“Come on, Barton,” she muttered, feeling for his pulse again. Nothing there. Damn it, you’re not dying on my watch. S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn’t welcome her back if that happened. It would be a little too convenient for her. They might even shoot her on sight.
Damn it, he wasn’t dead, not yet, not irreversibly anyway, she knew how long it took for permanent death to occur after the heart stopped beating, but he didn’t have much time. Where was S.H.I.E.L.D.? Barton needed their equipment, there wasn’t anything she could do, she didn’t even have a defibrillator—
Well, maybe there was one thing.
It was a long shot but it was the only one she had. She pulled off her Widow’s Bites and fumbled with the back of each, wrenching them open with the point of one of her knives. Nothing was labeled, but she knew exactly how it worked and knew what to cut to turn the shock down from fatal. It was a long shot, but it was the only one he had. She put the bands back on, carefully, tugged open Barton’s sweatshirt and sliced through his other layers, and planted the back of one wrist on each side of his heart.
The bracelets sizzled— his body arched, and she reached for the pulse in his throat, hoping to find it— she heard pounding footsteps and looked up only long enough to determine that it was S.H.I.E.L.D., finally—
The force of the bullet and the sound of the bullet reached her at the same time. She fell back, desperately processing what had just happened, right hand automatically going for her gun before she gasped in pain at that motion and grabbed her other gun with her left hand— the bullet had come from the S.H.I.E.L.D. group, someone must have gotten their gear and staged this— she needed to get out. She needed to get Barton out. But did he even have any chance at survival left, with help not on the way?
Before she could make the call of pragmatism versus what felt right, something hit her hard in the head, and she blacked out.
She woke up in pain. That was par for the course.
She was slow in assessing her situation, which she’d reprimand herself for later. Assuming there was a later. She had a bullet in her right arm— or it might have gone through and through— and her head hurt, but she wasn’t restrained in any way.
That was an incredibly stupid mistake on the part of her captors, but she wasn’t going to waste time wondering about it. They’d taken her gun out of her left hand, and she couldn’t move her right arm without a lot of pain. She carefully wiggled the fingers of her right hand that were curled under her palm, and determined that they’d taken that gun, too. From the lack of pressure on her wrist, they’d also taken her Widow’s Bites.
Nice try, she thought, thinking through which of her knives she could reach with the least effort, pain, and time. Around her, people were arguing, which was good, since they’d be distracted. “—don’t care what the fuck you thought you saw,” said a man who sounded angry and stressed.
Enough dawdling, time to move. She rolled to a sitting position and then, ambitiously and critically, to her feet, grabbing the knife from her left shoulder blade and ignoring the way the world spun as she stood and opened her eyes. One of the S.H.I.E.L.D. impostors was directly to her left, half-turned away from her— idiot— she grabbed him, brought the knife up towards his jugular—
And froze as five pistols pointed in her direction, because the man sitting up being angry was Barton.
He looked like shit, but he was alive. He was propped up against a field stretcher with wires and electrodes attached to his chest. It looked like they’d tried to get him to lie down, and he’d refused. Of all the people around her, he was the one who recovered first from seeing her awake and hostile. “Don’t kill him,” he said, sounding resigned rather than threatened. “Agents, hold your fire.”
They didn’t shoot her again, which she supposed counted. “They shot me,” she said, trying desperately to figure out what the hell was going on. They were real S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, apparently, so--
“You were electrocuting Agent Barton!” insisted the woman who was apparently their leader, her aim hovering somewhere around Natalia’s neck.
Natalia stared at her in disbelief. “I was defibrillating him.”
There was a long pause.
“His heart had stopped. As you may have noticed,” she added, her voice thick with sarcasm.
“Everybody put your weapons down,” Barton said, sounding annoyed. “I don’t want to be mediating a standoff. I was just dead.”
She wasn’t going to release her hostage— who was doing an admirable job of staying still— until S.H.I.E.L.D. took its weapons off her.
“Oh for God’s sake,” Barton said, now disgusted. He reached up and pulled the backup gun of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in front of him.
“Hey!” the man protested, and then was at a loss, because Barton obviously wasn’t his enemy.
“Romanova, Leighton, I don’t particularly want to move, so turn ninety degrees this way, will you?” Barton said.
She paused. She thought she knew what he had in mind… maybe. She took a breath. “Move,” she muttered to her hostage, and they rotated carefully. This took her out of the line of fire of three of the agents, who lowered their guns to avoid aiming at their own man. The woman in charge didn’t look very happy about that, but as they lowered their guns, Barton raised his and trained it on her.
“Unless you have doubts about my aim,” Barton said, “I have Ms. Romanova covered. Now put down. Your damn. Weapons.”
The other two agents didn’t argue with that tone.
“Romanova,” Barton continued, “put down the knife.”
Slowly and carefully, she did so. Leighton stumbled forward. As he moved out from in front of her, some of the other agents twitched, their guns drifting up again—
“I will shoot your weapons out of your hands,” Barton threatened. He was one of the only people who could make that a viable threat. Everyone’s guns stayed down. “We done with that now? Good.” He slumped back against the stretcher, and looked her up and down. “Sit down before you fall down,” he advised.
“What happened here?”
It was a testament to what had just happened that no one had heard Coulson coming. The regular agents had an excuse— they were barely competent anyway— and Barton had just stopped being dead, but she berated herself for letting a little bullet wound compromise her situational awareness.
Barton recovered first. “My heart stopped, Romanova tried to restart it with her shock bracelets, the med squad thought she was trying to kill me, they shot her and knocked her out, and she took exception to that.”
Coulson looked pained. “We’ll talk about proper protocol for shooting a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. later,” he said. “Get Agent Barton loaded onto the transport. Someone treat Ms. Romanova’s arm.”
“No,” she said. “I’m not letting them touch me. And give me back my damned guns.”
After a moment, someone produced her guns and holsters. She tried to strap them back on, but her right arm wasn’t very functional. Barton consented to be loaded onto the stretcher. He looked in her direction. “Thanks,” he said.
It took her a minute to realize he was talking to her. “For what?”
“My heart was beating when they got here, so it must have been you.”
“Oh.” She frowned, and kept frowning after they lifted the stretcher and took him away.
“Problem, Ms. Romanova?” Coulson asked.
“I didn’t really expect that to work.”
“You electrocuted Barton just for kicks?”
Her equanimity disturbed by pain and adrenaline, she nearly snapped at him before she recognized it for the bait that it was. “I had no ETA on the med team. It was the only chance he had.” She realized, belatedly, that Coulson had produced gloves and a knife from somewhere and was reaching for her arm. She jerked out of reach, which hurt. She didn’t go for any of her own weapons, which she figured was about all she owed to Coulson. “What the hell are you doing?”
“You have a hole in your arm,” he said, pulling on the gloves. “Someone needs to patch it, and I don’t think you can reach.”
She eyed him suspiciously. She couldn’t really accuse him of having it in for her because she’d tried to electrocute Barton, because he didn’t believe that… it was possible this was some plan to find a way to hurt her, but it probably wasn’t very likely. But the problem with trusting that people wouldn’t hurt you since they previously hadn’t taken advantage of an opportunity to do so was that you ended up being lulled into a false sense of security. What potential benefit could Coulson get from hurting her at this specific moment? She could still take him hand-to-hand, unless he was hiding a syringe of sedative, and if he were, he could have used it already. If he wanted her dead, there were easy ways than trying to do it himself with a knife. If he were just trying to inflict pain, he’d run into the same problems as if he were trying to kill her.
He hadn’t reached for her, or moved, when she’d stepped out of range. He was waiting patiently for her to do something. Eyeing him warily, she stepped back where he could reach.
“I’m going to cut your sleeve off,” he said, before he moved the blade at all. When she didn’t protest, he started to cut. “It went clean through,” he reported when he got the fabric detached. He wrapped the blade in the bloody fabric of her sleeve and put it down. The warning bells in her head quieted a little; even though she’d made the conscious decision to trust him enough to let him bandage her arm, she didn’t like letting anyone that close to her with a knife.
From the quick efficiency with which Coulson was bandaging her arm, she could tell he was competent at field medicine. He had a number of talents that would surprise anyone who took him for a desk-bound bureaucrat. She’d never made that mistake, but she knew that Coulson actively promoted that impression. He used it as a weapon, just as she used people’s misconceptions about her as a weapon.
“Done,” he said, stepping back and stripping off his gloves. She looked down at his work: it was neat, but sturdy enough that she wouldn’t immediately bleed through it.
“Thanks,” she said.