Twenty Pieces of Silver

Memory Lane

Natasha stared.

A cold emptiness had settled somewhere in the vicinity of her chest and made her throat and eyes burn with denial. She was vaguely aware of Loki moving closer to her now, a shark who’d smelled fresh blood in the water, but her eyes stayed on Clint.

His features were lax, paler than she’d ever seen them, and the only color in his face came from the dark circles around his eyes. It looked like he hadn’t been allowed to sleep for days, and the skin was swollen, nearly bruised. Even the normally shallow lines on his forehead were more pronounced, as though stress and pain had etched them deeper.

Natasha’s gaze settled there for a long moment, something - instinct maybe - telling her to watch, and as she did, Clint’s brow furrowed faintly, so faintly she doubted that anyone else would have even seen it.

But she had, and dead men didn’t frown.

Her focus darted back to his chest, and there. Movement. It was barely discernible and strained, but he was breathing again.

He was breathing.

Natasha dragged her eyes away from Clint at last, turning to face Loki once more.

“What did you do to him?” she demanded.

Loki raised his eyebrows in feigned innocence. “I healed him, of course.”

Natasha snarled at the sarcasm.

Loki smirked, dropping the pretense. “Why should it matter to you what I’ve done? I thought he wasn’t yours.”

He’s not, she wanted to say. Clint belongs to himself. She knew that wasn’t what Loki really meant by his taunting, but she refused to play that game.

“What. Did. You. Do?” she grit out again.

“I’d say I expanded his mind.” The Asgardian smiled at his own cleverness, then leaned forward, lowering his voice as though confiding a secret. “I really did heal him. All that damage, all the alterations the Red Room made…gone in the blink of an eye, and his memories returned…every single one.” Loki’s lips twisted mournfully, and he shook his head. “Unfortunately, the human mind is so very fragile…I’m afraid it simply couldn’t take the strain.”

Those words seemed to flow like ice water down her spine, and Natasha’s gaze flickered back to Clint before she could stop it.

She swallowed hard, her throat suddenly dry.

Loki had healed him.

His memories returned…every single one…

How many times had she longed to hear those words? For Clint…and for herself. So much had been taken from her…from them. She wanted to know who she was. Who they were. What Clint had meant to her once…and what she’d meant to him in return.

All of it, she’d wanted it all…and Loki had just given it back. But he’d turned it into a weapon, a weapon he’d used against Clint.

Would he use it against her, too?

As if reading her thoughts, Loki stepped closer still until there was less then a foot between them. He reached out with his staff, tracing the tip along the curve of her jaw in the parody of a lover’s caress. Natasha sneered and leaned back as far as she could, but the metal slab behind her cut the motion short, and Loki moved the staff lower, drawing it down her neck, stopping at her collar bone, the sharp point resting against her skin.

“Can you imagine it?” he asked. “Remembering everything you’ve ever done? Everything they’ve made you do? Every person you’ve killed? All the blood you’ve spilled? All that red in your ledger?”

Natasha met his gaze, refusing to be cowed, but her heart was pounding hard in her chest, ignoring her commands to slow. When Loki’s eyes darted to the pulse point in her throat, she knew he’d seen it too.

He grinned, and that was all the warning she had before the world was lost in a flash of blue, and every nerve was on fire, somehow both hot and cold at once. She wanted to scream, but she couldn’t, the sound swallowed up by the cacophony in her mind, a furious roar that seemed to issue from every synapse in her brain.

Something flared behind her eyes, a light tinted that same electric blue, and the light coalesced into images, splintered images that moved too quickly for her to follow at first. But gradually, the images began to slow, to crystallize, to become something she could feel, taste, touch.

the gun was heavy, and it shook as she raised it…

she landed hard on the mat, the wind forced from her lungs…

the cell was freezing, and she shivered, tucking her knees against her chest in a desperate bid for warmth…

her hands glistened with red, so much red, and the scent of copper was heavy in the air…

The fragmented memories appeared one after another, and she could sense Loki sifting through them, lingering for an instant and then moving on, like a channel surfer looking for something interesting to watch.

There were a few of the memories, however, that he allowed to play out more fully.

They were sitting in Patrice’s bedroom, lounging on the bed together, the smell of nail polish still strong in the air, their nails now as pink as the paint on the walls.

"You’re the best friend I’ve ever had,” Patrice said. “Everyone else thinks I’m strange, you know, even my papa. When he’s here, anyway. His duties at the base always keep him so busy. That’s why I’m so glad that you moved here, and that you-”

The words turned to a gurgle when Natasha’s arm wrapped tightly around the other little girl’s throat.

A flicker.

"You’ll see, my love,” Desmond told her, “we’ll be safe in Belgium.”

He was turned away from her as he spoke, pacing back and forth by the kitchen window, so he never saw the gun she took out from the drawer beside her.

"They won’t look for me there,” he continued. “We’ll find a house somewhere in the country, one with a garden for you, and-”

She cocked the pistol, aimed at the back of his head, and fired.

The world shifted yet again.

They had admitted her to the psychiatric ward immediately, and the doctor had been sent for.

It was almost too easy, really. A doctor who’d once served the Red Room should have been more cautious. He should have known that his former employer would never forgive and forget.

The operatives, though…oh, they forgot plenty.

Natasha grinned at that, and the aid standing nearby edged a little farther away from the hospital bed. Her grin got wider. He should be scared, because she would have to kill him too. It was her job, you know. That was what the voices told her and she had to listen to them because they knew best.

She glanced idly at the orderly standing guard at the door. He was a big man. Probably thought she’d be easy to control if things got out of hand.

He was wrong.

The sound of footsteps out in the hallway announced the arrival of the doctor, and a moment later, he stepped into the room and picked up her chart. He gave it a cursory glance, obviously bored.

A wild laugh bubbled up in her throat. He really should be more careful.

After all, it was only paranoia if they weren’t actually out to get you.

Natasha gasped as the blue suddenly vanished from her mind, and her eyes snapped open. Her head was throbbing, her chest was heaving, and the tremors wracking her muscles were making the chains around her wrists rattle.

She could feel Loki watching her, and she glared back, gritting her teeth against the spasms in her limbs. Her defiance only seemed to amuse him more. He grinned, rocking back on his heels and cocking his head to study her.

“So many memories, so little time,” he mused. “What shall we see next? The Singapore mission? Quite the body count you had there. Or, perhaps the Spain mission? The reporter you killed had a family, you know - you killed them too.”

Natasha’s hands curled into fists, her stomach lurching in a way that was only partially due to the pounding in her skull.

“Oh, but that’s not what you want to see, is it?” Loki pressed, his grin widening. “No…no, of course not.”

He pivoted on his heel to look pointedly at Clint, and Natasha couldn’t help but follow his gaze. Clint still hadn’t moved, though the faint rise and fall of his chest seemed less strained than it had a few minutes ago.

Natasha looked back at Loki, only to find that he was standing closer than ever before, staring down at her, the light from his staff reflecting the manic gleam in his eyes. Then, suddenly, the world was swallowed up in blue once again, cold fire spreading through her veins and stealing her breath.

The memory began with a riot of color…reds, yellows, blues, greens, purples, and oranges that blurred and shifted like the tide.

Gradually, she become aware of a sound…music. A calliope. The smell of cotton candy and popcorn tickled her nose next, and she felt a warm breeze move the air around her, carrying noisy laughter and a few happy shouts.

All at once, the memory solidified, and she found herself walking down a line of circus tents, slipping silently from one shadow to the next, keeping out of sight.

Her target was making his way towards the carnival beyond, and just as he reached the outskirts, he stopped, watching the crowds. It was the opening she needed, and she darted forward, dropping the injector down her sleeve and into her palm with a flick of her wrist. She pressed it into the base of his spine and pushed the plunger down, emptying the contents. He grunted and stumbled away in surprise, pulling the injector from her grasp, but she wasn’t particularly worried. The injection was already taking effect, and she’d be able to retrieve the device soon enough.

She stepped back, watching as the drug did its work and her target doubled over, gasping. A moment later, he stumbled again, falling to his hands and knees in the dirt. It wasn’t long before his arms gave out as well, and he landed on his side, chest heaving uselessly.

She waited another few moments, and when she was confident that he was now unable to offer any resistance, she strode forward to pluck the injector from his back and slid it up her sleeve once again. Glassy blue gray-eyes found hers and she stared back coldly, then turned away and walked into the carnival beyond.

The Polkovnik was expecting her.

The scene sped up suddenly, like a video set to fast-forward, but somehow Natasha understood it all, memories falling into place like puzzle pieces.

The first time she had seen Clint…

His eyes were a striking blue-gray, with small flecks of teal, green, and gold. For a long moment, he gazed up at the van’s ceiling, unseeing, and then his eyes slipped closed once more…

Their meeting in the Red Room…

The boy had jumped up to grip the small ledge of the vent in his cell, and pulled himself up so that he could peer at her through it. The cells were lit only dimly now, in allowance for the night, but she could make out his silhouette, and his eyes…familiar eyes she knew to be blue-gray, with small flecks of teal, green, and gold…

The assignment the Polkovnik had given her…

"The boy has proven…intransigent. We placed him with you in hopes that he would view you as a peer, and seek out your company.”

The defiant words that had sown the seeds of her own rebellion…

"What have we got to lose?” Clint insisted. “They’ll take everything, no matter what we do. So why not fight?”

The moment Clint had realized what would happen to him…

"They can make you forget.”

"Forget what?”

"Anything they choose.”

The last time she had seen him…

he was sitting in a corner, his back against the metal wall, his arms and legs akimbo as though he’d just been dropped there and hadn’t bothered to move.

He was staring straight ahead, his face entirely blank, his eyes hollow…

Loki withdrew from her mind abruptly, and Natasha couldn’t stop the choked sound that escaped her throat. The pain was white-hot and blinding, and involuntary tears filled her eyes, but she refused to let any of them fall, clenching her jaw and blinking them away furiously.

Loki stepped back, the glow of the scepter dimming faintly as he pulled it away from her chest.

“So,” he prodded, “now you know. Was it everything you dreamed? Everything you imagined it would be?”

Natasha didn’t answer. Her head was swimming, and not just from the pain.

As if reading her thoughts, Loki laughed.

“Oh, this is priceless. What did you expect? Some noble tale of defiance and victory against impossible odds? Hardly. A boy fought a battle that he could never hope to win, and you, well…you weren’t directly involved in his capture, but you still played a part, didn’t you? You covered their tracks by murdering his brother. Then you lied to him, continued serving as the Red Room’s dutiful little agent, talking with him, gaining his trust…”

The words felt like a physical blow, and Natasha flinched, her gaze finding Clint’s unmoving form once again.

She knew what Loki was doing. It was the same thing she had been trained to do, to twist the facts just enough to make them cut. And cut they did, because Loki might be embellishing her role, but his exaggerations did not change reality.

She had helped bring Clint to the Red Room. She had killed his brother. She had manipulated him.

“I wonder,” Loki prodded, “if he knew, would he blame you? Would he hate you for it?”

Would he? Would he be right to? Natasha had done none of it maliciously…after all, a gun felt nothing when its owner pulled the trigger. It had no will of its own…it was simply a tool. And that was what she had been trained to be: a tool, a weapon in the Red Room’s arsenal. But ultimately, hadn’t she allowed herself to be used that way? She hadn’t fought them. She had been, as Loki had said, their “dutiful little agent.” And Clint had paid the price.

“Of course,” Loki continued, shaking his head sadly, “we won’t be able to ask Barton what he thinks about any of this, will we? Such a shame.”

Natasha’s gaze snapped back to Loki’s face, her eyes blazing, not bothering to conceal the hatred she felt.

Loki - as ever - only seemed to find her reaction amusing. “The Polkovnik was right. You do have spirit, for all the good it does you now…for all the good it has ever done you. After all, what do you think drew the Polkovnik to you in the first place?”

That was a blow of a different kind and it caught Natasha off-guard. Maybe it shouldn’t have. Loki knew more about her past than she did, unlocking the doors in her mind with a key that only he could use, and she felt like she had been stripped bare, every defense, every façade ripped away.

Loki moved in closer once again, his staff hovering above her chest, and he bent to whisper in her ear. “You’ve wondered, haven’t you, how they found you? Who you really are?”

He didn’t give Natasha a chance to answer as the world was submerged in blue once again.

The air was cool in the studio. It wasn’t as cold as the air outside, but the old radiator along the far wall couldn’t quite beat back the winter temperatures. Natalia didn’t really mind it, though - it was warm enough when she was dancing, and she was dancing now.

Her legs were getting tired, but she kept them moving over the scuffed wooden floor anyway, counting the beats in her head just like her mama and her teacher had showed her. She moved slowly at first, doing the steps one at a time. First a chassé, then a demi plié, then a developpé with her back leg. She paused, stretching out her other leg too, her muscles shaking as she worked to keep them straight. She lifted her hands then, raising her arms into third position arabesque, trying to imagine bringing those motions altogether, leaping effortlessly through the air like her mama did. (Her mama was the best dancer Natalia had ever seen, better even than any of the dancers in the company that her papa had taken her to see last month.)

Natalia walked through the steps twice more before she backed up as far as she was able to in the corner of the studio that she was using. Then, squaring her shoulders, she did it all again, moving faster this time, ending with a leap, jumping as high as she could. She didn’t need the mirror on the wall to tell her that the jump had been clumsy and she landed badly too. Unable to keep her balance she tipped backwards and landed on the hard wooden floor.

Her mama’s worried voice came from behind her as she was pushing herself up from the floor, brushing the dust from her leotard and tights.


Her mother reached her a moment later.

"Natalia,” she said again, helping her stand, “are you alright? Are you hurt?”

Gentle hands started running over her arms and back, searching for injury.

(A part of Natasha’s mind stuttered as the memory unfolded, because, whether it was Loki’s doing or the Red Room’s, as hard as she tried, she couldn’t picture her mother’s face. Turn around, she demanded - pleaded. Turn around.)

Her younger self didn’t obey, though, keeping her eyes locked on the class of teenage girls on the other side of the studio. They stood at the bars, moving gracefully in sync as their teacher led them through a warm-up.

Those gentle hands started to examine her legs as well.

"I’m fine, Mama, really,” she insisted, stepping out of her mother’s reach. “I almost had it! I almost did a grand jeté! Did you see?”

"I did, zolotse.” (Something in Natasha’s chest tightened at the endearment.) “But maybe,” her mother added, “that’s enough for today.”

"No! I want to try again.”


"Please, Mama!”

"You push yourself too hard, zolotse. You are already far ahead of the other girls your age. You must be patient.”

"But I can do it now, I know I can.”

There was a soft, affectionate laugh. “You are always so determined. Like your papa. Alright, once more, but be careful.”

"I will, Mama.”

Those gentle hands left her and Natalia backed up again, drawing a deep breath before she started forward a second time.

Chassé, demi plié, and leap…

Her feet met the floor one after the other, and Natalia grinned. She’d done it! It wasn’t as graceful or as high as her mama’s jumps, but she’d done it just the same.

The sound of soft applause made her turn, her eyes finding the chairs where a small group of observers sat to watch the dancers practice. She recognized some of them - they were family members or friends of the other girls in her own class - but many of them were strangers. It was one of those strangers who was clapping now. He was a gray-haired man with glasses, and he wore a suit, a white handkerchief tucked neatly into his front pocket…

The blue disappeared like the tide rushing away from the shore, and Natasha gasped, drawing in air like she’d been denied it too long, her heart pounding behind her ribs. Her head felt as though the tip of Loki’s staff had impaled her there, and the burning ache in her chest seemed to match it.

The Polkovnik.

He had been there. Watching her. For how long?

A woman’s voice, a scream, and smoke. That was all she’d ever had left of her life outside of the Red Room, the life she might have had if it weren’t for their interference.

Had it been her mother’s voice she remembered…her mother’s scream?

It was entirely possible. She knew how the Red Room operated. Her parents - and any other family members that might have gotten in the way - would have been quickly disposed of. She had assumed as much, on the rare occasions that she had allowed herself to consider such things. The thought had never been a pleasant one, but the pain it caused seemed…distant. Dull. How could she mourn for those whose existence was little more than vague notion in her mind? But now, with her mother’s voice still ringing in her ears, and the memory of those gentle hands, the pain had sharpened, turned suddenly fierce with longing.

She had been loved, once. She wasn’t like Clint, whose own family had been gone long before the Red Room had found him…whose brother had hated him enough to sell him to the highest bidder. She’d had a home…a happy one, judging by the warmth she’d heard in her mother’s voice.

And the Red Room had destroyed it.

Anger surged up inside her, anger unlike anything she had ever known before, and she welcomed it, because for a moment, it was enough to push away the pain in her skull, enough to stop the buzzing in her brain as reclaimed memories and realizations vied for her attention.

Her eyes locked on Loki, who was watching her in return, watching what she assumed was the rapid sweep of emotions across her face. His arms were folded over his chest, the staff resting in the crook of his right elbow. The blue glow had dimmed slightly, but was still bright enough to compete with the fluorescent lighting mounted to the ceiling above them, and it cast strange, cerulean shadows along the wall.

Loki’s mouth curved into the smirk that he seemed to wear perpetually. “The truth is a funny, thing, isn’t it? We want it so desperately, yet when we have it, we find ourselves wishing that we didn’t. What is it you mortals say? Ignorance is bliss?”

“You would know, wouldn’t you?” Natasha ground out. “Thor told us about you. About how Odin lied to you. Do you wish that you’d never learned who you really are?”

The smirk vanished, and Loki’s eyes narrowed.

Natasha’s own lips turned up faintly. Perhaps it was foolish to provoke him, but at this point, she didn’t care. The Polkovnik had made it clear that she was going to die, and Loki seemed to have every intention of drawing it out. If he would torture her regardless of what she did, then there was no point in holding back, especially when he had finally given her something that she could use against him.

“A pawn,” she continued, deliberately echoing the way he had been mocking her. “That’s what you were to them. A political pawn. A weapon to be used against the enemy.”

Thor hadn’t said that when he’d told them about his brother’s origins, but she knew enough about political maneuvering to read between the lines. Even if Loki had come to be loved by Odin the way that Thor insisted, his “adoption” had not been an entirely altruistic act.

“I wonder if they ever actually cared for you?” she pressed. “After all, why would they?”

“Silence!” Loki hissed, and his hand came towards her suddenly, his flattened palm striking the slab she was chained to, landing in the space between her neck and shoulder, missing her head by inches.

The blow echoed through the room with a boom, and a quick glance to her right showed that it had been hard enough to leave a dent in the metal. The slab was still ringing, the vibrations slow to die away, and the throbbing in Natasha’s skull started up once again, but she smiled through the pain, satisfied that her taunts had hit their mark.

Loki, it seemed, was no longer amused.

“You know nothing,” he spat. “It was a relief, in a way, to learn of my true parentage. I am free from Asgard’s pathetic ideals, from their sniveling devotion to honor. I can do as I please - and I will. If I cannot have Asgard, then I will have Earth. I will burn it to the ground and make my throne from the ashes, and the nations will fall at my feet!”

“You’re insane.”

“Am I? Truly?” Loki smiled again, but it was a dark, twisted thing this time. He leaned in closer until his nose was barely an inch from her own, his voice low, nearly a growl. “You think me mad? You don’t know the meaning of the word. But you will. I’m going to take your mind apart one piece at a time, and when your essence is in tatters, I will heal you and start from the beginning. I will do that again, and again, and again, and after I’m through, you won’t even be able to form the words to beg me for death.”

Natasha felt her stomach clench at the picture he’d painted, but she raised her chin and stared back, refusing to look at the staff he held…at the way the blue glow had suddenly intensified, energy crackling around it like it had crackled around the cube in the underground bunker.

Loki’s smirk returned, his grip tightening on the staff, and Natasha braced herself, her fingers curling as she waited for the world to be swallowed up in blue once again.

The staff was a hair’s breath from her chest when a rapid burst of gunfire split the air. There was the distinct sound of bullets ricocheting off of armor, and Loki stiffened faintly, an annoyed look flitting across his features before he turned around to face the door.

Natasha followed his gaze and blinked in surprise. Captain Rogers was standing in the doorway, an assault rifle held in his hands, the stock pressed against his shoulder, the gun poised to fire again.

“The soldier,” Loki murmured. “The man out of time.”

“I’m not the one who’s out of time,” Rogers retorted, and pulled the trigger.

Loki leapt away, tucking into a roll and coming back to his feet before he raced across the room in a blur of motion. Rogers kept firing, adjusting his aim as Loki moved, the bullets leaving divots in the concrete floor and along the walls. He must have been using the last clip he had, however, because as soon as the rounds were spent, he tossed the gun aside and charged forward himself, his right fist swinging. It connected with Loki’s jaw, making the Asgardian’s head snap to the side, but he remained standing, apparently not fazed by the blow. He turned back to Rogers wearing that tell-tale grin, and with a flick of his wrist, the staff in his hands extended, lengthening until it was taller than he was. He swung that staff at Rogers’ chest, and Rogers blocked it with his forearm. But, Loki turned the Captain’s arm aside with ease, and swung again, hitting Rogers’ square in the chest, sending him flying into the far wall. He hit with a clang.

“Bet that hurt.”

Natasha jumped, and she turned to find Stark stepping out from behind the slab. She grit her teeth, irritated that she hadn’t been more aware of her surroundings, but the irritation faded as soon as she got a better look at the billionaire. He was breathing hard, a faint network of veins visible beneath his pale skin, and he was sweating, beads of perspiration rolling down his face, soaking into his shirt. Natasha wondered at the cause until her eyes were drawn to his chest, where a disconcerting hole was now visible, an empty metal socket where the arc reactor should have been.

Stark must have caught the direction of her gaze, because his lips quirked faintly as he set an assault rifle down on the floor, leaning it against the slab so that his hands were free. “Used the arc…to blow the door off my cell,” he explained. “Got Rogers’ door down too. Only good for one shot…but it worked. Trick was keeping the explosion…small enough…that it didn’t…take me…or the base…out with it.”

Natasha frowned, both at the explanation and the obvious difficulty Stark was having catching his breath. “I thought you needed that thing to stay alive.”

“I do.” Stark reached up to start examining the cuff around her right wrist, running a finger over the lock, but he kept talking as he worked. “There’s an emergency…backup system. Learned…the hard way…that I should have one.”

Natasha nodded - Coulson had allowed her to read the report detailing Obadiah Stane’s betrayal.

“It’s a…magnetic backup…system,” Stark continued. “Not very…powerful, but it buys me…some extra time.”

“How much?”

“Little over…thirty minutes.”

Thirty minutes. That wasn’t a very large window, and certainly not large enough to get Stark the sort of help he would need to survive.

Stark smiled grimly, as though reading her thoughts. “Beats…the alternative,” he said simply.

Yes, Natasha agreed silently, it did.

Stark frowned and stepped around to her other side, giving the left cuff the same scrutiny he’d given the right. “Chances are…we’re gonna have…company soon. Got into…the base’s mainframe…found out where you were, turned off…the warning sirens…and took down…their comms, but they’re probably…on their way…here.”

Stark gave the cuff another tug and grimaced.

“Rogers’ cuffs…were easier. Electronic…lock. Just…shorted out…the system. Need…a key…for these. Don’t suppose…you’re the sort of woman that…wears…hairpins? Or…maybe, you’ve got…a paperclip stashed…somewhere…in that catsuit?”


“’Fraid…we’ll have to wait…for Rogers then.”

The wait seemed like it would be a long one. Rogers was back on his feet, aiming a kick for Loki’s head, which the Asgardian dodged nimbly. He swung out with his staff once again, and it was Rogers’ turn to duck, bending backwards to rest his weight on one hand while Loki’s staff cut through the air above him.

An angry shout in Russian drew her attention back to the door, and she heard Stark spit a curse. “And here’s…the company.”

He snatched the automatic rifle up from the floor and took aim at the first soldier that came through.

Natasha wrenched at her chains, her hands curling into fists, but she could only watch as other soldiers entered the fray. The door was narrow, creating a bottleneck, and the room wasn’t particularly large to begin with, but Stark wasn’t a trained marksman, and the soldiers were quick enough that even as Stark took down one, and then another, a third man still managed to slip through.

Clearly, the Red Room had ordered that lethal force not be used against the billionaire, because the soldier didn’t open fire, but instead, he ran straight at Stark, hitting him in a low tackle, dislodging his grip on the gun and bringing him to the floor.

Stark grunted, the breath knocked from his already struggling lungs, but he managed to bring up his elbow, striking the soldier across the face. The solider was stunned long enough that Stark was able to twist out of his grasp, scrambling to reach the rifle that had fallen a couple feet away. But the soldier was faster, bringing up a knee to hit Stark in the side, knocking him back to the floor.

It was the tell-tale sound of a gun cocking that drew Natasha’s attention away from the fight.

She turned to find another soldier standing in front of the slab, his sidearm drawn and pointed at her chest. Apparently, the order barring lethal force did not extend to her.

The soldier smirked faintly, his finger tightening on the trigger.

The shot, when it came, made her flinch, but the expected pain didn’t follow.

Instead, the solider grunted, his body jerking suddenly before he fell forward, landing face down on the cement.

Natasha’s eyes darted to the figure standing behind him, and her breath caught in her throat.


He lowered the pistol he held, his hands trembling. His breathing was harsh and his eyes were wild, but when his gaze found hers, a fleeting look of recognition passed over his features. Then his eyes rolled back in his head, and he joined the soldier on the floor.

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