SHIELD had been watching the target for months. It was a long-term operation that could have been handled in a day, if not for the suspicion that their target was answering to someone even higher up on the food chain. If SHIELD could use Hajós to find out who was at the top, it was worth it to let him keep his false sense of security for a while longer. That was, right up until Hajós started getting antsy, selling off assets like they were going out of style. They had to mobilise a team to Budapest before he disappeared like a phantom.
Clint had all his arrows laid out neatly on the floor, cross-referencing his briefing packet to make sure he picked the right tools for the right job. Flash arrow, smoke arrow, concussion arrow; take the target alive. Disable and secure. The best way to do that was to disorientate the target and let Natasha go in to bag and tag him. While Clint organised his quiver, Natasha sat quietly in the corner with her eyes closed and her hands loose in her lap. She could have been asleep, if not for the straight line of her back. Like Clint, she was preparing in her own way, running scenarios and outcomes until she could think of no more to run, and then running them again. Hajós was a tough one, because unlike most of their high profile targets, he seemed to be distracted by very little. What could have been a classic honey trap would likely only alarm him to SHIELD's presence. He didn't have an altruistic bone in his body, and likely had no human nature to even exploit.
"How long do we have to bag Hajós?" Natasha asked. She already knew the answer, but she asked anyway.
"Landing to take-off, forty eight hours," Clint said.
Natasha nodded, needing to hear it said aloud to help her think.
"Right." She had the beginnings of a plan; a vague sketch of how she'd be able to lure Hajós to the right location. By the time they landed, she'd know exactly what they needed to do.
Clint finished sorting out his arrows and stood, glancing down at his watch. "Take off in twenty. Let's go," he said.
Natasha got up and followed him out to the hangar. There would be no extraction team on this one. It was just the two of them and a quinjet, and if all went well, Hajós in cuffs for the return trip. It needed to go well. Failure on this job would set the entire operation back two years. They stepped into the jet, strapping in and running their checks while people scrambled about the underground hangar, running checks of their own for this and various other missions and operations. While Clint flipped switches and started the process of firing up the jet's engines, Coulson's voice sounded over the comms.
"Barton. Romanoff." It wasn't uncommon for him to give last-minute warnings and advice before a mission, but something about his voice this time seemed different.
"Read," Clint replied.
"Mission scrubbed. Return to my office for a debrief."
The line went dead as Clint and Natasha looked at one another, equal parts wary and angry. Clint shut down the jet in silence, only speaking once they were out of the hangar and away from the noise of it.
"This is gonna be nothing good," he said.
Natasha shrugged. "I don't know. At least we don't have to go to Hungary," she said dryly.
"Yeah, my Hungarian sucks," Clint agreed.
Their orders were Cide; some little Turkish coastal town on the Black Sea. De Santigo never stayed in one place for long, and he probably wouldn't be in Turkey for more than a week. It was just Clint and Natasha again, but somehow, Clint thought they might need a few more bodies for this one. De Santigo wasn't going to be taken alive, and being an Index candidate, taking him dead wasn't going to be easy either.
They walked down to the hangar next to a pair of Level 3s, and turned a corner as Coulson did.
"Goddamnit. My office. Now," Coulson said as he stormed past them.
Clint laced his fingers together behind his head and squeezed his face between his arms. "Fucking Budapest all over again," he grumbled as he turned around.
The Level 3s walking alongside them had stopped as well, and were looking at Clint curiously.
"What happened in Budapest?" one of them asked.
Natasha rolled her eyes. "Don't ask," she said as she turned to meet Coulson in his office.
They weren't alone on this mission. Coulson had sent a team of six to middle-of-nowhere, Washington State to check out a potential 084. They were over Detroit when Coulson called them back. Clint wanted to hit something, but there was nothing within reach that he could safely hit, so he settled for thrashing his fists around in front of him before taking the stick again and turning the jet around.
"You couldn't have told us that before we took off?" she shouted down his muted comm. "Might as well have just sent us to Budapest again, you..."
He let the thought end before finishing it, and took a few calming breaths.
"What happened in Budapest?" one of the agents in the back asked.
Neither Clint nor Natasha answered him.
In Orizona, Coulson called them back twenty minutes too late. They couldn't get back to the jet, and had wound up chased across a river and cut off from any roads leading back. The gunfire had died down, at least. Natasha slunk off away from the team, while Clint found a tree to climb up so he could get a better vantage point. The other two agents were still on the ground below, guns drawn as they moved quietly south.
"I think we actually found a mission even worse than Budapest," Clint said quietly, drawing back his bowstring and lining up a shot.
"I don't know. I'm having more fun," Natasha replied.
The comms were dead, one of their guys was wounded, and they were rapidly running out of ammo. Clint loosed his arrow and put it right through his target's neck, dropping him instantly. Three hours later, the entire team managed to rendezvous back at the jet, a little bloodied and exhausted, but all alive.
"You would have more fun," Clint said as he climbed into his seat and prepared to take off and get the hell out of Brazil.
"More fun than what?" Solomon asked from the back.
"Budapest," said Natasha.
"Worst mission ever," Clint grumbled as he lifted the jet off the ground and turned on the cloaks.
Clint wasn't sure what he hated more. Spies, criminals, or 084s. He knew what he hated most, though. He really hated when the intel was so shaky, he wasn't even sure which one they were dealing with. After three days of sitting in the rain and casing their target, Clint was ready to just blow the mission himself and put an arrow right up the guy's nose. He was asleep in his chair in front of the TV, with his head tilted back. Clint could get one right up there without even trying.
Natasha sat next to him, huddled under a plastic poncho that did nothing to keep her dry.
"This reminds me of Budapest," she said.
"This is nothing like Budapest, and you know it," Clint told her, not taking his eyes off their target.
"Would you two shut up about Budapest?" Riley said over the comms.
"You don't know, man. You weren't there," Clint said.
He could practically hear Riley rolling his eyes.
India was lovely, but not so much when it was on fire. The building was burning around them, threatening to collapse at any moment, and their target long gone. Whether he escaped or died in the blaze, they might never know. All they were worried about now was getting out before they got killed as well.
A wall collapsed near them, letting a flicker of sunlight in through the smoke. Clint grabbed Natasha's arm just long enough to guide her attention to the right direction and ran, tumbling out to the street with Natasha right behind him.
"Reminds me of Budapest," Natasha said.
Clint rolled onto his back and panted up toward the sky. "I remember Budapest being a lot less on fire."
They were both called out to deal with the giant squid. The giant squid, which was apparently being controlled by some madman wizard or something. Fucking 084s.
Ultimately, there was little to be done. SHIELD had expected a giant squid in the Hudson to be a bigger deal than it actually was, which would probably annoy all the bean counters who had to deal with the aftermath of paperwork and expense reports.
"Definitely weirder than Budapest," Clint said, watching from his perch.
"Definitely," Natasha answered over the comms. It was only a few seconds before someone else responded.
"What happened in Budapest?"
Neither of them answered.
The 084 madman wizard was apparently only one of those things. His origins were only unknown for about two hours, before he asked for a star chart and pointed out the one (a cluster of three, in actuality) he was from. But he was definitely a wizard. Some kind of heavy metal Harry Potter or something. When Clint called him that to his face, it was the flattest a joke had ever fallen in the history of the universe. Apparently those four words meant less than nothing to the guy.
Loki was a little iffy, though surprisingly lucid and level-headed for the most part. He even cooperated while they held onto him for a few weeks, trying to figure out what the hell to do with someone who could walk through walls.
That all ended when Tony Stark wound up in the JFK base as the same time as him. They'd only been in the same room for about two minutes before they'd both managed to piss off and insult one another.
"You can't just call it magic and expect that to fly!" Tony argued.
"Watch me." Loki waved his hand in front of him, and immediately after, Tony was swept off his feet and thrown several feet away before landing on his ass. "Magic. And I guess you could call that flying."
Tony was on his feet and stomping away before Loki was even done talking.
"Oh, you asked for it, buddy," Stark said as he left the room.
Natasha watched him go and shook her head. "Reminds me of Budapest all over again," she said.
Clint looked over at her, not even sure if she was kidding anymore. "You and I remember Budapest very differently."
Natasha shrugged. "Should we...?"
Loki was already sitting back down like nothing had happened, but there was no way things would stay that way for long.
"Yeah," Clint agreed, rushing off to find Tony Stark before he suited up and accidentally blew a hole through the radar tower.