Chapter 13: All for Naught
The sound of rhythmic knocks reach your ears and pulls you from the darkness of your sleep. For a moment, you thought you were just imagining it and tried to drift back off into nothing. After a few seconds, there it was again.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, five Mississippi, knock, knock, knock.
You groan as you slowly sit up. You were still in the same clothes from yesterday, your hair was matted, and the muscles in your back were sore. You didn't bother turning on the lights, figured who was ever at the door would just have to accept you for what you were. You open the door just a crack so you could see who was on the other end but not enough for them to enter. Your (e/c) eyes meet the green eyes of Natasha Romanoff.
"Morning. Marco thought it would be a good idea if I came to get you and escorted you to the conference room this morning," she greets with that almost dry tone of voice.
You stare a second longer than you should before you answer,
"I'm just waking up. I need to get myself together."
"I can wait."
You don't want anyone else in here...Steve Rogers had already crossed the threshold and this woman wasn't him. This woman was calculating, tactical...she would see things she shouldn't.
"Give me at least twenty minutes," you state before making a move to close the door. Her hand stops it.
"Marco said that I should try to connect with you better. Can I come in?"
You can't threaten her like you could the other members of S.H.I.E.L.D. If she were anyone else, making your eyes glow or moving her with your shadow would easily cause her to fear you. This was a spy...a Russian spy trained in the art of mental and physical combat.
"When you enter the room, stay by the door. Don't touch anything."
You opened the door wider and allowed her to squeeze in through the gap. You watched her eyes adjust to the darkness.
"Can you see in the dark? Is that part of your powers?" she asks with her hands in front of her.
You ignore her as you make your way to the bathroom and commence with your daily routine. You'd normally take a shower but the knots in your back would need more than hot water to loosen them. You brushed your teeth, washed your face, and combed out your hair. Looking in the mirror, you weren't sure who you were looking at this morning.
Was this the same woman from yesterday or the little girl from all those years ago?
Aldridge-the man I befriended on a whim...what were you thinking?
Looking at the towel rack, you realized that you hadn't brought in a change of clothes with you. You scoff at your mistake and cause your shadow to move towards the bedroom. Worrying that Natasha would draw her gun at the sound of rustling clothes and drawers being opened, you cause your shadow to move over the darkness of the carpet, slither up the wall and flick on the light by the door. Using your mind, you quickly use your shadow to write a smoke message on the wall:
It's just me. I forgot to grab some clothes.
You can only picture what her face must look like as you control your shadow to open the top drawer and pull out some undergarments. One minute they're in the bedroom and in the next, they are hanging on the towel rack. You then use your shadow to go to the closet and pull out a short yellow sun dress and a pair of sandals. As you get dressed in the bathroom, your shadow slinks back to the bathroom. Keeping your hair hanging, you take one more look in the mirror before turning off the light and walking back into the bedroom.
"You ok?" you ask more out of instinct than concern. You sit on the bed and put on some lotion. As you finish, you go back to your dresser and put on some pearl earrings.
"Yes, just wasn't expecting that. You ready to go now?"
"Yea." You grab your phone and allow Natasha to leave the room first before clicking off the light and locking the door behind you. The walk is a quiet one-that's one thing you can respect of the red head. Looking down, you wondered if you should have "dressed up". You didn't feel like putting on pants but can't remember the last time you've worn a dress or earrings for that matter.
It's because of what happened yesterday-that file. Something in your memory sparked-something about your mom. She would always love to see you put on some form of jewelry when you wore a dress or anything really. Before you walked out the house she'd ask,
"You aren't going to put on some earrings or a necklace?"
This memory causes your chest to hurt as you follow behind Natasha into the conference room. On the table is a tray of bagels, Danishes, and other breakfast items along with a coffee pot and tea kettle. Immediately, everyone looks up as you two enter but something feels off.
"Good morning Ms. (l/n), you look nice this morning," Steve is the first one to greet you. The smile on his face is real but the emotions you sense from the other men of the Avengers isn't joyful.
This emotion is defiance. They way they look at you as you reach for a blueberry muffin and a coffee mug is all you need-is this what you felt from Natasha at the door? You keep your head bent down as Tony goes on to start a conversation. You feel the emotion radiating off of them all, except Steve but it's strongest from Dr. Banner. It angered you that you didn't know why.
Did Dr. Banner tell them that he could see and hear Conscious? If you made eye-contact right now, would that give everything away? You weren't sure what to do in this situation.
"Woah," Robert's voice brought you out of your mind.
"I don't think I've ever seen you in a dress before. You gonna be ok wearing that at combat training?"
"Damn, is that today? Ugh, it should be fine, I'll put on some shorts underneath or something," you say looking down at the dress again.
"Robert, you mind sitting in with us this morning?" Clint speaks up.
Now you knew that your earlier theories probably weren't so far-fetched. You focus on pouring the steaming black liquid in your mug and fixing your coffee the way you liked it. Sitting down, you cross your feet at the ankles and tear off pieces of the muffin before putting them in your mouth.
"I don't mind since I really don't have anything to do."
From the corner of your eye, you watched him walk back towards the door to key in the code to activate the security lockdown. He takes a seat next to you after getting some coffee of his own while the Avengers sit across from you both. You didn't want to be anywhere near these people, especially since Shadow's antics yesterday.
"Ms. (l/n), are you alright with us going over some more of your file?" Steve starts.
"Before we begin that, I have something I need to share," Thor interjects.
"What's that?" Dr. Banner asks.
"Yesterday, at the park, I believe (y/n)'s eyes went dead while she was talking about her friends and the cover story of her death."
All eyes were on you instantly.
"What happened when her eyes went dead?" Robert asks.
"Nothing especially, I don't think. I didn't even notice that her eyes went dead," Tony answers.
"That's because they weren't dead," you clarify.
"If they were, then you six and everyone in that park would've been killed."
"A-are you serious?" Thor asks.
"Yea, that's usually what happens. People get hurt or killed."
Natasha clears her throat before grabbing at one of the papers on the desk,
"Let's get back on track. What are you willing to tell us about Aldridge? Can you tell us how you both first made contact?"
There it was. Going for the jugular. You push your food to the side and take another swig of coffee.
Answering her with a question wasn't gonna do any good.
"We meet when I was walking to school. His cover story was that he was an avid bird watcher."
You feel their defiance slowly begin to edge away but it was still in the air, like the fading smoke of a forest fire.
You lean your head back to look up at the ceiling, raising your arms above your head. Your fingers move as if you're playing the piano as the shadows around the room come together over head. Your eyes glow white as you think back, each word that leaves your mouth plays out on the black backdrop.
"It was so sunny. The world was so bright. I already knew which telephone pole he was sitting on top of and Shadow had told me not to make eye-contact. I didn't want to make her mad but I had to know. Shadow had already done so much...I guess I wanted to prove I could do something on my own."
You squint your eyes at the words that just left your mouth as if looking for their true meaning. The image on the shadow pans in on you walking toward a specific telephone pole.
'Mister, what you doing up there? You'll fall if you aren't careful!'
It was hard to see what he looked like clearly with the sun blinding my eyes. He was nothing more than a black silhouette, something I was so used to seeing that I instinctively smiled and waved him down. Spending so much time in the dark with Shadow had changed me. I found happiness in the absence of light and hated anything that threatened that darkness.
I backed up slightly as I watched him slide down the pole. My smile didn't falter once I saw those eyes of his. Thinking about it still causes shivers to go down my spine. Steel grey...I'd only seen stuff like that in picture books. He was so sweet.
'Good morning little lady, shouldn't you be on your way to school?'
'I-I am! What were you doing up there mister?'
He reached in his back pocket and pulled out a small composition notebook. He opened it up and showed me drawings of birds around the neighborhood. I quickly pointed to one,
'That's a cardinal! One of mommy's favorite birds!'
The image paused. A moment in time frozen solid: you smiling happily on a bright sunny day with a man that Shadow had warned you about. You willed yourself to go on if only to see Aldridge's face.
'You really seem to know your birds. But, didn't your parents train you not to stop on the way to school? I'm sure they also taught you the rule of not talking to strangers,' his voice was deep but almost soothing. I still don't know why but I reached my hand out to him,
'Then let's not be strangers.' His face changed to surprised before he started laughing and reached his hand out to me in return.
You had to stop. You weren't ready to relive the horrors your decision caused. You waved your hands through the shadows causing them to vanish as the white glow from your eyes dissipated. As the light faded, the tears streaming from your face were visible. Even though there was no longer anything above you, you couldn't help but stare upwards.
"Sounds like he was your first love," Clint states.
"I honestly have no idea what happened to him. I searched through everything I could get my hands on to try and find him. If only just to ask what he saw or to explain what happened that day...I didn't-"
"You didn't want him to hate you," Dr. Banner finishes your sentence.
You finally make eye contact with him. You nod in agreement in the silence that has formed between you two.
"(Y/n), you mentioned that Shadow had done so much. What does that mean?" Natasha breaks the calmness in the room.
Silence was the only answer you could give them. You stand up,
"We've talked enough for today. I need to get to combat training."
"We aren't done yet," she states getting up. Her tone has changed.
You ignore her as you key in the code,
"If you want to hear more, then prove yourself worthy of it."
"Wait a minute (y/n)," Robert interjects.
"She's capable. If she could take on the Hulk, then she can handle a few rounds with me."
"C'mon Romanoff, don't you want to connect with me?"
We watch as Natasha and (y/n) stare each other down.
"Where does training usually take place?" Natasha breaks the silence.
"In the training room that you and Barton were using the other day. We need to go get the twins first, they like to monitor this kind of thing."
Walking back inside the lab, (y/n) makes her way to Dr. Hathcock's office and knocks on his door. He opens it and looks at her happily,
"You are right on time. I was just going to call for you. You-you're wearing a dress."
"Nothing gets past you, Aaron. Listen, is it cool with you if do things a little differently today?"
"Different how?" he asks coming down from his overly-excited state of mind.
"Ms. Romanoff wants to join in on the fun."
Something in her tone of voice gives me a bad feeling. Bad might not be the right word though.
"Agent Romanoff, is this true? You don't mind training with (y/n)?"
His facial expression has changed from confused to uncertainty while (y/n) looks at us from the corner of her eye.
He looks away for a second before going back into his office leaving the door opened a crack. Taking this as some unspoken sign, (y/n) walks over to a set of lockers stationed in a corner of the lab. Opening the grey door, she reaches inside and pulls out some long black pants and a white short-sleeved shirt.
"I'll be right back. I'm gonna go change and I'll meet you all and Aaron in the training room."
She walks past us before stopping,
"This probably doesn't need to be said but I need you to understand something Ms. Romanoff. I don't hold back and I don't expect you to either." She leaves us standing there waiting for Aaron.
He walks out with a camera, some sort of three legged stand, and some papers.
"What is that thing?"
"It's called a tripod. I'm going to put the camera in this area and record the fight. You'll understand why when you see her in action."
Aaron guides us to the training room to see (y/n) standing in the middle of a square shaped area leaning up against some ropes. She turns her head towards us when she sees us.
"Agent Romanoff, do you have your weapons ready?" he asks putting the camera in the tripod.
She walks up the area, pulls up the ropes and stands across from (y/n). She gets in her fighting position and (y/n) does the same. Aaron clicks a small button on the camera,
"Give us a good show ladies."
Natasha immediately runs at (y/n) with batons in each hand. She swings at her head and torso but (y/n) dodges each blow with precision. Seeing an opening, (y/n) kicks Nat in her stomach pushing her back. Pulling two knives from her back pocket, (y/n) grunts as she swings at her. Nat blocks one but the other one cuts her stomach.
She looks down to see that she isn't bleeding.
"Using the back of the blade, (y/n), why are you going easy on her?"
She runs to her, the blade aimed for her head. Natasha blocks with both batons and grabs at her wrists causing her to drop both weapons. She kicks them aside before kicking (y/n)'s feet from under her. She tries to jump on top of her but (y/n) punches her in the face. She gets up panting, running at her and pulling her arm over her shoulder to send her falling on her back but Nat quickly interlocks her legs around her neck.
As if knowing this was coming, (y/n) puts her arm between her neck and Nat's legs to keep her from tightening her grip. She spins around on her heel and throws Nat off of her. She bounces against the ropes as (y/n) causes her shadow to move over her body. Her forked tail is high behind her back as her ears are out stretched on each side of her head. Not giving Nat enough time to realize what's coming next, she runs with god-like speed, punching her in the face and stomach.
Nat grabs her fists in mid-swing and forcefully brings her arms behind her back causing her to cry out in pain. She delivers a blow to her neck and (y/n) falls to the floor. Nat pants heavily over her, wiping blood from her lip. I look towards Aaron,
"The fight is over. Why are you still recording?"
"They didn't add any footage of (y/n) fighting in those files they gave you?" he asks with a smile on his face.
The sound of gunshots draws me back to the fight as I see (y/n) is up and has jumped in midair firing at Natasha. She dodges, slips under the ropes, and hides behind the cover of a nearby sandbag. (Y/n), still floating, looks over at us. I watch as she waves her arm causing a black oval to appear beside her. She reaches inside and pulls out a sniper rifle, looks through the scoop, and sends a shot at Clint.
Instinctively, he shoots an arrow to absorb the force of the bullet. We run out the way while Aaron stays sitting on the sidelines.
"What the hell?!" Tony yells out.
"I said I don't hold back. This is a fight between the three of us!"
Natasha appears from behind the sandbag and fires shots at (y/n) who bends her back to avoid the bullets. She disappears as Clint begins firing arrows in her direction too. Tony, Dr. Banner, Steve, and I are standing by the door as Dr. Loretta walks up to the doorframe.
"Did I miss much?" she asks as if this is normal for her.
"What is going on here?" Steve asks.
"Aaron told me about the videos you all watched in his office. He also told me about the chemistry between you all, so you can't tell me that none of you saw this coming. She's just testing out how well those two work together."
We watch as Clint and Natasha stand back to back looking around the room for any sign of (y/n). The room is deathly quiet and we're all on edge. Daggers fly from a corner of the room and they dodge while Clint fires blunt arrows in that direction. (Y/n) drops feet first to the floor, her shadow moving off of her body like smoke.
"Why get me involved?" he asks pointing an arrow at her.
She just smirks as she moves the shadows in the room at them. They take the shape of spears at the last second and they narrowly dodge; the impact leaves a small hole in the floor. Natasha shoots but (y/n) disappears again and teleports behind Clint. He quickly shoots her with an electrical arrow causing her to scream and fall to the floor. Her body twitches and jumps before she shakily removes it from her forehead. They stand over her as Clint retorts,
"I think this match is over."
She cranes her neck to look up at them angrily before they find themselves looking down as shadows move up their legs. Before Clint can release another arrow, they are high in the air with (y/n) shakily standing to her feet. Her smirk is still on her face as she looks up at them,
"It'll be over when I drop you from that height."
"Now, now (y/n), I think you've proved your point," Loretta speaks up.
"How long have you been there?" she asks ignoring the fact that Nat and Clint were struggling against the shadows.
"Since the sniper rifle."
That sickly smile has returned on her face as she moves her head to the side,
"This was much better than my other work out. I'd say we really connected today, wouldn't you?"
She slowly brings the two of them down but Clint runs toward her in a fit of rage. She moves to the right before grabbing the back of his neck and crashing her knee into his stomach and throwing him down on the floor. Natasha runs to him while (y/n) looks down at them with those glowing green eyes.
"Don't be sore Barton, the fight goes to the both of you. No one has ever got the drop on me like either of you."
She shakily walks toward the door as the color from her eyes melts away. She stands near Loretta and leans her arm against the doorframe, breathing heavily.
"I haven't seen you like this in a while Demon."
"Maybe Fury wasn't wrong about them after all," she responds back with the blank tone from before.
Why does she only express the emotion of anger? Why does she pretend to get pleasure from the fear or pain of others?
She walks out of the training room still in her demon form as Steve and Tony rush over to help Natasha and Clint. Dr. Banner seems to have left some time during the battle.
This is a horrible idea. Yet here I am following behind (y/n) to a silent corner where two vending machines sit. I try to be as casual as I can as I stand next to her as she looks at the drink options in front of her.
"No need to be nervous Dr. Banner. I've made it so the cameras don't detect anything...we wouldn't want you to be seen socializing with me," her calm tone makes me jump.
"What do you mean-" I can't finish my sentence as I see that she's covered the cameras in a thick shadow. It moves like smoke just like the shadow on her body.
"Ms. (l/n), I wanted to ask you something earlier. Yesterday, you put your hands on both Miranda's and Marco's face but with Victor, you stood behind him and wrapped your arms around his chest. Which is the proper way that you devour someone's emotions?"
Her head jerks up as if something has clicked and when she turns to me, her eyes are glowing a bright purple. Standing so close to her, I can see that her entire eye isn't engulfed in the color. The color moves like water as it circles around her pupil. Her lips are turned upright and her smile almost looks real but I might be imagining this.
"You were the reason for that defiance this morning. You came to the conclusion on your own. They really don't give you the credit you deserve Dr. Banner."
She states it instead of questioning me,
"Yes. I thought it was a bit too convenient how Victor came into the office after everything else that happened."
"Yeah, it was. I didn't orchestrate that though," the 'smile' is gone.
I try to keep my face calm while in front of her but my eyebrows furrow in thought. Her eyes never leave my face as she scoffs,
"How is it that even amongst the mutants you are still an exception?"
I instantly look up at her, realizing what she must be talking about,
"I won't tell anyone about Conscious."
She glares and with that color surrounding the whites of her pupils, it gives her an inhuman look and makes me jump back internally.
"I don't mean it like that. I won't use this information against you...I just-I just know what it's like."
She moves closer to me but stops a split second later,
"You...you are a spineless little worm who thinks he can understand because he's also hurt people. You have a better chance of living a life far from S.H.I.E.L.D. than I do and that's something you can't seem to grasp. So, don't think you know me so well Dr. Banner."
A water bottle falls from the machine after my name has left her mouth. She reaches down to take it and walks away from me. With each step, her shadow slowly falls from her body and before long, the cameras are back to normal.
I want to ask Marco what emotion the color purple represents but that would raise too many unanswerable questions.
As Dr. Loretta leads us to the infirmary, Steve and Tony help Nat and Clint walk down the hallways. Dr. Banner walks up from behind me and his presence doesn't go unnoticed,
"Where did you disappear to?" Tony asked.
Shakily, he replied,
"Sorry. After she shot the rifle, I had to get out of there. I couldn't risk Hulking Out."
"Are you two going to be ok?" he asks.
"It's not as bad as it looks," Clint replies holding his side.
Entering the infirmary, Robert has things already prepared and looks at us sheepishly.
"Ugh...I kinda went through the files and looked up both of your blood types and went ahead and set up some IVs."
"What did you think she was gonna do to em?" Dr. Loretta chuckles.
"Well, it looks like she went easy on them."
As Tony and Steve places them in two beds, Dr. Loretta picks up some small stick with a screen on the end of it. She runs it over each of their bodies.
"No broken bones. Obviously, Ms. Romanoff will have some bruising since she took most of the blows. Did you manage to get a hit on her?"
"Nat pulled her arms behind her back and tried to knock her out with a blow to her neck. Mr. Barton got her directly with his taser arrow to her forehead," Dr. Hathcock answers from the door.
"Is no one going to explain to us why you all act as if this is nothing more than a usual occurrence?" I ask.
"I'm sorry," Robert speaks up, "It's just...we've seen the things she can do firsthand. So, we're a bit more numb to her behavior."
"I wouldn't say 'numb'. We've just learned to expect certain things from her," Aaron picks up the slack.
"As I discussed with Steve, can you all honestly tell me that none of you saw this coming?" Dr. Loretta asks.
That question floats over head as we let it sink in.
"Is it really ok for us to talk about this in here? With the way, she teleports, what's to say she isn't listening right now?" Tony asks.
"She's already aware of what we are talking about. She already knows how each of you feel about her so she won't waste her time observing you all. At least not now," Robert answers.
"What happened this morning Natasha? When you went to get her from her room?" Steve speaks up.
"She clearly didn't want me in her room. If she can really sense our emotions by direct or indirect contact, then she knew that I as well as the rest of us were on our guard. Well, expect Steve."
"Why is that Mr. Rogers?" Dr. Loretta pokes and probes. I can understand why (y/n) is so aggressive with her.
"I can see that she's struggling. I guess you can say that I can see a bit of myself in her. Still trying to get used to a new world."
"If that's the case, then why are you so distrusting of her Mr. Barton?"
Clint looks up at the woman,
"She doesn't trust others, much less, herself. She has made it her business to keep secrets from those trying to help her and she has no lack of-"
"Lack of what? Emotion because that couldn't be farther from the truth. She has a range of emotions but she feels it's better to keep them bottled up," Aaron defends her.
"She believes that if people are going to be hurt anyway, why not only display the emotions that coincide with pain," I answer more to myself.
"Exactly," all three answer.
"What did it mean when she said that Fury was right about us?" Tony asks.
"Fury believes that you all will be a good influence on (y/n). None of us thought he'd assign her to work with you guys though, it was a surprise to us all," Robert rubs the back of his neck.
"Why does he think that?" Nat asks.
"We can't answer that because we aren't too sure ourselves. Most of the people here feel it'll be better if (y/n) be kept in a drug-induced state or be put back in suspended animation. You've seen how she reacts to that blue liquid that Eric showed off that day."
"What exactly is that stuff?" Dr. Banner speaks up.
"Sigh. It doesn't have a name and we aren't exactly sure where it came from. We've tested it but the results never come back with a concrete answer. All we know for sure is that it puts (y/n) in a compliant state. She's no different from a puppet. The same goes for Shadow."
"Do you use it on her often?" Steve asks.
"Loretta and I, as well as the scientists under us, haven't used it on her in a while. We would only use it if she had extreme outbursts. Do you remember that last time we used it specifically sis?"
"Hm. No, she hasn't really had outbursts as of late. I just figured she was trying not to upset Marco anymore."
"She obviously has some feelings for Marco and doesn't like to worry him. Like yesterday, when she tried to calm him down after she riled up Thor," Tony makes his thoughts known.
"Getting back on point, you three are saying that she called out Nat and I because we touched on topics we shouldn't have discussed?" Clint asks sitting up now.
Natasha has ice to her face and some ice placed on her stomach. Dr. Banner answers the question while everyone else stays silent,
"Did you all forget that she said we couldn't ask her about Shadow, the Voices or Aldridge? That's possibly why she wanted to fight with you both."
"Even so, she held back. She used the back of the blade when she struck me," Natasha speaks tiredly.
"So, are we just supposed to do what she says?" Tony asks.
"No, Tony. It's not like she wants us to be subservient to her. It's like how she had to instruct us to walk with her," Steve interjects.
"What did you say?" Aaron looks up.
Steve and Tony went on to explain how she told us to walk with her. This causes Dr. Loretta to become excited, as if this was a new discovery.
"Yes! This is just what we need...first hand accounts of what it's like to be in her presence. Aaron, do you know what this means?"
"Calm down Loretta. Take this with a grain of salt. She's not a science experiment; you've seen what happens when you treat her that way."
I've tuned out their conversation and look over at my teammates. Dr. Banner looks out at nothing with an expression of disgust while Steve hangs on everyone of the doctors' words. Nat and Clint lay their heads down and try to rest, and Tony moves over to Dr. Banner.
"You alright Bruce?"
"You'd think I'd get used to this. Whether I'm being talked about as the freak or whether if someone else is."
I think back on everything we saw today. (Y/n)'s words and actions didn't give me a bad feeling, but a familiar one.