Down the Dark Path- by Victor Moore

DISCLAIMER: Marvel owns everyone, except Sakura, Agent Li, and the old woman, they're mine. No money will be made from this. This is for enjoyment purposes only. Yada, Yada, Yada.

CHAPTER VII:

Natasha Alianovna Romanoff looked over all the reporters and photographers in the large conference room. The multitudes of flashbulbs going off in a haphazard fashion was starting to give her a headache. "I really hate this," she said through a forced smile to Iron Man. He nodded in agreement. She, like the other Avengers on the stage, were here for this publicity photo-shoot at the United Nations building, in downtown New York.

Giving the crowd a quick lecture on the importance of the formation of the Avengers in a growing world of political unrest and terrorist factions, especially in the face of the recent Genosha crisis, Captain America caught the journalists' attention. Even the servants stopped their chores to listen to this impressive speaker. Somehow, the audience seemed to savor his every word, like a blind man being offered to see again.

How he did that, Natasha never could understand. She had been trained by the Russian Government to be an espionage agent in the time of the cold war. Stealth and secrecy were her modus operandi. It had served her well, and still continues to do so. Upon joining the Earth's mightiest of Heroes however, the spotlight was suddenly on her. Now she was a public figure, always in the limelight. She understood why, but at times, like today, she longed for the old days.

A flashbulb blinded her momentarily. The camera belonged to a young brown haired photographer from the Daily Bugle. He smiled apologetically to her. She returned it, the decided to look at her teammates and see how they were reacting to all the attention. On her left was Iron Man, whose red and gold armor shone defiantly under all of the hot lights and flashes. Next to him stood Thor, the God of Thunder, who gripped the handle of his hammer with impatience. The Scarlet Witch twiddled her thumbs behind her back while grinning innocently at the crowd. In front of the podium, was, of course, Captain America. Beside him, stood Mockingbird, holding her hands in front of her and balancing slightly on the balls of her feet while sending Hawkeye ominous glances promising dire things to come. Between those two stood the Vision, in all of his stoic glory.

Jennifer Walters, dressed in a dark business suit with a skirt that ended just above the knee, leaned over and whispered in Natsha's right ear, "God, I am so bored. I wish something would happen. Anything at all."

Suddenly, a scream erupted from the next room. "Me an my big mouth!" She-Hulk stated as she jumped off the stage along with the rest of the Avengers and rushed to the source of the sound.

Lying on the floor in the middle of the room, was a man covered in his own blood. He had been gutted with three bladed objects from his navel to his throat. As Captain America examined the corpse, Hawkeye jumped out the broken window. The rest of the Avengers followed suit, leaving the journalists behind to take pictures of the man who had been the ambassador from China.

Natasha was third in the costumed procession on the ground. Hawkeye was far in front chasing a short man in dark red clothes though the grounds. It was a uniform she knew all too well. "Clint be careful! That man is a trained killer!"

"I haven't seen a member of the Hand since the forties," Captain America stated evenly as he caught up with her, "why did he kill that man?"

The comment struck a deep memory of the first time she saw him. He and two others rescued her from the clutches of the Hand when she was a little girl. One of the rescuers, whom she called 'little uncle', told her to be brave. It was a profound moment in her young life. That single piece of advice from him helped her become the woman she is today.

She had confronted the Hand on numerous occasions since then. Just recently, she came across a cadre of them in Madipor, while investigating the Strucker twins as a favor for Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Caught by surprise, she would have perished if Nick had not sent a back-up team that pulled her out. The sound of Iron Man's boot jets brought her out of her thoughts. He and Thor flew overhead and turned into an alleyway.

As she and the Captain, along with Mockingbird, ran into the alley, they saw Hawkeye tackle the member of the Hand. Both of them sprung to their feet like nimble cats. The Avenger threw a punch that the assassin easily avoided allowing the hero's momentum to sail past him. Then quickly and effortlessly, he grabbed Hawkeye's head with one hand and put the other on his shoulder, twisting them in opposite directions. After a satisfying crack, he let go.

"NO!!!" Mockingbird screamed as she watched her husband slump to the ground in a lifeless heap.

"BASTARD!!!" Iron Man vehemently stated as he blasted him with the full force of his repulsors. The blasts knocked the killer squarely in the face and flew him back in to the ground some fifty feet away. He got back up to his feet. The remnants of his mask disintegrated as the smell of burnt hair and flesh crept towards the Avengers. The Golden Avenger hit him again, this time in the chest with the same force. Again, he picked himself off the ground. Another time in the chest, this time he stayed down.

"Little uncle!?" Natasha gasped in horror as she recognized the assassin.

"Little…? You mean that's Logan!?" Captain America stated, before she could answer, he hurriedly told Iron Man, who was standing over the prone killer, "Iron Man! Back off now! He's still alive!"

"What!?" The armored one looked back at his leader quickly. He never saw the three metal claws puncture though his abdomen, through his protection. As he hit the ground, he heard that hated gruff voice taunt him.

"That frail did better than you." Logan was on his feat and narrowly dodged the red and white shield that was thrown at him. Thor attempted to grab him from behind but he spun around with claws extended.

Thor grabbed his wrist and held on tight. "Thou hath slain my teammate, and wounded another. It ends now!" He hit him in the face with enough force to kill a normal human. The ring of metal wrapped in some soft blankets sounded when he connected. It puzzled him for a split second.

"You hit like a frail, girly-boy!" Logan ridiculed as he raked his free claws across Thor's forearm, drawing blood. The Thunder God winced at the sharp pain, but kept his grip. Then he hurled him towards She-Hulk. She stood ready, cocking back her fist, aiming for his head. The assassin however, streamlined his body and extended his claws towards her. Surprised, Jennifer hesitated, then tried to dodge. His claws drew dark green blood as they caught her upper chest and severed her left arm from her body as he flew past. She just stood there in shock, staring at the twitching limb on the ground.

Enraged, Thor held up his hammer with both hands. Dark ominous clouds formed overhead and swirled in a chaotic pattern. "Thy shall not escape!!!" An intense bolt of lightning erupted from the clouds and arced into Logan before he could hit the ground. The majority of his hair and clothes turned into a cinder in an instant. Logan stumbled back to his feet, smoking rising from his body and the skin starting its healing process. "What foul demon are thee?" He asked with a surprised voice.

"Natasha, we have to end this now!!" Captain America yelled, "Vision, Mockingbird, tend to the wounded. Everyone else, finish him off with long range attacks!"

Sorrow in her eyes, Natasha aimed her widow's bite at Logan. "I'm so sorry, little uncle," she said softly, then fired.

Captain America threw his shield and hit Logan square in the back, the shield ricocheted off him into a wall then back in its owner's outstretched hand. Logan stumbled, but kept running away. Natasha's blasts barely seemed to faze him, and he now managed to barely dodge Thor's electrical bolts. Wanda's hex bolts proved ineffective in stopping him as well.

Natasha saw Thor's face turn red with rage. He cocked his right arm back, the muscles groaning under the pressure. "No!!!" She screamed, but it was a split second too late. He threw the arm forward and his hammer flew at Logan.

It connected hard with the assassin's back, pushing him off the ground and through the brick wall of an old building. Wood walls and doors gave way in a hail of splinters, as the hammer pushed him through them. An old man argued with his wife until the fragments killed them both instantly, as he flew between them. Then, the outer wall exploded. The next two buildings of stone offered little resistance as he plowed through them as well. When he hit the outer wall of the forth building, after crashing through, he fell to the floor. The hammer turned and went back the way it came.

Thor grabbed his tool and flew into the air. Barely managing to grasp his boot, Natasha held on as tightly as she could. Traveling through the wreckage, she was appalled by the amount of damaged caused. They approached Logan as he was getting back up on his feet. Looking around she noticed that they were in the remains of a girl's bedroom. She let go of her partner and landed on the floor without a sound. Thor went to rush him, but stopped at the Black Widow's command. Logan had upped the ante.

He held a hostage between his blades. A young blond girl, about thirteen years of age, whose blue eyes were filled with fear.

Logan watched out of one good eye as the boisterous Thunder God ranted. At the moment he did not listen, nor care what the man said. His hearing had given out somewhere in the trip through the second building. This was a standoff and a stalling tactic to allow him to heal a little bit before he could make his escape. Accessing the damage, he was sure he would not survive the angry Avenger's next blow.

Splinters of wood, large and small, stuck out the front of his now naked body. Dust had turned the flowing blood from the wounds, into a dark red sticky sludge. With his free hand, he slowly pulled the larger ones out of vital areas, like his left eye, right cheek, chest, abdomen, and right testicle. With care, he removed a smaller fragment from his tongue. Not once did he lose eye contact with his opponents.

A tense minute passed when his hearing kicked back in. His left eye saw only a red haze with streaks of white, and his bleeding had stopped. "What's it gonna be frail?" He asked coldly with a dry voice. "Me or the child?"

Thor started to say something but stopped when Natasha put her hand on his shoulder. "Too many have died or been hurt already. Do you want to add this innocent girl to the list?" One look into his eyes and she knew he would.

"Don't matter to me. Does it to you? You know what I want, my sworn enemy. My job is done." Raising his claws an inch, forced the scared girl to stand on the tips of her toes. Blood started to trickle gently from under her chin. "She is just a bonus." Sharp canines shone in his smile.

"Thor. Leave."

"I will not." He stated angrily looking down at her back.

Her shoulders straitened, "GO!!"

"Nay!"

"I will only tell you one more time." She clenched her fists. "Leave, now, or I will make you."

"Nay! You are sorely testing my patience..."

Without warning, her elbow struck his neck before he could finish. He stumbled back through the opening clutching it, falling four stories to the ground.

"I'm impressed. Now what."

"Please release the girl."

"Beg, like the dog you are!" He stated icily.

Slowly, the Avenger known as the Black Widow and former KGB agent, Natasha Alianovna Romanoff, sat down on her knees. "Please, release the girl little uncle, I beg you."

Smiling he asked, "what will you give me in return, my enemy?"

"An exchange," she stated firmly, "my life for hers."

"How do I know you won't break your promise?"

Silently, she took her wristbands off and threw them out the opening.

Forcing the girl to walk on her toes towards her, he jokingly stated, "careful now, we wouldn't want you to trip now would we." When he reached Natasha, he balled his fist and faced his fingers under her chin. The outer metal blades rushed out on either side of her neck, while the middle remained sheathed. She did not flinch, only looked up into his eyes sadly. There was no trace of hate or malice towards him, only sorrow and pity. It confused him.

She was a sworn enemy to the Hand. Daredevil and her had almost crippled the their organization years back. Though he was not a member at that time, he was taught about her methods of fighting, her strengths and weaknesses. He saw none of that in the woman who kneeled before him.

"Please mister, let me go, pretty please?" The young girl looked up at him, her blue eyes filled with tears.

"Be brave little one, be brave." Natasha told her.

The comment stirred up something in his buried memories. A memory of a young girl with huge scared eyes bubbled to the surface of his consciousness. "Be brave and fight as hard as you can." He told her, then the bubble popped and the memory faded. "Wha…!?"

Natasha gently touched his arm. "Little uncle, I beg you please?"

"Stop calling me that!" He screamed at her. Refusing to look in her eyes, he twisted his hand slightly, slicing a little skin off her neck. Again, she did not flinch. She was very brave, and a small part of him felt… proud?

"You helped me long ago, little uncle, to escape the Hand. Please show the same noble spirit and allow her to escape as well. I give you my word, I will not fight you."

He shook his head violently, to try to regain his thoughts, his being. The hardness came back. "I told you not to call me that," he sneered. "For that, she will die."

The girl looked at him with horror, but stood her ground. Quickly her face was turned into another, then another, and another. He blinked in shock, but the girl looked right back at him. As he stared again, the faces returned, the first one in a flash, the next a little longer, and the last hovered for what seemed like an eternity. "Jubes!? 'Tasha? … Pum'kin!?" He knew their names. "How? I never met them." He thought, unsure of himself anymore.

"Little uncle?"

He saw the concern in the woman's eyes. He looked at the girl again, and Kitty stared back sadly. Sheathing his claws, he backed up into the fractured stone wall, shaking his head. "Get out! Get out of my head! NO!!!"

Turning, he broke through the fragile wall and fell over forty feet to the ground. Logan got up and ran, as fast as he could. The farther he ran, the painful memory fragments subsided and disappeared.


Author's Note: The incident of the Black Widow and the Hand took place circa UXM#268.

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