And I Was Sorry For What I'd Done
"I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become." – Carl Jung
"Put down the bow."
A female voice spat the command as the barrel of a silencer pressed up against the back of his head ominously.
Clint looked back up at the Widow but she did nothing. There was a tension about her that had Clint believing the woman currently holding a gun to his head was not a friend to either of them – which begged the question of why the Widow had come back for her at all.
He had a feeling the answer was not a good one for the woman behind him.
"Right, well," He said – ignoring the other woman completely and speaking only to the Widow who was leant casually against the ruins in front of him. "The first thing you and I are going to do when we get back is have a very serious conversation about what is considered appropriate company."
Clint had never seen anyone glare at him with less amusement than the Widow did in that moment – and he could be a pretty annoying guy. Though he had a feeling Phil might give her a run for her money when he found out Clint had ditched him.
He stared at the red-headed assassin for a moment before breaking into a grin and laughing outright – earning that slight surprise from her again and unsettling the woman behind him. The gun at his head withdrawing slightly.
"Don't worry," He snickered at the Widow. "I'm just messing with you. You'll get used to it."
He had barely finished speaking when he pivoted, the other woman's distraction allowing him to catch her off guard and use his bow as a staff to knock the gun away from his head just in time for the shot she fired to go wide.
Unfortunately she recovered more quickly than Clint thought possible. She let the gun fall from her hand without a second thought only for the other to arch towards him – knife first. Clint barely managed to get an arm up to prevent the knife burying itself in his chest, but the movement was futile in the end.
The knife never even got close to him.
A flash of red was all the warning he got before the Widow was on them both. She caught the other woman's descending arm before swinging between her and Clint, capturing that arm and using it to propel them both forwards. They slammed into the ground a few feet in front of him in a tangle of powerful limbs, giving Clint his first opportunity to take in the new face. From what he could see, calling her a woman was a bit of a stretch – Clint doubted that she was even eighteen. She was the Widow's opposite in almost everyway. Where the Widow was small, controlled, with fiery red hair the other girl was long, wild and blonder than anyone Clint had ever seen. Their combat style though was identical, just like the men in the facility. Whoever this girl was, she had clearly been trained by the same people who trained the Widow.
Unlike the men at the facility, however, this girl had her skill as well.
They grappled for a moment, each blow met equally, until the Widow managed to get a more secure grip on her and drove them both into a nearby concrete, support beam with enough force to potentially crack both of their skulls open. As was the pattern the Widow recovered first, as if she hadn't felt the blow at all. She blocked a wild swing the blond sent as her before seizing her roughly by the throat and shoving her back towards Clint.
"Your turn," Clint's voice was as cold and unwavering as the drawn bow in his arms. "Drop it." He ordered the blonde who had yet another knife gripped in one of her hands.
She didn't even look at him. Instead she kept her gaze entered on the Widow who was barely a few feet from her and stalking closer inch by inch.
"I see the infection didn't kill him." The girl commented casually, nodding her head towards Clint. "Lucky boy." Infection? Is that what she'd poisoned him with? Is that why it hadn't shown up in any of the doctors' tests? He couldn't help but throw a heated glare in the Widow's direction for that particular stunt – it was bad enough that she had shot him but infect him. Infect him with what? Before he could think too much about it the girl was speaking again, a loathing settling in her voice. "You are not going to be so fortunate, Natalia." All thought of infection fled his mind and he began gripping his bow a little tighter. Clint had the feeling this girl got close to her targets due to them constantly underestimating her ability. He was not about to be one of them.
When she spoke again her voice had lost all of its false-civility. There was nothing but hatred in every syllable.
Whatever history the two had, it was not a good one.
"I deserve that title." The blonde spat, hunching towards the Widow who still stood only a few feet away from her looking cool as a cucumber. Clint got the impression though that there wasn't much that would unsettle the redheaded assassin.
He was right.
The slightest of smirks tugged at her lips for a second as she stared at the blonde girl before her as if she was nothing more than a petulant child.
"Come and take it then." The Widow goaded.
For a moment the blonde said nothing, just stared at the Widow. When she did finally respond her voice was sickly sweat once more.
Clint knew that tone.
"SNIPER!" He roared, pulling back and throwing himself behind a large concrete slab in the rubble nearby as bullets rained down in the exact place he had been standing not seconds ago, echoing in through the abandoned ruins. The blonde – now free of Clint's threatening bow – took the opportunity to launch herself at the Widow, sending them both crashing through the window of the half ruined facility behind them and out of Clint's sight. He was bared from following by another wave of bullets that slammed into the concrete slab he was taking cover behind so instead he dove into the building beside him. The wall closest to him had collapsed in the explosion so he only had a few feet he had to cross before he was back undercover and now able to get a better look at what he was up against.
From what he could tell it was only two gunmen, spaced evenly along the rooftop of a third building that overlooked the courtyard in which the Widow, the blonde and he had been standing. They must have set up while the blonde distracted the Widow and him because Clint had searched every building on the site multiple times before coming out into the open. After all, he was originally a sniper. He knew the dangers of being visible to the wrong people. He also knew that those snipers were here to keep him out of the way as neither of them had fired a shot at the Widow or the blonde.
He returned the arrow he had drawn earlier to his quiver and slipped his torso through his bowstring so that the bow itself hung across his back. Setting off at a sprint he took to ascending the ruined building as quickly as possible.
His S.O. in the army had given him a piece of advice on his first day as a sniper in the field and it had never left him.
Make the first shot count, he had said, because you won't live long enough to take a second.
Clint was going to teach that very lesson to whoever these people were.
The building's stairs were perilous – an entire floor having almost crumbled completely – but with some agility and adrenaline he managed to climb to the fifth floor and exit into a corridor that would bring him closest to the adjacent building. The window at the end of that corridor had been shattered already, but the window into the adjacent building had not. Unfortunately there was little he could do about that.
Picking up speed he reached the end of the corridor and launched himself out of the broken widow and through the closed one across from it. There were no shots from the snipers above him – a small mercy – as he leapt but he wasn't stupid enough to think that they wouldn't hear his crashing entrance. He crashed through the opposite window and into a front roll on the glass littered flooring before using what little momentum he had left to propel himself towards the staircase across from him.
Instead of heading upwards though he waited, poised by the entrance, and soon the tell tail sound of boots descending informed him that the snipers had abandoned their posts when they heard him and come in search of him personally, as he had hoped they would.
He withdrew a Desert Eagle from its holster at his side and fired several shots through the wall in rapid succession. The sound of one of the gunmen falling met him immediately.
The other came barging through the doorway a moment later.
While Clint may not have possessed the hand-to-hand skills that the Black Widow obviously maintained, his were still nothing to be sneered at. He hadn't lost a spar at S.H.I.E.L.D in over two years despite having challenged almost every agent.
The man swung first and Clint dodged easily, ducking beneath the man's wild swing and landing a jab at his liver. Spinning quickly he narrowly escaped a right-hook, but couldn't avoid the knee that collided painfully with his chest. He took a leaf out of the Widow's book and caught the next fist that the man threw at him. With a sharp twist he shattered the wrist and the man pulled away with a hiss of pain. Clint propelled him further with a forceful boot to the chest before drawing a Desert Eagle and putting a single bullet in the man's forehead. He fell to the floor, dead, a second later.
He shoved the gun back into its holster while rubbing his chest. His own bullet wound may have healed insanely quickly but taking a blow to it hadn't been exactly comfortable. Ignoring the burn that had returned to his torso he stepped closer to the fallen man – rummaging through his combat gear for any markings or identification. There was nothing. Not a damn thing. Not even his weapons had registration numbers on them – no scratches where the registration numbers had been filed off.
Who the hell are these people?
The sudden shattering of glass from the one of the adjacent buildings had him dropping the body and sprinting to the window across from him. For a moment he just scanned both buildings, unsure of where the noise had come from, until he saw it.
A flash of red in the building the two women had made a crashing entrance.
Clint had an arrow notched the second he saw them. The two were a blur that passed by a window on the second floor every so often, but neither of them paused long enough for Clint to gage which of them seemed to have the upper hand. In fact neither of them paused at all.
Clint knew one thing about these people – their skill and stamina was incredible.
He stood by the window and looked down at the two for several moments, watching each land hit after hit and throwing each other across the room. The Widow finally got her strong fingers around the blonde's neck, but in desperation one of the blonde's arms swung free – arching downwards towards the Widow with her knife gripped tightly in it.
Once again the knife never reached its intended target.
An arrow imbedded itself in the blonde's eye with enough force to rip her from the Widow's grip and slam her head backwards into the wall behind her. The Widow just stared for a second and then her head snapped around to look directly through the shattered window at Clint who stood over two hundred feet away, three floors up and at a odd angle to the window.
There was nothing mild about her surprise this time.
She stared at Clint for several seconds across the several hundred feet between them, eyes wide and breathing laboured, until Clint raised a very pointed finger towards her before jabbing it downwards.
You. Downstairs. Now. The motion portrayed clearly.
She nodded slowly, still not taking her eyes off him even as he pulled away from the window and headed towards the stairwell.
He took each stair two at a time until he was at the ground floor and stalking back into the courtyard between the three buildings, his bow gripped tightly but not raised. Yet.
She emerged seconds later, cautiously and slowly, her eyes once again trained on him with a new intensity. An odd mixture of fear and admiration.
"Who are you?" She asked, still looking at him as if she was finally seeing him for the first time. Perhaps she was. People had a tendency to underestimate him until they saw him shoot.
He could tell by the way she was looking at him now that it was a mistake she was only going to make once.
"I'm the man who is going to put an arrow through your skull unless you start talking right the hell now." He growled, flexing his the hand gripping his bow threateningly. "I want," He spat, taking care to speak every word clearly and not loose his temper too much. "Some god-damn answers, so you can give them to me or I can-"
"Okay." She cut him off evenly much to his surprise. She leant against the wall beside her, keeping her distance, much like she had when he first found her in this courtyard. "What do you want to know?"
To his credit he recovered quickly. "Who was she?" He asked at once, his curiosity taking over. If she was going to speak he was going to question her until he was blue in the face, because he had a feeling her compliance wouldn't last very long. "And why the hell would you come back here if it wasn't to take up my offer?"
"Her name was Lydia." She said "We-" She paused for a moment, struggling for words for the first time. "-Grew up together." She finished eventually, before reconsidering and adding, "In a sense."
He ignored that odd bit of information for now, something else had been bothering him since she had spoke earlier. "What did she mean when she said she wanted your title?" He asked.
"Where I come from certain titles have certain status – the Black Widow being one of the highest." She explained casually, as if clarifying the social structure of a multi-corporate business rather than an underground faction of assassins. "And the only way to take that title is to kill the current one."
"That would mean you…" He began but wasn't sure how to finish.
She had no such trepidation. "Killed the last one." She finished. "Yes, I did."
"So what?" He asked, incredulously. "Your organisation promotes the killing of your co-workers if it'll get you a promotion."
"Not exactly." She said dryly. "They do promote the decapitation of traitors, though."
"And again I ask, why did you come back?" He asked, incredulously. "You knew she was going to try and kill you."
"For this." For the first time Clint noticed a small black box in one of her hands. She held it out for him and he saw that it resembled a kind of hard-drive – small and slim.
"What is that?" He asked, fighting the urge to take a step closer and examine it.
"It's a bio-sensor." She said looking down at it, her jaw flexing at the very sight of it. "It's a locator for the trackers they implanted in us when we join. It's how she found me." She explained more thoroughly, clenching her hand around it again and lowering it back to her side where Clint could barely see it. "And now I have a bio-sensor I can find mine and get it out."
"Never heard of an X-ray in Russia I take it?" Clint commented, his natural snark firmly back in place.
"The trackers are made of a similar compound to bone. An X-ray wouldn't find it." She said disdainfully, her heated glare back in place as well, until a moment later though it was gone. Replaced by a more grim expression. "Like I said, these people really don't like deserters." She went on, turning the device in her hands over and over. She lost herself in thought, before looking back up and Clint as if she had forgotten he was there. "Any other questions?"
"Just one." He said haughtily, having to consciously keep himself from yelling the next question out of frustration. "Who the hell are 'these people'?!"
It was all he could do not to fire an arrow at her head when she answered. "That is-" She began, pausing for a moment, before evading the question with a sigh. "An obscenely long story."
"Oh, we have time." He snapped immediately. "We have all the damn time-"
"No we don't." She cut him off. "My tracker is still transmitting, we're not going to be alone for much longer." There was an urgency in her voice that Clint trusted. Even if he didn't like it. He and Phil had been cooped up and beyond frustrated for days – he wanted his answers right the hell now.
But she was right.
He'd seen enough of 'these people' to know that he didn't want to meet any more.
He was about to say as much when she spoke again, quieter this time. More sincere. "And you were wrong." She said meeting his gaze without hesitation and he saw something in her eyes that he couldn't name. It wasn't trust – he doubted that she had ever trusted anyone in her life – it was more a lack of hostility. "I did come back here to take you up on your offer." She clarified, before adding with a nod towards his bullet wound, "If you'd lived."
"If I'd…" He repeated equally incredulous and outraged. "Look, in my organisation the occasional inter-agency homicide is not condoned." He said animatedly. The words might have been considered sarcastic if he wasn't actually a little concerned that she didn't realize this. When she didn't reply that concern grew. What had he gotten himself into? "Okay?" He asked, vehemently."Noted." The dry tone was back.
"Good." He snapped, just as scathingly. "Then let's go somewhere more private and cut this thing out before anymore of 'these people' show up."
The drive to where the Widow had stashed the case was the most awkward of his life. Which was saying something.
The sun had begun to set as they fled the ruined facility, the city and highways bustling with workers heading for home. The sedan Clint had hotwired from the S.H.I.E.L.D car park fitting right in amongst the other family cars.
Clint had disabled the GPS as soon as he left the Berlin base to keep Phil from following him straight to the facility and physically dragging him back to New York, but he repaired it now. Knowing Phil the man would be on them in a matter of minutes, ready to unleash one of his better tirades at Clint's reckless behaviour.
Just enough time to get to the case.
Hopefully that would diminish his anger just a little. Though Clint got the feeling that seeing the Black Widow alive and with him wouldn't help him much.
He had been firm that he – and S.H.I.E.L.D – would only take her if they had the case as well, and to his surprise she hadn't protested. In fact she had merely nodded, given an address that was not too far from them, and made her way towards where he had parked his stolen car as if she had expected nothing less.
Clint would have been lying if he said her easy compliance wasn't a little disconcerting.
Since telling him the address, however, she hadn't said a word, which was probably for the best. Every time she opened her mouth his frustration tended to grow exponentially. The drive was likely to be a lot less heated and strained if both of them remained silent, but there was one question that he couldn't keep out of his head no matter hard he tried. No matter how much he tried to stay silent.
So he stopped trying.
"How old was she?" He asked finally, not needing to go into any more detail. They both knew he was talking about the blonde girl he had killed.
She had looked so young. Younger than anyone Clint had killed before no matter how necessary it might have been and he was a little afraid to find out the answer.
He had never had the strictest of moral codes – he was an assassin himself for some time after all – but one thing he had been unwavering on was children. He had never, and had been sure that he would never, murder a child, and the fear that he had was about to consume him.
"Old enough to be held accountable for her actions." Was the only answer he got from the red head beside him.
"Accountable for what?" He asked heatedly. "Trying to kill you."
"No." She said, not sparing him even a glance as she stared out of the car's side window. "For everything else." She went on. "She'd been active for nearly a decade. Believe me – what you did was justified."
Ten years? She hadn't looked legal let alone old enough to have been in this business for ten years. For what he was sure was the hundredth time in the last few days he found himself more curious about whom 'these people' were.
And even more disgusted by them.
"How long have you been active?" The question was out before he had even realized he wanted to know the answer.
At first she was silent for so long that he though she wouldn't answer at all.
When she finally did, he almost wished she hadn't.
He nodded slowly, careful to keep his expression neutral despite the churning in his stomach.
Over a decade? She'd been doing this for over a decade. He'd only been an assassin for a measly five years. And four of those had been for the government – assassinations that he had known to be justified and right.
He had only worked for hire for little over a year. One year, and yet sometimes he felt like he was drowning in the innocent blood he spilt. She'd been killing innocent people for over a decade.
He didn't know whether to be horrified or impressed that she was still functioning.
He knew with absolute certainty that if Phil hadn't found him Clint's own darkness would have eaten him alive long before he reached a decade.
"How old are you?" He asked, sure that he was pushing his luck but to curious to remain quiet. If she was as young as he thought she was then she would have already been a killer by the time she was eight years old, at least.
Again he was a little hesitant to hear her answer. Only this time she didn't give one. He waited several minutes but she said nothing.
"Look, you're going to have to tell all of this to S.H.I.E.L.D anyway so you might as well tell me now." He argued, shooting a sidewards glance at her.
It took some time but eventually she did answer.
Somehow it was worse than he had imagined.
"I don't know." She said evenly.
"How can you not know?" He asked fighting the urge to look over at her again instead of concentrating on the road.
"They never told me."
Not much could render Clint silent.
Clint had always known that, compared to others, he'd had a rather tough life. His parents had died when a drunk driver hit their car. Only Clint and his brother Barney had escaped alive. They were later sent to an orphanage before fulfilling the age of stereotype of running away to a circus. It was there he discovered his perchance for a bow, found a new family amongst others who had done the same, and then lost it all. Again.
Then came his under aged stint in the military, after that came the subsequent incarceration because of the under aged stint in the military, an alarmingly simple prison break and then the longest year of his life. His thirteen months as a paid assassin – thirteen months of trying to loose himself in world's darkest corners.
Then Phil and the best few years of his life. A place where he had felt he belonged completely.
No. Not the easiest of lives, not kind or gentle, but shooting the woman beside him a glance he realized that despite how unpleasant it had been, it had still been a life. He had lived.
Something that he was beginning to doubt she had done at all.
"How long were you with them?" He asked after several moments of silence.
Her answer was immediate. "Always."
He nodded but kept his attention firmly on the road despite his burning desire to ask exactly how long 'always' was. Since birth? He bit his tongue though, sensing that her compliance was waning and all too aware that there were some more pressing issues to be discussed. "Listen, I know I said that S.H.I.E.L.D would take you in – and I meant it – but I may have glazed over how difficult a process it might be." He said, shooting her a glance to see how she took the words. She didn't react at all, not that he was surprised, just kept staring out of the passenger window waiting for him to go on. When he did the words were more strained. "Or that they had actually agreed." He admitted. "It was kind of a spur of the moment offer, but one that I fully intend to see through. You're just going to have to work with me a little."
"If you get me a meeting with your Director, I can do the rest."
"Yeah, he's not-" Clint began, struggling to find a way to describe Fury that didn't include the phrase 'paranoid bastard'. "-the most trusting of men." He settled with. "Or forgiving." He added. "Or accepting." There really was no way to describe Nick Fury – and that was probably because no one actually knew anything about him. Clint had asked him what happened to his eye once. Only once. The lack of an answer and three months worth surveillance in Nepal watching a deserted mountain shack had convinced him not to ask again. "He's-"
"If you can get me a private meeting, none of that will be a problem." She cut him off. If her certainty hadn't caught his attention her next words would have. As it was he swerved so hard he nearly wrapped them around a passing pole. "I have information that Nickolas Fury has been searching for his entire life, and no reason to keep it to myself anymore."
How the hell did she know his name? Clint hadn't even known that Fury existed before he found himself in his office the day Phil brought him in – and he had done his research as soon as Phil approached him days earlier. Dug up everything he could find on the organisation. Memorised nearly every aspect of it.
Clint's assessment of Fury as a paranoid bastard was not one he had given lightly. The man was the spy of all spies after all.
Hell, Clint hadn't even been sure that Nick was short for Nicolas until that moment.
"What kind of information?" He prompted abruptly. His curiosity was back with a vengeance. So naturally she said nothing. "If you want me to get you, the Black Widow – infamous assassin – a private meeting with Director Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D who you shouldn't even know exists, you're going to have to give me something to work with." He argued insistently – and he was right. Without something to offer they were going to kill her before he even had a chance to speak with Phil, let alone Fury.
She nodded slowly.
"Tell him 'Devyat'."
When she said nothing more Clint glared over at her. "'Devyat'?" He repeated.
What the hell was that meant to mean?"He'll understand." She said, unconcerned by his clear annoyance. "Tell him I know what it is, and he'll see me."
The roads were growing smaller, and the traffic lighter, as Clint grew closer to the suburban address that she had given him. He was both relieved and anxious for their brief trip to end. On the one hand her company was less than enjoyable, her steely outer shell and the fact that she had tried to kill him on multiple occasions darkening the mood of the car – but at the same time Clint was more than aware that the next few hours were not going to be much easier.
"Alright." He supressed his curiosity for the time being before pulling into the final street and heading towards the apartment building she claimed to have stored the case within. "But the journey to Fury though is not going to be very pleasant." He warned her, hoping to keep the animosity as low as possible when agents did finally catch up with them. "S.H.I.E.L.D are under the impression that you bombed a consulate, and they don't usually take that kind of thing well." He looked over at her, realizing that she had never actually denied the accusation, his stomach sinking. "You didn't actually bomb it, did you?"
Finally she tore her eyes from the passenger window, sending him a dry look. "No." She said coolly.
"Good." He replied. That would make things a little easier at least. "That's one thing I guess." He was nodding to himself, flipping through the ways he might pitch this to Phil when the older man caught up with them, when a something occurred to him. "You didn't kill three SH.I.E.L.D agents in 2009 by any chance, did you?" He asked cautiously, sure that this was going to become another question that he regretted. He was right. She said nothing. "Wonderful." He groaned, thinking back to her small file and the suspected assassinations within it. So apparently that one was rightfully suspected. That wasn't going to go down well. "Just- just keep that to yourself for now." He warned her, grinding his teeth. Screw getting her into S.H.I.E.L.D, he was going to be lucky to get her through tonight alive when the other found them. S.H.I.E.L.D didn't take the murder of their own well. "Whatever information you have better be as valuable as you think."
"It is." She said.
They were close now. Only a few apartment complexes away, and Clint knew that that meant Phil would be too. He had had more than enough time to track them down.
And Clint had a feeling the handler would be more than motivated after his abrupt departure.
"Why did you leave?" Clint asked, spotting the apartment building and realizing this might be the last few minutes he had with her. "Why defect?" He asked bluntly. "If you want me to trust you, help you, especially after you shot me, then I need a reason." He looked over at her and found, to his surprise, that she was actually looking back for once. That she was listening. "I need to know that you want this."
He wondered, weeks, even years, later if she would have answered. And if so, what her answer might have been. Whether it would have been the truth. If he would have believed her. If she even knew herself in that moment.
He never found out.
A black, unmarked SUV collided violently with the passenger side of their car before she could answer.