What in god's name do you want us to do?" he demanded stingingly. He was completely out of breath and the river water was starting to freeze his completely soaked body the longer they lingered in the freezing December air. Hill's eyes hardened.
"Follow your god damn orders, Coulson!" she growled heatedly finally getting fed up with his completely unprofessional actions. Coulson tensed.
"Our orders were to drag them both back to base!" he spat. Hill's expression morphed into the most hardened agent mask of impartiality there ever was. The second in command of one of the best intelligence agencies in the world would be a dead fool if she didn't have one of the best masks in the world to match. Nothing would get done and important decisions could never be made if she let herself feel any subjective emotions.
Authority is cold for a reason - never blazing hot.
She leaned down and pinned him with her piercing stare.
"I'm pulling rank. Stand down and deal with agent Romanoff, agent Coulson or so help me I will remove you from your handler post and reprimand you due to insubordination if you do not, do. your. job," she growled dangerously close to punching a brilliantly capable man she respected beyond many of their able agents. Coulson took a deep ragged breath but she cut him off before he could even start."Romanoff is your agent too, Coulson," she said much more quietly then the rest of her authoritative threats. She felt the moment all her words finally got through to her former partner and he sagged into the snow as he shut his eyes.
"He's not in the water," he finally whispered with a piercing painful emotion flashing across usually so very calm face. Hill's shoulders dropped in exhaustion as she literally watched the fight drain out of him.
"No. He's not," she said with a tired sigh as she finally removed her hold on his chest and stepped away from him. Coulson remained on his back for several more moments that he used to gather what was left of his usually impeccable control. He took a deep breath and finally rolled sidesways onto his hands and pushed himself off the cold hard ground with his freezing soaked clothes restricted the majority of his movements.
Coulson stared at the ground behind his palms for a long moment before he finally found the strength to look up and lock eyes with the half conscious Russian lying in a bundle of blankets beside the Hungarian doctor hovering over her ready to drag her off to a surgery table the second they got out of here. But none of that immediate danger concerned him in that one moment because he was too busy watching Natasha Romanoff fight to hold back a micro-flinch before she sharply broke eye contact like his eyes burned her to the core of her (questionable) soul. Coulson sighed and angrily rubbed his freezing hands against his cold face as he tried to physically rub away whatever she saw in his expression that made her want to jump out of her skin or shoot herself.
They couldn't even look at each other.
There is no way in hell their already rather new and fragile handler-agent relationship would survive this type of blow - not unless they fixed this mess and found what was missing between them. Or they would forever remained a broken team.
Coulson finally managed to get some of his shattered control back and crouched down beside her shivering form and showed her as much concern as he could possibly muster at the moment.
"Romanoff. Romanoff are you okay?" he asked honestly trying to shove his hurt and panic out of his head for this one moment.
Tiny and Hill both shot him equally striking stares that asked if he had lost his mind. The woman was about to freeze and bleed to death.
But they couldn't understand that neither agent or handler could move until they got past this.
"I'm s-s-sorry, Coulson," she said shakily as she dragged her knees up to her chest and she curled into herself while she tried to keep the cold out as best she could. Coulson swallowed as his throat tightened.
She looked like she was bracing herself from someone who was about to strike her - after everything she has been through does she really think he would ever lay a hand on her? Did she really think he was capable of that form of monstrosity?
After what he read in her file he privately concluded that she could.
Man's capacity for brutality knew no bounds after all - she's seen it firsthand.
"Natasha. Natasha we're not going to hurt you," he whispered sincerely. Natasha shook her head as she held herself tighter and continued to shake like a leaf.
"I-I wasn't good enough. C-c-couldn't stop h-h-him, Sir," she said in a pained voice. Coulson bit back a rush of overwhelming emotion.
"Stop-" he started to say but then his voice cracked and he had to start again. He took a deep breath and told himself to get his shit together. "Stop him from what, Natasha?" he asked in a strained voice. He watched the Russian's eyes glaze over - in anger or more pain he couldn't tell.
"B-b-eing a stupid b-bastard," she managed to spit out before she shut her eyes and shivered aggressively in the bundle of cloth. Coulson didn't know if he should reprimand her for her language or burst into a honest to god sobbing mess.
"He got you out. I-I don't think that allows him to qualify as a bastard," he said shakily pushing the wet hair out of his face as he tried to regulate his breathing and failed horrifically. Natasha gave him a sharp look and managed to look extremely threatening even as she shook violently enough to melt a wide circle of snow around her.
"G-going to kill him," she growled as her vision started to blur all the dark colours and shapes around her into one swirling nightmare. He didn't know if she meant she would kill him herself or that Red Room would do it before she even got the chance.
"Is he still down there?" he asked with trepidation echoing in his tone.
He watched her expression shift from seriously murderous to deeply guilt-ridden in an instant.
It made him feel like an even shittier human being then he already did.
"D-don't know," she breathed out before she started coughing and he watched the focus start to fade in her eyes. Coulson froze with his hand half way to reaching out to her - he didn't want to touch her and make her condition worse but he couldn't have her passing out either.
"Agent Romanoff you have to stay conscious," he said quickly suddenly feeling like he was about to lose her. When she didn't respond alarms started ringing in his ears. "Stay awake up, Romanoff. Natasha!" Coulson ordered but all he got was a slight twitch in her trembling ice cold soaking wet frame before her eyes slipped shut and she went limp on the ground even as the tortured expression remained etched on her bruised and beaten face.
He knew her well enough to know it wasn't the severity of her injures that were the reason behind that haunting expression.
It was the guilt for who she left behind in hell.
Alarms went off in the heads of all three still conscious American agents and Hungarian doctor.
"She's lost too much blood - she can't sustain consciousness. She won't be able to keep functioning for long," Tiny informed them carefully in his ever composed medical voice. His calm was infectious in a way it can only be for people who are trained to normally be calm in worst case scenarios.
And was this one hell of a worst case scenario for this handler.
"You're the military medical field expert Dr. Kuna - save her," Coulson said guardedly as he simultaneously locked his brief moment of panic induced insanity away to deal with later. Tiny took a steady breath and pinned the soaking wet handler with a guarded stare.
"How must I do that without any medical supplies to speak of?" Tiny asked carefully. Coulson felt a firm grip on his shoulder and another voice answered the doctor's valid question.
"Get her in the car - we'll arrange more supplies for you back in your hotel room," Hill said swiftly in a tone that left no room for argument. Tiny simply nodded - he was good at following orders.
The two high ranking SHIELD agents watched the Hungarian doctor carefully pick up the unconscious field agent wrapped in a cocoon of shock blankets and they both stood up with him as well. Tiny rearranged the small redheaded Ameri-Russian he corrected in his head - in his arms and headed towards the still running black SUV parked on the edge of the street behind them. He paused when a small but firm hand carefully stopped him.
"Mr. Kuna," Hill said steadily. Tiny gave her a wary questioning glance.
"Yes, agent Hill?" he asked carefully - his Hungarian accent half botching the word agent. She gave him a warning stare.
"Do everything you can for her. If you save her - we'll lessen your brother's punishment,. However, if she dies - so does Sandor Kuna," she said forebodingly. Tiny's expression tightened instantly.
"You do not have my brother in custody - I told you of my suspicions of his intentions not even half an hour ago," he said tightly. Hill's eyes hardened.
"Trust me. He led one of our agents knowingly into a death trap to meet the ends of his own dubious agenda - we will have him very, very soon," Hill said with conviction burning in her dark brown eyes. Tiny took a deep breath and nodded before he looked away and stared into the distance.
There was only so much he could do for a brother that was destroying himself by screwing with underground international organizations that were already at each other's throats.
"Very well," he said quietly. He felt her slowly dropped her hand and allowed him to continue towards the waiting SUV. Hill took a deep breath and turned around to find Coulson standing in the snow, water dripping steadily from his dark no longer perfectly combed hair and freezing on his face. He had his hands tightly clenched at his sides as he just stared at the blazing destruction of the Budapest parliament buildings across the river reflected in his tense rigid eyes.
Everything in his tense frame screamed betrayal.
He was betraying his friend by not running to him while he was being held by the enemy - dead or alive.
But he would be dishonouring Barton's efforts by allowing the partner he risked his life for to die.
What was a handler supposed to do damn it?
"Coulson," she said quietly.
"What?" he said with steel in his voice.
"Romanoff is alive," she said carefully. Coulson gave her a sharp look.
"What do you want me to say? That one out of two is enough?" he asked accusingly. Hill narrowed eyes.
"No. I want you to use the intelligence I know you have and think about why she is alive. Why the Russians kept her alive," she shot back. Coulson's mouth flattened into a tight firm line.
"They want her alive," he said stiffly. Hill gave him a piecing look.
"Yes and right now we have her while they have one of ours," she said carefully. Coulson stared at her for several intense seconds before the cold realization settled in.
"They won't kill him right away - not until they try to bargain with us," he breathed out finally. She nodded stiffly.
"They won't leave evidence behind. They'll clear out before intelligence gets their hands on anything left in that base. They will be gone before we get any authorization to get our agents in there in time to do anything," she spoke carefully - telling him exactly what he knew already from his own understanding of SHIELD protocols.
"But that doesn't mean they won't kill him eventually," he said tightly. He felt her shift away from him as she turned her back on the burning scene.
"We'll get him back before that happens, Coulson," she said quietly as she brushed passed him and walked towards the Russian they needed to bring back from the brink of death. Coulson inhaled a shuddering breath - something was screaming in his chest and it physically pained him to finally tear his eyes away from the flames blazing across the river as he turned his back on his oldest friend - for now.
But how much of him will be left by the time they do finally get to him?
A/N: So where do you think Barton is?
And shit Tasha is dying again! Quick Tiny - save her with your good doctor skills! :)
Coulson snapped! Oh Shit! The super agent snapped! Hell's on fire - Coulson is pissed. That BAMF is going to hunt, kick and kill with paperwork wielding swords some evil Red Room ass! AH :D (sorry intense fan girl moment). I love Coulson my badass pencilpusher.
But of course he has to save Romanoff's life first - otherwise saving Barton is pointless.
Do you believe Budapest is the worst experience of clintasha's lives yet?