Title: in what distant deeps or skies

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: K+; gen

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: The program that produced the Black Widow didn't have much use for magic. 800 words.

Spoilers: General Dresden Files 'verse; post-movie for the Avengers MCU

Notes: For fiona-nk, for Day 14 in Wishlist 2012; the summary was the prompt. A worldbuildy short, because ideas. Movie canon, with comics history notes for flavor.

There was a common misconception, among those who knew about Natasha Romanova's more than standard physical abilities, that she'd gained them from some kind of second-generation version of the Super Soldier serum.

She'd never argued with such rumors; they offered a much simpler explanation than the truth. But the only aspect of Natasha's identity that she owed to anything that could be termed 'science' was the unmaking her first masters had done to try to keep her from becoming more than just their weapon. Reality was, she had learned at a very young age, more flexible than most people were willing to believe, and those who had shaped the Black Widow had harnessed an aspect of that flexibility to their benefit.

It wasn't mutation, as she understood it. The 'X genes' very rarely expressed in any two people the same way; but whatever combination of environment and genetics granted the ability to channel the so-called 'fundamental energies of life and creation' was much more general and predictable in its effects. Take a child whose mother had been known to have the ability, subject him or her to extremes of physical effort once he or she begins puberty- and if that child has inherited the gift, it will inevitably express itself as abrupt and inadvertent boosts to their activities.

A boy attempting the long jump suddenly rocketed past his peers. Another boy struggling to learn the use of bow and arrow suddenly hit the target dead center, without even looking. And a girl trained as a 'ballerina'... executed every step of a previously difficult 'dance' with absolute precision.

That was only the beginning, for most wizards. If a girl was fortunate, her parents would train her. Or a master wizard might identify an orphaned boy and take him on as an apprentice. They'd put on brown robes, diligently learn their Latin, and carve tools with which to express their will upon the world. But that hadn't been Natasha's fate.

A traditional wizard was of no utility to the Red Room, after all. Why sink so much time and expense into a single asset who would inevitably run afoul of the White Council's restrictive Laws? They might as well hang bells around their necks to draw the Wardens; so much for clandestine operations. What if, instead, those gifted children were trained to continue directing their abilities inward, rather than outward?

Natasha wasn't a wizard. She'd never be able to wave a wand and light a candle, reach out to stop a man's heart with her mind, or call lightning from the sky. But she could feel those who could like small suns in her awareness. It had hurt to look at Loki; her every nerve prickled when she stood next to Thor; and she'd met her share of staff-bearers in the course of her early career. But she and the others like her were a lot more difficult to detect, whether schooled as she had been or by some other method entirely- and they were a lot more common than the greybeards in Scotland would appreciate if they knew.

They didn't disrupt technology like most practitioners, whose training encouraged their power to leak out into their environments. But they aged just as slowly as wizards, healed as swiftly and thoroughly from injury- and were capable of physical feats not even wizards could hope to match.

Natasha wondered what Stark would say if she told him there were no mundane humans on the team, after all. It would be... amusing, to see his face when he learned the truth. The cover rumor was far too useful to Fury for them to discard for the time being, though; it diffused a little of the attention from Rogers... and kept the spotlight away from others who didn't need the extra scrutiny.

There was one thing the rumors didn't explain, of course. For short, slender, asthmatic Steve Rogers, the serum had created a body to match his inner strength; megalomaniac Johann Schmidt had been remodeled to showcase the monster inside; and as for Bruce Banner... even incomplete, his experiments had taken a man who disassociated himself from his anger and given that suppressed emotion a gigantic green form all its own. If the Black Widow's abilities had been created by the serum... what did that imply about her?

Natasha studied her face in the mirror, tilting her chin to examine the fading bruises from the previous day's sparring practice, then smiled wryly and left the locker room to join Clint and Steve. It hardly mattered; whatever their imaginations came up with would just be one more weapon in her arsenal.

In the meantime, she and her partner were about to prove that natural- if rare- ability could take the man-made version, two falls out of three.