The kid looks like Steve, if Steve was scrawny and awkward and was prone to babbling. He’s got a worse case of motor mouth then Tony does. He wonders if he actually listens to himself, or if he talks purely because there’s no filter. Tony considers asking because he’s that bored himself but the black guy – they called him Puppy or Pooch or Fido or something – catches his eye and gives a short shake of his head.
If he’s that honest, the kid intrigues him for more then his looks, which really are not that bad. He’s like Steve if Steve ever had a rebel punk faze. Tony wonders absently if Steve ever did have a rebel punk faze, or whatever the 1930s equivalent would be but then realizes there’s nobody to ask (since asking Steve directly would likely get him an eye roll and avoidance) and lets the thought go. He focused back on the kid. An obvious tech genius, he had just jury-rigged a signal jammer from two blown radios and was currently clacking away at Tony’s laptop to try and get a read on the guys who were trying to kill them. Weirdest of all (Tony no longer saw ‘chance encounters with rogue black ops’ especially weird) was he was clearly unfazed by Tony’s presence. He knew who Tony was, but if anything he seemed more irked by the entire ordeal. There had been a momentary glow when Tony had passed over his computer to help him out, something had happened to his in the chaos, but that was it. His eyes remained fixed on the screen. The other members of the team were arranged by the entrance to the cave. Three of them and two other Avengers besides Tony. Barton and his friend, Cougar, were practically flirting over Cougar’s gun and Steve was trying to out grimace their own leader.
The one time they would get attacked on these stupid publicity trips would be the one time they entirely unprepared for it. Tony hadn’t even managed to get his suit entirely on when their helicopter was blown out of the sky and he had to rely on the repulsor pads in his feet alone to keep from crashing. Hawkeye clinging to his back hadn’t helped matters but they’d all gotten down in one piece.
At first they had assumed the other team had been the ones who attacked them but they very obviously didn’t have the ordinances on them to take down a helicopter with one shot and then Hawkeye had recognized an old friend among them. Now they were all trapped in a cave while the real enemies shot at them. Their CO seemed suspicious of them, or the circumstances or something but he gave the Avengers a quick rundown of why they were in the neighborhood, apparently there were rumors of a special terrorist cell being gathered there by some guy named Max. And the team really liked to fuck with Max.
There were certainly way worse rogue black ops teams to run into.
“Ha! Got them!” The kid – he had been introduced with a name and everything but Tony couldn’t see him as anything else but kid – jumped up, almost knocking over his Macguyvered station. Tony leaned in closer to see what he had done. Silently he admitted he was impressed.
“You hacked a satellite.” From Tony’s throw away laptop that he’d brought more to play solitaire then anything else.
“No. You have access to satellites. Nice machine by the way. I simply took advantage of the resources available to me.”
“The last time you said that you had stolen my girl’s bike,” Pooch grumbled over his breath.
“Basic life lesson, always remove the front wheel,” the kid said, pointing in the other man’s general direction. Pooch rolled his eyes.
“What have you got Jensen?” Their CO snapped with a world weary patience that screamed he was as used to the kid as Steve was to Tony.
“Coordinates,” he said smugly. Clay came over from the cave mouth with Steve a step behind. Clay leaned over to see for himself.
“Any idea on how to get to them?” Clay asked the room at large.
“I thought we could just slingshot Cougar over and he could go all badass on them and we’d be home in time for the game.” None of his team even bothered to acknowledge him, though the one he mentioned Cougar, shot him a look. It was short and impossible to read but Tony didn’t miss how the kid very pointedly did not look back.
“They haven’t used their RPG again since taking us down,” Steve says, entirely matter of fact. “They might not have another shot.”
“Which would leave them only with small arms,” Clay added. “Aisha?”
“Hm?” The only female with them looked over from where she had perched herself, flipping a knife absently in her hand. She wasn’t even looking. Tony decided she and Natasha would be besties if they ever met. He hoped they didn’t.
“How good are you at climbing?” She smirked and tucked the knife back into her boot. “Cougar, get up high and provide cover.”
“I can go up too,” Clint offered. He had managed to get his bow and arrows strapped to his back before he glued himself to Tony which gave him some advantage over Tony who was generally fairly limited in what he could do to help right then besides be a shiny target. Clay looks skeptical of Clint but Cougar gives him a small nod so Clay nods back.
“Um. One thing guys. With this tech, I can’t limit the jammer. We’ll be out of the loop,” the kid spoke up again.
Tony grins, this is something he can do. “Give me that back.” He gestures for the computer until it’s firmly back in his grasp. Their comms were all built into various pieces of the uniform, pieces which they were all missing. “Connect your jammer to this.” He wound out a cable for a headphone jack which the kid quickly grasped. He came around to lean very close over Tony’s shoulder. Clearly, personal space was not an issue here.
“You’ve got something on there that can interface with the radios? These things are pretty crappy. It was really just luck they hit all the right frequencies.”
“And what’s yours?” Tony threw back casually, mostly focused on the algorithms on the screen.
“My frequency? I really don’t think this is the time for that.”
Tony smirked. He liked this kid. “No time like the present.”
“Now as much as I like attention I don’t think I’m supposed to be doing anything inappropriate in front of my CO.” He gave a dramatic shudder. “Here,” he reached over Tony to input the codes himself. Tony set the program to work. “If you want to just talk to me you’ll have to ask later. I’d recommend it, I am the most fun.”
“There, try your radios.”
The kid took a step back from him and Tony looked up to see Steve giving him his best ‘I am disappointed in you’ face. Tony rolled his eyes, a little bit of fun corrupting the next generation never hurt anyone. The kid was back a second later, flashing a thumbs up at his CO. “We’re shiny, fucking awesome boss.”
“You guys got extras?” Clint asked. All eyes swung to Jensen who fished extra earbuds out of his pocket. He tossed one to Hawkeye and the other to Steve. He offered another to Tony.
“Don’t lose it,” he grumbled. “We don’t exactly have government funding anymore.” Something was definitely rubbing him the wrong way and it seemed to have to do with Clint.
“Alright. Get rid of them.” Clay ordered. The three slipped out of the cave, each in their own way. Pooch went up to the cave mouth to keep an eye on their six and Clay and Steve joined him a second later leaving just Tony and the kid – Jake, since they were flirting now – in the back with the gear.
“So,” Jake started, kicking his legs up on a convenient rock, fidgeting with something around his neck. Not dog tags, none of them were wearing dog tags. “Our snipers seem to be buddy-buddy. Though I have never seen Cougar use a bow and arrow. It would be very Indian – Native American Indian – of him. He could even get a loincloth and go for the whole schbang. Like in that Mel Gibson movie, the shit one about the Mayans. He’d have to ditch the hat though, and that isn’t going to happen.”
“Is it going to be able to stay on while he’s up a tree?”
“Are you kidding? The thing is like…clued to his head. I’ve seen him roll and come up with it still on.”
“Hey, J,” Pooch called from where he was seated. “Shut up would you?”
“You would miss my dulcet tones,” Jensen smirked.
“I will cut your tongue out.”
“Both of you shut it,” Clay snapped. “You in position Cougar?”
“Hawkeye?” Steve asked next.
“Yea, I’m good, let’s go.”
“Alright, Aisha. Gut em.”
The rest of the action took place silently, they had no idea what was going on. Jensen could only handle silence for so long and kept on lapsing into random chatter. Pooch gave up telling him to be quiet for throwing pebbles at him which Jensen would throw back until Clay would glare at them both and point his gun wordlessly at one of them until it stopped. Tony kept himself busy by fidgeting with the gear he’d managed to get out, trying to make it useful for doing more then awkwardly flying.
“I think all those crazy women have rubbed off on him,” Jensen staged whispered at one point.
“It was bound to happen, man.”
“Hey,” Jensen’s attention suddenly swung back to Tony. “How are you guys getting home? Your ride was kind of totaled.”
“Transponder in the helicopter will have gone off as soon as it crashed. It’s made of adamantium so it’s incredibly durable. Also,” he had one of his arm guards with him, not the glove part unfortunately, but what he had he tossed to Jensen. “Don’t break it. But that’s got a satellite uplink. Can’t communicate but it sends out constant GPS coordinates.”
Jensen whistled between his teeth, turning the piece of gear around in his hands almost reverently. “This is incredible. Never expected your armor to be so light.”
The radio finally crackled to life. “All clear,” Aisha said.
“No. They can’t be who we’re looking for, their training was terrible.”
“Not what I meant but noted. Get back here.”
Tony was deep into the explanation of how his armor worked with Jensen. The kid was definitely wasted in the military. Stark Industries would be set – even more set – with someone like him in R&D. Jensen was in the middle of a question when a hat suddenly dropped onto his head and he jumped practically a mile into the air. Cougar looked almost insulted but didn’t say anything. The three had just returned, Aisha with an RPG.
“We headed out?” Jensen asked. Cougar shrugged, and moved into the background as the team leaders came forward. Clint stood beside him, nudging him in the ribs and whispering to him and Jensen’s face immediately fell.
“It’s starting to sound like our intel might be a bust,” Clay said. “Jensen-“
“I did a total background check on everything and its mom and it looked legit, I swear!”
“I was going to say pull up a map.”
“Oh, right. Map. Useful things those,” a few clicks and the screen flipped back to a satellite image of the area. “This is the cave that our dear friends just hit, and this is us. There is where the supposed base of ops is.”
“This site could have just been a perimeter sentry. If it is funded by Max…” Pooch faded into a shrug.
“Yea, yea, better organized then other camps and probably sporting some heavy duty weaponry.”
“Makes you miss the days when you could call in a firebombing,” Jensen sighed. Pooch punched him in the shoulder. “Ow what was that for!?”
“The last time didn’t end so well.”
Jensen looked properly chastised and pulled the hat low over his eyes, letting everyone else talk around him. For a little bit anyway. Suddenly the hat was flicked backwards and he had his arms crossed over his chest. “Hey, boss.”
“I was talking,” Aisha snapped.
“Don’t care. We should delay the op.”
“Any particular reason?”
“Well for starters, we obviously don’t know what the fuck we’re walking into and even when we do know we usually get fucked. Second, what’ll our new – or in some cases old,” he jerked his thumb back towards Cougar and Clint, “friends do without our protection? At least until their ride shows up and helping some good, famous, American superheroes can only be good for us. I mean, smeared names and such make getting credit a bitch.”
Clay stayed focused on Jensen for a bit before looking at Steve. “Your call. Jensen’s got a point, and we’ve already set up nicely right here.”
Steve looked to Tony and Clint for any opposition and when he got none he faced Clay again. “That’s fine with me.”
Clay nodded sharply. “Alright, who wants to go in without killing people to check things out?”
“I vote Cougar and Pooch. Aisha kills people,” Jensen immediately said. “And I always get yelled at for being too loud for recon work.” He smiled sweetly at his teammates.
“You are too fucking loud for recon,” Pooch grinned as he stood. “Cougs?” Cougar pushed off from the wall, still silent. Tony was finding that really unnerving. Not even Natasha was that quiet all the time. The man started to pluck his hat from Jensen’s head but the tech grabbed it before he could.
“You gotta come back for it, yea?” Cougar looked uncomfortable so Jensen sighed and relented, he mumbled something under his breath that made Cougar squeeze his shoulder tightly and then he was out after Pooch. They no longer needed to watch the entrance so intently so, with the exception of Aisha, who seemed to prefer being alone, they all gathered by Jensen’s station.
“So how do you and Cougar know each other?” Clay asked almost as soon as Clint sat down, bow across his knees. Clay didn’t say anything but there was a definite smirk on his lips as he fished out a cigarette.
“Rangers. We served together for a year before our unit got dissolved.”
“Was he as quiet then?” Jensen asked.
“Nah, almost, but not quite. He’s got it to an art form now. He had the hat back then too but our commander wouldn’t let him wear it.”
“Not wear the hat! But it’s not Cougar without the hat,” Jensen said, conveniently forgetting that he had already tried to steal it.
Tony had his computer back and was trying to get a read on when their rescue would get there. It wasn’t going very well but he was reasonably certain that the transponder had worked correctly.
“Why were you written off as dead?” Steve asked quietly during a lull between Clint and Jensen discussing Cougar. Clay pursed his lips around his cigarette, staring up at the cave roof and Jensen somehow hunched into himself.
“We were used and framed,” Clay finally said as he drew the cigarette out, twisting it thoughtfully between his fingers. “And now we make that bastard’s life as hard as possible.”
“Hey, Boss?” The break had given Jensen a chance to focus on the equipment again. “Something’s wrong. I can feel it. They haven’t checked in in too long.”
Clay straightened. “What?”
“Hey, Tony,” Jensen had already switched his attention back to Tony. “Check the jammer again, would you?”
“It hasn’t changed.” Tony flipped around the screen so Jensen could see.
Jensen played with his own radio. “Jensen!” Clay barked.
“The one time he would go silent,” Aisha remarked, appearing silently behind them and making almost all of them jump. Steve seemed unperturbed.
“I’m trying to hear something!” Jensen snapped back. “Cougar, Pooch? You guys reading me?” There was a long pause.
“Sorry,” Pooch’s voice finally came through. “Hiding. Shut up, would you?”
“What do you mean hiding, Pooch?” Clay glared at Jensen to keep him from talking over him. “What have you got?”
“Trap,” Cougar said succinctly.
“What part of. Shut. Up. Are none of you getting?” Pooch hissed. Jensen suddenly stood and kicked at a rock.
“Fuck,” he breathed and kicked at another rock.
“Stop wasting your energy,” Aisha snapped. Jensen stuck his tongue out at her but at least stopped kicking things. He did revert to pacing. There wasn’t much room in the cave so it was two steps, back and forth, bent over so he didn’t hit his head.
“You being written off as dead connected to Cougar turning into the poster boy of the strong and silent type?” Clint asked, looking stretched out but Tony could see the same tension and worry in him for his friend.
“Kids died,” Jensen said. “Kids when it should have been us. Fucks with a guy’s head. I think him getting a chance to speak to them in Spanish didn’t help either. We’re not exactly the best conversationalists in Spanish. Arabic is generally the language of choice. Though my French isn’t bad.”
“Your French is shit,” Clay threw in, smiling slightly around his cigarette.
“Better then your Spanish.” He paused to clear his throat. “Day nah-da,” he said, making his voice gruff in what was supposed to be an imitation of Clay.
“You sound like a constipated sheep.”
Jensen laughed. “No one has ever called me a sheep before.” He suddenly turned on Clint, looking at him from under his glasses. “I’ve heard about you, how come you didn’t get sent to us?”
Clint shrugged. “Dunno. Guess SHIELD thought I was too pretty to be wasted in black ops.”
Jensen looked at him a beat longer and then flopped back down into a crouch. “So I heard-“
“No J,” Clay interrupted.
“Not the time.”
“You know this all controlling attitude you have is really not healthy. You’re going to give yourself an ulcer if you don’t relax. Have you considered maybe getting a massage the next time we swing into the States? I can see-“ Clay flicked his cigarette butt at him, momentarily cutting off his train of thought.
“It’s true,” Tony grinned. “A good massage does wonders. A great massage is heaven.” He leered at Steve’s disgusted look. It was too easy sometimes.
“There have been references to massage as a healing technique back to ancient times all over the world.” Jensen kept on his tirade to get his boss to relax, though he positioned himself further away as he continued talking. Apparently the kid had some survival instinct. It was enough to keep them all distracted for the little while longer that they had to wait.
They came stumbling back, Pooch being half carried by Cougar. “Sprained my ankle, sir.” He grimaced as Cougar helped him sit down on a convenient rock. Steve was there first, helping him out of the boot. Pooch looked uncomfortable with Captain America helping him but Steve easily ignored his fumbling hands.
“Let me,” he said firmly.
“Help Cougar,” Pooch insisted and all eyes immediately swung to the sniper. Jensen was up first, trying to push him down. Cougar shifted his weight away before Jensen could grab him.
“Cougar,” Clay growled. Cougar kept his eyes fixed on Jensen but carefully pulled up on his shirt. He had been grazed by a bullet, the dark fabric of the shirt had hidden the blood before, but on his bare skin it showed up bright red. “Jensen. Take care of it. One of you assholes, talk to me. Now.” Tony tried to picture Steve ordering them all around like that. And then he tried to picture the rest of them jumping to obey. The image stopped short at he himself obeying anything anyone ordered him to do-- short of possibly Pepper but the woman was terrifying-- and had to bite his lip to keep from laughing out loud. Bad timing.
Clint had found the medkit and together with Jensen got Cougar down and relatively dealt with. A piece of fabric was between his teeth as Clint started to stitch. Some conversation there had led to the Avenger’s sniper being the medic while Jensen held Cougar against him. There wasn’t exactly a good place for the man to lie on his side for this to be easy. Jensen also held a light up to help Clint work.
“Whatever this was, it wasn’t what the intel said – no offense Jensen,” Pooch said. “There was definitely a camp there but it wasn’t a terrorist cell. They had cameras in the trees. Who knows how far away they saw us coming? Only the dense forest either of us from being shot. Er, shot any worse,” he quickly added with a pained look at Cougar.
“Another set up,” Aisha said.
“Not in the mood for riddles Aisha,” Clay sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. His first cigarette had burned out and he quickly drew another one.
“This Max character wanted us to blame you for the copter being taken down,” Steve said, looking for Aisha for confirmation. “We blame you, disable or…do worse to your team. Problem solved, he didn’t have to do anything.”
“Except shoot down my helicopter,” Tony grumbled. “He didn’t count on Cougar and Hawkeye having a past. Shouldn’t he have super complete records on you guys?”
“But Hawkeye was a last minute addition. It was supposed to be Bruce,” Steve said.
“So now what?” Pooch asked, testing his bound ankle and nodding approvingly. “Which camp we going to sir?”
Clay looked back and forth between his team. Clint was just finishing up with Cougar, who didn’t seem to be in a particular rush to sit up. For that matter, Jensen didn’t look eager to let him go either. For two special ops guys, Tony thought they would be able to be more subtle, but then maybe their current fake dead stint let them loosen up. Dead guys didn’t have to adhere to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. “We head to base,” he finally sighed. Aisha looked ready to spit nails but he gave her a flat look. “My sniper can’t climb and my exfiltration can’t bend his ankle. Go have a field day by yourself if you want. But we need to regroup before running into this.” She pursed her lips but didn’t argue further, just went back to the cave mouth to mope.
“Hey, Tony,” Clint spoke up. “Any word on our ride?”
“Nah, not yet. Everything seems to be working right so it’s just a matter of time at this point.”
“How big do you think it’ll be?”
“What are you thinking Hawkeye?” Steve finally interrupted. He didn’t have the same patience for the archer as Coulson did; Coulson who sometimes let Hawkeye play out his ideas without getting approval first. Tony could see Steve practically twitching at the thought of letting Hawkeye run amok without consent.
“I can step in for Cougar. You’re all special ops right? Tony handles comms from here, Jensen, you, Clay and Aisha go in on the ground.” Clay was giving him a considering look, obviously taking the idea seriously. Aisha was watching them now, definitely interested.
“Yea sure, I’ll sit here, feeling completely useless and pointless,” Tony grumbled, not even bothering to hide his annoyance at being so casually volunteered for a job a monkey could do. Just because he didn’t have his full suit.
“10 to 1 says Jensen’s a better shot then you,” Clint pointed out. “And if we bring you back injured, Pepper will have a fit.”
“Pepper is not….alright fine she’s my keeper. But she has learned to accept the fallout of my life choices,” Tony sniffed.
“Pooch, or Cougs, think you can point out where those cameras were?” He waved his hand around for the laptop and Tony had to get up to give it to him. Cougar took it from him before Jensen got his hands on it, zeroing in on the map they had and pointing out at least two locations. “And there’s probably more,” Jensen said, interpreting Cougar’s shrug out loud.
“We stay low and quiet,” Clay said. “You as good with a rifle as a bow?”
Clint smirked and deftly brought it up to eye level, checking over the gun with ease that said more then Clint could. Cougar had an eye on him too, and when Clay looked at him he gave a slight nod.
“Do you have another weapon?” Steve asked. “I’m not letting one of my team join you without being there myself. I’ll defer to you, don’t worry,” he added with a slight smile.
Clay grinned and picked up one of his weapons. The man was definitely well-armed. They all had M16s, except for Cougar and Aisha, and sidearms, Berettas if Tony was correct, which he of course was. Clay also had an M4 which was what he held it out for Steve. “It’s modern, know how to use it?”
“I know how.”
“You better be willing to use it. This isn’t the Avengers. We fight real people who will kill us if we don’t kill them first.”
“I’m still a soldier.” Steve took the gun and swung it over his shoulder.
“Clay getting to order around Captain America? My old friends would go nuts,” Jensen mumbled. He had stood as well and was checking his guns. It was a strange shift, he looked much more like Steve except for the glasses and the spiked hair. “But then they were all kind of douchebags so maybe it’s better they never find out that I am indescribably more awesome then any of them.”
“So modest,” Pooch teased.
“How you feeling over there Pooch? You really like that legless thing, don’t you?”
“I will shoot you, man.”
“Shoot him later,” Clay interrupted. “Everyone set? Yea? Good, let’s go. Aisha, you’re on point. Jensen, take our six.” She saluted him with her gun and disappeared out of the cave.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” Tony told both his teammates.
Before they left, Cougar stood and grabbed Clint’s arm, leaning in to say something to him. As the rest filed out of the cave, Pooch limped after to set himself up as sentry while they waited.
“Good luck,” Pooch called after them. Jensen gave a wave before disappearing as well, the last one to go. Cougar drew his hat low over his eyes but even Tony could see the tension in him. “You’re going to have to ignore Cougar, case you didn’t figure, he’s not much for casual conversation.”
“Yea, I heard.” Tony poked at the wires inside his arm brace. There should be a way to convert the GPS into a radio or something. It would be nice to have some confirmation that the rescue was indeed on its way. “No worries, I can actually be good at entertaining myself.”
Pooch laughed. “I know, I read the news.”
“Hey, I haven’t done anything news worthy in like…two weeks.”
“More like a week and a half. Some pregnancy thing.”
“For left for dead black ops, you’re up to date.”
“Jensen’s fault. Kid is addicted to the internet. Finds a hookup wherever he can.”
“And reads gossip?”
“When he’s not keeping track of his niece’s soccer team. We’ve got lives in the states.” Pooch shifted uncomfortably. “So how much of the shit we read is true?”
Tony grinned without looking up. “Probably most of it.”
“Including that time with the oranges in the park?”
“Oh that. Hell yea. That was a good time. If you ever find a girl that crazy, go for it. Whatever she wants.”
Pooch laughed. “No way, I got my girl. I look at someone else, she’ll know.”
Pooch was easy to talk to, and it helped to kill some time, though there was the lingering knowledge that their teammates were out there walking into a generally unknown situation. Aisha had taken the stolen RPG with her but that was the largest weapon they had with them. Steve didn’t even have his shield with him.
“So, is it weird? Working and fighting besides gods and super soldiers and shit?” He asked after a long pause. Only Cougar seemed unbothered by it. Tony had started mumbling to himself without realizing it as he worked on the wiring. Occasionally they heard something from their teammates, usually Clay directing one of the rest of the team. Steve seemed to be keeping to his word, and not doing anything to usurp Clay.
“At first, then got used to it. Well,” he paused. The back of the cave was starting to get too dark for him to work. He considered the best way to try to move everything so he could keep an eye the computer and radio and everything else. Suddenly his whole world was lit up and he looked up to see Cougar was standing over him with a flashlight. “Thanks.” Cougar shrugged and sat down, leaving the flashlight by Tony and drawing his hat over his eyes again. “Um, what’d you ask?”
“Gods. Is he really a god?”
“Thor? Um Alien-god….thing? He’s too ridiculous to take seriously, dunno know why people are scared of him.”
It was hours later that they finally came back. In that time Tony had managed to finally get his hodgepodge radio connection to work, reattaching it to the rest of the suit so it could be powered by the arc reactor. Cougar and Pooch had also switched positions so Cougar was the sentry, using Pooch’s gun. Jensen came bounding in first, Clint close behind. Cougar was on his feet immediately. “We are awesome,” Jensen announced to them all. “And I’m fine, thank you for asking. Your friend is crazy.” Cougar looked at Clint.
“I was just watching his back.”
“Bam! I have never seen anyone stabbed with an arrow, yea sure in the movies but never- and hey, don’t look at me like that.”
“What’s the word, boss?” Pooch asked over Jensen.
“We’re done,” Clay said simply. “The site’s been cleared. We can get out of this place.”
“You have an exit?” Tony asked.
“Probably lots of walking. We get great cardio with this job,” Jensen said. “But shit medical. Never go rogue, I will never be able to go to a real dentist ever again.”
“Pity, maybe he’d sew your mouth shut for us,” Pooch shot back.
“To answer your question Mr. Stark,” Clay said. “We find the closest city and go from there. It’s safer to take the long route for us.”
“What if I had a more direct option? Drop you off wherever you want, but with Pooch here injured…”
Clay looked suspicious but Steve stepped with a nod. “It’s the least we can do.”
“For what? We’re probably the reason you got shot down in the first place,” Jensen said, earning a sharp elbow from Cougar which he barely sidestepped.
“He feels guilty about you getting screwed over by the American government.”
“Tell me about Max and I’ll do what I can,” Steve held out his hand to Clay. “I swear, we have nothing to do with him. SHIELD is independent of other government organizations. Our country could probably use you back on its side again.”
“He’s obviously got a way of keeping tabs on you, he’d knew you’d be here when we would.”
Steve’s face grew shadowed and Tony recognized that look. Steve would rain destruction down on SHIELD’s hierarchy until the rat was found out. “He won’t have access to that information for much longer.”
Jensen groaned softly and whispered something about ridiculous patriots. Cougar elbowed him again but with less force. Clay was hesitant but shook the hand. “Take us to Mexico City.” Tony could see the logic, outside the United States so no connection to any of their families except maybe Cougar if he had one, millions of people so they could disappear.
Clay gave him a quirky half-smile and after a quick shake, went for his cigarette pack again. “So when does this ride get here?”
“I think in the hour. I’ve been trying to call them up but it’s a bit hit or miss,” Tony waved his arm so they could see the jury-rigged wires. Jensen came over and after asking for permission, started poking around himself. Around them people were settling them in to wait. Tony tuned them out, focusing on Jensen. He made a mental note to work a radio into another piece of his armor, outside the helmet, as soon as they were home. They attached the piece to the computer and used that to manipulate the frequency until something finally gave them some sound of life. The jury-rigged tech would have no way of getting to the Avengers’ secure frequencies so they just had to hope they were monitoring other channels or showed up on their own.
“This is Iron Man, is someone monitoring this channel?”
There was a long pause. ”Stark? What are you doing on this channel?”
“Coulson!” Tony cheered. “I didn’t know you cared so much.”
“I don’t, what is your situation?”
Steve came across the cave to take over the conversation. “Coulson? This is Rogers, the three of us are fine though the pilot didn’t make it. We’re bringing some company with us who need to be taken to Mexico City.”
There was a long pause and Tony could just picture Coulson’s long suffering sigh, but he was all business when he came back on. “Is it safe to approach?”
“It is. Do you have a lock on our coordinates?”
“Yes. The transponder worked correctly. There seems to be a clearing half a click to the south, head there for pick up. ETA 15 minutes. This line isn’t secure, stay off it.” And that was it. The first few minutes were full of trying to gather equipment into an orderly mess that could be carried. Jensen slipped the laptop into his backpack in place of his own broken one with a promise that Tony would get it back. Tony didn’t really mind, there wasn’t anything too valuable on that machine and he had plenty others. With their minimal equipment packed up, they left the cave behind them with Clay and Steve in the lead. Tony found himself helping Jensen to support Pooch towards the back of the line. Only Clint and Cougar were behind them.
Once they were out of the cave, Tony realized the area was flatter then he thought; they must have just ended up crashing at the start of the mountains. It was still dense forest though so walking three abreast occasionally was impossible.
“You’re being quiet man, stop it.”
“You have got to make up your mind if you want me chatty or quiet. I can’t handle these emotional shifts of yours Pooch.”
“Ain’t my fault you’re crazy.”
“I’m not crazy. I just don’t live in your dimension, silly human. You know, I never did understand aliens’ obsession with anal probing. What the fuck is up there that they could want so badly to know about? Or are all aliens secretly gay?”
“Then you would fit right in.”
A stick smacked Pooch in the back of his head and he almost took them all down twisting to see who threw it. Both snipers looked back innocently. “Why’d you stop?” Clint asked. “Keep on walking, Coulson doesn’t like waiting.” He shooed them on and Jensen half dragged Pooch the next few steps until he started walking more under his own power again.
They arrived at the clearing with about a little less then a minute to spare. According to Tony’s watch, Coulson arrived at exactly fifteen minutes. He was sure that not even Pepper could be as consistently punctual as Coulson was. It was a little creepy but as the plane set down, he decided it really didn’t matter.
Coulson was waiting just inside when they came aboard, listened to introductions then disappeared back into the cockpit. Tony flopped into the first seat he could find, enjoying the familiar scent of pressurized and conditioned air. Steve went to confirm their destination as Mexico City while the rest of them got settled. With that done, he sat beside Clay to discuss this Max character. Tony let his eyes dip closed, it wasn’t a bad mission by any means. No one was seriously hurt, he personally had only been shot at once and they’d been rescued in less then 3 months. The only downside was that he’d been stuck in a cave and he had a very low opinion of caves.
He heard someone sitting next to him and judging by the tapping of fingers it was probably the kid so he opened his eyes again. “Yea?”
“So, uh, I was wondering.” He was blushing and awkward as if he was experiencing some kind of delayed hero worship. “Do you have extra armor on this thing? I’ve always wondered what the display inside of the helmet is like.” Tony knows there’s probably some rule or regulation about letting someone else put on the helmet, even someone who was military trained and supposedly dead. Coulson and Fury would probably give him talking-tos, probably reprimand him.
“Let’s see, come on.” He led Jensen to the back of the plane.
“You know you’re nicer then the news makes you out to be,” Jensen said. “I always assumed meeting you would kind of be like meeting I don’t know, my dad or something, a quick hello and good bye, kiss my ass while I walk away, thank you very much.”
“Sounds like we had the same dad.”
“Maybe they took courses together. You’ve gotta be taught to be an asshole like that.”
Tony finally came up empty handed. Coulson had apparently decided they would not be running into trouble and god help the trouble if it found them. “Sorry.”
“Hopefully you find your mole so we can stop in and say hi. Oh come on, you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think we’re not showing up in New York.”
“Sir yessir!” Jensen turned to face Clay and saluted sloppily. “You are the worst cock block ever.” Clay didn’t even look fazed by the insult though Cougar was now looking at them – no Tony – with jealousy. Tony had been faced with that look enough to recognize it on anyone.
“You’ve got that drive?”
“You mean…the drive with all our relevant intel on it that I carry around my neck like it’s a token from a queen? Of course I have it.” They went back together to the main part of the cabin. Aisha had joined Clay and Steve to add in her information and Pooch had somehow convinced Coulson to let him sit in the co-pilot’s seat.
“Tony, I want you to copy it, somewhere secure,” Steve said.
“It’s so cute when you order me to do computer things. I guess I’ll need the laptop back from you.” Jensen pouted but reluctantly fished it from his pack and passed it over. “So you want me to keep on an isolated drive so this weird Max creep doesn’t know we’re onto him now too.”
He and Jensen settled down with the computer and his flash drive. The data was encrypted and programming the encryption software onto Tony’s machine kept them both busy for hours. At some point after they finished, Tony dozed off, hours of sitting and doing nothing always got to him. He woke up again when they got to Mexico. Coulson had somehow gotten them permission to land and there their strange black ops team disappeared.
“Think we’ll see them again?” Tony asked, stretching back out to get another nap before they reached New York.
“Yes. Whoever this Max is…we’re going to help bring him down and bring them home,” Steve said firmly, his mind already made up. It was disgustingly noble and totally Steve and secretly Tony really hoped he would be right. “Can you imagine that? Not being able to go home?”
Tony smiled wryly. “I don’t have to imagine.”
“Don’t apologize. Just shut up and let me sleep.”