Join, Or Die

20: Join Or Die

Three days later, Lena returned, looking a little worse for wear (though in no way less in intimidating). Mathew had been busy creating a vial of…something; there were discarded versions of it all over the lab. Imogen wasn't sure if he'd actually slept since she met him or if he ran solely on coffee and leftover pizza, of which there was a disturbing amount to be found in the lab.

As soon as Lena arrived, he handed over his creation for examination. She looked pleased with his work. Imogen was just curious. Their conversation came to an abrupt end as she approached though; apparently she wasn't allowed to know any of the details.

"Imogen." Lena sounded pleasant enough. "I was hoping to see you here."

Imogen shrugged. "Not many other places for me to be," she replied.

"Mathew's been showing you around, right?"

He had, in fact, shown her some more of the base, though the two armed guards that tailed them wherever they went seemed to put him off any extensive tours. Food and showers and training rooms were about the extent of what she had seen. Other than that, she'd just spent an inordinate amount of time either in the lab or the room they'd given her, unable to go anywhere wthout Mathew.

"Sort of," she said. "He's been busy."

"Yes," Lena said thoughtfully. "Making this." She gave the vial one last, appreciative glance, and then returned it to the scientist. "Come with me."

They left the lab, entering a long white hallway that was only vaguely familiar to Imogen. Not that she was paying any attention to her surroundings, too busy with her displeasure in Lena's tendancy to go for a walk when wanting to have a conversation. Her ankle still wasn't good to walk on, though she'd ditched the crutch, still made moving around difficult.

"I hope you appreciate Mathew's hard work," Lena said once they were away from his lab. "He's one of my best scientists."


"Well, he did all this work for you."

"Do I get to know the details?" Imogen asked with an irritated sigh. "Because I'm really not interested in riddles."

Lena smiled. "I like you Imogen. Honest and straightforward. There aren't many people in this business with those qualities."

"Not really sure I want to be in this kind of business at all," Imogen muttered under her breath.

"You've been a part of SHIELD and HYDRA for, what, eight years? I think it's a little late for second thoughts, don't you?"

"I think you should get to the point."

Lena stopped. "I'd like to offer you a job, Imogen. Here, at INTEL. I think you could be a valuable aasset in the field – maybe even in command in the future, if you prove trustworthy."

Change sides again? She could do it. She'd done it before. But that was hardly even an option in her mind – there was something about Lena and INTEL that she didn't like, something that reminded her of HYDRA. Not to mention that they wanted to kill Clint, the only friend she actually had in the world. She'd grown to like their two-man team, stumbling through unexpected encounters and improvised escapes. It suited her, in a way structured missions and chains of command never had.

"No thanks," she said, wiping the smile right off Lena's face. "What, you expected me to say yes? Are you sure you've read my file?"

"It's a real shame you won't work with us," Lena said. "A real waste of talent." She sighed, and then waved the men behind them forward. "Lock her up. I'll decide what to do about her later."

Some time later, Mathew slipped through the door, looking more nervous than Imogen had ever seen him. She sat up straight, on the edge of the bed, eyeing him suspiciously; as far as she knew, Lena planned to kill her whenever she next found the time, and Mathew wasn't an executioner.

"What do you want?" she asked.

"They, uh…they said they were going to kill you."

"Yeah, apparently not wanting to work here is enough to condemn someone," she said dryly.

"That doesn't bother you?" he asked curiously.

"Well, I'd rather not die, but seeing as I can't even walk, I don't have much choice. Besides, I believe in my friend. He'll get here before she kills me. He's just a bit slow sometimes." She could practically see the cogs turning in his head. "Why are you here?"

"What if…I helped you?" he replied slowly.

Imogen laughed. "How are you going to help me?"

Mathew shrugged. "I could leave the door unlocked. Tell you the way out of here. Or I could send a message to Barton, which is what I was going to do, seeing as you can't actually go anywhere fast."

"Okay then." She paused. "Why do you want to help me?"

Mathew looked nervous again, reaching slowly into his pocket. "I'll make you a deal," he said.

"I'm listening."

He pulled out the vial he'd shown Lena earlier. "I want to finish my research. We were supposed to give you this when you accepted, but you didn't so…"

She stood up and limped forward a step. "What is it?" she asked, eyeing the clear liquid within.

"Everything your mother missed in her experiments – maybe what she was working towards. I don't know what it will do. Probably nothing. I don't think anyone would use their own child in experiments that could have drastic effects."

"You want to give me that-" She pointed at the vial, "-in exchange for my freedom."


"And I'm just supposed to believe that you'll send that message."

"Have I given you a reason not to trust me?"

"Plenty. Just working here is a reason."

"Please, Imogen." He looked desperate, voice pleading. "I just want to finish my research. I want to help you. I don't even care about Lena and INTEL. I only ever joined because I couldn't get into SHIELD's science division."

She hesitated, considering it. Actually considering it. It was a way out, and she wasn't seeing many others. Lena could be here at any second to finish her off, and she had no idea where Clint was, even if she had faith that he would find her. And despite the incident with the knife, Mathew in the last three days had never come across as anything except curious, obsessed with his work, with finding out the truth, what her mother was trying to achieved – the same thing she had been chasing when she came across this whole mystery.

"Okay," she said, taking a deep breath.

Immediately, he pulled everything he needed out of his pocket. "You should sit down," he advised, and after a moment, she complied, sitting back down on the edge of the bed. Mathew took a seat beside her, rolling her sleeve up. She turned away immediately, staring at the wall and trying to ignore his very existence. Something cold touched her arm, followed by the familiar pinch of a needle.

Fire ran fast through her veins, setting her whole body alight. She glanced at Mathew, her vision blurring and head spinning, faster and faster. Vaguely, she felt herself falling, felt him catch her before she slid to the floor, and then there was nothing.

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