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Consorting With The Enemy

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Consorting With The Enemy


    Author: Maekala

    Reader: SomethingIncorporeal

    Fandom: The Avengers

    Pairing: James "Bucky" Barnes/Clint Barton

    Rating: Teen

    Warnings: Graphic Violence

    Full Streaming Audio




    MP3 | Size: 50 MB | Duration: 54:14

 

It was just under a year later when we met again. He saw me first. I was on a motorcycle--the crotch rocket kind--following my target in a limo. Except something wasn’t right. I knew this guy’s driver and this isn’t how he drove. Whoever was behind the wheel was being careful. Downright legal.

I caught sight of something in my mirror before the explosion caught me. I remember flying through the air in an uncontrolled tumble. I think my body reacted on instinct and tried to roll, but I don’t know. My vision was suddenly blurry and I couldn’t hear anything except that high pitch whine the movies have popularised. All I could do was focus on my breathing and hope it would take the authorities some time to find me.

James’s face floated across my consciousness. I thought I was dreaming. I mean, the man had tried to kill me not all that long ago. But here he was: looking all concerned and pretty freaking adorable with his eyes all squenched up. His lips moved and I think they formed my name. I might have smiled at him. It was just so good to see him even if it was a hallucination.

I felt hands patting me down and wondered about a dream checking me for injuries. Then James picked me up and I felt the injuries for myself. I heard someone cry out in pain right before I passed out.

 

When I woke up, I wasn’t in any of my places but I also wasn’t in a hospital. The room felt large like a loft and the traffic sounds made me think we were still in Vancouver. Wait. Had I been in Vancouver? I could definitely add head trauma to my growing list of injuries. I felt more than heard someone moving around. Whoever it was was in another room. The kitchen?

I let my eyes open a fraction to see a vaulted ceiling and tall windows to my left. I was on a couch sort of in the middle of the room with a table between me and the windows. What I could see of the walls looked abandoned and I suddenly recognised the smell of neglect. We were squatting. The place had probably been foreclosed on and now that I really thought about it, I realised I had been here before. I’d considered squatting here but had rejected it because it was too far away from my target.

“How are you feeling?” asked a voice. It sounded a lot like James. Except, James had tried to kill me. Why would he be helping me now? But then he was coming around the side of the couch and that was definitely James and while he could kill me with the two mugs in his hands, it would be a lot more efficient to just use a gun. Hell, it would have been more efficient to leave me to the authorities and the consequences of my own stupidity.

“James?” I croaked. I sounded awful, like I’d gotten a lungful of hot smoke and ash. Oh, wait...I had.

He set the mugs down on the table before perching next to them. The table was creaking ominously and I didn’t think it would hold his whole weight. Hell, it probably couldn’t hold Natasha’s.

“Yes,” he said.

What had I asked again? “You pulled me out.” I’d work through this somehow. I was pretty sure there was coffee in at least one of those mugs and that needed to be mine.

“Yes.”

“But you tried to kill me.” I get stuck on things, sue me. This one seemed pretty important.

James ducked his head to hide his eyes behind his hair. Had he always done that? I didn’t want him to because it made him look vulnerable and broken and I never wanted him to look like that around me. Or because of me.

“I’m sorry,” he said and his voice was soft and weak and I really wanted to hug him and tell him it was cool. Brainwashing and all. But I was still prone on the damn sofa.

It dawned on me that I could fix that problem so I started pushing myself up. It hurt. A lot. None of my ribs were broken but everything was definitely bruised. And my right hip was screaming at me. The pain reminded me that that had been my point of impact. But then James was hovering over me and his arms were wrapped around me to help lift me up.

It was only the second time we’d touched and the first didn’t count because that had been a handshake. Also the fight. But none of those counted because James was incredibly gentle even with a metal arm and I might have leaned my head into his shoulder and wanted a lot more than I should expect. What can I say? It’s been a long time since anyone who knew me touched me at all, much less with kindness. Even Natasha didn’t really touch me except to whack me upside the head. In a loving way, of course.

But James was different. He helped me to sit up and then, when I grabbed him as he started to take his seat, he just lowered himself to the floor so that we were still close together. He could have killed me. He should have killed me. Instead, I got the feeling that he was just as confused as I was, just without the head injury.

“Did you remember me?” I asked, ignoring the way my voice broke at the end. I couldn’t quite look him in the eye. I was afraid what it meant if he said no, but also if he said yes.

“I don’t remember.” He paused and I let him. As afraid as I was of the answer, I still needed to hear it. “I think I was trying to remember you but I couldn’t.” His forehead leaned against my shoulder and my hand came up to pat his head without thinking. His hair was softer than I expected. “They let me keep some memories but not all of them. But I don’t remember what they take or why.”

I had no idea what that meant except that I desperately wanted to get him out. But what could I do? Offer him a life on the run? Hell, his bosses had probably hired me out for a job here and there. All I could offer him was the transient existence that never promised tomorrow and was always in danger of being the end.

“I’m sorry I stabbed you.” It was trite, but it was all I had. And I was. I woke up covered in sweat sometimes from nightmares where my blade had been a little further into his chest and had nicked his heart. I’d watched him bleed out in my dreams a hundred times.

“I’m sorry I almost killed you.”

We sat there for a long time. My whole body ached and vehemently objected to this position, but I wanted to make sure he knew. That he understood. I wanted to make sure that I understood. When we did finally pull away, I think it was more mutual. I hoped it was mutual.

“Did you blow up the limo?”

He shook his head and I reached forward to brush the hair from his eyes. I held my breath while I did it and he stayed completely still. But then he smiled at me and I knew we were okay.

“I don’t know who did it. You were the only other one I saw.”

If I hadn’t seen this third party and James hadn’t seen them, then there were only a few options. Two, actually. Neither of them were good.

Exhaustion rippled through me and the only reason I didn’t topple over was James. James who wasn’t trying to kill me anymore. Warmth spread through me as sleep overtook me. He may have forgotten, but now he remembered.

 

When I woke up the second time, I felt more level headed. I wasn’t as disoriented and I knew it was James in the other room even if he wasn’t making any sound. I remained still again but this time I was trying to figure out how badly my ribs were going to scream at me. I was going to have to get up one way or another, though. The call of nature wouldn’t hold off much longer.

I had just started to consider where best to shift my weight when James came around the corner, his eyes pinched in concern.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I have to pee,” I said. I didn’t exactly whine, but it was a close call.

James was by my side in an instant, helping me to stand and I was caught wondering just what I’d done to find this man here now helping me to the bathroom. Then all thoughts were gone when we got me upright and all the pain reminded me that I was still definitely injured. My ribs were sore everywhere James’ arm wrapped around my middle and my hip was still a bright spot of agony. I didn’t care. I held on tighter and we hobbled across the floor to a closed door.

The bathroom was massive even though it only housed a toilet and a vanity. My childhood bedroom would’ve fit in here with a little room left over. The only reason I didn’t resent places like this was because they were usually foreclosed on when I saw them. So whoever had thought to spend this much money on something so simple had lost it all. It’s petty of me, I know. Now I used the space to walk a few steps on my own where I was in easy reach of a wall.

On my second circuit, I stopped to do my business and realised I was wearing sweat pants. I’d had on jeans before the accident. When I was done, I made a beeline for the mirror I’d been avoiding to take a full inventory. My face looked like hell mostly from a massive bruise across my jaw and up the side of my cheek. I’d gotten so used to bruises when I was younger, I didn’t really feel them anymore. My own probing fingers activated a warning ache but confirmed that nothing was broken.

I was in a simple t-shirt that I lifted to find angry scrapes along my rib cage and a few small bandages from where the concrete had bit through the leather jacket I always wore when I ride. I should have worn body armour. That’s the last time I second guess myself because it’s “just surveillance.”

James had seen all of this. None of the clothes I was wearing were mine yet they were the correct size. I didn’t think they were James’s because he was broader across the shoulders than I and his hips...well, his hips were built like a god’s and mine were just boney. I turned to see myself in profile and started to wiggle my hips but stopped almost immediately. There would be no Busta’Moves Barton for the foreseeable future. Pity.

James knocked slightly on the door, startling me into dropping my shirt and pushing a flush up my chest and into my face.

“Are you okay? Do you need help?”

“I’m fine,” I said, a little too quickly. “Just surveying the damage.”

“Oh.” He paused and I could picture him shuffling his feet on the other side of the door and looking adorably lost. He was probably just stoically annoyed that I was taking so long. “None of your injuries appeared serious during my examination.”

I didn’t realise until he said how much I was afraid he’d let someone else see me in this state. Or how much it meant to me that he’d taken the time to check me over and get me out of whatever shredded pieces of cloth had remained over me. I washed my hands and splashed a bit of the cool water over my face before stumbling to the door.

“Thanks.”

He handed me a cup filled with the water of life in all it’s dark glory. I took the coffee with a grateful sigh. I tried to sip it. To savour it. I failed. Mostly I just gulped it in two swallows and started hunting for more.

James gave me a breathy laugh. The sound managed to derail my thoughts of coffee for a moment as I immediately wanted to hear it again. He was still smiling at me as he pointed me in the general direction of the kitchen.

“There’s more there and food if you’re hungry.”

He stayed near me as we headed that way and we sat side by side at the small island with our plates. James had water and I took the carafe again. He did chuckle again when I grabbed the coffee pot and I graced him with a bright smile of my own.

 

He took up the dishes when we were finished and I tried not to flinch too much as I leaned against the counter. My hip was definitely letting me know how much it objected to all this moving. James barely glanced back but I knew he’d caught the grimace.

“Did you need to lie down again?”

“Probably. But I’m not done with my coffee and I feel like I’ve been sleeping for a week.” Mostly, I wanted to stare at his ass and admire the way the muscles in his arm flexed as he rinsed the plates. I was noticing that the metal arm didn’t really flex but it did make the muscles in his shoulders dance more noticeably.

“Do you want me to start another pot of coffee?”

The question threw me for a moment since I was still focused on his shoulders and why the hell would I want to put coffee on his shoulders except maybe to lick it off? Oh. Right.

“No, I’m fine. Thank you.” He turned around and leaned back against the counter, one eyebrow quirking up. On anyone else, I’d say it was a knowing smirk. On him, I really couldn’t tell. “Why did you help me?” The question surprised us both and I had the horrible fear that I’d just fucked things up royally. What the hell kind of question was that?

“I don’t know,” he admitted. His eyes were focused on my knees and his words were hesitant. “I guess maybe I didn’t want you to take the fall for something you didn’t do?” I think we both knew it was bullshit, but I wasn’t going to call him on it. I had a feeling that would be as cruel as asking him if James was his real name.

“Oh,” I said instead. “Thank you.”

He finally met my eyes and I smiled at him, trying to tell him how much I really did appreciate being rescued from my own incompetence. He smiled back.

 

I did take another nap. James sat next to me in a chair I hadn’t noticed when I first woke up. It used to be one of those comfy overstuffed things but now just looked sad and limp. Even though James and I were of a height, he somehow made it look both tiny and deflated. It was the blow up dolls of chairs that someone had poked too hard. I fell asleep giggling to myself at the image.

When I woke up a few hours later, James was still there. I don’t think he moved but I’m not sure if he slept. He helped me stand again and I started making slow circuits around the room while James looked on impassively. I should have been on bed rest but the circus had instilled an intense paranoia about sitting too long while you’re wounded. Don’t get me wrong: I can stay stock still for days on end when I’m waiting for a target but otherwise I’m like a damn shark. Stillness kills me.

“Do you know who put out the hit for Mr. Prinsloo?”

I’d made four circuits of the living room and determined it to be exactly eighty two of my hobbled steps in circumference. My hip was still a sharp railroad spike of agony, but the endorphins were rushing and my mind was starting to block it out. I wouldn’t be able to jump roof tops for a few more days, but I could run if I had to. Far enough to hide from anyone looking to hurt us, anyway. The two options I had come up with were still sitting dark in the back of my mind.

James tilted his head in a thoughtful manner before frowning. “I don’t understand.”

I turned and started walking the opposite direction. “Did someone hire your bosses to go after him or did they make the call themselves?”

“That information isn’t part of my mission parameters.”

When he talked like that, the brainwashing thing really showed and it bothered me. I wanted him to shrug it off and say, “fuck if I know,” but then he wouldn’t be James. And I don’t know if I’d like him as much if he weren’t just James. Totally screwed up, adorable James. I shook my head to clear the thoughts.

“Have you checked to see if Mr. Prinsloo has made any covert appearances since his alleged death?”

James stood and the frown on his face should have been terrifying. That was the look of an assassin whose honour I’d just impugned. Mostly I wanted to pat his chest and tell him “down boy.” My head injury must’ve been better because I didn’t. I just stopped my endless circles and waited for him to say his piece.

“No one could have survived that blast. The target is dead.”

“I’m not doubting that whoever was in that vehicle is dead; I am doubting that it was actually Prinsloo in the vehicle.”

“You believe it was a decoy?”

“I don’t know who it was in the back of that car. What I am saying is I know it wasn’t Prinsloo.”

“Explain.”

I sighed and started moving again. As long as I kept moving, it was bearable. “Prinsloo wouldn’t get in a car unless his personal driver was behind the wheel unless he was under duress. The man who stepped into that car was not under duress. That wasn’t Prinsloo’s driver, therefore, that wasn’t Prinsloo.”

I wanted him to say, “okay” and move on. I wanted him to frown but take my word. I wanted him to do anything except be the thorough assassin that he was because the story behind how I knew was painful but I would tell him if he asked. Hell, I think in some twisted part of my mind I wanted him to ask. If he asked, then he would know that I was just as screwed up as he was and maybe...maybe.

“Why would his driver mean so much? Men like that barely notice the face behind the wheel.”

I stood still with my back to him as I took a deep breath. I’d known he would ask. I’d known it with every fibre of my being. It was my own fault that the words still hit me like a brick. What I wasn’t expecting was when he came up beside me and laid a gentle hand on my elbow and perched on the arm of the chair. His face held questions and understanding and I had the sudden urge to lean into him and kiss him senseless. But the question would still be there.

“No one is paying me for this job,” I finally said. My voice was barely above a whisper. “I know Prinsloo from awhile back.” I started pacing in a tight line next to James, never quite leaving his reach but still needing to move. “After the circus, I was on my own. A little adrift with only one real talent but no idea how to use it. So I traveled. I ended up in Africa. I was trying to be sort of an upstanding guy. Don’t get me wrong: I was failing miserably, but I was trying to use my skills for...I don’t know. The greater good? Making the ends justify the means?”

I turned hard and nearly toppled over. James caught me and pulled me close again. He didn’t pat me or anything trite. He just held onto my wrist in a loose enough grip that I could break it if I needed to but knew he was there while I didn’t. I finally caught his gaze while I spoke.

“I was somewhere between Congo, Angola and Zambia. We were smuggling supplies in and dodging the war lords and army. The guy I was working with had taught me the lay of the land and introduced me to most of my contacts. He was doing it because the money was good. So when I a hit came down on Prinsloo, he took it.

“He was good, don’t get me wrong, but Prinsloo was too big a hit. We both knew it, but he had even less a sense of self preservation than I do. So he took it. He’s the only man who ever got close enough to Prinsloo to leave a mark and he got that far because I felt like I had to help. It’s the only time Prinsloo ever went anywhere without Arendse, his driver.”

I realised I’d never explained just who the hell Hylton Arendse was. To me, he was an obstacle who I’d studied almost as much as Prinsloo. To James, he was a face and a job.

“Arendse is former South African Special Forces. The only reason they didn’t kick him out is because then the military would have to admit what he’s done. He drives like a damn bat out of hell and fights like a man on fire. With any luck, his death will be long and painful.

“We attacked on the outskirts of Kolwezi. Arendse was in a secondary vehicle and I dealt with him while Jackson took Prinsloo. We were outgunned and so far out of our league, we didn’t even know what game we were playing.” I laughed to myself at the gall we’d had. Young and stupid is what we’d been. And now I was a little older and just as stupid.

“The scar he has on his chin?” I waved toward my own. Prinsloo had a jagged scar that ran from just beneath his chin and stopped an inch or so below his lip. James nodded his understanding. “Jackson gave it to him as he died. And when Jackson went down, I ran. I ran and tried not to look back.

“There was a remote village in the jungles of Congo. We’d been hired to bring in medicine and supplies and I thought I could hide there. Wait out the storm.” My face had fallen some time during my story. I looked up again to meet blue eyes. I needed James to understand the next part. “Prinsloo found me. He slaughtered the entire village including women, children and half a dozen aid workers. He stole the supplies but left me alive. Then he made sure the locals all knew I’d done it.”

The laugh that fell from my mouth sounded more like a sob but there were no tears in my eyes. Those had evaporated years ago.

“I can’t ever go back to that part of Africa without risk of being kidnapped and tortured to death for a war crime I’m not capable of. I barely got away with my life and I’ve been watching him ever since, waiting for the day when I’m good enough to take out Arendts and end Prinsloo.”

My voice got darker and harder. Natasha had heard me talk about Prinsloo from time to time and she said it’s the only time she’s ever been afraid of me and of wait I’m capable of. James looked compassionate.

“So when I say that it wasn’t Arendts behind the wheel and it may have looked like Prinsloo getting in the car but it definitely wasn’t, do you understand where I’m coming from? I know.”

James nodded. “It means we have a job to finish.”

 

I was drained after my confession and napped a little more. James took his position in the chair again and it dawned on me he was keeping watch. It also made me want to kiss him all the more. Or wrap myself around him and let him chase away the nightmares. And after telling everything that had happened in Africa, I was certain there would be nightmares. If not right now, then soon.

I woke to the smell of coffee and food and we ate in comfortable silence before I declared I needed a shower. James had cleaned me off when he pulled me out but I still felt grubby, especially after sleeping in my own funk for however long we’d been here. Two days? Three?

When I emerged from the blessedly hot water, I found a stack of clothes that not only fit my frame, but actually sort of fit my style. When the hell had James had the time to procure these? The black jeans showed my ass enough to distract from the knife I had secured at the belt. Another set of small throwing knives went around my ankle. A neutral colour t-shirt kept my gun holster from chafing under the purple flannel. He’d even managed to find a leather jacket to top it all off that looked almost exactly like the one I’d probably shredded as I hit the pavement.

I looked like the badass I was. James wore the same ensemble but with a black shirt and more guns plus gloves to hide his metal hand. I had a moment as I looked him up and down where I couldn’t decide if I wanted to jump his bones or drop to my knees in front of him and beg him to take me. What can I say? I like to give and take and I can’t always decide which I want to do at any given time.

I coughed and refocused on the mission. One last appreciative glance and I flipped a switch in my brain to stop staring at the Winter Soldier’s ass. It was unprofessional. Also distracting.

“I have some cameras set up with feeds recording in my bolt hole. Assuming it hasn’t been compromised, we can find out if Prinsloo left after the car bombing. If we’re really lucky, we might also find out who the hell we’re dealing with.” I wasn’t saying it, but SHIELD was my best guess. But I wouldn’t have thought they would protect a man like Prinsloo and a life model decoy was definitely protecting.

The stairs going out were hell but manageable. I couldn’t remember if I still had some anti-inflammatories in my bag back at my place. If not, I might actually have to stop and get some. Nothing to dull my senses, but enough to take the last of the edge off. When we turned the corner and I saw the bike, I couldn’t help myself: I started laughing. Of course James was riding a bike. Not like I’d just fallen off one or anything.

He glanced behind him and that was definitely a smirk on his face. His hair was blowing in his eyes so I couldn’t see for sure, but I’m pretty sure they were sparkling with laughter. Bastard.

“I’m driving,” he declared.

A chance to wrap my arms around him and hold tight? I wasn’t going to argue. Besides, I wasn’t opposed to the idea of being his bitch. It only took us two tries to find a position where neither of us had the butt of a gun poking somewhere uncomfortable and then we were off. I kept my face tucked into his shoulder for most of the ride to keep his hair out of my eyes. I would look up enough to figure out where we were and take stock of our surroundings. When we needed to turn, I tapped either his right or left thigh. We fit and if I had the brief thought when we arrived that I should slide around in front of him and distract us both, he didn’t need to know.

We’d actually come up and parked a few blocks away in case someone had found where I was squatting. We split up long enough to case the area and came up clean. Either no one had found me or they were good enough that two master assassins couldn’t find them. If that were the case, we were both screwed.

I considered our entrance for a minute. Normally, I’d have come in from high or low. I rarely use the front door. The building had good ventilation that I could enter on the roof (and had the first time) plus sewer access in the service basement. Both involved lateral climbs and crawling around in tight spaces. My hip twinged at the thought and James raised an eyebrow in question.

“Front door it is,” I said.

“Side door,” James countered.

“Anything on the ground floor is the front door to me.”

He shook his head in amusement and we headed for the side door and up to the third floor. All of my safeguards were undisturbed, setting me a little at ease. I held a hand up at the door and tapped a rhythm out next to the hinges before pausing to listen for the click of that particularly nasty booby trap to disengage. Since the place hadn’t been blown to bits by the same, I knew no one had been inside. When we went inside, James looked at the set up by the door with an appreciative eye. I smiled to myself, happy to have impressed the Winter Soldier.

There was a long table with three laptops set up and about a million cords. I’d yet to perfect keeping my cords corralled. When I booted everything up, all but one of my cameras was still collecting data and the one that wasn’t had stopped on an image of a bird diving in. I glanced up as James prowled the space. A glance around reassured me that I hadn’t left any dirty underwear anywhere though there were some take out boxes beginning to petrify.

He stopped beside me to look over the screens as I rewound to just before Prinsloo’s double had exited his hotel.

“You prefer a higher angle,” said James.

“People are usually only half joking when they compare me to a bird,” I said. Natasha was usually joking when she called me “bird brains.” When she meant it, she just called me stupid.

One monitor had the front and back entrances while the second showed me the street and the final displayed the garage plus the sewers and the roof. I started the feed at four times speed and watched people come and go.

“Stop,” said James before reaching for the mouse to back the feed up to four hours after the car had exploded.

He paused on the image of a single businessman, phone to his ear and coffee sitting beside him. I studied the image and got a bad feeling. He looked totally harmless: hair starting to recede, suit well tailored and expensive but not flashy, innocuous look on his face as one finger tapped the lid of his coffee. I hit play on the feed. What could have been wandering eyes was actually careful casing of the area. His coffee was on the bench to keep one hand clear and when he moved just right, I could see calluses that were mirrored on my hand and James’s. His shoulders were straight not from proper posture but probably army training.

I swore. A lot. In more than one language. If SHIELD had Prinsloo, then I had one shot and I’d have to take it close up.

“You ever gone up against this guy?” I asked James. He’d spotted him before I had.

“Not directly. When SHIELD arrives, they pull me out. Especially him.”

I looked back as both my eyebrows went up in interest. “Especially him? Is he some sort of Winter Soldier expert or something?”

James shrugged his flesh shoulder but wouldn’t meet my gaze. “I don’t know,” he admitted.

“Do you want me to go kidnap him and find out?” I wasn’t kidding and I hoped James knew that. No matter how much of a badass SHIELD agent this guy was, he was still human and between the two of us, we could definitely take him.

James finally turned his head to meet my eyes. I made sure he could see how dead serious I was. Something passed over his face before he huffed a laugh and shook his head. “No. Thank you.”

I held the look for a moment longer. “Okay, big guy. But the offer stands.” When I turned back to the screen, I don’t know if he was smiling, but I hope he was. At least on the inside.

I started the feed again and watched him pace in front of the entrance, always talking on his phone. I’m not great at reading lips, but I can catch important stuff. Like how much he kept saying, “yes, sir.” I couldn’t be sure of the rest, but I thought I saw the words “interrogation” and “asset.” After a few minutes, he headed inside and I caught him on an interior camera entering the elevator.

I let the feed speed up again and we watched in silence as an hour later a SHIELD SUV pulled up to the rear entrance and a team of six exited with large cases in each hand. Was this the interrogation or were they setting up surveillance?

“What do you think?” I asked.

James gripped the back of my chair so he could lean over my shoulder and get a better look at the paused image. His hair tickled my cheek and I caught a whiff of his scent. There was the generic shampoo that had been back at his flat plus the leather of his jacket. Even under that I thought I detected the hint of something else. Something more personal. He turned toward me and brought those thoughts to a screeching halt.

“These two are interrogation experts,” he said and probably pointed but I wasn’t paying attention to that. “They did not always work with SHIELD.”

That should probably mean something significant, but damn if I knew what. I blinked and turned back to the screen. Right. Interrogation.

“That probably means Prinsloo is still in the building. Or he was.”

I wasn’t sure why SHIELD would go through the trouble of using a decoy and then blowing that decoy up but it meant I still had a shot. Assuming they hadn’t moved him in the two and half days since this was taken. A mobile interrogation team probably meant that they wanted some very specific piece of information before they eliminated or moved him. Maybe some government had contracted them to bring Prinsloo in and they didn’t have time to take him to one of their facilities. I didn’t like it whatever the reasoning was.

The rest of the feed showed the team entering the building and Head Badass coming out a few times, always on the phone and always casing the place. Had they known I was in town? Or maybe they kept expecting James.

“Were your orders to capture or kill?” I asked as we eventually made it to the end of feed and Prinsloo was still likely in the building.

“Kill.”

“Did you have any idea SHIELD might be a factor?”

“Not directly. My mission stated that other parties were interested. However, they did not state that life model decoys might be used.”

“Right? Because who the hell uses LMD’s to cover an interrogation?” What can I say? It was bothering me. Badly. The smart move would be to pack up and get the hell out of town. I didn’t think SHIELD would let Prinsloo back out in the world, but anyone they might hand him over to might not be as discerning. As idiotic as it was, as likely as it was to get me killed, I needed to know that Prinsloo was dead.

“You are planning to pursue this,” James stated. Was that disappointment in his voice?

I turned the chair to face him. “I have to.”

He nodded. Disappointment in his voice but understanding in his eyes? “With SHIELD involved, I am forbidden to help you.”

“But you want to?”

He considered me for a long moment and I started to doubt asking the question. Did I really want to know? Was this that moment when I went and made everything awkward and he regretted ever pulling me from--

“Yes.”

The answer stopped my worrying and self doubt and everything.

“Yes?” I couldn’t believe it. I just had to go and play with fire.

“Yes,” he said again, smiling.

“How soon do you have to leave?”

He turned toward the door like it’s very presence was a betrayal to him. “I should go now.” I thought I heard regret in his voice but I didn’t want to project too much.

“Oh.” I stood up but wasn’t sure what to do now that I was up. I turned and bumped into James. He was closer than I realised and he grabbed my arms to steady us both. We were the same height but right now he seemed taller. “I guess,” I started, not really sure what I was going to say.

He leaned into me and stopped just shy of kissing me. Even without the actual contact, I gasped. He had hesitated. I looked into his eyes and saw a familiar fear. I closed the distance and kissed him. My hands moved to his jaw to keep him close to me and tell him in my own way just how much I wanted him.

We pulled away at the same time, though not because we weren’t enjoying it. At least, I know I was enjoying it. I wanted it to continue but I wanted to see his reaction. He had a small smile on his face and he was looking at me like I was all that mattered.

“I’ve wanted to do that since Berlin,” he admitted. I was grinning like a fool.

“Yeah? Why didn’t you?”

“I don’t know. Can I do it again?”

“God, yes.”

He leaned in all the way this time to press his lips to mine and this time he pushed further. I sucked his tongue into my mouth as my hands pushed under his jacket to pull his body closer to mine. We crab walked away from the computers and I honestly don’t know if either of us had a plan for where we were going but we ended up against the wall. He had me pinned and I was happy to stay his prisoner if he kept doing what he was doing.

He pulled away far enough to nip along my jaw and down my neck and his hands finally pushed my shirt up. His metal hand was cold but I was expecting it so didn’t jump. He was just as gentle with that hand and I had a sudden vision of that hand wrapped around my cock making the organ in question jump a bit.

I ducked down to catch his lips again and pulled his body flush with mine. We were both hard and he gasped when I ground our hips together. My hands were searching for his fly and I was thinking I wanted to drop to my knees in front of him when a phone started chirping. It took us a moment to stop and then another while we stilled and I saw the resignation wash over his face. His handlers.

He sighed and leaned his forehead against mine for half a second before standing straight up and pulling the offending device from his pocket. His face was back to the Winter Soldier as he turned away from me to answer.

“Da?” he said. Russian. Of course.

I stopped paying attention and sagged against the wall. Closing my eyes, I focused on my breathing and calming my racing heartbeat. We wouldn’t be able to finish what we’d started and that was a damn shame.

“I’m sorry,” James said, drawing my attention. His phone was back in his pocket and his face was my James instead of the Winter Soldier.

“You have to go,” I said, trying to hold my bitterness inside. It wasn’t his fault. Far from it.

“Maybe we’ll find each other again.”

I smiled at the thought. “I hope we do.”

His flesh hand cupped my head as he leaned in to kiss me again. It wasn’t chaste by any stretch but it wasn’t as heated. “I hope we do, too,” he whispered as he let the kiss end.

He moved slowly away, watching me watch him the entire way until he was right next to the door.

“Be safe, Clint,” he said. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the concern on his face but I was. I didn’t know what to make of someone worrying about me even though that’s what I’d wanted my entire life.

“Be safe, James,” I answered.

He smiled. I thought I saw the beginning of a blush before he turned and left.

 

It was the last time I saw him. Turned out, SHIELD was there both for Prinsloo and me. I made my move when they brought him out of the hotel they’d been holding him in. He was surrounded by four agents and looked a lot worse for the wear. Good. I had a single EMP arrowhead and shot it to land by Prinsloo’s feet. It should knock out the agent’s comms and give me just enough time before backup arrived.

I jumped down and managed to disarm and subdue all four agents. I didn’t kill any of them. That was just asking for trouble. And now I stood before the man who had haunted my dreams for too many years. I should have just shot him in the head and been gone, but I needed him to know it was me. No matter the cost.

Prinsloo looked me up and down but didn’t seem impressed. No mind. I didn’t need him to be impressed.

“Whose contract are you here on?” he asked. The South African accent was the same I remembered. I’d come to hate that accent even though I knew it wasn’t the country’s fault.

“My own,” I said. “And for the people of that village.”

“You always were too sentimental. It was business, Hawkeye. I used you to make a point.”

I shrugged and pulled my knife. My bow was already around my chest. “And now I’m making my own point.”

I struck out and he ducked, reaching for the boot knife of one of the fallen agents. He hands were still shackled together and he already looked winded. It was not a fair fight. But if I wanted a fair fight, I’d have gone to a boxing gym. I lunged again and sidestepped his parry. I wanted to play with him, to wear him down and force him to surrender to me but I didn’t have time. Agent Badass would be down any second.

I stepped into his space and slammed my blade into his shoulder before forcing the palm of my hand against his nose, breaking it and pushing it back into his brain. Unfortunately, the blow was instantly fatal but the job was done. I was turning before he hit the pavement only to find half a dozen SHIELD agents in the alley blocking me in.

A glance back showed more behind me and there were even agents on the roof. Crap. I held my hands up in surrender as I considered my options. Agent Badass came out of the same door Prinsloo had. He somehow managed to step around the body without actually looking like he was stepping around.

“Do we really have to do this?” I asked, going for flippant. “I mean, dude was an asshole so I actually did you guys a favour.”

“I’m aware of what kind of asshole Mr. Prinsloo was, Mr. Barton.” I tried not to swear at his use of my name. This whole thing kept getting better and better. “And SHIELD thanks you for dealing with him so we didn’t have to hand him over to another agency.” That answered the question of why they’d interrogated the man here. “Unfortunately, you’ve developed something of a reputation yourself.”

I gave him my best what-can-you-do shrug. “A guy’s gotta have a hobby.”

Agent Badass raised an eyebrow. I like to think he was smirking on the inside. “You have three options. One: I tell my agents to open fire and we deal with you here and now.”

I didn’t like the sound of that and moved my weight to the balls of my feet. I’d rather die attempting to flee than by firing squad. “Don’t you guys have to have probable cause or something to do that?”

Agent Badass shrugged. “Two: you go to jail for the rest of your life. You’ll be interrogated about your past associates, known and unknown. The quality of that information will determine the quality of your accommodations. And three: you join SHIELD. Become a field agent and work with us instead of against us.”

I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. When Agent Badass didn’t go on, I looked around but everything was still the same. “That’s it? Those are my options? Seems like a bit of a raw deal, if you ask me.”

“Would you like me to get you a list of references?” Badass asked and now he was definitely jerking me around. Bastard.

The whole thing was ridiculous and my hip was really starting to hurt again. “If I’m joining SHIELD, don’t I at least get to know the name of the asshole who set me up?”

“Of course. I’m Agent Coulson. Welcome to SHIELD.”

END