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The apartment that Quinn has rented is ten minutes away from the place where Eliot and the rest of his team are based. He travels a lot, moving around America – around the world – for work and he spends more time away from the apartment than in it which is how he justifies living so close to the guy he’s been dating for six months. Quinn tells himself it has nothing to do with the fact they’re dating and everything to do with the practicalities. It means Hardison keeps an eye on the place when he’s away and it means if there was someone suspicious hanging around waiting for him to return, Eliot would probably notice them.  So the way he’s living now, doing jobs exactly like he’s always done them but always returning to the same place after, is totally justifiable.

Until one night when, bleeding, he makes his way up the stairs to his apartment and spots the crack of light under his door. He’s sure he turned it off and he’s also sure that, over the phone, Eliot’s just told him that there’s been no issues which means whoever is in his apartment is a pro if they’ve managed to slip past Hardison’s surveillance. Someone has managed to find him, and the apartment suddenly seems a whole lot more like a risk than it had ten minutes ago. Quinn’s trying to decide whether to turn and go back down the stairs – he’s bleeding, it would be a strategic retreat – when he notices the symbol chalked onto the wall just next to his door.

It’s been a long time but he still knows what it means.

Inside Quinn’s apartment, Agent Barton of SHIELD has made himself comfortable. He’s stretched out on the couch, a beer in his hand and his bow resting on his stomach. Quinn snorts and pushes the door closed behind himself, grabs his first aid kit before dropping down into the chair opposite Barton.

“It’s usually polite to knock.” Pulling up his t-shirt, Quinn hisses as the material tugs at the wound on his stomach.

“You weren’t here.”

Quinn doesn’t have to look up to know that Barton just shrugged. “You could have called back some other time.”

“I was good waiting – nice place you have here, easy to find.”

He glances up at that. “Easy to keep an eye on, too.”

Barton looks at him thoughtfully for a moment then sits up on the couch. “Keeping an eye on somewhere wouldn’t even be a problem if you didn’t stay in one place.” His tone is half-teasing, half-serious.

“Just because you found me, doesn’t mean anyone else can. You know me and you’re not a threat.” The wound in Quinn’s stomach stings as he pulls out the bullet that’s embedded there but he doesn’t complain; he’s had worse.

“You don’t think I’m a threat?” Barton brings a hand up to clasp at his chest dramatically. “That hurts.”

“Real funny. I’m sure you could hurt me if you wanted to. The reason you’re not a threat is because you don’t want to.”

“I guess that’s fair. How’d you get shot?”

“Believe it or not, it was part of the plan. Idiot was supposed to be aiming to graze, though.”

Barton laughs. “You should be more careful about who you choose to work with.”

Sterilising his wound, Quinn nods. “Is that why you’re here? To help me be more careful?”

“I’m here to offer an old friend an opportunity. SHIELD appreciates your talents.”

“And did SHIELD appreciate me walking away with no notice five years ago?” Placing some gauze over his injury, Quinn watches Barton closely, looking for a tell.

Barton looks right back at him. “It’s a very different SHIELD now.”

 “And you?” It wasn’t just SHIELD he’d walked away from back then. Sitting back in his chair, Quinn still doesn’t break his gaze. “Did you understand, Clint?”

“Yeah, I did.” Barton smiles. “Quinn, relax. We always said it was just casual, remember?”

“Maybe I should have called.” He’d never tried to push for anything other than casual – it had suited him, been easier than having to make a commitment, even if he had cared for Barton more than he’d have ever admitted.

“That’s not who you were.”

“No.” He glances over to the plant that Eliot had brought over when he first moved in and wonders how he’s changed so quickly. “No, I guess not.”

“Will you come back?”

“Why now?”

Clint takes a swig of the beer that he’s been ignoring up until now and then sighs. “Something big is coming, something we haven’t seen before. SHIELD is going to need all the agents it can get.”

“You have the Avengers Initiative. Hell, if what I’ve been hearing is right, you’re part of it.”

Clint’s eyes widen for a moment and then he laughs. “You’ve still got a knack for finding out classified information, then.”

“And people still take it for granted that classified information will stay classified instead of making sure that it does. Either way, my point still stands – you have a team of so-called superheroes on your side.”

“The Avengers can’t be everywhere, Quinn. SHIELD needs good, experienced agents right now - and lots of them - if we’re going to cope with the threat that’s coming. I’m asking you first because you’re the best and I’m asking you personally because you’re a friend.”

It’s five years since Quinn walked away from SHIELD and he hasn’t once tried to get in contact with Clint; he doesn’t deserve the title of ‘friend’, or the time Clint has taken to come and ask him this in person. And yet, he’s known what his answer will be from the moment he saw the symbol chalked on the wall.

“I can’t come back.”

“Is this about Spencer?” Clint doesn’t give him a chance to answer before continuing. “Because we can find a place for him, too – he’d be an asset.”

“Eliot won’t leave his team, Clint.”

“And you can’t walk away from him.” It isn’t a question.

“Not for SHIELD, no. Not when I can’t even guarantee I’d make a difference.”

Clint nods and stands up. “I can’t say I’m surprised.”

“It’s selfish of me, again.”

Clint doesn’t say anything in response to that, just stands and walks towards the door.

“Look after yourself, Barton.” He looks straight ahead.

“I will.” The door opens and then Clint clears his throat. “For what it’s worth, I’m selfish too. If you’d have called back then, after you left, I don’t think I’d have answered.”

The door slams shut and Quinn closes his eyes, wonders whether he’ll ever see Clint again, whether he’ll ever tell Eliot about the choice he’s just made between his career –and an old friend - and their new, still unstable relationship.

Once he’s made sure he’s not going to bleed all over the place the first thing Quinn does is rub the chalk off the wall outside. It’s the only trace Clint’s left behind – he’s even taken his beer bottle with him. Quinn doesn’t blame him for being paranoid; the world is dangerous and they’d both learned a long time ago that you can’t really trust even the people that you trust.

He doesn’t feel like going back inside his apartment after that so he heads for the nearest bar, a place he usually walks straight past in favour of other bars. Inside its dark, the type of establishment where it’s easy to be anonymous – just what Quinn needs. 

He’s on his second beer when someone slides onto the stool next to him and he glances sideways, unsurprised to see Eliot looking back at him.

“Job go smoothly?” Eliot nudges Quinn’s knee with his own, probably the only contact they’ll have until they get back to one of their apartments.

“Enough,” he lowers his voice, “not working with Lewis again, though.”

“I told you he was-”

“I know. Missed me?”

Eliot sighs. “Haven’t had time to miss you – we’ve been working pretty hard.”

“That’s what happens when you go from a team of five to a team of three. You getting a drink?”

“Depends – how close are you to finished?”

There’s only a drain left in the bottom of the bottle and he drinks it back before placing the bottle on the counter and nudging it away. “Finished.”

“Then, no – I’ve got beer back at my place.” 

They walk back to Eliot’s in silence but it’s the most relaxed Quinn’s felt in a good few days. He tries not to think too closely about that.

 

~~

“You’re going away again?” Parker folds her arms and tilts her head, “you just came back.”

Quinn pinches the bridge of his nose and counts to five – there’s never enough time to count to ten. “That’s the life.” He looks to Eliot for help.

Eliot nods, “he’s right. Sometimes it gets busy. Other times he’ll be around for months at a time. That’s just the way it is.”

“It’s not fair on you though.”

Quinn’s relieved when Eliot’s reaction to Parker’s statement is to laugh.

“Parker,” Eliot says, “I don’t need to see him every single day. I don’t need to have him here in New York constantly. Hell, if it was up to me we’d not be in New York at all.”

Quinn wrinkles his nose – he’s heard this argument before. Eliot hates using the city as a base, Parker thinks it’s a prime target for the corrupt CEOs they take down. Quinn just wishes they wouldn’t bring him into it. It is kind of cute, though – how protective Parker is of Eliot.  

Parker shrugs, “just come back in one piece this time.”

“Aw, you care!” Quinn clutches his chest dramatically.

“About Eliot, yes.” Parker smiles sweetly and leaves the room.

“You shouldn’t wind her up like that.”

“Why not?”

Eliot takes a step closer to him, “because she does care.”

“Yeah, well. No offence, Parker’s great but it’s not really her I come back for.”

That was almost a declaration,” Eliot teases.

“Almost my ass – I’d say that was an out and out declaration.” Quinn sighs, smirks, “you’re thinking about my ass now, aren’t you?”

“Are you complaining?”

“No chance.”

 

~~

No contact for eighteen days would have once been nothing to Quinn – par for the course, just part of the job. But he’s missed Eliot and, tired as he is, he’s going to eat, shower, and head straight out to see him. Something has changed over the last few weeks; he’s not sure whether it’s because of the declaration he’d let slip before he’d left or because he’s had too much time to think on this job but, either way, he’s going to be be sticking around in New York for longer this time if he can possibly help it.

 He grabs a slice of the pizza he’d picked up on his way home and turns on the television. Quinn’s seen a lot of horrible sights – been the cause of some of them – but seeing a whole section of the city he’s started to think of as his in ruin still makes his heart thump in his chest. Fire. Casualties. Attack.  They’re the words the news report is saying and he can see it for himself on the screen.

He drops the slice of pizza back into the box. Eliot hasn’t left him any messages to warn him.

Quinn picks up his cell. He dials the number he’s had memorised for months. He curses when there’s no answer. It doesn’t mean anything – in their line of business they can’t always answer their phones, maybe the system is clogged up with people trying to check on loved ones – but Quinn can’t help the nagging feeling in his stomach when Eliot doesn’t answer the second time, when Parker doesn’t answer her phone either.

Forgoing his food and shower, Quinn makes sure his gun is loaded, knife tucked securely in his boot, before setting off in search of answers. No-one’s at Eliot’s apartment. Usually, Quinn’s next move would be to check the team’s headquarters but he walks right past them today, heading in the direction of the carnage because they’ll be there helping out, he knows.

It looks so much worse up close. Rubble everywhere. People sobbing. People dead at the side of the road. Whatever has happened, Quinn can tell it’s not a normal crime. Sirens wail all around – usually a cue for him to leave but he walks on. Walks on until he sees Hardison leaning against a wall that’s half torn down, Parker’s further down the block talking to a cop, and then Quinn meets Hardison’s eyes and knows he won’t be seeing Eliot again.  He doesn’t want to walk forward to stand in front of the hacker and have it confirmed once and for all. He knows Eliot’s gone, but it doesn’t seem real. But Quinn’s lost a lot of people in his life and he’s learnt enough to know he has to do something other than just stand there.

He should have known something good wouldn’t last.

“What happened?”

Hardison shakes his head, “I don’t know, man. There were these things – not human, not – I don’t-”

Quinn interrupts, “Eliot. What happened to Eliot?”

Hardison looks down at the ground, “the building was on fire. He went – it exploded.”

“Being the hero,” Quinn snorts, “figures.”

It sounds callous to his own ears and he expects a comeback, some overly moral remark from the hacker. Instead, Hardison reaches forward and clasps his shoulder, doesn’t speak.

Quinn fills the silence. “There’s going to be a lot of clearing up to do. Lots of rebuilding.” Looking at the bigger picture makes it easier for Quinn not to react, not to punch the wall or punch Hardison and the look of pity on his face.

“Yeah. I spoke to Sophie – she and Nate are going to come.”

“Give up retirement?”

“Yeah.”

Quinn nods. “I’ll help too. Least I can do.” The for Eliot hangs unspoken in the air between them. “I’m sorry – I know how close all of you are.”

“You were close to him too.” Parker joins them, slips her hand into Hardison’s and squeezes.

Quinn looks away but there’s comfort everywhere; people hugging, talking in soft voices. It’s too much.

The three of them stand in silence for a while until Quinn snaps himself out of it. This isn’t him. “I’m going to see how I can help.”

Parker nods, “they’re setting up a shelter – Hardison and I will get food for them. Will we see you later?”

Quinn knows this part well, the expectation that he’ll move on, disappear, run away. He shakes his head. “You’re going to need a hitter at least some of the time.”

“Eliot would have-”

“Yeah.”

Quinn finds a team moving rubble, searching for survivors and starts to help. In other circumstances he’d be told to leave it to the professionals but they just nod at him and carry on. It doesn’t feel good standing in the middle of the dust and the bricks and the things that were once identifiable objects but at least he’s doing something.

He moves a brick and there’s a hand – rough, calloused, no pulse – and he steps back as the others work to uncover the body. This might be Eliot, he things, and he watches because he can’t look away.

It isn’t Eliot but he isn’t sure how that makes it better.

He’s back to clearing rubble when there’s a sudden increase in noise levels. A van’s pulled up and, bizarrely, his first thought is Lucille. But no, this van belongs to a different team – one that’s more well-known.

Tony Stark steps out of the van and Quinn throws up in the pile of debris he’s meant to be moving. He knows, just knows now that this is what Clint came to see him about. Eliot helped without being asked where he refused. He swipes at his mouth and watches as the other Avengers exit the van. Clint steps out last and sees him immediately. Quinn doesn’t move.

He should have been in New York when this happened. He should have been with SHIELD, helping. Maybe even helping to stop this.

Out of nowhere, reporters flock to ask questions and Quinn should leave – he can’t get caught on camera – but instead he keeps watching Clint Barton. The SHIELD agent who knows the hitter scrambling through the rubble like he’s useful is a coward.

Quinn sits down on the edge of the sidewalk. A few minutes later Clint joins him.

“This was it, right?”

Clint clears his throat. “My visit wasn’t strictly official so-”

“Barton.”

“Yes. Yes, this was it.”

Quinn nods, chokes a little. He might have been able to stop this. Coward. “Eliot’s dead.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” he glances at the other members of Clint’s team, already stuck in helping with the rescue operation, “I want in.” It’s too late now but he has to do something. He can protect Eliot’s team and he can help protect against the thing that killed Eliot. He has to.

Clint sighs and nudges Quinn’s knee with his own. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Either way, I’m going after whatever it was that did this with or without SHIELD.”

“You didn’t come back because of Eliot.”

“Look where that got me.”

“That’s not-” Clint stands up, holds out a hand to pull Quinn up. When they’re both standing, he continues, “you wouldn’t leave him and that – he mattered to you.”

“Yes.” It’s the first time he’s actually admitted it to someone other than himself or Eliot and his voice breaks only a little.

“I’ll get you into SHIELD. I have to get back to my duties now.”

Quinn nods.

“You’ll be okay?”

Quinn laughs, hollow and bitter, and listens as Clint walks away before moving onto the next pile of rubble.  

 

~~

Quinn helps outside until it gets dark and the weary rescuers all troop back to their vehicles. There will be no more survivors.  His muscles ache and he still hasn’t eaten but it’s been worth it – he’s played a part in pulling three people out alive, witnessed more being saved. He’s done something.

Instead of returning to his apartment he heads for the shelter Parker mentioned earlier – a school building that’s now full of survivors. People line the corridors, some in groups, some alone. He wonders if it was this bad the last time the Avengers had to defend New York. The city has certainly got organised quickly considering; there’s more than just this shelter been set up and he’s been told by a few people about the food drive that’s already underway. He finds Hardison and Parker in the main hall taking down the names of arrivals into the shelter. It’s a long list. He sits down next to them and rests his head on the desk in front of him. 

“Did you stay out there all day?” Hardison asks.

“Yeah.” His voice sounds muffled even to him so Quinn sits up. “We saved a few, found a whole lot more that couldn’t be saved. What’s the ETA on Nate and Sophie?”

“They’re on their way – going to try and get here as soon as they can but it might take a while. There’s lots of people trying to get out of the city.”

“Right.”

Parker turns to look at him, “you should take a break.”

“Are you going to?” Quinn shoots back.

“I already have – Hardison and I went back to our apartment for a couple of hours earlier.”

“Did you really?”

“Yes,” Hardison nods, “Parker’s right – you need to sleep. And eat – I bet you haven’t eaten.”

“I’m a big boy, okay. I can take care of myself.” He doesn’t want to be coddled –he’d thought of out everyone these two would understand that. “What can I do to help here?”

“Go home for a couple of hours and then you can come back and help make sure everyone’s comfortable.”

Quinn wants to argue back, to insist he can help now but he hasn’t missed the streaks on Parker’s face, the way Hardison’s hands are still shaking. They’ve lost someone too – he can’t argue with them now.

“I won’t be gone long,” he says, instead, and leaves. On his way out he grabs a pile of blankets and hands one to every person he sees. 

 

~~

When Quinn gets back to his apartment there’s chalk on the wall and he rubs it off with his fingers before walking inside. Clint’s sitting in the same spot he was last time, a bottle of whiskey and two glasses already filled on the table in front of him. Quinn takes off his holster as he walks across to take his seat.

“It’s been a long day,” Clint offers, “I thought you might need a drink.”

He’s already got the tumbler in his hand. “I’ll just have the one, though. I’m heading back out in an hour or so.”

“I spoke to Fury – he’s happy to have you back.”                                 

“I need to be based in New York. Eliot’s team is here.”

“The Avengers are based here – I’ll put in a request for you to be nearby. It’s important we have agents we can trust around us.”

“And they think that’s me?”

Clint snorts, “hell, no. But they trust me.”

 He takes a drink of the whiskey, Clint’s bought the good stuff and Quinn drinks a little more before setting the tumbler down again. This is familiar, a routine they’d once had. A hard day and a hard drink afterwards to take the edge off.

“Have you eaten yet, Quinn?”

“No. There’s pizza somewhere around here.”

Clint nods and stands up, he disappears into the kitchen and re-emerges a few minutes later with a plate of food. Quinn knows better than to refuse it so he forces himself to eat. The pizza tastes stale in his mouth as he chews and he has to push himself to keep eating one, two slices, until Clint nods at him and tops up his glass. He can remember times when he’s done the same for Clint so he doesn’t complain at the mothering, the insistence to be sensible even when he feels like doing the opposite. He needs to show Clint he can do this, needs to make sure he’s going to keep the SHIELD gig he’s just been given.

“What, or who, did it?”

“Not today, Quinn. There are things to sign – and I don’t think you need to think about it today.”

“Barton, it’s me. Come on.”

“Technology of the kind we haven’t seen a lot of, being manipulated by someone powerful – and don’t ask who because we don’t know yet. We’d been hearing chatter but we didn’t expect it to happen so soon. We’re waiting for someone to claim responsibility.”

“But if no-one does you have no idea?” Quinn doesn’t mean to sound quite so accusatory.

“We have a few leads.”

“A few. Okay, well we can work with a few, I guess.”

Clint sighs, “you might not even get tasked onto this.”

“Please, I’m based in New York – everyone here’s going to be involved with this one.” He knows he’s right and he tips his head back and closes his eyes.

“If it’s any consolation, the training facilities have improved a lot since the last time you went through them.”

“Training?” he cracks one eye open, “I have to do training?”

“You know the protocol. It’s been a few years, Quinn – unavoidable. It’ll be the fast-track training, a refresher.”

“Still,” he mumbles, “mingling with fresh-faced recruits isn’t my idea of a good time.”

Clint snorts, “SHIELD agents fresh-faced -someone hit you on the head?”

He’s about to answer when Clint’s cell rings and Quinn closes his eyes again, tunes out the talking and focuses on the dark. He’s thinking of a dozen what-ifs - different ways today could have gone where instead of Clint sitting across from him it would be Eliot, weary and grubby like Quinn is but alive. It all came down to one moment, one moment where Eliot had decided to go into a building or to hang back to try and save one more person. One moment where Quinn had said no and pushed the offer he’d received to the back of his mind.

“I’m going to have to head off,” Clint says, “Avengers meeting. I’m going to take the bottle with me, though.”

“Sure – I’m heading back out soon, anyway. I told you.”

“Yeah, you did. Try and get some sleep – things are going to get busy.”

“Sure.”

“Don’t get yourself killed before I contact you again.”

Once upon a time Quinn would have been unsure whether Clint was being serious or trying to be funny. Now he knows the difference. “Don’t leave it too long.”

“I’ll get your training sorted as soon as I can – won’t keep you waiting.”

Quinn throws the rest of the pizza away after Clint’s gone and then feels guilty thinking of all the hungry people in the shelter. Grabbing his gun again he heads out the door – he’s been gone long enough that he doesn’t think Parker or Hardison will kick up a fuss about him returning.

 

~~

Clint makes good on his promise. Quinn hears from him the very next day with the date for his training. Nate’s watching him as he hangs up and Quinn shrugs. “Someone wanted me for a job,” he lies, “too bad I’m a bit more exclusive now, eh?” He hates how flippant he sounds just a few days after Eliot’s death but he can’t help who he is. Flippancy is the way he copes.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Quinn?” Sophie asks, “because if the reason is some sort of guilt or-”

“That’s not why. Eliot would want you guys looked after – it’s the least I can do,” he smirks, “besides, I have the apartment now – might as well stick around until the lease runs out.” Quinn leans back in his seat and maintains eye contact with Sophie until she looks away.

“We should do something for Eliot.” Hardison looks up from his tablet and continues with what is obviously a rehearsed suggestion. “I know there isn’t a body but we should still do something.”

“Agreed,” Nate says, “maybe something for the others too. There’s got to be some way of finding out who was behind this.”

Alarmed, Quinn shakes his head. “It’s too big for us – we’d be better off trying to get money for people, not trying to take down an unknown enemy.” He can’t have Nate digging around in this, not if he’s going to manage to keep his involvement with SHIELD separate from the team – and he knows that’s the only way this will work. If one group finds out about the other he’ll be forced to choose and he can’t do that, can’t pick between the people Eliot called family and the people who can help him get revenge.

“We have to do something,” Parker says, “that’s what we do – it doesn’t matter how big the target is.”

Sophie rests a hand on Nate’s arm. “It’s your call, Parker. Nate and I are just here temporarily – this is still your team now.”

Quinn stays silent, not wanting to draw attention to himself by protesting too much. He can always warn SHIELD and make sure any investigation into the threat doesn’t get anywhere.

Nodding, Parker turns to Hardison. “Start doing some digging – we’ll start taking on regular jobs from next week for now but if something comes up we’ll act on it. For Eliot.”

Quinn starts to tune out the conversation as it turns to memories about Eliot and how far he sometimes used to go to help people. He knows this stuff already; he’s seen Eliot go out of his way to do what’s right first-hand but somehow he can’t bring himself to feel fond about it, not when it’s exactly the sort of action that ended in Eliot’s death. That’s why he’s not going to let himself get fully involved in this crusade of Eliot’s team. Sure, he’ll help them out, make sure they’re safe, but he’s not going to get invested when he needs to survive long enough to kill the son of a bitch who did this.

It’s survival in its most selfish form but he won’t apologise for it.

 

~~

Dragging a hand through his hair, Quinn leans on the wall outside of Eliot’s apartment for a moment, trying to catch his breath. He’s come straight from SHIELD training that had been every bit as patronising and full of fresh-faced recruits – no matter what Clint had insisted – as he’d thought it would be. He’s come away with considerably less bruises than they have but he’d still gained a few when Clint had arrived for the last twenty minutes of the session and challenged him to a sparring match.

A glance at his watch tells him he really needs to make his way inside. It’s the first time he’s been back to Eliot’s place since before he went away on the Paris job and part of him hates Parker for deciding to relocate the team’s headquarters here. But Parker had said it wouldn’t feel right to leave Eliot’s place empty and it wasn’t Quinn’s place to disagree, not really –he’d been involved with Eliot for a lot less time than they had.

As he walks up the stairs in the building – he never takes elevators, they’re too closed in – he tries not to think about the last time he was here. He’s been doing a lot of that lately – not thinking about things. It’s easier to work on getting ready for SHIELD, on making sure Eliot’s team – they’ll always be Eliot’s team to him – are managing okay. Getting on with things and getting over himself is the way he’s always lived.

 He’s glad that the others are already there waiting to get the briefing started – it forces him to adopt a neutral expression and walk straight in and sit down instead of lingering in the doorway. There’s already a picture up on the screen that Hardison’s installed where there used to just be a blank wall - their mark, Quinn supposes. The woman has auburn hair and a smile that just screams grifter at him. “Who is she?”

“Stephanie Hannigan. Juliet Smith. Sarah, Cassie, Lucy Michaels,” Sophie folds her arms, “take your pick.”

Parker nods, “she’s our mark. She’s been taking money from the elderly – pretending to help them around the house, things like that, and then stealing from them. Our client is Mrs. Roberts – recently widowed. Hannigan lived with the couple for two months before the husband died, took all of his savings when she left.”

“She’s the worst kind of grifter,” adds Sophie.

Quinn’s listening to them but watching Nate struggle not to take over the briefing. Every so often, the guy’s opening and closing his mouth again. Quinn can’t resist. “What do you think, Nate?”

“I – I think we should listen to Parker’s plan.”

“Yeah,” Hardison says, “and maybe try not to wind each other up, new boy.”

He wants to bite back, to make some retort about how he’s got a whole lot more experience than Hardison will ever have but, no, bickering was Hardison and Eliot’s thing and he can’t do it to the hacker, won’t act like he’s ever going to replace Eliot because he isn’t, wouldn’t want to.

“We’re going to draw her out of these people’s homes – give her a competition she won’t be able to refuse.”

Sophie smiles, “oh, I am going to love out-grifting her.”

“Actually,” Parker pulls what is probably meant to be an apologetic face, “you’re not her competition.  Hannigan has this…thing.”

“Thing?”

“She hates male grifters – had a professional partnership go wrong.”

“So Hardison?”

Parker shakes her head, “no – we need him for something else. And Nate needs to be the pretend mark which means-”

“That Quinn’s our competition,” Sophie finishes, turning to look at him. “Can you actually grift?”

“I can be charming,” he says.

“That’s not what I asked.”

“Yes. Yes, I can grift.”

“I hope so,” says Parker, “because the whole con depends on you being able to.”

Quinn nods, and leans back in his chair as Parker outlines her plan. It’s pretty good, he thinks, combines competition with business benefits in a way that Hannigan will struggle to resist. Aside from his own role, it plays to everyone else’s strengths and he wonders whether Parker is deliberately challenging him to check he makes the cut.

“Good job, Parker,” Nate stands up and starts to walk up and down the room, past the bookshelves full of tattered paperbacks and back again. “When do you want to put this into action?”

“Monday. There’s a memorial service for Mr. Roberts.”

“And Mrs. Roberts?”

“Is clever – she knows Hannigan’s taken the money but she hasn’t let her know she knows.”

“Sounds smart,” Hardison says, “like my Nana. I hate this woman already – we’ll make it hurt, yeah?”

Parker grins, “oh, yeah. We’re going to do that.”

Quinn’s only sat in on briefings a couple of times since helping them take down Latimer and Dubenich but he’s quickly learned that there’s a pattern to these things. Professional mixed with personal, a brief outline followed by an in-depth discussion of the plan, a step-by-step critique of each stage. He’s surprised by how much Nate’s stepping aside, contributing to ideas but not even trying to take back his old role – it makes him wonder how long Nate and Sophie are planning on sticking around for, how soon before he’ll be part of a team of three.

Things go okay, until they don’t. They’ve talked about everything job-related they can possibly talk about and all they’re left with is Eliot’s apartment without Eliot.

Quinn stands up. “I’ll see you on Monday, then.”

“You’re not sticking around?” Hardison says.

“I’m not staying here, no,” he sighs when they continue to look at him, “look, I’m just taking a few days, okay? I have things of my own to tie up.”

Things is actually more training, a fitness test, a psych exam to make sure he’s suitable for SHIELD. The only place he’d rather be less than going through those motions is in Eliot’s apartment.

“Make sure you show up Monday,” Parker says.

“What? You don’t trust me?” Quinn snorts, “what a surprise. I’ll be here – I don’t ever back out of things without good reason.”

“We don’t trust you yet but Eliot did.”

Everyone winces at the use of past tense. No-one comments on it.

“So you’re taking the chance?”

“We’re taking a chance.”

 

~~

When Quinn had trained up for SHIELD alongside Clint, the facilities had been in the middle of nowhere and they’d spent hours wondering how far they’d have to walk to reach a bar. The facility he’s based at now couldn’t be any more different – in the middle of a city, SHIELD have to drive their recruits out for miles for any exercises that require explosions. At the start of every day they all enter covertly, dressed in suits. At the end of the day they leave the same way, smart shirts hiding the fresh bruises underneath. It’s all very cloak and dagger but Quinn gets a kick from seeing the younger recruits who can’t quite manage to fill out their cheap suits – occasionally, only occasionally, it also makes him feel old.

“I was in my first bar fight when I was twelve,” one of the recruits, a Jones, insists. He’s surrounded by five or six others who are lapping up his stories.

Quinn snorts and moves further away, taking up a spot at the edge of the room as he waits for their instructor to arrive. It would worry him that these people were the future of SHIELD, except that he can remember telling a story about a cliff and a motorbike in his first week of training. SHIELD will make this guy grow up quickly.

The day’s instructor, when he arrives, stands silently in the doorway watching the scene. Quinn’s the only one that notices him and he watches the man’s expression with some amusement as it travels from curious to exasperated to something that promises the day’s training is going to be colourful.

He’s right – the drills they get put through are strenuous even by SHIELD’s standards. It’s good, not as satisfying as a real job by any means but enough to make him physically ache and to occupy his mind. It’s enough until Monday.

 

~~

Monday comes around too quickly after a Sunday spent moping. Quinn can handle his drink – prides himself on it- but even so his head aches as he makes his way outside to where Lucille is waiting. Inside the van, Parker shoots him a glare but doesn’t comment on his cutting it fine. Sophie isn’t quite so forgiving.

“Nice of you to join us,” she says instead.

“I’m here, aren’t I? In my suit and ready to attract the attention of a grifter.”

“Yes, well – let’s hope you do.”

Deciding not to get involved in further debate, Quinn pulls out his cell phone and shoots off a message to Clint. Now that his fast-track training is underway, he wants to know more. Tell all, he texts Clint, my place tonight if you can. Then he turns off his phone and gets his head in the game like the professional he prides himself on being.

They don’t have far to drive to get to the Roberts’ residence but it’s long enough for Quinn to get himself into character, eyes closed and ignoring the sounds going on around him. Without saying another word to the others, he’s the first out of the van when it pulls up outside the house and he starts down the path without waiting for a cue. He’s got a comm in his ear but he’s not going to engage with any chatter unless it’s absolutely necessary. Inside, people are already milling around, making small talk and being polite. It’s easy for Quinn to school his expression to look like he’s grieving when he is.

Hannigan’s already sitting down, close to Mrs. Roberts and Quinn waits until Parker’s nodded at the woman to let her know who he is before heading over. Callous as it seems during the memorial for her husband, they need the widow for this, and she’d agreed.

“James, darling, you made it,” Mrs. Roberts reaches out and grasps his hand, grifting like a pro, “I’m so glad. Stephanie, this is James – he’s a friend of my Tommy.”

“Tommy who lives in London?” Stephanie Hannigan sits up a little straighter in her seat.

“Yes, James went to school with him and now he lives in the neighbourhood. Surely I’ve mentioned him before – he’s always helping me out doing odd jobs for less money than he deserves.”

“Please,” Quinn places a hand on the widow’s shoulder, “anything for a beautiful woman, especially one related to Tom.” He makes eye contact with Mrs. Roberts and maintains it for a few moments before turning to face Hannigan, “and how do you know the family?”

“Oh, Stephanie’s a good friend too, James. She was such a help during those last few months.”

 “Really?” Hannigan looks him up and down, “it’s strange that we never bumped into one another.”

“Yes, how odd. Mrs. Roberts, let me know if there’s anything you need during the service.” With a gentle squeeze of her shoulder, Quinn shoots a winning smile at Hannigan before starting to circulate the room.

“Sometimes a suggestion can be powerful,” Sophie says over the comms. She’s waiting in the van but is obviously listening to critique his skill.

“I know,” Quinn mutters, “that’s why I suggested.”

He makes sure to speak to Mrs. Roberts every time he’s near her as the memorial service progresses but doesn’t even make eye contact with Stephanie Hannigan again. Indifference will always draw more curiosity than eagerness, that’s what his Mom always used to tell him, and over the course of his career he’s learned that’s one thing she was right about, at least. He doesn’t hear much more from Sophie over the comms and wonders whether that’s because she’s impressed. Either way, he knows he’s done his job properly when the service ends and Hannigan hurries down the path after him.

“You’re a friend of her nephew?” she asks again, “how come you’re so bothered about her?”

“I can’t be a concerned citizen?”

“No, I don’t think you are.”

Quinn shrugs, beginning to adopt his second character, “think what you want to think – you’re not exactly in a position to talk. Don’t worry – I’m not going to be showing up at the houses of all your elderly marks.”

“I don’t,” Hannigan starts, and then lowers her voice, “Mrs. Roberts doesn’t have any money left for you, anyway.”

“I know –you did a thorough job,” he smirks, “well, I better be off.”

Hannigan follows him down the path as he walks away. “You still haven’t told me why,” she says.

“Why should I? Please, lady, James Foster never trusts another grifter. I’d imagine you don’t, either.”

This time when Quinn walks away, Hannigan doesn’t follow, and he knows his bait is set. 

 

~~

“Hannigan’s been searching for you,” Hardison doesn’t bother with a greeting as Quinn enters the room, launches straight into his information instead, “and she’s seen some very interesting search results – I admire my own creativity, I have to say.”

“Yeah, I know you do,” Quinn replies, “what did she do after that?”

“Exactly what we thought she would - she googled Mrs. Roberts.”

“Hook, line and sinker?”

Hardison nods, “hook, line and sinker.”

 

~~

Quinn’s only job as James the next day is to meet Nate outside of the Roberts residence where he’s sure Hannigan will be watching them.  It’s early, because they knew Hannigan would be staying over but not what time she’d be leaving in the morning. He talks to Nate about the weather because it doesn’t really matter what they’re saying, as long as Hannigan sees him with the man she is going to know as Jimmy Papadokalis.

He doesn’t stick around for small talk after, leaving as soon as they’re done so that he can get to SHIELD training in time. When Nate calls him back and asks if he wants to observe the next part of the grift – Nate and Sophie – he shakes his head and doesn’t give a reason, then spends the whole journey to SHIELD’s facility wondering what he’s going to do when his two commitments actually have a time clash. 

Ten minutes late when he arrives ready for training, Quinn isn’t expecting the sheer commotion that is going on inside the building. No-one even notices his late arrival, and no-one’s actually being trained in anything. Instead, some of the recruits are milling around in the corridors talking and looking excited. As soon as he’s pieced together bits of the conversation he understands why. Training suspended temporarily. Facility…retasked. Avengers.

As he gets nearer to the part of the building where the labs, the server rooms, the emergency rooms are, though, it’s plain to see that the excitement isn’t all positive. The SHIELD agents that are hurrying around look serious and he can tell immediately which room is the hub of activity by the guards standing outside of the door. He starts walking towards it only to be stopped by someone he thinks he vaguely recognises.

“You’re not authorised to go in there, you wouldn’t be even if you weren’t still just in training.”

Snorting, Quinn takes in the guy’s suit and pasty complexion and folds his arms across his chest, “look, pal, I’m on refresher training but I know for sure I’ve seen more action than you have.”

“If you’ve been recruited by SHIELD in the past you’ll know there’s a strict hierarchy that must be followed.”

“Screw hierarchy, try telling Barton I’m outside and you’ll see.”

“Pal, even I don’t have clearance to go near there.”

“Fine,” pulling out his cell phone Quinn hits speed dial two and waits for the answer, speaking as soon as Clint picks up, “you going to ditch protocol and let me into this room?” Quinn hangs up and waits. Two minutes later the door swings open and Clint beckons him forwards.

“SHIELD headquarters here in New York came under attack – the computer systems were hit, security compromised. We’ve had to regroup here,” Clint says.

“Let me guess – this place is actually safer because it’s the fall back option?”

“Exactly. You’re being allowed into this room because I have some weight behind me now so just, don’t show me up, yeah?”

Shaking his head, Quinn pushes Clint back into the room, “you’d think I was ten years old.”

“You weren’t allowed in this room so you called me to get you inside – tantrum much?”

“When we’re all ready to continue,” Captain America - Steve Rogers, Quinn reminds himself - clears his throat, “we need to get all of the recruits that are here for training out of the building – it’s too logistically complex to keep them here. Can you handle that, Hawkeye?”

Clint nods, “I’ll go and start talking to the right people now.” He shoots a glance at Quinn before leaving the room.

And then Quinn’s left with the Avengers and Nick Fury. He knows their names, who they are, but he doesn’t know them and it’s unsettling. Fury hadn’t been the Director of SHIELD when Quinn had first joined but he’d been a higher up even then and they’d met a few times, usually at debriefings where Quinn would have to relate the less than approved of actions he’d taken in the line of duty.

“Quinn,” Fury says gruffly, “you going to cause any trouble?”

“I’m hoping I’m going to help solve some, sir.”

“Good – you’re useful to SHIELD. As long as you stay that way, I’m personally granting you clearance you’ll answer directly to Agent Barton.”

“Appreciate it, sir.” Quinn works well enough with Clint that he’s not worried about the answering to him part of the clause – he trusts Clint to do his job well.

“Okay,” Tony Stark claps his hands, “crunch time. When are we going to attack these guys head on? Because, I’ve got to say, this sitting around while they show us up is getting boring.”

Agent Romanov sighs, “there’s the small matter of not actually knowing who’s behind this.”

“Well, why don’t we know? That’s what I want to know. We’ve got some of the brightest minds of the country in this room, some relatively smart people working for the rest of SHIELD, too. And yet we haven’t managed to work out who’s trying their very best to piss us off.”

“Interesting point, Stark,” Fury says, “especially seeing as you’re the computer guy – aren’t you meant to be able to track these things?”

Quinn wonders just how often Fury and Stark clash – at a guess he estimates at least twice a week. Leaning back against the wall, he tilts his head, “this is definitely the same person involved in the attack on the city?”

Steve nods, “we’re almost certain. The two things are so close together it’s unlikely they’re isolated events.”

“Right, so you have no idea who it is?”

“Basically, no,” says Tony.

“We have a few suspects,” Steve adds.

“Everyone who hates us,” says Tony, “which is a long list. Plus any crazy we haven’t encountered before who might think attacking New York and SHIELD specifically would be a good idea. Like I said, long list.”

Quinn’s not a naïve person but it’s only when he hears the realities out loud that he realises how stupid he’s been to assume SHIELD would have a name for him, a target to focus his anger on.

“We’re going to need to get back to HQ to find out what’s been compromised and try and recover some things,” Natasha walks the length of the room as she directs her speech at Fury, “I suggest a small team to go ahead and assess the zone for threats first, and then you can send in larger clean-up and retrieval team.

“I agree with that,” Steve says, “I’d say you, Clint, Tony – we need his skillset – Quinn and I go first.”

Fury seems to think for a moment before replying, “yes, go and find Barton and get ready to move. The quicker we can get the site secure the better – we can’t use it as a base again but we can retrieve our resources.”

Surprised as he is at being trusted to go out into the field with top operatives already, Quinn manages to keep his expression neutral as they leave to find Clint. He’s itching to do something, anything that might help him getting a step closer to finding out a name. And, loathe as he’d be to admit it, he’s curious about seeing how the team works up close, about working with them. He wonders what Clint had told them about him to be allowed this amount of clearance straight off the bat.

“Agent Barton tells me you’re strong in the field,” Steve glances sideways at him, “I hope he’s right.”

“He is. Clint and I were the top two in our training class. He was number two.”

Tony laughs, “he didn’t tell us that, strangely enough.”

“Let’s just say my shooting with a gun is only slightly worse than Quinn’s skills with a bow and arrow,” Clint says, coming up behind them, “Fury’s filled me in – I’m good to go.”

“Then let’s get to a vehicle,” Steve directs, “we’ll strategize on our way.”

 

~~

Strategizing turns out to be very much like bickering, Quinn thinks, as he listens to Steve and Tony make a lot of noise that doesn’t seem to be achieving anything. It’s too much like Eliot and Hardison, though, and he turns back to Romanov and Clint, who are strategizing quietly, much more effectively.

“We go in teams,” Natasha says to Clint, “Steve and Tony, you and Quinn, and I’ll go on my own.”

“Why those teams?” Quinn asks.

“Simple. Steve’s the most patient with Tony, although you wouldn’t think it right now. The rest of us don’t know you enough to trust you to be on your own - and you seem loyal enough to Clint that you’ll watch his back where you might not watch mine.”

“I admire your honesty,” Quinn tells her, because he does. “We’re working on the assumption the attackers have already cleared out, right? What happens if they haven’t?”

Clint smirks and glances away from the road for a moment to look at him, “then we’re going to have fun.”

“Nice to see you haven’t changed.”

“You have changed,” says Clint.

Quinn nods, “I have. Some things stay the same, though,” he laughs, “I still like my fun.”

“I’ll bet you do. Okay,” Clint raises his voice, “ETA two minutes – Steve, Tony, I’m sure Natasha will explain the plan to you.”

Quinn waits until Natasha’s moved towards the back of the van they’re in before leaning forwards so he’s closer to Clint. “You must have really talked me up to them for me to be here this quickly.”

“I just told them the truth: that I trust you and that you have more reasons than many to want to help us. A person’s motivations can reveal a lot.”

“I know. This is it, right?” Quinn points out at the building about twenty yards away from them, already scanning the area for entry points and potential threats.

“Yes. We’ve got a scanner somewhere back there so we’ll be able tell how many people we’ve got in the building – I’d assume if there’s anyone there it’ll just be a few people left in case we come back.”

“Kind of hard to trust assumptions when we have no idea who are enemy is,” says Quinn.

“Argumentative for a newbie, aren’t you?”

“Newbie,” he repeats, “remind me to make a point about that later. When we’re not being professional.”

“Professional is a strange concept, you know,” Tony interrupts, “especially in our line of work because for most people fighting isn’t considered appropriate work behaviour.”

“What boring lives those people must lead,” Quinn shoots back.

Tony laughs, “I like you – might keep you around. Now are we moving or not, because if I was charging for this my fee is quite a lot per second.”

“We’re moving,” Clint says, “and Tony?”

“Yeah.”

“Stick to the plan this time.”

 

~~

Quinn shows up at Eliot’s apartment with a black eye and a very prominent bruise on his jaw. There’s silence as the group take in the sight of him and he feels more awkward than he has in a long time. “At least I’m not afraid to wear make-up?” he quips, and the faces they pull make him suddenly feel like he understands what it’s like to be Tony Stark – without the money, of course. 

“You’re supposed to be meeting Hannigan tomorrow,” Parker states, quite simply.

“And I still can. Make-up, not afraid.”

“That isn’t the point.”

He’s still on a slight adrenalin high from the op with SHIELD which is why it takes a few moments of him grinning stupidly to see just how annoyed they all are. “Look, something came up. It happens in my line of work and it was unavoidable. I’m not going to apologise.”

“What a surprise,” Hardison says, shaking his head, “I told y’all we couldn’t trust him.”

“You did?” The immediate feeling of hurt surprises Quinn; he doesn’t owe these guys anything, shouldn’t care what they think.  Eliot would.

“Sure I did. No offence, man, I get why you and Eliot hit it off and, I got to say, I quite like you. But commitment in any shape or form? I don’t think you’re capable of that.”

Eliot did.

 “If you’re off getting into trouble, how can we trust you to be at places when we need you to be? To not bring people with grudges after you to our doorstep?” Nate asks, stepping in to support Parker. The way they’re all looking at Quinn makes him feel like a naughty school kid, sent to the headmasters office – and there’s a reason he didn’t made it to graduation.

“It’s not a big deal, okay? It-” Quinn changes tack, “let me see this job out – you have to do that anyway, otherwise there’s no way it’ll go ahead. Then decide whether you want to work with me again. Can’t say fairer than that, right?”

“I think-” Nate begins, and then shrugs at Parker, “it’s your call.”

“We see the job through and then we decide – all of us have a say, we’d all have to work with him,” Parker says.

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me – this is necessity. Go home and get some sleep, be on time tomorrow and make sure you cover that bruise up properly.”

There’s a quip on the tip of his tongue, but he holds it back. Which is new. Usually he just says whatever he thinks, doesn’t matter if people disprove or not.

“Go home, Quinn,” Parker repeats, and he does.

As he walks away from Eliot’s apartment he’s resentful that they get to stay there, that they’ve claimed it as theirs. There’s more of them so they get to call the shots, doesn’t matter that he’s spent more time in that apartment with Eliot that any of them had. Doesn’t matter that he was the first person to even find out where Eliot lived.  He gets just outside the apartment building and then his phone buzzes in his pocket. A text from Clint.

Good work, today. Better than old times.

It’s odd, for Clint to be acknowledging their success; back when they used to work together regularly, success had just been a given. Quinn’s not sure whether Clint’s text is meant to be reassuring, condescending, or something else entirely, but at least someone’s happy with him. He wonders, though, whether he’s ever going to have both of the groups he’s committed himself to pleased with him or whether he’s always going to have to disappoint someone. Tomorrow, he’s been told not to go in as the training building gets moved to another base. But it won’t be long before Parker asks for him on the same day SHIELD does, and he might not have a choice about who he chooses.

 

~~

Hannigan falls for their con all too easily, making their wait in the van after James’ meeting with her– Quinn refuses to refer to a van as Lucille – more tense than if she’d questioned it as they hope she isn’t running a counter grift on them. She doesn’t, though, breaks into the dummy office she thinks is Nate’s and emerges with the package they’d wanted her to. Quinn’s glad, because a smooth run is going to improve his chances of being able to stick around and continue Eliot’s work some.

They don’t give him a decision straight away though. Parker tells him to go home and rest, that they’ll talk soon. He’s getting sick of being told to go places but his apartment, a hot shower and getting out of the suit he’s dressed in sound too good to him to warrant complaining. But when he walks into his apartment Clint’s lounged in an armchair, cleaning a gun. Rest, Quinn realises, doesn’t seem to be much on his agenda lately.

“We’ve been trying to put together a profile on this guy,” Clint says, “but there’s so much contradiction. Why attack the city first then SHIELD second?”

Quinn leans down to pull his spare gun out of its ankle holster and places it in a draw before moving to sit down opposite Clint. “Because he wants to confuse you? And by you I mean you personally, Agent Clint Barton of SHIELD, likes to pretend he’s cupid.”

“Funny. I don’t take offence, though – you always struggled to hit a bulls eye.”

Quinn nods, “never failed to hit a moving target, though.”

“No. No, I guess not.”

“Why are you here? It’s not like I have inside knowledge about who SHIELD’s enemies are, not anymore.”

Clint sighs and for a moment it looks like he’s going to be serious, and then he smirks. “No-one else’s apartment is quite so easy to break into. You really should up your security around here.”

“I’m not worried about security – nothing of value here, and I think I can look after myself, don’t you?”

“You’ve always been able to do that.” Clint suddenly sounds bitter, and it’s clear they’re no longer talking about the present situation.

“Look at it from a different angle,” Quinn ignores the tension, “SHIELD have probably been investigating everyone they’ve had recent threats from, right?”

“Yes.”

“So what about the ones who’ve been quiet?”

Clint considers for a moment, then sets his gun aside and focuses all his attention on Quinn. “As in too quiet?”

“Exactly. See, there’s a reason people keep me around.” Or try to.

“I’ll get someone to check out anyone who is usually vocal but-”

“Hasn’t been lately,” Quinn finishes, “it’ll have to be someone with some knowledge of SHIELD as well, or at least the power and influence to be able to gain access to information. I mean, this fucker knew where your base was, how best to infiltrate. That’s not a random attack, it’s not spur of the moment.”

“Neither was the hit on New York, which means this has been planned for a while. I’ll have the check go back, what, two, three years?”

“Four, just to be safe?”

Clint nods, already reaching for his phone. “I’ll make the call now.”

“Sure.” Quinn stands up and heads into his kitchen to give Clint some degree of privacy. He can’t get used to how simple it is to fall back into old patterns of trusting Clint, of talking to each other as open as either of them ever get. It’d be so easy to end up devoting his life to SHIELD again. But he can’t, he has to remember why he left. SHIELD isn’t as squeaky clean as it likes to make its new agents think it is. Quinn got out and Clint stayed, and Quinn has to remember that no matter that he’s working with SHIELD right now, it’s got more to do with Clint pulling strings than the organisation wanting him back, and with Quinn needing to do something for Eliot rather than actually wanting to return.

“Natasha’s going to get someone on it,” Clint says, walking into the kitchen, “and she says thanks.”

“She does?”

“You impressed her at the base the other day. You certainly haven’t let yourself get past it.”

He shrugs. “Well, I’ve been working pretty solidly ever since I left, not really had a chance to.”

“Your name came up a few times,” Clint offers, “potential threat, potential ally – they couldn’t really decide. But I think that was kind of your point, right?”

“Got to keep people on their toes.” Quinn grins, leans back against the kitchen counter in a manner that he hopes looks casual.

Clint pauses for a moment, and then says, “lucky for me I’ve got good balance.”

Quinn laughs, “lucky for everyone who works with you more like.”

Their eyes meet, hold for a second before Quinn looks away. He’s lost too many people to feel guilty for laughing, for having moments where he’s happy, but this still feels like it’s a bit too soon, feels too much like the flirting means something that will mean moving on from Eliot.

“There’s no rush, Quinn,” Clint says in a low voice, “I get it.”

“Do you?”

“You felt safe with him even though he was always the most dangerous person in the room.” It’s a statement.

“Second most dangerous,” Quinn quips, because it’s easier than admitting Clint’s hit the mark with one hundred per cent accuracy, as per usual. “It wasn’t – it’s not that I didn’t want to stay with you at the time, you know.”

“I know. You couldn’t stay with SHIELD, I couldn’t leave. We were both too damn young to see we could both do what we wanted and still make it work.”

“Why?” Quinn asks, “why couldn’t you leave? You saw that warehouse full of… you saw it the same as me.”

“That’s why I couldn’t leave. I had to stay and try to change things, work from the inside to do something.”

“And did you?”

Clint nods, moves to stand side by side with Quinn against the counter. “Once I had enough influence I spoke to people with even more influence. It took a while, lots of bargaining and red tape, but that place was shut down about eighteen months after you left. It’s probably the second best thing I’ve ever done.”

“Me being the first, obviously,” Quinn smirks, waggling an eyebrow.

“Not like that,” Clint snorts.

“So what then?” It’s an intrusive thing to ask, but Quinn doesn’t care. He’s always stepped over Clint’s boundaries, went too far, and Clint’s almost always let him.

“Natasha. I made a decision that changed everything for her.”

“The Black Widow turned good,” Quinn says, “I can see why that’s a hallmark moment for you.”

“You know how it is.”

“Believe me, I spent most of the last year with a bunch of cons turned good – I know.”

“Eliot achieved a lot.”

“He did.” Quinn doesn’t elaborate any more on that, wants Clint to stop being so understanding, so damn comforting about Eliot, because he’s never needed Clint Barton to treat him with sensitivity and he doesn’t want him to start now. “Any other way I can help SHIELD with their job?”

“Quinn.”

“What?”

Clint tips his head back, “you’re – okay, look, SHIELD’s not what it was when you knew it. Fury’s cleaned it up a lot, and the Avengers – well, it’s been made clear the Avengers will only co-operate with SHIELD providing it stays above board. No storage facilities full of prisoners, no weapons made with alien tech.”

“Weapons with-”

“It’s a long story – one I don’t have time to tell right now. I should be going.”

“Things to do, people to see?”

Clint nudges Quinn’s hip with his own, “something like that. You going to be good?”

“Course I will. I’ll see you soon, yeah?”

“Tomorrow would be good – we’re having a meeting at ten to talk over our next steps. I’ll send a car for you.”

“No need, I can find my own way there.”

Clint nods, and gives Quinn’s arm a quick pat before gathering up his things and leaving. Quinn doesn’t move from his spot against the counter until the door has closed behind Clint. Even then, he doesn’t go far, just grabs a beer out of the fridge as he replays the conversation he’s just had. There’s so much to think about at the moment, and he misses the days where all he had to consider was the type of weapon he’d use to take out a mark or what country he felt like travelling to next.      

Change from the inside, Clint had said. Change from the inside without running away or doing nothing about the problem, which is what he had done. Refused to take any responsibility for what SHEILD had been doing, just as he’d refused to take any responsibility when Clint had some and asked him for help. It didn’t matter how often he tried to do the right thing, he always seemed to make the wrong decision. But if he regrets leaving SHIELD, he doesn’t regret meeting Eliot. Doesn’t regret learning how to survive completely on his own, no back up from armed units outside or voice helping over a comm system, although he does see the irony of that now. 

He wonders what would’ve happened if he hadn’t run, if he’d stayed and seen things through with Clint. Maybe they’d still be together. Maybe they’d both be dead, or at other ends of the world, or hating each other.

They don’t hate each other now. Quinn’s glad.

 

~~ 

The place where SHIELD has set up their new headquarters in the city is pretty slick, Quinn has to admit, as he follows Maria Hill through the corridors. It’s taken a good couple of weeks to get the building set up so that it’s secure and full of all the resources the agents might need, but it seems like the strategic delay in getting back to complete operational practice has been worth it. SHIELD has always been an efficient organisation; crisp shirts at the front of house, with quick, effective soldiers behind the scenes. But this takes it to a new level.

“Looks good, right?” Maria asks. “Almost like we’ve always been here.”

“No arguments there.”

“Still a few things to sort out, though. Local public perception, that sort of thing. And the archives are a mess. Everything’s on electronic files, of course, but we’ve also got paper and that’s why you’re here.”

“To see the mess?”

“Nice try,” Maria grins, “to help sort it out. Captain Rogers thinks it’ll be good for you to do some of the duties you’d have had to do if you’d been working your way back up the slower way.”

“He does realise I didn’t do those duties the first time around, right? I mean, Clint and I both-” he breaks off before he gives too much away.

Maria arches an eyebrow. “I’m aware, which is why the Captain’s point is even more valid, wouldn’t you say?”

“I’m not sure I would, actually,” Quinn mumbles, but he doesn’t mind helping out, really. “So what are we doing?”

“Logging every old file we have, checking it’s on our electronic database and then sorting it for filing in the records room.  It’s what our archive team usually do as new files come in but it’s too big a job for them to do by themselves so everyone’s pitching in.”

“Everyone? What about the really classified files?”

Maria nods, “they’ve already been logged. Pretty much everyone, yes – Captain Rogers was down here himself yesterday.”

“Oh, what an honour for archives,” says Quinn, joking. Truth is, he likes Steve a lot from what he’s seen and what he’s heard. Captain America seems like a decent guy, honest and, more importantly, not arrogant.

Hill doesn’t respond to him, but nods towards a door and then pushes her way through. “Welcome to archives.”

Quinn takes it all back – everything he thought about efficiency and well-oiled machines. There is paper everywhere. There are people at every table, and once the tables were gone people had obviously just claimed any spot they could to work at, leaning up against the walls.  He prides himself on being able to thrive in chaos, so he holds out his arms for a pile of files, claims a spot against the wall, and starts getting to grips with the system.

It’s quite therapeutic work, mostly about ticking off numbers and letters, and it gives Quinn a chance to talk to the people around him. He doesn’t exchange names with anyone, definitely doesn’t let on that he knows any of the Avengers personally, and manages to learn that SHIELD’s current employees are pretty content with how things are run by Fury. It makes him feel a little more at ease with being associated with the organisation again.

“Have you got the Fraser file?” Hill had disappeared and left Quinn to it but she’s back again now, looking slightly more frazzled than she did earlier.

“Fraser?”

“Ray Fraser.”

Quinn shakes his head. He’d have noticed if he had a file by that name – he’d spent long enough teasing Eliot about the reference in that particular alias. He manages, out of sheer experience of keeping a neutral expression, to refrain from reacting too much until Hill’s walked away again. Once she’s gone, he places the pile of folders he’s currently holding on the floor and closes his eyes. Eliot had never mentioned SHIELD to him, and yet he had never mentioned it to Eliot, either.

He wonders whether Clint knows, or whether he’d be able to find out. It’s his best chance of learning whether Eliot had had contact with SHIELD or whether he’d been unaware he’d even been on their radar. It shouldn’t matter either way – Eliot was Eliot, and knowing if they’d shared this connection isn’t going to change anything. It’ll be easier not to ask Clint; every time he mentions Eliot to the agent, he can’t help but feel like he’s rubbing in that he stuck around for Eliot, was making a life with him. He doesn’t feel guilty for that, but he does feel guilty for leaving Clint behind those years ago.

Leaving was been nothing to do with Clint, and everything to do with everything else.

Needing some fresh air, space away from other people, Quinn heads for the courtyard where the SHIELD employees are allowed a cigarette break. It seems strange to him that they have an allocated space for that now, as though they’re just more office workers instead of members of a secret spy organisation. He’s grateful for it, though, especially because the nature of their work means the area is almost always quiet.

Walking in a circle around the yard, Quinn tries to clear his mind. Give him a sticky situation where he has to let himself drift away and he can do it, no problem. But getting things off his mind when he’s aware he’s perfectly safe, and he struggles.

“You look like you’re about to discover the secret to life or something.”

Quinn turns to see Clint leaning against the building, slight smirk playing around his lips.

“Maybe I am,” Quinn says.

“I don’t believe you.”

“You’re probably right not to,” he walks over to stand next to Clint, “busy day?”

Clint shrugs, “not as busy as yours, mister admin.”

“Hey, it makes a change from life-threatening situations.”

“I’m sure it does,” Clint puts on a patronising voice, “and what did you learn today, Quinn?”

“I left because of me.”

“What?”

“I didn’t – I didn’t leave you because of anything you did. It wasn’t – if I’d have met Eliot first, I probably would have left him. I just wasn’t in the right space to settle down, not comfortable enough with who I was – I am now. Do you see what I’m saying?”

Clint straightens up, turns so he’s looking at Quinn properly instead of from the side. “Do you see what you’re saying? What you could be offering?”

“Oh.”

“Oh,” Clint repeats.

Quinn isn’t entirely sure how he’s managed to go from talking about the past to hinting to Clint that what they used to have isn’t completely over. He’s known it himself for a while, probably since he first spotted a chalk symbol on the wall of his first permanent home in years.  Suddenly, he wishes that the courtyard was full of people on their break, filling the area with smoke and chatter. Anything that would distract Clint, make this any less awkward.

“What did you mean, Quinn?”

Quinn doesn’t answer. “I’ve got to go.”

“No,” Clint says, “no, you don’t.”

Quinn can’t have this conversation now, not when he’s still getting to grips with what happened to Eliot, not when they’re standing in, of all places, a SHIELD area. “I’m going, Clint.” He turns to walk away.

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

There’s a brief moment where Quinn considers just ignoring the jibe, and then he’s spinning on his heels and his hands are curling into a fist before he can even fully register what he’s about to do. His fist connects with Clint’s jaw. Clint lets him get the hit in – there’s no way a punch as wild as that could of hit its target unless Clint had allowed it – then pushes him away roughly by the shoulders.

“You don’t want to do this, Quinn,” says Clint.

“Yeah. Yeah, I do.” Quinn punches Clint again, lets out a harsh laugh when Clint jabs a knee up into his stomach, lands a hit to Quinn’s nose that results in a loud crack. Blood pours, and Quinn just hits Clint again and again, pushes and pushes against Clint, against someone who just pushes back with as much force because he understands – he gets that this is what Quinn needs.

Clint gets the better of Quinn relatively quickly, and Quinn isn’t surprised to find himself up against the wall with an arm against his throat. When emotions come into fights, it either goes one way or the other and Clint’s too good an opponent to let Quinn’s passion win it for him. He pants – loud, gasping breaths that fill him with satisfaction. This is what he’s needed in training, needed since returning to New York, and Clint’s given him the excuse by just pushing and pushing. Whether it’s intentional or not, Quinn isn’t sure.

Eventually, Clint backs away and, taking no notice of the audience of agents that have gathered, asks, “ready to talk about us now?”

He doesn’t respond, just walks away in even steps across the courtyard and into the building, along corridors, and out the building again. Doesn’t let himself run even when he knows Clint can’t see him any longer.

 

~~

Quinn retreats to Eliot’s apartment, where he knows there are people to distract him, people he will have to force himself to act like normal around. It’s the only way he can guarantee he won’t hit someone, or break something important. Parker and the others seem surprised to see him; they’ve worked a few more jobs since taking down Hannigan but this is the first time Quinn’s turned up when there’s not been a job in progress.

“Everything okay?” Sophie asks, glancing up from the book she’s reading.

“Yeah, I just- I’m bored, wanted to know if there’s anyone we’re looking to take down.”

“We have a few clients we’re in talks with,” Parker says, “people we’re looking to help. Hardison’s got his eye on some things too. We never stop working, but there’s just nothing to do apart from monitor today.”

“I’m interested,” Quinn says, sliding down into a seat.

“Really?” Nate asks, arching an eyebrow, “I thought you were all about the play and none of the work.”

Quinn shrugs; he’s used to sarcasm from Nate now, has learned to tell when he’s truly being insulted or when, like now, Nate’s testing him, trying to draw him into conversation. “Believe it or not, I’ve found jobs on my own for the last however many years – I can do the admin stuff too.”

“However many,” Nate says, “in other words – a specific number which you don’t want to tell us.”

“You understood my swerving completely.”

“Oh, I think I understand you more than you think.”

Quinn smiles, “then you’ll understand why I’m asking to know more about this side of the job.”

Parker interrupts, “fine. Hardison, you mind babysitting him?”

The hacker shakes his head, so Quinn walks over to lean over his shoulder and watch what he’s doing on the computer. He’s impressed by what he sees. Hardison’s set up a number of mechanisms that allow him to flag up any potential marks or clients, keep an eye on past marks and clients, and there’s an entirely separate system devoted to anything that might relate to Eliot’s death. Contrary to what they seem to think Quinn actually has quite a good grasp of this sort of thing thanks to SHIELD, which allows him to focus on the important stuff: checking that none of the marks are people he has a history with, and checking that there’s nothing SHIELD doesn’t know in relation to the New York attack. Hardison, Quinn thinks, would rise quickly through the SHIELD ranks if he ever joined.

“Want to see if there’s anything you find interesting?” Hardison asks, moving aside to give Quinn better access to the computer.

“You’re letting me touch your baby?”

“For a minute. Don’t make me regret it, yeah?”

“Course not.” Quinn pulls his chair up closer to the screen, and is about to tap in a name when there’s a knock on the door.

Everything goes quiet. Sophie stops turning the pages of her book, Parker mutes the television. The only sound is the whirring of the computer. The people sitting in the room are the only ones who should know about this place.

“Probably a door to door salesmen or something,” Sophie suggests.

“We’ll see.” Nate stands up and goes to answer the door.

Quinn focuses on the computer screen in front of him, because if it is someone random then it’s going to look odd for them all to be sitting around doing nothing. And then he hears it.

“Is Quinn around?”

“I want to know who’s asking,” Nate says, not moving away from the door. It’s an empty gesture, really - Clint could quite easily get into the room.

Quinn’s aware that, while Nate’s attention is on Clint, everyone else in the room is looking at him. He shifts in his chair, and then stands up because there’s no point in acting casual now.

“You could say I’m a colleague of his, although at other times I’ve used the word friend.” Clint’s doing it on purpose, Quinn things, looking challengingly at him as he gets too close to the truth about Quinn’s involvement with SHIELD.

“Let’s take this somewhere else,” Quinn says.

“Something to hide?” Nate asks, and there’s no doubt he’s being serious, not sarcastic.

“We all have something to hide, don’t we? It’s nothing for any of you to worry about.”

“Quinn’s a man of mysteries,” Clint adds, scowling, and then directs his next words at Quinn, “we need to talk.”

Quinn nods, anything to get Clint out of this apartment and away from Eliot’s team. “Outside.” He makes eye contact with Parker, rather than Nate, “nothing to worry about – you won’t be finding my body in three months or anything else sinister.”

“Just make sure to check in later,” Parker says, “I want to make sure you know our schedule for the next week.”

“I will,” Quinn replies, and follows Clint out of the apartment. Neither of them talk until they’re downstairs, out on the sidewalk.

Then Clint turns to him and says, “you ran away again.”

“I didn’t-”

“Yes, you did. You ran. Both times. I didn’t think you were a coward but maybe I was wrong.”

Quinn wants to laugh, wants to tell Clint of course he’s a coward – he always has been; didn’t step up to help during the attack on New York, didn’t stay and fight at SHIELD the first time, didn’t tell his family the truth about why he never returned home. Sure, he can punch and he can shoot a gun and make tactical plans that almost always work. But ask him to tell the truth, to stick around through the hard times, or after things have fallen apart – he can’t do it.

“I think you were expecting a bit too much from me, Clint,” he says, instead.

“Was I? Because I thought the deal was you working for SHIELD, us being pals. I wasn’t expecting anything more than that. You’re the one who started mentioning settling down.”

“I wasn’t-”

“I think we should go somewhere a bit more private,” Clint announces, and starts walking as though he thinks Quinn following is a sure thing. 

“Why should I?”

Clint doesn’t look back as he answers, “because if you’re going to force me to be an asshole about this, I will be. Your current position in SHIELD is viable because of your connection with me. I can get you pulled out of there at any time, and then you’ll have no way of getting answers about Eliot. Hate me for that?”

He wants to. “No. No, I can’t hate you for that. I’d be saying the same if I was you. The way you’re pushing me to make decisions, though? That’s making me not like you very much.”

“We don’t have a long life expectancy.”

They walk for a good twenty minutes, in silence all of the way. Quinn’s not sure where they’re heading but he trusts Clint enough to know where he’s going. The guy had managed to find Eliot’s apartment, after all. The walk gives Quinn time to think, and he’s around seventy per cent sure that’s why Clint had chosen to go somewhere that wasn’t as close to Eliot’s as Quinn’s apartment.

Eventually, they stop outside a house and Clint pulls out a set of keys and beckons Quinn inside. The interior of the house is basic, but features everything needed for survival, and Quinn has a sneaking suspicion it’s a safe house that he’s probably not meant to know about. He doesn’t ask.

“Before we go on,” Clint starts, “I’d like to get one thing straight. No lies. No half-truths. We’re honest in this house. If you don’t want to answer something, tell me you don’t want to answer. Don’t lie. Don’t run away. I’ll pay you the same courtesy.”

“Deal,” he says, even though Clint wasn’t really negotiating. “Now let’s make another deal too – you never hold SHIELD over me again – if you don’t think I’m a valuable addition to the team, get rid of me now. But don’t blackmail me with it, because I have other options.”

“Okay. You’re right – that wasn’t fair. I just – you’re frustrating me, Quinn. Before – you used to be upfront, even when you left you told me you were going and you told me why. When did that change?”

“Life got even more complicated.”

Clint snorts, “tell me about it.”

It’s a joke, Quinn knows, but he answers as though it was serious, “maybe when I’m ready, I will.”

Nodding, Clint eases down into a seat and gestures for him to do the same, “until then, how about you tell me where we’re at? I mean, is us being friends going to happen, or are the lines too blurry for you?”

Shaking his head, Quinn glances out of the window because it’s so much easier than looking at Clint. He can’t deny there isn’t a part of him that’s been hoping the two of them will eventually fall back into patterns similar to their old ones, maybe meet up socially more often, start sharing a bed after a while. But he’d thought it would be another six, eight months down the line, once he’d had time to move one, once they’d learned to trust one another again.

“Life is so unpredictable,” he blurts out.

Clint nods.

“I just, I mean – tomorrow, today, one of us could walk out on the street and get shot, or abducted by aliens. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“But we can know what we want to happen.”

“That’s not what I’m trying to say,” Quinn sighs. “Look, I thought I had ages left with Eliot. Sure, our way of life, it was never going to be forever, but I’d given it at least another year before one of us probably got killed.”

Clint’s listening intently, leaning forwards in his seat, “what are you saying?”

“I don’t know. I don’t…know. What do you want me to tell you?” Quinn stands up and starts to pace. “That I could wait and you could die next week? That I could tell you I want to try us being how we used to be, and it might not work? That we could be different to the past, more stable and less live for the moment? I don’t know, Barton, okay? I don’t know.”

Clint watches Quinn as he continues to pace around the room, and when Quinn glances at him he sees only understanding in his eyes before he looks away again.

“I don’t know what <i>you</i> want from me, Clint. I can’t make any promises.”  

“You don’t need to. All you need to do is let whatever is going to happen happen, instead of running away from it,” says Clint, “I never met Eliot, but from everything I know about him, I don’t think he was the type of guy who’d begrudge you moving on. It’s been a while, Quinn.”

“And we’ve got a history,” Quinn says, “I know. I don’t want to mess you around again.”

“You think I can’t handle it?” Clint asks, “I’m a tough guy, man – I know the score, I know how this life works. Just-” he stops talking as his cell phone rings, glances at the screen. “I have to get this.”

“So get it, I don’t mind.” Quinn turns away and walks over to the window as Clint takes the phone call.  He thinks he’s starting to get where Clint’s coming from now – there isn’t pressure there, just an expression of interest, and Quinn can’t help but be glad that that’s there, that he hasn’t screwed up things with Clint entirely.

“We’ve got to go,” Clint says, after he hangs up, “briefing – Fury wants you there.”

“How urgent?”

“Urgent. They’ve got a lead on the attack on the city - it’s big. There’s a car on its way for us.”

 Quinn nods, “okay. But I – I promise I’ll think about things. And I’ll try to be more open about things.”

Clint smiles, “glad to hear it – should mean no more chick flick moments like this one, yeah?”

Quinn certainly hopes so.

 

~~

 

“James Weaver – referred to by the press as The Weaver.”

Nick Fury dives straight into his briefing, seemingly confident that everyone is listening. He isn’t wrong. Even Tony Stark is sitting relatively still, concentrating on the information he’s being given.

“I haven’t heard of him,” Natasha says.

“You won’t have,” says Fury, “he was around before any of us were, and then he went quiet. We thought he’d been killed but this morning we received a film claiming responsibility for the actions in New York and the attack against out HQ. It’s him.”

Quinn examines the screen in front of him, reading about Weaver and his credentials. He’s got a list of crimes that’s longer than Quinn’s own, and a taste for the dramatic, and – “he was a SHIELD Agent?”

“What?” Clint sits up a little straighter in his seat next to Quinn, “he was one of us?”

“He was,” Fury nods, “so this one is personal. Weaver has inside knowledge, and he’s made it clear this is a vendetta, which means we need to shut him down before he causes any more damage.”

“Okay,” Steve says, “what’s our plan of action?”

“We-”

“We don’t have one,” Quinn interrupts, watching Fury, “Weaver knows too much about how SHIELD works, and he had access to SHIELD systems which means we have to assume he has information about our personnel. Am I right, Director?”

“You know you are,” Clint says, “he’ll be expecting any member of SHIELD who is qualified enough to go after him. We need to surprise him, come at him in a way he won’t be expecting.”

Clint’s looking directly at Quinn as he speaks, challenging him to do the right thing. Quinn’s tired of backing away from the right thing, and this is about Eliot. If there’s anything worth him revealing his double life for, it’s Eliot, and he knows the team will want to help. Turning to look at Fury, he speaks loud and clear as he says, “I know some people.”   

 

~~

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Clint leans in close to murmur the question to Quinn, breath tickling against his neck. They’re in a SHIELD vehicle en route to Eliot’s apartment where they’re going to tell the team about Quinn’s involvement with SHIELD and ask for their help.

“It’s our best chance of stopping this guy,” Quinn replies, but doesn’t pull away from the contact, “and, besides, I think they deserve to be involved.”

“Me too.”

“And Weaver needs to be stopped. Nate, Parker, Hardison, Sophie – they stop people who need it,” Quinn says, as Clint grasps at his shoulder. “Thanks for offering to come in with me while I tell them.”

“It’s fine. Fury felt happier with me there anyway.”

Quinn knows that’s not the reason Clint made the offer, but he’s grateful he’s sort of pretending it is. “I actually have no idea how they’re going to react. There’s a chance they’ll disappear, go after Weaver on their own without letting SHIELD be involved.”

Clint shrugs, “even if they do, it gets the same result. There’s plenty of other problems we can deal with. Will you be okay with that, though? If they don’t want to work with you again.”

Turning in his seat so he’s a little closer to Clint, Quinn answers, “if that’s the way it goes, I’ve got options, right?”

“Yeah,” Clint nudges his knee against Quinn’s, “you have options.”

The car pulls up on the street outside Eliot’s apartment. Quinn wants to wait a couple minutes, get himself together, but he knows Hardison’s monitoring equipment will have already picked up on their presence. So instead of hiding, he climbs out of the van and starts walking towards the apartment, knowing that Clint will follow.

Parker has the apartment door open before they’ve even had a chance to knock. “I want to know what’s going on,” she says, “who’s your friend, Quinn?”

“We’re going to explain,” says Quinn, “can we come inside?”

“Can we trust him?”

Quinn glances at Clint, then looks unblinking back at Parker, “I trust him more than I trust myself.”

“Maybe that’s going a bit too far,” Clint says, sounding quite amused.

“I don’t think so,” says Quinn. “Now, inside or not?”

Parker nods, “this better be good.”

Inside, the tension is inescapable. Clint and Quinn are seated at one side of the room, with the others standing as far away as possible. Sophie’s expression is totally unreadable, while Nate clearly looks angry. Quinn doesn’t meet any of their eyes.

“You wanted to talk,” Parker says, “so talk.”

Quinn glances at Clint and then starts to try and explain – he’s not exactly sure how to. “We know who was behind the attack that killed Eliot.”

“And who exactly is we?” Hardison asks.

Clint clears his throat, “SHIELD.”

“SHIELD?” Hardison repeats, “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division SHIELD?”

“Of course <i>you’ve</i> heard of SHIELD,” Quinn says. “Yes, that SHIELD. We deal with unusual threats, classified information, and-”

“The Avengers,” Hardison interrupts, “Iron Man and Captain America among others and,” he turns to Clint, “I knew I recognised you.”

“We?” Sophie speaks for the first time since they arrived, “and that SHIELD we includes you?”

“It does,” Quinn confirms, realising that doing so is actually a pretty major decision. SHIELD isn’t them any more, it’s us, and after all this is over he isn’t sure whether he’s even going to want to go back to working with Eliot’s crew. Because they’re Eliot’s, not his. SHIELD isn’t the organisation he once knew, but one he thinks he might be able to make difference in. Change from the inside.

“You say you know who killed Eliot?”

Quinn nods, “a man named James Weaver. Used to work for SHIELD, went rogue-”

“Which is why we need you,” Clint finishes. “Weaver knows SHIELD’s style, but he won’t expect us to send cons to take him down. We need you to dig around – we have a few possible safe house locations where we think he might be – and we need you to draw him out into the open so we can force him to surrender.”

Parker takes a step forwards, “we do this, and then we go our separate ways. You stuck around because you felt you owed it to Eliot, right?”

“Yes,” Quinn clears his throat, “partly. It’s not really about owing - he’d have wanted you guys to be safe.”

“Well, we can look after ourselves,” says Parker, tilting her head.

“Yes,” Sophie adds, “and you owe it to Eliot to be happy – you get along with us, but we’re not Eliot.”

Quinn swallows, looks at the wall because it’s easier than looking anywhere else. They’re taking the decision out of his hands, and he’s eighty per cent sure they’re doing it to be kind rather than out of any mistrust or dislike.

“You need a hitter,” he points out.

“There are plenty hitters out there, and even if we can’t find someone we trust there are ways around not having a hitter.”

“You’ll have a place with SHIELD for as long as you want,” offers Clint. 

“You’ll call if you ever need my help?” Quinn looks from Parker to Hardison and back to Parker again.

“We did before, didn’t we?” Hardison points out.

“Then let’s do this.”

“For Eliot,” Clint says, moving closer so that his arm is brushing against Quinn’s.

“For Eliot,” Quinn replies.