Chapter Twelve: Operation Woodlawn
Clint leaned back in the driver's seat one hand resting on the steering wheel the other fidgeting with the expensive military dress shirt that was just a tad too tight around the collar. Beside him Natasha sat in her Widow gear and sighed pulling on his hand to stop the anxious tugging.
"Stark will kill you if you ruin this shirt." She said firmly but there was a teasing edge to her voice.
"Whatever..." Clint sulked "When we made this plan I thought you would've been the decoy, I'm useless at this stuff."
The Widow couldn't quite hide the smile at Hawkeye's complaints but she did understand his concern. Normally he would be the one doing the infiltration with her flirting and acting her way around anyone she came into contact with. This time was different though; the people here were trained against manipulation so her techniques would be next to useless. Also as chauvinistic as it sounded they would not believe that a woman had earned such a high rank and while the archer wasn't as subtle as she was, he could play the 'authoritative asshole' role exceptionally well.
"Have some faith in your abilities Clint, I know I do."
Hawkeye couldn't quite bring himself to argue with Nat's words and just slumped slightly in the seat, visibly uncomfortable with the whole situation. Moments later there was a tapping on the driver's side window and Clint rolled down the tinted glass to reveal an anxious but excited looking Tony.
"Hope I wasn't interrupting anything kiddies?"
Both Hawkeye and Widow shot him their most unimpressed looks and under the dual stares Tony quickly backed off. He handed a case through the open window, a look of utmost professionalism on his face.
"Everything you need is in there; Com's units, fake ID's and the means to get into the main server room undetected."
There was definitely a smug undertone to his voice and it reassured the two S.H.I.E.L.D agents for some unfathomable reason. Natasha opened the case and pulled out the two earpieces handing one to Clint and then fixed her own into place.
"Thanks Stark, we'll be in touch..." She nodded toward her partner "Let's head out Clint."
Barton didn't argue and shifted the car into gear, revving the engine before pulling away with a squeal of tire spin, leaving a cursing Tony behind as he jumped backwards out of the way. In the car the woman rolled her eyes and raised an eyebrow at the archer.
"Was that really necessary?"
Clint shrugged "Not really but you have to admit it was funny."
Natasha just shook her head and decided not to question it any further, Clint's playful nature was a constant source of exasperation for her but it meant that he was taking this seriously enough to warrant him joking (admittedly a strange conclusion but true nonetheless) was reassuring.
The drive was quiet and uneventful; both of the S.H.I.E.L.D agents mentally preparing themselves for the task at hand. The server farm's location had been tracked down to an area in Ocean County, New Jersey in a quardened off area of cliff-land. This meant that not only was Woodlawn ridiculously fortified it was also nearly inaccessible except for the direct route.
Nearly being the operative word there.
It was nigh on impossible for even an above average person to infiltrate but Natasha Romanoff was not an above average person; she was exceptional and that was the reason she would be able to pull this off.
About half a mile from their destination Clint's pulled over into a cliff side lay-by and gave Natasha a serious look.
"You sure you're ready for this? It's a hell of a climb." He asked with genuine concern.
The red-head nodded her face unreadable; completely immersed in her 'Widow' persona. She systematically checked all of her equipment and once she was happy she propped open the car door. The wind whipped through her hair as she slid out of the car and Hawkeye felt his stomach flip nervously. He was well aware that his partner could handle this; that however didn't mean he had to feel comfortable or happy with it. He reached out gently touched her arm and she turned to face him.
"Be safe rubin*."
There was the briefest flicker of a smile on Natasha's face and she laid her hand across Clint's.
"You too shakhter**." She replied softly before pulling away and shutting the car door behind her.
The archer sighed as he watched her walk off and disappear between the craggy rocks taking a moment to compose himself. These kinds of partings were never made any easier not despite the large number they'd had over time. Finally feeling ready to continue he pulled away from the lay-by and continued down the road toward his target.
The drive from Natasha's drop off to Woodlawn was thankfully short therefore not allowing Clint the opportunity to brood. He pulled up to the main gate with his fake ID displayed proudly on his chest along with the various adornments and regalia that signalled a high ranking officer of the US armed forces. The guard on patrol upon seeing all of his military bling was understandably nervous.
"Authorized... Um personnel only Sir..."
Clint raised an eyebrow and put on his best 'The-only reason-I'm-not-firing-or demoting-you-is-because-I'm-being-ordered-not-to-and-not-because-I'm-really-a-nice-guy.' face. It was one he'd seen Tony use many times when dealing, well, with people in general (usually with Pepper hovering over his shoulder) and could be damned intimidating to the uninitiated, not that he would ever admit that to Stark.
"Son, do you honestly think I would drive all this way if I didn't have authorization? Let alone know where this place is in the first place?" His voice was flinty and Hawkeye was pleased to see the young man flinch.
The guard blanched slightly but didn't back down right away but after a few more moments turned and headed into the booth and opened the gate. Clint tried to not feel smug as he drove past the guard, knowing that this was only the beginning and there was still a lot of things that could go wrong.
He parked up inside the compound and straightened out his uniform, grabbing his hat from the backseat and then after taking one last deep breath got out of the car. He was met almost immediately by an entourage both of military and none military personnel and not a single one of them looked happy to see him. He quickly saluted the man who appeared to be in charge and waited for a reply; it was reluctant but the man eventually saluted back and the tension eased slightly.
"What brings you to Woodlawn Brigadier-General Loxley?"
Loxley!? Oh I am so killing Stark when I get back.
"Security detail, Colonel Lloyd. The higher ups thing there could be some issues and have asked me to make an assessment of this facility." Clint's voice was clear and authoritive.
Colonel Lloyd was still not looking happy but he grudgingly seemed to accept Clint's reasons, although he insisted on contacting their superiors. Hawkeye nodded stiffly in agreement as the first obstacle in the plan was encountered; fortunately it was one they had been prepared for. While 'surveying' the systems Tony had discovered that the only form of communication that Woodlawn had with the outside world was a single phone line and phone lines were fortunately easy to hack and even easier to divert.
The phone rang three times before it was answered and the archer let out a breath he wasn't aware he'd been holding when a familiar voice sounded from the receiver.
"Good afternoon Council office how may I help you?" Bruce's voice sounded rough and there was a brash, impatient tone to it.
The Colonel grimaced.
"This is Colonel Lloyd at Woodlawn; I need to speak with the council regarding a security assessment."
Over the line Clint could hear the physicist huff in annoyance that the archer could assume was at least half genuine. Bruce hated to put himself in the spotlight but out of all of the team he was one of the least known and therefore the easiest to pass off as someone else.
"The council is currently in a demanding meeting and have asked not to be disturbed."
If Clint hadn't known it was Bruce on the line and that this was part of a plan he might have felt sorry for Colonel Lloyd under normal circumstances; he'd dealt with more than enough snarky secretaries to know his pain.
"It is urgent I speak with them."
"And I said that isn't possible." The physicist snapped back with an aggressiveness that made the archer proud.
Lloyd looked about ready to spit nails or at the very least slam the phone down, apparently not taking kindly to having his base invaded and then sassed by a glorified answering machine.
"Listen you, I have personnel here claiming they have been ordered on a security assessment that was not discussed with me and I think I have the right to know what the hell is going on in my own damn base." The Colonel's voice was standoffish.
There was a long exasperated sigh before Bruce spoke again.
"I apologize Sir by my instructions were resolute, the council members are not to be disturbed. However I do have access to the system and will be able to verify whether or not the personnel in question is supposed to be there."
It was as if Lloyd had seen Heaven, Valhalla and the Elysian Fields all at once, the look of joyful relief that crossed his face almost made Clint laugh out loud. He wished he had been able to take a photo if only to embarrass the hell out of Banner later.
"That would be acceptable."
There was some brief muttering over the phone as the physicist simulated accessing the information and then came back on the line.
"This is the Woodlawn facility right..." Lloyd mumbled his agreement "... Then a Brigadier-General Loxley is cleared to be there on security assessment."
The tone in which Bruce spoke his alias made Clint grimace as he added another member to his 'dead after this mission' list, clearly Stark had not been the mastermind behind this particular pet name and boy were those two idiots going to know his displeasure.
Realizing that he slipped off topic he quickly reigned himself in just in time to see Lloyd slam the phone down. He ran a hand through his dirty blond hair and shot an exasperated look at Clint.
"Looks like you're with us then Sir... Welcome to Woodlawn."
The archer couldn't suppress the vicious smile that crossed his lips and hoped that Natasha's end of things was going just as smoothly.
Natasha's half of the mission was going along swimmingly; an appropriate choice of word considering she was currently wading through... Well she tried not to think about it. The climb up the cliff-face had been taxing but nothing she hadn't had to do before, if anything it had given her a good estimation of where her skills were currently at and she hadn't been disappointed. It seemed that living in the tower with the rest of the Avengers had done nothing to dent her field-effectiveness.
She finally made it to the end of the murky tunnel and latched onto the ladder that led to the upper levels, climbing with the speed of the arachnids she was named after. Glad to be out of the stinking tunnel Natasha's quickly stripped out of her upper layer of clothing revealing the familiar cat suit and grabbed the case Stark had given her; flicking it open.
Inside there was a small pair of what appeared to be shades and a small snake-like bot made of an unusual crystalline substance. Widow slipped on the shades and instantly a whole world erupted into life before her eyes and a familiar voice began speaking into her ear.
"Good-afternoon Miss Romanoff."
Natasha smirked "Hello JARVIS, shall we get this show on the road?"
The small bot in the case sprang to life and headed toward the nearest air ventilation pipe, cutting its way inside with ruthless efficiency. Behind the lenses the assassin marveled as the world of the bot opened before her in stunning high definition and she had to wonder whether or not Stark had pulled something like this before. The moves felt practiced which when dealing with Tony usually meant they were. As if sensing her question JARVIS spoke directly to her.
"Sir has had to undertake a few industrial espionage projects over the years and the robot you currently control is a product of that. He calls this version of the device the 'Natasha'."
The Widow wondered whether she should be offended or not by that but knowing Stark it was probably meant as some kind of obscure compliment. Within minutes the bot had made it to the outer-shell of the main server room and Natasha felt her breath catch. From the bots position she could see the ridiculous security parameters that had been implemented first hand; motion, sound and heat sensors, randomly fluctuating laser grid and what looked like a tri-hexagonal digital combination lock.
"I know this is probably a redundant question but how on earth is that going to get through all that?"
Natasha could practically feel the AI's smirk, somewhat unnerving considering that JARVIS had no physical form.
"The 'Natasha' has been equipped with the latest cloaking technology making it completely invisible to all known sensors and the crystalline substance it is made from diverts the laser beams around it's form so the beam is not broken while at the same time keeps all the mechanics inside intact."
The assassin couldn't help herself and whistled in appreciation; the billionaire had really outdone himself this time. That was of course if it all worked at right time. Natasha sat quietly and watched as the robot snaked it's way along the floor completely unfazed by the security measures, climbing the wall to the panel controlling the lock. Natasha tried not to feel grossed out as she watched a disturbingly tentacle like thing emerge from within the crystalline folds and jam itself into the lock.
Through the HUD she could see the computer processing the thousand upon millions of different combinations in the blink of an eye and waited with bated breath. Finally after ten agonizing minutes there was a click as the lock depressed and a voice announced 'Server room open, security parameters disabled.'
Quicker than she'd ever moved before Natasha ran to the now open room, a smug grin on her face. She padded across the floor to the server room entrance and slipped inside quietly, constantly aware for any threats.
The first thing that hit her was the noise; the constant thrum of electronics whirring against her skin in a not entirely pleasant manner. The second was the sheer size of the room; the massive server blocks would have even dwarfed Thor and would have been intimidating to someone who was unprepared for it. Fortunately this was not Natasha's first Rodeo.
"Okay, where am I going JARVIS?"
"I believe the main server block is at the far end of the room Miss Romanoff."
The Widow stalked along to corridor focused solely on her target and soon the main server bank came into view. She made quick work of the outer casing and let the bot set to work on extracting the data, watching it's progress through the network on the shades. After fighting its way through several firewalls and a number of other cyber defenses it finally hit upon the files they were looking for and Natasha felt herself sigh in relief. The download was quick and painless and within minutes the 'Natasha' was unhooked and the assassin was ready to go.
She retraced her steps through the server room not even pausing as she moved into the adjoining room, something she was about to learn was a mistake.
The muzzle of the gun pressed into the base of her skull and Natasha cursed her carelessness. Even worse she couldn't afford to take the man down, he was technically an innocent and she had her own issues concerning innocents.
"Well there missy I think you have something that doesn't belong to you..." The man spoke into his walkie-talkie "Intruder has been apprehended in main server room, request security team."
A barrage of Russian swear-words and a mental ass-kicking later Natasha found herself being led to what appeared to be the main security room by a disturbingly large group of guards. As she entered the assassin spotted a familiar figure sitting at the table and felt a strange sense of calm washed over her.
"Ah, excellent... I see you caught my infiltrator." Clint crowed and walked over to Natasha, removing the restraints.
"Your infiltrator?" An older man with blond hair gasped, looking livid.
Hawkeye shot the man a 'well duh' look and sat back down at the desk.
"Of course Colonel Lloyd, who else would she be working for? I was entrusted to test this facility and how am I meant to do it without actually staging an infiltration?"
The Widow hid a smile at the flustered looks on the server teams faces as they tried and failed to fault Clint's logic. The guy who had been called Colonel Lloyd still looked furious but seemed unwilling to challenge Clint over it.
"However I must say I am impressed, my agent here is one of the finest and you managed to apprehend her."
Clint shot her an amused look and she scowled at the thinly veiled insult, the bastards had gotten lucky nothing more and she was going to make sure Hawkeye knew that. But not until they were in the car and far away from people that would actually listen to Clint, he did after all have a rather twisted sense of humour and she'd been the victim of it on more than one occasion.
"Uh... Sir, if you're finished with your assessment then perhaps it time we should leave." Natasha prompted, giving her partner a hard look.
The archer looked momentarily uncomfortable as he spied the look being thrown his way but quickly slipped back into his persona.
"I believe you're right agent, I have a full report to write after all and I shall be most glowing in my assessment of this facilities security."
This seemed to soothe the rankled feelings of the team and they seemed quite content to let him and Natasha go, at least for the time being. The two of them made a swift beeline for the exit and practically sprinted to the car which was still parked into the garage.
"How long do you reckon we've got?" Clint asked, hastily stripping off his jacket and throwing it in a heap in the back of the car.
"About five minutes tops, unless of course they're really stupid."
The archer shrugged considering both possibilities feasible outcomes and slid into the front seat of the car while Natasha dove into the back seat, depositing the case with the robot in. Without even needing to hear the order from the woman Clint put his foot down and sped out of the base, just about avoiding the gate as it closed shut. The assassin let out a sigh of relief as the car drove out of sight of the base not wanting to be there when they discovered that they had been royally played.
"So Nat, was getting caught part of your escape plan?"
Natasha kicked the back of Clint's seat without any remorse and took great pleasure as she heard the breath rush from his lungs in shock.
"I'll take that as a no then…" He wheezed in response and Natasha kicked again, this time causing the car to swerve.
"Okay, Okay I get it… stop kicking me already."
The Widow just smirked in the back seat and pulled the case onto her lap, pulling up the files they'd just acquired. Most of it was stuff that she couldn't even begin to understand, a lot of biochemistry and nanotechnology, there was however something that caught her eye and it caused her to frown. Clint caught the look in the rear-view mirror and felt his stomach flip anxiously, that look never bode well.
"Nat… What's in there?"
She maneuvered herself into the front seat and placed the case on Clint's lap while at the same time commandeering the steering wheel. Taking the cue for what it was he flicked down the pages and pages of text and equations becoming more confused with each passing moment.
"I don't see what I'm meant to be looking at…"
Natasha rolled her eyes, keeping the car steady.
"The signatories Clint look at the signatories."
Amidst the various council members signatures there was one that shouldn't have belonged there but for whatever reason it was and they'd thought this situation couldn't have gotten any more complicated but it appeared they were wrong.
Tony was going to Flip. The. Fuck. Out.
Because as if finding out your father was alive after being supposedly dead for twenty five years wasn't enough to push you over the edge, then discovering that the sort of step-father who became a traitorous, murderous bastard had a part in hiding the fact said father was alive and neglecting to tell you certainly would.
This could only end badly.
"Fucking Obadiah Stane."
* Rubin= Ruby.
** Shakhter= Miner