Without any warning, the lights flickered, and then went out completely, plunging Imogen into darkness.
She'd been alone for some time now – in fact, boredom had just begun to set in. They'd taken her well off the grid, it seemed – Clint and Stark had been left a fresh trail, but had yet to follow it to her. If they were even looking.
What was she thinking? Clint would look. Of course he would. And anyway, she had much more pressing matters to attend to; like the sudden darkness, and the silence overhead (she'd grown accustomed to the sound of machines and the murmur of voices). Finding her feet and then a wall, she followed it in the direction of the invisible wall that she'd failed to find a way past. She didn't realise it was gone until her shin hit the corner of the stairs.
That was the problem with high-tech prisons, she mused as she stumbled up the steps. Your power goes out, and suddenly you've got a much bigger problem than where you keep your torch.
There was a heavy door at the top of the stairs that wasn't locked, leading into a deserted hallway. There wasn't even emergency lighting in this place, just weak sunlight filtering in through small windows high on the wall. A basement, she guessed, turning left on a whim.
Straight into a small army of soldiers. The woman from the freeway was there, in the middle of them all, a tablet in her hands. There were HYDRA agents slumped in a pile against one wall, motionless and untied. The sight of them sent a shiver down her spine; she scanned their faces, but didn't see Will. She wasn't sure if she was relieved or cursed.
The woman looked up, eyes widening as she recognised Imogen. Both froze. "She's the one!" the woman called a moment later, springing into action. "Get her!" She gestured wildly and her soldiers advanced. Coming to her senses, Imogen turned tail and ran.
She wasn't very fast, despite ditching her limp in favour of speed, ignoring the pain shooting through her ankle with every step. Eventually, it gave out completely, and she came crashing to the ground in a heap. Soldiers surrounded her in seconds and pulled her to her feet, not caring if they had to drag her when her leg gave out again and again as they retraced their steps back to the woman.
"Barton's accomplice, aren't you?" she asked.
"What of it?" Imogen spat back.
"Interesting," was all she got in reply. They dragged her up to the surface, to one of their trademark black vans, and bundled her inside.
There was a bag on her head and a long walk, this time with the assistance of two of the soldiers, and then a sparse bedroom and a locked door. Imogen took the chance to examine her ankle – hot, swollen, and an angry red colour. She looked away before too long, stretching out on the bed and letting the last few days have a chance to catch up with her again.
Despite being in the hands of the enemy, before long she dropped off to sleep, and did not stir for quite a while.
The woman, their leader, was shaking her shoulder. Imogen woke with a stark, opening her eyes to find the woman standing over her, and sat up so quickly she almost head-butted her. The woman smiled. "Good to see you awake. For a minute, we thought you might be dead."
"What a shame," Imogen muttered, rubbing at her eyes.
"Yes," the woman agreed. "A shame."
Imogen stood slowly, aware of her numerous injuries. The movement still hurt despite her care; not that she would let this woman or any of her friends know that. "Who the hell are you anyway?" she asked.
"My name is Lena. You're Imogen, right? Imogen Haylock."
"And if I am?"
Lena laughed. "Don't bother. We found your name in many of your mother's files, and SHIELD's. You have quite the record of probations."
Imogen huffed a sigh. "What do you want?" she asked, if only to skip the discussion about her past incriminations.
Lena paused, considering something. "Would you walk with me?" she asked, gesturing to the door.
Imogen glanced down at her ankle, still swollen as it was. "I'd rather stay here, thanks."
"That wasn't actually a request." Lena took her arm, steering her towards the door. There were two men outside; one shoved a crutch towards her as they exited the room and she took it reluctantly.
"Do you know what was in the files HYDRA recently acquired?" Lena asked as they walked.
Imogen shrugged. "I have a good idea. Mostly science reports and stuff on their Soldier."
"Yes, the Soldier. Interesting, but not important right now. What about her private experiments?"
"I know they were there."
Lena glanced at her. "Most of them pertained to you, Imogen."
She thought back to Murphy, that night when she'd…visited with Natasha. He'd said her mother had used her in experiments. She'd chosen not to listen to him. Maybe he'd been right. "I know."
"They're very interesting experiments," Lena continued. "We had a deal with your brother, to leave you alone, but then we read those files and…" She stopped to reconsider. "You weren't happy in HYDRA's hands, were you?"
"No one's happy as a prisoner," Imogen pointed out.
"No," Lena agreed. "Besides, they would never have known what potential you had. Not like we do."
"What?" Imogen frowned in confusion.
Lena pushed through a pair of double doors into a lab. "Your mother's experiments were brilliant. Unprecedented work in the field of cryogenics, among other things. She was working towards a way for people to be frozen and unfrozen without the need for extra chemicals to prevent cell damage, and she was almost there, thanks to you."
"So, what, I can't freeze to death?"
Lena smiled. It didn't quite reach her eyes. "We have no idea. The formula was never perfected. We have no idea what her work in memory did to you either. But the potential outcomes…they're amazing."
"Why are you telling me this?" Imogen asked. They stopped, now standing in the very centre of the lab. There were several scientists scattered around the room, all deep in their work except one. Lena beckoned to him and he hurried over, a bright smile on his face.
"This is Mathew," she said, patting him on the shoulder. "He'll be taking care of you from now on."
"This is her?" he asked. Lena nodded, gave him one last pat, and left them. Imogen glared at him. He shifted uncomfortably, quailing under her gaze.
"What am I doing here?" she asked finally with a sigh, unable to stand his fidgeting any longer.
"Well…" Looking relieved to have something to talk about, he took her arm and led her over to the large bench he had been working at before, gesturing to a chair which she took gratefully. His bench was full of clutter; as he talked, he set to sorting through it, looking for something. "I've been researching Kathleen Haylock's work, trying to finish it. Lena's asking for it, I don't know why. Anyway, it helps if I have past test subjects to study as well and uh…well, you're the only one. Sorry."
"So I'm a lab rat."
He looked uncertain. "Well, I'm supposed to run you through initiation too," he offered, like that made it any better.
She picked up her crutch again. "I'm leaving."
"That's not a good idea." She sent him a withering look. "There are men outside ready to grab you if you even think about escaping."
"I can take a few idiot soldiers."
"Your leg is busted; even if you overcome them, there are easily twenty others around." He reached out and pulled the crutch from her hand, placing it ell out of reach. She didn't even think to hold onto it. "Good luck running without that."
Imogen slumped back down in her chair. She didn't feel like running and fighting anyway. Her whole body ached, and now her stomach was rumbling too. "You got any food?" she asked.
Mathew paused, and then moved a pile of papers to reveal a half-crushed pizza box. Taking it from him, she found half a pizza inside, topping partially stuck to the lid of the box and stone cold. "It's from this morning," he assured her. "Shouldn't give you food poisoning or anything."
"Morning?" She bit into a slice. "Pizza for breakfast?"
He smiled. "Early this morning," he corrected himself. "Before breakfast early. I had coffee for breakfast."
"That's so much better," she said sarcastically. He didn't dignify her with an answer. The pizza disappeared quickly, though once it was gone she was still hungry. Mathew refused to give her any more food, too consumed in his work. For a while, she considered leaving despite the guards and going in search of a kitchen or something, but ditched the idea when Mathew started talking about guards and tasers and guns (how he knew what she was thinking would forever be a mystery).
"This is going to be a really boring friendship if you're just going to make me sit here the whole time," she commented about an hour in, staring at the ceiling.
"We're not friends," Mathew replied in his distracted voice (she had it pinned already; when he wasn't paying attention, his words came rough and careless, with a bit of a lilt at the end that could almost be mistaken for cheer).
"Really? I thought it was going really well. Thought I was really getting to know you."
He sighed. "We're not allowed to be friends."
"If you follow rules like that, I don't think I want to be."
Another scientist approached, immediately catching his attention. "You ready?" she asked. Mathew nodded, and followed her off to another part of the lab. Imogen watched them go, and then leant forward, her eyes searching his work space for any kind of weapon. Keeping an eye on him, she lifted paper stacks and random bits and pieces in her search, but still came up with nothing sharp or even remotely pointy.
"What are you doing?" Mathew asked; she looked up to find him and the other scientist standing over her.
"Looking for food," she replied smoothly, slumping back in her chair. "I'm starving."
"I told you, I don't have anything." He motioned the woman forward. Imogen sat up straight at the sight of the needle in her hand.
"No," she said immediately.
"It's just a blood sample," he replied, in what she guessed was supposed to be a reassuring voice.
"No," she said. They didn't stop. "This is illegal, you know." She took a step back, and then another, upending the chair and stumbling over it. Damn it. Mathew pounced, pushing her to the ground. She threw him off and scrambled up, half limping, half running across the lab, ignoring the throbbing, constant pain in her foot. He tackled her from behind, let her roll onto her back, and then pinned her down. She bucked and struggled, almost threw him off, and then the woman with the needle appeared again, this time with a knife as well. As soon as it touched her neck, she froze, her body refusing to move any more as her worst memories flashed through her head. Panic coursed through her veins, making her heart speed and stomach clench and twist. For a moment she thought she might be sick.
"Sorry," Mathew said softly as the woman knelt beside them with her needle. Imogen stared at the ceiling, trying not to feel the pinch in her arm or see the blood come out.
Mathew gave her the crutch back after that, when the panic finally faded and she found the strength to pull herself up from where she'd been sitting, propped against a desk. She took it with shaking hands, cursing their show of weakness, and limped over to a couch behind the woman's desk, curling up on the soft cushions. Neither were on that side of the lab, and the other scientists had long since left, which suited Imogen just fine; the lights were off everywhere except over Mathew's space, leaving her a dark, quiet corner to hide in; for a moment, she considered searching for weapons again, but the very thought of it left her dizzy and drained. She'd never reacted well to needles, or knives at her throat. Both together were…
Too much? No, not too much. Surely not. She refused to be that easy to subdue.
Where was Clint? Maybe he was near. That would be nice, if unrealistic. Secret companies tended to be very good at hiding. Or maybe he was far, far away. Maybe he was dead, hard as he was to kill (she could testify to that). They had been pretty hell-bent on killing him, had even paid HYDRA off. And then taken her from HYDRA, probably putting Will and his people right back on Barton's tail.
She sat up. "Mathew?" she called across the room, forcing her voice to be normal, to be strong. He looked up. "Have they caught Barton?"
He looked confused. Maybe he didn't know about her travels with Clint. "I don't think I'm allowed to tell you that," he replied, running a hand through his thick hair.
"You owe me at least this one thing." She stared him down – once again, he couldn't hold up under her steady gaze. For all his show of bravado earlier, Mathew didn't really have it in him to be an evil scientist. A slightly unethical one, maybe, but not evil. He was too soft, too easily reasoned with.
"No," he said. "The Hawk's gone to ground, and Lena needed her forces elsewhere."
She lay back down. He continued his work.
Clint looked up at the tablet Stark had just shoved in front of his face, seeing a picture of the woman that had attacked them on the freeway and a lot of writing. "What am I looking at?" he asked, rubbing at his tired eyes.
"You are looking at the new Nick Fury of the super spy world," Tony declared, taking the tablet back and scrolling through. "Is he really dead by the way? I've been meaning to ask, since Cap won't tell me anything and Natasha isn't answering my calls…"
"I don't know. Who's this woman?"
"Oh. Right." Stark took to pacing. "Lena Fischer, ex-SHIELD, CIA, FBI…practically every super sneaky government job there is. Now runs her own organisation, something called INTEL, which now aspires to be the next SHIELD and fill the gap that's been opened in global security."
"They're not the people that took Imogen," Clint reminded him.
"Yeah, but they did take out a nearby HYDRA base we didn't know about until now, and look who got caught crossing the street." The tablet was now showing a grainy picture of Imogen's brother and one of his men. Clint found the energy to wake up a bit.
"Any chance she's still at the base?" he asked. Tony shook his head.
"Agent Hill already volunteered to go and have a look around. Nothing but a pile of HYDRA bodies."
"So she's with this INTEL."