21: Freezing Point
"This is it?"
"Are you questioning my ability to navigate?"
Clint shrugged, not in the mood for an argument. Stark had baited him the entire way here, but nothing was biting, not if Clint had anything to say about it. Now, they stood outside a clothing store, and he was eyeing a display of Avenger's merchandise in the front window sceptically. It was a first, as far as he knew, for an enemy to have a small Avengers shrine in their front window. Most just tried to shoot them.
It being the middle of the night, the store was closed – it only took Tony and Clint a minute to hack security and pick the lock respectively. "You sure this isn't a trap?" Clint asked as they got in way too easily for his liking.
"What, you want to go home?"
The archer huffed a sigh and led the way, stepping softly out of habit. He didn't know why he was even bothering – Tony's steps in the suit were heavy and echoed loudly in the large store, alerting everyone around that there was an intruder (if there even was anyone around, seeing as they'd made it to the back of the store without seeing one sign of life).
"So I guess we start looking for a secret door now?" Tony asked. Clint nodded, and they separated, Tony to the left and Clint to the right.
It was Jarvis who found the door in the end, his heat sensors picking up the man guarding it. By the time Clint joined them, the man was on the floor, the fight over with barely a sound. "Am I going to get any of the action?" he joked as they passed into an elevator, adjusting the arrow he already had nocked as the doors closed.
"Let me take you out to a bar or something, you can get all the action you want." Clint wasn't sure if he was joking or not. Probably both. Tony Stark would never refuse a good night out.
The elevator asked for their identities. A moment later, Stark was in and down they went. It was an old lift, creaky and slow, jerking to a halt and taking several long, tense seconds to open. The loud wailing of alarms bled through the doors – their presence had not gone unnoticed.
Finally, the doors opened, revealing a small army of soldiers. Clint fired as soon as he had a shot, then shot again and again, falling into his usual, quick rhythm, snapping off as many shots as he could before it came to close quarters. Iron Man stepped in front of him, shielding him from bullets as he continued to shoot around the armour, picking them off one by one. It didn't take long for the soldiers to abandon their guns, realising bullets weren't doing anything, and approach.
The two Avengers stood firm.
Imogen was cold. Freezing. She wasn't shivering, wasn't even a little uncomfortable with the drastic change in temperature. She just knew she was cold.
Confused, that's what she was. And annoyed at herself for fainting. If she had fainted. From past experience, she knew fainting to be a lot more disorientating than this sudden snap to consciousness. And fainting didn't make you cold.
Her eyes flicked open. Mathew was there still, sitting on the floor by the door messing around with a phone. She watched him for a while, not sure if getting up was a good idea, and then tried it anyway, never really one for caution.
He looked up when he heard her shift, standing and tucking his phone into a pocket. "I sent the message," he told her as she sat up and leant against the wall.
"I don't believe you," she grumbled in reply. "And if Clint isn't here within the hour, I'm really not going to believe you."
"That's not much time," he said. She shrugged.
"He's had four days."
"Imogen." Mathew sounded uncertain. "Don't freak out or anything, but…your hands…" She gave him a weird look, and then glanced down.
And stopped. And stared for a moment.
Her hands, and even most of her forearms, were completely covered in ice. Just a thin layer of it, clinging to her skin in smooth, circling patterns, cracking and falling away with even the smallest of movements only to creep back again when she was still.
Don't freak out. Right. She took a deep breath, and then another, forcing herself to stay calm. "You want to explain why I'm covered in ice?" she asked.
"It's called cryokinesis," Mathew replied, sitting down next to her. "Creation and control of ice."
"And you had no idea this was how your experiment would turn out?"
Mathew shook his head. "I didn't think it was possible. I knew Lena was hoping for something like this – HYDRA and SHIELD both have enhanced people working for them, and she's desperate to catch up."
"And you didn't think to mention that before?"
"It shouldn't have been possible." Imogen huffed a sigh. "It's only latent," Mathew added. "I was watching it. Took a good hour just to cover your hands. From what I've heard, actual superpowers tend to be more…explosive."
"That makes everything so much better," she bit back sarcastically. She wasn't really that angry about it – just surprised. It wasn't every day you woke up covered in ice. As to whether she liked this new ability or not, would remain to be seen. It was little more than an annoyance at the moment.
Somewhere outside, an alarm started to whine. Imogen jumped, surprised, and then climbed to her feet.
"Where are you going?" Mathew asked, scrambling after her.
"Wherever Clint is," she replied, already halfway to the door.
"You don't even know where you're going!" He followed her doggedly, out the door and down the hall, which was blessedly devoid of all life.
"I'll figure it out."
She stopped and turned, glaring at him impatiently, the ice falling from her hands. "What?"
"With all my research, Lena could give every single one of her field agent's powers like yours."
"And what, you're just going to let me walk in there and destroy it all?
"Let me get out of here with you, and I'll help."
"What, you don't want to work here at all now?"
"Things around here are…different," he sighed, looking frustrated. "More secrets. More people dying out in the field. Hunting SHIELD agents – hunting Avengers – just for the job the used to have. I don't like feeling like I'm in danger all the time."
"Wait, hunting SHIELD agents?" she asked, more interested than angry now.
Mathew nodded. "Lena wants to be number one in global security. HYDRA's broken and SHIELD is scrambling to reform. She thinks if she kills them all, then there'll be no one but those pockets of HYDRA agents to challenge her – and for now, she's made so many deals with them that they think she's a solid ally."
"So if we destroy all that research, she'll be set back to square one," Imogen said thoughtfully.
"Alright then." She took a breath, and squared her shoulders. "Quickly though."
"Are you done yet?" Imogen asked, ducking down out of view as another two soldiers ran past outside the lab doors.
Mathew was somewhere in the other side of the lab, hidden by desks and the mess of files and papers they'd spent five minutes spreading around. "Almost," came his reply. He was rigging something – a bomb, she assumed. She was fine just standing guard while he did it, whatever it was he was doing, as long as he hurried up about it.
"Done," Mathew said, appearing suddenly and climbing out of the mess to her. "We've got about three minutes."
"Doesn't give us much time to get clear, does it?"
"Hey, I taught myself explosives. No one's perfect," Mathew argued. "Are we good to go?"
She glanced out to the hallway; it seemed empty. "Why did you even have to teach yourself that?" she asked as they slipped out the door, her eyes on Mathew.
A click. "Get back in the lab," came Lena's voice from behind her. Imogen met Mathew's eyes, rolled her own, and then turned to find a gun pointed right at her head, Lena's face grim behind it. "The lab," she repeated. "Go. Now."
Imogen stood firm, defiant. Mathew was more sensible, catching her arm and pulling her back into the lab. Lena followed, gun never wavering.
"Mathew, I really wish you hadn't done this," she said finally, when she had them good and trapped. "INTEL won't be the same without you." Without another thought, she fired, gunshot echoing in the large, round room. There was a choked, surprised sound, and then a crash; too late, Imogen turned and found Mathew already on the ground, already almost dead, a bullet in his heart.
She froze. She wanted to go to him, like you were supposed to, to help him even though it was obviously too late, but she didn't, just stood and stared and then slowly turned back to Lena with anger swirling slowly in her gut and ice growing on her fingertips. She could feel its frozen touch, not just on her fingers, but on her arms, her face, creeping up the back of her neck.
"You didn't need to kill him," she said. "From what I hear, you haven't needed to kill a lot of people."
"I kill only when necessary," Lena replied calmly, like they were discussing the weather. "Mathew for example. He died for the good of INTEL – if I let him go, who knows what sensitive information he could sell to the wrong people."
Her hands became colder and colder. Still not cold enough. Her breath came faster with the effort – the ice was too slow, wasn't strong enough. The lab could blow at any second. "You're a liar," she said. "And I hate liars." Lena smiled. Colder, colder. Freezing. Below freezing.
Something beeped and ticked, off in the mess where Mathew had built his bomb. Lena glanced towards it, momentarily distracted. Imogen took her chance and leapt forward, grabbing her arm and pushing the gun away. Lena screamed as soon as their skin made contact, dropping the gun and pulling away, clutching her arm. The skin was a bright, angry red where Imogen had touched her. "What?!" she gasped, staring at her arm.
"Ice burns, you know," Imogen spat. Lena gaped. It was her turn to smile. "You should try being nicer to people. Maybe then they'd be less likely to betray you." And she pressed her hands to Lena's face.
Clint was lost until he heard the screaming close by, leading him to the lab. It cut off abruptly just as he got close. Imogen pushed through the door a moment later, looking panicked. "Imogen!" he called, drawing her attention.
She looked at him for a moment with wide eyes, and then hurried over, grabbing his arm and dragging him back the way he had come. "We've gotta go," she gasped, rounding a corner. "Mathew rigged the lab – he said three minutes till it blows so…could be any second…"
"What?" He took the lead, dragging her now – she was limping, he noticed. "Who's Mathew?"
"Tell you la-" There was a boom as Mathew's bomb finally exploded, drowning her out. Clint grabbed her and pulled her to the ground as a wave of heat passed over them and the acrid smell of smoke filled the air.
"You're really cold," he gasped once it had passed, helping her up. Her hands were freezing – he hadn't noticed it before, through his sleeve, but now… "How are you so cold?"
"I, uh…" She shook her head, glancing back towards the lab. "It's a long story."
Clint eyed her. "We get out of here," he said. "And then you tell me everything. Deal?"
She took a moment to catch her breath, to work through it all again, and then nodded. "Deal."