Rating: Mature (light R?)
Summary: Debt is only beautiful when it has been repaid
Clint hears the shower running and the sound of water is like an invitation. He ignores it, or tries to, along with the image of Natasha standing under the spray. His blood is still racing and he can still feel the pressure of her lips against his, the texture of her hair between his fingers. His earlier headache is back in full force as his frustrated libido smashes against the inside of his skull with every heartbeat.
There’s a blanket and some extra pillows in the hall closet; he’s carrying them into the living room when she comes out wearing one of the hotel robes and frowning like she’s caught him in the middle of some shameful act. “What are you doing?”
He forces himself to meet her eyes. “What does it look like?”
“You’re not going to sleep on the couch,” she informs him.
“I’ve slept on worse.”
“You know what your ribs will feel like in the morning?” She shakes her head, and he’s a little too mesmerized by the damp red tendrils swinging around her face to respond with the obvious ‘why do you care?’ “Don’t be an idiot, Clint.”
He almost says ‘too late’, but she walks back into the bedroom and after a long moment of indecision he follows her.
They’ve shared beds before, of course. Plenty of times. Bed, air mattress, egg carton foam, patch of dry ground… sometimes you can’t afford to be picky. He stopped feeling awkward about it a long time ago.
They never touch, though, because touching, even platonically, can sometimes lead to other, less-platonic bodily reactions, and they’re professionals. She takes one side of the bed-mattress-ground and he takes the other, always with some space between their bodies, because if he ever gave her some ‘we should sleep together for warmth’ bullshit she’d kick him in the balls and he’d deserve it.
Still, sleeping beside her has always felt intimate. He remembers lying in her bed in apartment twenty-eight the day after their close call in Antwerp, his head pounding, a stabbing pain in his leg from a sprained ankle, listening to her breathing a few inches away and trying to figure out if she was actually asleep. Just when he’d decided that she’d finally nodded off, she had whispered, “I can hear you thinking,” and he would have laughed if he hadn’t been in so much pain.
She’s already tucked between the lilac-scented sheets when he comes out of the bathroom in sweatpants and a clean shirt. Her back is to him and for a moment he just stands there, reconsidering the sofa, wondering what Stark was thinking, putting them in a suite with a single bed. He and Banner probably had a good long laugh over the whole thing.
“Are you still pissed?” he asks her back.
“I wasn’t pissed to begin with,” she says, her voice slightly muffled.
He lies down on top of the covers, staring at the ceiling, listening to the pounding in his head. He resists the urge to say ‘I’m sorry’ again; the third time is definitely not the charm. “I think you’re pissed,” he says instead.
She sighs. “Go to sleep, Clint.”
So he turns off the bedside lamp, plunging the room into darkness. And he lies there, listening to her breathing, and she’s only a few inches away but it feels more like a mile.
In the morning things will be better. She’ll be up and dressed before he’s awake and the whole scene in the kitchen will seem like a dream, an interrupted fantasy; she’ll be easy with him as they order one of everything from the room service breakfast menu and she’ll even poke him in the ribs a couple of times. He’ll check the scabbed cut on her forehead and their eyes will meet and she’ll raise her eyebrows as though to say, ‘well buddy, you had your chance.’ And he’ll feel almost normal until he walks into the kitchen and sees the damn bottle of thousand-dollar champagne still sitting on the counter next to two crystal flutes because neither of them have had the heart to throw it out.
I convince Natasha to sleep only by promising that I will lie down as well. We’re both exhausted; this trade-off is taking its toll, and I know that I should heed my own advice. But there’s something I have to do first.
I get on the computer and send another message to the dropbox. He must be in Colombia by now, I realize, checking the time, and it scares me. If he was in Brussels when we spoke before, in one of Natasha’s bolt-holes, it’s an indication that he’s on his own. I’ve sent him on a mission that will be difficult – if not impossible – without SHIELD resources.
He could die. Or worse.
Kamala Manesh believes in fate.
She knows that not many other people in this world can say that. Not the way she can. They say things like what will be will be and I’ll leave it in God’s hands but that is only acceptance, resignation, not belief. Kamala embraces fate with her entire being.
She has felt fate alongside her every step of her life.
She had known as a child that she was meant for great things, so when her father beat her – and her mother watched – Kamala did not cry. When the fire came roaring through their neighborhood in Kolar, killing her parents but leaving her untouched, she was pleased but not surprised.
When she was reduced to thievery and prostitution in the streets of Bangalore she was never afraid because she knew it was only another step on a long road leading to her destiny. And when she was sold by one man from Dhaka and bought by another in Brasilia, and this man taught her everything she had ever wanted to know about being beautiful and clever and dangerous, she had known that all of the decisions she had made had been the right ones.
She’s not vain enough to believe that her desires control her future any more than a second hand controls the inner functions of a clock. The universe is deep and many-layered, unimaginable in its complexity, and she is nothing but a hand on its face, sweeping from hour to hour. But because of her experiences she knows that she has a particular sensitivity to fate’s workings. She cannot only see it; she can smell it on the air.
The man in Brasilia is dead now. He taught her too well. But he couldn’t do otherwise. It was necessary. It was fate.
Kamala Manesh sees the recognition of fate in Clint Barton’s eyes. He knows in his heart where he is meant to be. Kamala knew it too, the moment she saw him. There is something that links them, something that has brought them together, and she thinks it is because they both recognize that there is no use in fighting what has been preordained. That is why he walks with them – alone, unarmed and unresisting – down the corridors of the Institute to the place where his life will truly begin.
Kamala has not undergone any engramatic treatments. She doesn’t need them. She is perfect the way she is. She is Dr. Fisher’s model for what a good operative should be.
True to her word, Dr. Fisher gives Barton a tour first. She shows him the long-term habitations, nicknamed CEE-cells: brightly-lit rooms where three walls are cinder block and the fourth is a piece of half-silvered glass, transparent from the dim hallway but reflective within. For men and women who have been wiped clean, it has proven beneficial for them to become reacquainted with the sight of their own faces.
Those faces tend to be haggard and sad and pained. The comprehensive expunctions take several treatments to complete.
“So,” says Barton quietly, his first word since leaving the office. “That’s what someone looks like after they’ve been brainwashed.”
Dr. Fisher pouts prettily. “Brainwashed is a nasty, archaic term, Mr. Barton. Would you call it brainwashing, what the alien did to you?”
Barton’s shoulders tighten and Kamala drops one hand to the gun strapped to her thigh, beneath her skirt, but he only says, “You know a lot.”
The doctor smiles. “I have a lot of friends. One of them is on the World Security Council, or at least I believe he is. He’s never said for sure.” She shrugs. “I call him Lycaon. Do you know the story? It’s from Greek myth. He was a king of Arcadia who served his own slaughtered son to Zeus at the dinner table. He wanted to know if the king of the gods was really omniscient after all.” Her eyes glitter in appreciation of this barbarous cheek. “Of course, things didn’t end well for him. My Lycaon understands the potential of this company. He has vision. He sees that what we do is crucial.”
She shows him the MEE-cells, for the handful of patients who have undergone targeted expunction. These rooms are more conventional and, consequently, more secure. It’s not always obvious until the patient awakes whether or not the treatment has been successful. Sometimes these patients are violent, lashing out in confusion and anger.
“And what do you do, exactly?” Barton asks.
“We save lives,” says the doctor. “Better than that. We transform lives. Killing… it’s wasteful. When you think about it, it takes so much time and effort to build a person from scratch. To start with, say, a child.” She glances at Kamala, who nods silently. She doesn’t agree entirely about the wastefulness of killing – death is just another tool of fate, in the form of fire or poison or a knife to the throat of a foolish man in Brasilia – but becoming the person she is today has not been easy.
The doctor continues, unlocking another set of doors with a swipe of her key card. “It’s much more efficient to take a person who could be useful to society and simply… edit out the undesirable parts.”
Barton walks over the threshold without comment, without apprehension. He has embraced fate. “Is that what you did with Alonzo Salinas?”
Dr. Fisher chuckles. “Oh, you recognized Ajax, did you?”
“I recognized the scar.”
She shakes her head as though scolding a naughty child. “Just think… you came so close to killing a human being…”
“He was going to set off a bomb.”
“Yes, I know,” says the doctor placidly, stopping in front of the treatment room. It is empty now, of course. It won’t be for much longer. “He told me about it. People tend to get talkative, you know, during the procedure. But he doesn’t want to kill children anymore. He only wants to do what I want, and he’s much happier that way.”
“And Agent Romanoff?” His voice catches a little on her name. “Is she happier?”
“Happy…” echoes Dr. Fisher. “You tell me, Agent Barton. You knew her better. Was she ever really happy?”
The doctor gestures to Kamala, who steps forward and passes Barton the tablet, making certain that their hands brush during the exchange. She already has the pertinent footage available, the video taken from the room in front of them.
“You wanted to see Natasha Romanoff,” says Dr. Fisher, nodding at the screen. “Well… here she is.”
Saja knows that she is still physically capable of speech.
She has a working voice box. She has a tongue. She can even use them together, after a fashion, although anything beyond a few unintelligible sounds gives her the type of blinding headache that serves as an excellent warning.
It’s terrifying, really. She used to be afraid to go to bed; she was certain that she would talk in her sleep and never wake up. They gave her sleeping pills but she never used them. She kept them, though, just in case.
She’s started thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible to fade away peacefully in her sleep. Certainly it would be easier than living. She carries that knowledge with her every day, along with her carafe of coffee and big silver tray of snacks. When the fear and the silence and the emptiness get to be too much, it’s nice to know that relief is not that far away.
She’s never been able to do it, though. Death is scarier than the Institute. Not by much, but by enough.
Saja doesn’t know anything about herself. She knows her reflection and the name they gave her. She knows that she underwent the full CEE procedure. She thinks that she must have done something very bad, before, because Dr. Witten always expects her to be thankful whenever he visits.
She is not thankful, not in the least. She wants him to die as much as Dr. Fisher does. Maybe more.
Saja knows what Fisher is planning. People think that because she can’t speak she can’t hear. They don’t care what they say in front of her because they know she’ll never be able to repeat it to anybody. She’s the little mouse who brings them food and sweeps up and acts the ‘intern’ when she’s really nothing more or less than their slave.
Saja knows that she has the trigger protocol. It was Dr. Fisher’s invention, something that was necessary to keep the MEE patients under control. Saja is not in that group; she was just a guinea pig. Fisher and her cronies experimented with several kinds of injunctions until they came up with this one and decided to keep it.
13A-10R, said the SHIELD agent, Barton. Saja knows that the 13 is a series number given to all the trigger-related drugs. 10 is a code designating MEE patients.
A stands for annul: to void, to end, to remove.
She’s pretty sure the R stands for Romanoff.
As directed, she brings refreshments.
She goes in through the antechamber with a hot pot of coffee and a fresh selection of breakfast pastries. As expected, Ajax demands that she serve him first, so she pours him a cup and watches while he paws through the muffins and scones. Oddly enough, Ajax has never frightened her. In fact she’s always felt a little sorry for him. He’s a victim too, although he seems to enjoy it more.
When he’s made his choice, when he’s slouched in a chair drinking coffee with his beady little eyes on the door (probably calculating what his chances really are against Captain America, even unarmed and alone) Saja continues on into the office.
Rogers is on the far side of the room, quietly testing the lock on the other door. He spins around when she enters, his expression somewhere between surprise and combat readiness and embarrassment at being caught. “I don’t…” he begins, gesturing at the food, but when she puts her fingers to her lips and gives him a hard look he falls silent.
Saja touches the key card that hangs on a lanyard around her neck. It won’t get Rogers where he needs to go. Ajax, on the other hand, has complete access to the entire facility. She points emphatically at the door to the antechamber, then draws her finger across her face in the approximate placement of Ajax’s scar.
Rogers’ frown vanishes and he nods determinedly, putting up his fists like a boxer and raising his brows questioningly.
Saja shakes her head and taps her right ear. Rogers could take Ajax in a fight, she’s sure, but not without a commotion. Someone would hear, someone would raise the alarm, and then guards would come. Even a powerful man will eventually fall when the odds are overwhelming and his opponents without scruples.
She taps her wrist, where a watch would be if she owned a watch, holds up three fingers, and nods at the door again. Wait.
He looks uneasy he acquiesces, and they stand there in the office with Dr. Fisher’s horrible painting leering down at them for three long, terrible minutes. At any moment she’s sure that Ajax will come through, looking for her. Rogers might have the same thought, because he carefully dumps the food off her serving tray and onto Fisher’s desk before holding it awkwardly in front of them. She almost smiles at the sight; he gives a little shrug.
When Saja’s mentally counted to sixty three times over she nods, and Rogers opens the anteroom door, pushing her behind him. She winces and waits for voices, violence, gunshots.
But there is only silence.
Rogers lowers his makeshift shield and Saja peeks around his arm. Ajax is slumped in a ratty chintz armchair, limbs akimbo, snoring slightly. The empty mug of coffee dangles from the tips of his insensate fingers, and Saja thinks those must have been some very powerful sleeping pills.
Rogers darts forward, grabs the keycard from where it’s clipped onto Ajax’s pocket. Saja waves him back into the office, pointing to the locked door. Rogers slides the keycard through the reader and the bolt disengages with a click.
Saja sighs in relief, and Rogers turns to her with the barest hint of a smile. “Where to now?” he whispers.
The realization that this isn’t over, that he still needs her help, is briefly overwhelming. She hadn’t thought beyond this point, beyond drugging Ajax and setting Rogers free. He’s Captain America – even she’s seen the videos – and she is only Saja: Saja with no past, who brings food and sweeps up and entertains Dr. Witten when she must. She’s never been given real responsibility before. It makes her feel dizzy and a little sick.
Then Rogers leans down and takes her by the shoulders. His grip is firm but not painful, and his eyes are very earnest. “Saja, right?” he whispers, and she nods slowly; she knows that much. “Saja, it’ll be okay. You can do this.”
She swallows, gasps, and nods again. She still feels ill but no longer like she’s about to pass out, so she gestures to the unlocked door and then points to the left.
“Okay,” Rogers whispers. He reaches for her hand, gives it a squeeze. “Stay behind me,” he adds, and she gives him her most determined nod. They slip through the door and turn left, and even if Saja was allowed to talk she couldn’t right now because she’s shocked all the words out of herself with her own daring.
Clint looks at the tablet but doesn’t really see it, doesn’t let himself see it, instead focusing his attention on his surroundings.
It’s not a large space, maybe twenty feet on a side, with four doors leading off in four different directions. The walls are beige, the floor covered in yellowing laminate. There are a few long tables, a couple of computers, several filing cabinets and large metal cupboards, and the only window is the one directly in front of him, its glass laced through with metal mesh, which looks into a small, bleak chamber currently furnished by a single chair. It looks a little like a dentist’s chair, except that Clint is fairly sure that most dentists’ offices haven’t resorted to strapping down their patients. The most modern thing in the room is a small Creston touch panel mounted beside the window which might, if it’s like others he’s seen, give the user access to the building’s security and surveillance systems.
Is the drug in this room? Aten hadn’t been able or willing to give him many details, just the name and the assertion that it would be located in the Institute’s secure area.
He’s still emphatically not watching the video in front of him; he knows what Fisher wants him to see even if he doesn’t know why. Although his eyes are on the screen he shifts his vision to long-range, so everything close-up becomes blurry and indistinct, because he doesn’t want to see this any more than he wanted to see the footage from the Helicarrier. He’s already witnessed enough horror to fill several lifetimes’ worth of nightmares.
He can’t block out the sound, though. He hears Fisher’s voice through the speakers, clipped and clinical, ‘we’re going to talk her back through… up the dosage, but not too much…’ and then a man’s deep baritone, ‘if we regress her back to the Red Room we could find out more…’ and Fisher again, impatient, ‘I don’t want to lose any of her training, Bruno.’
“It’s an art, really,” says the Fisher standing in front of him. Her voice is soft, breathy; she is watching the video, enthralled with the sight of her own power. “More than a science. It’s not exact… it requires a delicate touch. The comprehensive wipe… it’s crude, really. It’s like reformatting a hard drive when all you really need to do is get rid of a little virus.”
And then Clint hears Natasha’s voice, a feeble but furious ‘screw you’, and he can’t not look any longer.
She’s in the chair, that dentist’s chair from hell, restraints at her wrists and ankles, across her hips and chest and forehead. Dressed in a thin hospital gown, an IV line in protruding from one upturned wrist, EKG leads sprouting from her chest, electrodes on her temples. She is awake and cogent, eyes fixed on the camera as people in white coats bustle around her – there’s Fisher, and a tall, severe looking man Clint recognizes as Witten – and in her eyes Clint sees anger and violence and the promise of vengeance.
And fear. He also sees the fear.
She is alone and helpless, really helpless, not acting a part, not putting on a show for a mark. Clint tastes bile at the back of his throat. He swallows thickly and says, “She’s not here anymore, is she?”
Manesh answers this time, her tone strangely petulant. “Did you really think she was?”
Fisher touches the screen; the time code in the corner flashes ahead a couple of hours. Natasha is still awake but her eyes are unfocused, and the straps are not restraining her as much as holding her in place.
The Fisher in the video asks ‘where are you now?’ and Nat whispers ‘Abidjan’ and Fisher nods and adjusts a control on a large unfamiliar machine. Natasha’s body convulses and the EKG stutters and Clint thinks it can’t be that easy, it can’t, but then Fisher asks the question again and Nat answers ‘safehouse in Anyama’ which was where they spent the night before going into Abidjan. He imagines Fisher backing her way through Natasha’s life as a hypnotherapist might, only erasing as she goes, smudging out the details of the person Nat has become, leaving only the harsh lines of her childhood.
In the video Fisher is still talking, but Clint can’t hear her questions any longer; he can only hear the rush of blood in his head and the heavy, furious beating of his heart. He feels certain he must be visibly shaking but the tablet in his hands is steady.
“Why are you showing me this?” he asks, sensing Manesh retreat a few steps away.
“I wanted you to see that it doesn’t hurt,” Fisher replies, her voice sweet and almost girlish again. “It’s a very humane process, Mr. Barton, and after it’s over, and when she’s done with her mission, you’ll be able to see her again. You won’t know each other, of course, but in time you’ll learn. I think you’ll be a very effective team, and--”
The rest of Fisher’s sentence is lost as Clint kicks her legs out from under her. She lands hard on her hip and cries out, but all that matters is that she’s out of reach of the Creston screen, so he turns to Manesh.
He’s almost too late; the gun is in her hand and he sees her finger tighten on the trigger, and he brings the tablet up just in time. There’s a hiss and then a crack of plastic as the bullet lodges, only it’s not a bullet, it’s a tranq dart, its tip protruding from the dark and shattered screen. So they do want you alive. Well, that’s good to know…
He swings the broken tablet at Manesh’s hand, knocking the gun away before she can get off a second shot. The tablet snaps in half and the gun goes clattering across the room. She turns as though to pursue it so he kicks her in the side, and this is something he might have felt a little guilty about when he was younger – beating up on two women he probably outweighs by a good hundred pounds – except that by now he knows from experience that small stature is no promise of weakness.
In fact the kick doesn’t do as much as he’d thought it would; Manesh toes off her pumps and is back on her feet so quickly that Clint barely has time to shove Fisher away from the touch screen before Manesh right there in his face, throwing one punch that he dodges and another that he doesn’t. Her fist hits him in the gut and he grunts, doubling over instinctively, straightening in time to avoid the knee she had aimed at his face. He grabs her wrist, pulls her forward, swings his other elbow up against her skull.
Bone meets bone with a satisfying crack and Manesh stumbles back, dazed, but Clint’s arm is numbed by the impact as well. He looks back, sees Fisher rising unsteadily to her feet. He grabs her by the arm, pushes her into the little room and thumbs the deadbolt. Hopefully she can’t do any damage from inside—
A sharp pain in the back of one calf drops him to a knee. Manesh’s next blow lands hard against his neck; he rolls away from it to limit the damage, blinking against a gray haze at the edges of his vision, kicking out at her ankles as they come into view. She falls back with a curse, a seam ripping in her skirt; he uses a nearby table to pull himself up and they stand there for a moment, glaring at each other, breathing heavily.
“Why are you fighting this?” Manesh spits. “I thought you knew.”
“Knew what?” Clint asks, flexing his hand, which prickles uncomfortably with pins and needles, and thinking where the hell are you, Rogers?
“That this is your fate.” Manesh is still gorgeous, even with her sleek hair mussed and her lipstick smeared, but there is an undeniably crazy glint in her dark eyes that he hadn’t noticed before. “I thought you came here because you knew you were meant to join us.”
“I came here because of Agent Romanoff,” Clint says, watching her hands and feet, trying to ignore Fisher’s furious pounding against the wire-mesh window.
Whatever Manesh was hoping to hear, it wasn’t that. She snarls and comes at him again, but anger makes her sloppy; she telegraphs her punch and he brings his half-numb arm down, blocking it, yanking her forward and kneeing her in the solar plexus.
She lets out an oof that sounds pretty genuine so he does it again, thinking of the first time he sparred with Natasha and held back because he was a moron and ended up face-first on the mat in about eight seconds. He remembers Coulson laughing from the sidelines, and Natasha scowling at him (‘you’re not being chivalrous, you’re being chauvinistic, and I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten you killed yet’) so he punches Manesh in the face.
She falls back… but too far back, and now she’s on her stomach, reaching for something and he realizes it must be the gun. So he grabs the only thing within reach: one half of the broken tablet, the half with the tranq dart still embedded, and as Manesh’s hand closes on the gun he jams the dart into her exposed calf.
Steve keeps close to the wall with the young lady, Saja, at his heels. He’s still holding her tray. It’s rectangular and unwieldy and definitely not vibranium, but it feels good to have something in his hand as they scurry down the corridor like two rats in a maze. When they reach an intersection she touches his shoulder and points to the right, around a blind corner.
It’s quiet. Steve keeps looking over his shoulder, half-expecting to see the chief of security lumbering after them with murder in his eyes, despite the fact that the big guy would no doubt make plenty of noise. No sooner has that thought passed through his mind then he hears a door opening, and footsteps against linoleum, but it’s coming from somewhere in front of them, not behind.
Saja edges around him before he can stop her, and he can’t say anything once she’s in the intersection in full view of whoever’s there. He hears a man’s voice – “Saja? What are you doing back here?” – and she retreats a few steps, hugging her arms to her chest and looking confused. The footsteps get closer, closer, and a man dressed in dark blue fatigues appears, reaching out to take Saja in hand. He sees Steve only a split second before the silver tray comes down on his head.
But the guy is quick; even as he’s falling he’s pulling a handgun from his holster, firing a shot. It lodges in the wall behind Saja with a solid thwack and she drops to a crouch, hands over her ears. Steve grabs the guard’s gun hand, squeezes it until the grip loosens, pulls him up and punches him hard in the jaw. This time when he falls it’s for good.
“Come on,” says Steve, switching the gun to his other hand and pulling Saja to her feet. He leaves the dented tray on the floor. “Someone must’ve heard that… we need to hurry.”
She leads him through another set of doors into another hallway, where men and women in various stages of dress and lucidity sit in cells that appear to have no doors, until he realizes that the whole fourth wall – including the door – is some kind of transparent material. The prisoners don’t seem to notice their new visitors, though, and Saja is still urging him on, so he ignores the macabre scene as best as he can and follows her.
Another door, another swipe of the card, every moment expecting to hear an alarm and the rhythmic stomp of booted feet, and suddenly he’s looking at Ms. Manesh, sprawled facedown on the floor with a dart sticking out of her leg.
Barton is across the room, a bulky-looking gun jammed into his thigh holster, rifling through a file cabinet. “Took you long enough,” he says without looking up, slamming one drawer shut and reaching for another. “I’ve got Fisher but she’s not talking.”
Steve looks around, expecting to see Dr. Fisher with a dart of her own, or perhaps tied to a chair, but instead her pale face glowers at him from behind glass. No… not at him, at Saja, who stares back unflinchingly.
“Don’t just stand there,” says Barton shortly, turning from the file cabinet with a disgusted look and noticing Saja for the first time. “Do you know where it is?”
Saja blinks. There are three doors, all unmarked, aside from the one that leads to the doctor’s room, and she considers them all in mute speculation. Finally she points a little hesitantly at a door between two tall wall-mounted cupboards.
Barton starts towards it but Steve beats him there; he doesn’t see a place for the card and they don’t have a physical key, so a little brute force might be in order. He wordlessly passes Barton the guard’s gun and the other man doesn’t argue, simply stands back where he can see Fisher, Manesh and Steve at the same time.
Steve pulls the door free, splintering the jam and sending Fisher into a fresh stream of glass-muffled profanity. It opens not into another room but a much smaller space, like a closet or maybe a pantry, lined with shelves full of metal boxes. It’s cold, too, so he thinks refrigerator, and he starts scanning the labels on the boxes for some kind of pattern.
Behind him he hears Barton’s voice. “She’s in San Francisco, isn’t she? Why?”
Saja remains silent; Fisher only laughs bitterly. “It’s poetic justice, isn’t it?” she calls through the glass. “After what happened in Frankfurt. He was really the target to begin with… I was just a side job.”
Barton is incredulous. “Your husband? You… you sent her to kill Witten?”
Fisher laughs again, this time with a maniacal edge in her voice. “It’s a kindness, Mr. Barton, believe me. There are other things I could have done to him. Things I could have slipped in his coffee. Games I could have played with his mind. But she gave me the idea. Romanoff. I was going to show you something else, you know. Something that happened later. Saja could tell you. Well, not tell you. But she knows. What he does to all the girls.”
“He deserves it,” Fisher continues coldly. “He deserves all of it and more.”
“Got it!” Steve exclaims. He pulls out the box carefully, opening the lid to see several vials of a colorless liquid set into a foam mold. They’re all labeled with the same code, and below them is a reassuring bit of confirmation: Romanoff, N. He turns, holding the box close to his body.
Barton doesn’t move. His face is set in a rictus of loathing as he stares at Fisher through the glass. Steve shakes his shoulder. “Hey, I’ve got it. We need to get out of here.”
Barton swallows, nods, tears his eyes away. They land on Saja. “Is there something in there that’ll help you?”
She presses her lips together, nods tersely, and then glances at Steve and shakes her head vehemently.
“She’s right,” says Steve, feeling guilt settle into the pit of his stomach. “One of the guards fired at us… if someone heard or if Telamon wakes up, we’re stuck in here.”
Barton hesitates, looks at Saja again, and says, “Alright. Let’s go. But she’s coming too.”