Next chapter! Just a warning, it isn't as intense as the last chapter, a lot of her flashbacks will be much more violent and fast paced, this chapter is a little slower, as will the next "Present Day" chapter just to help give a contrast as to who she was vs. who she is now. Within the next few chapters we'll meet the rest of the avengers. Despite the "Present Day" date, it is taking place pre-Avengers and post-Iron Man 2. Hope you enjoy this chapter!
A/N - Updated/Edited
2: Old Friends, New Enemies
Location: Washington D.C., U.S.A
Date: Present Day
Patrick was making his famous omelettes. The smell almost intoxicating as I leaned against the entryway into the kitchen, watching as the old man whistled to himself happily, his spatula waving around wildly as he cooked. Martha and April giggled together in the bar of the diner, occasionally glancing through the order window to check on the food, but otherwise remained where they had spent most of the evening.
"You going to say something, Pat?" I nodded over to the two women as Martha let out an obnoxious laugh and flipped her long frizzy blonde hair over her shoulder.
"Hardly worth the trouble, they do their job," he shrugged, flipping over a few slices of bacon, "for the most part."
"You shouldn't let them walk all over you," I muttered stepping into the kitchen and began preparing my own meal. Pat was one of the few people I had learned to trust over the years, while I still remained distant and kept anything about my personal life ambiguous, he was the one person who seemed to see me for what I was. I still couldn't place his accent, but it was as thick as the bacon slices he was now humming over.
"What about you, eh?" He nudged my side playfully with a wide grin, his large belly vibrating as he chuckled to himself, "coming in here and turning things about?"
"I wouldn't put it so mildly," I smirked, tucking a piece of my short dirty blonde hair behind my ear, "I'm just helping a friend improve his business. Building you some more profit."
He shook his head as he muttered to himself, "This one, always so technical and stiff. Loosen up," he drawled nudging me once more until I laughed.
"Seriously, Pat," I warned playfully, pointing a finger at the two girls who had remained oblivious to our conversation, "I could knock them down a few pegs."
"Ah!" he waved me off, turning back to the stove as he prepared the plates and ringed the bell, Martha hurried over, wiping uselessly at her dramatically smudged eyeliner that only aged her more, and took the food to the customers. Seconds later she went back to April and continued with whatever gossip they had been whispering about before, "they're young, full of life and excitement! Shouldn't you be so wild?"
"What do you mean?" I asked frowning down at the sandwich I was making for myself.
"You are young, Ana. You still have so much life to experience, so many adventures to have," he shook his head again, rubbing the gray stubble on his cheeks, "you shouldn't be wasting your time in my diner, worrying about two girls having fun."
"I think I've had enough adventures for many lifetimes," I mumbled to myself, my thoughts swirling with agonizing screams, pleas for help and the metallic smell of blood.
"Ana," Pat sighed, waiting until I turned to him to continue, "one day you will realize it's too late, that your time to finally live your life has come and gone. Don't let that happen. If you do you'll miss out on new cultures, brilliant masterpieces, fascinating languages, friendship… and love. You have so much to experience and don't even know it."
"I…" my frowned deepened as my thoughts continued to distract me, voices echoing through my head, "I do not think that sounds like a life I deserve to live."
"So dark is your past that you cannot even allow yourself something as beautiful as love?" Pat asked, though we both knew I would not satisfy him with an answer. He sighed again sadly as he turned back to the stove, continuing to clean his station. It was rare our conversations took such a dark turn, but when they did he had learned to give me my space afterward.
I hurried out of the kitchen, finding my usual nook in the staff room as I ate alone in peace and quiet. I shoved away the voices in my head, hoping that maybe they would wait until I was alone in the comfort of my own home to haunt me once more.
I waited across the street, watching as Pat locked the door to the diner and gave it a quick yank before waving over to me. It was our usual routine, I never was comfortable watching Pat walk home alone so late, his strength was lacking and he wasn't at all an intimidating should someone pluck the courage to try and rob him. Often I found myself walking him home; and though I never told him I did, I had a feeling he knew. Tonight wasn't one of those nights. The voices in my head were brimming, slowly bubbling their way to the surface and I knew it wouldn't be long until I had another episode. Sparing one last glance back, I made sure he made it to the corner before watching him completely disappear around the other street. The walk to the subway was short, and left little time to come up with something to distract myself with until I got back to my apartment. Thankfully the metro was almost entirely empty – as usual around this early hour – as I stepped off the platform and into the train. Though it was empty, I didn't sit. I liked being in a position I could quickly react from. And lately I had this intense feeling I was being watched. How many months had it been? Six? Surely it wouldn't take so long for them to find me. I knew they had been watching, planning how they were going to approach me. But I never expected her. At first I was staring at my reflection. I chewed on my bottom lip, a nasty habit I'd picked up as lights whizzed past. I couldn't help examining myself, frowning slightly at the thickness around my thighs; being out of practice was starting to catch up to me. My gaze slowly drifted up, thankfully Pat's pancakes hadn't made too much of an impact on my figure, not that I was so self conscious as to worry about my slim figure. It was more endurance and strength that I was worried of losing with the lack of training, and I mentally made a note to start back at it soon. Before I could fully move up my gaze to settle on my grey eyes the lights slowed down until the train came to a stop, the doors opened and there she was standing across from me. I waited for the doors to close, my heart racing as I internally pleaded that she was alone and my escape would be quick. But the doors never closed, and she beckoned me out of the car. I let out an exaggerated sigh as I moved past her, my eyes scanning the dark station for any others that might have joined her. As soon as I stepped onto the platform, the doors sealed shut and the train hurried off to its next destination.
"Annika," Natasha nodded, her long fiery curls bobbing slightly with the movement.
"Natasha," I muttered glancing around, "are we going to do this here?"
She perked a brow questioningly and I rolled my eyes.
"What do you mean?" she asked looking around. I glanced down at her attire, finding amusement in the casualness of her outfit. The faded jeans and blue rain jacket didn't suit her at all.
"Are you going to kill me?" I asked stiffly, leaning back against a brick column.
"I haven't been sent to kill you," she informed quietly, her green gaze softening slightly as she stared down at me, "quite the opposite actually."
"Oh?" My composure was lost as I felt my own brows rise suddenly; I hadn't expected that.
"As I'm sure you've guessed," Natasha began, crossing her arms as she glanced around once more, "we have been watching you. S.H.I.E.L.D. is very interested in your skills and believes you could be an asset to our team."
"Asset?" I scoffed, "do you know what they would do to you if they knew you would play good for S.H.I.E.L.D.?"
"I don't work for them anymore, I work for S.H.I.E.L.D… Exclusively," Natasha insisted, her voice hardening as she grew defensive, "and I think it's an offer you should consider."
"You expect me to work for such a joke agency, so bent on appearing like they do a great deal for their country, but really Natasha," I chuckled darkly, "we both know its an office job with a dazzling title. You're their bitch, and that's all you will ever be to these people."
"As I was saying," she ignored my comment, but I could see by the tightening in her jaw and the stiffening of her back that she was annoyed, "its an offer you should really consider, it would give you a clean slate, a chance to work for the good. To start going straight."
"I'd say I'm doing just fine in those regards," I grinned, "I think giving it up all together is going far more 'straight', as you say, than switching sides."
"Annika," Natasha warned stepping closer.
"It's Ana, here," I stood straighter, "and I have considered your offer, as you requested and…"
"Don't," she hissed.
"…I'm afraid I am going to have to decline, on account of retirement," I shrugged, it was the truth…sort of.
"Retirement?" a low voice echoed throughout the station. It was followed by an unamused chuckle as a tall dark skinned man stepped out of the shadows, slowly approaching us, "is that what you call it?"
"Is there a nicer way of saying an ex-assassin?" I snapped, I knew his face immediately; pages of information on him starting fluttering through my thoughts as I quickly recounted the information I had learned about him.
"I don't think an ex-assassin should play off their profession as a career worthy of retirement," Nicholas Fury spoke harshly, he one eye squinting at me. To some, I was sure he could be intimidating, and no doubt with my lack of training could easily overpower me, but he didn't scare me. He was the furthest thing from what I knew to fear.
"I'd say I've earned it," I cocked my head, my tone playful as I watched his expression turn to disgust. I wasn't proud of my past, but I knew I could use it to my advantage when the moment presented itself.
"Earned it," he growled, "killing hundreds of innocents suddenly gives you the right to go on vacation. Relax a bit, hell maybe even have a Cosmo if you're feeling especially exhausted from robbing all those people of a future they'll never have."
"I'm not selling myself as some kind of Saint," I snapped, his words had little affect on me, at least here. Soon the voices would come, "I have my own demons to deal with, and it's none of your concern."
"None of my concern?" he scoffed before stepping closer, his voice lowered threateningly, "you come into my country, move into my city, with a file like yours. And you're telling me it's none of my concern?"
"Have I done something wrong?" I raised my arms by my side, my palms facing him as I defended myself, "have I done something so horrible in the past six months that I've been here that you feel obligated to express your masculinity with such arrogance? I'm not a child, your leather jacket and eye patch don't frighten me. You annoy me, and quite frankly I'm exhausted from working at a minimum wage job and I don't have time to talk to either of you."
"That's the thing," Natasha cut in, "the past six months you have been completely clean, no crimes reported in your area, no hidden contacts from Russia, nothing. Why?"
"Perhaps I saw the light or something," I teased, my tone still lingering with sarcasm.
"Why did you come here?" Fury asked more aggressively.
"I've said it all already," I sighed, "and now I'm ready to go to sleep, so if we could wrap this up…"
"You said she would agree," Fury turned to Natasha, his eyes cold and angry as he growled. Natasha looked up at him impatiently, she, too, seemed unafraid of the man.
"I said she might consider," Natasha sighed as she turned back to me, "which I think you should still do. Consider this…us telling you to consider with a deadline. One year, one year and you either are with us or…"
"Against you?" I laughed, "Please Natasha when did you become so…American, with your ultimatums and all that 'my toy is bigger than yours'?."
"Annika…" she pulled my arm, guiding us a little away from Fury so that only I could hear her talk, "This took a lot, just to get them to consider letting you in, I had to pull a lot of strings."
"I didn't ask you to," I pulled my arm from her grip as I glanced back at Nicholas who was now speaking into a phone.
"You were being targeted," she whispered harshly, "give it another couple days and you would be dead. I couldn't let that happen."
"Why?" I questioned, her kindness was strange and eerily uncomforting. I didn't remember this side to her. Then again I didn't remember much of Natasha at all save for one run in over a decade ago.
"I owe you," she muttered, "even if you don't remember…I owe you a lot, my life even."
"Natasha…" I glanced back at Fury, but he was walking towards the exit, apparently we were done talking.
"I know you don't trust him, or S.H.I.E.L.D. but I do, can't you trust me?" Natasha pleaded.
"I can't" I finally said, I heard the familiar screech of metal as the next train made its way into the station, I backed away from her, towards where I knew the doors would open for me, "I'm sorry."
"I know why you're here," she called, hurrying over as she pulled something out from inside her jacket. She glanced around once more before handing it to me, behind me the train came to a stop and I heard the familiar ding as the doors slid open, "there's more if you join us."
"I'll check back soon, don't forget what I said."
The doors quickly shut in front of me, and for a second we stood there staring at one another through the fogged glass before the train picked up speed and left the station. No longer seeing a point in standing, I found a nearby seat and looked around. Sure enough the car was completely empty, but the red light attached to the camera in the far corner reminded me that I wasn't completely alone, and so I kept the folder tucked under my arm until I got home. I reached in my pocket for my phone, sending out a single text message as the subway glided through the tunnels.
I checked every inch of my apartment as soon as I got home. Granted it was a studio apartment, so there wasn't much to check, but it made it easier to search for any bugs or devices the agency could be using to track me. Anything looking suspicious was immediately destroyed, and as soon as I decided the place was clean, I reached for the brown folder. I opened it, only to drop it immediately, the few documents it contained scattered across the hardwood floor and I stared wide-eyed at the face staring up at me.
That face. Who was it? I had seen it twice now. I reached for the photo, ignoring all other documents as I forced my eyes to take in every inch of his features. Granted it was the same photo I had seen months before, the one mailed to me when I was still living in Paris. Specific directions attached telling me to come here, that I had to find him. He held the answers to the secrets of my past. He could fill in the blanks where my memories had been tainted. The voices were lingering, slowly taking over as I tried to remember. I felt the tears brim on the corners of my eyes; I was getting frustrated. I knew my time was up. It was only a matter of seconds before I lost control and this would be forgotten. I hurried over to the desk facing the large window, making sure to retrieve each document and align them with his photo, writing a note to myself on the front cover of it before I wandered back to my bed. A soft knock on the door came just as I pulled the restraints from under my pillow. The click of the lock, and not long after did my neighbour Hanna come in, helping me silently as she pulled hard on the buckles and cuffs. She was a perky older woman, often wearing her floral nightgowns when I saw her, which only barely hid her plump figure.
"The pipe too," I reminded her, watching as she pulled roughly so that my entwined hands already restrained to the metal headboard now clicked in some cuffs attached to the water pipe behind my bed.
"Are you ever going to tell me why we do this?" Hanna sighed as she pushed her squared glasses back onto the bridge of her nose, her long blonde hair already done up in her usual bright pink rollers. Perhaps it was her reclusive personality, or the fact that she was in her forties but dressed like she was in her sixties, or maybe it was the six cats whose names I had regrettably remembered (Jerry, Barry, Coco, Mona, Scruffy and Lemon). Information that was useless to me but unfortunately would be somehow forever embedded into my memory. Nonetheless I trusted her with this. I had no second thoughts as she continued to strap me in, she had been on my speed dial for when I required her assistance, and she always came through.
"Sleepwalking," I hissed through gritted teeth, "wasn't that what we agreed?"
"All this for sleepwalking?" she scoffed, tightening another tie as she clucked her tongue, "I highly doubt it."
"Can we drop it?" I almost growled, "I pay you for a few simple tasks. Maybe takes ten minutes of your time. I know I don't pay for your opinion, or the dozens of questions that follow."
"Peachy, as always," she muttered to herself as she rolled her eyes; though I caught the slight offense my words had caused her as she quickly glanced away sadly.
"Money is where it always is," I looked pointedly towards the door, the envelope taped lightly on the center.
"Are you sure you don't want company?" she asked hopefully. I kept from groaning, our bickering was always the same whenever we went through this process.
"Have I ever?" I sighed, closing my eyes as I put all my focus on maintaining my control until I knew she was gone.
"Can we at least forget about the…"
"No!" I ordered, my eyes snapping open as I caught her trying to leave, she looked over at the door once more before stepping cautiously towards me.
"I hate this part," she mumbled, her round face pulling into a pout as she positioned the mouth guard and then fully covering my mouth with a scarf. I nodded stiffly, offering quick thanks before I moved into a more comfortable position.
"Goodnight Ana," she whispered turning away as my eyes slid shut. I heard her shuffle towards the door, waiting for the click as it closed shut followed by the snap of the lock. Without warning, my body went numb and I felt my muscles tense in preparation for what was to come. I could feel the sweat already beading along my forehead as my breath quickened. The numb feeling lingered for a moment longer before it vanished, and as quickly as it left, another feeling took over. Agonizing pain swept over my body, making every inch of my body go stiff as I winced from the suddenness of it. The pain continued, but soon the voices began to take over my thoughts, the screams echoing throughout my mind, driving me to the point of insanity. I pulled against my restraints; all I wanted was to claw at my face, to tear away the flesh so that the voices might escape. Perhaps they would leave me alone just this once. My own screams joined in with the ones in my head, though muffled by the gag I had Hanna place over my mouth. Different faces flashed through my head as the pain increased. It felt like hours as the pain continued, all of my senses consumed by something all together horrible. Eventually, though not soon enough, I blacked out. I felt my lips pull into a small smile as I welcomed the darkness, knowing its embrace would cure me of this torture.
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