There was always that wonderful moment in every SHIELD agent's life and career where he had a choice between the impossible and the potentially deadly. The smart ones chose potentially deadly, survived, and quit. The ones that chose the impossible option and made it out, they ended up here, on the squad that made really bad choices. Sam Wilson wasn't sure how he'd ended up on this particular roster.
Or in this ruined, bombed out backwater.
“Well, this is the worst rescue attempt ever.”
Sam arched an eyebrow, even though Clint Barton couldn't see him. “I got the hostages out,” he pointed out, glancing over his shoulder. There were still three of the mini jets on his tail, which was fine by him. He was faster than them, more maneuverable, and at this point, they were just getting into each other's way. As if to prove his point, one of the jets caught a burst of friendly fire and went down, smoke pouring from exposed engine.
Luckily, the streets below were deserted. That was kind of what happened when Hydra flew a giant gunship over the neighborhood, he supposed. People decided that cheap rent wasn't really worth the fact that the massive flying fortress kept using the local hot dog carts for target practice.
“And you left me behind.”
“Sorry, Hawkeye,” Sam said, diving to cut below the cover of a bridge. “Didn't realize that your codename should've been Ostrich.”
“What, because I can't fly?”
“More because of your habit of sticking your head in the sand and ignoring what is clearly going to happen.” Sam grinned. “Like me leaving your useless ass behind.”
“That's a myth, you know.” Hawkeye was shooting, picking off Hydra agents with his usual perfect aim. Sam could hear it all over the comms, Clint's microphone transmitting the ambient sounds.
“No, you are that oblivious, I mean, I've seen it, it's clearly not-” One of the jets came in a little faster and a little closer than Sam had anticipated, and he had to send himself into a steep dive to avoid the gunfire. The jet shot over his head and straight into the front of an abandoned office building.
Sam didn't have time to gloat. He was off balance and off course, and he managed to swing himself around, but not fast enough. A building loomed up, directly in front of him, and he crashed through the glass, feet first, shattering the window as he swung himself around, hard. “You're not helping. Right here? This? Not helping.” He skipped across the floor, his feet catching and carrying him forward, despite the glass that was raining down all around him. He was running even before the shards settled on the carpet.
“Did you see your reflection?” Clint asked. In the background, Sam could hear the whine of his bowstring as he took shot after shot. “Before you hit the window? I keep telling SHIELD that they need to put up those little hawk silhouettes to keep the dumber birds from knocking themselves senseless on the windows, but it's pretty low priority.”
Sam couldn't quite bite back a grin. “Aw, that's sweet, really, but I'm not the one who holds the SHIELD record for time spent in medical.”
“Excuse you, I also hold the record for 'should be in medical and yet isn't,'” Clint said, utterly unconcerned. The sound of an explosion rocked over the commline, and Clint swore. “Guess that guy was carrying a grenade. Was. Not anymore. But now there's a rather large hole in the-” There was a screech of metal on metal, and Clint heaved a sigh. “Can I put you on hold, Falcon? I have a thing, there's a thing here that needs doing and I think it's going to-”
“Will you shut up and do your fucking job, birdbrain?” Sam dodged as gunfire ripped through the window, shattering the panes of glass. “I know you're easily distracted by anything shiny, but even for you, this is getting kind of ridiculous.”
“I can multitask,” Clint said, laughing. Someone screamed, but it wasn't him, so Sam kept moving, returning fire when he could find cover. “How're you doing over there? Trying out domestication?”
“Avoiding active fire,” Sam said. He ejected the empty clip with a flick of his wrist and reloaded, ignoring the fragments of wood that were flying around him as the gunfire ripped into the desks of the empty office. “You're the one in the cage.”
“Hey, as long as I can throw the latch whenever I please, why shouldn't I let someone else do all the hard work?” Clint said, and there was the faintest hint of strain to his voice now, Sam was familiar with that particular note in Hawkeye's voice, and it never boded well. Cursing, he risked a glance towards the windows, and was immediately driven back by a burst of gunfire.
“Now would be a good time to throw the latch,” Sam told him, checking his guns. “I mean, if we're not cutting in on your beauty sleep or anything.”
“No, no, I'm good to go, I'm just waiting for the SHIELD evacuation team,” Clint said. Another explosion, and Sam heard this one over the commline and echoing through the ruined city scape.
“That would be me, Hawkeye.”
“Oh, is it?” A grunt, and then a scream, still not Clint's. “Because I thought you were just the carrier pigeon here, dropping off my bow and then taking off again.”
Sam grinned. “Not my fault you can't keep up. And speaking of pigeons, you need to stop telling the new recruits that I can talk to the pigeons.”
“Okay, first of all-”
“Here it comes.” Rolling his shoulders, Sam ducked his head and listened, waiting for the minute pause between the gunfire. There was a rhythm, he could feel it, probably the gunner attempting to compensate for the small plane's flight pattern. But there was a rapid, sustained burst of fire, then it cut out abruptly. The pause was only a second or two, but it was there. There was a break. He took a breath, his eyes closed. “Here comes the stupidass logic.”
“First of all,” Clint repeated, loudly, “I'm not telling them anything. Nat is.”
“Because you convinced her it was funny.”
“Yeah, but that doesn't matter. She's running with the joke, and if you want to tell the Widow what she should and should not be doing, you go ahead, you can get your wings clipped, but I've survived this long by absolutely NOT trying to give her orders.”
“One of the few smart things you've managed while a SHIELD agent.” Sam rolled to a loose crouch, his hands down, fingers braced like a sprinter on the starting block.
“I know, right? Coulson puts it on my annual review every year.” There were sirens wailing in the background now. “Secondly, I didn't actually tell them you can talk to the pigeons, I implied that you are the only one who can track Captain America when he's on the move and you use certain POWERS to do so. The fact that you spend far too much time on the roof TALKING to the pigeons is what sells it.”
“I'm not-” The break was there, a second away, he could feel it coming and he rolled free of his cover, guns up and firing as he ran full speed at the shattered windows. The pistol fire wasn't enough to bring down the small jet, but it was enough to get the pilot to jerk back on the controls, an unavoidable survival instinct that threw off the gunner's aim. Ducking, Sam threw himself forward, out of the ruined building, and in free fall.
“I'm not talking to the pigeons,” Sam said, the words almost ripped from his throat by the wind. He grinned as he fell, and the air was brutal on his exposed teeth. “I'm talking. The pigeons just happen to be there to hear it, what the fuck is your problem?”
“At least get a blu tooth headset of something, man, you're creeping everyone out,” Clint said. The sound of his bow was missing now, Sam could hear his feet, could hear the sound of his footsteps as he ran.
Sam's arms flicked out, and his wings fell into place, catching the wind, and ripping him free of gravity's harsh grip. He shot back up, just as the jet started firing on him again, but by now, the gunner's aim was wide, and he couldn't catch up with Sam's flight path. “And you'd know a thing or two about creeping people out.”
“If they can't handle me, they probably need to, I don't know, find another career path,” Clint said. “And I'll stop with the pigeons if you stop telling people I've got a nest in the ventilation system.”
“Fuck that, that stuff is gold, and you know it.”
“It's stupid. Birds only build nests if they're laying eggs, if I gotta hear one more nesting pun, I'm going to put an arrow up someone's beak, and you're usually around when it happens.”
“Good luck with that,” Sam said. He was almost back to the carrier now, his wings carrying him along. “World's greatest marksman, my ass.”
“Just out of curiosity, how far off are you right now?”
“Why are you asking?” Sam wheeled to the side, dodging the gunfire that was still chasing his tail, cutting through the air just behind him.
“Just answer the question.”
“Why are you asking?” Sam repeated, and he knew why Clint was asking, he knew it, the damn bastard. He cut hard, skimming around the corner of a building. His wingtip slid across the glass of a window, and he had a moment of obscene pride, and then the jet that was chasing him clipped the same spot, too close and too hard. The wing shattered along with the window, and the jet plummeted towards the ground.
Free from pursuit, Sam shot back up, heading back for the main ship, which was still lumbering along, trailing smoke and flickers of flame. “Hawkeye, report!”
It was too late. He saw the lithe form go flying out of the back of the ship, twisting in midair, legs snapping around as Clint's back arched, his bow coming up. He fired, even as he fell, driving himself down and back, still shooting. The ultimate Parthian shot.
“I hate you,” Sam said, the words without any heat, and he heard Clint laugh.
“Agent Barton, requesting pickup,” he said, unconcerned.
Sam twisted, his arms folding back, his wings angled behind him, and he spiraled into a dive, the wind pushing him along, and he could see Clint's face, calm and serene as he brought the bow up, and he let his arrow loose. It slid past Sam's cheek, over his shoulder, so close that Sam felt the pressure of it. “You fucker,” Sam said, just to see Clint grin at him.
An instant later, Sam's arm wrapped around Clint's chest, yanking him in, getting a grip on Clint's vest, fingers locking down on the straps. “You realize I'm not going to be around to catch your dumb ass every time, right? You get that?”
Laughing, Clint wrapped an arm around his neck. “Shut up and fly faster, birdboy!”
Sam opened his mouth to respond and then the explosion ripped through the air, a wave of brutally hot air hitting Sam sideways and sending him spinning out of control. “Did you blow it up, you fucker?”
“Yes. Yes, I did.” Amused, Clint just locked his legs around Sam's waist. “You might want to try flapping.”
“Someday, you will resist the urge to blow up every damn thing you come into contact with!” Cursing, Sam let him go, and that was horrible, he hated that, hated relying on his passenger to hold on, and he hated it more when it was Clint, because Clint couldn't be relied upon to actually hold on. Regaining his balance, he caught a hot eddy of air and pushed them down and away from the falling wreckage.
“Maybe, but today is not that day.” Clint was laughing. “Really. Flying. That'd be good now!”
“You want to try it, you think you have all the answers?”
They crashed into the roof of a building, hitting together and then rolling, Sam's wings folding back to avoid breaking. Clint let go, bouncing across the stone surface and landing spread eagled on the rocks, his bow still clasped in one hand. Sam sucked in a breath, and another, and watched as the remains of the Hydra vessel crashed down. “You gotta learn the meaning of moderation, you know that?”
Clint held up a middle finger.
“You know,” Sam said, pushing himself into a sitting position, “if you want to get my attention, there's easier ways to do it.”
Clint released his bow to hold up his other middle finger.
Laughing, Sam half scrambled, half crawled over to his side. “You okay?”
Clint grinned up at him. “Aw, were you worried about me?” He reached up, snagging one of the straps of Sam's flight harness and pulling him down. He was breathing hard, and the kiss had more to do with adrenaline and need than affection, but that was just fine. Sam rested his forehead against Clint's, his fingers weaving tight over Clint's hand. “That's nice.”
Sam kissed him again, deeper this time, but before he could get a word in, the comm unit in his ear crackled, breaking them apart.
“The Russian judge gives that routine a 7.8.” Natasha's voice sounded amused over the commline. “Excellent improvisation, covered all the required elements, but you completely flubbed the landing.”
Clint rolled his head back, squinting up at the sky, where a SHIELD transport was coming in low. “The Russian judge has really high standards.”
“The Russian judge is sick of dealing with the two of you and the medical staff.”
Sam sat back, offering Clint a hand. “Russian judge's got a point.”
“Russian judge is easily bribed.” Together, they got to their feet, a little wobbly and a little careful, and Sam could feel the bruises already forming. He was used to it by now.
He never chose well in this particular cases. Wrapping an arm around Clint's shoulders, he limped forward. “C'mon. We'd better find her some particularly high end vodka if we want her help this time.”