Stark shoved her behind him just as bullets began pinging rapidly off his armor.
Natasha pressed her back against Stark’s, matched her silhouette to his in an effort to avoid being hit by stray rounds or ricochets, and waited for a lull in the shooting.
There would have to be one, and soon, judging by the amount of ammo being used. That was a mistake on Spence’s part, a senseless waste of resources - it was already clear that it would take a much higher caliber bullet to do any real damage to the suit.
Stark’s thinking was obviously along the same lines because as soon as the team paused to reload, Stark sighed and shook his head in exasperation, then stretched out his right hand, the tell-tale electronic whine warning of what was to come. The resulting blast was only a fraction of what Natasha suspected the suit was capable of producing, but it was enough to send several members of the security team staggering back.
It also meant that, for the moment, their attention was on the more obvious target in front of them.
That was all she needed.
Natasha leapt from behind Stark and rolled, then ran straight at the nearest wall. There were eight members of the security team, nine counting Spence; she rebounded off that wall, and came down right in the middle of them, facing the four closest to the back to the group.
She thrust out her right elbow, striking the nearest agent in the temple. He dropped, already limp, and Natasha spun again, hitting the next agent in the sternum with the heel of her hand, forcing the air from his lungs. He doubled over and she brought her knee up into up into his stomach with enough force that he was sent backwards, onto the floor.
There was a burst of gunfire from Spence and the other agents, but none of it was directed at her. Apparently, they were still focused on Stark. A clang of metal and another electronic whine told her why.
She had no time to think about Stark beyond that because an instant later, she was blocking a punch aimed for her face. It was a distraction - the agent’s gun was aimed at her abdomen. She grabbed the man’s arm and twisted, forcing it behind his back. He grunted in pain. She heard another agent coming at her from behind, and kicked out with her leg, extending it back, striking the female agent under the chin, though she was careful to avoid breaking the agent’s neck.
Doing so, she knew, would sever her ties with S.H.I.E.L.D. permanently. Even if Fury was willing to overlook her escape, he wouldn’t overlook fatalities.
The woman fell back, unconscious, and Natasha returned her focus to the agent still struggling in her grip. She wrenched his wrist, forcing him to finally drop the gun, then kicked the back of one of his knees. His legs gave way automatically, and she spun and kicked again, her boot connecting with his head before he reached the floor.
She was facing Stark and the others now, and she saw that Stark had taken out two more of them - another man and woman, both of whom now lay unmoving at Stark’s feet.
Spence and the two other remaining agents had scattered in an effort to give Stark more than one target. They had positioned themselves on opposite sides of the hallway, and were crouching behind opposing metal bulkheads, taking slow precise shots, probably hoping to find a weak point in Stark’s armor.
Stark seemed as reluctant to kill as she was however, because when he turned to fire at the men on his right, it was the guns in their hands that he targeted. Beams of laser-like energy shot from the suit, and almost immediately, the metal of both handguns began to glow a faint red. The agents cried out in surprise and dropped their weapons, and Stark strode towards them, ignoring the shots now peppering his back from Agent Spence.
Natasha started forward silently, hoping to catch the other agent off-guard.
Spence apparently had good instincts though, because when she was a few feet away, he spun around, still crouched low, and fired.
But Natasha was quicker.
She jumped into the air, avoiding the bullet and flipping once. She landed beside him, thrusting out with her right foot, trapping his forearms between the wall and her boot, keeping him from bringing the gun to bear again.
He snarled at her, trying to break away, but she pushed off with her left leg, twisting in the air, her foot connecting with his jaw. His head snapped to the side as she completed the spin and landed in place.
Spence slumped over, unconscious, the gun falling from his fingers at last.
She turned just in time to see Stark deliver a blow to the temple of one of the remaining agents; he dropped limply. The other agent had drawn his backup weapon, but before he could fire, Stark reached his hand in front of the agent’s face, and there was a brief, bright flash of white light. The man yelled out in surprise and staggered back, blinking furiously. Stark picked him up with ease and hit his head against the nearby metal wall. He crumpled, joining his partner on the floor.
Stark looked around, surveying the immediate area, his gaze sweeping over the agents Natasha had dealt with. He cocked his head.
“Has anyone ever told you that you have an amazing strength-to-weight ratio?”
Natasha rolled her eyes, stepped over Spence’s prone form, and started down the corridor.
Stark followed, his suit whirring faintly as he moved. “You also have an amazing-”
“I was going to say ‘personality.’”
She gave him a disbelieving look over her shoulder.
He held up a hand. “Shutting up.”
The rest of the corridor remained empty; the hallways outside of the security wing generally saw less traffic, and if emergency protocol was in effect, then agents were required to report to their assigned stations unless otherwise ordered. It was a safety measure, in case an evacuation became necessary, but for the moment, it meant that she and Stark were unlikely to run into any other agents on this level. There would be more ahead, though, Natasha knew.
The elevator at the end of the hall was clearly suffering the effects of Stark’s virus, the door opening and closing at random intervals, chiming sporadically. Natasha walked past it and stopped at the entrance to the service tunnel which was a short distance away. The tunnel door lacked any sort of electronic component for scenarios just like these, and a twist of her wrist was all it took to turn the mechanism and open the metal hatch. Beyond it lay a small balcony, offering easy access to the ladder stretching upward into the darkness, connecting one level of the Helicarrier to the next.
She stepped over the threshold and onto the platform, Stark following behind her, his bulkier metal-clad frame making the platform seem suddenly crowded.
Stark looked around the tunnel for a moment then shrugged.
“Going up?” he asked, holding out an arm in clear invitation.
Natasha grudgingly accepted, stepping closer and wrapping her arms around Stark’s neck while his arm wrapped around her back, pressing her to his side. A moment later they were shooting upwards, the tunnel slipping by in a blur, the walls uncomfortably close considering the speed at which they were traveling.
Stark stopped abruptly when they reached the level where the hangar was located, landing lightly on an identical platform. He released her and she stepped away, reaching for the mechanism that would open the door.
It swung open soundlessly, for what little good it did. A security team had been stationed nearby, and the closest security officer turned immediately, reaching for his gun the second he recognized her.
She didn’t give him the chance to draw it. She leapt forward, twisting in the air so that her right leg wrapped around his neck, the crook of her knee hooked against his throat as she turned her momentum into a back flip, pulling the man with her. She landed neatly in a crouch, but the security officer was thrown down to the floor.
Already, the rest of the security team was moving in to take his place, and Natasha stood up, eyes narrowed.
The clank of metal feet behind her brought her would-be attackers to a momentary halt as Stark stepped out from the service tunnel. They obviously assumed that Iron Man had arrived to stop her, but a blast from his suit corrected that assumption.
The man Stark had targeted went flying and the security team surged forward.
Natasha dodged a punch aimed at her head, hearing the whir of a servo motor behind her as Stark entered the fray.
They needed to end this and fast, because this level was bound to see heavier traffic with the hangar nearby, and the longer the fight lasted the more attention it would draw. Already, a handful of agents had run to join the security team, and even with the comms down, it was only a matter of time before word of their location spread.
Natasha thrust an elbow into the closest agent’s stomach. He doubled over, and she struck him a second time, her elbow connecting with his skull, knocking him out. She spun, ready to confront the security office who’d been trying to attack her from behind, but her opponent was already gone, tossed aside so easily she assumed that it was Stark’s doing.
It wasn’t Stark.
It took her a moment to recognize him. His blond hair now brushed his shoulders, and he wore elaborate silver armor with a long, bright red cape that was accented by the red fabric beneath his wrist guards. He held a hammer in his right hand, spinning it as if weighed nothing at all, though it was his fist and not the hammer that met the agents who charged him.
She had no time to wonder how or why he was there - a female agent rushed forward, attempting to sweep her feet out from under her. Natasha jumped, turning the movement into a flip that carried her over the woman’s head, then she spun again, kicking high, her boot striking the woman in the temple.
She dropped limply, and Natasha blocked a blow from the next agent who came at her, hitting him in the solar plexus, forcing the air from his lungs. He doubled over and she brought her knee up under his chin. He joined the woman on the floor.
A quick glance around the corridor showed that Thor and Stark had made quick work of the others who remained.
The instant the last agent fell, Stark and Thor turned to face each other, and the stabilizer on Stark’s arm whined sharply as it charged. Natasha guessed that he’d recognized the Asgardian like she had, since the file he’d received had included the video from Puente Antiguo as well as Coulson’s full report. But the tilt of Stark’s head and the tense line of his shoulders made it obvious that he wasn’t ready to trust their new ally.
Natasha understood his skepticism.
The World Security Council’s claims about her had been false, but there was a chance that they were correct about Thor. He might very well be working with his brother, despite the promise Coulson had said he’d made about protecting the Earth. His words could have easily been empty.
But something told her they weren’t.
Natasha walked over to Stark and put a restraining hand on his arm, keeping him from raising it completely. “Wait.”
Stark’s head swiveled towards her, and for an instant she was sure he would argue, but he was apparently willing to trust her judgment, because a moment later, he lowered his arm, the electronic whine dying down.
Satisfied that Stark would follow her lead, she turned towards the Asgardian.
“Thor,” she greeted.
Stark scoffed, his gaze running over Thor from head to toe. “Huh. The god of thunder dresses out of a Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Who would have thought?” There was a pause. “Seriously, are those drapes?”
Thor scowled, but he seemed inclined to ignore the insult and gave her a small bow instead. “Lady Natasha.”
She blinked at the strange form of address, wondering exactly how he had learned her name. It wasn’t as though they had been introduced the first time they’d met. But, for the moment, it didn’t matter.
“Why are you here?” she asked simply.
“To aid you, if you will allow it.”
“Hold on,” Stark interrupted. “Do you mean you as in us, or you as in S.H.I.E.L.D.? Because that’s a pretty important distinction right now.” He waved a hand at the unconscious S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel for emphasis.
Thor frowned. “You and Lady Natasha plan to confront my brother, do you not?”
Stark shrugged. “That’s the idea.”
“Then I shall fight by your side.”
“Against Loki?” Natasha pressed.
The lines around Thor’s eyes deepened at the mention of his brother but he nodded. “Against Loki.”
“He took someone important to me,” Natasha added.
“I am sorry,” Thor answered grimly. “I give you my word of honor that I will do everything in my power to help you.”
“He has Erik Selvig as well.”
Thor’s jaw clenched, a hard light appearing in his gaze. Good, Natasha thought, satisfied at last. Thor would be of no use to them if he was unwilling to do what needed to be done. He would be of no use to Clint.
“This is all very touching,” Stark broke in, “but if you’re with us, then we need to go. Now.”
He was right. They may have been granted a few uninterrupted moments, but it wouldn’t last.
Thor gave a brisk nod of understanding and followed Stark as he broke into a jog, Natasha trailing behind. Stark wasn’t bothering with subtlety now, making a beeline for the hangar’s maintenance lockers, but Natasha didn’t object. Alone, she might have been able to take a more stealthy approach, but Stark in his suit was hardly inconspicuous, and Thor’s red cape was practically a beacon in the gray hallways.
Thankfully, the personnel they encountered were dealt with easily, and were relatively few in number. The reason for that became clear as soon as Stark turned the corner leading to the maintenance lockers. At least a dozen more S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel lay on the floor, unconscious, and leaning against the wall nearby, obviously waiting for them, were Captain Rogers and Dr. Banner.
Rogers had changed into his uniform, and his shield was strapped to his left arm. Dr. Banner had lost his suit jacket somewhere along the way, and the sleeves of his purple button-down were rolled up to his elbows, his hands stuffed in his pants pockets.
“Sorry we’re late,” Stark began as soon as they reached them. He motioned to Thor. “We…uh, ran into some old friends.”
Banner’s eyebrows rose. “You’re quoting Star Wars?”
Stark drew back a little, apparently impressed, and pointed at Banner. “The Force is strong with this one.”
Rogers frowned in confusion but he turned to Thor, holding out a hand. “Steve Rogers.”
The Asgardian grasped Rogers’s forearm instead. “I am Thor.”
Rogers offered a nod in welcome, but Natasha could see the questions in his eyes. He held them back, though, and Dr. Banner said a quiet greeting of his own.
Thor reached out to grasp his forearm as well, then glanced around the room. “You both appear to be fine warriors. It shall be an honor to fight by your side.”
Banner snorted softly. “This wasn’t me, actually. It was all Steve. I got here just before you did.”
“Was there trouble for you too, Dr. Banner?” Steve asked.
Banner gave a wry smile, one tinged with a sad sort of humor. “Took a while to download the files we’ll need, but otherwise, no, not really. That’s one thing about the Other Guy. People who know me are generally pretty keen to stay out of my way.”
Thor gave the scientist a quizzical look.
Banner grimaced. “I have…anger issues,” he explained.
“You’re a berserker?”
“Something like that.”
Thor looked as though he wanted to ask more, but a groan from one of the unconscious agents reminded them all how little time they actually had.
“So, how are we gonna do this?” Banner asked, glancing uneasily in the direction of the hangar. “I’m not really someone who does well in a brawl.”
“We’ll do everything we can to keep you out of it,” Rogers promised immediately. He turned back to Natasha. “Any idea what kind of numbers we’ll be facing?”
“Depends,” Natasha answered. “If they saw Stark’s virus as a threat to structural integrity, they might have begun prepping for emergency evac, which means more staff stationed inside the hangar. But the hangar is usually crowded anyway. Technicians. Maintenance crews. Pilots on standby. You name it.”
Rogers sighed. “I had a feeling you’d say that.”
He turned to look at the door a few feet away and Natasha’s gaze followed his. The door led directly to the hangar beyond, so that the maintenance staff wouldn’t need to use the main entrance further down the corridor. The maintenance lockers themselves were kept in a small alcove. The alcove had no door, but a wall separated it from the hallway, and the lighting in the space was dim, thanks to Stark’s virus, making it easy to hide in the shadows.
Stark and the others had chosen their rally point well.
But that would give them only a momentary edge, Natasha knew. The hangar beyond would likely be their biggest obstacle. S.H.I.E.L.D. would have the advantage of sheer numbers, while they, on the other hand, had voluntarily handicapped themselves by refusing to use lethal force. Natasha didn’t particularly want to kill the people who had been her allies just a few hours before, but on a purely practical level, a deceased opponent couldn’t rejoin a fight.
Trying to spare lives could potentially cost them their own.
Judging by the look on his face, Rogers was just as aware of that as she was.
“Okay,” he began. “We’re not gonna get another shot at this. The personnel in the hangar-”
“-won’t be a problem,” Stark interjected confidently.
Rogers turned to frown at the billionaire. “And why is that?”
“Because we’ll tell them to leave.”
Stark didn’t offer any more of an explanation. He simply moved to the wall adjoining the hangar and reached up, plunging his fingers into the metal plating. It bent with surprising ease, and when he gave a sharp tug, the large panel pulled free. He set it on the floor, then looked back at the complex wall of circuitry that had now been revealed. He examined it for a moment, then plucked out a small bundle of wires. Reaching towards his right forearm, he pried up a panel on his suit and hooked the wires in with a deft movement of his fingers. He went still, his head tilted in concentration.
Natasha wondered what he was seeing behind that mask.
An instant later, he spoke.
Natasha blinked. A half a second after Stark began, a perfect replica of Maria Hill’s voice echoed his words over the hangar’s loudspeaker.
“All personnel are ordered to evacuate the main hangar immediately. Repeat. All personnel are ordered to evacuate the main hangar immediately. Report to the commons for reassignment. Hill out.”
Natasha had to admit that it was well done. It gave listeners no time to wonder about the announcement’s legitimacy, or even to question how it was possible at all, given the current state of the ship’s communication system. Stark had simply issued the order and expected it to be obeyed.
Their vantage point offered them a perfect view of the hangar’s main entrance, and a few moments after the announcement, the doors opened and a steady stream of personnel began spilling out into the hallway.
Natasha moved deeper into the alcove, where the shadows were the darkest, and the others did as well, though it proved to be unnecessary. Stark’s command had sent them towards the commons, which was in the opposite direction, and none of the personnel seemed inclined to look back at the maintenance lockers.
They waited until the rush of personnel slowed and finally stopped. Stark unhooked the wires from his suit, then pressed the panel beside the alcove door, slipping quietly into the hangar. Natasha followed, hearing the others do the same behind her.
She let her eyes sweep the space as they walked.
The personnel had obviously withdrawn in a hurry. Maintenance vehicles were stopped haphazardly, and fuel lines were still linked to some of the nearby Harrier jets. Two F-35 cockpits sat open, and in the distance, a fork-lift seemed to have been stopped in mid-use, a stack of crates still balanced precariously in the air.
The taxiway itself seemed clear, however. As long as Stark could open the hangar door, they shouldn’t have any difficulty leaving.
Natasha took the lead as they made their way past the long lines of aircraft, until they reached the section devoted to the quinjets. But as they approached the jet on the far end of the hangar, the jet’s hydraulics hissed, and the ramp lowered onto the deck plating.
Natasha tensed, her hands automatically going for the guns at her sides, the men around her bracing for an attack as well.
Then a familiar figure in a well-pressed suit appeared at the top of the ramp.
The air shifted, becoming less hostile but no less wary.
In one way or another, Coulson had been an ally to all of them, but now that they were blatantly acting against S.H.I.E.L.D, it was harder to say where his loyalty would lie. Professional that he was, his expression gave away nothing, even as he strode to the end of the ramp and clasped his hands loosely in front of him.
“Coulson,” Rogers greeted cautiously. “How long have you been here?”
“Long enough. I knew you’d come here sooner or later. There are only so many ways off the ship.” He turned to offer Thor a nod, apparently unsurprised by the Asgardian’s presence. “Thor.”
“Son of Coul,” Thor returned.
“You’re here for Loki?”
Natasha ignored the exchange, her eyes narrowed faintly in thought. With the breakdown of the comms and the increased response time, it was possible that few had realized who the current “hostiles” actually were. But if Coulson had put the pieces together that quickly, then chances were, he wasn’t the only one.
“Does Fury know what we’re doing?” Natasha asked.
Coulson’s lips quirked. “He suspects. Unofficially.”
“Well, then,” Stark interjected, “maybe he wouldn’t mind if you explained a few things to us…unofficially. Like for instance, Phase 2, and all those weapons you have down in secure storage.”
“It’s really not that secure.”
All eyes turned to Rogers who offered a shrug. “I did some digging of my own. I said I’d create a distraction. I didn’t say where.”
Coulson sighed. “It’s true. We’ve been working to develop weapons using the cube.”
So, that was what had prompted Stark and the others to act against S.H.I.E.L.D. Not the injustice against her, but what they felt was a greater injustice still - weaponizing the Tesseract.
“Did you know about this?”
It was Banner who spoke now, looking at her with something like suspicion.
“No,” Natasha answered honestly. “I’m not trusted enough to be given that sort of information. But I can’t say I’m surprised.”
And she wasn’t. S.H.I.E.L.D. was, at its core, a military organization. When they saw a threat, they acted to prevent it, or failing that, they prepared a response to it. She appreciated that mentality, embraced it herself in fact, but she couldn’t deny having her own reservations this time. Not about making weapons from the cube - were she in a command position, she might have made the same call. No, her reservations stemmed from who would ultimately control such weapons: the World Security Council.
“It started after the incident in Puente Antiguo,” Coulson interjected. He glanced at Thor, who was the cause of said incident. “Two alien entities practically wiped a small town off the map. Imagine what an army could do.”
Thor frowned. “My people want nothing but peace with your planet.”
“But not every world is like Asgard,” Coulson returned evenly. “And not every threat is extraterrestrial. The world is filling up with people who have training and abilities unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. People who can’t be matched. Can’t be controlled.”
“And you wanted, what?” Stark scoffed. “A nuclear deterrent? ’Cause that always calms everything right down.”
Coulson sighed again. “I agree that it’s not a perfect solution. But what would you suggest? You know as well as I do that sometimes force is the only thing that works. We have to be ready to use it.” He cocked his head, looking at Stark pointedly. “Wasn’t that the idea behind the suit?”
Stark’s fists curled a little at his sides, like he wanted to argue, but he must have realized that they didn’t have time for a philosophical debate - not now.
“Fine,” he grit out. “While you’re in a sharing mood, any other deep, dark secrets we should know?”
Coulson grimaced faintly. “If it can be proven that Loki is allied with the Red Room, the World Security Council will order a nuclear strike.”
The announcement was met with stunned silence.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Banner burst out at last, drawing a few wary looks. “That could start World War III!”
He was right. That was, in fact, what had prevented S.H.I.E.L.D. from taking any overt action against the Red Room in the past. The organization was not “officially” recognized by the Russian government, but the political ties were there nonetheless, and despite Stark’s mocking remarks about a “nuclear deterrent,” few wanted to risk a war with a nuclear power. But any strike against the Red Room - particularly a nuclear strike - would be just that. An act of war.
“The Council thinks they will be able to contain the political fallout,” Coulson added.
“They think they can contain it?” Banner repeated, incredulous.
“There’s no guarantee. But they believe the loss of life will be minimal, since the Red Room’s main base is far from any major population centers. They can pass it off as a surgical strike, and use their connections within Russia’s government to persuade them of the necessity.”
“And if that doesn’t work?” Rogers demanded, his voice hard.
“They still believe the consequences are preferable to facing an alien invasion on a global scale.”
“So, they’re gambling with the fate of the planet?” Stark surmised. “Great. That’s just…great.”
The skin around Coulson’s eyes tightened, the only obvious sign that he agreed with the billionaire. “Stop Loki and you make a strike unnecessary. We’ll stall them as long as we can. But you won’t have much time. Two, maybe three days at most.”
“So, no pressure, then,” Stark retorted.
Silence fell again, this one just as heavy as the last, if not more so.
Natasha didn’t attempt to break it, her mind racing. The thought of another World War was not a pleasant one, but her own concerns were more immediate.
Regardless of what happened afterwards, if she was right about Loki’s location...a nuclear strike on the Red Room would kill him.
She wouldn’t let that happen, even if she had to drag Clint out of the Red Room and let the rest of the chips fall where they may.
Perhaps Thor’s thoughts were following a similar vein, given his friendship with Erik Selvig and his relationship with the woman mentioned in Coulson’s report - Jane Foster. The Asgardian’s hand was wrapped tightly around the hammer he held, and he seemed deeply troubled. Rogers looked no better. His mouth was set in a grim line, his eyes haunted by ghosts from the last World War. Stark’s expression was inscrutable behind his mask, but he was practically radiating tension. It was Banner, though, that concerned Natasha the most. He had his eyes closed as he breathed slow deliberate breaths probably meant to keep him calm.
She watched him for a long moment, and he seemed to sense the attention because his eyes opened. He managed something like a smile, though it was strained.
“I’m okay,” he assured. “Well, as okay as anyone can be after learning that we might be on the brink of a third world war. But I won’t…”
“…turn into an enormous green rage monster that’ll be really hard to fit on a jet?” Stark filled in helpfully.
Banner snorted, apparently amused by Stark’s brashness. “Yeah. That.”
“Good. ’Cause sooner or later, someone is going to figure out that Hill’s little announcement was bogus, and even without that, we’ve apparently got a bit of a time crunch here.”
Coulson nodded in agreement, and reached into his pocket, withdrawing a comm device, nearly identical to the one he’d given her two years ago, when she’d been tasked with bringing Clint in.
“Use this only if you have to. It’s a direct line to my office. The signal is scrambled, but there’s still a chance that it could be traced.”
Rogers accepted the comm, but he frowned a moment later. “And if it is? What will that mean for you?”
Coulson shrugged. “I’ll have plausible deniability at least. Cameras and audio are both down, so as far as S.H.I.E.L.D. is concerned, this conversation never happened, and my report will say that I was knocked out attempting to stop you from taking this jet.” He motioned to the quinjet behind them.
“You think they’ll buy that?” Rogers asked.
“They’d better. I’ll have the bruise to prove it.” He glanced at Natasha. “Romanoff, if you wouldn’t mind doing the honors?”
Rogers blinked, then grimaced faintly when he realized what Coulson intended. “Well, in that case, thanks. And…when you have a chance, give Fury our thanks as well…unofficially.”
Coulson smiled. “Of course. Good luck. All of you.” He turned to Natasha. “Romanoff? Do me a favor? Try not to break anything.”
Natasha smirked at that, then drew back her fist, aiming squarely for Coulson’s jaw. The blow connected, and he fell back immediately, limp.
Thor caught him before he reached the floor, then hefted him easily into his arms, carrying him a safe distance from the taxiway and setting him back down on the deck plating.
Satisfied that Coulson had been seen to, Natasha turned to jog up the ramp of the quinjet and immediately began running through preflight checks.
The others joined her as the engines hummed to life, and she closed the ramp.
“Now would be the time to open that door, Stark,” she said as she began steering the jet down the taxiway.
Stark quickly dropped into the co-pilot’s seat, his fingers flying over the onboard computer. The door of the hangar slid open, and Natasha increased the quinjet’s speed. An instant later, they were in the air.
The quinjet’s rear camera showed her that the hangar door had shut again as soon as they were out of range, so there was no chance of them being followed, and with the Helicarrier’s guns offline, they were in the clear, at least for now.
Natasha relaxed fractionally, leaning back in her seat as her hands steered the yoke, her eyes trained on the sky ahead.
“Did that tracking algorithm of yours ever give you any intel on Loki?” she asked, addressing Stark and Banner.
It was Stark who answered. “Yeah. Gamma rays are suddenly off the chart in northern Russia. And if the cube is there, then Loki probably is too. Looks like you were right.”
Natasha’s jaw clenched. Even after all this, she’d hoped that she wasn’t.
Stark leaned forward and typed in a quick series of numbers into the jet’s navigational system. “Giving you the coordinates now.”
“Wait, does this mean S.H.I.E.L.D. has them too?” Rogers wondered.
Banner shook his head. “No. I deleted everything we did before we left. S.H.I.E.L.D. will have to start their search from scratch. The only copy is with us.” He patted his right pants pocket.
Silence fell as Natasha adjusted their heading, and unsurprisingly, it was Stark who broke it.
“So,” he asked, “how long until we reach the Red Room?”
Natasha glanced at the instruments in front of her. “We’re just south of Spain, so at top speed, a little over nine hours.”
“Nine hours,” Stark repeated, already sounding bored. “Anyone for a game of ‘I Spy’?”
“What is this game?” Thor asked curiously.
“Don’t encourage him,” Rogers advised.
“Oh, come on,” Stark pressed, “how often do you get to play ‘I Spy’ with an actual spy?” He waved his hand at Natasha.
A collective groan came from the men behind her, and Natasha punched the throttle, sending them rapidly up into the clouds.