Three women stood at the bedside of the wounded soldier. If the medical personnel in the room could see them they would have thought the three mother, daughter and granddaughter, but they were not seen, and they were not heard as they stood by Marcus Johnson’s bedside.
“We should not interfere.”
“They are not ready.”
“Hush. We did not make the circumstances that brings us here—that was begun many years ago by Odin Allfather. It comes to us to do as we must to keep this world from being ground under the boot heel of the nine realms. Many worlds have become lost in the war between the realms, but I have foreseen that this is not to be for Midgard. There will come one from the AEsir that will stand with them, but his duties will not allow him to be the protector he wishes so we will give Midgard protectors.
“We only weave the threads…we are not to interfere.” The middle-aged women hissed at her Elder.
“We only set right was made wrong when Odin hid the true nature of his son, Loki. I will not stand by and watch another realm die for the childish quarrels of the Aesir and the Jotun. Now you will help, or you will leave me to my work.”
The youngest stepped between the women and laid a hand on both. “Peace, my sisters. We are together always, but we will have our say. In this matter I agree with the Grandmother, and will help.” She turned to the other. “What say you, Sister?”
The middle-aged woman gave a put upon sigh. “I will help, but we must choose the others wisely.”
“Agreed. Thank you, Sisters.”
The three joined hands as the Elder laid her right hand upon the damaged eye of Marcus Johnson, son of Colonel Nick Fury.
“As once did Odin give his eye to see below the ocean, so too now has this human, Marcus Johnson has given his eye for a warrior’s duty to his people. I call upon the great eagle from the limbs of Yggdrasil to lend your nature to this human to carry out his legacy to protect Midgard from those who would destroy her. Near the great eagle will be perched a hawk, and four antlered deer browsing among the buds of Yggdrasil. They will bring forth the spirit of the totems to guard and defend this realm.”
A glow encompassed the man on the bed and the three women. A dark brown eye opened and regarded the women looking down at him.
“Not that I don’t appreciate being woke up by beautiful women, but who the hell are you and where the fuck am I?” He growled.
When the nurse made her rounds, she found her patient rubbing his left temple.
“Sir, is your head bothering you?” The nurse asked.
“Not in a way you can help…but thank you for asking.” Marcus answered quietly.
The nurse moved to change his bandages, and hums in approval at the amount of healing that’s happened in such a short time.
“Good genetics.” Marcus snarks.
“Yes, I’ve worked with the Colonel on occasion.” She gives him a wink.
“How’s Ch…Phil Coulson? He was brought in with me.”
“You should be ready for discharge about the same time.”
Tiring of the double entendre conversation, Marcus sighs. “Where do I need to be when?”
She hands him a card with an address. “When you’re up to it. Just ask for the Director.”
Marcus tucks away the card and relaxes against his pillows. Using what the Norn witches taught him, he realizes this may be the last relaxation he gets in a while, and that Phil Coulson is one of his antlered deer. At least he wouldn’t be totally alone in the clusterfuck that has become his life.
His agents thought Director Nicholas J. Fury was a scary, paranoid, austere man whose only friend was Senior Agent Phil Coulson. Fury with the help of SHIELD resources, his sacrificed eye, and his one good eye, all made for the appearance of a spider in the middle of a massive web. Very little happened in the world to which Nick Fury was not privy. His agents only knew what they needed to know, and Phil Coulson had a talent for recruitment akin to a superpower. Scoffing at the conversation happening inside his head, Fury grabbed his trademark coat and headed for the motor pool. Spending the afternoon in budget meetings with Secretary Pierce and the World Security Council left him in need of a shower, and a distraction from the ever-changing pictures in his brain courtesy of the Norns.
Tired of being cooped up in the Triskelion, Nick finished his inspection of the prototype Helicarrier Stark Industries was building along with SHIELD R & D. Coulson was back in DC after his mission had been cut short. His target had been assassinated practically under his nose, and really irritated his most senior agent—he’d been looking forward to interrogating the man. None of his team on the ground had been able to locate the sniper’s nest, which compounded the senior agent’s irritation.
Pulling Phil out of this office, they headed for the lobby.
“It’s been six years since you took over from Pierce. You going to do anything special to celebrate?”
Nick speared Phil to the ground as something whistled over their heads and embedded in the SHIELD eagle. Fury’s security detail sped by following the trajectory of the projectile. Both men’s clothing was specially made by R & D so after a quick brush down they walked over to stare at the arrow stuck in the eagle’s tail.
“So, who’ve you pissed off lately?” Phil asked conversationally.
“No one that would hire an assassin the uses a bow and arrow. Talk about low rent.” Fury growled as he continued his journey down the street.
“Sir…” Phil started as he moved to follow his boss.
“I’m not letting some no talent sniper wannabe ruin my night out. Shut it, Cheese and let’s go eat.”
Seated in the back of their favorite dinner, Nick turned the topic back to Phil’s failed mission.
“Tell me about the sniper that took out your target.”
Phil waited until Fury had taken a drink of coffee before he answered.
“The sniper used a bow and arrow.” Blue eyes twinkled as the Director sputtered.
“Not yet, but wartime always provides a new crop of mercs.”
“I know you figured all that into your search parameters…how many files fell out of that search?” Nick eyed the dessert menu.
Coulson snorted. “The Robin Hood act just threw all those out the window.”
“I’m sure you’ve already got your next search planned.” Nick dove into his pie ala mode.
Agent Coulson pulled out his phone and called about the ETA of Nick’s usual security detail while Nick finished his pie.
“You worry too much, Cheese.”
“You don’t worry enough, Nick.” Phil growled as he pulled Fury back to go through the door first.
With a sigh, Nick eyed the SUV sitting at the curb. He didn’t know what Coulson thought he could do to protect, him. Fury was five inches taller than his friend, and any sniper worth his salt would go for the head shot.
The ‘thunk’ of metal sinking into wood took him by surprise. Flicking his eyes to the door frame Nick saw another arrow sunk in the doorframe. Security scurried across the street—they really did need to work on their predictability—Nick grabbed the shaft, and after wrestling with the arrow, finally got it out of wood.
“Director! We need to get you in the car!” Coulson shouted.
“Cool your jets, Cheese.” It’s a message…not an attempt on my life.” He pulled loose the paper wrapped around the shaft.
‘You must be Odin fucking Allfather to dodge my shot ‘cause I never miss.’
The note wasn’t signed, but now the Director and Nick were intrigued, and having the full attention of Nick Fury was not always a good thing.
When Clint Barton had received the anonymous message about a job, he’d been suspicious…paranoia had become his middle name after Barney and Trickshot had left him bleeding in the dirt. He’d done so many things under so many different aliases that some mornings he had to check his wallet to know his name.
The message contained information on Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD and all around badass. You didn’t run in the crowds Clint did without having heard of either entity. The thing about the message that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up was he was being paid in full, and it wasn’t shoot to kill, the client just wanted Fury dusted up a bit.
When he took the shot, his intention had been to see if the Director’s black leather duster used the latest in body armor by pinning his arm to the SHIELD eagle in the plaza of the Triskelion with an arrow. Clint had no sooner released his arrow than the handsome black man was moving to shove the bland man in the suit out of the way. The archer rolled his eyes at the drama as he left his perch.
Hiding a few rooftops from where Fury’s security team swarmed his nest like ants. He trailed the Director and the bean counter he’d knocked out of the way to a diner Clint had frequented himself while he studied his mark. As he watched the two men have dinner, a smirk pulled at his lips. Rummaging through the many pockets on his tac pants, he pulled out a pen and paper. He took a thread and tied the note to an arrow shaft and settled down to wait.
Sinking the arrow in the doorframe by Fury’s head, Clint watched him pull out of Mr. Bean Counter’s grip and tug on the arrow until it came free. The man chuckled when he read the note, but then something sly came over his expression as he scanned the rooftops.
Clint cursed his inability to not poke a bear with a stick. He was soooo fucked.
When Clint got back to his bolt hole, he opened the email about Fury and started backtracking. When he finally got through all the twists, turns and false trails to the true ISP, he cursed long and low as he copied the information on a flash drive, dumped the laptop in the Potomac, threw his gear in the backseat of his classic Challenger, and headed North on I-95.
In Baltimore, he switched from Interstate to two lane. A classic muscle car would draw attention no matter what road he traveled, but he felt less conspicuous driving through the open countryside. Topping off the gas tank in Rising Sun, he was beginning to think he was home free when his phone rang. It was with relief and trepidation the he answered the phone.
“Where are you?” She asked.
“I need to see you.”
“I’ll meet you at ‘our place’.”
“Hurry, but be careful.” She warned.
Damn, Ric Byers! He growled as he paid for his gas. He should have put an arrow through the man’s eye years ago. Stopping at the next place with prepaid phones, Clint dialed a very private number.
“Pepper … Clint … I need a favor.”
“Are you okay?” Tony Stark’s PA asked.
“So far, but…question. Does SI have a nice secure lab that needs a top-notch virologist?”
The line went quiet.
“I have just the place. Meet me for lunch tomorrow in Manhattan.”
“Thanks, Pepper. See you at noon.”
“Who do I tell security?”
“Aaron Cross and June Munro.”
“Clint … Be careful.”
Details taken care of, Clint relaxed into the leather bucket seat and enjoyed the purr of the Challenger’s engine. It wouldn’t take long to get to Bryn Mawr College, where he’d set the Doc up as research assistant to someone that owed him a favor. It would be good to see Marta again despite the circumstances, and once Pepper got her settled at Stark Industries, he’d take the beautiful red head to dinner. Clint chuckled at the picture of Tony Stark in a jealous snit … Plus he had some ideas for some arrows with a little extra kick he wanted to run by the engineering genius.
“Hill!” Director Fury called as he stepped onto the command deck of SHIELD’s latest creation, a Helicarrier.
The best thing he’d ever stolen from the military, and now his Number Two, wasted no time in coming to his side.
“I want to know what happened to the scientists from these programs.” He handed her a file.
“For what purpose, Sir?”
“To offer them a job.” He glowered at her questioning him. “Yesterday, Agent Hill.”
The Director retreated to his office and re-read the Washington Post article on the tragic death, from natural causes, of Colonel Eric Byers, USAF Retired. He wouldn’t be surprised to find out on of Ric’s CIA or NSA experiments came back to bite him on the ass, but all the signs pointed to a professional assassin.
Two days later, the ache behind his eye patch matched his headache from reading Agent Hill’s report. Many of the researchers that had survived the Treadstone/Black Briar debacle at the CIA, and the mass shooting at NRAG were now employed by Stark Industries. A few had retired, the rest must have been hacks by Stark’s standards and had ended up teaching or at a think tank supported by Secretary of Defense and former Director at SHIELD, Alexander Pierce.
Though Pierce had been his mentor into the Director’s chair, there was something just beyond his Norn given sight that made him itch. Since his magickal eye couldn’t show him what Pierce was planning, he’d just have to do it the old-fashioned way…with his one good eye. It had already been decided that Pierce was slated to Chair the World Security Council once the new cabinet had been sworn into office, and didn’t that make his human and magickal instincts howl in protest.
“Hill, get me Agent Coulson.”
“Agent Coulson’s jet just landed, Sir. I’ll relay the message.”
Ten minutes later, Phil Coulson was sitting in his office with a bag from his favorite Chinese restaurant in New York City. After they’d settled with their food, Fury got right to the point.
“How close are we watching Stark?”
If Phil was surprised at the topic of conversation, it didn’t show. “Not too close. We’re mostly using news feeds, and the papers to follow his escapades. I try to have lunch with Miss Potts a least once a month.”
Coulson blushed at Fury’s raised eyebrow.
“Nothing like that, Nick. She’s beautiful, intelligent, and good company. She’s also in love with her boss.”
“Any new people around them or Stane we should know about?”
“Just some extra security when Mr. Stark goes to some of their more volatile locales.”
“Anyone we know?”
“No one that raises any red flags.” Phil pulled a file out of his briefcase. “The brunette woman is Nadine Roman. Stark hired her as a bodyguard for Miss Potts when they travel. No mentions where she got her training…works freelance. Does a lot of jobs with this man …” Phil pulled out another file. “James Doyle, Delta Force, Sergeant, weapons specialist, sniper … Now does freelance security. Mr. Stark seems to be his most notable client as that is the only place we can find any pictures of Mr. Doyle.”
“Not like Stark to keep such sketchy files on people.” Nick commented. “How’d a sniper like Doyle get past our recruiters?”
“I wouldn’t say sketchy … Just more closed mouthed than usual about security. I’m assuming from some things Miss Potts intimates that there have been some problems. There’s a distinct loss of trust between Mr. Stark and his CEO.”
“Water cooler gossip, Agent Coulson?” Nick waggled his eyebrows.
“I have no need to stoop as low as the water cooler, Boss.”
“Hmpf. Never stopped you before.” Nick muttered. “So … Cheese … How goes the search for our mystery Robin Hood?”
Coulson blushed as he gathered their trash.
“As for Doyle … I may need to go take a look at our search criteria. Doyle would have been a prime asset.”
“The only thing I can find with archers besides the usual hunting, Olympics, etc., is a few circus acts from years ago. One, Trickshot aka Buck Chisholm worked an act with Jacques Duquesne aka The Swordsman. Chisholm died of cancer, and there’s been no recent activity on Duquesne. There was another act with the same circus … The Amazing Hawkeye, but I can’t find any information on the true identity of the character.”
“No whispers about an assassin that uses a bow.” Nick asked as he got up and made a fresh pot of coffee.
“You don’t hear whispers about the good ones.” Phil reminded him.
“Not until they have a reputation like the Black Widow.” Nick smirked.
“Great skill set.” Coulson blushed when he realized what he said.
“Among other assets.” Nick laughed. “We’ve got to do this more. I sometimes think these suppers are the only thing keeping me sane.” He rubbed his left temple.
“No Sirs here, now. Just Marcus and Cheese.” Nick sounded hopeful.
“Whatever you need, Marc.” Phil laid a hand on the broad shoulder.
Nick relaxed because his office here and his apartment at the Triskelion complex were the only two places he could relax his vigilance. Since Howard Stark had help found SHIELD, Fury had felt no compunction about coercing Tony into helping him with a few projects. Remembering what the Norns had said about the four antlered deer that would stand by him, he was sure Phil Coulson and Tony Stark were two of those deer. He just needed his hawk and two more, and it would be time.
Firing his grappling arrow into the apartment building with the open windows, Clint Barton grabbed Natalia around the waist and swung into the open French doors. Retrieving his arrow, he growled at his partner.
“I thought Ivan said this was an easy job.”
“It’s not his fault SHIELD was after the same thing.” The red head smirked as they ran down the stairs.
“I could have happily gone the rest of my life without getting on SHIELD’s radar.”
They ran down the narrow alley away from the main streets.
“You hang out with Tony ‘I never met a drink I didn’t take’ Stark. You’re already on SHIELD’s radar.”
“No. James Doyle is on their radar … Not Clint Barton.”
“Have you always whined this much, Hawk?”
“Only when I work with the Black Widow and her buddy, Ivan Simonov, the crazy people that think stealing computer files from under the noses of three spy agencies is fun.”
“Face it, Hawk, you were getting bored.”
“Talia …” He growled before grabbing the dangling fire escape and heading back to the rooftops. Hawks weren’t meant to be on the ground. “You knew I wouldn’t turn down the job if Victoria Winslow asked.”
“Not my fault you had a sniper fanboy moment.” She snapped as she followed him over the rooftops.
“Not feeling the love, Babe. Does this mean the honeymoon’s over?” Clint chuckled as they slid down the drain pipe and hopped on the motorcycles they’d parked earlier.
“Love is for children … Not for people like us.” She smacked him on the back of the head before he got his helmet in place.
Nat … Nat … Nat … We have such a soul deep connection that no one would ever dare call it something as mundane as love.” Clint gave her a quick kiss before dancing out of reach.
She glared at his antics. “Zadnitsa.”
They headed for the border, sold the motorcycles when they got to Abu Kammash, and rented a boat to take them to Tunis. One slept while one kept watch. As Clint dozed off with his head pillowed on ‘Talia’s thigh, he wished she’d stay. Though he’d been alone since Barney, Buck and Jacques had left him bleeding and beaten, Clint longed for a connection … A family he could trust would always have his back. He thought maybe he’d found that with his beautiful red headed spy, but the archer could feel and see her restlessness. Natalia thought him naïve in their world of assassins and spies … She thought he didn’t know she was the infamous Black Widow. He had earned the name Hawkeye with his sharp vision and quick mind that he hid behind his smart mouth and rugged good looks. He gave a huff of amusement as he drifted to sleep … Seems they did have something in common besides their skill set … They hid who they are behind their pretty faces.
Once they landed in Hammamet, it was a short drive to Tunis. They dropped their package of at their client then Natalia zipped through the streets of Tunis while Clint split their fee. He loved clients that paid in cash. They parked several streets away from where Natalia led them to a well-kept home not far from the airport where greeted the red head like a long lost daughter while giving Clint a cool once over.
“Doyle, this Kais and Nada Hakimi. I have always been safe in their home.”
“As-Salaam-Alaikum, Si Doyle.”
“Wa-Alaikum-Salaam, Sidi Hakimi. Thank you for opening your lovely home to us.”
Nada showed them to their rooms, and while Natalia spent several minutes with the lady of the house, Clint grabbed a quick shower. Natalia stopped him as they passed in the hall.
“Kais will take you to get our tickets. I hear Monaco is nice this time of year.” She gave him a saucy wink.
“I hear and obey, Sayyeda.” He gave a deep bow while touching his forehead, accompanied by a wink.
Giving him a swat, she also gave him a smile.
“Go on with you.”
At the foot of the stairs, Clint met Kais.
“You are good for her. Never so much have I seen her smile as when she speaks of your friendship.”
Clint blushed under the older man’s scrutiny.
“She has been a good friend to me as well.” He gave a quick grin. “She has a way of getting through to a person.” He rubbed a hand over his short cropped hair.
“It is the way of all women.” Kais chuckled as they headed out the door.
Natalia had been correct. Monaco was beautiful as always, and as he stood as the door of their hotel room, he wished for a different ending, but his spider wasn’t ready settle, so he had loved her well, holding her as she slept. Now they both pretended. Clint pretended he wanted to leave while Natalia pretended to sleep. The door closed with a quiet sigh.
“Director Fury …” Phil Coulson stopped when he saw Secretary Pierce sitting across from Nick. “Secretary.” Phil acknowledged the WSC Chair.
“Agent Coulson, is there an emergency?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary, Secretary.” Phil looked at his watch. “I have a standing appointment with the Director for a weekly recap.” He answered smoothly.
“Of course, Nick. Didn’t mean to mess up the schedule.”
“Not a problem, Secretary, you can drop in any time I’m in-house.” Nick stood to walk the older man out the door.
The two men waited until the security cameras showed Pierce had left the building before getting down to business.
“I may have a lead on our mystery archer.” Coulson pulled up a file on his laptop.
Having access to latest technology Agent Coulson could wrangle from Stark Industries through his ongoing friendship with Pepper Potts, SHIELD had become fully digitized well ahead of their rivals in the world of espionage. Only the most sensitive ops were kept on paper with most top secret kept in Director Fury’s head until the mission was concluded.
“I know what he looks like,” Fury brushed his fingers over his eye patch, “but I haven’t been able to find a match.”
Phil spun the laptop around. “Is this the face you ‘see’?”
Fury studied the photo closely. The timestamp showed the Belfast International Airport three days prior.
“Not the best quality, but it’s possible. Who is he?”
“Passenger manifest lists him as William Brandt. He was in town for an ‘impalement arts’ competition.”
“Sounds like junior agent training.” Nick chuckled. “Anything interesting happen while he was in Ireland?”
“MI-6 drew a line through a few items on their wish list, but there’s no scuttlebutt as to the reason.”
“Anything interesting in Brandt’s background other than ‘impalement arts’?”
“Single, age 25, freelance computer analyst, no record …”
“How can you be a freelance computer analyst?” Nick frowned.
“His clients are mostly small companies that aren’t big enough for full time IT. There’s accounting firms, animal and human clinics, charitable organizations, and … That’s interesting.”
“What?” Fury looked up from studying the video from Belfast and Reagan International.
“Seems he also does a little work for Stark Industries.”
“We have an address?”
Phil handed Nick a sheet of paper, and the Director typed the address into the laptop.
“Hell.” Fury’s voice fell flat.
“One of Stark’s corporate residences.”
“So, no chance of slipping in surveillance.”
“Not unless your ‘good friend’ Potts gives you the inside line on this guy.”
“Don’t you have some favors in the UK you can call?” Phil’s knowledge of Fury’s contacts barely scratched the surface of the Director’s information web. “I’ll talk to Miss Potts. Our next luncheon is tomorrow.”
“Good. Anything else I can’t palm off on Hill?”
“No Sir. I thought you’d want to keep this between us for now.”
“You’re right. Can’t have the general population think the Director has a screw loose.” Fury chuckled.
“I can neither confirm nor deny …” Phil chuckled.
“Get out of here, Cheese before I bust you back to baby agents instead of junior.”
Nick nodded as Coulson gathered his files and laptop.
“What’re we having?”
“Since we’re in DC … Surprise me.”
“You got it, Boss.”
Nick saw one file lying on his conference table just as the door shut. He picked up the file and started after Phil until he saw the file was Brandt’s. Sitting back at his desk he opened the file and stared at the photo. The short hair spiked with gel looked mousey brown. Heavy horned rim glasses hid his facial features around his eyes. The nose a little out of proportion, but the overall picture was a handsome young man that still carried a bit of the boy, causing Fury to double check Coulson’s math on his age. Though the face was young, the blue eyes were old. Something pinged in the back of the Director’s brain that caused a spark in his left eye. This … Something wasn’t right about the file he held in his hand … This man was his hawk, but William Brandt was not the hawk … William Brandt was his hawk’s cover plumage. A smile crossed his face that would have caused the agents in the Triskelion to run for the doors. He picked up the phone and dialed London.
Pepper Potts had been Tony Stark’s right hand for more years than she cared to remember. Obadiah Stane had given her to Tony thinking she’d be a diversion for the young genius. All the kidnapping attempts on Tony had drawn them into an unstoppable team that with Clint’s help would soon be putting a stop to Stane’s shenanigans. She breathed a sigh of relief as Happy let her out at Tony’s front door in Malibu. Clint was working with the engineer on only God knew what, but after her lunch with Phil she felt like she couldn’t get to the archer fast enough.
“JARVIS, where’s the boys?”
“Master Clint threw Sir in the shower and is presently in the kitchen preparing food.”
“How long were they in the workshop?” Pepper kicked off her shoes and deposited her briefcase behind the mansion security screen.
“Three days. Master Clint made sure Sir did not overtax himself.”
Pepper got to the kitchen as Tony came out of his bedroom rubbing his wet hair.
“This better be worth it, Legolas. I was on the verge of a breakthrough.” Tony grumble from under his towel.
“The only thing you were breaking was DUM E’s heart, Tin Man.” Clint smirked as he pulled a pan out of the oven.
“Pep! How are you? How was New York?” Did you throw Obadiah off the roof yet?”
“Tired, surprising, and no. In that order.” Pepper drew in a deep breath. “That smells fantastic, Clint.”
“Wine and salad on the table and Madame Nadia’s lasagna will be there shortly.” Clint gave her a little push toward the table.
The only sounds heard were the clank of silverware, requests for various items on the table, and the sound of drinks being poured. Finally, the trio pushed back and let an excellent meal begin to settle.
“So, what surprises do you bring us from New York, Miss Potts?” Tony asked.
She gave Clint a side eyed glance.
“I had an interesting lunch with Phil.”
“How is Agent?”
“Agent?” There was a hint of alarm in Clint’s voice.
“Yes, Phil Coulson, Agent of SHIELD. He’s been a liaison between SHIELD and Stark Industries for a while. We have lunch once a month. He’s intelligent and engaging. We enjoy each other’s company.”
Noticing Clint’s face getting a little pale Pepper pulled her thoughts back on track. “As I was saying we were having lunch and he asked me about the two bodyguards that travel with us when go bad places. He also asked me about William Brandt.”
“What did you tell Agent Nosy?” Tony joked while keeping an eye on Clint.
“When I asked why … He said SHIELD would like to approach Brandt about a job.”
“Agent wants to recruit my bodyguards! The man has great big brass ones!” Tony sputtered as he headed for the bar.
“Clint, honestly that was all he asked.”
Tony could see the archer getting ready to bolt.
“Clint. Settle. Down. Pepper and I will take care of Agent. All you need to worry about is our trip to Hong Kong.” Tony’s firm tone shook Clint out of his panic. “Told you to keep your pretty face out of my photo ops.” His tone turned teasing.
“You’re right. Sorry. It’s not always healthy to have SHIELD interested in your activities.”
“If you didn’t take pot shots at Fury …” Tony toasted him with his glass.
“Hey, go easy on that stuff, and it was a job. I think it was that wench at M-I6 they call M pranking Fury. Come on … We’re not finished with my arrows.” Clint turned to clear the table to see DUM E and YOU had already taken care of cleaning the kitchen. “Thanks, Guys.” Clint grabbed Tony by the nape of the neck, and directed the genius back to his workshop.
There was no way he was telling anyone he was having dreams of a one eyed black eagle.
“Hill, get me Coulson!” Nick didn’t turn from where he was looking out the window of the Helicarrier. When the pressure of the futures of all the people in the cities got too much, Nick escaped to his flying aircraft carrier.
“You bellowed?” Phil teased without as much as a twitch in his expression.
“Have you tracked down Brandt?”
“No, Sir. We haven’t been able to locate him. Stark and Miss Potts are on their way to Hong Kong. I’m thinking Brandt is traveling with him.”
“Don’t tell me a simple computer analyst has you befuddled, Cheese.” Nick teased.
“Not befuddled, and not so simple. I think Mr. Brandt is more than he appears. That’s the only explanation as to why he’d travel with Stark. Why would a genius of his caliber need to travel with computer analyst?”
“A genius, yes, but Stark doesn’t like to be bothered with details. His mind is all about the building. What’s your other reasons?”
“He bears a close resemblance to the man, James Doyle, who was in the previous pictures with Stark.”
“No entirely. Doyle’s features weren’t clear enough for a match, but they’re of the same height.”
“Stark has the ego of a short man. He wouldn’t want other men to tower over him even if they’re his security.”
“What would you say it I told you I believe this man is my hawk?”
“I would say Tony Stark is fiercely protective of his true friends, and we will have to tread lightly in our recruitment, and that the Norns have an interesting sense of humor.”
Changing out of his customary black leather duster and removing his eye patch, Nick Fury pulled on an Army field jacket and slipped a pair dark glasses on his face. Using what was labeled a maintenance tunnel, but was a secure escape route from the Director’s office to a little used area of the Triskelion grounds, Marcus Johnson slipped away from Director Nick Fury.
He’d carried a chip on his shoulder for many years over the absence of a strong male influence in his life. When he finally met his father, joined SHIELD, and began his apprenticeship under Alexander Pierce while learning the politics of being Director from his father, Marcus Johnson began to realize what his father had sacrificed. He thanked the Powers That Be every day that Phil stood by his side, but there were nights when he laid in his bunk on the Helicarrier or the apartment within the Triskelion wishing for a warm body to share his private spaces.
When the Director walked among his agents he knew them. He knew who was HYDRA, he knew who was true. It pained him to allow the traitors to remain, but this was a game of years … A game of secrets and lies. He could only trust in the gift of the Norns and hope the prophecy the witches had spouted wasn’t Asgardian bullshit.
As he walked the streets of Washington, D.C., Marcus Johnson did not see the sharp eyes that watched his progress. The man did not acknowledge any awareness of his protector as both Marcus Johnson and Nick Fury wished for those to arrive who would help him carry this burden.
The Director glared across his desk at Tony Stark. They were still processing the members of the Ten Rings that had tried to kidnap Stark practically in front of SHIELD headquarters, and the genius was sitting across from him grinning like a mule eating thistles.
“It’ll be great, Nick. The last remaining Stark and The Director with a side order of Agent and Pepper … We can take over the world.”
“I already have enough people I have to babysit without the rest of the world.” Nick growled. “Did you have to make such a mess?”
“Hey! I’m paying for the cleanup.” Tony insisted.
Nick rubbed his temple beside the eye patch. He could hear Coulson was still bitching about the paperwork, and chewing on junior agents like they were a lunch buffet.
“How are you making this up to me?” Nick asked the younger man.
“I am giving SHIELD an upgrade to all top of the line StarkTech.” Tony swung his feet on the desk.
“Will William Brandt be working on this upgrade project?”
“Brandt’s on another job.”
“If I insisted?”
“He’s freelance. I don’t control where he goes.”
Nick wanted to growl in frustration, but this was one of his antlered deer. For what was to come he needed strong minded people who were survivors.
“Fine, but you know the rules.”
Tony jumped from his chair with a sloppy salute left Nick’s office calling for Pepper. Nick sighed heavily, and made the decision to stay on the Helicarrier until the Triskelion was a Stark free zone.
Clint Barton ran the rooftops of Paris until he made it to the entrance for the Underground. His bow and quiver were already out of sight in his modified guitar case. He’d lost the black suited agents whose target he’d stolen. He could practically hear the female agent in charge shriek like a harpy. With a grin he boarded the Chunnel train. The two hour trip would give him time to tidy up his papers for customs. Being a published authority on medieval weapons gave the assassin carte blanche for traveling with his weapon of choice. He’d check his online accounts when he got to London where he could get lost in the city’s Internet traffic until then he pulled out the StarkTablet Tony had given him to test, and to go over the schematics for next generation of Stark Industries weapons systems. Clint was soon lost in the numbers and angles of missiles the size of cigars, and controls the size of a cell phone.
After checking into his hotel, Clint slipped into the first Internet café where he didn’t hear Americans bitching about the coffee. Signing onto his oldest account, he sighed when he saw the sender, and wondered whose Cheerios he’d pissed in now.
My Dear Vnuk,
Would you be so kind as to go play with the one eyed eagle, so I no longer receive outraged phone calls? Why anyone would think I hold the hawk’s jesses is beyond me. Babuska
Clint smiled. He could visualize the lemon sucking expression on the older woman’s face. He’d met her on his way to fulfill a contract in Germany. During a planned layover in London to acclimate to the time change, Clint had been walking past the House of Lords toward his hotel when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Following the lines of sight, he saw the petite white haired woman in the line of fire. Not usually one to get in the middle of other people’s business, there was something pushing him to go to her.
“Babuska!” Clint called out waving as he rushed toward the woman babbling in Russian flailing his hands.
Her eyes widened slightly, then catching on to his ploy, she answered.
“Vnuk!” She hugged him back.
Keeping his body between her and the watcher, Clint wrapped his arm around her waist. Dropping his head to speak quietly into her ear to not be overheard.
“Is there some place I can take you where you will be safe?”
“Do you know who I am, young man?”
“No, and neither should anyone else.” She growled.
Keeping himself between the woman and the last place he saw the watcher, Clint took them across the street, through the courtyard between St. Margaret’s Church and Westminster Abbey across and down the street to The Sanctuary House where he’d booked a room. He directed her into the pub to a booth in the back where he had clear lines of sight to all the windows and doors.
Once the waitress had left the table, she pulled out a phone.
“Is that wise?” Clint asked.
She gave him an odd look, but punched a few buttons anyway.
“Perfectly. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“No reason.” He shrugged as the waitress set down their drinks and took their orders.
They sat in a comfortable silence for several minutes until Clint stood.
“Be right back. Don’t move.” He admonished.
Curious she watched her protector walk to the bar and insinuate himself between two patrons by laying a hand on a shoulder and a shy smile. Grabbing several napkins off the bar, he returned to the table. The waitress returned with their meals, and while they ate, the grey haired woman watched the man at the bar until his head dropped to the bar. She was intrigued but didn’t asked any questions. They talked of inconsequential matters through dinner. While relaxing with their aperitifs, they watched a handsome man in an expensive suit followed by two men in black suits. They veered off to go to the bar and helped the unconscious man out of the pub. The blond man scanned the small woman for injury, much to her disgust, before sliding into the booth across from Clint and his charge. The archer smirked at the posturing.
“Babuska, are you acquainted with the Commander?”
“To my great regret some days, Vnuk.”
“You know the Commander?” The woman, eyes narrowed at her protector.
“You might say we had overlapping missions. Mine ultimately helped the Commander complete his play.”
The grey haired woman glared at the blond agent.
“I don’t recall any mention of assistance on that mission.”
“He merely removed an obstacle to my objective. Neatly done, too. That tux is one of my favorites. I’m glad I didn’t have to try and remove blood from the lapels.”
“Since your boys are here, I’ll be heading to bed.” Clint stood. “Thank you for a lovely evening, Babuska.” His smiling kaleidoscope eyes danced in the flickering candlelight.
“Young rascal.” The woman said as she slid out of the booth.
“He took his glass.” The agent muttered.
“Of course he did,” the woman scolded, “the boy’s a professional.”
“Ma’am.” The handsome man in the suit offered. “You really should not slip your guards.”
“Young nincompoops.” She muttered as she marched through the pub.
The blond man followed closely chuckling as his boss continued to mutter to herself.
Clint smiled thinking back on his first meeting with the infamous ‘M’ and their interactions since that night. He’d even handled several ‘special’ projects for the woman. He didn’t have time to drop in for a visit, but something told him not to put off connecting.
I will give serious consideration to your request. You know better than most that this hawk has always fought jesses. Your loving Vnuk.
When he left his hotel the next morning, Clint Barton was packed in his luggage and William Brandt walked down the jetway back to America.
Assistant Director Hill pinched the bridge of her nose as she sat at the head of the conference table listening to Agent Victoria Hand screeching about some mystery sniper that had the audacity to steal her target.
“Did you get the bullet from the autopsy?” Hill asked.
“There was no bullet.” Hand huffed. “Our target was shot through the eye with an arrow.”
“So, you got the arrow?”
“No. By the time we got on scene the arrow and the sniper were gone. All we have is post mortem pictures.”
“All the cameras in the area and you didn’t get any video?” The Assistant Director sounded incredulous.
“Something jammed their signals. We couldn’t even find a tourist’s cell phone with an image of the shooter.”
“What was the disposition of the original mission parameters?”
“To be determined after questioning.” Hand answered.
“On the black market transport of weapons to terrorist groups in the Middle East.”
This was one of the days Hill questioned her decision to leave the field for her current job.
“Did you find anything?”
“No. It was like a team of cleaners had been on this guy … Bank … Home … Car … Everything.” Hand practically growled her frustration.
“So. Are we at a dead end with this investigation?” Hill asked.
“Unless the lead fairy slips something under the door. We’re pretty well screwed without a kiss.”
“Give it to the analysts. They can monitor the chatter. We’ll revisit it if anything comes along. Take a week to get caught up ... By then we’ll have your next mission.”
Across town the man known as William Brandt pulled off his loosened tie and kicked off the leather dress shoes.
“I don’t know how you stand to wear this stuff all the time.” Clint grinned as the figure on his couch startled.
“JARVIS! You were supposed to warn me.” Tony Stark chided his AI
“I notified you when Master Clint entered the building.”
“Oh … Anyway … How was your trip, Sweetheart?”
“Successful. Your ‘sweetheart’ brought you a very nice present.” He pulled a small case out of his leather messenger bag.
Tony batted his eyes at Clint.
“You bring me the best presents, Darling.”
“Call me anytime.” Clint chuckled as he headed to a shower and bed.
“Have you found him?” Nick didn’t look from his computer when SHIELD’s number three walked into his office.
“I can find you damn near anything in the world, but a hitter that uses a bow is not one of them. He’s either extremely paranoid or very well protected.”
“Any hits on Brandt?”
“According to his passport, he returned two days ago from London.”
“What about Doyle?”
“Not since Stark got back from his Asian trip.”
The Director frowned at the information from his third. Phil looked up from his laptop at the continued silence.
“Boss …” Phil studied his friend for a few minutes. “I don’t think I like what you’re thinking.”
That got Fury’s attention.
“Do I need to have you checked for telepathy, Cheese?” Nick teased.
“No, but I know how your mind works. If we can’t find him, you do something incredibly stupid to draw him to you. Need I remind you he knows us.”
“What’s the status of Stark’s updates on our systems?”
“The Helicarrier is nearly completed. Stark’s people will be coming here starting Tuesday.”
“Tell Stark to bring Brandt for a ‘special project’.”
“Sir?!” Phil was starting to get alarmed.
“Don’t get your shorts in knot, Cheese. I’ve got just the project.”
Phil Coulson watched the fire in Nick’s good eye and felt his anxiety notch up at the expression on the Director’s face.
“Boss … Don’t underestimate Brandt. You don’t get to work for Stark without being able to keep up with him.”
“If we work this just right, you may soon have yourself a new asset that requires little or no training that we can settle in at Level 5.”
Waving off Coulson’s concern, the Director picked up the phone.
“Hill, get Tony Stark on the phone.”
“They’re already suspicious.”
“That’s all. I can disappear.”
“Fury won’t give up. He’s had a hard on for Brandt for a while. Come to think of it … He’s been awful curious about my bodyguard Doyle, too.”
Clint Barton thumped his head down on the bar.
“This is all your fault, Tin Man.” The archer complained.
“What? Just because I found the only bodyguard that’s smart and a top notch assassin and retrieval specialist?”
“I thought you didn’t like people touching your stuff?” Clint teased.
The genius turned serious.
“We’ve done everything we can to keep you off the radar, but you’re just too good at what you do. There’s no way to keep The Amazing Hawkeye underground. You put the word on the wire you’re looking for the best in the business and there’s our little overachiever at the top of the charts. You should gather up your little spider and both of you get under to protection of Fury’s big leather coat.”
“You know I don’t play well with anyone but Nat.”
“I’m the last person in the world to tell someone to work for ‘the man’, but you going in voluntarily would be better than being thrown at The Director’s feet in shackles. Besides, I know exactly where you’ll be anytime I need you for a trip.” Tony jostled Clint so he’d lighten up.
“Pepper will worry only a little less if she can’t rip Agent a new one if something happens to you.”
“I’ll think about it.” Clint frowned at Tony. “Hawkeye stays under wraps until I see how Fury operates.” Pale eyes caught dark eyes. “Nat has to make her own decision.”
Tony had given Clint a pair of purple tinted black framed glasses as a joke. All his William Brandt IDs showed him wearing glasses, so he pushed the tinted lenses up his nose to hide his distinctive eyes as the agent at the front desk of the Triskelion checked his credentials.
“Director Fury is expecting you, Mr. Brandt. Here is your SHIELD ID. If it doesn’t open a door, it means you aren’t authorized to be in that area.”
As the receptionist droned on, Clint noted guards, cameras and exits. He peered over the top of his glasses at the hidden camera behind the receptionist, quelling the urge to flip ‘the bird’ to whichever big wig was watching. He smiled at the sameness of the two blondes manning the metal detectors, and took comfort from the ceramic knives at his wrists and back. If they tried to keep him, Clint already had escape routes mapped out from memorizing Tony’s blueprints of the building.
On the other side of the metal detector, the bland man who’d been with Fury when Clint had taken the shot at the Director was waiting for him.
“Phil Coulson, Mr. Brandt. I’m here to escort you to the Director’s office.”
Clint shook the man’s hand. “Will or Brandt is fine, Agent Coulson.”
“This way … Brandt.”
As they walked, Clint’s sharp eyes missed no detail.
“Do you know what Director Fury’s ‘special project’ entails?”
“Not in its entirety. At the moment it’s more concept than project.” He stopped at an office door. “Director, William Brandt.”
Clint extended his hand. “Will, Director Fury. You always watch your appointments when they’re signing the guest book?”
The Director gave a minute pause of surprise before accepting the computer analyst’s hand.
“Most people don’t notice … Will.”
“I’m not most people, Director.”
“So, I’ve been told.” His one-eyed gaze sharpened on the younger man. “Mr. Stark speaks highly of your computer work.”
“He should. He pays me enough for it.”
“You need me for anything else, Boss?” Coulson watched the two men closely.
“We’re good, Agent Coulson.”
“He’s not really the bean counter he appears.” Clint stated bluntly.
“Agent Coulson is many things including a bean counter.” Fury chuckled. “Let me show you what I need.”
Nick Fury inhaled deeply as he leaned over the smaller man. William Brandt may not be this man’s true name, but every fiber of his being told him this was his hawk. Now all he had to do was figure out how to get this man to stay.
“Tell me about this project that you’re trusting to some nobody computer geek.”
“Hardly nobody if Tony Stark vouches for you.”
“Tony has ulterior motives.” Clint grumbled. “I’m surprised since he doesn’t like to share.” He said out loud.
“Mr. Stark and I have an understanding.” Nick said from between gritted teeth. Now that he had this man close the thought of sharing made anger curl in his gut. “Now then … Will, I have foxes in my chicken house. I would like an analysis of who are the chickens and who are the foxes, and how to best neutralize the threat without alerting the foxes. I’m playing a very long game here, Mr. Brandt, and I don’t want to upset the apple cart just know which ones have worms.”
“Beat around the bush much … Sir?” Clint smirked.
“Fine. Do you want to know their affiliations or just whether or not their good little SHIELD agents?”
Nick looked startled at Brandt’s question. He thought he only had HYDRA to worry about.
“Unless they were given some ultimatum like join SHIELD or die, I recognized three AIM operatives from Stark’s files between the front door and your office.” Clint grinned as he swung his computer around to show Nick three faces.
“HILL!” The Director bellowed then turned back to Clint. “Only certain foxes are allowed in my chicken house.”
While Fury was busy with Hill, Clint took shameless advantage of the Level 5 clearance they gave him to dive into the SHIELD system. He knew Tony had scrubbed the system of him and ‘Talia when he updated the tech, but it wouldn’t hurt to check anything new. Clint sighed in relief when the only thing he found was a terse email from Coulson to the IT department about missing files. IT’s reply was it would take them six months to retrieve the files from the backup server. With Fury’s attention back on him it was time to get back to why Fury was paying him.
Clint was at the Triskelion a week before he left his assigned workstation, and began roaming the building. His official clearance was just a means for him to get into places he shouldn’t. The maintenance access was a dream … Clean, no vermin, large enough to walk upright. They were a security nightmare and an infiltrator’s dream. He even found Fury’s escape routes. Eavesdropping at vents into the various offices, labs, and training facilities garnered Clint a wealth of information for the Director, and his own personal use. He couldn’t wear his favorite black BDU’s and combat boots, so he settled on jeans, t-shirts and his favorite Doc Martin boots all in black. Covered by a suit jacket when he arrived and left, William Brandt, the picture of business casual, and the subject of lustful perusal by female and male alike.
A month into the job, Clint knew he had to wrap it up. People were beginning to call him Agent Brandt, and he’d gotten friendly with many of the support people that kept the huge complex and all its denizens comfortable and well fed.
He’d just finished a very enlightening conversation with one of the kitchen staff as he finished lunch. Seeing Agent Coulson come through the doors looking like a thunder cloud had Clint following the older woman into the kitchen and out the employee entrance in case he was the one who put the angry expression on Coulson’s face. He traveled the shortest distance to Fury’s office where he put the finishing touches on his report while the Director was occupied with the World Security Council. He needed to get away from SHIELD and talk to Nat before deciding his future.
Handing his SHIELD ID to the receptionist, Clint didn’t think about Fury or the flash drive he’d left on the man’s desk. Walking out the door for the last time meant game over, the closing door representative of cutting any and all ties. He ignored the twinge in his chest that said he could find a place here. He’d already carved a place with Nick and Phil. Many late nights over the conference table made the two men Nick and Phil instead of Coulson and the Director. Though he ran through his usual separation repertoire, there was still an ache under his ribs. Natalia was going to have a field day about him being emotionally compromised while Tony would encourage him to take advantage to get under the SHIELD umbrella. Seeing Coulson step out into the public parking lot, Clint gunned his motorcycle out of the parking lot just in case the senior agent had been looking for him.
“He was hurt. A red headed woman helped him get away.” Phil told the Director.
Fury ground his teeth in frustration. He wanted his hawk under his watchful eye not running around the world when Tony Stark needed a bodyguard.
“Who got the target?”
The information we were after?”
“Any hint who hired them?”
“A guess would be Stark. Probably some form of corporate espionage. There’s whispers that Obadiah Stane is not the pillar of the community he portrays, and that soon there will be an uprising.”
“It better stay a whisper. Stane doesn’t take kindly to those who rain on his parade.”
“Pack it up and come home.”
“Unless you’ve develop foresight, you’re not going to find them.”
There was a pause on the line to reflect his own stubbornness.
“You’re the Boss.” He disconnected the call.
“I wish.” Fury murmured as he rubbed his left temple.
“You can’t go at him head on.”
“Sure I can. It’s my company.”
“A man like Stane will chew you up and spit you out and look perfectly justified to your Board of Directors.”
“Look, Legolas, I appreciate all you and Romanova have done for me and Pep, but I think I know how to handle of man I’ve known all my life.”
Tony Stark paced back and forth in front of the couch that held a recovering Clint Barton.
The archer held his still healing side as he maneuvered from the couch to Tony’s computer table with a flash drive in his hand.
“Before I give this to JARVIS, I want to say that I was never going to use this if Stane was the man he should be … My first priority has always been your safety even before you became my friend. I hate causing my friends pain, but if it will stop you from doing something that will get you killed then a little pain is the lesser of two evils.” He laid the drive on the computer table and turned to leave. “Let me know if I need to find a new place to live.”
He left the genius alone with the information he’d been collecting on the CEO of Stark Industries. Clint stayed away from the penthouse the next day, but quizzed JARVIS on Tony.
“He is very hung over and terribly angry.”
“Throwing things angry or brooding at the window angry?”
“Window.” The AI answered.
“Fuck. I’m sorry, JARVIS, but Stane would have eaten him alive. If he finds out Tony has that information his life expectancy could be very short.”
“I shall endeavor to keep Sir as safe as possible.”
“I know you will JARVIS.” Clint paused for a moment. “JARVIS, can you find me any information on Fury’s schedule without getting caught?”
“Send it to my phone? I’m going out to shoot. I need to get my side back in shape.”
“As you wish. May I inquire to what you’re going to do, Master Clint?”
“I’m going to need resources if we’re going to keep Tony safe.”
“You will join SHIELD?”
“Only if Fury and I can come to an agreement.”
“You are the only person I know more obstinate than Sir.” JARVIS’ tone was droll.
“Thank you, JARVIS, you smart mouth.” Clint pulled his guitar out of the closet. “Keep me posted.”
“Certainly, Master Clint.”
Thanks to the genetic manipulation he’d been through under the tender mercies of the NSA and Operation Outcome, Clint and his relationship with Tony Stark was back to full health within the week. He put his most important possessions in secure storage and arranged with JARVIS to take care of his bills. With his favorite bow case in hand he slipped into one of the most secure buildings in the world.
The Director was more than a little irritated as he strode into his office. Security had reported some sort of glitch in the system. The computer said a ‘tango’ had infiltrated SHIELD, but there was nothing on the scans or the camera feeds.
“Carla, get Stark on the horn. His system is throwing tantrums and I want it fixed yesterday.”
The secretary closed the door behind her.
“No need to call the Tin Man.”
The Director startled at the husky voice that came out of the shadows. Swinging around and reaching for his gun at the same time he saw a figure in black with his feet propped on his conference table. A case lay by his feet.
“Brandt! What the hell are you playing at?” Fury snarled.
“Wanted to have a little chat with the Director.” He said quietly.
Anger at Brandt slipping through SHIELD security made Nick Fury want to shout at someone, but he paused and really looked at the man sprawled in his office.
“So talk.” The Director thumped his coffee cup down on his desk.
Clint picked up his case and sat across from Fury.
“I want to talk about a job.”
Nick’s blood pressure jumped.
“William Brandt is an alias … My name is Clint Barton.”
“What’s in the case, Mr. Barton?”
“My weapon of choice.”
“Which is ...?”
The two men locked gazes.
“I’m a marksman … A sniper.”
Fury paused. “Is Doyle another alias?”
The Director eyed the case again.
“Guns are not my weapon of choice. I prefer a more … Eloquent weapon of a more civilized age.” Clint sat back and let Fury digest that tidbit of information.
“You’re quoting Star Wars at me!? Just tell me what’s in the damn case.” Fury swirled his coat around him as he turned to settle in his chair to find the tip of an arrow on the end of his nose. “YOU!” He growled. “You missed.” He jeered at the assassin across from him.
“I never miss, Director Fury. I always hit exactly where I aim. I followed my contract to the letter.” Clint returned his arrow to the quiver and collapsed his bow. “Before you ask, I never talk about my clients … Especially in a place where bugs are practically embedded in the paint.”
Clint looked toward the chamber where the Director regularly conferred with the World Security Council with a wink. Fury’s expression was thunderous before he remembered the project Bran … Barton had completed on the infestation of SHIELD.
“So you want to be a SHIELD agent? Stark kick you to the curb … Find a new boy toy?” The older man struck at the archer verbally.
“Seriously … That’s the best you got? Pepper would have Tin Man’s balls for lunch, though I could probably talk her into a threesome …”
Barton’s tone was joking, but Nick noticed the color had leached from the changeable eyes.
“Stane’s getting out of control and I soon won’t be able to keep Tony from doing something stupid or protect him from Stane’s machinations. I have two conditions to coming into SHIELD. I travel with Tony when he leaves the country, and any contract having to do with present or former Red Room operatives comes to me.”
“The Red Room! Consorting with the enemy Mr. Barton?”
“Call it a work in progress, Director Fury.”
“Done, Mr. Barton. I have to warn you … You are about to be placed in difficult position.” Fury held out his hand.
Clint took the big hand in a firm grip.
“You mean the one where I know you have a pest control problem, worked as computer analyst under an alias, and compromised your security early this morning?” The archer smirked.
“That one, too, but I have something else for you that we’ll talk about once you’re processed and given all the upgrades our agents receive.”
Clint frowned. “I’ve had about all the upgrades I can bear in one lifetime.”
“Shame about Ric Byers.” Fury gave Clint a sly look.
“Some people just don’t take the warnings they receive seriously.” Clint deadpanned.
“Mr. Barton …”
The Director stopped when Barton held up his hand.
“Call me Barton, Clint or Hawkeye.”
Fury rocked back in his chair. Hawkeye!
“You call yourself Hawkeye? Believing too much of your own press.” Fury looked out the top of his eyes at the younger man.
“I have posters to prove it.” Clint grinned.
Clint pulled out his phone and thumbed flipped screens before handing the phone to the Director.
“Carson’s Carnival of Traveling Wonders?” Fury handed the phone back.
“I was a star.”
“A fall from grace?” The Director asked.
“We don’t know each other well enough for the story.”
Seeing the expression on Barton’s face close off, Fury already knew what Coulson’s next project would be. What good was having an Executive Director if you didn’t share the load? He was pulled from his thoughts by the Barton’s next comment.
“So, Director Fury, do we have a deal?”
Fury studied the handsome young man while he listened to his bespelled eye. He picked up the phone.
“Carla get me Hill and Coulson … NOW.”
In less than five minutes the Deputy and Executive Directors stood inside the office door looking exasperated.
“Should I call security, Sir?” Was Deputy Director’s Hill’s first question.
“Barton has been in my office since before I arrived, so your job is to discover how he accomplished that feat.”
Her expression turned cold. “Consider it done, Sir.” She executed a perfect about face out of the office.
“Agent Coulson, Barton is our newest agent, and since he has a thorough knowledge of the workings here at SHIELD from his time as William Brandt, I expect his security clearance to reflect that once he’s gone through HR and all proper orientation. While he’s filling out his paperwork, here are the stipulations that will be incorporated into his contract.”
“Of course.” He arched an eyebrow at Clint. “Mr. Barton …”
Clint picked up his bow case and followed Agent Coulson to become the newest agent of SHIELD.
He’d just handed Coulson his mission report on his latest in a long line of disastrous relationships with asset handlers at SHIELD. Turning to leave, Coulson looked up from the report.
“Agent Barton, you’re to report to the Director’s office ASAP.” He said quietly.
Clint didn’t turn around, but Coulson noticed the exhausted slump to his shoulders as he continued out the door.
Clara gave Clint a warm smile. “You can go right in, Agent Barton. He’s expecting you.”
The archer conjured a cheeky grin for his favorite administrative assistant as SHIELD.
“If I never return give Coulson my effects he’ll know what to do with them.” He gave her a wink and squared his shoulders. “Once more into the breach.” He shut the door.
“You bellowed, Director?”
The one eyed man’s eye widened when he saw the condition of ‘his’ hawk.
“Damn Barton, sit down before you fall down.”
Lowering himself into the visitor’s chair, Clint sighed with relief at being able to sit.
“I guess you got Fellows’ glowing report on the op?”
“I did. I also got reports from the other agents involved except for yours.” His computer terminal beeped. “There it is.” He glanced over the document. “First, thank you for salvaging the op from Fellows’ stupidity.” Fury fought not to grin at Barton’s surprised expression. “Second, is Fellows’ a pest?”
“No, unfortunately, just stupid. How did he ever qualify to run missions, and are you giving me these handlers to make me quit? I thought we’re friends.” Clint rubbed a hand over his face.
“Barton … Hawk. We are. There’s no one I trust more in the field. I know all these reports for insubordination make your file look bad, but you’re the only agent I have to put with these people to gage their ability and keep my junior agents alive.”
“Then I need a pay raise and an additional title.” Clint grumbled.
“I can’t give you a title, or my secret weapon won’t be a secret anymore, but I can give you this …” Fury handed him a new set of credentials. “Also, I’m putting you and Coulson on a strike team … My eyes only.”
“Level 7 ... Coulson … But …”
“I know … Coulson doesn’t go out in the field because of Special Projects, but things are heating up with the likes of HYDRA and other groups like them. We can’t afford to get left in the dust so yours will be the proto-team. Quick in … Quick out … Quiet … Covert with the ability to move at a moment’s notice without the extra logistics of a large team.”
The surprise and delight in the changeable eyes caused a tightening in the Director’s body. He wanted this man not only in SHIELD, but at his side, and not just as his agent … His hawk … But simply as his. He slid a file across the desk.
“When you signed on you had only a few stipulations for your contract. This is one of them.” Fury slid a file across the desk.
When Barton opened the file his face lost all expression.
“I’ll be doing this one alone … Sir.”
“I don’t think so. This will be your and Agent Coulson first op together.”
“With all due respect, you won’t get anyone that’s not me within a mile of the Black Widow, and not with Coulson as a babysitter. Either you trust me to make the right call on this, or we’ll have a parting of the ways.”
“Are you emotionally compromised in reference to her?” Nick was surprised at the jealousy he felt. Barton evoked emotions in the Director he hadn’t had to deal with in years.
“Oh, there’s no compromise to it.”
Fury watched Clint take a deep breath and settle himself. He’d watched Barton make the same maneuver when he was shooting.
“Do you trust me … Nick?” Bright eyes changed from gray to blue to green to gold with power of his emotions.
“You know I do … Since the first time you walked in here under a fake name.”
“Trust me now.”
There were no physical tells with the sniper, but when Nick looked into those beautiful eyes he knew he’d lose his hawk if he made him choose between SHIELD and the Black Widow.
“Don’t make me regret this.” The Director bowed his head.
“You won’t.” Barton levered himself out of the chair to leave. “Don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for a week or so.”
“Get out, Agent.” The Director made a shooing motion.
He didn’t look up until he heard the door close. “Be careful my hawk.” He whispered.
The Director was wading through the countless gigabytes and reams of paper it required to run an organization the size of SHIELD. He had made it through the worst of it and was preparing to delve into the numerous email accounts he used to keep track of his personal ops when his Deputy rushed through the door.
“We’ve lost him.” Hill sounded breathless.
“Why were you tracking Barton?”
“He was going after Black Widow.” She stated flatly.
“I assumed you wanted him tracked when he left the Triskelion.”
“You assumed.” Nick could feel the anger rising.
“You certainly screwed the pooch, Deputy Director.” The Director growled. “Get out! I have to see if I can salvage this mess.”
When the door closed. Nick Fury prayed to the gods he no longer believed in to find an email from Hawkeye.
He started to believe it things would be fine when he saw an email from W. Brandt. His heart sunk when he saw the message.
I trusted you.
Fury pulled up the assorted trackers that was planted throughout Barton’s gear and on his person. Everything was dark. He went back to the email accounts. Each one he sent came back undeliverable. In desperation he called Tony Stark.
“Director, what have you called to complain about today?” Tony’s tone was snide.
“I’m actually calling for a favor.”
“A favor? I have surely heard wrong.”
Nick bit the inside of his cheek to keep from lashing out at the genius.
“I need to get a hold of our mutual friend. Something was done without my authorization, and he’s gone off grid because he thinks I broke my word.”
“Why in the world would anyone ever trust the word of THE master spy?” Tony was sounding more irritated with each word.
“I have never lied to our friend. His trust is very important to me.”
“Why? Because your magic eight ball told you so.” Tony pushed.
“He’s very important to me.” Nick stated flatly.
Silence filled the line for so long Fury was afraid Stark had disconnected the call.
“I’ll pass along your message if there’s an opportunity.”
“Thank you.” Nick sighed in relief.
“Don’t thank me yet. If JARVIS finds out you’re lying … Let’s just say it won’t be pretty.”
Three weeks passed before he received an email from Frank Carson. The relief was so great he had to sit and breathe for a minute before opening it.
Glad things worked out. I was just getting used to it. I hope you like red.
Nick was bewildered by the message, but was so relieved to have heard from his hawk that it put the puzzle aside and slept the night through for the first time since Hill burst into his office.
Sitting his coffee cup on his desk, the Director paused … Something wasn’t … If he had to put a name to it he would say his damn witch’s eye was happy.
“Hawk?” He asked the still shadowed office.
“Director.” The rough voice came from the direction of the conference table.
Fury turned to see a worn looking couple sitting at the table. Both were bruised and battered … The red headed woman seemed relaxed, but Nick could see her assessing him and his office.
“Did you sneak in past security again?” He sat at the table with his hands always visible.
“We’re just that good, Boss. You did say you wanted the best for your strike teams.” Barton smirked through his exhaustion.
“We had to finish a few things before embarking on this new adventure.” Clint shifted to ease the pressure on his ribs. “Director Nick Fury, this is my best friend next to Stark, Nat …”
A look from the woman stopped his introduction.
“Natasha Romanoff. Clint tells me I can have a new life here, so I wish to be called Natasha Romanoff.”
Nick reached out to shake her hand.
“I hope this is the beginning of a mutually agreeable relationship, Ms. Romanoff.”
“I hope so as well, Director Fury. I am sure you have people who would like to ask me many questions.”
Fury looked over at Clint.
“Suggestions, Agent Barton.”
“I think Agent Coulson would be your best choice for the entire process. I will assist in any way needed. I would see my friend treated the way I promised.”
“Good choice.” The woman stiffened when Nick reached out and hit the intercom button on the phone. “Clara, can you track down Agent Coulson and have him come to my office now? Also a tray of refreshments for three.”
“Sir?” There was a note of concern in Clara’s voice.
“Agent Barton dropped by to debrief.”
“Yes, Sir.” The voice held a note of relief.
While they waited, Clint gave Fury a synopsis of the time he’d been off the grid. Writing down the names and places Clint mentioned, his head jerked up when Clint said,
“That we’re going to be here and there.”
The one dark eye met cool green. His eye hummed behind the patch. He supposed a spider could be one of his antlered deer.
The name Strike Team Delta became synonymous with the most dangerous missions. Fury used them shamelessly for SHIELD that was infested with HYDRA agents and for the shadow SHIELD. So far only Strike Team Delta, Tony Stark and Pepper Potts knew about the shadow agency. The Director was planning a ‘training conference’ for a dozen agents he was bringing into the shadow side.
Team Delta had returned from one of Fury’s missions two days prior, Clint and Natasha suffering from having to fight their way out of a facility that had been supplying both AIM and HYDRA with tech and weapons. The good news was they had the beginnings of a paper trail that hinted at both Obadiah Stane and Justin Hammer. If they could keep Tony alive long enough to oust Stane as CEO of Stark Industries, it would make for one less headache.
A deep gouge across the shoulders for Clint and a bicep for Natasha from dodging bullets had the team on down time for two weeks. The Director entered his office from a meeting with ‘his’ analysts going over the information from the raid. He looked up from the papers in his hand to see Barton sprawled across his visitor’s chair.
“Something I can do for you, Agent Barton?”
Nick tried to sound stern, but having the archer drop into to office unannounced was sometimes the highlight of the Director’s day, and made his Assistant Director twitch because she never seemed to figure out how Barton got around her security protocols. The fact that Clint considered Nick among his friends warmed the older man’s heart, and in the dark of night the man allowed himself to imagine more than his hawk being merely the Norns weapon for the battle to come.
“Not really. Medical won’t let me shoot, Nat’s off doing things I don’t have the nerve to ask about, and Coulson’s doing Executive Director stuff, and Tony’s under Happy and Pepper’s care this week.” Clint grinned.
Fury looked down his nose at the grinning man.
“Besides, I know you were meeting with YOUR brain trust and thought maybe you might want to bounce some of their findings off an interested party.” The changeable eyes swirled with too many emotions for Nick to follow, but a couple of them made his heart rate spike.
“Good thought, Hawk.” Nick tucked files into several pockets in the lining of his black leather trench. “Walk with me, Barton.”
Clint was one step behind and to the left of the Director when they stepped out of Fury’s office. Hill looked up from her station on the Helicarrier command deck.
“Director …” She stuttered to a stop when she saw Clint with the Director. “Barton, how did you …?” She stopped again as the two men grinned unrepentantly.
“Seems you have a little more work to do on the ‘carrier’s security protocols.”
“You could help me with that, Agent Barton.” Her tone was tight.
“Where the fun be in that? You won’t learn if I do all the work.”
“Barton, quit poking the lion with a stick.”
“Oh I’d never do that, Sir, the lions were some of my best friends in the circus.”
It took all Fury’s considerable acting talent to not laugh at the younger man’s antics.
“Hill, you’re in charge. Call me if HYDRA takes over the world.”
“Where will you be, Sir?”
“Out. Clear me a jet. Barton.”
“On your left, Sir.”
Lifting off the deck of the Helicarrier, Clint switched his mic off from the tower.
“Where to, Sir?”
“Take me to your favorite place to eat.” Nick said.
Clint narrowed his eyes at the Director before switching his mic back to the tower and clearing his flight path with the tower.
Trusting Clint, Nick settled into the co-pilot’s seat and watched the long-fingered hands move across the flight controls.
“Sir?” Clint looked over at his passenger.
“Just Nick tonight … No Agent and Director tonight. Tonight, we’re just a couple guys with a really expensive jet out for an evening.”
Clint’s smile was like the sun over the deck of the Helicarrier.
“You got it … Nick.”
As a sniper, Clint was used to the silent places so felt no need to fill the cockpit with meaningless noise. Nick leaned back into the seat and closed his eyes letting the stress that is his life fall away.
He drifted to sleep and was only awakened by the gentle bump of the Quinjet coming to rest. He looked around to try and determine where they were while Clint powered down the jet. He startled when he felt Barton touch his arm.
“Put your papers in this, and lose the trench.” Clint grinned wide as he handed Nick a messenger bag.
“Where are we?”
“My favorite place to eat.”
Nick looked around. The trees and plants told him they were in the south. The buildings were West Indies style with wide windows and porches, the ‘big house’ a restaurant with rooms on the second floor, and the smaller house obviously a private residence. An elegant sign read, The Painted Seer Inn. The big man arched an eyebrow at the archer.
Giving his boss an ‘aw shucks’ shrug and grin, Clint lead the way up the walk.
“It’s what happens when you hang around ‘show folk’.”
Fury frowned at the odd note in Barton’s voice.
“I was a small kid so when we landed at the circus some of the side show folk took me in and kept the more undesirable element away. Madame Yasmina was the fortune teller, and her partner, Isabelle, the tattooed snake charmer. Isa took me on as assistant to help with her snakes. We didn’t go to school, but they gave me the basics … Tried to teach me how to mingle with regular folk.” His chuckle was self-deprecating. “We all know how well that worked.”
Before Nick could comment, Clint was being overwhelmed by two older women. He knew the women before they were introduced. Yasmine played the role of gypsy fortune teller to the hilt while Isabelle’s style reminded him of Katherine Hepburn with her dark red hair and sleek style.
“Mina and Isa, this is my friend, Marcus Johnson. Marc, Yasmina Markovich and Isabelle O’Haver.”
“Ladies, it’s a pleasure to meet Clint’s family.” Nick pulled out his best manners while hiding his surprise that Barton knew his real name.
Yasmina chuckled as she patted Nick’s hand.
“Don’t mind Clint. That boy has a way of knowing things. He hoards all his little tidbits like a dragon with his hoard. The things he sees and knows … Sometimes I think he’s the psychic in the family.” Yasmina commented.
“Ever had him tested” Nick asked casually.
Delicate eyebrows raised.
“Most definitely not. The government did more than enough to my boy when they had their hooks in him.”
Her nose elevated in the air as she took Clint’s arm and left him to Isabelle’s tender mercies.
“Don’t mind Mina.” She took Nick’s arm to follow the others. “The military was good for Clint until he caught the eye of some CIA colonel. Then it became a nightmare. It took five years and only him and his pretty doctor friend made it out alive.
His surprise must have shown on his usually stoic face.
“You wonder why I’m prattling on when Mina snubbed you?”
“Don’t get your patch in a twist. We’re circus folk. We learn early to read people and separate them from their money. Plus, I can see you taking in Clint like he’s your next breath.”
His Norn blessed, or cursed depending on the day, eye hummed with scenarios between the Eagle and the Hawk. They were finishing dessert when a vision of an eagle, hawk and spider flashed almost too quick to register. The flow was interrupted by a light touch that sent sparks along his nerves.
“Si … Marcus?”
“Nick’s focus turned outward.
“Is your eye bothering you? Should I take you home?”
“I am home.” Nick blurted as he spoke without filtering his words.
Clint flushed a light shade of pink.
“Was that inappropriate, Bar … Clint?” Nick held his breath.
“No, but you remember I have a few issues and a bizarre co-dependent relationship with “Tasha?” Clint’s voice carried a note of hope.
“Indeed. I think we can negotiate joint custody of one archer.”
Clint’s blush deepened under the one-eyed stare causing the Director to chuckle.
“Didn’t know you could still blush, Hawk.”
“It’s a new skill recently developed.”
Saying a quiet goodbye to the ladies, Yasmina spoke softly to Clint in what Fury took to be Russian. With a hug and whispered reassurance, the men headed toward the Quinjet.
“Where to now … Marc?” Clint’s smirked at Fury’s glare.
“Think your mamas would mind if we sit in their garden a while … Talk about certain people without the possibility of being overheard?”
“I have just the spot, but it’ll make them think you’re a serious suitor.”
Clint looked back toward his ‘mothers’. His eyes widened when he saw an aura behind Yasmina and Isabelle. Inside the aura were the figure of three women dressed in Viking fashion. Holy … The Norns! He looked back at Nick.
“Do you want that?”
“Lead the way.” Nick gave him a smile and nod.
They shifted through the files, Clint laying out all he knew and speculated about the Section 7 and 8 agents. Nick got quiet then paused as though steeling himself for Clint’s reaction.
“I’m disbanding Strike Team Delta.”
It was Clint’s turn to go still.
“I’ve got ‘my’ agents spread too thin to keep you three together. I need you to be my eyes and ears. You have a brilliant tactical mind. You see lines and angles the rest of us miss. There’s trouble like we’ve never seen on the way. You and Natasha will be in the thick of it along with the others I’m pulling together. In between your missions you’ll also be with Phil and/or Natasha as they need your skill set.”
Clint sat thoughtful for a few minutes.
“Do you ever wonder about Coulson’s obsession?”
“We’re close. I hear Stark’s going on a Middle East tour.”
“We leave next Tuesday.”
Clint looked out into the distance watching an owl hunt for his supper. A card appeared in his hand as though conjured from the air.
“If something … Nasty happens to me … Physically … Call my friend. She knows all there is to know about ‘me’.
“Traveling with Tin Man is always an adventure.”
Looking at his watch, Clint stood.
“Time to get Cinderella home from the ball.”
“If you’re Prince Charming … Maybe not?”
“So, I’m … Whisking you away to my castle?”
“Too fast?” Nick reached out to run a gentle thumb over the prominent cheekbone.
“I think we’ve tapped danced around each other long enough. Nat makes fun of us, but considering my last relationship with an authority figure I think I’m entitled.
“Does Agent Romanoff know you may have dibs on her moniker?”
“He threatened my family.” Clint’s tone was flat. “He refused to let it go.”
“The name on the card?”
“She didn’t understand what they were doing to us. She only knew the science then Ric tried to bury the program by killing everyone under the smokescreen of the Jason Bourne fiasco.”
“I don’t have Daddy issues or whatever the water cooler gossips say … I just happen to like older men and a few women. My peers …” Clint shook his head.
“Not the same experiences.” Nick offered.
“Something like that.” A smirk spread across the handsome face. “I’m so not fucking Coulson either.”
“Like I don’t know that. May would gut us both.” Nick scoffed.
They brushed together as they walked to the Quinjet. They’d been in the air for bit when Clint gave Nick a side eyed glance.
“JARVIS, you have room for a small Quinjet?”
“Indeed, Master Clint. Landing pad 4.”
“Thanks, JARVIS. Wake us at six?”
“Certainly. You have a meeting with Sir at 10am.”
‘Is he cancelling the trip?”
“No.” The AI didn’t sound happy.
“I’ll be back after I take Nick back to the Triskelion.”
The silence while they secured the jet and rode the elevator to Clint’s apartment was comfortable. Once the door locked behind them, Clint slithered up Nick’s front as he slid the leather coat off broad shoulders. Reaching bare skin, the archer nipped, licked and kissed his way to Nick’s mouth where he got serious in his attention to kissing Nick.
When Clint’s tongue tangled with his, Nick finally got with the program as they both worked to the other out of their clothes and into the bedroom.
Living a warrior’s life left both men with scars and as they mapped each other’s scars and bodies, somewhere in Nick’s brain notes were made over scars that were not from their warrior lifestyle. Though they’d had full penetrative sex several times, tonight felt different, and when Clint penetrated Nick for the first time a connection slid into place between the two men.
When they came back to themselves, and they both lay sated and Clint lay relaxed across his chest, Nick decided to talk to Dr. Marta Shearing as soon as he got somewhere safe from all prying eyes and listening ears.
The Director was briefing Agent Romanoff on the next ‘special project’ he needed done when Executive Director Coulson hurried into his office without knocking.
“Stark’s convoy was hit.”
“Nick’s breath caught, and Natasha asked the question he couldn’t.
“The only survivor, but he was barely hanging on when they found him.”
“Missing. I guess Stane made his move as Barton predicted.” Phil remarked.
“Are we sure it was Stane?” Nick asked.
“Miss Potts supplied me with information she, Tony and Clint have been collecting on Obadiah Stane for the past two years. An account they’d flagged just transferred a substantial sum of money to an account associated with the Ten Rings.”
“Use who and what you need. I want Stark found.” Then like it was an afterthought … “Keep me updated on Agent Barton’s condition as well.”
As he turned away, his gaze met Romanoff’s arched eyebrow and knowing green eyes. He tried to reach Clint through their Norn blessed connection.
Nick sent Dr. Shearing with a SHIELD medical team to recover Clint from the hospital in Germany where he’d been airlifted after the raid. Two weeks later he received a frantic call from woman telling him that ‘Aaron’ had disappeared. He’d asked about his injuries, and the doctor assured him that ‘Aaron’s enhanced healing had taken care of the smaller wounds, but there were chest and back wounds that still had her worried.
Nick continued to try and reach his Hawk through their bond, but the archer continued to block him out.
Two weeks after the call from Marta Shearing, Yasmina called Nick to tell him that her boy sends his love and that the ‘yellow brick road’ was getting warm. The humor in the fortune teller’s voice did much to alleviate some of his worry over his lover, but Nick knew Clint would not give up trying to find Tony Stark until he had the genius or his body.
Reports from SHIELD stations throughout the Middle East began sending reports of a figure in black armed with ancient weapons literally cutting a swath through the radical groups and their followers.
As Tony Stark blasted out of a cave in Afghanistan in a metal suit that flew into the desert, the man in black armed with swords and a bow cut down the men that would follow and kill him.
The Director’s phone chirped with an alarm he’d set specifically for Clint. He smiled as he read the message and reached for his ear bud to call Hill.
Tin Man saved himself as I came into camp. Both of us will have enough issues to keep the shrinks in work for years to come. Will be home soon we have a lot of time to make up.
Nick knew having a relationship with his Hawk would be hard due to the lives they lived, but when the man with sun streaked hair, longer than usual, kaleidoscope eyes flashing with emotion in a tan face that was too thin … Nick Fury forgot all that and gathered the younger man in his arms like he would never let go.
“I’m sorry, Marc. I couldn’t let him out there by himself. I had to look for him.”
“I know, My Hawk. I know he’s family.” Nick whispered against his hair.
Soon all Nick’s thoughts were focused solely on Clint. The too lean frame that was all strength and speed, the new scars from the firefight in Afghanistan and his three months searching for Tony. He focused on the soft sounds as he stripped the sweats and tee from the whipcord body. The sighs and cries when he pushed into the smaller body for the first time in four months, and later when Clint pushed into him after being separated for so many months…the world stopped.
When Nick and Clint came back to themselves, Nick sent a silent Thank You to the Norns for now instead of just being able to ‘feel’ each other … The Hawk could hear the Eagle and the Eagle could see through the eyes of his Hawk.
It also made Nick think he really wasn’t supposed to be separated for months from his Hawk.
The completion of the connection between Nick and Clint seemed to be the catalyst for a series of milestone events. The oddest to Nick other than getting his briefings from Clint in real time was waking to find the Black Widow curled against Clint’s chest while Nick was wrapped around the archer from behind. Her glare dared him to object. His gave her a wink and settled back to sleep. The first night she curled against his back while Clint was away on a mission caused his breath to catch at the trust she was giving him.
“You can have sex with her.” Clint’s tone was bland as he set breakfast on the table.
Fury looked at his Hawk with such a stunned expression Clint laughed.
“Your magic eyeball didn’t show you that one.”
“Having sex with Nat? Not since Budapest. She laughs at me ‘cause I’m into serial monogamy.”
Nick’s eyebrows rose.
“I figured it was time to say something. She trusts you enough to come here even when I’m not here.”
“The Black Widow wants a threesome with us?”
“Sometimes. No one she trusts more. There’s Coulson but May doesn’t share.” Clint shrugged as he dug into his breakfast. “Someday she may find someone she trusts as much …” He let the thought trail off.
“Let’s see how things play out.” Nick answered with a tone much too casual for the turmoil he was feeling.
“I warned you my relationship with Tasha was complicated. For her it’s trust … Not love. She thinks the Red Room programmed the love out of her, but I know the real Natasha.”
Nick stared as Clint continued to eat as though he wasn’t suggesting a threesome with the only woman that made Nick’s balls shrivel with fear.
“It’ll be fine, Marc.”
Nick shook his head and finished his breakfast.
The two men were still getting settled into the aspects of their bond. Nick could feel Clint’s contentment that his family was close and moderately safe. He began to relax. As the puppet master/Director of SHIELD, Nick Fury’s analytical mind was enraptured at the challenge of having two master assassins in his bed. There was nothing normal about their relationship and Phil Coulson had looked at him in awe.
“Like your life’s not in enough danger.”
“Who better to have with me than my Hawk and his Spider? Romanoff was not in the original prophecy given by the Norns. She may be the edge we need to survive what’s coming.”
“How ... I mean …”
“As unique as Clint and Natasha. How’s May?”
“Still buried in the basement.” Phil knew Fury’s question was the end of the conversation about his relationship.
Since Clint or Natasha always cooked, Nick did clean-up. When he walked into the living room after finishing, the pair were sitting together waiting. The hair on the back of Nick’s neck stood on end so instead of sitting in the chair apart from the pair, he settled on the coffee table and laid a hand on each of them.
“Nat needs to go with Stark.” Clint started.
“Some things up with Tony and Pepper’s worried. It’s been too quiet since Tony killed Stane and took SI out of the weapons business.” Natasha added.
“Iron Man’s being upgraded all the time, but we feel there’s a hyena in the shadows.” Clint finished.
Their twin speak freaked out the other agents, but Nick was beginning to understand the genius behind the facades they showed the world.
“You have something in mind?” Nick looked back and forth between them.
Clint handed Nick a packet on Natalie Rushman. Looking through the tasteful but highly sexual pictures of Natasha, it wasn’t only Nick’s eye that twitched.
“But Stark knows you.” He pointed out.
“These aren’t for Stark. They’re for anyone that thinks Tony is still a playboy.” Natasha answered.
“Who?” He indicated the pictures.
“I did.” Clint answered.
“Looks like everything’s in place. Pepper and Tony are aware of what you’re doing?”
“Yes. Tin Man tries to joke but there’s something not right…he’s…he feels wrong.” Clint furrowed his brow trying to come up with the words to express himself. “Plus JARVIS won’t confirm or deny when I ask.”
Nick held up the folder.
“What are you doing while Tasha plays sexy, smart PA?”
“Lurking, unless something needs my attention.”
Nick smiled softly at the archer. Clint considered the non-HYDRA agents under his protection so much of his lurking was spent watching and eavesdropping on the double agents. Clint and Natasha’s sources in and out of SHIELD kept most of the medical section and two-thirds of R&D clear. Fury had recruited three sets of twins along with three other agents as caretakers to bases he’d set up by hiding expenditures in ongoing projects. As long as budgets stayed within parameters no one saw anything out of the ordinary. Nick sighed as he drew the assassins close. A bare five percent of SHIELD agents were ‘his’. When Pierce finally moved against him … He shut those thoughts off and settled on the couch between his two favorite agents.
The Director watched through his Hawk’s eyes as rain poured in the New Mexico desert.
“It’s your call, Sir, but I’m starting to root for this guy.” Clint told Coulson. “Do I take the shot or are you sending more guys for him to beat up?” Clint chuckled as he ignored the water pouring into everything.
Hey Boss. He sent to Nick. Get tired of feeling warm and dry so you decided to enjoy being cold and wet vicariously?
Not really, smart mouth, but I think you’ll find your blond mountain of a man is not of this world.
As if HYDRA, AIM, and the flavor of the week’s not enough now we’re getting tourists.
Hawkeye … Nick tried to sound stern, but Clint chuckled.
Love you, too, Boss.
Play nice with the new kid.
Mentally sounding put upon, Clint cut their connection. Rubbing his left temple, he convinced himself to sneak out to Clint’s apartment when his private line rang. When he finished talking to Natasha, his headache doubled, and he was calling for Coulson and his security detail for a fast trip to California.
Beyond pissed that the military had one of Stark’s suits thanks to Colonel Rhodes, he stood under the huge donut holding ‘the’ Iron Man.
“Mr. Stark.” He settled his hands on his hips. “Come down from the donut.”
Sitting across from Tony after the Black Widow hit him with a hypo to help counter his palladium poisoning, the Director understood the younger man’s behavior … Understood his self-destructive coping mechanisms for his PTSD, but he needed Stark focused. Now was not the time for one of his antlered deer to flip his shit. He handed Tony Howard’s files and hoped they would pull Tony out of his tailspin … Hoped his innate curiosity would help him save his own life.
Standing in the rubble filled living room that was the result of Tony’s drunken battle with Colonel Rhodes in the armor he stole from Stark, Executive Director Phil Coulson allowed his security team to do their jobs, which had JARVIS summoning a hungover Tony Stark from bed.
“In case you don’t remember me, Mr. Stark, I’m Agent Coulson of SHIELD, and I’ll be with you until after the Expo, and if there is repeat of last night’s debacle I will personally taser you into the living room carpet and use you as a foot stool while watching Super Nanny.”
“What about Natalie?”
“Agent Romanoff will do as she sees fit. I’m sure she and Miss Potts have a plan.”
Tony groaned loudly as he headed for the kitchen in search of coffee.
Clint’s Quinjet touched down on the roof of Stark’s building on opening day of the Stark Expo. Settling his exhausted body into bed, he’d just started to doze when he felt the mattress shift and the curvaceous body of his favorite red head press against his back.
“I need a favor, Yastreb.” She purred.
“If I say yes can I go to sleep?” He whined.
“You can sleep until Tony goes to the Expo. Then I need you there.”
“Lurking, shooting things that might shoot at Tony.”
“Couldn’t you solve the whole thing by killing Justin Hammer?”
“No. He’s only the money … Not the brains.”
“Like that’s not obvious, and where will you be spinning your web my beautiful Spider.” Clint rolled over and wrapped himself around her.
“Looking for the brains.”
“The band is back together. Where’s Coulson?”
“Riding herd … Nanny duty with Stark.”
“You sound irritated with Tin Man.”
“He was dying and didn’t tell us. JARVIS finagled around his programming enough to drop Pepper and I hints.”
“Oooo, he’s going to pay through the nose for that one.”
Natasha grunted her agreement.
“Sleep now … Harangue Stark later.”
Deep in the night a third body slid into bed sandwiching the Spider between them. Without waking, they included the larger body into their warm cocoon. The next evening when all hell broke loose at the Stark Expo during Justin Hammer’s demonstration, Iron Man was surprised when an arrow flew past his head into the ‘eye’ of the robot coming up behind him.
“Legolas! JARVIS you’ve been a very naughty not telling me Katniss was back.”
“I wanted to surprise you, but this was not what I had in mind.”
“Too flashy for you, my friend. We have to lay this squarely on Hammer and his new BFF, Whiplash, but so glad you didn’t miss the fun. Where is the lovely Widow tonight?” Tony asked as he took down two more robots.
“Off somewhere doing something that will probably save us and the world.”
“Too true. She’s efficient like that.”
Clint and Tony were making progress until Rhodey butted in with War Machine, and a line of military rhetoric that had the genius and the archer making fun of him until Ivan Vanko woke up all the giant robots.
“Tone …” Rhodey started to plead.
“No time. You stole my work … My designs … Screw you Rhodey for putting the Air Force before our friendship.”
“Tony!” The Colonel yelled as Iron Man disappeared under a pile of robots.
Repulsors whined as Iron Man blasted skyward. Clint switched channels on his earbud.
“Little busy right now, Hawk.”
Clint heard the sizzle of her Widow’s Bites on flesh.
“Baby agents.” She commented over the grunts and thuds of her opponents’ bodies hitting the floor. “Five minutes … Tops.”
“Am I eating alone?”
“Depends on how long you’re in Medical.”
“Rhodey decided to horn in so I may be refereeing the Iron Man vs War Machine match.”
“Good time to have Coulson’s team out there.”
“I’ll pass it on to the Boss, Coulson is a bit occupied at the moment.”
“I knew we kept you around for a reason.”
“Love you, too, Widow. Now I’m off to keep two idiots from getting their asses shot off.”
Clint switched back to hear Tony and Rhodey still squabbling. He looked around to see a baby agent running toward him with two quivers of arrows. One was regular arrows while the other contained his ‘specials’.
“Thanks. Now get the hell out of here, kid.” Hawkeye admonished.
Getting as high as possible, he started picking out the weak places in Hammer’s flying robots. He’d just picked one off War Machine’s six when he was snatched off his perch by Iron Man. He was winding up his tirade when his former perch crumbled.
“Thanks, Tin Man.”
After that there was no time for banter. The three men were hard pressed to survive as wave upon wave of robots appeared. Several times all that saved Hawkeye was the constant improvements Tony made to his tactical suit because he knew it irritated Nick for him to outdo SHIELD R & D. He still carried heavy bruises that would leave him interesting shades of the rainbow for several days.
They fought until Iron Man, War Machine and Hawkeye stood back to back for a final stand. Both of the suits were running low on energy and weapons. Clint was running low on everything. Blood flowed freely down his back from shrapnel off the War Machine armor. He used the infamous Barton stubbornness and adrenaline to stay on his feet as he nocked another arrow. He could feel Nick in the back of his mind, but closed his focus down to his next shot. Before he could release all the Hammer robots stopped and dropped to the ground becoming large piles of scrap.
Thank you, Tasha. Clint thought as he began to relax.
The three weary warriors turned for the now ruined Expo building when Ivan Vanko stepped in front of them in the guise of Whiplash. War Machine was too damaged to engage so Rhodey fell back to the SHIELD unit on site.
Hawkeye and Iron Man watched Whiplash as he swung his electrified whips.
“Impressed yet?” Tony asked.
“I’ve seen better.” Clint nocked one his last three specialty arrows.
He’d made these particular arrows after the research he’d done on Vanko for Nat when Whiplash first appeared at the Formula One race. After Rhodey stole the War Machine armor, Clint felt he could ask JARVIS for help without the AI ratting him out to Tony. The arrows would shut down the arc reactor powering the Whiplash armor … All he needed to do was get Iron Man another thirty feet away so he wouldn’t kill Tony. He needed to make this happen fast. Clint could feel the blood on his back and his body beginning to shut down. He clicked his earbud.
“JARVIS, can you get Tony out of my arrow’s range?”
“I’ll try. Sir is being most stubborn.”
“Typical. I need to make my shot … Now.”
“You are injured.” The AI sounded concerned.
“Yeah. War Machine shrapnel.”
“Shall I call for assistance?”
“Only if I go down, but I think the Director is already aware.”
“I’m sure he and Agents Coulson and Romanoff will be most annoyed.”
“I’d say you’re right, Buddy.” Hawkeye nocked and drew back the string as Vanko flicked the lash toward Iron Man forcing him back to avoid the strike. He let the arrow fly when Whiplash took notice of him. Ivan turned. Hawkeye’s arrow struck true but barely penetrated the housing on the Russian’s reactor sending only a partial disruption to the power source. The last thing Clint knew was pain as the electrified whip connected with his injured back as he spun to allow his tac suit to take the brunt of the lash.
Three days had passed since the disaster that was the Stark Expo. Stark Industries and SHIELD nearly had the physical damage cleaned up. Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko were cooling their heels in jail, and Clint was still unconscious. The Director had shipped Colonel Rhodes back to the Air Force after a lot of shouting over the military stealing the War Machine armor from Stark at the same time he sliced strips off the beribboned fools on the Joint Chiefs for condoning the action.
An equally pissed off Tony Stark sicced his CEO, Pepper Potts and her army of Stark Industries lawyers on the smug Joint Chiefs. They didn’t have the knowledge to maintain the armor and about a dozen or so violations of patent law and words like ‘industrial espionage’ were being bantered across conference tables and phone lines.
When Rhodey had tried to approach Tony as his best friend, he’d been turned away by Happy and a glaring Black Widow. Rhodes knew he could talk his way around Happy Hogan, but when he approached ‘Natalie Rushman’ all he saw was his pain in her green eyes. Defeated, he left the SI offices wondering if he’d finally gone too far for his career.
When the Director took off his trench coat and armor off and crawled into bed with the Black Widow, Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff silently worried for their Hawk. The doctors in Medical and Dr. Shearing told Nick and Natasha the electrical charge from the lash stopped Clint’s heart. The powerful charge also cauterized his bleeding wounds. The pieces of shrapnel from War Machine actually melted and embedded into the bones of Clint’s ribs.
Her usual dark humor in place, Natasha had given Nick and Phil her deadpan stare.
“It ought to help alleviate some of those broken ribs Hawk always seems so fond of bringing home.”
Dr. Shearing had looked scandalized at Natasha’s comment, but Phil had led her away to smooth her ruffled feathers. The good doctor was still very protective of ‘Aaron’.
When green/grey eyes cracked open, the lights were dim and the glow of a StarkTablet showed his Eagle grumbling over whatever incident report he was reading. He gave their bond a mental tug to get Nick’s attention.
The dark head snapped up and looked toward the bed.
“’Bout time, Barton. We have real injured people who need this bed.” He grinned at his Hawk.
“I’ll be happy to vacate as soon as I figure out what works and what hurts” His normally husky voice made worse by the dryness of his throat.
Holding a cup, Nick fed the archer a few ice chips.
“Let’s just say Stark might be calling you Tin Man from now on.”
Nick had meant the words as a joke, but the rise in Clint’s heart monitor indicated his distress at the words. In the next instant, Dr. Shearing blew through the door to the archer’s side. The black look she threw Nick felt like a physical blow.
“It’s alright, Aa … Clint. Mr. Stark gave me the specifics of the alloy he uses in the suits. Most of the shrapnel disbursed with the force of the electrical charge and merged the bits and particles with the bones in your ribs. Mr. Stark and I kept careful watch that nothing was done after your diagnosis.”
“Thanks, Doc.” He gave her a weak smile.
“Sorry, Sir. Like I said … A few issues.”
“Understood, Agent … Understood.” Nick’s tone was sad.
Their lives settled as much as people in their occupations were allowed. Clint and Nick’s relationship was known to only a few, but the rumor mill paired the Director with Black Widow. This caused them both to almost smile, and an unholy glee when the Director stopped behind an unaware group of gossip mongers.
“Is this what I pay you such ridiculously high salaries to do? Is there nothing happening in world? Despite what Tony Stark says, peacekeeping has not become privatized.”
Red faces and mumbling followed the escaping agents. With a smirk, the Director called his ‘one good eye’ for an update on their unthawing of Stark Industries first successful foray into human engineering. There was no way to keep the discovery of Steve Rogers, Captain America, and the Tesseract from Pierce and the World Security Council, but he and Phil did their best to limit access to Pierce’s HYDRA agents. They almost lost Rogers to the double agents when he bolted from his room, but Nick was able to get to him first. When their eyes met in the middle of Times Square, Nick knew he’d found another of his antlered deer, and Captain Steve Rogers knew he was facing his biggest challenge since Dr. Erskine closed the hatch on the Vita-Ray machine turning him into Captain America.
Sitting down in the Director’s office, the shadows moved. The young man blinked and saw a beautiful green eyed red head move to Fury’s right side.
“Captain Steve Rogers … Agent Natasha Romanoff, Codename Black Widow. Agent Romanoff will be helping you assimilate to the changes in the world while you were sleeping. You’ll find you and Agent Romanoff share more than one common bond.”
“How do I know I can trust you … Sir?”
“You don’t, but perhaps your time with Agent Romanoff can help your decision making process. Agent Romanoff is not just your training officer on modern living, she’s also your security.”
“With all due respect, Sir…”
Nick held up his hand.
“I don’t doubt your abilities, Captain, but today you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. Agent Romanoff can give you that scorecard.
“One more thing, Captain.”
“You won’t always like what I do, how I do it, or the decisions I make, but there are reasons for them all.”
Steve looked confused as he followed Natasha from the office.
“Way to be vague, Boss.” Clint smirked as Nick startled.
“Dammit, Barton …” He started then his expression turned sly. “I need a new escape route.” He spoke quietly into the beloved ear.
The changeable eyes turned silver as Clint turned protective. His posture relaxed and gave Nick a wink.
“It’ll be fun.” Clint sashayed out of the office.
Nick could practically hear Maria grind her teeth in agitation at Hawkeye still eluding her security measures.
“Agent Barton, I don’t remember you having an appointment with Director Fury.”
“Might want to have Medical check that.” Clint gave her a wink.
The Director settled into his chair with a smile. Life was good.
Nick fought to remain still in his seat. His Assistant Director would put her scary brain to work wondering what would cause the Director of SHIELD to fidget over visiting a research base.
They’d been in constant mental contact, but he hadn’t held Clint in his arms for over three weeks.
He hadn’t been able to hide the discovery of the Tesseract from Alexander Pierce so he had no way to keep him out of the loop of their research, but he could compartmentalize. Only his most trusted people knew everything about Phase 2, and only four people including himself knew what Dr. Eric Selvig and his team were doing.
As soon as the helicopter landed he found the world in chaos. Coulson informed him the Tesseract was being cranky, so he sent Hill to take care of getting all of Phase 2 loaded and away then followed Phil to Selvig’s lab. At the door he sent Phil to make sure their people got evacuated. He figured any double agents that didn’t make it out were that many they didn’t have to deal with later. Time was growing short on a lot things.
“Agent Barton, I thought I sent you here to keep an eye on things.” He looked up at his Hawk’s perch high above.
Sliding down the rope, Clint landed soundlessly next to his Eagle.
“I see better from a distance, Sir.” The corners of his mouth quirked. “No unusual activity, visitors, emails or behavior though from the amount of scurrying I would say your blue cube is misbehaving.”
Fury looked at Dr. Selvig as he moved from monitor to monitor mumbling.
“It is a doorway to great power.” The doctor’s eyes held a glee not fitting the situation as his assistant grabbed his arm to get his attention.
Standing in front of the Tesseract, Clint looked at Nick.
“You know a door can go both ways.”
Before the doctor could answer, Clint shoved Nick out of the way and came up with his gun pointed at the Tesseract just as a beam of light emanated like a runway into the room. By the time Fury was on his feet a man appeared at the end of the beam.
“Put down the staff and step out of the light.” Nick ordered as security pointed their weapons at the intruder who then began firing beams of blue light from his staff killing whatever it struck.
Nick found himself on the ground with Clint between him and … Loki Odinson his Norn cursed eye informed him. While Clint and the other agents distracted the Asgardian outcast, Nick grabbed the shielded case for the Tesseract and tried to take advantage of his team’s sacrifice, he shoved away the ache in his chest as he felt the scepter shroud the link to his Hawk.
Nick felt a moment of fear when Clint pointed his gun at him. He twitched his coat to save his chest the extra layer of armor when Hawkeye lowered his aim to a body shot. As the bullets struck his chest, Nick could feel Clint fighting the scepter’s influence.
In the days that followed, The Director ruthlessly gleaned all the information he could from his link to Hawkeye. Many times it was too late to stop the plans Clint made to further Loki’s agenda. It did allow them to capture the Asgardian and Nick finally met Thor. The Asgardian prince had taken one look at Nick and frowned.
“I mourn your loss, Man of Fury and will see to it my brother returns that which he has stolen.”
Nick gave him a nod of acknowledgement and looked around the table. Natasha was still ready to gut him for sending her after Bruce Banner instead of Clint. Lately most of her time had been devoted to modernizing Captain America, but she always kept track of Clint.
“Two of the smartest men I know are under the influence of this thing and I want them back.” Fury demanded of his Avengers Initiative.
He could feel Clint in the back of his mind fighting to throw off the influence of the blue fire. When he felt the Helicarrier shudder he knew Clint had lost the battle once more.
The Director stopped at the door of the medical containment room and watched Natasha hover over Clint. They had argued in angry hisses about telling Hawk Coulson was dead.
“I’ve got people working on it.” Nick insisted.
“Coulson won’t thank you.”
“I don’t care. I need him alive and whatever it takes for this to work.”
“Yasbet will also not thank you for the lies.”
“I have to believe it will work out in the end otherwise what the Norns did was for nothing. I can only hope that Clint loves us all enough to forgive my lies.”
“I will do what I can, but we could both lose.” Natasha’s voice was cold.
“He’s coming around.” Nick nodded toward the door.
With a long suffering sigh, the Black Widow moved to her partner’s side.
Walking through the morgue, Fury noticed most of the agents who died were Pierce’s double agents. Most of the wounded were his agents. He was amazed that Hawkeye had retained enough control of himself and the mercenaries Loki hired to accomplish so much. Pierce’s HYDRA forces were greatly diminished, but most of them were low level and strike team agents. Others like Sitwell, Garrett and other Level 7’s came out unscathed. When he opened the door only three people could access, he unburdened his heart to the man suspended between life and death. As he stood to leave the room, Nick Fury wondered if his machinations would cost him everything he loved.
Hiding behind dark glasses and concealing clothes, Clint Barton wore a stoic demeanor to his fellow Avengers and especially Loki as they gathered for the return to Asgard. The sorcerer was subdued but continued to move his fascinated gaze between Clint and Tony. Clint’s fingers itched for his bow before Natasha pulled his attention away from the two Asgardians … Her comments making him smile.
Sitting on the balcony of his and Natasha’s floor in Stark Tower, Clint felt wonderment at his friendship with the genius and how the other members of The Avengers didn’t give his being under Loki’s thrall a second thought. He felt a deep grief at the death of Phil Coulson along with a guilt that if he hadn’t led the attack on the Helicarrier Coulson would still be alive.
Intellectually he knew Nick and Natasha were busy getting the crippled Helicarrier back to the Triskelion, and didn’t have time to hold his hand through his little meltdown, but Bruce and Tony offered support in their own way … Bruce quiet and even toned with Tony doing his best, one emotional cripple to another.
Tired of living inside his own head, Clint made a decision. JARVIS and SHIELD’s geek squad had done their best to hide him and Natasha, but a lot of people would remember their faces. Donning a ball cap and tinted glasses he left the Tower. Making his way through the rubble filled streets, he entered an old factory that had been converted to lofts. In the building’s sublevel behind a locked door the Hawk made sure his link to the Eagle was closed before he made a phone call.
“Heard you need a vacation.”
“More than most realized.”
“I’ll be back on my feet in short order.”
“It’ll be awhile before I can go home so enjoy your time off.”
“Be careful. I don’t need your female side paying me a visit.”
“She’s busy, but thanks for the love.”
Clint cut the call before she could make some other argument. He returned to the Tower by a different route stopping to lend a hand or a strong back to the crews clearing debris, including around the Tower. He relaxed the vigilance he’d held all day once the elevator door closed until JARVIS broke the quiet.
“Sir requested you see him in the workshop when you returned.”
“Let’s get it over with then.” Clint told the AI.
“As you wish.”
JARVIS cut Tony’s music when he opened the door for Clint.
“Legolas! Where have you been?”
“For a walk.”
“To Soho and back?” The genius looked over the top of his safety glasses.
Clint didn’t know whether to hug Tony for caring or punch him for being a busy body. He settled for a put upon sigh.
“Bruce and The Big Guy around?”
“In his lab. JARVIS.”
“Dr. Banner is on his way.”
“When he gets here can you lock down … Sight and sound?” Clint asked the AI.
Once settled Tony prompted Clint.
“Out with it, Katniss.”
“I’m letting you in on something only a few people know. Since Phil’s dead and not here to be a buffer, The Avengers need to protect themselves … Especially Steve and Bruce.”
“But JARVIS and I know everything about SHIELD.” Tony snarked wanting to clear the worry from Bruce’s face.
“Okay, Tin Man try this … SHIELD is two separate entities. There’s Nick Fury’s SHIELD and there’s Alexander Pierce’s ‘HAIL HYDRA’ SHIELD. Nat, Coulson and I have worked for the past ten years to keep the ranks even, but things will escalate since Loki, and with Pierce heading the WSC it’s hard to keep projects on the down low.” Clint looked at Tony. “You and your fancy lawyers need to get The Big Guy and Steve protected in case Pierce decides it’s more important HYDRA has them then keep up appearances.”
Before the two geniuses got over their shock, Clint felt Nick’s approval through their bond. It had reopened when he felt safe and relaxed in the Tower. A wave of love came down the link before Nick faded into the back of his mind.
“I’ll start the research.” JARVIS was saying when Clint turned his attention outward.
“So where do you, Agent Romanoff and Agent fit into Fury’s grand plan?” Bruce asked.
“Eyes and ears … More if necessary to keep the scales balanced. We help Nick cover his tracks … Keep Pierce thinking we’re ignorant of what he’s doing.” Clint looked at Tony. “He’ll soon come to SI wanting a fleet of Helicarriers using your repulsor tech and all the nifty things you invented for Iron Man.”
“No.” Tony crossed his arms over his chest.
“You have to, or he’ll get suspicious.” Bruce chimed in before Clint.
Tony huffed out a breath.
“Let Natasha decide what to do with Steve.”
Tony opened his mouth but a look from Clint and Bruce stopped the comment.
“She’s behind me, isn’t she?” He grimaced.
“Not this time.” Clint turned to leave.
“Hold on Robin Hood, what about Soho?”
“Taking a mark off my ledger.”
Deep in the night wearing a name and uniform not his own, Clint opened his link with Nick.
Clint … I … You can’t …
I know. Pierce is looking for a scapegoat and screaming for my head.
S’okay. I was just calling to say I’d be out of touch for a while.
Tell Nat I love her and watch your back, Marc.
No, but you can get a message through JARVIS if you need me.
Come home soon.
When it’s time I’ll be there.
The link went dark.
Former Secretary of Defense and now Chairman of the World Security Council, Alexander Pierce charged into The Director’s office at the Triskelion. Nick closed the file on his computer and sat back … Waiting. Pierce never came down to his office, he liked the power trip of making Nick come to him.
Fury watched fascinated to see Pierce so close to losing control. It would be interesting to know who or what could push a man with Pierce’s focus to the edge. When he finally turned to face him, the cool façade was back in place. Reaching in his jacket pocket he tossed a thumb drive on Nick’s desk. Mind alive with curiosity he waited for Pierce to speak first. It was a small power play but with Clint MIA he had to get his laughs where he could.
“That is information on a person of interest.”
“In what way?” Nick folded his hands on top his desk.
“In what way!?” Pierce sputtered. “Interfering in SHIELD operations, targets disappearing, or person of interest assassinated.”
“HYDRA, AIM, or some other group?” Nick asked.
“A total Ronin from what little intel we’ve found.”
“And you want me to what?” Nick sat back.
“I want one of your pets to bring me this person.”
“Barton … Romanoff … Whoever can get the job done.”
“I’ll get right on it, Sir.” Nick fought to keep his face bland.
“See that you do.” Pierce stormed out.
Oh my Hawk, what an ant hill you have kicked.
A wave of love and loneliness met his thought but was gone just as fast.
He assigned the file to Jasper Sitwell since Sitwell would report to Pierce Nick’s activities. He felt very efficient killing two birds with one stone.
One night he woke from a deep sleep pain burning along his back and ribs. He mentally reached for his archer, but was met with the same blank wall he’d felt for months. The next morning Sitwell was practically vibrating when Hill escorted him into the Director’s office.
“We’re finally making some real progress, Sir.”
“How’s that, Agent Sitwell?”
“Surveillance cameras showed a person dressed in a ‘ninja type outfit’ enter this alley.” The pointed to his map. “I had a team check for ways of escape. All they found was the back door to a restaurant called The Pink Poodle.” Sitwell laid a stack of pictures on the desk. “Fifteen minutes later these two men left the restaurant.”
Looking at the pictures Nick almost smiled.
“Agent Sitwell, how long have you been a Level 7?”
“Ten years, Sir.”
Nick handed the pictures back to the double agent with an expression that said that was not about to change anytime soon.
“This is Agent Barton and Doctor Banner.”
“But that would mean …”
“Your alley with no visible means of escape obviously had an exit.” Fury suggested instead of letting Sitwell’s mind go toward the direction of Clint being their ‘ninja’.
“Sorry, Sir. I thought we had something this time. I’ll take the team and check the alley again. I was sure Rumlow hit him at least twice.”
“You do that, Agent, keep me posted. Dismissed.”
After Sitwell left Nick stood at the window looking over the Potomac. He wished Natasha or Phil were beside him to commiserate over Clint’s lack of self-preservation instincts. His Hawk had turned himself into this character they called Ronin while maintaining his place with The Avengers. To anyone who asked Barton’s status at SHIELD … I t was as needed. Only he or Coulson oversaw Hawkeye’s missions. He could not call the Tower and ask about the archer without compromising what Clint was doing, though his fingers twitched trying to reach the phone.
Some Power That Be must have heard his wish to know because the next day Tony Stark called him down to the basement of the Triskelion where they were building three new Helicarriers.
“You know we can’t keep patching up booboos. Your people have got to figure some of this stuff for yourselves. These patches should hold until your trained monkeys quit typing commands with their toes. Katniss has better skills with one arm then these people do with two.” Tony continued to rant and insult while Nick felt relieved to know the extent of his Hawk’s injuries.
It was after midnight and Nick was exhausted. He’d just sat through Coulson’s final treatment and for once the man hadn’t begged for death.
“He’s going to be really pissed when he figures out what you did.” The gravel voice came from the deep shadows of his office. “I’m surprised May allowed it.”
“I didn’t ask.” Nick growled as he moved toward the corner.
He pulled the smaller man into his arms with a gentle kiss.
“Damn, I miss you Hawk. You’re taking a chance coming here.”
“I miss you like I miss my bow, but Hawkeye has to stay an Avenger. Another archer showing up would ping Pierce’s radar.” Clint said between kisses. “Normally I’d let JARVIS contact you, but this is too big for that.” Clint handed him a StarkPAD.
“How do you know about Coulson and the Helicarriers?” Nick asked.
“You don’t want to know.” Clint’s face turned hard. “What are you doing with Coulson now that he’s awake?”
“Giving him a team and missions that should keep him out of the worst when it comes. I’m sure of all the team but one.” Fury’s tone was distant as he read Clint’s intel.
“Ward was a ‘very close protégé of John Garrett.”
Nick’s head snapped up as he reached over to his computer for a roster of Level 7 and 8 agents.
“Harold? He was part of Hand’s team.”
“Pity.” Clint slid back into the shadows. “His heart gave out.”
Nick handed the StarkPAD to Clint. Pictures flashed behind his eye patch. He pushed against the block Clint put between them. He sighed in relief when Clint opened to his prodding.
Go to the bases. Alert them all.
They’re watching everyone else.
Pierce is sending ‘The Soldier’ after you. He’s only missed once and that was Tasha.
We’ll make it twice. I’ll be careful.
JARVIS and I tracked him to the airport in Charlotte. He’s probably in DC at a HYDRA safe house.
Tasha knows everything. Her and Steve should be able to keep your ass intact.
I can keep my own ass intact thank you very much.
Marc … Clint pulled him close.
Only Clint still called him by his old name since Coulson was still pissed at him.
Don’t send me away.
The archer seldom asked for anything, so Nick tried to say yes when Clint asked, but if his Hawk stayed by his side it would change the outcome and SHIELD would cease to exist because the actions of the Hawk and The Soldier would cancel each other, but tip the scales causing HYDRA to win.
No. I need things in place for us and Coulson. I’m sending you where I need you.
He saw the hurt and anger in those mercurial eyes. Flat grey under the force of his emotions, Clint stepped away.
I love you, but I hate you for sending me away and leaving you in danger.
Fury sighed heavily though he didn’t see Clint leave, but knew his Hawk had flown. Always their sacrifice.
Clint was double checking the systems at the last base when he felt the searing pain of a bullets to the chest. He finished the checks and retired to his room where he could concentrate on his bond with Nick. He didn’t know if it would work, but as he saw the light dimming he projected his own light toward it. The last thing he remembered was hoping what he was doing didn’t kill them both.
Clint woke in time to shower and joined Eric for breakfast. The elder of the Koenig twins looked solemn as Clint joined him.
“It’s started. They’re reporting Director Fury was killed by an unknown assailant that cut a swath of destruction through Washington. Captain Rogers and Agent Romanoff went to his aid …”
Clint looked inward.
“The Director is injured, but alive.”
“I won’t ask how you know that, but I believe you.”
“I need to get to DC. Coulson and his merry band of misfits could show up anytime.” He paused strapping on his gear.
Hawkeye and Ronin would be joining forces for the Winter Soldier.
“Eric, keep an eye on Ward. He may be the bad seed on Coulson’s team.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Be careful, Agent Barton.”
Closing the hatch on his mini Quinjet against the blowing snow he sent a thought along the bond.
I’ll be there soon, Marc.
He felt sleepy acceptance as he lifted off for home.
Clint landed at his safe house in Middleburg, Virginia, then jumped on his Ducati Monster and headed for the Triskelion. Seeing the three Helicarriers in the air he pushed the big bike as fast as he dared in the rubble and panic filled streets of Washington, D.C.
Double agents dropped under the swords of Ronin as Clint waded into the fray. It seemed like hours before explosions rocked the Triskelion. Turning to watch the brand new Helicarriers fall from the sky was all that saved Jasper Sitwell from Ronin’s sword. Holding his severely bleeding arm, the double agent sneered at Clint before turning away into the melee. The surprise on his face as an arrow pierced his throat was all Hawkeye required as he pulled his arrow free, and continued on to the next target.
Fighting his way to the elevator, Clint punched Nick’s code into the panel. When the elevator got to the top floor, Pierce was dead, Nick and Natasha were holding each other upright while the rest of the Council bleated like frightened sheep.
Seeing the blood and gore covered Hawkeye had the members running for the elevator while the archer moved to check Nick and Natasha.
“You mobile?” He ground out.
“As we need to be.” Nick answered.
The three agents collected weapons and ammo as they made their way through the destroyed headquarters. Once on the street, Natasha hotwired a car while Clint disabled the GPS as Fury kept watch. Nick saw Clint whisper in the red head’s ear, but the adrenaline was draining fast as he leaned heavily against the car.
Satisfied they couldn’t be tracked. Natasha took the wheel as Clint went to retrieve his bike. Once Nick was safe they’d figure out their next move.
When Nick woke the next morning, he was cocooned between his Hawk and Spider. Considering the height and weight difference that was quite a feat. He was thankful that most of the blood on Clint belonged to other people. The fighting had been close quarters leaving the archer was a mass of bruises and minor injuries. Nick and Natasha had taken their time with Clint examining every inch of skin. Over the past two years Fury could count on one hand the number of times Clint had been in his arms or bed.
Theirs was a life of sacrifice on the altar of SHIELD. The younger man was lean, hard and carried many new scars that could be laid at the feet of Alexander Pierce and HYDRA.
“Turn your brain off, Marc. We’re here and alive.” Clint murmured.
Nick huffed at being caught but closed his eyes and with the beloved weight against his chest went back to sleep.
The next time he woke he was alone. The scent of his favorite coffee in the air, he heard Natasha and Clint both on the phone. Nick showered and grabbed any clothes that didn’t remind him of SHIELD. The TV was muted showing all the news channels. They all played scenes from the destruction of the Helicarriers and Triskelion with a parade of so called experts speculating about what happened. The information Natasha had flooded onto the Internet was being dissected like a high school biology project. The Black Widow hung up and cursed in several languages.
“The Senate is calling a special committee since we just drug a former Secretary of Defense through the mud. They’re yelling for you and anyone else they can think of to subpoena.”
Nick studied the beautiful spy for a minute.
“I hate to ask … I hate to sacrifice your anonymity to this mess …”
“But you need someone who can play the game and gut the investigation.”
“Yes. I’d suggest taking Rogers and Wilson, but Captain pretty well hates SHIELD and anyone that didn’t find Barnes after he fell off that train.”
“I never knew, Nick. I only knew him as James or Winter Soldier.”
“Don’t beat yourself up. Rogers sees the world in black and white. He doesn’t know the shades of black like we do.” Nick pulled her against his chest. “What’s our Hawk up to?”
“Tracking down Coulson, hiding Hill at SI and scattering our agents to keep people from finding them. I think you’ll find more than the few bases you asked him to set up. You should ask him for a tour.” She gave Nick a coy smile.
“Don’t worry. I’m borrowing some of Stark’s heavy hitters to take to the Senate.”
They walked into the kitchen as a frustrated Clint nearly yelled into the phone.
“How hard can it be to find the BUS? It’s a big ass airplane with a very distinct signature.”
He listened for a few minutes.
“I just know the man is up to his ass in alligators. Garrett and his Centipede psychos still running loose.”
Shocked at what he’d just heard, Nick didn’t hear Natasha leave the room. Clint hung up and gave Nick a wide smile and a kiss.
“Morning, Babe.” He headed for the coffee pot.
“What’s this about Garrett?”
Clint’s eyes turned stormy.
“When Tony took out AIM, HYDRA got a hold of some of the test subjects and Garrett, good little double agent that he is, gave them what research he could access. We had a run in last year. I gutted the bastard like a fish and when I looked inside the wound all I saw was a reservoir of Extremis. The sad part was I didn’t have time to go back and cut off his head.” Clint shook himself out of the memory. “A contact called to tell me Garrett’s running a game calling himself the Clairvoyant. He’s gunning for Coulson to find out how you resurrected him. The best part of all is you put Garrett’s ‘boy’ Ward on Phil’s team.”
“I need to find Rogers then we’ll go after Phil.”
Clint pushed him down in a chair.
“First you eat breakfast than everything else.”
“Bossy much, Hawk?”
“God, I missed hearing that name.” He cleared his throat. “When it counts.” He gave Nick a warm kiss before heading for the stove.
For the first time since he watched Loki’s scepter separate him from his Hawk, Nick felt hope spread through his chest. He had a plan and hope this man who bent like a willow but was stubborn as a Missouri mule would walk by his side to its culmination. His four antlered deer, Coulson, Stark, Rogers and Romanoff were scattered in the wind, and they each had their roles, but none as important as his Hawk.
Later, as he put aside the uniform of Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD, he felt a weight lift from his shoulders. For now, Nick Fury was dead, and Marcus Johnson intended to enjoy that freedom. There was a twinge of sadness as he pulled off the eye patch and slipped on his dark glasses. His maudlin thoughts were interrupted by a little birdie.
“I’m diggin’ the celebrity grunge look.” Twinkling eyes shifted from blue to green to … Nick lost track. “Hey, you could do the one dark lens thing like that dude from Airwolf.” Strong arms wrapped around him from the side.
“You cornered the market on leather clad bad boy, Barton … Didn’t leave me a lot of choices.”
“Rogers is headed for Arlington.”
“Then so should we.” Nick grabbed a quick grope and a kiss. He couldn’t wait to see what Clint had tucked away in the garage.
He threw back his head and laughed out loud. Instead of something nondescript, the passenger door stood open on a 1967 GTO convertible, a rich burgundy custom chromium paint job mirroring its surroundings.
“Your chariot awaits.” Clint grinned as he slid behind the wheel.
“No bullet proof glass or James Bond smoke screen?” Nick asked as he slid into the luxurious leather seat.
“It’s not all original. Tony and JARVIS helped me with the rebuild.
“God help us.” Nick settled back to enjoy the ride.
They leaned against the car watching the two bruised and batter men standing at the empty grave of James Buchanan Barnes. With a sigh Nick straightened.
“Got your back, Sir.”
“Never a doubt, Hawk.
So caught up in their conversation, Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson both startled when Nick spoke.
“Going to look for him?” Rogers frowned at the former Director. “You did the right thing … Exposing HYDRA inside SHIELD, but he’s probably already gone back to them.”
“I have to try. He was starting to remember.” He glared at Nick. “I don’t work for you anymore.”
“What about The Avengers?”
“I’ll assemble when called.” Rogers saw the shiny car in the distance but didn’t see Clint. “What about Hawkeye?”
“Hawk does as he sees fit.”
“What about …” Steve pointed at Nick’s eye. “Antlered deer and all that.”
“You did your part, Captain. You brought the darkness to the light. Good luck doing that for Barnes.” Nick looked at past Rogers to Sam Wilson. Wilson gave him a nod. “Take care. Wilson, careful letting Stark fix your wings.”
Before either man could respond, Fury was walking away. As they watched Clint dropped from the trees beside Fury.
“How’s he do that?” Sam asked.
“Grew up in the circus.” Steve answered absently.
“Seriously.” Sam looked disbelieving.
“Yeah.” He watched the two men climb into the convertible.
“Where will Fury go?”
“Anywhere he wants. Nick Fury’s dead.”
“God help whoever they go after.” Sam murmured.
Stepping inside the safe house, Clint hollered for the AI.
“JARVIS, how’s Nat doing?”
“Agent Romanoff’s testimony was postponed until morning. The committee felt it would need more than the time remaining today to question her.”
“Big mistake.” Clint muttered as he headed to the kitchen.
Nick continued to watch the news footage. When it looped around to the beginning he went in search of Clint. The archer was sliding a pan in the oven.
“This is “Nat’sreallypissedoffsupper.” He set the timer then checked the freezer for the Russian’s favorite vodka. “After a day like this she comes home, throws me around the gym, has her favorite dinner and high test vodka. Evens out her temper.”
Nick simply stared.
“You should write this down so the rest of us survive Black Widow’s temper.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Clint snickered.
It was past midnight when Natasha left both men bruised and limp as she climbed off Clint and headed to the shower.
She sailed out the door the next morning with a jaunty wave after thoroughly kissing Clint and Nick.
“Time to trap a few Senators in my web.” Her smile was all teeth as she slid into her sleek sports car.
When Nick turned back to Clint, the archer’s smile was sad.
“Time for us to move, too.” He shook himself like a wet dog and headed back in the house.
By the time Nick caught up with the fast moving Clint, the trunk of the GTO was loaded, and he was on the phone with whoever took care of the house when it wasn’t in use. Nick gathered the few things that were evidence of his existence and was waiting in the passenger seat by the time Clint finished his call.
Six hours later, they pulled up to a gate in the middle of nowhere Indiana. The sign said they were at Norn Acres Refuge. Nick gave Clint a sharp glance which he answered with a cheeky grin and shrug as he swiped his thumb across the biometric lock. He drove the GTO into a garage where an elevator took them underground to be met by a smiling Tony Stark and a subdued Bruce Banner.
“Anyone missing you?” Clint asked.
“Nope. My lovely and talented CEO has me touring our plants across the Midwest. I brought Bruce along to keep me entertained.” The genius waved his arms at the activity around them. “I admit when Legolas came up with this idea I thought he’d fallen on his head too many times, but it was just the challenge I needed to get out of my inventing rut.”
As Tony talked, Bruce was leading them to another part of the complex. They stepped out onto a catwalk into a cavernous room. Inside was a down sized Helicarrier. The deck could hold three of the two person Quinjets, be crewed by as few as two people with an AI based on JARVIS. Nick looked around and saw five trusted and multi-talented members of his crew from the destroyed Helicarrier. Tony turned to expound on his genius to see something he’d never seen … Nick Fury smile.
“JARVIS, tell me you have pictures.” Tony said in a stage whisper.
“Along with video, Sir.” The AI’s tone was droll.
“Is she ready?” Nick asked his pilot.
“Yes Sir.” A petite brunette stepped around Bruce. “The crew is fully trained on all the weapons and systems.”
“Weapons?” Nick’s eyes lit up.
“Let me give you the tour, Sir.”
“Thank you, Perkins. Lead on.”
Clint wrapped an arm around Tony’s neck.
“Thanks, Tin Man.”
“It was your idea. All we did was build it. SI’s got a lot of R & D in this thing we wouldn’t get any other way since you won’t come to work for me.”
“I do what I can.” Clint started to look guilty.
“Hey … None of that. I’m thankful you let me use you so shamelessly.” Stark jabbed at his friend.
The three men followed Fury and his pilot for a tour of the mini carrier.
In the deepest dark of that night a strange light appeared over Indiana before it disappeared.
Clint was about to shoot something in frustration. They kept missing Garrett by days, hours, and today … Minutes. He seemed to have an endless supply of Centipede soldiers he used as cannon fodder. The archer tried not to kill them, so Tony and Bruce would have an opportunity to fix them the way he’d been able to fix Pepper after she’d been injected. Some were so fanatical about HYDRA and Garrett they had no choice but to put them down.
When they’d finally found Phil, he was captive then suddenly he wasn’t. Before Clint could get to his former handler, a woman in the flowered dress was sweet talking him into lying back in the machine. He pulled the string and took aim, but before he could put an arrow through her eye, Fury grabbed his arm. The archer whirled on his lover with a silent snarl.
“Hold Hawk. Let him see. Not remembering has been eating away his attention. That can get him killed. I didn’t bring him back, so the distraction of his memory loss would get him killed again.
“No, you just put a traitor on his team.” Clint snarled. “Don’t ever do that again.”
Fury took a step back. He seldom saw this side of Clint. The archer was always careful to keep his dark side carefully controlled. Being Hawkeye and an Avenger helped, but the past two years living as Ronin had eroded the wall that separated the black from the grey in Clint’s mind.
Hawkeye closed his eyes and drew a cleansing breath reigning in the black cloud roiling through his brain.
“Sorry, Marc.” Clint used the name to let Nick know he was back under control. “You might want get ready to duck when he sees you.” He focused over Nick’s shoulder. “Here comes The Calvary and her duckling.”
“Let them handle Phil’s rescue.” Nick suggested.
“I’ll just watch their backs.” The archer slipped away.
Nick Fury stood quietly in support as his Hawk vibrated with anger. Clint climbed the store room shelving to gently lower the body of Eric Keonig from where Ward had stuffed his body after he killed him.
“I promised Billy.” He told Nick as they carefully wrapped the body for transport. The body stored in the hold of The Valkyrie, Clint looked at Nick with his winter eyes. “When we catch up with them I want Ward.” He growled low.
“That won’t be up to me.” Nick soothed.
“Then you make sure you keep your pet Director and his ducklings away long enough.”
“I can’t promise that.”
With another growl, Clint left the hold. Nick watched from the bridge as his Hawk perched on the flight deck. He wanted to offer comfort for the death his friend. The agents that had worked with Clint on the secreted bases stood staunchly beside the archer after Loki and the Chitauri. The loss of one of the Koenig twins was a hard blow for them both.
They trailed behind the BUS, but didn’t interfere with what was happening when Ward kidnapped Skye and commandeered the BUS or Coulson’s plans. If Hawkeye added a little extra backup now and again, Nick didn’t censor him for it. Hearing May wiped the floor with Garrett’s favored boy had him abusing JARVIS to get the footage.
Clint was gone with The Avengers when Phil followed the trail left by Ian Quinn to Cybertek. He found this to be an opportune time to cut his remaining ties with being THE Director. He and Clint had sacrificed enough. While the Eagle and his Hawk would continue to hunt down HYDRA and those who provided the money to spread their poison across the world.
He would help Coulson rebuild SHIELD, but from the shadows, and let the man who had always been his conscious guide SHIELD as it once was … As it was meant to be. With HYDRA running like roaches in the light it was time to cut off a few more heads.
With those thoughts running through his mind, he slipped into the building where Garrett had cached everything he’d stolen from the Sandbox. He grinned when he saw one his favorite weapons Strike Team Delta had liberated from an inventor that had been happy to go to work for SHIELD given her other alternatives.
Grabbing the weapon, he blessed his Hawk for keeping him in shape slipping through the narrow spaces of the Helicarrier and Triskelion.
Coulson didn’t punch him when he came up behind Coulson taking cover from Garrett and his Centipede soldiers.
“You’re dead.” Phil stated.
“I lied.” Nick grinned.
“No surprise there.” His tone was dry as the desert. “We finish taking out the trash, you and I need to talk.”
“Fine, but I don’t have much time.” Nick said.
“You sneak out of the house?”
“Something like that.”
“Then I guess we need to wrap this up before you turn into a pumpkin.”
With Garrett taken care of, and the inventory of the contents of the Sandbox accounted for, Phil closed and locked the door to the office he appropriated. Nick sat in the shadows. He tossed a black square to his oldest friend.
“That is everything … Passwords … Codes … Locations … Everything that’s left of SHIELD. Where Clint and Tony hid our people … Most of them are in sight and within reach. Congratulations, Director Coulson.”
“But … Where will you be?”
“Around.” Nick pulled down his dark glasses showing Phil his charmed eye.
“Be careful … Marc.” Phil grinned at his old friend.
Fascinated by the information in the cube, Phil didn’t see Nick slipped away until he looked up to asked a question.
Nick’s heart jumped in his chest when Galina announced Clint’s jet was landing. Both men had sacrificed everything including their names. They took their comfort in each other and their friends. As The Valkyrie’s mirrors turned and the ship disappeared so did Nick Fury and Clint Barton, and only the Eagle and the Hawk remained.
~ Fini ~