“We have a problem.”
When Clint jumped off his perch to follow up on Natasha’s oddly-monotonous proclamation and navigated his way out of the crumbling building (it’s Tuesday so of course they’re fighting off another alien invasion; this whole saving the world shebang had gotten predictable pretty quick), he expected ‘problem’ to be something vaguely related to the giant tentacles that were trying to rip a wormhole through New York’s bright spring sky. Like, maybe the tentacles were the genital extension of something so huge it made huge un-huge and the hole in the sky was nothing more than its attempt to copulate the Earth into submission. Or something. In retrospect, the first option would’ve been better because apparently, ‘or something’ came with a familiar face. Disturbingly so.
“Who forgot to tell Tony it’s still illegal to clone people?” Clint said, brushing concrete dust off his uniform. Something exploded somewhere in the city, followed by a surge of lightnings and he grimaced when unearthly wailing echoed above their heads. Trust the Destructive Duo (aka Thor and the Hulk) to wreck more havoc than the invasion itself. Coulson would have a field day bitching about this during debrief. Clint squinted at his clone and received an unamused glare in return. It was so unamused, it was almost accusatory. “I think my clone’s plotting my death.”
“He’s not a clone.” Natasha, who was serenely pointing her guns at Clint’s clone (okay, not!clone), shrugged when he looked at her. “I asked. Besides, do you think Stark cares if cloning’s illegal? If he could do it, he would have.”
“Lady got a point there. I’ve been dying for a threesome with me, myself and I. Can you imagine how awesome that would be?” Iron Man landed between them in a circle of light and dust, red-gold metal covered in pink goo and light scratches. His faceplate slid up smoothly to reveal Tony’s frown. “So. Why are we having The 6th Day moment here?”
“I’m totally better looking than Schwarzenegger,” Clint pointed out because his feeling was a bit hurt at the comparison.
Tony grinned wide and toothy and suspiciously predatory. “Of course you are, Katniss.”
Natasha ignored them. She turned to Clint’s not!clone and her painted lips curled into a soothing smile, although the effect was kind of lost when she snapped her wrist and shot a tentacle that strayed a bit too close. Not!Clone flinched and Natasha’s smile cut deeper into her cheeks. “Who do you work for?”
“Government,” came the reply. Even his voice was similar to Clint’s, only a hint mellower and Tony made a quiet noise at the back of his throat that earned him a sharp, knowing glance from Natasha. Clint pretended not to see that particular exchange. Not!Clone uncurled slightly from his defensive stance and offered them empty hands, something like I come in peace, earthlings or don’t shoot me, crazy lady. Clint couldn’t really blame him; Natasha had that effect on people. “William Brandt, Chief Analyst.”
Tony murmured the name to JARVIS, running background checks through possibly criminal means and Clint mostly thought that the whole situation was pretty hilarious. There were still explosions going off in several parts of the city, giant tentacles slithering over buildings and roads and practically everywhere, Thor complaining about goo in his hair and the Hulk roaring in abandon as he wrestled things that looked like furry squids. And then there was Not!Clone - sorry, William Brandt, Chief Analyst - who looked like Clint’s reflection had gone and pulled himself out of the mirror to say ‘hi’. Clint stared at Brandt and idly wondered what Barney would say about this whole thing.
“He checks out,” Tony said after a couple of minutes, an undercurrent of disbelief in his voice. JARVIS hummed as it cycled through new information and Coulson tapped into their line to remind Tony that hacking into highly-confidential super secret files was Not Okay. Coulson was collectively ignored. “He’s with the IMF.”
Natasha didn’t lower her guns and she tilted her head to a side, her smile pulled into an odd angle. “So he’s not technically government.”
Brandt must had known that look because he was instantly alert, shoulders tensed and coiled in anticipation. “Look,” he murmured, Diplomatic Tone firmly in place. Clint could maybe admire that streak of courage right there, trying to reason with Natasha of all people. “There’s no need to be hostile.”
“This isn’t hostile,” Natasha said sweetly. Her smile said not yet anyway. “You shot at me first.”
Clint and Tony groaned simultaneously.
“You appeared out of nowhere and carry a gun.” Brandt eyed Natasha warily and amended, “Guns. You opened fire, I reciprocated. It was justifiable self defence.”
“I wasn’t shooting at you.” She paused to consider. “Not deliberately anyway.”
“Oh, c’mon, Black Widow,” Tony interjected. Clint didn’t know Tony had a death wish; he surreptitiously took a step away from the metal man. Just in case. “Can’t you see the poor guy’s scared to death?”
Brandt was the very picture of wounded pride. “I’m not scared.”
“Trying to save your life here, buddy, in case you didn’t notice.” Brandt dutifully pressed his lips into one thin, disapproving line and Tony nodded. He took a step towards Brandt. Natasha narrowed her eyes. Tony took a step back. Clint had to stifle the giggles before either of them remembered his existence and turned on him. “Why don’t we just agree that both of you got a little trigger-happy back there, say our apologies and we can…oh, I don’t know…kiss and make up?” Clint was about to applaud, standing ovation even, when Tony chose that very moment to leer appreciatively at Brandt and added, “I meant that last part literally, of course.”
Brandt blinked and turned an interesting shade of red, looking even more alarmed than when Natasha was threatening him with possible death. He articulately said, “Um.”
Before Tony could deliberately misinterpret Brandt’s response as an abbreviation for ‘oh yes Mister Tony Stark, sir, do have your wicked ways with me, my loins are aching for you’ (Tony was a professional asshole), Clint reached out and grabbed Brandt for himself. He swiftly dodged a swipe from Iron Man. “I’m keeping him.”
Natasha arched an eyebrow. “What.”
Clint cleared his throat and wrapped an arm around Brandt’s waist. He met little resistance, probably because Brandt (correctly) figured that Clint was less batshit than the other two and thus less likely to shoot/sexually-harass him. Brandt was warm and pliant to the touch, aligning himself against Clint with the kind of liquid grace that was unfairly arousing. Clint caught Tony’s eyes and grinned at the unabashed want glaring back at him. “In custody. I’m keeping him in custody.”
“Nobody’s keeping anybody in custody, Barton.”
Coulson’s voice came through their com seconds away from the arrival of a sleek black SUV, weaving through shattered concrete blocks and rolling to a stop behind their small get-together. Coulson stepped out of its depth, immaculate as always, right down to his polished shoes and not a hair out of place. He was followed by a shorter man, whose scowl intensified when he caught sight of Brandt. Clint tightened his grip, just because.
“Stand down, Black Widow,” Coulson said and Natasha acquiesced, tucking the guns away but not really out of sight. She was always unparalleled in her brand of threats. Coulson’s eyes swept from Natasha to Tony, before they locked into Clint with the usual laser-like precision. “Barton, you may release Agent Brandt now.”
“We’re not keeping him?” Clint tried anyway, because no one could blame him for being optimistic. Besides, if he needed support, he had a feeling that Tony would back him up on this particular endeavour. “I kinda like this guy. He’s hot.”
Brandt tensed in Clint’s arm and looked adorably bewildered.
Coulson sighed that long-suffering sigh he had perfected years ago, when he was first assigned as Clint’s handler. The one that told Clint ‘you’re an idiot do you even know that’ without actually saying it out loud. Coulson was a master at unspoken diatribes. “While your narcissistic streak is a fascinating study, Barton, I suggest you return Agent Brandt to his team leader right now. They have their own mission to attend to.”
“The IMF, right?” Tony stepped forward and extended a hand to the presumed team leader. “I have always admired your works. Tony Stark, of Stark Industries.”
The man grabbed Tony’s hand and gave it a perfunctory shake. “Ethan Hunt, nice to meet you. If you do have access to our works, I’m afraid we haven’t been doing a good enough job in hiding our trails."
“Some of the technologies you use are mine,” Tony said with a flippant shrug.
Ethan’s smile was equal parts charming and challenging. “Not the malfunctioning ones, I hope.”
“I’ve heard about Burj Khalifa. My condolences, Agent Hunt. I assure you, that would have never happened if your agency had agreed to an exclusive contract with my company.”
“Save your sales pitch for another time, Stark,” Coulson sighed. He was still pointedly staring at Clint, who had wanted to use the brief distraction to steal away with Brandt. The plan was a total bust. “Any time now, Barton.”
Clint made a face and reluctantly nudged Brandt forward. “You never let me have fun.”
Coulson expertly resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “On the contrary, I think I let you have too much fun.”
Brandt picked his way towards Hunt, neatly sidestepping Tony’s attempt at a grope and kept a wary eye on Natasha. Upon safely ensconced against Hunt’s side, Brandt leaned in to engage Hunt in a hushed conversation. Tony apparently picked up on the murmured words through JARVIS, if the beginning of the smug grin on his face was of any indication. Clint maybe hated him a bit for that. Coulson maintained his detached composure, although Clint had been stuck with him long enough to know that Coulson was feeling suspicious. Natasha, being Natasha, didn’t care.
Brandt and Hunt eventually ceased their discussion, and Clint noticed the renewed tightness around Hunt’s smile as he turned to address them. “Agent Brandt seems to think that it would be…beneficial for us to keep in contact. Since we may cross paths in the future and it would be preferable to avoid complications like today from occurring again.”
“A liaison, then,” Coulson muttered, the contemplative look on his face suggesting that he was not wholly against the idea. “I will need to discuss this with the Director.”
“Of course.” Brandt was the one who replied and when he wasn’t under gunpoint or busy protecting his chastity from perverts like Tony Stark, he spoke with the ease of quiet authority. “I won’t mind covering our end, Agent Coulson, if you can provide someone for me to communicate with in yours. Just to get things going.”
Clint caught Tony’s eyes in the span of a mili-second and realised what Tony was about to do, which was why they ended up chorusing, “I’ll do it!” in perfect sync.
Coulson, in a rare moment of self-indulgence, rolled his eyes at both of them.