Dec 13 2012 12:30pm
Fantasy/romantic fiction/comics author Alisa Kwitney (A Flight of Angels, Moonburn) reveals the secret backstory of Avengers couple Hawkeye and the Black Widow. Under secret orders to assassinate the Widow, the rough-edged marksman finds himself caught up in a violent prison break that releases some of the world's most vicious and powerful criminals. Defying his superiors, Hawkeye joins forces with the sultry Russian spy—and with a mismatched group of personalities that include Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, Captain America and Iron Man. Unexpected betrayals and shocking revelations will lead the team from Manhattan's top security Raft prison to the untamed jungle of the Savage Land in dramatically different take on Brian Michael Bendis' blockbuster Avengers comics debut. Learn the sizzling backstory of your favorite big-screen heroes in this adaptation, inspired by the best of page and screen!
Get a sneak peek at Alisa Kwitney's New Avengers: Breakout prose novel (available January 1, 2013) with an exclusive excerpt of Chapters 1-2.
THERE was something about the redhead that caught Clint Barton’s attention. It wasn’t her wickedly pretty face or her exceptional rear view, although those were certainly worth noticing. No, it was something subtly discordant, something that made Clint think Red didn’t belong up here in the command center of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division.
Clint furrowed his brow. He might only have a level-six clearance, but as he observed the shapely interloper move with unhurried ease through a room bristling with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, he didn’t see anyone else clocking her progress across the bridge. There were more than a few guys watching her, but they didn’t look like they had surveillance on their minds. Leaning back in his chair, Clint tried to ﬁgure out what it was about Red that didn’t ﬁt. Unlike a lot of the gloriﬁed clerks in this room, he hadn’t gotten a bunch of degrees from some Ivy League institution, but what he did have was a circus brat’s skill in picking out the rubes from the roustabouts. At ﬁrst glance, Red appeared to be dressed in a ﬁgure-hugging black jumpsuit identical to the ones worn by S.H.I.E.L.D. pilots and combat-trained operatives. On closer inspection, Clint noticed that her uniform had no insignia on the arm— and the weapon hanging from the holster on her slim hips didn’t have the shiny, streamlined look of something concocted by Stark Enterprises.
So not a rube, but not a member of this particular traveling show, either.
“Clint? You about ﬁnished with that report?” Jessica Drew glanced at him, still managing to tap away at her computer. Like him, Jessica was a ﬁeld agent, but she had probably ﬁled three reports in the time it had taken him to type his Social Security number. She was the only agent who never asked him about his criminal record, so he returned the favor by never bringing up the fact that she used to have superpowers. For Clint, being a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent was a giant step up in life. For the former Spider-Woman, he ﬁgured, it was something else entirely.
“If you’re having trouble with the spreadsheet, I can help you,” she offered.
“Nah, I’ll ﬁgure it out.” Clint had spent his school years perfecting his acrobatic and archery skills, so there were some pretty big gaps in his education. Computers. Grammar. Spelling. Fiction written before the 1980s. As far as history went, he knew an Assyrian recurve from an English longbow, but that was about it. Clint could calculate math problems in his head, though, and he understood basic physics. That went along with making sure your arrow hit its target.
“Just remember, we’re supposed to check in with the new special ofﬁcer at 1400.” Jessica turned back to her own work.
Clint pretended to focus on his computer screen, punching in letters at random while he watched Red out of the corner of his eye. She had slipped into an empty seat and was typing something into the computer, which instantly responded. That was interesting. She must already know the level-three passwords. Maybe he was wrong about Red. After all, it wasn’t as if she could just stroll past a security guard to get into S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. That was one of the advantages to having a base of operations that was constantly mobile and usually six miles off the ground.
Red pulled up a schematic of the Helicarrier. Clint told himself there were all kinds of reasons an agent might do that. Maybe she was new to the job and simply trying to locate the ladies’ room. She could be a techie from engineering, looking for some faulty wiring. Yeah, and maybe she was searching for decorating tips so she could redo her living room in neo-futuristic polished glass and steel.
Suddenly, the idea of Red being a foreign agent seemed a bit more plausible.
Jessica leaned over. “I take it you meant to write ‘redhead’ under ‘purpose of trip’?”
“Don’t tell me you’re anti-ginger, Jess.”
“Don’t call me Jess, Hawkeye.”
Usually, Clint would retaliate for the use of his old performing name, but he didn't have the time right now. Red was strolling toward the stairs that led down to the ﬂight deck. All right, show time. Clint rolled his stool back from the desk and unsnapped a button on his right shoulder, making it easier to reach for the Stark-engineered bow he wore folded on his back. Clint was supposed to wear a regulation ﬁrearm like everyone else, but he knew he could snap his wrist and have the recurve primed and ready before another agent could aim and shoot a gun.
“You going somewhere?” Jessica sounded hopeful.
“To see a man about a dog.” Red disappeared behind two technicians, and it took Clint a couple of moments to ﬁnd her again. Did she know he’d made her, or did she always walk in a zigzag pattern, just to be safe?
“Want me to go with you?”
“To the head? Not really.” Clint reached for the quiver he always kept propped against his desk, only to ﬁnd that it wasn’t where he’d left it.
“Uh-huh. And what are you planning to do, shoot the soap puck out of the urinal?” Jessica was holding his quiver just out of reach.
“Only if it annoys me.” He held out his hand.
“You know, you don’t really need to practice shooting things,” said Jessica. “You need to practice doing expense reports.”
She must be as bored with the paperwork as I am, thought Clint. Probably why she was the closest thing he had to a friend in this place. Looking past Jessica, he widened his eyes. “What the—why is Iron Man ﬂying around without his pants on?”
Jessica turned, and Clint swiped his quiver just as Red reached the exit. She looked over her shoulder; for a moment, their eyes met. A jolt ran through him, the kind he used to feel before doing some trick that was liable to leave him seriously injured or worse if he screwed it up. Red smiled—her hand on the door, as if daring him to follow her— and then she was gone.
“I can’t believe it. You’re actually leaving a week’s worth of forms in order to go hook up with that redhead.” Jessica sounded amused rather than offended.
“Depends on your deﬁnition of hooking up.” Clint swiftly thought through the best arrowheads to bring to this party: magnetic, net, smoke, bola? Selecting the points with capture rather than killing in mind, he inserted them into the automatic loader in his quiver.
“I thought you didn’t date co-workers.” Now Jessica did sound offended.
“I don’t,” said Clint, breaking into a run. Around him, heads turned, and a guy in a suit said, “Agent Barton, don’t forget you agreed to talk to me about…” but Clint was out the door and charging down the stairs, so he never heard the rest of the sentence.
Clint could hear footsteps on the stairs below him. He was so focused on estimating how far ahead his target was he nearly ran into Agent Coulson, who was carrying a stack of ﬁles.
“Slow down there, Barton,” said Coulson, nearly dropping his papers. “You know the rules about running in the ladders.” Like a lot of paper-pushers, Coulson always used proper Naval terminology.
“Sorry, Coulson.” Clint grabbed the staircase railing and vaulted down onto the next landing. “Kind of in a rush, here.”
“And you’re not wearing sleeves again, Barton,” Coulson added. “We’ve talked about that.”
“Later,” said Clint, already turning the corner. He had a sudden sense of danger, but it came a second too late, and Clint took the full force of a boot in his face. He managed to recover in time to get another kick to the stomach, this one a roundhouse. God, she was fast— already running down the stairs and nearly at the next landing. Clint ﬂicked his wrist and his bow unfolded.
“Hey, what’s the big hurry?” Clint called after her, nocking his arrow and aiming it. “I thought we could spend a little time on small talk before getting down to the dirty stuff.”
“I’m not a big fan of small talk,” she called back as Clint sent a blunt arrow ﬂying. The arrow hit the pressure point on the back of her leg, just below her knee; for a moment, Clint thought she was going to fall down the stairs. He raced toward her, but Red was already recovering with a neat little backﬂip. She landed on her feet, lithe as any big-top acrobat.
“I was kind of hoping to get your number before you run off again,” said Clint, joining her on the landing. He was too close to aim an arrow now, so he held his bow loosely in his left hand, ready to use it as a blunt instrument if she went for the gun at her hip.
Red appeared bemused. “Do you always talk this much when you’re ﬁghting?”
“Not just when I’m ﬁghting, sweetheart. I ﬁnd talking always adds to the—ungh.” Clint moved just in time, so Red’s knee connected with his stomach instead of more sensitive parts. He grabbed her foot and she kicked up, wrapping her other leg around his neck and bringing him down on his back, hard. “Okay, now this is deﬁnitely a second-date kind of move,” he said, maneuvering so he could jab his elbow into the back of her knee, releasing her chokehold on his neck.
“Not so much a second-date kind of girl,” she said, straddling him and landing a solid punch to his jaw.
“Still, don’t you think I should know your ﬁrst name?” Clint leveraged his weight, reversing their positions. It seemed a shame to punch that mouth, so Clint just pinned her down, immobilizing her with his arms and legs.
“Sorry, but I don’t think this relationship is going anywhere.” The woman ﬂexed her wrists; underneath his palms, Clint felt her bracelets grow warm for an instant. Before he could react, a jolt of electricity sent him ﬂying. When he came to, there was a metallic taste in his mouth and Red was gone.
Damn it. Clint shook his head, trying to clear it, then checked his watch. He hadn’t been out of commission for more than a minute, so she couldn’t have gotten far. He just had to think through the likeliest direction to pursue.
He was one ﬂight of stairs down from the bridge, on the same level as ﬂight-deck control. Clint couldn’t see his unauthorized redhead going in there: The room was windowless and small and hard to enter undetected. For a moment, Clint considered going in there to alert Deputy Director Maria Hill that they had an intruder on board, but then another thought occurred to him. The hangar bay was on this level, too, and it was a huge area ﬁlled with ﬁghter planes, jeeps and other Army vehicles. If Red had sabotage on her mind, the hangar bay was a gremlin’s paradise.
Clint readied his bow as he ran, heading for the open metal stairs that led to the steel walkway. Some people had a fear of heights, but Clint was always most comfortable perched where he could get a bird’seye view of the situation. He reached the walkway and quickly scanned as much as he could see of the room below. The hangar bay was basically a big garage, but instead of old cars and discarded toys it contained billions of dollars worth of Uncle Sam’s best ﬁghter jets. Parked just below Clint’s booted feet, there were a couple of F/A-18 Hornets, which could ﬁght in the air or take out targets on the ground. A little farther away, there was an F-14 Tomcat. Something about the shape of the Tomcat’s cockpit reminded Clint of the paper airplanes he used to make when the circus English tutor was droning on about the subjunctive. Clint’s namesake plane, the E-2C Hawkeye, was mainly used to relay information on the enemy’s position and activity, but its propellers made Clint think of old World War II movies.
No sign of Red. Clint continued scanning the room, tracking with his arrow. There. He caught a ﬂash of movement, darting between a Seahawk helicopter and an S-3B Viking. Hell, that was a subsonic jet capable of taking out a submarine. If Red started messing around in there, she could bring the whole damn Helicarrier crashing down.
Of course, a misplaced arrow could have the same effect. Good thing I don’t miss, Clint thought, as he sent his arrow ﬂying. It hit the deck right in front of Red and released its cartridge of tear gas. Since she’d been careful not to inﬂict any lasting damage on him, he was going to try to return the favor.
But Red had rolled free and grabbed hold of the bottom of the walkway. With a kick of her legs, she brought herself up onto his level. It wouldn’t have gotten a 10 from the Olympic judges—her feet were too far apart—but it was pretty elegant, all the same. “I should warn you—it takes a lot to make me cry,” she said.
“Tough girl, huh?” But while she had been in motion, Clint had been moving, too, manipulating the joystick on his quiver, selecting a specialized head to cap the shaft of his next arrow. Now he had the arrow nocked and ready, and the bowstring pulled taut. “This arrow contains a hypodermic with a powerful sedative. I suggest you put your hands up, unless you’re in the mood for a little nap.”
Red’s smile was gently mocking. “If you stare a little harder at my equipment, you might notice I’m wearing body armor.”
“I noticed. Sorry to disappoint you, but arrows go through Kevlar.”
“It’s not Kevlar. It’s Vibranium.”
Clint raised his eyebrows. “Isn’t that a little uncomfortable?” Vibranium wasn’t exactly standard issue for anyone, even a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Rare and extremely expensive, it was one of the few metals that could withstand super-powered levels of force.
“You get used to it.” Quick as a cat, she spun and raced down the walkway away from him. A moving target might have posed a challenge for a different archer, but Clint had been shooting things on the ﬂy since he was six. Tucking the hypodermic arrow into his waistband, he toggled the joystick on his quiver, selecting four new arrowheads. Within seconds, he had the ﬁrst arrow nocked and sent it ﬂying, followed by three more in rapid-ﬁre succession. The arrows, made of Adamantium and equipped with powerful magnetic tips, passed through the taut fabric at Red’s wrists and ankles, pinning her against the metal bulkhead so she was standing in the shape of an “X.”
“Well, you’ve drawn ﬁrst blood,” said his opponent, indicating a thin scratch on the exposed part of her wrist where the arrow had grazed her as it went through the fabric of her jumpsuit.
“Unintentional. I only had a millimeter or two to play with. You had the ﬁrst knockout, though.” Clint pulled out the hypodermictipped arrow. “Before I go ahead and put you down for the count, mind telling me what you’re doing here?”
“Testing your defenses.”
“If you’re trying to tell me that S.H.I.E.L.D. sent you as some kind of in-house safebreaker, it won’t wash. That’s what they’ve got me for.”
“I know. You’re the one I was testing.”
Clint shook his head. “You knew that out of a room ﬁlled with over ﬁfty agents, I would happen to be the one to notice you?”
The woman smiled at him. “Absolutely…Hawkeye.”
Clint grew still. “Who sent you?” Over the years, he had made some pretty powerful enemies, on both sides of the law.
“I sent myself.”
“Not buying it.”
“It’s the truth. Before I go switching sides, I want to make sure I’m not backing a losing team.” She looked up at him, not a hint of coyness in her big, green eyes.
“Your accent is slipping a little.”
“I don’t have an accent.”
“Yeah, you do. It’s not so much in the way you pronounce words as it is in the rhythm. I had a Russian guy teach me acrobatics for a while. He moved to the States when he was seven. No accent, but when he got tired, the rhythm of his speech changed.”
“You have a good ear.” She smiled as if she were his teacher and he had just performed well on a test. That was a hell of a smile she had. Most men probably did a lot of stupid things for one of those. And she probably gutted them with a stiletto without changing her expression.
“So what are you, G.R.U.? S.V.R.?”
“I was spetsnaz. Emphasis on was.”
“Special ops? You mean black ops?”
She didn’t respond, and for the ﬁrst time Clint knew she wasn’t just playing him. She was making up her mind. For a fraction of a second, there was a worried crease between her eyebrows, and then she nervously licked her lips. “Can I trust you?”
It was the ﬁrst wrong move Clint had seen her make. Clint looked down at her, letting her see his wariness, but also giving her a glimpse of how bone-tired he was of these kinds of games. It was a calculated countermove, to show her he could be brought over to her side. “I don’t know. Can I trust you?”
Something ﬂickered in her eyes, then: surprise. “You know what?” she said, dropping all pretense of being ill at ease. “I think perhaps you can.”
With this one, you removed one mask only to ﬁnd another, thought Clint. “Somehow, I doubt that very much.”
“You shouldn’t. I’m not the enemy here. Do you see the red ‘X’ on my bracelet? Look what happens when I move my wrist like this.” A small needle emerged, glistening with a drop of moisture. “That’s a nerve agent. If I’d wanted to kill you, you’d be dead.”
Clint gave an amused snort of laughter. “You got nerve, Red, I’ll give you that.”
“And I would have thought you would be a little more original,” she replied, twisting her wrist so that the needle went back into the bracelet. “This isn’t even my real hair color.”
“So,” said Clint, pulling the arrows out of the wall to release her arms, “what do I call you before I bring you in to be arrested, courtmartialed and sent to prison?”
She held out one small gloved hand. “My given name is Natalia Romanova, but my friends call me Natasha.”
“Take it off.”
“The bracelet. And the glove.”
Raising her eyebrows, Natasha pulled off the bracelet, along with the black neoprene glove. She placed them carefully on the ﬂoor. “See? No concealed weapons. And now you.”
Clint pulled off his archer’s gauntlet; after a moment’s hesitation, he shook the foreign agent’s hand. A shiver of electricity went straight down his back, but Clint disregarded it as a momentary distraction. “So what’s your next move, Nat? You going to convince me to let you go?”
“I might,” said Natasha with a wry smile. “But somehow, I don’t think your girlfriend would agree.” She gave a nod of her head, indicating Jessica Drew, who was standing just underneath them, her weapon aimed at Natasha’s heart.
“YOU move for your gun, and you’re dead,” said Jessica, holding the semiautomatic in a ﬁrm, two-handed grip as she aimed up at her target. Without taking her eyes off the other woman, she added, “Clint, you incredible idiot, do you have any idea whose hand you’re holding? I ran a facial-recognition scan on the computer after you left.”
Clint closed his grip on Natasha’s hand, keeping her from pulling away. “Aw, ma, you’re always checking up on me.”
“Durak,” said Jessica, followed by a stream of what sounded like ﬂuent Russian.
“I got ‘durak,’ but not the rest,” said Clint. Durak was what his Russian gymnastics coach had called him when he fudged a landing.
“Allow me to translate,” said Natasha, releasing his hand and raising both of hers in surrender. “She says that if I hurt you, she will make me pay.”
Now this was getting irritating. “Jessica, I had the situation under control.”
Jessica shook her head, still keeping Natasha in her sights. “Clint, she’s the Black Widow. And she had you so distracted, you didn’t even notice I was in the room until she pointed me out.”
The Black Widow. And he’d been pulling his punches and shooting to capture as if this were all a demonstration event. Rumor had it that the Black Widow had once set ﬁre to a remote village’s only hospital as a diversion. If even half the stories Clint had heard about her were true, he was lucky she hadn’t poisoned him back in the stairwell.
“Don’t look so surprised,” said the Widow. “I did tell you I wasn’t a second-date kind of girl.”
Clint wondered whether she remembered her victims’ faces, the way he did. “You left out the part where the ﬁrst date ends with the guy laid out on a slab in the morgue. Hands behind your back.”
“This really isn’t necessary,” said Natasha, bringing her arms behind her as requested. “I told you, Clint, I didn’t come here to spy on you.”
Clint secured the Black Widow’s wrists with his bolo. “Save the explanations for Commander Hill.” He didn’t know why he should be feeling disappointed that his sparring partner had turned out to be Stalin in a skirt. He tried not to think about the moment when their hands had touched, the way he had reacted like a goddamn kid. He took the gun from her holster and slipped it into his waistband, but decided against patting her down.
“I’d rather talk to you ﬁrst,” said the Widow. “For security reasons.”
Clint ignored her. “Jessica? I’ve got her secured.” He drew the string on his bow. “Just so you know, this arrow doesn’t do anything fancy. You make a wrong move, I’m going to kill you, plain and simple.”
“And I’ll kill you again, just to be safe,” said Jessica, keeping her gun trained on the other woman. Touching her earpiece, she said, “Commander Hill? We have a contained security breach in the hangar bay involving an unauthorized foreign agent on board the ship.” She paused, listening, and then said, “Afﬁrmative. Bringing her in. Have additional guards posted.” Looking up, she said, “All right, take her down, nice and easy.”
“Turn around and start walking,” said Clint, keeping his arrow aimed at the back of Black Widow’s head, since the rest of her was armored. When they had reached the hangar ﬂoor, Jessica stepped in back of the Widow, gun trained between her shoulder blades.
“Aim higher,” said Clint as they made their way through the maze of ﬁghter jets and jeeps. “She’s wearing Vibranium.”
“Which you know because I told you,” Natasha pointed out. “So you see, I didn’t have to let you take me in,” she told Jessica.
“Shut up and keep moving,” said Jessica. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me that you were going after her, Clint?”
He shrugged. “Didn’t think I needed backup.”
“We’re supposed to be partners!”
“I’ve had the same trouble in the ﬁeld, working with male agents,” said Natasha. “Some of them can be such cowboys.”
Jessica’s lips thinned. “I thought I told you to stop talking.”
“I wonder why you seem to dislike me so much,” said Natasha. “I mean, on the face of it, we two have quite a lot in common,” she went on, as if musing out loud. “I’ve been called the Black Widow, you’ve been called Spider-Woman—both arachnids. And of course, you used to be called Arachne, back when you worked for Hydra.”
Clint tried to control his surprise. He’d looked up Jessica when they started working together, and he knew about her troubled childhood and the medical treatments her father had given her. He knew that when she had ﬁrst gotten her powers, Jessica had accidentally killed the ﬁrst boy she had ever loved. He even knew how Jessica had lost her powers in a ﬁght with a psychotic mutant, and that tidbit was supposed to be classiﬁed and out of his security-clearance level. But Clint had never suspected that his partner had once belonged to a terrorist organization.
“Perhaps,” said Natasha, “it is simply a case of what Freud called the narcissism of small differences. You dislike me because we are more similar than not.”
Jessica glared at the Black Widow’s back. “You know, I can just shoot you now and spare Commander Hill the trouble of executing you.” They had reached the doors that led to ﬂight-deck control. As if on cue, six agents in full protective battle gear opened the doors and lined up, all training their sights on one unarmed redhead.
The Black Widow didn’t bat an eyelash. “You won’t kill me. I’m too valuable a source of information. Besides, you wouldn’t shoot me for saying the truth, would you?”
“Honey,” said Jessica, “at this point, I’d shoot you for saying, ‘Have a nice day.’ But you’re right, I’ll do it after we see Commander Hill, just in case she feels like torturing you ﬁrst.”
COMMANDER Maria Hill wasn’t happy. She’d been standing in the cramped, windowless launch-operations room all morning, smelling the handler’s stale breath as the two of them had attempted to ﬁgure out how to manage the imminent arrival of four more Viking jets on the already-crowded ﬂight deck. There was a possible situation brewing in the Middle East and another one exploding in one of the ’stans. And even though Maria was getting better at using Tony Stark’s three-dimensional interface screen, she missed the old tabletop “Ouija board” that allowed you to actually pick up the pieces. Between HQ’s screwed-up logistics and her coworker’s halitosis, she’d already been getting a headache before Jessica’s call.
“And that’s when Agent Drew arrived,” said Agent Barton, concluding his account of the past hour.
Cosa de mala leche, thought Maria. Nothing Clint had said explained how the hell the Black Widow had managed to inﬁltrate S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ﬂagship command center. One thing that didn’t require explanation was the timing. The Russian must have known that Colonel Fury was off on a mission and decided the Helicarrier was an easier target without him around. Maria resisted the urge to rub her right temple, which felt as though someone had tightened a vise around her skull.
“Okay, Ms. Romanova,” she said, “let me get this straight. You’re telling me that you’ve left your former organization. Setting aside the question of why the S.V.R. would just permit one of their most effective covert operatives to saunter off into the sunset, do you care to enlighten us as to why you decided on this career switch?”
“They were lying to me.”
Maria walked around the Russian woman, trying to get a read on her. She was extremely pretty, and she knew how to use her looks to manipulate men. Would she respond to the threat of disﬁgurement?
Somehow, Maria didn’t think so. This woman radiated a kind of cool ruthlessness that would be difﬁcult, if not impossible, to undermine. “Doesn’t being lied to come with the territory, Ms. Romanova?”
The Black Widow met Maria’s gaze. “Do you lie to your subordinates, Commander Hill? Or do you simply tell them when they are not supposed to ask questions?”
Maria nodded. “You have a point,” she conceded. Out of the corner of her eye, Maria watched the two agents who had brought Romanova in. Agent Drew was trying to keep it professional, but from the way she was looking at the Russian, it was clear that Black Widow had gotten under Jessica’s skin. Maria wondered whether Clint Barton had anything to do with that. Like Jessica, Barton was an outsider, and it was clear the two agents were friends as well as partners. Were they more than that, or did Jessica want there to be more? Maria wasn’t sure. With his blunt features and overgrown crew cut, Clint was certainly no poster boy, but he had a forthright, masculine quality that might appeal to some women. He also looked like the kind of guy who had grown up knowing how to hot-wire a car, secure a bottle of tequila and break into a locked house. Unlike Jessica, Clint had never had superpowers to fall back on, which meant he had spent a lifetime honing his other abilities.
“Commander, if I may make a suggestion,” said Jessica, but Maria held up her hand.
“I’m not looking for any more input,” she said. “Either this woman is working for the S.V.R., or she’s gone rogue. Either way, she managed to inﬁltrate the Helicarrier and poses a considerable security risk.” Jessica opened her mouth and Maria held up her hand again. “On the other hand, she also possesses extremely valuable information. I want her taken down to the Raft for questioning.”
Clint nodded, as if he had been anticipating this. The Raft was where prisoners were placed when a maximum-security penitentiary like Ryker’s just wasn’t secure enough. Situated on an island near Ryker’s, the Raft contained eight levels of Adamantium-lined underwater cells and enough fail-safes that Manhattan’s citizens didn’t worry about the inhumanly powerful psychopaths on their doorstep.
“Agent Drew, Agent Barton, you will accompany Ms. Romanova to the secure holding cell along with an armed escort. From there, she will be placed in additional restraints before being taken to a helicopter for transport. You two will be in charge of the questioning.”
The Black Widow kept her poker face. “Come on,” said Jessica, but as Clint moved to follow her, Maria gave him an almost imperceptible shake of her head.
“Agent Barton, can you remain behind? I want to speak with you for a moment.” Jessica gave him a sympathetic look as she exited the room with her prisoner, clearly under the impression that her partner was about to be reprimanded. The Black Widow also glanced back at him, but Clint acted as though he didn’t notice. Good. When the door closed, Maria waited a moment before speaking.
“It wasn’t exactly the brightest move to take on an unidentiﬁed intruder on your own, you know.”
To his credit, Clint said nothing.
“On the other hand, it was you who spotted the Black Widow. So I’m giving you the ultimate responsibility, Agent Barton. I’m putting out a call for you to be joined by a S.H.I.E.L.D. consultant with superpowers, as per regulations, but you’re in charge. Get every bit of information you can out of her, by any means you deem effective.” Maria paused. “But if at any point you think Romanova poses any kind of a threat, or if she shows any signs of attempting to escape, neutralize her.”
Clint looked slightly startled by this. “Is that really necessary, ma’am? She’s hardly going to be able to overpower both of us and someone with super-powers.”
“She shouldn’t have been able to break into a top military command center that’s been in ﬂight for the past two weeks.”
Clint nodded. “Understood.” He saluted, then turned to leave.
“Agent Barton. Let me remind you that there is no telling what information the Black Widow may have acquired while roaming around up here.”
Clint remained by the door, his back to her. “I am aware of that risk.”
“So you understand why she can’t be allowed to leave S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. You know her record, Agent. This isn’t someone who’s just made a couple of bad choices. This is a woman who is up to her neck in innocent blood.”
Clint turned, his face set and hard. “Is this an order to take her out no matter what she does or says? ’Cause I don’t like it, Commander.”
“I don’t like it either, Agent Barton. But I don’t think she can be turned, and she certainly can’t be allowed to roam free. What choice does that leave us?”
A muscle spasmed in Clint’s jaw, and then he gave a short nod. “Am I dismissed now?”
At the last moment, Clint hesitated with his hand on the doorknob, looking back over his shoulder. “One last question. May I ask why you chose me for this particular assignment?”
Maria Hill took a deep breath, and then gave him the truth. “Because I watched Romanova while you were talking, Agent Barton, and I think she likes you. I believe she is under the impression that you two have struck up some kind of rapport. And that gives you a little advantage. Unless, of course, she is correct and you think you might have trouble neutralizing the threat she presents?”
Clint didn’t hesitate. “I can do it.”
Maria nodded and watched him leave. Once she was alone, she closed her eyes and pressed her knuckles into her right eye. This was going to be one hell of a migraine, she thought.
Wonder what Fury would say if he came back to ﬁnd I’ d accidentally taken out my eyeball. Imagining the two of them with matching black patches, Maria had to laugh, which only made her head hurt more.
New Avengers: Breakout prose novel text copyright © 2012 by Alisa Kwitney
New Avengers: Breakout prose novel interior art (including the Black Widow and Hawkeye image at the top of the post, used with permission) copyright © 2012 by Marvel & David Finch, Mark Bagley, and Danny Miki
To learn more or to pre-order a copy of New Avengers: Breakout prose novel by Alisa Kwitney:
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Alisa Kwitney grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the daughter of a journalist and a science fiction writer. She has an MFA in fiction from Columbia, but can't remember what she did to get it. Her thesis became her first novel, Till the Fat Lady Sings. Alisa has been a newspaper reporter, a veterinarian's assistant, and an editor at the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics. She lives in Rhinebeck NY with her family, two Burmese cats, and a Chinook dog. You can find out about her other published novels and graphic novels at www.alisakwitney.com or check out her author page at www.facebook.com/alisa.kwitney.sheckley.