Bond first becomes suspicious several months after realising the identity of the best one-night-stand of his life. He's fresh off an assignment to South Africa, where he'd had to neutralise a fledgling Apartheid-supporting terrorist leader. It hadn't been easy to worm his way into the organisation, and he'd had to go radio-silent for most of the second half of the period. He only just made it away from the organisation's base before it went up in flames -- he might have to file a report on that, much as he hates paperwork. Working with substandard ammunition is unacceptable in situations such as these, when he's relying on the tech department to keep his arse from dying. He and the other active agents have to be able to trust their Quartermaster, but the current one is clearly starting to lose his edge. Bond makes a mental note to talk to M about it, and make himself enough of a nuisance that she deals with it if only to make him go away.
But M isn't there when he gets back, some rubbish about being called away to the US on a diplomatic mission on a moment's notice. M rarely leaves Britain these days, unless it's to go kick some arse in the field after agents like him have done their jobs. Diplomatic mission his finely shaped buttocks.
He can't find any data about it, anyway, which only arouses his suspicions. The MI6 agency plane flew off to Dubai yesterday morning, and the security footage was quite clear on there being no M-shaped person on board, disguise or no. So she didn't leave by MI6 means, and the only other plane that left the airstrip yesterday morning was a military-grade one owned by an American agency of some kind--
Warning flags start going up in Bond's head. He hacks into the system, and takes a look at the aircraft's credentials.
So M is jetting off to see her mates over at SHIELD, is she? Bond wonders if it's anything to do with the revelations of three months ago, and resolves to find out as soon as bloody possible. He wouldn't at all mind seeing James again, no indeed.
But then he gets sent off on assignment in North Korea before M makes it back, and it goes pear-shaped so fast he gets whiplash. His contact gets compromised, his extraction is blown, and by the time he gets back to Britain it's 2012 and aliens are invading New York.
This... isn't something he expected to be saying out loud at any point in his life. Not only does he have to deal with hostiles of the human variety, now he also has to check their DNA for a human match? Bugger this for a lark.
M spends the entire time glued to the huge screens taking up the entirety of one of the walls in her office, going so far as to bite her lip once or twice. When the camera zooms in on a blue-clad figure wielding a shield with frankly intimidating precision, M actually wavers on her feet, and only Tanner's quick reaction saves her backside from reacquainting itself with the floor. Bond shoves a chair in their direction, and ignores Tanner helping M into it in favour of watching a flying robot catch what looks suspiciously like a nuclear missile and readjust its course to disappear into the sky.
"This is actually happening," he says faintly to the room. M and Tanner both ignore him, but Tanner looks like he agrees with the sentiment.
Anyway, the world is saved, the menace is pushed back, and Bond spends the next three days catching up on everything that's been going on while he was living in a hole-in-the-wall room in North Korea while waiting for his chance to take out a certain general with far too much security on hand.
Iron Man. Captain America. Thor. He thinks he might need to sit down, too.
And then M vanishes again. Bond retraces his footsteps into the system, takes the same route as he had last time. The very fact that it's possible for him to do so tells him that the tech department has gone and lost it well and good. He finds the same jet as before, watches a tall African-American man dressed like a hi-tech pirate wait for her at the open door, before stepping back to let her inside. He remembers that face from his last hack into the system -- General Nick Fury.
Bond's curiosity is piqued. This does not bode well for SHIELD's security.
He correlates M's absences over the last five years, and pulls up the data. She flies regularly to the States, every third week of the month, always to a different airport, from whence all trace of her disappears -- only to reappear two days later, back at the same place where she landed, headed back to Britain. Bond sits back, and watches the chart, and plots.
By the time the third week of next month comes about, he's ready. He has scouted out the London airstrip that the SHIELD plane always lands on, and found an appropriate nook. He files for a week off-duty, citing an aunt's funeral that gets him a raised eyebrow from Tanner but also his request approved without further question. Then, he fills a bag with MREs and bottled water, sneaks into the equipment storage to 'borrow' a certain supplies pack, and settles in to wait.
On Tuesday, at 1255 precisely, a very familiar plane lands on the same airstrip Bond has been skulking at. On the other side of the lane, a door in the airport building opens and a short figure steps out, white hair catching glints from sunrays peeking through drifting clouds. He doesn't have a lot of time.
He stuffs two MREs and his second-to-last bottle of water in the pockets of his cargo trousers, shoulders his pack and hunkers down, darting out of his cover spot and circling quickly behind the plane, while M approached it from the other side. He reaches it well before her, and deftly jigs the lock on a certain panel that, according to the schematics of that plane, will open a cargo hold used for storing equipment. The space is small, but enough for him to worm his way inside, oxygen tank and protective gear and all. He misses his suits, but they would have been wrinkled beyond all recognition, and he isn't that much of a callous bastard. Next time, perhaps, depending on how this trip goes -- and whether or not M finds him and ejects him off the plane over the Atlantic Ocean. (There's also a parachute strapped to his back. Just in case.)
M doesn't find him. Six hours later, they land, which shouldn't be possible since it would throw them out in the middle of the ocean. Has he got this wrong? Much belatedly, it occurs to him that landing records can be... tweaked, shall we say. He sighs, and waits to see what mess he has got himself into this time.
He hears voices, M's distinctive husky drawl and Fury's deeper, smoother reply. Bond cautiously removes his mask and sucks in a breath. The air is perfectly breathable, so he stows his equipment away in its pack and opens the compartment's cover a crack. No one to be seen, and a quick look around tells him he's on some kind of base. He sneaks out of his hiding place, landing as softly as he can and daring a look around the plane's frame. He sees Fury and M get swallowed by a door that leads into the base, and with another check of his surroundings, Bond darts after them.
The door opens on the first try, and he slides inside, closing it softly behind him. The corridor he finds himself in looks like any other military base he has been on. He takes the steps leading down, keeping his back pressed to the wall. A quick look throws up two security cameras, pointing precisely towards where he is. Well, shit. He straightens, resettles his jacket over his shoulders, and squares them. If they've seen him, all he can do is tough it out and hope that whoever is looking doesn't know all the personnel in this place by sight.
The corridor is quite long, and it diverges in three directions after a hundred meters or so. There are charred remains of an explosion in the right extension, and Bond debates for a moment before heading that way. Anything important enough to have been targeted will be where he wants to be going, he's sure.
Signs of recent battle are everywhere. Bond is quite capable of putting two and two together to make eleven, and it's obvious that this damage is connected to what he saw on the tv screens two months ago. Another divergence of corridors, and again Bond takes the most damaged one. Just around the corner, he comes across his first interaction with personnel from the base. Two agents, dressed almost exactly like him, down to his combat boots, spare him no more than a look before passing by him. He wants to laugh -- how lucky is he?? -- but contents himself with a smirk, and moves on. He encounters more personnel now, and even exchanges nods with some of them, as if he has every right to be here. Fuck, if M finds out, she'll skin him alive. He finds himself almost wishing she would, just so he can see the look on her face when she sees him.
Further and further he goes, into the belly of the beast, until he rounds one last corner and finds himself on the threshold of an enormous room full of computer stations and personnel milling around like ants in an anthill. On the far edge, he spots a tall woman with dark hair in a bun and piercing blue eyes confer with a man about her height, broad shoulders, left arm in a brace over his perfectly tailored suit jacket. She looks up, and out of some instinct he has learned better than to question, Bond flattens himself against the wall of the corridor, out of sight. There's a faint scar on the woman's left cheekbone, just under her eye, like something struck her there hard enough to reach the bone. Bond doesn't have to know her name to know a commanding officer when he sees one. He risks another look, but she has turned away, and the man that was with her before is walking away, cutting a path through the staff and working stations towards the far left side of the room. He's carrying a file, on the cover of which Bond spots a tell-tale red stamp. Right then.
He sneaks out into the room, stride not fast, but not slow either, just right to hint that he's there with a purpose in mind. People don't give him a second glance. He follows the man through the doorway into yet another corridor, this one leading away from the damage. Bond makes sure not to walk too fast, lest he overtakes him or the man realises he's being followed. Luckily, there is other personnel in this corridor, people carrying varying amount of paperwork. Looks like he has stumbled into the administrative section.
The man in front of him walks on and on, barely pausing to exchange a nod here or a word there. Bond follows at a careful distance, turning corner after corner for what feels like miles. Finally, the crowd thins, and Bond has to lag even further to avoid suspicion. He barely manages to notice the man's route from this far back, and he's quietly cursing the maze that is this place when he rounds yet another corner and has to immediately backtrack the hell away. He presses his back to the wall, and strains his ears.
"...Going to be late tonight?" the man who stood rather close to the man Bond had been following says.
"Yeah, I told you about it last week, remember?" is the reply, and a sluggish memory starts poking at the back of Bond's mind. He knows that voice -- now if he can just work out where from? Something to do with M, he thinks...
The other man scoffs. "Well, if she fleeces you clean again, I'm not picking up the groceries tomorrow, I hope you know that, Coulson."
'Coulson'. The memory crystallises. This is one of the people M had introduced him to over the line in 2008, the night when his James, the man with the dancing eyes and filthy mouth who had so intrigued Bond, had become James Buchanan Barnes, war hero, presumed dead until now.
Coulson sighs, in what sounds like exasperation. "She is good," he admits resignedly.
"If you'd let us get in on those games, we could shake things up a little," the other man grouses, in what feels like an old and well-worn argument.
"I'm not letting you and Stark ruin the only relaxing time I get to have anymore, Barton," Coulson replies. "Besides, you, Natasha and Barnes are still banned until further notice."
Bond can't quite stifle the choked sound of surprise that crawls out of his throat. Natasha? It's not 'Natalia', and it might not be her, but 'Natasha' in conjecture with Barnes? The rush of adrenaline is strong enough that he has to close his eyes and breathe through it before any more sounds can penetrate through the pounding in his ears.
In hindsight, it's probably a mistake to let his guard down, even in an environment that isn't immediately hostile -- because when he opens his eyes again, it's to focus them on a gun pointed at his face and the fierce blue eyes of the man whose arm isn't in a sling. That man is standing immediately behind this one, right hand tucked inside his sling, pointing the open end at Bond. Bond would bet his monthly salary that there's some kind of gun concealed in it, too. He looks between the two men, reluctant respect making him raise both arms in the air.
"Gentlemen," he says easily, watching their eyes narrow. "There's a good explanation for all this, I can assure you."
The man in the sling removes his hand from within it, and sighs. It sound remarkably like the sigh he let out a few minutes ago, at the man who is still eyeing Bond suspiciously.
"James Bond. I should have known it was only a matter of time," he says dryly. So this is Coulson. He looks like he's trying to pass for an innocuous bureaucrat, but it'd take more than a suit and a mild expression to fool Bond's hard-earned instincts. This is one of the more dangerous men Bond's going to meet in his life.
The other man -- Barton, apparently -- lowers his weapon after a questioning look at Coulson. Used to taking orders, looks to Coulson for directions, follows them without hesitation. These men are an asset and his handler, at least -- and what looks to be a lot more, besides.
"Sir?" Barton says. Oh, yes. No asset sounds like this unless he feels a lot more for his handler than duty.
"It's okay, Barton. Agent Bond is with MI6. I would hazard a guess that this isn't an authorised visit, however."
Bond winces. "Not so much, no."
"And am I to assume that Agent Carter is unaware of your whereabouts?" Coulson goes on. Bond relaxes a little at the undercurrent of amusement threading through his words.
"Sir," Bond says, non-committal.
Coulson just looks at him, boring through several layers of the armour of easy nonchalance Bond spends his days maintaining. "Barton, I suggest you escort our guest to a private location, and then give Natasha and Barnes a call to brief them about the development. And then, if you have any sense, you'll stand well back from the blast radius."
Bond swallows, feeling for the first time ever-so-slightly apprehensive. Then he steels himself. He is being ridiculous. He has nothing to be apprehensive about.
Barton eyes his handler, and then Bond. Bond takes the opportunity to evaluate what he sees. Carries himself like a soldier, but isn't career military. His arms are frankly intimidating, even through the black jacket that is an identical replica of the one Bond is wearing. His eyes are very blue, his jaw is firm, and his mouth looks like it can give Bond's a run for his money. Bond looks back, daring him to act. Barton holsters his weapon and flicks out his phone in one smooth movement.
"Nat? Can you get Barnes and meet me in Coulson's office? No, not with him, he's going to the poker game, remember? No, there's someone here that Coulson thinks you might like to see. Five minutes."
He thumbs the screen to end the call, and looks faux-innocently at Coulson's unimpressed face.
"When I said 'somewhere private', I didn't mean for you to jeopardise the structural integrity of my office," Coulson drawls.
Barton's lips twitch. "But we're still rebuilding most of the conference rooms, Sir. This option seemed more secure."
Coulson shakes his head and pivots on his heel, heading down the corridor away from them. "I'm billing you personally for any damage," he throws over his shoulder. Barton ignores him, turning back to Bond and looking him up and down consideringly.
"Come on," he says after a long minute during which Bond feels like he is being strip-searched -- not that he'd mind, from this guy, but he appears to be taken. Barton heads in the opposite direction to Coulson, and takes the first turn on the left. At the end of the corridor, he swipes a card through a reader and keys in a twelve-number sequence. The lock clicks. Barton pushes the door open, waving at Bond to precede him inside. Bond goes, throwing a curious look around the place. It's bigger than a standard office, and it holds, amongst other things, a medium-sized round conference table and eight chairs tucked in their own nook, away from the massive desk in the other corner. Barton waves at a leather and chrome chair, throwing himself in its octuplet twin across the table. Bond sits. It's surprisingly comfortable.
"Yeah, we spend quite a bit of time here," Barton says, answering the question Bond is quite sure even his face hadn't asked.
"'You' being the Avengers, I presume," Bond says, because Barton can pretend all he wants, but he's far from just another SHIELD grunt.
"Got it in one," Barton confirms.
Bond debates fishing for more, but then the lock clicks again, and the door opens, and he forgets what he'd meant to say -- because he'd know that red hair anywhere; and if it weren't the hair, then the lips are a dead giveaway.
"Well well, look what the cat dragged in," Romanova drawls, aforementioned lips quirking in a rather evil smile. "James, guess who found his way into our lair."
Behind her, a familiar head pokes through the door. It's not quite the same as Bond remembers, but he'd recognise those blue eyes and that jawline from a mile away, even with the shock of white-blond hair over his head.
"What on earth have you done to your poor hair, James?" Bond drawls. "You look like you're in a boy band. Is it part of some disguise you forgot to get rid of?"
"I see you're still a first-rate asshole," James snaps back, but he's grinning in that savage, bright way of his that still makes Bond's cock twitch with interest.
Barton looks between the three of them, and a dismayed look steals over his face, turning his eyes a little glassy. "Fuck me. I think I see what Coulson meant about the blast radius. Damn, that would have been hella hot to watch."
James smirks at Barton, and licks his lips. Bond follows the flicker of his tongue with all due appreciation.
"Not to brag, but it was pretty spectacular," James purrs. His accent had evened out into something more generic in the years since they'd last seen each other, but the seductive rumble still comes through loud and clear.
"We could always--" Bond starts, but Romanova cuts him off.
"What are you doing here, James?"
Bond subsides, sprawling back in his chair. "My employer seems awfully cosy with your employer. I thought it merited further investigation."
"Your employer?" James frowns, before his face clears. "Oh, you mean Carter! Wily old fox, isn't she? But then again, she always was a cracker."
"What do they get up to when she's here?" Bond says, and he thinks he can be forgiven if there's a certain amount of frustration that comes through in his voice. SHIELD appears much better at cloaking their doings than MI6 is of recent.
The three agents share a look. "Poker night," Barton answers, sounding sulky.
"We got banned after the first time," Romanova supplies, an annoyed twist to her mouth.
"Coulson caught us cheating," Barton clarifies, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling. "It's not like they don't cheat."
"But they don't get caught, is the point, I think," James says. His eyes slide to Bond. "I don't suppose," he starts, but Bond can't hold it back any longer.
After a minute or so of laughing so hard he's wheezing, he rubs at his tearing eyes with his knuckles, and tries to catch his breath. "You got kicked out of a poker game," he croaks. "You. The two best spies in the world. Got caught cheating by your handler."
"Hey," Barton grunts, but Romanova just raises her eyebrows at him, and he holds his hands up in the classic "don't shoot me" gesture. "Yeah, okay. You are the two best spies in the world."
"Coulson's really, really fucking good," James says, somewhere between annoyance and respect. "No one else worked it out."
"Well, yeah," Barton shrugs. "It's Coulson." Like that's an answer in and of itself.
James bares his teeth. "Bah," he snarls in frustration, wrinkling his nose. Bond bites his lips to keep from getting set off on another laughing fit. James narrows his eyes at him.
"So how about it? You down with holding our own poker night?"
Bond doesn't bother concealing his predatory grin. "Indeed I am," he drawls.
"You have got to be joking," M groans, when Phil Coulson breaks the news to her. "That bloody impossible idiot." Not even several hours of Nick's company and his really excellent scotch can make up for this.
"Not at all. They are currently playing strip poker in my office. I believe he is down to his cargo pants and undershirt."
M raises her eyebrows. "He's losing?" she says disbelievingly.
"I'm pretty sure it's on purpose. He's collecting their tells. He already has Barnes's, perhaps unsurprisingly. Natasha's is proving more elusive. And he can't get a read on Captain Rogers at all."
M lets her face blanch like it so desperately wants to. "He met Steve?" she says faintly. "Dear god, we're looking at an international incident, aren't we."
Hill looks at her sympathetically over her own glass of scotch, but Coulson shakes his head unexpectedly.
"Actually, they're getting on really well. They've both got a patriotic streak a mile wide, and Captain Rogers is used to Sargeant Barnes's antics. They understand each other. No, I'm afraid that, as usual, it's Stark we need to worry about."
"Tony Stark? I'd have thought he and Bond would get on like a house on fire," M says, taken aback.
"And have you seen a house on fire lately, Carter?" Fury says, giving her a sardonic look out of his good eye. "Tony Stark around the Avengers is a little different than the Tony Stark the tabloids splash over their front pages. Not so much with the playboy who thinks with his dick, more with the geek genius who more or less rejuvenated American pop culture. He is a futuristic mechanical and technical genius, and Bond is -- well, Bond. A dinosaur. I don't have to remind you of the first time Stark and Rogers met, do I?"
M has to fight to suppress a shudder. "It would be so much simpler if they'd focus on getting into each other's trousers," she complains. Hill snorts.
"It would, wouldn't it? Now, did you want to talk about finding MI6 a new Quartermaster?"
M nods, grateful for the subject change. She is not looking forward to collecting her inebriated agent and ferrying him back to England, while trying not to give in to the urge to have him drawn and quartered when they get there.
Tony Stark, Bond decides, is a dick. Bond would almost approve -- takes one to know one, after all, and Stark can certainly keep up with their verbal sparring, but there's something... Hm. How can he put it? Over the top about him, a kind of posturing that, from looking around the room, isn't something Stark normally does. Rogers is looking at him strangely, and Romanova has that small frown in the middle of her forehead that Bond remembers from Krasnaya Pakhra, which means she's puzzling over a problem.
James shifts imperceptibly, catching his eye. When he's sure he has Bond's attention, he cuts his eyes between Rogers and Stark and back on Bond, raising an eloquent eyebrow. And just like that, Bond gets it. Stark thinks he's a threat. Stark has got his eye on Rogers, and thinks Bond might derail his plans. Bond bites the inside of his cheek, hard, and looks away from James's eyes, because he's had enough to drink now that if he doesn't, he's going to lose it and laugh till he cries. He feels a sudden, sharp empathy towards Stark, floundering in the murky waters of wanting more than just a tumble in the sack. Bond sympathises. Rogers isn't someone Bond would even consider getting involved with -- he's far too decent for the likes of him. Sure, Bond knows a soldier when he sees one, and he knows that Rogers would do whatever he has to in a fight, but he's not a bastard like Bond, or even James. He's a good man, and Bond knows he wouldn't have a chance in hell with him.
Stark, though. Bond can see Stark and Rogers, see that they would be good together. Okay, so Stark can be an asshole, according to the general consensus, but the two of them understand each other, like Natasha and James understand each other -- like James and Bond do, too. Poor Rogers. He's in for some grief until they get themselves sorted out, that much Bond can read loud and clear.
He shrugs. None of his business, anyway.
"Show 'em, gentlemen," Romanova says, and drops her two pair. Stark crows as he throws down his full house, and Rogers sighs gently, and folds. James holds Bond's eye and winks, before folding, too. Bond wonders how he knew. Just as Stark reaches for Romanova's shirt, intending to strip it off her, Barton, who had folded on the previous call, smirks and says, "Not so fast, Stark."
Stark sits back slowly, glaring painful death at Bond, who lounges comfortably back in his chair as he takes a drink from the bourbon Barton ferreted out of Coulson's desk before they got started.
"Well?" Stark demands.
Bond considers it a challenge to hold his straight face as he flicks down his four Jacks on top of Stark's full house. Stark growls in rage, pushing back from the table and stalking away, door slamming after him. Bond shakes his head. The guy's almost his age, for crying out loud. He shouldn't be letting Bond get to him.
"What on earth has gotten into him tonight?" Rogers murmurs. Bond raises his eyebrows. Does Rogers really not know?
It's Barton who catches his eyes this time and shakes his head ever-so-slightly, smiling wryly. 'He really doesn't', Bond reads.
Honestly. Bond is so much better off without any of that sort of complication.
He does, of course, get caught. He didn't really expect to get away with it. M is rather annoyed with him, of course, and repeatedly makes known her intentions to have him shot. By now, Bond is almost becoming fond of them -- he is sure it's her way of expressing affection. Rogers tries to hide his smile as he shakes his hand and kisses M's cheek. M gives him a flat look, but allows it, which from her is practically a full-on embrace.
Barton sends Bond a wink, hovering behind Coulson's shoulder with his hand subtly resting on the small of Coulson's back. Coulson just looks unimpressed.
James grabs him and kisses him soundly, in front of god and country. There is tongue. Bond responds in kind, because in their kind of work, despite everyone's best intentions, you never can be certain that you'll be seeing someone again.
Romanova punches him in the arm, hard enough to bruise. Bond rubs the soreness away, grinning. "You too, Romanova," he drawls, and smirks when she just huffs.
Stark doesn't turn up. All Bond can do is shrug. You win some, you lose some.
All in all, he is extremely glad that M didn't kick him out of the plane on their way here; he would have been sad to miss out on meeting these strange, quirky, fantastic people.
He's already looking forward to next month's game.