2. We Make Our Own Demons
Bruce really did like living in newly dubbed Avengers tower. It was nice working along side someone everyday, even if that someone did poke, prod and tease him constantly. It was strange yet enticing to Bruce. Maybe it was just surreal to have someone treat him like an actual human being, which he was but many people seemed to have forgotten that over the years.
Living with most of the other Avengers was a very interesting experience. Though he hit it off with some better than others: like Clint for example. The archer moved in not long before Banner came back around. During the whole tesseract crisis, Bruce and Clint really didn't talk to one another which really did turn out to be a shame because Clint was a pretty cool guy.
The first night Banner was back in New York, he found Clint sitting alone at one of Tony's many bars. The ended up spending the night comparing sob stories. Talking about their shared Daddy issues and taking maybe one too many shots of alcohol and that was a rare commodity for both of them. The archer confessed that he really wasn't afraid of Hulk, though he did not want to be his enemy in any way. Warming up to Banner helped to ensure that wouldn't happen. Oddly enough it never crossed Clint's mind.
Steve seemed polite enough. He always strived to at least have some amount of communication with his every member of the team. Sadly Banner didn't have much to talk about with him. Every once in a while he would ask Steve about the 40's or try to explain some scientific term to Captain, trying not to laugh as he did. Banner saw great amounts of intelligence in the soldier almost immediately and thought that it was such a shame for the man to be left behind in the vast advancements of time when he would have had so much to give.
Thor was... eccentric. Whenever he came to earth and visited the Avengers he would greet all of them in turn. He would talk and celebrate all their battles together, shouting excitedly as he did. Banner wouldn't be surprised if all of New York got to relive those battles as well. He would often ask Bruce about the Hulk, that made him uncomfortable for several reasons. Eventually Thor would catch on and apologize, but that just left thing's even more awkward between them.
Then there was Natasha. She really didn't want to be around Bruce unless it was absolutely necessary. Like for mission's or those special team bonding nights which no one would actually confirm was a thing or not. They only would they give stiff exchanges, making everyone else tense. The remaining four Avengers decided that this had to stop.
Natasha had received and encrypted message one night on her tablet, which was really very strange considering it was her old S.H.I.E.L.D commissioned one and she knew better than anyone that S.H.I.E.L.D was down for the count. It was intriguing. She eventually got it all sorted out. It took her two days actually. Most all forms of data encryption from S.H.I.E.L.D had been leaked to the public and so it was apparent that none of those methods could be used. When she finally figured it out it was because she had tried an old method that she and only a handful of others knew from S.H.I.E.L.D, an nearly ancient form of coding patented by, yours truly, the Red Room. Natasha didn't know then that that was a clue.
Fury's message was clear. Where to meet, how to meet and when. Natasha still considered the man a boss and sort of mentor still, but she wasn't so sure if he knew that. She did know however that he wouldn't be asking her for help in this way if he didn't desperately need it. The only way he could have been more forward was to waltz into the tower and ask her then. He sent her a message that only she could decrypt and gave her explicit instructions on meeting up. Natasha didn't need any persuasion.
A part of the message detailed an apparent series of strange murders. Strange was a term that never seemed to bode well in Natasha's experience.
The former assassin met up with her former boss at a children's playground in the city. Very inconspicuous. Fury was already seated on a bench, the particular one Natasha had been looking for. She sat down on the opposite side without saying a word.
"Romanoff," he greeted shortly.
"Director," she says back just as dryly.
"Not anymore," Fury corrects, shooting back that answer particularly quick.
"Force of habit," Natasha demurs smoothly. "I almost didn't recognize you without the eye-patch." Fury snorts and shakes his head. That was the kind of remark he would expect from Stark, not so much from Romanoff. Still, he had faked his death and dropped off the face of the earth for months, so maybe a bit of snark was expected.
"I find that children normally like to call it out," Fury says as he taps his black shades "not the type of thing I wanted to deal with today." Natasha can't help but smirk, even just slightly. The older man slides something across the bench in such a manner that it isn't even noticed or seen by the spy until it taps the ends of her fingers. Natasha discreetly picks it up and looks it over.
"There doesn't seem to be any particular type of pattern, except for one," explains the former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Natasha was only skimming most of it over, scanning it for key words that generally called her attention. She flipped to the back of the folder where a few photographs were stuffed. Her pale fingers tracing around several of the devastating images. Now she knew why Fury had called her in for her specific help.
"The Red Room," Natasha concluded, still unable to tear her eyes away from the photo's the the man had provided. Fury nodded grimly.
"Agent Romanoff, no one knows the Red Room better than you." Natasha hmed as a subtle, barely existent response.
"I guess not." Natasha only looked a second longer at the images. She then turned her gaze back up at the former Director. "What do you need from me?" Fury's expression still stayed stoic. He knew Romanoff, knew her well enough to guess her tone, even if to anyone else nothing could be found inside it. He knew better.
"I'm not your boss anymore, Romanoff, I can't force you to do anything, but before you make your decision there's something else I'd like you to see." He then pulled out a piece of paper buried beneath the gory photo's Natasha had laid in front and on top of other things."I've been informed that our special friends in Germany have been consorting with the member's of the Red Room," announced Fury and after that so no more as it was pretty explicit and he needed to give Natasha time to read and mull it all over.
"H.Y.D.R.A," Natasha practically sneered. They've had several run-ins with the psychotic, scientific very recently. They had reason to believe that they might have Loki's scepter. They all hoped that they were wrong. "You think they're negotiating some kind of deal?" Inquired the spy.
"Indefinitely," Fury decided and there was no pleasure in his tone from voicing it "but what I'm actually concerned about is what kind of research they're teaming up to do." Fury motioned for her to flip over to the next page, she did as prompted. Natasha's eyes trailed over the text, her eyes instantly going wide.
"You can't be serious," she breathed. Fury sighed. Natasha was not one to shock or scare easily, but this was a subject that struck her at her core.
"I am. They have been recently researching Project: Gamma Pulse." Natasha dropped the file back down onto the rustic wooden bench. Still in a small bit of nervous shock.
"Any leads on what they plan to do specifically? I don't know about you, but an army of Hulk's sounds like one of those groups style more than the other," pointed out Natasha. Fury had to agree that it did sound like H.Y.D.R.A, they had vied for the Hulk's raw power and strength as soon as the Harlem incident happened, but the Red Room made absolutely no sense to either of them.
"No I don't have any other leads or information as of late. Just what you see here. I know it's not much to go on."
"Just enough to make a lot of people very nervously," Natasha says, her tone now completely unreadable, even to Fury. The former Director being able to read the other spy wasn't always one way glass because Natasha had a pretty good idea on what he was about to say next.
"There was only even one person who ever came close to figuring this out," Fury says "how to shut it down." Natasha's breath hitched almost unnotably. There it was.
"Didn't really turn out so well for him though, did it," Natasha retorts.
"I don't particularly like it either. The man is one step away from becoming a full blown mad scientist."
"He's already Jekyll and Hyde," Natasha mutters, looking around the area, scanning the perimeter with her eyes even though it's highly unlikely that anyone threatening would be here or even around in the area.
"He's still our best shot and successfully shutting it down. Anyone else we know is easily twenty years away from the level of comprehension he has on the subject," Fury explains and Natasha knows it, that doesn't mean she had to like it. "Again. I can't force you to do anything you don't want to... but the trail of bodies this new wake of disaster leaves is on all of us that knew." There was silence for a long while. A long while after that. It was clear that the spy needed to gather her thoughts. It was breaking into the seventh minute when she finally spoke up.
"What's our play?"