Fandom: Doctor Who/Marvel Cinematic Universe
Characters: Twelfth Doctor, Natasha Romanov, Bill Potts
Summary: The blandly bureaucratic alphabet soup acronyms attached to the hulking St. Petersburg building didn't disguise its ominous history. Natasha Romanov knew that intimately. Perhaps that's why the Doctor turned to the Black Widow to rescue a friend caught in its depths.
Author's Note: Not only is this a delayed fandom_stocking 2018 gift for trobadora (who shares my fannish attachment to the Twelfth Doctor, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Natasha Romanov) I forgot to post it here, after posting it on AO3 last April. Lawsey. Anyhow, for those who pay attention, this isn't their first meeting; that took place during "Encounter at the Rembrandt Hotel."
NOTE: For those among my readers who live or have lived in or near St. Petersburg, I hope my use of the original Bolshoy Dom, and its history, as a building block of the story does not come off as thoughtless or flip. It felt very possible that the Russian government, in a world where most governments think of the TARDIS and her Doctor as potential tools, might seek a way to capture her. It also felt right that Natasha, as a survivor of The Red Room program, who want to rescue someone from that building.
Edited by: My Best Beloved, who I thank for catching a couple of really bad mistakes before they could embarrass me.
Disclaimer: I own nothing in the Whoniverse or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All characters belong to the BBC, Marvel and Marvel Studios, Paramount Studios, ABC, and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement and take no coin.
*** *** ***
“I’d say ‘We meet again!’ but I’m not that cheesy. Or a villain. Villains say that sort of thing, I’m reliably informed.” But he smiled as he said it.
Natasha resisted rolling her eyes, at least partly because his smile was glorious, albeit brief. “I’d say ‘Fate will tear us apart!’ because I don’t have time to spend dealing with your version of madness. But that would be lying; my mission doesn’t officially start until tomorrow morning.
“So,” she said, sitting back down on the sofa. “To what do I owe the dubious pleasure?”
The Doctor made himself comfortable, sitting on a low-slung table. “A rude intrusion.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Not yours, I’m assuming.”
“Of course not. I’m not rude.”
“Pull the other one.”
“Well OK, alright, yes, I’m rude. Ruder, in fact, than you can imagine. But rest easy, it’s not me being rude this time. It’s … well, I don’t quite know who in this Slavic wonderland decided to do the wrong thing by intruding on my TARDIS, but I need you to help me clean up the resultant mess.
“The reason I need you is because of your near-transcendent abilities to get into places that you’re not supposed to be.”
“I’m always where I’m supposed to be,” she said. Her smile faded slightly, but the quirk of her lips was still friendly. “Not where I’m not supposed to be.”
The Doctor snorted as he grabbed successfully for the last handful of mixed nuts on the table. “Now it’s your turn to pull the other one.”
It wouldn’t have been a laugh from anyone else except the Black Widow. “That’s definitely rude. But correct. Occasionally I do like to be where I’m not supposed to be.
“So tell me your tale, Doctor.” She settled herself more comfortably, and the Doctor began to speak.
*** *** ***
Outside Natasha’s hotel room window, the early-morning sky was the pale blue of winter; the window was framed in a lacey trim of ice crystals. She looked out on the cold cityscape below her, the five domes of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood shadowy blue in the distance. Less than a quarter mile from those domes stood the Bolshoy Dom, the old home of the KGB, and before that, the NKVD and the OGPU. Now, its alphabet soup title proclaimed it the local headquarters of the FSB.
No matter the name, it still reeked of blood, and fear, and darkness. And the prize the Doctor sought was deep in its bowels. She should tell him no, she thought. She knew how difficult the task he asked of her was. But she also knew intimately how people went into the massive building, and never came out. She sighed, and acceded.
“How long has she been there?”
“From my objective standpoint, probably about 24 hours. Subjectively … is another matter. Time and I are uneasy dance partners.” Others might not have been able to see the repressed anxiety in the Doctor’s eyes; Natasha could.
“You’re sure that you —”
“D’you think I’d be wasting my time with you if I could get in there on my own? They’ve picked up some tech they should never have gotten their hands on, and it’s effectively blocking Her from getting inside that sorry pile, otherwise I wouldn’t be bothering with a bloody S.H.I.E.L.D. operative!”
She didn’t blink at his anger. She’d expected it much earlier, given what she’d deduced of his relationship with the girl. Mind you, it wasn’t like the one he’d had with the woman she’d met in London. That one, Clara, had felt as if she was almost part of the man, some weirdly alien amalgam of daughter, lover, and extra rib, Natasha thought. She hadn’t met this new one (and where had the other gone, she wondered), but he sounded like a teacher afraid for a treasured pupil, one he considered a vulnerable friend.
“I was going to ask whether you were sure you didn’t want to get in with me,” she replied mildly.
“Oh.” The scowl slipped into extremely momentary embarrassment. “No, it’s best that I stay here. I think they’re basing their barrier on anti-artron technology. I’m dripping with as much artron energy as the TARDIS is, possibly more on an inch by inch basis. I’d probably bounce right off the barrier, and set off all kinds of alarms.
“Plus, I’m pretty sure they’ve discovered their mistake by now, and have switched to Plan B — using her as bait to get me.”
“I could call Tony —”
The Doctor rolled his eyes. “And force me to nurse him through the manpain of being the second smartest person in the room? No thank you.” Then he added, reluctantly, “At least not yet. I came here because you’re in the city where they’ve taken her, and I’m betting you have a pretty good idea of what’s inside those walls. Plus, I … trust you. I don’t trust him.”
Natasha nodded, surprised and more than a little pleased at the compliment.
Time enough for pleasure later, she decided; if she was to aid the Doctor there were things she needed to do. “Help yourself to coffee, if you like it. I have a call or two to make.”
He looked alarmed, and she sighed.
“I can do a lot of things alone, Doctor, but not everything. If you trust me, trust my methods.”
Just as she thought he was going to balk, he nodded. “Do what you have to do.”
She nodded back in thanks for his quick acquiescence before picking up her mobile, S.H.I.E.L.D.-hardened to monitoring invisibility, and touched base with her first contact. “Mikhail, it’s me. Are you alone? Uh-huh … good. Bolshoy Dom’s blueprints — let’s go with 1936, 1953 … no, make that 1955. If you have 1989 and 2017, throw them in. How quickly can I get them? Not for my current employer, no. This is a private research project. So we’re good, I assume. The usual fee? Excellent. We have a deal. No, I’ll come to you … say, half an hour? Good.”
The next call was trickier. She maneuvered through several layers of bureaucracy, occasionally adopting different names and accents to do so. Eventually, she reached who she needed. In Russian, spoken with a thick Turkish accent, she continued. “Doctor Godunov? This is Ms Pauk. Yes, I’m in town, just tonight. May I treat you to coffee? Lavka Lebeveda, say, in an hour and a half? Delightful!”
Her last call was even more brief and done on the room phone. “Front desk? Room 130. Can you call for a car? Thank you.”
With a quick smile for the Doctor, Natasha went into the ensuite, and recovered her pistols and throwing knives from where she’d secreted them. His eyebrows shot up when he saw them, but he said nothing beyond “Going out?”
She nodded. “We should be back in a few hours.”
She enjoyed the look on his face at her use of the plural, even though he didn’t respond directly. Instead, he asked, “When should I start to worry?”
“You shouldn’t. Spend some time in your blue box and relax, if that’s even possible for you to do.”
“I’ll stay here, if you don’t mind,” he said, making it clear that he’d stay even if she did.
*** *** ***
“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”
Bill Potts had a bruised left cheek, an obviously dislocated left shoulder, and a bloody cut above a very swollen left eye. She’d definitely put up a fight when she’d been abducted. She was also frightened almost out of her wits — Natasha saw the tremors the girl was trying to hide — but determined not to show it. It was an admirable, if flimsy, front. On the whole, and based on her immediate gut instinct, Natasha approved of this one.
She removed the motorcycle helmet. “Not a stormtrooper. I’m with the Alliance.”
Potts lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree, despite her injuries. “Did the Doctor send you?”
You are either extremely observant or far too trusting. Or both. Natasha kept her thought to herself, and nodded. “We have about five minutes before the surveillance system kicks back in. You need to let me inject you with this. It’ll knock you out.”
The light in Potts’ eyes shuttered as quickly as it had lit. “Why?”
For answer, Natasha opened her backpack, and pulled out a set of grey scrubs, a physician’s coat, some fake identification already attached, and a mask. They covered her courier’s leathers completely. “You’re going to have been found to be harboring an alien microbe that could kill everyone in Bolshoy Dom.”
“Bolshoy wha—?” But Potts was already taking off her jacket, wincing as she did so, exposing her bare arm for a shot.
“That’s the nickname for where they’ve brought you; a secret prison under a legal government department building,” Natasha replied. “It’s well-guarded in general, and you’re even more well guarded. To get you out, we need to make you look as if you’re infected with something bad, something that’s of Ebola-level strength.” As she spoke, she pulled out the first syringe. Before the younger woman could fully register what was happening, she’d plunged it into Potts’ neck. “Sorry about this.”
“What the fu….” Her large and expressive eyes glared at Natasha before rolling up in her head. Natasha caught her before she hit the floor, maneuvering her onto the metal slab that served as the cell’s bed.
She quickly turned her backpack inside out and stashed the helmet inside, stuffing both it and the surrounding bag with items previously hidden in the backpack. Now it looked like a Russian military medical bag on the outside, and a cursory look inside it would also seem to show nothing more than regulation military medical goods.
By the time Natasha settled her mask in place, Potts had broken out in the green and purple bruising that Godunov had promised. Her breathing slowed, became increasingly shallow. To a casual observer, she wouldn’t look as if she was breathing at all, and the plan was to ensure that no one would actually want to observe her.
The danger was that Potts would actually stop breathing sometime within the next 10 minutes unless Natasha administered the drug’s antagonist before then.
She walked over to the wall panel that held the cell’s communications array and flipped a switch. “Emergency, Cell 42, Level 5 quarantine protocol.”
“What? Who is this?”
Natasha gave a name that effectively, if temporarily, blocked any further questions from the surveillance team, then barked, “Get me a gurney and a Level 5 quarantine body bag. Or would you like me to leave the body to liquefy here?”
That caught their attention. The gurney and the bodybag were at her disposal in two and a half minutes. She kept everyone out of the cell, after giving them a strategic eyeful of Potts, who now looked considerably less than healthily human, before wrestling her body into the bag.
“Clear a route to Lab 7,” she said, before pointing at two of the gas-masked soldiers whose body language marked them as young and nervous. “You two, with me. Keep everyone away from us.”
The soldiers — they really were little more than boys, and Natasha wondered who the hell had pulled strings for them to be here in the black ops levels of the prison — twitched, but obeyed. Natasha grinned under her mask. She liked working with frightened opponents; they paid a lot less attention.
As they rushed toward the lab, Natasha pulled out her phone and communicated with her nonexistent lab team, making sure the guards behind her were listening in. The scientific gobbledygook she spouted was born of dozens of overheard arguments between Tony and Bruce, and it had the requisite effect. Her retinue appeared suitably respectful, baffled, and increasingly jittery.
Once they reached the lab, she keyed the door open with one of her S.H.I.E.L.D. swiss army tools, then maneuvered the gurney inside on her own, waving the guards back.
“No one but me in here for now,” she said. “I’m going to hit the quarantine switch; you two guard the entrance until my team arrives.”
Once the door slid shut on their salutes, Natasha unzipped the bag, checked to see that Potts was still breathing, then rolled the gurney to the far wall. Beyond the closed door behind her, she could hear a new sound; the soft, insistent, buzz of the alarm that signaled real danger from the shadowy figures who’d been behind the attack on the Doctor and his friend, and who were now on their way to this lab to find out what was going on with their prisoner, and with who.
She pulled a folded piece of paper from the pocket of her doctor’s coat and unfolded it to look at the photocopied blueprint — 1936, from back in the oldest of the bad old days. Three quick paces to the left of one counter, four feet up from the baseboard .… She found the lever masquerading as a light fixture, pulled it, then shoved a narrow section of wall until it transformed into a door.
Natasha rolled Potts off the gurney, wincing slightly as the girl bonelessly hit the floor. She shoved the gurney to a point well away from the revealed door, then shouldered the backpack-cum-medical bag, took hold of Potts’ ankles and dragged her through the dark opening. She found another lever inside, pulled it, then pulled the stone door back into place with the sturdy handle provided for that purpose.
She was pleased to see absolutely nothing in the stygian black, because that meant the door had seamlessly become a wall again. It would take them longer to find her exit point than it would take her to use the passage and escape. She switched on her tiny flashlight, and pulled a second syringe from the backpack, then injected Potts with the chemical antagonist Godunov had supplied.
He was as good as his word; within 30 seconds, Potts groaned and drew a ragged, rattling breath that morphed into a phlegm-filled cough. Natasha waited the coughing jag out.
“Oh my god, what the hell did you give me?”
“As I told you, something that made you look very unpleasantly dead.” Natasha didn’t bother shining the flashlight in Potts’ face. She knew the slow-fading purple and green mottling would still be there, although the swelling was undoubtedly already on its way down. “Now we need to move. Can you stand?”
“Uh … maybe?”
Natasha was impressed with the girl’s determination to stand by herself, but lent her own strength to the effort. They needed to get down the passageway as quickly as possible.
In the near dark, it seemed to take much longer to reach the end of the passageway than Natasha expected. When they reached what appeared to be a dead end, she breathed a very soft sigh of relief, then felt about until her hand hit another lever. It came down more reluctantly than the first one had, and pushing the door open was far more difficult. She moved it just enough to allow the two of them to slip through to a small noisome space.
“Augh … I’m gonna be sick —”
Potts stumbled and vomited. Natasha didn’t blame her. The stench almost overwhelmed her even though she’d expected it. She didn’t reach for the light switch, choosing instead to continue depending on her flashlight.
The room they’d reached had been listed in most of the blueprints as an old burn room, with stairs to an exit that was supposed to open onto a sidestreet. It smelled exactly as a black ops burn room in a dank sub-basement ought to smell. Luckily, it didn’t smell as if it had been used very recently, and it was dark, which meant she could probably get Potts out of there before the girl noticed all the rusty brown stains on the walls and floor. Or the unburned detritus. It’s the 21st century, and they’re still operating in the 19th. Mind you, the 19th could be frighteningly effective.
She handed the younger girl a handkerchief with which to wipe her mouth. “You’re doing really well, and we’re almost out. We just need one more run. Grab my hand and keep up. Don’t let go.”
“You’re taking me to the Doctor, right?” The mottling on Potts’ face looked especially gruesome in the flashlight’s pale yellow beam.
“Then lead on, MacDuff … or whoever you are.”
*** *** ***
“What in God’s name did you inject her with?”
The Doctor stared at the sleeping Bill, who was now looking considerably better than she had when Natasha half carried her into the hotel suite. He kept his voice low.
“Something that convinced her captors that she was an immediate danger to them,” Natasha said, equally quietly. “I picked it up from an expert … distiller.” Then she glanced at him, eyebrow raised. “You should already know what went into it; you swept your magic wand over her the minute she was within range.”
“I know. Just a bad habit to yell at people when I disapprove of their methods.”
“Shall I take her back and let you use a different method to rescue her?” Natasha was more than a little irritated. This whole thing had taken almost 10 hours out of her last free pre-assignment day. You did it to yourself. Can’t blame the alien. Yes she could, she told herself silently, before she told herself equally silently to shut up. It’s done. And he’s trying to hide his relief. Aliens are as emotionally stupid as the rest of us, remember.
“Touchy, aren’t we,” he said, before adding, grudgingly, “Your method worked. Don’t mind me.”
“I won’t,” Natasha promised. She was skinning out of yet another outfit, uncaring of the Doctor’s gaze. The medical duds had been the first items jettisoned on the way back to the hotel, and she’d regretfully ditched the courier’s leathers as well, walking in through the hotel’s secondary kitchen in the black top and trousers she’d worn under the leathers, shouldering her “sick friend” in a way that kept Potts’ still frightening face largely hidden.
Just as she pulled the sweatshirt on over her jeans, the girl stirred.
“Uhh ….” Potts groaned and opened her eyes. “Doctor?”
“I’m here,” he replied, looking a little nervous before sitting down on the side of the bed. “How are you?”
“Well, my mouth tastes like the bottom of a birdcage ….” She trailed off for a moment, before turning to the Doctor. “I’m so sorry. I tried to get away, but —”
He shook his head at her. “You couldn’t have outrun them. It was a very professional ambush. And you kept them from me. I’m sorry that you ended up being a decoy, but you saved me, and you saved the TARDIS. They wanted to take Her apart.”
Potts looked horrified. “That’d be, like … it’d be murder!”
The Doctor smiled one of his brief smiles, just as glorious as before. “Yeah, but you saved Her.”
Potts propped herself up on her uninjured shoulder, and looked around the bedroom, before her gaze settled on Natasha. “I should thank you.
“But first — wow, whatever you gave me really, really sucked.”
Natasha nodded. “Yes, it undoubtedly did.”
Her refusal to sound guilty actually won a grin from the younger woman. “I won’t ask what was in it. But can I have a mirror? I want to see my face … I’m pretty sure I look like a proper horror. I sure felt like one.”
Natasha wordlessly handed her a mirror.
Potts looked, turning her head one way and another, then grimaced. “Wow. Again.”
“Give it another half hour, and most of the bruising will have disappeared,” Natasha said, before adding apologetically, “Well, except for the one you had when I found you. I couldn’t do anything about what they did to you. I’m sorry.”
“I’ll deal with that,” the Doctor said. “And the shoulder.”
Potts looked relieved, and Natasha continued. “Let’s repair next door, shall we?”
The Doctor helped his friend up off the bed, and the three of them headed to the main room. But he was obviously restless. “We’ve got to go. The TARDIS awaits, and I want to get Bill treated.”
“Fine by me,” Potts said. She was almost as antsy as her unearthly mentor, Natasha saw.
The Doctor eyed her, those eyes unreadable under the remarkable brows. “D’you want to see Her?”
“No.” Natasha waved away the invitation, her voice flat. Her internal warning alarms were going off, and she always paid attention to them; while she’d love to see the Doctor’s mysterious transport, she somehow knew that stepping inside could draw her into a gravity well of unexpected consequences.
“Ah well, then,” he said, obviously relieved. He did something with his wand — his “screwdriver,” Natasha recalled him calling it. “We’ll be going. Come on, Bill. She’s just down the hall.”
“You brought the TARDIS into the hotel?” Natasha was impressed.
“Not until just now. I’d sent Her into the Vortex for safe-keeping, and just called Her back now. And we’ve got to leave before they spot Her again.”
“There you go, then,” Natasha said, ushering them to the door.
The Doctor practically sprinted into the hall and out of sight, but Potts stopped just before doing the same and turned around. “Uhm … Look, I said before that I should thank you, but I didn’t actually do it. So … yeah, thank you. For real. I might have died in there.”
As she said that, Natasha saw that her tremors had returned. As might be expected, the older woman thought. You got out of one of the deepest levels of Bolshoy Dom, and I see that you understand how close to death you actually were.
“You handled yourself well,” she said aloud. “This wasn’t your first rodeo.”
Potts shrugged. “Yeah, but those other rodeos weren’t on Earth. It’s harder when it’s not aliens, when it’s your fellow humans.” Then she frowned. “That sounds kind of parochial, I suppose.”
Natasha, who had learned that some of the most frightening aliens in creation lived behind the blandly friendly faces of human beings, just nodded. “Not at all.”
Potts, who now showed almost no sign of Godunov’s chemistry, rolled her eyes. “Gotta go. Can’t keep my Uber waiting.”
“Do that,” Natasha said, amused. “And … take care.”
She discovered that Bill Potts’ smile was just as attractive as the Doctor’s.
“I’ll try to do that.”
Then the girl dashed in the direction of that worthy’s Scottish brogue, and was gone. The piano-string howl of the TARDIS faded up and out, and Natasha closed the suite door.
She walked to the hotel window. It was dark now, and the lights of night time St. Petersburg twinkled in the cold. “I beat you again,” she whispered, looking at a darkness that the twinkling lights couldn’t illuminate.
The Widow closed the curtains, and called it a day.
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