Chapter 1: Prologue
Hill rubbed her temples. "I can't go to Director Fury with this information."
"Oh yes you can," Phil nodded, not feeling a single ounce of pity. They got themselves in that damn mess, and it was not his job to clean it up, even if he was the one who had to pay for it.
"Phil," Maria whined in a very unprofessional manner, but the door to her office was closed and it wasn't as if anyone would believe Phil if he told them.
"Maria, I've worked here long enough that I know you can't say no to Fury. I get it, I really do. But avoiding repercussions is something even the Director can't duck. The cost of blowing up half of Rayong is basically financing the entire Red Cross operation, or sending in our own engineers to help rebuild. Honestly I'd say we're on the hook for both but I can't do that and cover your paycheck. And we can't do nothing because that would bring both the UN and the WSC down us. So yes, you can go to Director Fury and let him know the deep gouge in our annual budget caused by his impatience."
The door flew open. "Jesus Christ, Hill, I've had it up to here with Blake, that asshole--oh, hey, Kemper." Hawkeye, still dressed in his field gear, paused.
"Coulson," Phil corrected.
"Right." Hawkeye turned back to Maria. "Blake, no. Anyone else, yes."
Maria had gone 'stone cold bitch' the moment Hawkeye appeared and her jaw muscle started twitching. "Sitwell or Blake."
"Fuck woman, have you no pity?" Hawkeye did, at least, look genuinely dismayed. And also extremely sexy as always, although Phil was careful to keep his expression neutral. If Maria even got a whiff of his crush on the asset she would use it against him without remorse.
"No. Make your choice, inform Agent Duy. Now get the hell out."
"Fuck," Hawkeye mumbled as he turned to leave. "Later, Cardozo."
"Coulson," Phil repeated to Hawkeye's back right before the door slammed closed. Then he focused on Maria again. "That's the budget. The end. Director Fury can sign off on it or he can come down to accounting and tell me 'no' in person." He got up and folded his tablet cover closed.
"I really fucking regret the day Fury made you CFO."
"No you don't, because I always sign off on your Tadashi Shoji appropriations for undercover ops that somehow never end up in the costuming department." Phil walked out before Maria could throw something at him.
Coulson's plan to be the next Captain America was derailed when he was ten and, despite being vaccinated, caught whooping cough that led to pneumonia. After several weeks in the ICU at Johns Hopkins Children's Center he lived and recovered, but his lungs became permanent liabilities and he never went anywhere without his inhaler. He wanted to play soccer and lacrosse but he ended up in the Chess Club and yoga; he wanted to join the Army, but instead got a full rides to Wesleyan (BS, Mathematics, summa cum laude) and then Wharton (MBA, Quantitative Finance). Becoming a CPA was practically an afterthought, but it was what paid off in the long run. He had always planned to work for a government agency, and when it came down to between the CIA and some agency so secretive they refused to tell him who they were until he signed a non-disclosure agreement, it was almost too easy to take the risk his poor health had always denied him.
Even better, SHIELD was fairly progressive since it was ostensibly an international organization, so Phil could be gay and a nerd and an accountant while not getting beaten up behind the dumpsters during lunch period (he really had no love lost for high school).
He was the person who kept the lights on at SHIELD and paid for Fury's little extravagancies (helicarrier what?) so in a way he was on the front lines, fighting evil. He liked to think he took the path Steve Rogers would have chosen, if he had never undergone the super-soldier serum treatment. It was a selfish delusion, but he cherished it all the same. He also made sure to keep the "Operation Iceman" field research project well-funded (and mostly on Stark Industries' dime, which Nick claimed was dark magic).
His first five years at SHIELD as a lowly accountant were spent auditing field missions, ironing out sweaty (sometimes bloody) faded receipts in Cantonese or Russian or Arabic and piecing together road trips based on credit card statements under the names of people who did not, actually, exist. He loathed every minute of it, he was good at it, and it set the tone for the rest of his career: he hated (almost) all assets and specialists, and they unanimously hated him.
Maria Hill had been a hard sell when she was promoted up from asset to handler to deputy director. She hated him, then she tolerated him, and eventually she respected him. They were not friends, but he knew that she understood the trauma he went through during budget season, as much as he understood the trauma she had on her hands dealing with specialists like Hawkeye and the Black Widow.
Twenty years after signing on, he was well above the dirty work of auditing specific accounts or operations, but he knew who the trouble makers were.
He tucked into his office after his meeting with Maria, trying not to fantasize about Hawkeye (Jesus, those arms, what the hell was a man supposed to do?) or dread the inevitable call from Fury. Instead, at 4:47pm exactly, Fury himself walked into his office. The bastard.
"I'm leaving in exactly 13 minutes." Phil pointed at the large analog clock he kept on his desk specifically for those kinds of moments.
Fury slowly, confidently sat down in the chair on the other side of Phil's desk, and Phil's stomach dropped. "What?"
"How's your health?"
"I haven't had an asthma attack in five years, Nick. What the hell do you want?"
"Grumpy asshole, I was just asking."
"No, you weren't."
"No, I wasn't. I need you in the field."
Phil blinked, then blinked again, and replayed the statement. "What?"
"There is a really dicey situation going on in Hungary, so I'm sending you and Strike Team Delta to Budapest to figure it out."
"I'm a numbers guy. Tell them to send me the data. Nothing I can't do remotely." Phil shook his head. His second job at SHIELD after being made Level 3 had been unraveling the bastardized finances of warlords and organized crime cartels, so it was not that unusual a request. Phil was still the best at it, and Nick was not going to be swayed by someone's pay grade or classified status (Phil was a Level 8, just because of the budget alone) from using them to his best advantage.
"Honestly I wish I could. I'm not keen on sending a certified liability into the field."
That stung, because Phil was at least rated on firearms and hand-to-hand, but he was hard pressed to argue. He was about as far from field-ready as any Level 2 file clerk. "Then don't. This is what satellites are for."
"Phil," Nick said, and the kindly tone set off major alarms in Phil's head. Nick took a deep breath. "You're the best, and while I'm known to throw my assets at problems like they are worker ants I can sacrifice by the dozen, I know when someone is critically valuable to this organization. That's you."
He stopped there, which bothered Phil more than anything else he had said. After a moment of silence, Phil frowned at him. "What's going on, Nick?"
"I came here instead of calling you up to mine because I'm relatively certain your office is clean, and your staff have all headed home already."
Phil knew what that meant. "Fuck. A mole?"
"You'll be going in to look at the finances of the group we've targeted, that's legitimate. But what I need you to find is how they tie back to SHIELD."
"It's going to look suspicious sending me out, you've never done that before." Phil tried not to thrill at the idea just a little, because the situation was pretty bad if Nick had to resort to it.
"Caught between the Scylla and Charybdis. Even locking the data up isn't enough, if the mole is high enough in our ranks. Transmitting it anywhere is a risk, so the only solution is to analyze it in situ. That means sending you, because you're the only one who can dig that deep, that fast."
"Which is why tomorrow we're going to have a very public fight about the budget." Nick grinned and Phil groaned. "I'm pissed enough about it anyway, that won't be hard. I will really enjoy tearing you a new asshole. Then I will punish you by sending you out in the field on a so-called milk run to be baby-sat by Strike Team Delta, who are coincidentally already in the shit house."
"How very coincidental." Phil nodded.
"Not like that took any actual work on my part, they are in the shit house nine days out of ten." He shrugged before continuing. "The assets hate you, so it will unanimously be viewed by the Field Ops department as Delta being punished with having to put up with your prickly, delicate ass."
"Please don't talk about my ass; it will give everyone the wrong idea." Phil grimaced.
Nick laughed. "Meanwhile, every bureaucrat knows the reputation of Delta and will assume you're being punished by being sent out with them."
"For the record, I will not be responsible when this goes down in history as our 'Lover's Spat 08.'"
Nick laughed again.
"But do me a favor."
"What?" Nick stood up.
"Make sure their handler is Sitwell. I can't stand that fucker Blake, he's never advanced beyond high school economics and he thinks a checkbook register is accounting."
Nick nodded. "Done. See you tomorrow, lover boy."
"Oh just leave already." Phil didn't even look up as the Director walked out, too busy making a handwritten list of what he would need to pack for his 'go' bag, starting with his custom set of spreadsheet algorithms…and his inhaler.
Their fight was just about as epic as they could make it, starting in Fury's office then going out down the hallway to the primary command center as they yelled at each other. Phil figured he had pummeled at least three desks with his printout of the abbreviated budget overview (250 pages). It ended when Fury went quiet, which everyone knew was when he was at his most dangerous, and quietly informed Phil that he was "near useless, out of shape, and out of touch." Even Victoria Hand held her breath at that, but Phil pulled himself up and fired back with, "At least I'm not a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur!"
Phil was set to fly out with Strike Team Delta at 11 am on the dot.
He got more than few "are you stupid?" looks as he walked through the halls. His entire staff was so upset they were already crying over his obituary, and three of his upper level managers offered to go in his stead (he made note of the ones who did not offer). Phil tried to act nervous (not much of a reach) and proud (also not much of a reach) as he reassigned his current projects and assured everyone he was going to be back soon, it was just a milk run (very much a reach, although everyone seemed grateful to believe it). Then he went out to the roof to catch his ride.
Delta consisted primarily of Hawkeye and the Black Widow with a short list of rotating support (Figueroa or Daniels for communications, Culbreath or Tsui for flight/armament/backup duties) and a handler. It was Figueroa and Culbreath on support, with Sitwell as promised, and the whole team glaring daggers at Phil as he stepped aboard the quinnjet. Phil had no idea if any of them knew his true purpose in tagging along, although he hoped they did, because the last thing he needed was the Black Widow assuming he was expendable. He shuddered.
"Scared to actually see some action for a change, Cooper?" Hawkeye smirked as Phil fumbled into his seat, trying to figure out the harness.
"Coulson," Phil grumbled, fitting the straps over himself. "And, no."
Hawkeye laughed, but it seemed more friendly than mocking. He pulled at the straps to make sure Phil was buckled in then gave Phil a small smile before heading to the front to fly out.
"He's the friendly one. Don't think the rest of us don't know exactly how far in the dog house you are right now," Sitwell snapped, still glaring.
"Probably about as far as you are, given you're the ones babysitting me." Phil answered levelly. The Black Widow glanced at him as she walked by, and Phil figured "mysterious and inscrutable" was as good as he could ask for, given the situation.
"Just don't make trouble, don't get lost, and don't get hurt." Sitwell looked at his tablet, shutting down the conversation.
Phil sighed, and hoped he could grab a nap on the flight over.
They split up in London, with Phil and Culbreath waiting 12 hours to catch a flight into Budapest, travelling as businessmen heading in for a (very conveniently timed) tech convention. The rest of the team kept going on the quinjet to infiltrate into the city and set up base, or whatever else field teams did. Phil knew the general outlines of ops from years of approving and auditing their expense reports, but on the whole had kept out of the nuts-and-bolts of how they were run. That was what handlers were for, after all, and Sitwell's expense reports were just beautiful so Phil assumed the man knew what he was doing.
He and Culbreath checked into their hotel early in the evening. It was one of the international chains designed to put North Americans at ease in distinctly foreign climes, and while Phil would have much preferred something less bland and rectangular, he was not there on vacation. He was surprised when the whole team met together for dinner, assuming that staying split up would be more stealthy or something, but there they were in the hotel's 'grill' featuring Hungarian dishes spiced for Americanized palates. At least it overlooked the Danube.
The Widow looked a little frumpy in a black wig and a badly fitted dress, while the rest of the men all matched in cheap business suits. Hawkeye's hair was slicked back, taking about ten years off of him in a surprisingly unflattering way. Sitwell had changed out his regular wire frame glasses for bulky tortoise shell ones and was somehow radiating a veneer of "I'm very gay," which given SHIELD gossip about him was about as far from true has humanly possible. Phil had to admit he was impressed, especially since he knew he did not look one whit different than he ever did, even if his own borrowed suit also fit tragically in that uniform way all cheap suits did. He was non-descript and middle-aged and he knew it.
Hawkeye sat next to him and talked a lot about the convention's schedule the following day. Phil had no idea if it was cover or code, so focused on his clichéd goulash. Figueroa and Culbreath spent the whole time arguing about sports, which looked like a genuine enough fight to Phil. Sometimes the Widow piped up in a squeaky voice to agree with anything Sitwell said, but mostly it was the group of them acting like American businesspeople trying not to be obnoxious. Phil and Sitwell glared at each other when Sitwell signed the check with a mean-spirited flourish that clearly said, "audit your own damn dinner, sucker!"
They all migrated over to the bar, where Hawkeye buddied up to Phil and leaned in. "Culbreath needs to go with Sitwell to check over the set up, since he's on backup. They're going to flirt and pretend to leave together after about an hour. Widow's playing a lightweight and leaving early to go get in place, and Figueroa is ducking out the back next time he goes for a piss. I'm on you."
Phil tried not to spit out his drink. "You haven't even sweet talked me yet."
Hawkeye grinned happily, a mischievous gleam in his eyes, and Phil was gone. All he could do was try not to blush like a 17 year old virgin under the assassin's all-seeing gaze. Which was sweeping up and down Phil's horrible suit in a very unsubtle way. Phil blushed anyway and Hawkeye chuckled.
"Good plan, sir. That way we can leave and go up to your room together."
"Okay," Phil agreed, his voice strangled. He slammed his drink, realizing what a bad idea that was as soon as he set it down.
"Take it easy there, cowboy," Hawkeye muttered, waving over the bartender.
Phil babied his second drink for a long time, which was easy because Hawkeye was genuinely entertaining. They could not talk shop, but they found common ground with "terrible television shows I feel compelled to watch" as well as Dog Cops. Phil had drifted into "flirt with the handsome guy at the bar" mode without even realizing it until Hawkeye draped an arm over his shoulder and leaned in with a downright smoldering look. Phil froze.
"Maybe we should take this upstairs, baby?" Hawkeye crooned.
Hawkeye's eyebrows went up.
"I mean, yeah, that. Yeah." Phil nodded and tried not to fumble the tumbler in his hand as he finished off the dregs of his drink. As he set the glass down Hawkeye tilted his head towards him with his fingers lightly on Phil's jaw then kissed him softly. He smelled of musky sweat and expensive whiskey, his muscled arm pressing across Phil's shoulders as his lips nibbled at Phil's mouth. Phil's heart stopped on a dime and he felt the familiar sharp pull of his lungs trying to suck in air. He broke off quickly, disappointed, but closed his eyes as he slowly breathed in.
"You okay?" Hawkeye nuzzled his ear, which did not help.
"Yeah, fine, great. Let's go?" Phil pushed off the bar and away from Hawkeye, who smirked at him with enough heat to melt rocks. Phil was so utterly screwed, words failed him.
They walked to the elevator in the lobby with restraint, brushing shoulders and barely speaking, which helped Phil ground himself again. He was there for a mission, not to flirt with the straight guy who turned over girlfriends on an annual basis. Anyone who had seen them earlier would assume they were headed up to Phil's room to fuck, and that pretty much meant their job there was done. He took out his inhaler when the elevator closed and sucked in a puff of medicine, trying not to cough it out when Hawkeye started rubbing his back, his hand tracing slow, warm circles.
"You sure you're okay?"
"Fury knows my medical file. I won't drop dead on you." Phil whispered, flinching out of Hawkeye's touch.
Hawkeye frowned at him. "I know that. Look, let's not pretend you aren't possibly the third most important person in the whole damn organization, if not second. You wouldn't get sent out here with us if it was that dangerous. My job is just to make sure we do what we need to do and get you home safely so we can all get cleared off of Fury's shit list."
Phil sighed. That answered his question about whether the team knew his real purpose in tagging along, which was unfortunate, but he had to trust Nick's judgment. He was an asshole but he always had his reasons, and clearly one of those reasons was that he suspected someone on Delta had been turned.
Hawkeye stepped closer, muscling into Phil's space and slamming his mouth over Phil's right as the doors of the elevator slid open. A couple standing on the other side gaped at them as Hawkeye broke off with a mumbled apology and dragged Phil out into the hallway, pulling him along and getting handsy under Phil's jacket.
"Oversell it much?" Phil hissed, trying to smile alluringly through clinched teeth.
"Relax, baby, I'm going to make it so good for you," Hawkeye grinned like a brat and Phil tried not to roll his eyes as he pulled out his room card and swiped them in. Hawkeye shoved him against a wall and started kissing him again until the door finally closed completely. Hawkeye pulled off of sucking Phil's lower lip slowly, and Phil realized he had both hands clutching Hawkeye's ass.
"Damn it," Phil sighed, pushing him away again. "Sorry. Habit."
Hawkeye chuckled. "I get that a lot."
"Right." Phil fumbled for his inhaler again, but put it away. He knew better than to stagger doses too closely together, it would set his heart rate off the chart. He looked up into Hawkeye's eyes, studying Phil carefully and seeing far too much of what was going on in Phil's head.
"If I had known I wouldn't have played it so heavy. I'm not that much of a jerk."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Phil willfully pushed the topic aside. "I guess we're here for the duration?"
Hawkeye took off his jacket and tie, and suddenly Phil understood the whole point of poorly fitting suits: they hid tactical field uniforms really well. He had not even realized Hawkeye was wearing two sets of clothes, and he had been glad-handing his ass. Phil tried not to feel completely out of his league.
"Yeah. Rendezvous in T minus four hours. Change out, relax." Hawkeye went over to Culbreath's suitcase and opened it up, pulling out a pair of boots. At Phil's raised eyebrow, Hawkeye shrugged. "We wear the same size, so trade off all the time. I'm honestly not sure whose boots are whose anymore." He kicked off the dress shoes and pulled on the boots.
"Convenient." Phil nodded, getting out his tablet and firing it up. After changing into his own tactical field uniform, which seemed a lot less impressive than Hawkeye's despite being technically identical, he logged into the secure VPN. After checking his assignment docket, making sure Fury hadn't added anything to it, he caught up on some emails. He wasn't sure if he was disturbed or pleased by how well his team kept going without him; he chose to believe it was because of his excellent leadership abilities, and left it at that.
He looked up when Hawkeye sat on his bed, bouncing up and down. "So hey, time to review."
"Okay." Phil put the tablet away. They still had an hour and half until they were set to be in motion, but Phil appreciated the need to take extra time for review.
"Normally Culbreath is our tech guy, but Fury made it clear that part of your, ah, 'experience' would be to go in with us and extract the data we're looking for with your very own hands."
Phil nodded. "Yes. It should be straightforward, if the intel I've read about their systems is accurate and the codes we have are valid."
"Mmmmm." Hawkeye rubbed the back of his neck. "That's actually asking a lot out of our intel group."
"They are best intel group on the planet."
"Which helps, sure."
Phil frowned. "Those assholes suck up 17% of my operating budget, they better be the best, and their data right on the money."
Hawkeye laughed. "I like you, Keller."
"Coulson, for fuck's sake, get my name right."
Hawkeye nodded slowly. "Since we've lip locked and all: Clint Barton. Call me Clint." He stuck out his hand.
Phil eyed it for a moment, but what the hell, it wasn't a lot of people who were on first name basis with Hawkeye. "Phil Coulson. Call me Phil." He shook his hand and forced himself to let go after a short moment of enjoying the feel of the archer's callouses.
"What I'm saying is, field ops never go as planned. Never, ever ever. Never. Just expect for things to not…match up. If you hit a wall, let us know, we'll adapt."
"Okay. So, here's the plan." Clint outlined their approach to the office building, how they planned to get in, extraction points, and schedule. It was the same thing Sitwell had emailed out earlier, which meant if their mole was paying attention, their op had already gone belly up. Phil honestly did not know whether to mention that or not, and his expression must have tipped off Clint.
"I'm sure. Just first time jitters."
Clint opened his mouth but Phil held up a warning finger. "Don't even. Not a word."
Clint laughed instead and went to do some stretches, deep bends and lunges and back extensions that did absolutely nothing to help Phil's heart rate or attention span. It didn't seem like there would much harm in staring but then again, Hawkeye -- Clint -- was a very well-known rake who was (probably) an ex of the Black Widow and documented as straight. Not that Phil had seen his personnel file, but word got around. Even in SHIELD the queers held rank and everyone knew about each other, and who was batting for which team. Hawkeye had never come up in rotation, and Phil had been (discretely) following that line of gossip for years. He was the first to admit that he tended to have impossible, unhealthy crushes; first with Captain America in his formative years, and now with Hawkeye the World's Greatest Marksman during his middle age. Both were equally hopeless, and Phil was enough of an adult to admit that much.
Nonetheless, he had not even been on a date since being promoted to Level 8 and made the chief financial officer of SHIELD. Part of it was due to a creeping sense of old age, of being past his prime, but a bigger part of it was his job. He could not pretend to have time for a typical family life, and he knew that playing free and easy with casual hookups was a security risk. That left co-workers, but he was too high up on the ladder for an office romance to be anything other than a sexual harassment law suit in waiting. That was assuming he only picked from the pool of people who did not actively hate him, which was small because he was always slashing budgets and denying funding requests for most of the organization. In any case Phil didn't want to be used any more than he wanted someone to feel obligated to him, and more importantly Phil was the kind of guy who liked to settle down. He did the playboy thing all through Levels 2 and 3 and it was fun, but it was phase and he didn't miss it. Except possibly in those moments he was stealing looks at Clint Barton's breath-taking physique, when the idle fantasy of a no-strings-attached roll in the hay sounded excellent.
Sighing, he tried to focus on his email. After a few moments, though, he noticed that Clint kept checking his phone again and again.
"Are we waiting on a check in?" Phil folded up his tablet cover.
Clint stood up from the deep knee bend he was in and looked at his phone. "Officially? No. Nothing on the comms until zero hour." He bit his lip, which looked frankly adorable, while staring at Phil. "Look, Phil: we're Strike Team Delta. We do things our own way."
Phil sighed. "I have seen the expense reports, Hawkeye. They always get shifted up the ladder for my signature; no one else wants to approve them. Even when Sitwell is handling."
"Oh. Okay. Sorry?"
"Get to the point."
"Right, yes sir. I mean, normally Nat would have pinged me by now to let me know she was in place, or let me know she couldn't get to location."
Phil didn't like the implication any more than Clint did. "Can you 'ping' Sitwell?"
"He hates that. But yeah, good idea." Clint punched at his phone and they waited.
"I get the feeling he should have responded by now." Phil stood and slid his feet into his black trainers and tied them up.
Clint glanced at the door. "Yeah."
"Can you 'ping' anyone else?"
Clint shook his head. "Sitwell's an exception. This is just between the Widow and me, usually." He pocketed the phone and stood up straight. "We're heading out. You got what you need? Don't leave anything sensitive behind. We're not coming back."
"I'm ready." Phil slung his small carry-all backpack on and holstered his gun before pulling on his winter jacket. The tactical field uniform felt weird and bulky and completely out of place in a mid-priced convention hotel. He rolled his shoulders. "What's the plan?"
"Figure out what happened to our team, but mostly get you to the extraction point. Stand back." Clint moved to the door and crouched down, opening it and peeking out from just a foot above floor level. Phil tried really hard not to focus on how limber he was.
They made it out to the stairwell when they heard the elevator ping. A couple of burley men stepped out and headed in the opposite direction, straight for Phil's room. Clint closed the door to the stair well silently and they took off at top speed -- or, at least, Phil's top speed -- down the stairs. At the bottom floor, Clint stopped them and patted Phil's chest down. "You breathing okay? Winded? Scared? They didn't see us, total amateurs, I'm almost offended." Clint held his face still and peeled back an eyelid.
Clint stepped back. "Just making sure your eyes aren't dilated."
They heard the stairwell door slam open and what sounded like a herd of elephants start down. Clint turned and led them out through service corridors, past startled employees, and into a fairly busy alleyway. At the street, Clint calmly walked up to an idling sedan, opened the door, yanked the driver out and got in. Phil dashed for it and landed in the backseat as Clint floored it, the irate carjacking victim still standing on the sidewalk, screaming for the police.
"There went operational security!" Phil yelled.
"I don't think we've had that for a while. Hopefully the extraction point is secure."
"No, no! You can't take me there."
"Don't worry! I'm a professional!" Clint yelled as he flew through traffic at murderous speed. Phil rolled around in the back seat until he got a grip on the driver's side seat, then felt around Clint's body.
"What are you DOING????" Clint yelled.
"Buckling you in! Eyes on the road!" Phil finally managed to snap the seat belt around Clint, then fell backwards and scrambled for his own.
"Fucking freak! If you get hurt Fury will carve out my balls with a spoon!"
"We are not going to the extraction point! That's an order!"
"Like hell it is! I'm getting you out of here!"
"No! I've got to get to the target location!"
"Seriously, Phil, you've got nothing to prove here." Clint swerved around a corner, slamming Phil into the side door. "This was supposed to be a milk run, and it's not. You're too important to risk just to make a point. Fury wins, whatever, I'm getting you the fuck out of here."
Phil instinctively reached forward and grabbed a handful of Clint's hair. Clint gasped and possibly squeaked, but kept his eyes on the road. Phil shook his head a little, yanking hard on his hair. Clint squeaked again. "We are not going to the extraction point. This isn't a milk run, it never was. Fury sent me in specifically to source that computer system for proof of a mole in our ranks. High ranking, and almost definitely watching this whole op from the start, and possibly involving a member of your team." He let go and Clint took a deep breath, followed by another, raspy and wet sounding. Finally he nodded.
"Okay, okay, you made your point. It would explain why everything went FUBAR. But I guarantee you they are expecting us at the target location. Natasha -- shit, she's probably been compromised, or forced into hiding. Sitwell and Culbreath, damnit. Figueroa's been gone the longest." Clint hit the steering wheel.
"They might still be alive."
"Maybe, but like Nat they're in hiding if so; that's assuming one of them isn't working with the mole. Anyway our standing orders in situations like this are to cut and run, met at the extraction point."
"We can't trust the extraction point, Clint," Phil pointed out softly.
Clint cursed again. "Fuck, this is what handlers are for. Shit." He spun the car around and a few minutes later they were skulking into a parking garage, lights off, rolling into an empty space. Clint rested his head against the steering wheel. Phil leaned back in the seat, trying to organize his thoughts. If there was one strength he had on offer, it was his ability to find patterns and organize data.
"We broke up, and one by one disappeared. I'm guessing the Black Widow was taken off the chess board first, as she's the most dangerous and the most adaptable. Would she ever go, ah, incommunicado? Voluntarily?"
Clint sighed from the front seat, not moving. "Not often, and only in extreme situations. If she were just in hiding, she'd ping me."
"What if your channels aren't secure?"
"They are. They're ours."
"You don't run them through SHIELD at all?" Phil was surprised, but then again, maybe not. Strike Team Delta had a well-earned reputation.
"Sure, but not through regular set ups. Nothing actually assigned to us."
"But discoverable, if someone were looking."
"I hate my life," Clint grumbled, knocking his head on the steering wheel again. "Not that it matters, I won't live long once Fury gets his hands on me after this clusterfuck."
"How far are we from the target location right now?"
Clint sat up and blinked, and took on the expression of a computer processing data. "Not far, actually. A mile, tops. But they are waiting for us."
"No, they aren't. They expected to clear the board completely, and they would have if you and the Widow didn't have your own protocol outside of standard procedures. They might double the guard but they are not expecting the target to be hit. In fact I'm betting they think we are on our way to the extraction point."
"Huh." Clint nodded. "But that cuts our time by a lot. We'll have to go in fast and hard, because once they case the extraction point and we aren't there, they will circle back."
"So what are we waiting for?"
Clint turned in the seat to give Phil an absolutely filthy grin. "I knew I liked you, Phil."
"This was a terrible idea, Coulson," Hawkeye grumbled into his comm.
"Right," Hawkeye grumbled again, but without heat, and clearly without intention to argue. Phil was beginning to wonder where the infamous reputation for insubordination had come from, because so far Clint had pretty much done what Phil had told him to do, down to the letter. It was just a little terrifying, because in all honestly Phil had no fucking clue as to what he was doing other than flying by the seat of his pants.
They waited for the second go-round by the external security guards, then Phil tried to make like a ghost and sneak in through the door. He knew Hawkeye was up high, eyes on everything. They had split up over ten minutes earlier, as planned. Or at least, as Phil had sort-of planned.
Back in the garage Phil drafted out what he thought was a fairly ludicrous and almost certainly suicidal infiltration plan that cut a swath through Sitwell's original operation, including Sitwell's fail-safes and backups. Phil's plan was as close to a "stick'em up" heist as he had ever seen in any movie, and if even one part of it went south they would probably end up dead. Hawkeye -- because he had stopped being "Clint" as soon as they left their stolen car behind in order to slip through alleys, garages and basements -- had simply nodded, made a couple of suggestions, and agreed to everything. It was unsettling, but Phil had nodded back with every ounce of "upper management aplomb" he could dredge up.
They detoured to stop by an armament drop, something that Phil had no idea existed. He watched in fascination as Hawkeye yanked a grate up from the sewer and pulled out a waterproof bag full of guns, flashlights, a collapsible bow and a quiver of arrows.
"How many of these do you have around the city?"
Clint didn't look up, pocketing weapons and strapping on the quiver. "Three."
Phil thought back. "Oh, Mexico City."
Clint frowned at him. "What?"
"You must have not been able to go back for all of your stashes. It was a compromised mission, if I remember, and Sally was in tears trying to figure out how a five person team lost 27 guns."
Hawkeye stared at him. "That was five years ago."
"I told you, no one else is willing to sign off on the audits for Strike Team Delta."
"Doesn't mean anyone would memorize every mission."
"Numbers stick with me. Twenty-seven guns, eight grenades, eighteen knives, two bows and quivers, three tasers and two garrotes. Mexico City." Phil was pleased with how easily he could remember that one. Admittedly, it stuck out, because Sally was a battle-ax a few years shy of retirement and watching her cry had been emotionally disturbing for his entire staff. He'd had to schedule everyone for psych checkups, and that was a bad week. "The damn bows were the most expensive loss, you realize R&D makes them to spec? $7,000 each."
Hawkeye stared at him, blank faced, for a long moment before throwing the nearly empty bag back into the sewer and replacing the grate. They headed towards the building they needed to get inside and Hawkeye peeled off to go up high on a building ledge next door. He would follow when Phil gave the signal, not that it would help much if Phil ran into serious trouble.
The chances were low that the security had changed in the meantime, since everyone from SHIELD was supposed to be dead or captured (and Phil was really hoping for the "captured" option for the missing members of his team) so at least for the moment Phil felt sure that he was not walking into a trap. The passcodes worked to get in through the security doors, which actually surprised him, but he wasn't going to question his good luck. As long as it wasn't a set up.
The office Phil needed was on the fourth floor, and since Hawkeye had nixed using the elevators, Phil had huffed up the stairwells. By the time he got to the top his calf muscles and his lungs were burning -- he was not out of shape, really, but he was pushing himself for speed and that was making things a lot harder. He was glad everything seemed to be going to plan.
Until he walked in on the night crew.
The three guys sitting around a computer hub, each plugged in with headphones and staring intently at their screens, turned as one to look at him. He was still fitted out in his tac uniform, but his black standard-issue winter jacket hid his shoulder holster and stream-lined backpack. The guys stared at him and he stared at them, taking in the fact that they were all pretty young and wearing rumpled, casual clothes. There was no way they were very high up the food chain.
"Achtung!" Phil barked. He had not a word of Hungarian to fall back on, but German was at least a common enough minority language in the country, and he knew he could pull off being a German security consultant if he blustered and barked. His German, at least, was passable.
"What the hell?" Hawkeye snapped in his earpiece, keeping his voice down.
"The door wasn't locked! This is a high security facility, what are you doing? Keeping the place open for pizza delivery?" Phil hoped pizza delivery was universal.
Apparently it was, as one of the guys panicked and started blabbering rapidly in Hungarian. Phil shook his head and pointed at himself, repeating "German!" over and over, while Hawkeye kept repeating "Shit, shit, shit!" and the poor IT guys talked over each other trying to explain themselves out of fear of getting fired on the spot.
"Shut up!" Phil yelled, and at least one of them knew German because he made the others quiet down.
"Fucking Christ, Coulson, what the hell are you doing?" Hawkeye hissed in his ear, breathless from running.
"I am here to do a security analysis." He pulled out his tiny moleskin and flipped it open. "This room was not scheduled to be in use." He glared at all of them, each in turn, with his most burning expression of displeasure then glanced down at his notebook, pretending it said something other than "milk, eggs, multivitamins, broccoli".
The German speaker raised his hand as if in class. "We are making up, um, increasing hours? Due to holiday?" He faltered over the words.
Phil tapped his book. "This was not noted. Hm." He closed the moleskin slowly and tucked it back into his jacket pocket. The three boys -- because Phil had to call it like he saw it, and those kids were under 20 if they were day -- glanced at each other nervously. "Not your fault. I will not make note of unlocked door, but!" He raised a finger and they all stared at it, wide eyed. "I was never here."
The German speaker explained quickly in Hungarian to the others, and they all nodded so hard Phil thought their heads might fall off. He gave them one curt nod in return, and headed for the door that was his original destination. He fiddled with the keypad security as if he was breaking in to test the security, then used his stolen codes to simply open it. The boys were absolutely refusing to look at him or acknowledge his presence, each of them leaning towards their monitors, wearing matching expressions of mild terror. Phil took some petty pleasure in the satisfaction of knowing he still had it in him to terrify baby geeks, even if they weren't his baby geeks.
He closed the door behind him and moved forward. "All clear, I'm in hallway H, headed for target."
"Did you just fucking bluff your way through a room full of employees?" Hawkeye whispered. Phil couldn't tell if he was pissed off or laughing.
"It was only three kids, scared of losing their jobs."
"I have to bluff my way through three budgetary analysis departmental meetings a month. This, I can do." Phil smiled, a little helplessly pleased at the thought that he had impressed the legendary Hawkeye.
There was a huff of noise that might have been a short laugh. "Crazy fucker. Okay, I'm headed for the exits. How long you going to be?"
"I can tell you in a second." Phil opened the door to the office he had been aiming for, and booted up the computer. So far, his codes were all holding true, and he hoped that they would continue to work. If he was locked out, the whole thing was a bust because for all his computer skills, hacking security was not one of them.
"I'm in place. You remember where the fire escape is?" Hawkeye checked in after a couple of minutes.
"Yes yes, shhhhh." Phil squinted at the screen as it crunched his passcode. Finally it opened for him. "Okay, I'm in. No security alarms blaring."
"Don't let that fool you. Chances are good they have the files you're looking at booby trapped. Get the data and go."
"I need twenty minutes, at least," Phil said, frowning at the documents he was opening. He was saving them to a flash drive as he went, but that was dicey if they had a "self-destruct if copied" macro imbedded (and all of his own records did, so he assumed these were no different).
"You have 15 and then I'm pulling the fire alarm."
"Time's running out, Coulson." Hawkeye's tone turned grim, the light-hearted teasing left in the dust. Phil took it for the bad sign it was and started flying through files, plugging in his own macros to run his algorithms. They would take at least two minutes each, so while they attacked the spreadsheets he went folding diving, looking for anything interesting in a language he might understand.
When he opened the email folder, he found it.
"Well get done and get out. You have six minutes left."
"I think I got the information I need from the files. Copied what I could, downloading the results of my queries. But that's not the problem."
"There's a problem?"
"Our team is being trussed up to be sold on the black market."
There was a long silence before Hawkeye replied. "I'm sorry, I thought you just said that Strike Team Delta was being sold. Like, as in slaves."
"Exactly like. Apparently some 'collector' in Indonesia is willing to pay a lot for the Black Widow. I guess he's getting a package deal. They have rather optimistically identified Sitwell as a high-ranking deputy in SHIELD command structure, as well as, I quote, 'fiercely masculine with strongly muscled legs.' Dear lord."
There was another long moment of silence, Hawkeye's breathing labored. After very quiet curse, he spoke up again. "Four minutes. Start logging out."
"But the team!"
"That's what backup is for, Coulson. Secure the information, we'll pass it on."
"The hell you say. An extraction team, if they even know we need extraction, is hours out. We can get to the warehouse where the Widow and everyone are being held within 30 minutes."
"You listen to me," Hawkeye hissed. "You have four minutes left to get out. If I have to come in there and rescue you, I'll just tranq your ass and carry you out."
"Fuck you, fuck you!" Phil hissed back, but pulled his flash drive free and closed everything down. Security would, eventually, figure out that someone had logged into the computer illicitly, but it would take a while for them to reconstruct exactly what he had done. He closed the door slowly behind him, walked confidently back out through the room with the baby computer geeks still busy looking worried, and as soon as he was clear ran like a mad man for the fire escape stairwell at the back of the building.
At the ground floor he met up with Hawkeye, who had the "NOT AN EXIT" door propped open and an arrow nocked in his bow. "Pull the fire alarm." He motioned towards the wall with his chin. Fire alarm systems were as universal as pizza delivery, Phil discovered, and yanked down the emergency handle. The whole building lit up with bright lighting and loud siren wails.
"Is this our stealth exit?" Phil yelled as they ran out into the delivery alley, where an old sedan sat listlessly shoved to one side. Hawkeye jimmied the lock open and hotwired it without comment as Phil climbed into the passenger seat.
"They would have figured out we were here in another five minutes, anyway. Might as well leave a little chaos in our wake!" Hawkeye yelled back. Phil was absolutely not going to ask how Hawkeye knew that, but he trusted him, so he shut up and let the specialist drive. Once they were merged in late-night traffic on a highway that was mostly just an extra-wide boulevard, Phil turned to Hawkeye.
"The extraction point is no good, we talked about this."
"You think we only have one? There are three. The third one is a need-to-know only location, which no one command-side is told about until three hours after a late or missing check in, and even then only the pilot of the plane on call in Vienna. It's as safe as it can get."
"I'm beginning to see why your missions have such high expense reports."
"But we're not going there. The warehouse is south-west of the city, at an industrial warehouse park." Phil folded his hands in his lap. He had found over the years that the best way to get someone to do what he wanted was to simply expect them to do it. It was when you started trying to justify your decisions that everything invariably went downhill.
"No, no, and nope. Extraction point."
"Warehouse. Here, the M7." Phil pointed at the real highway they were coming up on, and Hawkeye obediently turned up the entry ramp.
"No, we're not doing this. You're not a field agent, this is going to go to hell in a hand basket." Hawkeye's teeth were audibly grinding.
"You can't even guarantee that the backup team isn't compromised, and where are they coming from, Zurich? Venice? SHIELD doesn't have any bases out in this area, not permanent ones. The republics of the former USSR are fickle allies."
"Jeezus, believe me I fucking know that, my partner won't let me forget it," Hawkeye grumbled, his eyes still focused on the road.
"The warehouse is in an industrial section of Budaörs, which is a suburb--"
"I've got the address here, and I memorized the map." He pulled out his moleskin.
"The reason I'm good with numbers is that I have a very visual memory. Not quite eidetic, unfortunately, but I think I have the basics."
"No." Hawkeye repeated the word, but without a lot of heat. "You're one stubborn bastard. If I turn off this highway are you just going to bail out and walk there?"
"Why yes, that was my plan." Phil paused, surprised that Hawkeye had figured it out.
"Oh hell, I was joking. You're serious."
"I could tranq you. Knock you out, keep you out of my hair."
"You seem to enjoy the idea, you mention it a lot. But that would be an operational liability. Also did you know standard issue tranq shots cost $443 dollars each? That's not including the delivery system."
"I hate you so much."
"I'm used to it. Here's the address." He showed what he had written down to Hawkeye, who glanced at it and nodded.
"You really memorized the directions?"
"I memorized the map, not quite the same thing. But I'm sure I can get us there."
"Man, I think I just might love you." Hawkeye grinned, bright and mischievous, and Phil's whole body flushed. Hawkeye, true to his name sake, caught it even in the sporadic illumination of the highway's lights into the cab of the car. "Hey, I told you, I'm not that asshole. I'm not making fun of you."
"Can we just not talk about this?" Phil crossed his arms over his chest.
"You are pretty fucking cool, that's all. Not the stick-up-his ass desk jockey I was expecting."
"Thank you," Phil snapped, his throat tight.
"And one hell of a kisser."
"I will pay you to shut up."
Hawkeye laughed, his whole body reacting and shaking with mirth. "If Nat weren't in mortal danger and if Fury wouldn't castrate me I would totally pull over and bang you right now." He jerked his thumb indicating the backseat.
Phil stared at him, his jaw locked in shock.
Hawkeye sighed and tapped the steering wheel. "But no, we have to go in and save Sitwell and his 'strong, muscular legs.' He owes me for this." He pushed down the accelerator and the car lurched with speed, saving Phil from swallowing his tongue.
Twenty minutes later they pulled around to the back of an old office building across the street from the warehouses. If Phil hadn't known for a fact that he was in Hungary, he would have just assumed he was hiding out in an industrial park in Pennsylvania. He had spent the time giving Hawkeye directions based on what he remembered of the map , and wondering just what in the hell he had gotten himself into. He rubbed at the inhaler stuck in a zippered pocket, a talisman of lung capacity. He hoped that Nick wouldn't bust him back down to Level 3 shit-work for the remainder of his life.
Provided he lived that long.
Hawkeye was strapping his quiver back on and looking very lethal in the dim light, his normally taciturn expression tinted with cold anger. They were under an overhang that was probably meant to suggest a garage, the street lights barely making their way back to where they were.
"You got your gun?"
Phil nodded, patting at it. "Should I leave the back pack--"
"No. I doubt we're leaving the same way we came in." Hawkeye's grim mood, and the careful way he was stowing his weapons, made Phil realize for the first that time they really were headed into a de facto war zone. There was going to be shooting. And blood. He shoved his hands into his jacket pockets to keep them from shaking. Or, at least, to keep Hawkeye from noticing.
"You got the number of the warehouse, right?"
"Twenty-three. They are in crate W-4077. More than that, I can't tell you, there was no layout. Shipping instructions were just to make sure the crate stayed upright."
"Wouldn't even need to worry about food or water, if it's a direct flight, quick handover," Hawkeye mumbled, looking off towards the rows of warehouses. "Have to assume the team is bagged or caged."
"Could they still be knocked out?"
"Probably, but let's burn that bridge when we get there."
"You mean cross that bridge?" Phil bounced on his toes to ward off his nerves.
Hawkeye looked at him, his eyes black in the night. "No." He patted himself down. "You have your inhaler?"
Phil nodded, reminded yet again of just how much of a liability he really was.
"Don't lose it. Let's go." Hawkeye turned and slipped away, and Phil was lunging forward to keep up with him. Phil knew, logically, that Hawkeye was taking the long way by crawling along the ditch and cutting the chain link fence to get them on property, but at first he couldn't figure out why until he realized that it was because of him. Hawkeye was going low and through instead of fast and over because he had to drag Phil with him. By the time they were clear of the fence, Phil was having serious second thoughts.
"Should I, maybe, cause a distraction?" He asked as they crept in the shadows next to warehouse eleven.
Hawkeye paused and looked around at the completely still and quiet complex, then back at Phil. "Why?"
"I'm sure I'm slowing you down, and if I can do something helpful without being in your way--"
Hawkeye crowded up into his personal space, pressing him against the wall. "Like hell. This was your idea from the start."
"I know!" Phil hissed quietly. "But this…people's lives are at stake. I don't want to trip you up."
Hawkeye cocked his head, staring at Phil, who was getting a little too warmed up by the proximity. "Don't you get it? I need you."
"I'm tactical, not strategic. I see better from a distance, not this close up to everything as it falls apart. You do. That's what you're good at."
Phil swallowed. "I'm not a handler."
Hawkeye took Phil's chin in one hand, holding his face steady as they breathed each other's air, lips nearly touching. "Tonight, you damn sure are."
Phil manfully did not groan in despair, pulling himself together enough to nod at Hawkeye, trying not to think of how their breaths were mingling and their bodies all but touching. It reminded Phil of Clint -- not Hawkeye, but the man underneath -- pushing him up against the wall of the hotel room as the door shut, kissing him senseless. He ran a thumb over the pocket holding his inhaler to ground himself again. Hawkeye may have read what was in his thoughts or not, but whichever the case, he pushed Phil away, his expression blank and focused again, every movement precise like a big cat stalking prey.
There was a guard on property, but the lone guy seemed more like private rent-a-cop than a sophisticated counter-agent. Phil reminded himself that looks could be deceiving as he remembered how ordinary the team had looked at dinner only a few hours ago, how vaguely young and dweeby Clint had appeared in his boxy suit.
Despite the guard wandering up towards the first five warehouses, and the lack of proper security lighting anywhere, Hawkeye kept them as close to the shadows as possible. All of the warehouses had bay doors facing broadly spaced out roads, which Phil realized were more than driveways: the warehouse park and the private airfield were the same, and the warehouses were airplane hangars for private planes. Mostly Phil was impressed that there were obviously so many of them, since there were thirty warehouses total, which he thought could hold two or three small planes each. Not that he knew a lot about planes, other than what he had gathered flying business class over the years.
He zigged when he should have zagged, Hawkeye ducking into an open bay door instead of around the corner like Phil had expected. Hawkeye's hand shot out and grabbed Phil's jacket while Phil was still changing tack, and he felt himself being pulled into the dark. "What?"
"Guard doubled back, shhh, shhh," Clint put his hand over Phil's mouth, pulling him father into the shadows of the open warehouse. It held only one plane, a large flying shoebox that had a ramp open on the back. Phil pressed back up against Hawkeye as the footsteps of the guard came closer, and Hawkeye's hand tightened on Phil's mouth. It was intimate and sexy if poorly timed, so Phil concentrated on breathing through his nose, which was always something of a trauma.
The guard walked into the warehouse, shining a flashlight over the plane and cursing quietly. Phil heart rate speed up and he tried to pull in a long, deep breath through his nose which burned all the way down. He had no idea how the guy did not see them pressed up against the wall next to a storage locker, but after a long moment of tortured breathing for Phil, the guy turned and stomped back out. Phil went to move free but Hawkeye only held tighter. "Wait," he whispered, and Phil shuddered. Hawkeye's palm moved off his mouth but he kept his hand on Phil's face, his thumb rubbing over his cheek softly, lovingly, as his other hand spread wide across Phil's torso, pushing in gently as Hawkeye exhaled. After a moment of panic, Phil realized what Hawkeye was doing.
"I'm fine, we don't have to stand around doing breathing exercises!" He said, trying to whisper although it came out hoarse and loud and wheezy. Phil was mortified.
"Shhhh," Hawkeye smiled, his eyes kind and possibly apologetic. He kept rubbing Phil's chest for a moment before letting go, as if Phil were some kind of damn good luck charm.
Phil wondered, for just a brief moment, how much trouble he'd get into with Fury if he accidentally fired Hawkeye. Then he pulled himself together and followed the specialist as he led them out and around the building towards warehouse twenty-three.
Warehouse twenty-three had two small planes and a single shipping container along one wall. It was pretty obviously their target even without the large "W-4077" labeled on every side. Phil guessed it to be about six by six feet, but whatever the actual measurement, it was a box big enough to hold several people. It was also completely silent.
Clint tapped the container with an odd, uneven pattern then waited with his ear pressed up against it. After a few moments he sighed and stood back. "You're sure?"
"How many warehouse twenty-threes containing a box labeled W-4077 could there be?" Phil shrugged.
"Probably just the one, I guess," Hawkeye answered thoughtfully, and Phil got another snapshot of why so many of Team Delta's expense reports were thirty pages long.
"It's very well locked." Phil stared at the locking mechanism, which involved a heavy bar and several chains.
"Also rigged." Hawkeye inspected the locks for something Phil couldn't even see given the darkness of the warehouse. "We break the manual locks, the whole thing will light up. Maybe explode, this doesn't look too sophisticated. They were expecting the contents to stay quiet, so our people are either really heavily sedated, or dead." Hawkeye rubbed the side of his nose. "Damn it. Our primary tech guy is probably inside."
"You can't…undo it?"
"Man, I learned a lot of things in the circus, but not bomb disposal."
Phil sighed, because of course this is where they ended up. It was just like the Great Inventory Audit of '99, when SHIELD headquarters was moved three blocks over. "Fine, we just take the container with us." Phil peered around at the warehouse. The two planes in the hanger were too small, but he remembered the one open hanger with the larger plane inside and the rear loading ramp open.
"What?" Hawkeye was staring at him.
"That hanger with the small shipping plane in it. We'll just put the container in that and fly out."
Hawkeye opened his mouth and closed it exactly four times before shaking his head. "One, when a plane is in a hanger, even if it is wide open for cleaning or loading or whatever, it is not gassed up. Every single one of these beauties is dry as a desert. And B, we can't move this thing." He knocked at it with a fist. "We have to get it open, drag them out, and find a truck or something."
"That's…no, we're not doing that."
"Do you just like to veto every plan I make for fun?"
"That wasn't a plan, that was wishful thinking. Neither one of us is a tech expert, which you've already admitted we need if we're going to get that container open without killing everyone. Second, even if we could do that, did you see a truck around here? All I saw was that one beat up Datsun by the guard booth."
"Datsun?" Hawkeye's face crinkled up.
"I know my cars," Phil answered stiffly, not bothering to mention that he had driven an even older model than that back when he was an undergrad. Back when those old models were new.
"I can go back for the car we ditched." Hawkeye squared his shoulders.
"Why bother? We have better transportation right here, in warehouse 17."
"Who's gonna fly it, huh?"
Phil rolled his eyes. "You are. I have to personally approve the costs for recertification training of our fighter pilots, and you're always on the list."
"You're really starting to annoy me," Hawkeye hissed.
"Take a number."
"How are we going to move the crate?"
"I thought you were Hawkeye, with the good eyesight? Did you miss the tractor sitting up against the fence we cut through?"
Hawkeye groaned and rolled his eyes and Phil hit his limit. He grabbed Hawkeye's jacket and shook him. "You listen to me. We are taking the crate, we are putting it on that plane, and we are flying out of here. Do you fucking understand the words coming out of my damn mouth?"
Hawkeye was on his toes, leaning in towards Phil, silent and wide-eyed. He was panting, and Phil really had not thought his plan of action through because he yanked on the jacket until Clint collapsed against him, limp and pliant, his mouth opening easily to Phil's demand. The kiss tore the air out of Phil's lungs, pure and bright and painful in a way that hadn't sparked for Phil in years. Clint tugged on his jacket with clenched fists and Phil set his feet, pulling Clint into the curve of his body. It was that moment of feeling like a giant, protecting and ravishing the man in his arms, which made Phil's senses snap back online and remember that they were in the middle of a mission and Hawkeye didn't need Phil's protection, or really, his anything. He shoved Hawkeye backwards and they stared at each other in surprise for a few seconds until Phil straightened up.
"Do you understand?"
Hawkeye's eyes were dark and unreadable, and he stood frozen solid for a long moment before he shook himself like a dog. He started pacing back and forth in front of Phil as he whispered loudly. "Oh for fucks sake, fine! Fine, we'll move the crate! Now to just steal the tractor, gas up the plane, load up the container, and fly out! Piece of cake!"
Phil nodded. "Yep." He turned back towards the door. "Get me to the front office."
"Phil, seriously, we're running out of time, I think we just need to take a chance cracking the crate--"
"Do not. Fuck. With me." Phil raised a finger. "I have looked Fury in the eye and cut ten million dollars from his car pool budget. I get my way." He headed for the door, and as expected, Hawkeye fell into not-very-quiet grumbling next to him. Hawkeye took the lead when they were outside again, guiding them silently and quickly past where they had broken in and up to the main office, which was part of warehouse one. The guard shack was in direct sight line of it, so Hawkeye crouched down at the corner to peer around.
"Last we saw he was coming up the other side," Hawkeye said, then turned to Phil. "What now?"
"Get me into the office."
"Right. Sure." Hawkeye sighed heavily, shouldered his bow, and slunk around the pick the lock. He slowly opened the door so it didn't creak, and motioned Phil to him. Phil stood up, straightened his jacket, and marched around the corner like he meant business, swinging the door wide open and punching the lights so the whole place was flooded. Hawkeye, still crouched on the floor like a low-rent burglar, looked up at him, stunned speechless.
"Stash your bow." Phil peeled off his SHIELD issue jacket, holster and backpack, looking around. Like every other small office on earth, it was piled up with bags people used and left behind, and a company jacket hanging by the door. He pulled it on and stuffed his things into a very beat-up duffle bag, dumping out the sneakers he found moldering inside. By the time he was flipping papers around on the desks, the security guard had run up with his walkie-talkie in his hand, looking panic stricken and yelling in Hungarian. Hawkeye was Clint again, a baseball cap from nowhere perched on his head. He was chewing gum and he sagged against one of the desks, looking like a disgruntled blue collar worker.
"Shut up!" Phil yelled, and the guard's mouth snapped shut. "I don't speak Hungarian! I'm here to load up and fly out. I have orders, and we were supposed to be in the air thirty minutes ago. For fucks sake, tell me you speak English!"
"I speak English!" The guard yelled back at him.
Hawkeye tensed a little, but didn't move.
"Good! Now help me find the damn paperwork." Phil shoved at the files on the cluttered desk, purposefully messing it up more while trying to look like he was searching for something.
"No one told me this." The guard peered at them.
"Not my problem. Warehouse twenty-three? Container W-4077? We've got a plane--"
"That sweet old C-23B Sherpa in warehouse seventeen, man, you know the one? It was supposed to be cleaned and refueled." Clint sounded bored, and kicked a foot out, crossing it over his other leg, lazy and slow.
The guard frowned. "I was told it is waiting for Rennie to fly out."
Phil straightened up slowly, and the guard wilted under his gaze. "Again, not my fucking problem. I have orders, we're flying out."
Clint smiled at the guard as if they were old buddies. "Hey, man, look, just help me fuel and load. Peter's got the paperwork." He jerked a thumb towards Phil. "He's filing the flight plan and all that shit."
The guard glanced between them, and Phil concentrated on looking like a really pissed off bureaucrat. It wasn't much of a reach.
"Or not!" Clint shrugged, heading for the door. "Help him out all you want, your funeral. I'll be working."
"I drive the tractor," the guard barked, grabbing a set of keys by the door and hustling out behind Clint.
Phil had nothing to do while Clint schmoozed the guard into helping them, so he looked around the office. Everything was written in Hungarian, which Phil couldn't read, and he was scared of turning on any of the radio equipment for fear of somehow alerting someone—he had no idea who—of the property theft that was going on. The area was a combination flight control center and business office, but Phil was pretty sure it was exactly as advertised and didn't have any secrets to reveal. Sighing, he picked up his duffle bag and walked out the door, right into Culbreath. They stared at each other in mutual shock for a moment.
"Damn it." Culbreath snarled, shoving Phil backwards back the office. "I heard you guys rabbited, but I sure as shit didn't think that'd bring you here."
Phil let himself be manhandled, but kicked the chair away that Culbreath tried to push him into. He yanked his arm free. "Do you seriously believe that you're going to get away with this kind of betrayal? Fury will personally see to it that you get taken down."
"Oh, you mean killed? Fucking civilians, can't even stomach the idea of what we do. Look, Coulson, everyone knows you're Fury's right hand man, but you're still a desk jockey. Shut up and sit down."
Phil stepped backwards, running into the desk behind him. He gave Culbreath a long once over, thinking about what was happening, then shook his head. "No. You're not pulling the strings here. You were just offered a decent payout, enough to take whatever grudge you have against SHIELD and turn it into a chance to walk away. You realize you just sold the Black Widow into slavery? You think she's going to, what, forgive and forget?"
"Doesn't matter, if she can't find me. Now stop with the superhero monologuing and sit down. I've got work to do." He angled for the radio equipment that took up most of the interior wall. Phil knew his opportunities were slim to none so he grabbed a stapler and hurled it. He was aiming for Culbreath's head but he got him squarely in the elbow, probably the funny bone from the way Culbreath curled up with an agonizing scream. Phil gave himself a mental shrug because at least the stapler had hit something, before diving forward to tackle Culbreath in what was certainly his least thought-out decision in the last five hours, which was saying a lot.
As a field team operative, Culbreath was trained to fight in ways that Phil was not, so it wasn't surprising when Phil found himself being slammed into the radio equipment. The knobs and switches stabbed at him ruthlessly and he yelled as Culbreath grabbed his shirt, his other arm pulled back in preparation to deliver a deadly blow to Phil's head. Then suddenly Culbreath was spinning away, flying over two desks. Phil slid down onto the ledge of the equipment bank and watched while the Tasmanian Devil known as Hawkeye pummeled Culbreath half to death. Hawkeye's hits were awe inspiring, his solid arms throwing weight into the punches that broke bones. Culbreath was spewing blood when he finally went down, and two office desks were kindling. But Hawkeye kept going.
Phil lunged forward as Hawkeye kicked the fallen man. "Stop! Stop! Damn it!" He grabbed Hawkeye around the waist and yanked him backwards, sending them both sprawling to the ground. "He's down! Stop it!"
"Fucker! I trusted you!" Hawkeye yelled at Culbreath. He pushed Phil off but didn't move towards where Culbreath was spilling blood out on the floor, his eyes glazed with pain and shock.
Phil crawled up, using a chair for leverage. "Oh." He looked at the guard, who was staring at them in horror as he moved into the room and pointed at Culbreath.
"He is hurt! I know him! He—" The man dropped like a stone. Behind him, Hawkeye held the heavy Soviet-era manual three-hole punch he had used to knock the guy out.
"Never say I don't know how to use office equipment correctly." He gave Phil a bloody grin before tossing it aside.
"He was working for someone, Culbreath didn't act alone, we could—"
"Time to go, Phil," Hawkeye said crisply, grabbing Phil by the shirt and picking up the duffle bag as he pulled him out of the office.
As they crawled into the prepped plane, Phil could have sworn that he heard a lot of noise coming towards them from the highway, as if traffic had tripled all of a sudden in the early morning hours. He turned to Clint. "I guess now is not the time to ask if we're sure of our cargo?"
Hawkeye was snapping his harness in place and running through the steps to get the plane moving. "Nope, worst time ever. Lucky for us Natasha pulled out of the drugs long enough to tap a signal while we were loading the crate. Our buddy the guard wasn't too gentle moving it, must've woke her up."
Phil clipped his own harness around himself in the co-pilot's seat, not that he could do more than hold a flashlight or point during the trip. "That's good. I'd hate to have to go back and do this all over again." He adjusted the harness where it was biting into his sore ribs.
Hawkeye looked over at him, his gaze steady despite his hands moving over the console as if by their own accord. "You are one hell of a piece of work, Coulson."
Phil turned to face him, and it was the way Clint's eyes gazed back at him, sharp and pleased and interested, that finally brought on the inevitable. Phil fumbled for his inhaler as his lungs froze up, taking a double shot in quick succession as Clint pushed the plane into takeoff as fast and as hard as it could go.
Phil hadn't really thought about the combined effects of his inhaler medicine and an adrenaline high until he registered Hawkeye snapping loudly into the radio mike.
"Yes! Medical emergency! You have those, right? And doctors? Yeah yeah, assholes, just have an ambulance pulling up to the plane the second I land! …I don't know, breathing hard, got the shakes; took a couple of shots off his inhaler…no I don't know his fucking prescription, I--"
Hawkeye side-eyed him. "You've been glazed out for ten minutes and your hands are shaking."
"I've been worse, stop being a drama queen."
"Oh fuck you, Coulson." Hawkeye sat back again, listening to his headphones. "Yes, Coulson, Phil Coulson. That's what I said. Yeah I thought that might get your ass in gear!" He shouted the last part and Phil flinched. Hawkeye's hand shot out and landed on his chest. "Breathe! In! Out!"
"Oh my God, stop." Phil pushed his hand away. "Adrenaline plus adrenaline was a bad idea, but I'm fine."
"Whatever." Hawkeye grumbled. "We're coming in to Vienna in a couple of minutes. There is a small airfield that SHIELD keeps dibs on, we're landing there. They are going to have tech and med teams for standing by for the crate, and an ambulance for you."
Phil looked at him, horrified. "What?"
"You're not walking in this condition."
"I am not taking a fucking ambulance!" Phil had not been shoved into an ambulance since his senior year at Wesleyan, and he was not going to break that winning streak in Vienna.
"Not arguing about this. Am-bu-LANCE." Hawkeye poked a finger in the air in front of him, accentuating the word as he spoke.
"Mole in the ranks." Phil poked Hawkeye's arm with his own finger.
"You got the data!" Hawkeye looked over at him, genuinely startled.
"Data I haven't interpreted, and could mean anything. Don't forget Culbreath wasn't our mastermind here, he was working for someone, and that someone is probably watching this whole op unfold."
"Aw, shit." Hawkeye slumped. "That means we can't even trust the medicos."
Phil nodded as if he had thought of that absolutely horrifying possibility himself, which he hadn't. He glanced back. "Can we trust them with the crate?"
"Sure, there's safety in numbers. Three people on the tech team and at least two on the med team, not counting the ambulance staff standing by. Wouldn't trust any two of them together but we'll have four in place at any one time. My biggest worry is landing."
"Landing?" Phil looked at the instrument panel, glowing eerily in the dark.
"Easiest way to pick us off is when we come in for landing. But I can't bluff it, come in from a weird angle or anything, that would show our hand." Hawkeye's lips went tight. "Let's just hope we threw enough of a wrench in things that our mole is scrambling, and didn't plan for contingencies."
"I would have," Phil said.
Hawkeye -- Clint -- gave him a shy grin. "I bet you would've."
Phil seriously considered another shot from his inhaler, but managed to stay sane. He focused on counting his breaths.
"But in my experience, bad guys tend to have really big egos. They figure their plans are full-proof, and never expect trouble. That works to our advantage more often than I'm going to admit to you or in front of witnesses." Hawkeye sighed.
Phil rubbed his shaking hands together, his blood still buzzing and his chest sharp with pain every time he breathed in. He knew from experience, though, that he was going to be okay, so he pushed all of that to the back of his mind. "I think the important thing is to get the data to a safe place, where I can sit down and analyze it."
Hawkeye nodded as he stared out into the sky. "Ambulance."
"No. I'm not—"
"Wait! Hear me out: It's a good way to travel."
Phil waited, but that seemed to be the end-all of Hawkeye's explanation. "Not in my experience," he said, his jaw tight.
"I'm thinking more along the lines of get-away vehicle."
"The ambulance crew might demur."
Hawkeye sighed. "You trust me?"
"You mean that, don't you?" Hawkeye glanced over at him.
"Is there a reason why I shouldn't?" Phil rubbed his hands on his thighs for something to do.
"Most people think Strike Team Delta lives a little too dangerously." Hawkeye shrugged, but there was a tension to his shoulders that Phil thought spoke volumes.
"You do. But that doesn't mean I don't trust you. You're Agent Clint Barton, codename Hawkeye, and you've been one of our top-rated assets at SHIELD for thirteen years."
"Oh. Hey, thanks," Hawkeye grinned.
"Also we've sunk approximately 1.4 million dollars in training on you over the past decade." Phil wasn't too sure of the amount, but he knew that they had spent at least that much so it was probably on the low side.
Hawkeye grimaced. "You really know how to ruin the moment."
"I can itemize, if that would help." Phil couldn't stop himself from smirking.
Hawkeye rolled his eyes. "Shut up. Can I get to the point now?"
"Let me make the call when we're on the ground. At least one of the people there will be in cahoots with the mole; it'll be a risk for him, but he has to keep an eye on us. Give me some leeway, follow my lead." Hawkeye scrunched up his face and Phil got the distinct impression that he was waiting for Phil to shoot him down.
"Okay." Phil rubbed his hands together again, knowing he was bordering on a nervous tic. "What do you expect me to do, argue?"
"We're going in blind to a potentially lethal situation. If I had a plan, I'd tell you. I don't. My plan was to get our team out of Budapest, and here we are, out of Budapest. The whole of my current plan is that I'd like to make it back to New York alive."
"Believe me, that makes two of us." Hawkeye took a deep breath. "Speaking of New York, do you like coffee? I mean, uh, to drink? Like going out for coffee? With me, maybe? Is that something you do?"
Phil's brain, still stuttering from adrenaline and his medicine and fighting for oxygen, tripped over the words several times, trying to resort them into coherency.
"Or not, that's cool, I'm okay with that. Whatever." Hawkeye shrugged one shoulder and glared out the window.
"Did you just—"
"VIENNA 4-5-Bravo, this is Hawkeye checking in!" Hawkeye yelled into the microphone.
"ROGER THAT, VIENNA 4-5-Bravo." Clint kept talking at a loud volume, relaying information to the ground and scrupulously not looking at Phil.
Phil sighed and sat back in the seat, closing his eyes. His lungs really didn't need the extra stress anyway.
Following Clint's lead after they landed was pretty easy, because Clint acted genuinely happy to see the tech and the medical crews. He seemed to know everyone by name and talked to them in a variety of languages. Phil kind of wondered why Clint had such trouble remembering his name for so long, but pushed that thought aside for the time being. There was a tense moment as the tech team got the crate open, but nothing exploded and the Black Widow staggered out, looking wild-eyed and furious. Figueroa and Sitwell were not as well off, puking as soon as they were moved. Figueroa's whole face was black and blue, and the medical team was just stating the obvious when they said he had a concussion. Sitwell tried to stand but ended up falling down, although his creative use of bi-lingual cursing in French and Portuguese at least meant his brain was working just fine.
Clint waved away the ambulance crew when they tried to swarm. He kept Phil close to the remnants of their team, herding him around a little, and Phil lost the thread of what was going on right up until he turned to find himself face to face with the business end of a pistol.
"Nobody do anything stupid, okay?" Clint said, his good humor gone. The gun aimed at Phil's head was rock steady in his hands. Phil's entire body clinched up, and he focused on keeping his breaths even despite his panic. The possibility that Clint was the mole had never once, not once, entered his mind and he cursed himself for being a newbie idiot. He hoped he lived long enough for Fury to laugh his ass off about it.
"Hawkeye." The Black Widow's voice was sharp, but she was still wavering a little and even Phil could see that she wasn't much of a threat.
"Sorry, Widow. Sick of all this shit, and got a better offer." He started pulling Phil away from the cluster of people gathered around the crate. Sitwell, shakily braced on one elbow as he tried to sit up on his gurney, looked nauseous and furious and completely helpless to do anything to save Phil. Clint pushed Phil towards the ambulance. "Hey, Salzmann, get the keys."
One of the tech team, a nebbish guy with long, stringy blond hair, grinned. "Wondered what the plan was," he said, his twangy American accent a shock among the international voices that had been surrounding them since they landed. He pulled the keys from the hands of a very angry, stocky woman that Phil suspected could best any three of them in a fight, but she glanced at Clint and with a frown gave up the keys. She spit something out in Austrian, but Clint smiled back at her, all teeth and brutal intention.
Phil looked at Clint and didn't even see Hawkeye there. His eyes were dark and angry, his body tense and his hand on the pistol he had aimed at Phil didn't waver.
"We takin' him back? Just shoot him." Salzmann tossed the keys in his hands.
"We're still outnumbered, idiot, and the boss wants to know exactly what he saw. Shut up and go start the ambulance."
Salzmann obviously didn't like being called an idiot and glared at Clint, not moving. "At least let's grab the Widow, she's worth more."
Clint's grin turned mercenary. "Yeah, that's good." He pushed the pistol into Phil's head, shoving him forward, and Phil's bad feeling about the whole thing got exponentially worse. "She's still drugged but strap her down, trust me, you don't want her lose."
The Widow, off balance and barely lucid, got into an honest-to-God comedic slap fight with Salzmann. One of the other tech team members must have thought he saw an opening and stepped forward. Clint barked out "Stop!" as he yanked Phil down, and Phil yelled in pain as his knees hit the pavement. Everyone froze. "Tie her up or drug her, let's get moving!"
Salzmann was quick after that, using some of the tech supplies they had brought with them to bind the Widow's hands behind her. She stumbled but straightened up, cursing in Russian and making very pointed comments about Clint's parents.
Clint laughed. "Keep trying, you've used all those before." When Salzmann had her strapped down to a bed in the ambulance, Clint pulled Phil back up and started walking towards it. "You all be sure and tell that asshole Fury that Hawkeye's flown the coop, okay? And maybe I won't come after any of you."
The entire medical team took a step backwards.
"You checked in?" Clint asked as Salzmann went to close the back of the ambulance behind him.
"Yeah yeah. I just texted that we're in transit. With the Widow, too -- man, we'll get a bonus for this!"
"Fuck yeah." Clint shoved Phil towards the front passenger side. "Climb in and across. You're driving."
"And if I don't?" Phil stalled, suddenly unsure of what was going on, looking back at the people crowded around the crate who were wearing expressions of horror and anger and helplessness.
Clint dropped the gun to rest the muzzle against Phil's leg. "Better to keep you alive, but hell, you don't need the kneecap, right?" Behind them one of the people still standing near the crate gasped.
Phil took a deep breath and rubbed the jacket pocket holding his inhaler. Clint stared at him, his eyes dead like a shark's. Phil nodded, because in that moment, for no good reason he could name, he knew everything was okay. He had promised Clint that he would trust him, that he would follow the specialist's lead, and while he made a note that in the future he should ask for more details, Phil decided that he would go to his grave a fool if that's where trusting Clint took him. He crawled over the passenger seat, glancing towards the back as he did. The Black Widow was kicking and cursing but strapped down, and Salzmann was busy pretending to check the restraints in order to feel her up. Phil slid into the driver's seat and used the keys Clint passed to him to start the ambulance, and no sooner had he pulled away than he saw in the side-view mirror the group they had left behind breaking out in pandemonium.
Clint was more familiar with the edges of Vienna than Budapest, giving Phil terse commands to turn and turn again until they were headed into the city proper.
Phil flinched at Salzmann's yell then flinched again when he heard a body thudding against something hard. In the next moment, the Black Widow popped up between the front seats.
"How did you get out of those restraints?" Phil yelped.
"Oh please," she said, rolling her eyes before glaring at Clint -- who had become Hawkeye again as soon as he pulled the gun away and holstered it.
"Knew you were acting. The stumbling was a bit overkill." Hawkeye slid back in the seat, his body loose and relaxed.
"He fell for it," she answered, nodding towards the back.
"As long as he got that last text off. His phone give anything up?"
She passed it over. "Nope. A number, no names. We can put a trace on it once we call this in."
"No, we're not calling anything in." Phil tapped the steering wheel.
His skin prickled as she stared at him for a long, silent moment before she turned back to Hawkeye.
"He got us this far, Tasha. I trust him."
"Right now Fury and Hill are scrambling our entire European branch and aiming them at you." She poked at Hawkeye's arm. "And you trust the suit?"
She spoke slowly. "Fill me in."
Phil waited for bit before he realized that both specialists were looking at him. "Oh, you want me to fill you in?"
"Yes." Her tone was brusque and brooked no argument.
"Okay." Phil took a deep breath and channeled his inner committee meeting secretary, then gave the Black Widow a complete run down on what had happened and his analysis of why, up to and including the fact that he had been sent after the mole in secret by Fury himself. He felt he was missing a lot by not having a PowerPoint presentation because visual aids were his comfort zone, not that bar charts would explain much in his current situation.
The Widow's disapproval radiated over him. "Why the ruse, then? Once you knew Salzmann had turned, why all of this? Grab him and turn him in."
"What? No, that wasn't me. The ruse was Clint's idea."
"Clint." She repeated the name like she had never said it before, and turned to look at Hawkeye. Phil wasn't sure, but he thought Hawkeye was squirming. Slowly she turned back toward Phil again. "You trusted Clint to make that call?"
"Yes, of course."
"C'mon, Tasha. Give me a break," Hawkeye groaned, covering his face.
Phil did his best not to flinch again when the Black Widow smiled. She was beautiful and scary and he did not know what that smile meant for him. Then she sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "We need to go underground so Coulson can analyze the data in peace. Our mole is pretty high up, to have two turncoats on call to assist at different stages, one of them being a team member." She growled the last part.
"Not sure I left Culbreath alive for you," Hawkeye said, rubbing his hands together and speaking quietly for a change.
She put a hand on his shoulder. "You did the right thing. He was dead, sooner or later."
"We shared boots, for fucks sake." Hawkeye kicked his booted foot against the upper part of the foot well. They were quiet, and Phil kind of wished he could fade into the background or something, as it was obviously a private moment of mourning -- not for the man, clearly, but for the betrayal of a teammate.
Unfortunately, Phil really didn't have a clue where he was going. "Might need some directions, here."
"None of our safe houses can be trusted," Clint sighed.
"Don't you have some secret back up identity you can use? Rent us a hotel room under an assumed credit card?"
"Phil, man, this isn't a Bond movie." Clint laughed.
Phil breathed out slowly through his nose and wondered how many times he could loop the city before their gas ran out. He eyeballed a passing gas station just off the highway, which was busy in the (very) early morning rush. "Can either of you pick pockets?"
"Hey now, no need to be insulting." Clint put a hand over his heart in mock affront. "Of course we can."
"Okay, here's what we're doing. The ambulance is an eyesore, and easy to track. I'm going to pull over at the next busy gas station, and one of you is going to get us a wallet full of credit cards we can use. Then Clint will steal a car and we'll head for a coffee house or a hotel or something. Widow, you drive the ambulance around for a few of hours, doesn't matter where. Give our mole, and SHIELD, something to chase. When the time is right pull over and radio in, making like you subdued Salzmann and Clint, and I'm injured--"
"And I'm confused, don't know where I am, possibly still drugged up. They will put everything into locating me, buying you more time."
Phil nodded. "I should have a good idea who the mole is long before then, honestly, but I'd like a buffer. If nothing else, he'll panic as soon as SHIELD hears from you. If I can't put a name on our traitor by that time, this whole thing was a bust anyway."
"You're that good?" The Widow's voice was flat, the question toneless.
"I'm that damn good," Phil said sharply. He glanced over at her to find her staring at him with a more open expression than he was expecting.
"Yeah, I think maybe you are."
"Oh god, Tasha, shut up," Clint groaned and palmed his face again, although Phil could not understand why. He was just happy the Black Widow wasn't pushing him out of the cab into traffic.
When Phil pulled into a gas station, Clint and the Black Widow dumped their obvious weaponry into the footwell and eeled out of the passenger door. Phil's instructions were to go into the little mart and kill time looking at snacks on the shelves. It got boring fast and Phil spent a lot of time trying to look like he was possibly the most indecisive grocery shopper on the continent.
"You ready to leave, baby?" Speaking in German, Clint appeared out of nowhere and wrapped an arm around Phil's waist.
Phil did his best not to act startled. "Yes, dear."
"Let's buy this and go. I parked the car down the street." Clint steered him to the cashier booth, and pulled out a beat up wallet. Phil put his random assortment of stuff -- hand sanitizer, a six pack of soda, and a small package of donuts that hardly seemed worthy of the name -- on the counter. Clint paid in cash, deftly handling the money as if he dealt in Euros every day.
The car was a typical small European city car, and Phil felt like he was being shoved into a shoebox. Clint drove away, and it was only then that Phil realized the ambulance was nowhere to be seen. Sighing at the way he seemed perpetually one step behind the specialists, he turned to Clint. "Where to?"
"Hotel, I think. A coffee shop would work but it's a bit public."
Phil nodded and let Clint get them to a hotel, where he used one of the credit cards in the wallet to pay for two days, explaining to Phil as they walked to their room that it looked less suspicious.
When the door was safely closed behind them, Phil stood in the middle of the room, clutching his backpack to his chest, his mind speeding through the things he needed to do. "How long do you think we have?"
Clint shrugged, throwing his jacket onto the bed. "Five hours."
Phil reviewed his map of Europe in his head. "The Widow can play cat and mouse with a Viennese ambulance that long?"
"No, she could probably do that for at least three days. You only asked for a few hours, she told me she'd give you five."
"Oh." He looked down at the computer in his arms. "I'm not sure my laptop is secure."
"No kidding. Don't let it connect to any wi-fi, though, and we should be okay."
"I thought they had trackers," Phil said, pulling his laptop out and inspecting it.
"They do. Natasha took care of that."
Phil glared at him, because the trackers were used on all equipment that was over $1000 on inventory, and they were supposedly indestructible, not to mention that he had no memory of the Widow even getting near his backpack. "How?"
"You're crazy if you think I'm telling you that." Clint fell backwards and bounced on the bed, grinning.
Phil made a note to have some minions comb over the portable items inventory (which would certainly secure his position as one of the most hated supervisors at SHIELD), then carefully turned off the wi-fi using the manual switch so it would not even try to ping any networks. He opened up the small laptop and plugged in his flashdrive with the results of his off-the-cuff analysis he had done back at the office building in Budapest. It seemed like it had happened weeks earlier, not a couple of hours ago. He sighed heavily as he sat down at the lonely little table. He felt his body crashing hard, the comedown from the excitement doubling up with his body's own reaction to all the stresses he had put it through in the last 12 hours. Or really the last 40, since he had gotten on that quinjet back in New York.
"Hey, you're falling out."
Phil blinked, trying to pretend he had not just dozed off over his laptop. "Shit."
Clint was crouched down next to him, worry crinkling the skin around his eyes. "Take a nap."
"Give me one of those sodas." Phil reached a hand out for the market bag.
Hawkeye glared at him. "You have time to take 30 minutes."
"This is important, Hawkeye. I can stay awake for a little longer."
"Stubborn bastard," Hawkeye sighed and handed over one of the caffeine-laden drinks. Phil downed the thing in short order, knowing he was pushing his body way past the point of reasonable effort and into the realm of "going to pay for days and days."
He looked up at Clint, whose face was tight with worry and frustration. Phil nodded, because he couldn't begrudge the man's concern. "Let me work on this for a little bit, see what I've got. If it's promising, I'll get to a stopping point and take some down time."
"One hour, then you take a break." Clint countered.
"Yeah. Yeah, that's fine." Phil turned mechanically back to his laptop and pulled up the analysis. They were a mish-mash of relationships, account transactions bouncing back and forth over the course of months. The only reason Phil saw any kind of pattern at all was because he was looking at the data his macros had pulled, and not the original files, the copies of which he was wary of opening. He didn't even notice that Clint had stood up again until he grabbed his jacket.
"Hour's almost up. I'm going out for food."
"I'm fine," Phil said, knowing it was a pretty transparent lie but unhappy about Clint going outside. Any exposure was a risk for the next few hours, and they both knew that.
"That horrible dinner didn't stick with me, and I'm pretty sure you've run through your reserves." Clint put a gentle hand on Phil's shoulder. "Let me take care of you."
"Because I'm a handicap?" Phil spit out the words a little more bitterly than he intended then cringed, wondering where his filter had gone.
Clint removed his hand, his manner professional and distant. "Because you got my team out of a tight spot, and I need you in top form to take down that fucking mole who tried to sell my partner into slavery."
Phil grabbed his wrist before he moved away. "I'm sorry."
Clint shrugged, pulling his hand free at the same time. "It's fine, I get it."
"You…get it?" Phil frowned. He was confused, and suspected he was more in need of food than he originally thought, if his brain was that sluggish.
"Yeah, I mean, you're top dog, right? You don't need someone like me around." He threw his jacket on. "But you're still my problem for a few hours yet, so I'm going to go get you some real food."
"I meant I was sorry I snapped at you. I'm not really sure where the conversation went after that."
Clint opened the stolen wallet and looked at the credit cards. "You don't need me to take care of you, that's not your thing. I'm not your thing. Whatever." He huffed and shoved the wallet into his back pocket, still not looking at Phil.
"In ten years, you've never gotten my name right, not once. You ask me out while I'm coming down from a near-brush with asthma and also certain death, and now you're acting like we're in high school."
"Oh I'm so fucking sorry—" Clint snarled.
"And since when were you into men? Ever? Much less." Phil waved a hand over himself. "Much less this. Really?" He pinched the bridge of his nose. "You've been flirting with me hot and cold in possibly the most inopportune time of my life to start up a relationship. Fuck you, sincerely. Go get me some breakfast, just get out of my face so I can do my job." Phil tuned him out and looked at his laptop, barely hearing it when Clint, or Hawkeye, or Agent Barton left the room.
It was an hour later before Clint walked back in, quiet and low-key. He had a couple of bags in his hands that smelled delightfully of pastries and eggs. He stood awkwardly next to the table, holding the bags and looking a little bit like a kicked dog. He didn't say anything.
Sighing, Phil nodded at the other chair and closed his laptop, leaving it on the table but pushed to one side. Clint sat down and spread out the food. Phil, feeling the tremors in his hands from his exhaustion and stress, fell on the food like a starving man.
"Any luck?" Clint asked after a few minutes, still looking down.
Phil swallowed and put down his fork. "Clint."
Clint took a very deep breath before straightening up and looking at Phil. "Yes sir?"
"Did you really ask me out for a coffee date somewhere between Budapest and Vienna?"
Clint opened his mouth but paused when Phil turned his high-power glare on him. He sighed. "Yes sir, I did. But—"
"No, you don't get to backtrack out of that. What you will do now is explain to me why."
"Why?" Clint asked, angling his body, radiating distrust.
Clint's face pinched like he had bitten a lemon. "Seriously?"
"I'm not dating a man who can't express his emotions in a healthy, mature way. Or, at least, some kind of way."
Clint perked up. "You'd date me?"
"Yes. Once we clear up this whole fucking mess you've made."
Clint slumped in the chair. "I'm kind of good at making a mess, sir."
"I'm the one who has to sign off on whether we cover those messes or dock your pay, so believe me, I know."
Clint picked at his Danish, letting the pause drag on for a while before finally sighing heavily. "I knew your name."
Phil stared at him. "I told you my name dozens of times over the years, you never used it, not once."
He took a deep breath, looking off to the side. "You're important. You've always been important, ever since I joined SHIELD the one person people told me not to piss off was that guy in accounting who wore the tailored suits: Phil Coulson."
"I would think Fury has a lock on that warning."
"Hell no, I piss him off all the time." Clint grinned, biting into some pastry.
Phil had to smile. "Guess that makes two of us."
Clint nodded again. "First time I saw you was right after I first joined up. Some kind of training session, I don't know, couldn't tell you what it was about. I just remember you walking in the room to make your presentation and everyone snapping to attention. You ruled that room, even the senior agents were squirming. The instructor was Agent Myer, and I've never seen him look nervous before or since. You were hot as hell."
Phil blinked in surprise. "Myer's class? I teach a module on attack accounting and tax evasion." He couldn't think of a worse way to impress anybody.
"Yeah, that was boring. You were hot." The grin turned sly and sweet, Clint looking up at Phil through his eyelashes. Phil frowned at him and Clint laughed.
"Had to keep you off the game, couldn't let you know I was interested. Diversion, sleight of hand thing. Like I had a chance with the high ranking smart guy, always a level or two up from me, dressed in tailored suits?"
"And gay." Phil jumped on the intuition.
Clint tensed up but only gave him a curt nod.
"I'm not in the closet. If you want this, it's not going to be a secret."
Clint looked up at him, his expression open and his eyes wide. "So you'd date me?"
"I already answered that, but yes, I would. If you want to. I'm still flummoxed about the fact that you date men at all."
Clint's eyes darkened. "No, I really don't."
There was something deep and wrong there, but Phil understood instinctively that it was not on the table for discussion. "I'm the exception?"
"Not the only exception. I've been down this road, I just don't…it's a chance not worth taking, most of the time. Like I said, I trust you."
It was suddenly a lot of responsibility to be loaded down with. Phil dove back into his own plate of food for a while. Clint's head was bowed over his little plate, and even his shoulders seemed to convey a wary sense of trepidation. Phil's brain was barely tripping on an empty tank, despite the food, and he knew he was missing something important. But one memory stood out, the kiss in the warehouse when Phil had manhandled Clint -- who was stronger, and faster, and better trained, but had been just short of eager to let Phil hold him.
Slowly, telegraphing his movements, Phil reached over and grabbed a fistful of Clint's hair, pulling his head up.
Clint's mouth was frozen open in a gasp, his eyes glossy and his pupils dilating.
"You trust me."
Clint stuttered for a moment and tried to nod, but Phil tightened his grip, pulling at Clint's hair. Clint sucked in a deep breath. "Yes sir."
It was pretty much every pornographic fantasy that Phil had entertained about Agent Clint Barton for the last ten years, and he wasn't really sure what he was doing but playing by ear had gone well for them so far. He nodded. "I can work with that. Now finish your food while I wrap this job up."
He let go but Clint kept his head up, a very tentative smile edging along his lips.
Phil ignored his instinct to grab Clint and throw him on the bed, mostly because he thought the exertion would make him pass out. Instead he tapped the laptop. "We're not done talking, but I'm ready to get online to run a final chase on the connections. I've set up some algorithms that I can launch the second I'm signed into the bank accounts in question, and I expect we'll have our mole's identity within 45 seconds after that. It will still get us pinged on the data stream, not to mention my login being used will get Fury's immediate attention."
Clint frowned at his plate. "If your logins still work."
"Oh, they do. It's part of the whole contingency plan in place in case I ever get kidnapped. If my logins are used, it is a great way to track anyone who has me. I have orders to play hard to get but then give up my codes within the hour, if asked."
"Huh. Smart." Clint nodded.
"Nick's -- Fury's -- idea."
"See? You're on a first name basis with Fury. Fuck." Clint leaned back in the chair and stared at the ceiling. "What the hell was I thinking?"
Phil chose to ignore that for the time being. "How long after that will SHIELD descend on us?"
"What? Oh. Hm." Clint snapped his fingers. "An hour. Mostly that's travel time. They'll have to run down the IP address and then triangulate from there, but they will have our location within 15 minutes. Once they know where the login is coming from, they will send in a local team. And probably local police as back up. This whole hotel is going to be locked down pretty tight. I'd feel pretty bad for us if we were trying to run for it." He grinned.
Phil nodded, mulling it over. "Once I get what I need, there is no need to hide. I'll ping Fury directly."
"Eh, still an hour or so. Like I said, mostly travel time." He kicked back in the chair and folded his hands over his stomach. "Am I doing anything?"
"Cleaning up breakfast mess, mostly."
"On it." Clink laughed and stood up, sorting the trash.
Phil turned the wi-fi back on and logged into on open wireless network that was nearby, avoiding the hotel's connection mostly out of paranoia. He had three tabs open, and as soon as he was connected logged into one account after the other, using his admin access to push the macros into the reports he was running.
"You had all those account numbers memorized, didn't you?" Clint asked over his shoulder.
"Yes. Of course."
Clint whistled but went to throw the trash out, a good excuse to case the area to see if anyone was on the way yet.
Three times the results pinged a name Phil recognized. He grimaced.
Clint was walking back in through the door just then, and caught the look. "What?"
"Agent Felix Blake is a senior handler, right?"
Clint rolled his eyes. "Yeah. One step away from promotion to assistant deputy director. He was pretty pissed when Hill was leapfrogged over him—" Clint stalled. "Holy shit. Really?"
Phil nodded. "Looks like."
Clint's entire demeanor turned tense and angry. "That fucker."
"Smart fucker, though. This?" Phil tapped his screen. "This is good. Very good. I doubt he was acting without some kind of support network. Who or how I can't say, but he's been thorough. And he had me fooled, I thought he could barely add." Phil's face tightened up in dismay, unhappy about how he had been played in the most obvious way.
"Fucker!" Clint repeated passionately, pacing back and forth in front of the door, looking for all the world like a caged animal.
"Time to end this. I'm pinging Nick."
Clint stopped. "Yeah, okay. 'Nick'."
Phil ignored the jab. His heart-rate spiked as he saved the data and then opened the interoffice chat program, logging in and poking Fury. Clint walked over to watch.
NFury: If that's you, Barton, you're fucking fired and dead. Turn over Coulson and I might make it quick.
"Wow." Clint hissed, reading the text, glancing at Phil and trying not to look worried about it.
PJCoulson: Nick: 43-15-89-Alpha. Mole is Agent Felix Blake, senior handler. He's probably already in transit.
NFury: Shit. Done. There was a long pause. You okay, Phil? Got your inhaler?
PJCoulson: Asshole. Also I'm with Agent Barton, the turncoat thing was an act.
NFury: I have a six people who wet their pants because of him. He's paying for the uniform cleaning.
Clint laughed out loud.
PJCoulson: I'll figure something out. Tired, going to rest until the cleanup crew gets here.
NFury: I'm told ETA 48 minutes. Is Black Widow with you?
PJCoulson: No, she's somewhere in the ambulance we left the air field with. I thought I would need more time, so she was the distraction. Best idea I could come up with. She'll surface in about three more hours.
There was a long pause before Fury answered. NFury: Your idea. You got Delta to go along with it?
"Yeah, here we go." Clint sighed as he stood up and walked away.
PJCoulson: Yes. They are professionals and we all worked well together as a team.
NFury: Forget I asked. Save that bullshitting for the debrief.
Phil could imagine the huff-and-eye roll was getting long distance.
NFury: Hold on a sec. Reports coming in…
"Something's happening." Phil looked up at Clint, motioning him to come back over. They stared at the chat window for nearly a minute before Fury got back to him.
NFury: You don't fuck around, do you? HYDRA? Really, fucker? Goddamnit Phil, I'm telling your mother.
Phil felt himself pale, his fingers frozen over the keyboard while Clint scrunched up his face in confusion. He was saved by Fury's next message. NFury: Look, stay low. This is blowing up. Hawkeye is with you, right?
PJCoulson: Standing threateningly over my shoulder as we speak.
NFury: Hawkeye, your first job is to keep Phil safe. Lock down, protocol Event Horizon.
Clint laughed. "Tell him I'm on the job."
Phil wrote as much and Fury immediately signed off, the little blinking cursor in the empty chat box mocking Phil. "What is Event Horizon?"
"Meh. It means shit is going down across several national borders. It's just code for 'stay inside, don't make trouble.' He's got bigger problems than sending an extraction team after us, and we're not in immediate danger." Clint smiled at him. "What it means is that your 45 second transmission stirred up an international hornet's nest. Congratulations, sir, I think you just became an honorary member of Strike Team Delta." His grin turned bright and endless.
Phil got up and took Clint's face in his hands. He kissed him, pulling Clint closer as he pressed up against him, basking in the warmth of connection. He shifted to wrap one arm around Clint's torso, yanking so their bodies were lined up from shoulder to knee. Clint's initial gasp of surprise spilled over into a long groan. Phil felt his knees go weak from the complete surrender that Clint was giving over to him, opening his mouth eagerly to Phil's demands, and giving back as good as he got.
Then he blinked up at the ceiling from the bed. "What?"
"Your knees gave out, you practically fainted. You're whipped, sir, you need some shut eye." Clint was lying next to him propped up on his elbow, his other arm draped over Phil's chest. Phil opened his mouth to argue, but Clint's look of worry and uncertainty stopped him. Clint took a deep breath. "Let me take care of you, Sir." The words were nearly a whisper and Clint was not even looking him in the eye, concentrating instead on his hand that was rubbing slow circles over Phil's chest.
Phil brought up his arm that was between them and took a firm hold of Clint's chin. "Secure the room, and take my shoes off. Then come back to bed."
Clint blushed furiously, but managed to smirk. "You need your sleep, Sir."
"I know that. I want you next to me while I sleep." Phil cleared his throat, swamped by memories of adolescent fantasies where he was an important somebody whom Captain America had to keep safe. They translated a little too easily to Hawkeye. "To protect me. I'll sleep better if I can touch you, if I know you're nearby."
Clint's harsh intake of breath told Phil the risk of his pride had been worth it. "Yes Sir," Clint said quickly and rolled out of bed. His mind graying out from exhaustion, Phil did not actually remember when Clint crawled in next to him and covered them with the bedspread.
Chapter 11: An Interlude
This is a brief interlude in the plot/team dynamics development to allow the boys to catch their breath, and each other. ;)
Phil woke up to a body he knew well: sore, aching, stretched thin and bone-weary. He felt the tattling wheeze deep down in his lungs that signaled trouble if he didn't take precautions. He had a very well established recovery program, which consisted of two days of down time featuring lots of water, zinc, vitamin C, trashy reality television and sleep.
But he also woke up to a body he wasn't quite so familiar with, draped over his lower abdomen, snoring loudly and kicking in his sleep like a puppy. Clint was twisted up in the bedspread, down to his undershirt and boxers. Phil had one arm wrapped around his shoulders, and shifted a little to raise his hand to comb his fingers through Clint's short and chaotic hair. He felt Clint wake up instantly, but he continued to just lay sprawled over Phil, one hand spread wide on Phil's chest.
Phil looked around and realized it was probably late afternoon. "How long?" His voice was hoarse, and yeah, he realized he was in for a painful couple of days of deep breathing exercises.
"Ten hours or so. I got up earlier, checked in with HQ."
Phil clinched a fistful of Clint's hair instinctively, and Clint curled in closer with a throaty purr.
"And?" He asked, letting go and stroking fingers down Clint's neck.
"Blake escaped but we got a few others who were working with him. Salzmann sang like a canary after being trapped in an ambulance with the Black Widow for five hours."
Phil cursed, because Blake's machine had been pretty extensive from what he could tell.
"Yeah, I know, boss. But he's on our radar, SHIELD will track him down eventually."
"Any word on extraction?"
"Yeah, uh." Clint finally shifted uncomfortably.
"Hill told me to keep you stationary for 24 hours, or she was sending another ambulance for you."
"She sounded pretty worried, actually. That was so weird." Clint squirmed again, nuzzling into the middle of Phil's torso, just below his rib cage.
Phil sighed. "Okay, fine, whatever. We're stuck here until tomorrow."
"Awesome." Clint lifted the hem of Phil's tee shirt and looked up at him questioningly. Phil wondered when he had been stripped down to his underwear, but he wasn't going to question his good luck. He nodded. Clint kissed his belly, of all the soft body parts Phil had to choose from, but Phil let him enjoy himself for a few moments. Clint's kisses were gentle and indulgent as he licked and sucked and generally made like Phil was a decadent dessert. Phil finally took a chance and pushed gently on Clint's shoulder, directing him down Phil's body.
Clint paused for a moment, his eyes still closed, then traveled down to smell around Phil's covered erection. "You okay with this?" Phil asked, his voice hoarse. "Clint, you have to tell me if you aren't."
Clint nipped at the strained fabric of Phil's briefs, pulling on it with his teeth.
Phil grabbed his hair and tugged. "Clint."
Clint stretched his neck out, tilting he head up to expose his neck but keeping his eyes closed. "Please."
"Oh, fuck." Phil gasped. "Yes, suck me. Clint, if that's what you want, I want to see it. Do it!" Phil pushed Clint's head down but let go of his hair, grabbing for the bed spread instead.
Clint scrabbled to pull Phil's underwear off, his breathing heavy. He almost looked angry, except for the gentle hands and the adoring eyes, and with his mussed hair he looked completely wrecked. "I want to, I want to."
"You're so damn beautiful, you're so perfect, yes, I want to see that sinful mouth around my cock." Phil eagerly pulled a pillow under his head and shoulders so he could watch.
Clint sighed, his breath hot and wet over the taut skin of Phil's cock. "I like that."
Phil huffed out a laugh. "I am not surprised you enjoy dirty talk."
Clint's pink tongue poked out of his mouth as he ran the tip over the edge of the head, making Phil contort as pleasure and anticipation sparked up his spine. "That too."
Phil pulled himself together. "What?"
Clint shook his head just a little but before Phil could press for answers, he took Phil's dick into his mouth and all reasonable, responsible discussion was out the window. It had been a very long time since anyone had given Phil's dick any serious attention, and Clint was worshipping it. He had one hand wrapped firmly around the base as he worked the head and upper shaft, swallowing and sucking hard before breaking off to lick long, wet stripes up and down. Clint's body had shifted to settle down onto the mattress as if he planned to be there for a while, and as much as Phil was anticipating an amazing orgasm he was also willing to play the whole process out for a while. Clint's mouth was as smart as he was, hot with teasing and promises.
Phil always had to work to shut off the analytical track of his mind, the awareness that stood apart from his experiences as he tried to parse them and file them away. Making love was sometimes a trauma if he wasn't mildly buzzed from alcohol or muscle relaxers — he wasn't a saint, although neither was an indulgence he rarely let himself enjoy because it scared him too, especially with someone who wasn't a long-term, trusted partner. But if he couldn't turn his brain off somehow and just enjoy the moment, he always ended up with lackluster sex because he spent more effort trying to analyze his partner's every move and speculate about their motives than he did in enjoying the physical sensations.
Even thinking all of that, while Clint worked on his cock with lavish attention, Phil managed to push everything aside: where he was, how sore his body felt, all the questions he had for Clint, all the concerns their possible relationship might raise at SHIELD. He left all of that sitting in a box in the furthest back corner of his mind and focused instead on clutching at Clint's amazingly solid shoulders and watching Clint's back flex as he bobbed up and down, and the way his hips rolled in a clear attempt to get some friction on his own cock. Clint had one hand pressed against Phil's hip, holding him down with a strength that was disorienting. He knew Clint would let him up if he asked, but he also knew that Clint was strong enough that it would be choice on his part; he was physically strong enough (and Phil, embarrassingly, weak enough) to keep Phil where he wanted him. But even with that, Phil knew he was in charge and that knowledge was erotic to the point of being painful, straining his every nerve with the power he had, and the vulnerability Clint was revealing to him.
He figured 43 was as good a time to discover a new kink as any.
Clint sucked Phil's cock fully into his mouth and Phil panted and gasped out a litany of curse words and encouragements, praising Clint and petting him. Clint whined with Phil's cock buried deep in his mouth and throat. Pure desire and affection braided into Phil's lust and he was content to have Clint pleasuring him, which was an awareness Phil registered distantly and with surprise. His breathing was too short and he felt a tell-tale lack of oxygen starting but in the next instant he barely snapped his hips in warning before he came, his orgasm crashing through him like a powerful wave, obliterating him completely. He pushed himself down into the mattress as the climax rolled through him, his heels digging in. Clint kept sucking on him, hunched over Phil's writhing body, his eyes closed and his face transformed with pleasure.
Phil felt himself melt, every muscle painless and loose. He blinked and smiled down at Clint, who was panting hard, his tongue hanging out of his mouth which was bruised and red. Phil reached to run his thumb over his lips. "You're so beautiful," he murmured.
Clint blushed explosively but did not look away. "You talk too nice."
"No such thing."
"Unf. Sure." Clint shifted in a pretty obvious bid to hump the sheets.
Phil chuckled. "Come here. On your knees, straddle me." Phil pulled and pushed until Clint was where he wanted him, right over his own dick (which was not going to get into the action anytime soon, but Phil liked the view). Clint put his hands on his thighs and looked down at Phil with a raised eyebrow and a wary look in his eyes.
"Gonna tell me how stupid my dick looks?" He smiled as he bounced, making his cock flap up and down, but his eyes were narrow and Phil could tell that something dark hid behind the joke.
"No. Beautiful," Phil said, getting an inkling of why Clint liked how "nicely" Phil talked. "It's solid and perfect."
Clint smirked but the defensiveness was there in his posture and his eyes. "Short."
Phil blinked. Short? He stared at Clint's cock, which was pretty much at eye level for him. "No, it's not. Thick, yes; short, no. Not very long, but not too much different from mine." He grinned. "Or weren't you looking?"
Clint shrugged. Phil moved one of Clint's hands and wrapped it around Clint's own cock.
"Sir?" Clint laughed, a tittering, nervous sound.
"You're so beautiful, I want to watch. I want to see how you pleasure yourself."
"You really just want to watch me jerk off?" Clint asked, his hand moving of its own volition up and down the shaft of his dick, soft and slow.
"Yes, but I don't want a damn lap dance. I want to see you, all of you, cracking open for me. All mine, Clint. I want you. Here. Right here, for me."
"Oh." Clint gasped and swallowed the sound, his hand moving faster.
Phil put aside the question of who the asshole bastard was who had treated Clint so poorly, the man who had very obviously burned Clint hard and left him feeling used and worthless to other men. He didn't need details to know what he saw, and he hated that nameless jerk with a furious anger he had not felt in years. He just hoped Clint wouldn't run away after this and that they could explore Clint's needs and desires better when they had more time -- and Phil was more rested -- than they had at the moment.
He kept one hand firmly on Clint's thigh to hold him in place, to let him know that Phil was in charge and keeping him safe, then moved his free hand between Clint's legs. He moved slowly and maybe Clint picked up on his concerns, but maybe not, and just watched with a blank expression as he kept stroking himself. Phil gently took hold of Clint's balls and lifted them, holding them with care as he played, rolling them in his palm. Clint's whole body shuddered and he blinked in surprise before finally giving over and letting his head drop forward and his hand speed up.
"That's it, Beautiful, do it just the way you like it, that's perfect. You're perfect. I'm so lucky, damn, Clint, I'm so fucking lucky to have you here on top of me. Can you say my name when you come? I want that. Can you do that?" Phil's voice, already hoarse and wheezy when they started, dropped even lower.
"Yes, yes, oh god, Phil! Yes!" Clint's body clinched up as he started jerking off in earnest, his strokes short and brutally hard. Phil tightened the hand on Clint's thigh to ground him and keep him from unbalancing himself. With a jerk, Clint tossed his head back as he cried out "Phil!" and came, his cum spurting all over Phil's undershirt. Phil really didn't care, too amazed by the feeling of Clint's balls tightening up and Clint shaking apart over him. He moved just enough to strip off the dirty shirt and use it to carefully wipe down Clint's dick before tossing it aside.
Clint, dazed and shaking, followed the tug of Phil's hands and toppled forward, landing to one side and immediately wrapping himself around Phil, who held him close and whispered loving nonsense against his temple.
When their breathing slowed down and Clint had returned to randomly nuzzling Phil's chest, Phil tapped his head.
"Hey?" Clint looked up at him, bleary eyed and completely, adorably debauched.
"I'm sorry, but I doubt I'll be good for much else. I'm honestly not good for too much right now. Hill's…she's not wrong. I need to rest and recover." Phil sighed.
The way Clint switched to being Hawkeye and back again was like watching a shadow fall away, nothing more than a twitch of muscles to change him completely. He was both, of course, but Phil was fascinated by the dynamic. He reached up and gently traced his fingers over Clint's face. "Did I upset you?"
"I pushed you too hard, during the mission. I should have taken better care of you." Clint breathed in deeply. "Sir."
"I can take care of myself, Clint. I've been doing it for years. You have to trust me to know my limits."
"I'm not so good at knowing where limits are." Clint closed his eyes, tipping his head to the side as Phil's fingers played over his ear and neck.
"I suppose that's my job then." He reached over and clasped one hand around the back of Clint's neck, holding him still. Clint's free hand clutched Phil's side, spasming, as he sucked in a deep breath, his eyes closed. Phil tangled their legs together. "But I'm worried about you."
"I'm good, really good, thank you Sir. I'm great." Clint sighed, lowering his head to Phil's chest again.
"I don't want to hurt you, Clint," Phil said softly before placing a delicate kiss on his head. "I get the feeling people have hurt you in the past."
"You won't." Clint kept his eyes closed.
"I won't mean to." Phil offered it as a prayer, drifting off to sleep, and hoping for the best.
FYI in my head canon there is more than one deputy director; it makes sense to me that such a role would essentially be the head of a department within the greater organization.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Phil sat down slowly, gingerly negotiating his place in Fury's office. He was one hour off the quinjet from Vienna, and even after a 24 hour "lay over" he was still achy and tired. He had slept most of the time in the hotel, much to his chagrin, but Clint had simply woken him up and hustled into a shower (and a hand-job) about 20 minutes before their extraction team arrived.
Of course, he was Deputy Director Phillip Coulson, CFO of SHIELD, so his extraction team was seven police cars, the chief of police, representatives from the Viennese State Governor's office and also the American Embassy as well as ten fully armed SHIELD field agents in five SHIELD-issue armored SUVs. To his credit, Clint took it all in stride, although Phil got the feeling there was some posturing with the other SHIELD agents behind his back because they all kept a solid five-foot distance from him at all times.
Back in New York and severely lacking in coffee, Phil had managed to get to his office and change into his spare suit (an older model that came from his "pin-stripe" era) before following the direct order to show up at Fury's office for a very personal and up-close debriefing. Phil hadn't even written his formal after-action report yet, although he was made to understand that was what the members of Strike Team Delta were doing (except for Figueroa, who was still kind of "floaty" according to Clint, who swore up and down that it was a medical term because it got used on him a lot after bad missions).
"That was some shit, Phil." Fury leaned back in his chair and folded his hands together.
"Thank you, sir."
"Don't give me that, you fucker. I scrambled most of the Eurasian continent to find you, and you're making nooky in a hotel in Vienna."
"Rumors." Phil made sure his most placid face was in place. It drove Nick crazy.
Nick's eye twitched, so Phil mentally put one mark down in his column. "Do we have a lead on Blake?"
Nick sighed heavily and looked up at the ceiling. "A few, but I'm not keeping you in that loop because it's getting tricky. I will say that he was playing a long game."
"Maybe. For himself, mostly. Not sure what his end goal is, or if it's changed. He wanted Delta taken out, and was willing to put you down with them, and that…that suggests unpleasant possibilities."
They were a quiet a moment as the gravity of that vague recap sunk into Phil. He took a deep breath, knowing where his true value was in the given situation. "My analyses of the data have been turned over to Red Team."
Nick nodded, still staring at the ceiling. "Your specialist teams still named after Star Wars Rebel Alliance squadrons, I see."
"Rumors," Phil repeated, although he stifled a smile.
Nick sat up, his feet hitting the ground hard. "Start from the beginning. I want to know what happened."
"It will be in the AAR, boss."
"Did I ask you that? No. I told you start from the beginning," Nick said, scowling.
Phil understood a direct order when slapped in the face with one, so he started at the change-over in London with Culbreath and marched the story forward from there.
Nick did not actually start laughing until Phil related the situation with the baby geeks at the target building. He was howling and clutching his sides by the time Phil got to the point where Clint had stolen a car in Vienna while Phil bought stale donuts.
"You're a jerk, sir." Phil snarled, interrupting his technical explanation of his data analysis.
"Holy shit! You're like, like, Maxwell!"
"Get Smart!" Nick roared and folded over his desk, his face stuck in the crook of his elbow as he laughed.
Phil crossed his arms and glared.
"No! No, you were great! No wonder Delta loves you! You're bat-fucking-shit insane!"
"I prefer to think it's for my creativity under stress."
Fury gasped for breath as he sat up again. "Whatever gets you through the night," he said, smirking. "The real question is: what will your mother say?"
"Fuck you, just read the official report." Phil snapped and walked out, slamming the office door shut on Nick's howls of laughter. When he got back to his office, he found Hawkeye and the Black Widow sitting there, peacefully filling out forms. Phil was pretty certain he had locked the door when he left earlier. Not sure of what to say, he sat down at his desk to find the AAR paperwork waiting for him.
It was pretty easy ("Time and Date of Departure", "Travel Transfers/Route alterations", "Employee ID #") until it got to the "Mission Details" section. Phil scribbled in an outline of their time in Budapest, but paused with his pen held up over the paper. "Points of egress?"
"Means escape route." Clint was chewing on the end of his pen. He was sitting on Phil's little office couch, hunched up with a clip board on his lap.
"I know what it means," Phil grumped and shifted in his desk chair, because of course he knew what it meant. "What I don't know is if we had any?"
"Just put 'none.' That's what I always do." Clint scribbled furiously for a second, as if he was in a war of wills with the paperwork in his hand, then went back to gnawing.
Phil looked over at the Black Widow, who was gently penning what had to be a Russian novel over the documentation. She was on page ten, at least. Phil was not going to admit he found that a little intimidating. He was having trouble filling up the little boxes as it was, even without Clint's professional assistance.
She raised an eyebrow at him. Taking the meaning for what it was, Phil sighed and returned to trying to make his AAR sound even vaguely professional. He was using the phrase "and then" too much, along with "probably." He was pretty confident that real field agents never included the words, "misappropriated $27,000 in medical equipment and a $150,000 ambulance, property of the city of Vienna, which was returned in excellent condition along with a full tank of gas ($253), all units converted from Euros to Dollars." Mostly because field agents, in his experience, never knew how much stuff cost and never returned anything in excellent condition. It was just luck that the Widow had decided to end up shoe shopping in Venice as opposed to running police barricades in Germany.
After another thirty minutes of Phil laboring over his answers and the random cursing of Clint and the Black Widow making it another four pages into her epic, Phil's office door opened.
Sitwell stepped in slowly, his eyes narrowing as he took in Clint and the Black Widow. They both looked up at him, nodded, and got back to their paperwork. Sitwell scuttled over to Phil's desk, every movement suspicious and wary, then placed a bag of mini powdered donuts on the corner. He was a like a spooked cat, speeding out the door before Phil could thank him or ask "what the fuck?" He stared at the bag.
"Means he likes you," Clint said.
"Well. Donuts." Phil shrugged.
"For sharing." Clint looked hopeful and the Black Widow snorted without looking up.
"Messy. When you're done," Phil said, pointing his pen at Clint's paperwork which was, amazingly, even more Spartan than Phil's.
Phil's email pinged so he stopped for a moment to check it.
I don't know how you got them to sit down and do their paperwork, but there are more donuts in it for you if you can make it happen again. - JS
Phil wasn't sure how to say "but I didn't do anything" without insulting the handler, so he typed back a quick "it's a deal!" reply (because, donuts) and returned to his report, hoping it wasn't something he would live to regret.
"I'm done!" Clint announced moments later, folding up the abused paperwork like was going to mail it and setting it in Phil's "out" basket. He turned to the donut bag, but Phil pulled it out of his reach.
"Let me see."
Pouting, Clint handed the paperwork over for inspection. His handwriting was terrible, but he hit the salient points and left out all the kissing, so Phil thought it was acceptable. He held the bag open so Clint could grab a handful of the sweet powdery disasters. He plopped back down on the couch, eating donuts and staring creepily at the Black Widow, who ignored him for another three pages. When Clint had managed to cover everything in a two foot radius with powdered sugar, the Widow finally finished the last three pages and got up, handing them to Phil. He was pretty sure it was a formality because what on earth did she need him for? But he read over the full 17-page report that included details Phil was pretty sure he never would have thought of in a million years (such as whether the inside of the shipping container was painted, which it was not) and, unsurprisingly, nothing about the cost of anything. He clipped it together and put it on top of Clint's wrinkled, folded forms in the in-box. He would deliver them to Sitwell, because he honestly had no idea where to file after action reports. That was an entirely different department.
He looked up at the beautiful, dangerous woman staring at him, wondering what she was thinking. She tossed her head a little, motioning towards Clint, who froze up solid with a wide-eyed look of concern, or possibly terror.
"He's been my responsibility for a long time," she said.
"I understand that Delta is a tight-knit team," Phil offered, hoping it was the right answer.
"Hey, guys—" Clint sat forward, wiping more white powdered sugar into his pants with his hands.
"He trusts you. I don't."
"I know." Phil allowed a little of his nervousness to show through, shifting in his chair under her lethal gaze.
"But I trust him. And…and you're good for him, I think."
"We'll see. I'll certainly try, I promise you that."
"I'm right here! Hello!"
"But your hand-to-hand scores are shitty. Thursday, 6:45am, training room 4A." She turned and walked out.
Phil stared after her. "How does she know my hand-to-hand scores?"
"I'm sure she just guessed or something," Clint said, clearly hedging.
"Or she hacked into my private records within the SHIELD database." Phil glared at Clint, who shrugged, his smile turning mischievous.
Phil tipped his head and laughed out loud. Clint's face lit up with glee, not getting the joke but clearly enjoying the effect on Phil.
Phil stood up, but didn't grab the reports. Sitwell would get them when he got them, Phil decided, because he was exhausted and brain-dead and hopefully had a better offer on the table.
"I'm tired, and I get three days leave to recover, so I'm heading out."
Clint face immediately returned to "Hawkeye normal", slightly grumpy and blank, before he nodded and shuffled to the side, leaving a clear route to the door as if he though Phil was going to sprint for it.
Phil sighed. "I would like you to leave with me. I believe we have a coffee date?"
Clint's grin slowly returned. "We do?"
"We do. A certain handsome pilot propositioned me romantically between Budapest and Vienna, and I intend to cash that debt."
Clint blushed spectacularly and ducked his head, despite his wide smirk. "Wouldn't want to let you down, Sir."
"C'mon." Phil penned a quick note for the cleaning crew to scour up the powdered sugar, then grabbed the donut bag and walked out, Clint bumping shoulders with him as they went down the hallway. Phil tried not to preen as his staff all stared at the two of them, and ignored the tittering noise of the SHIELD gossip vine coming alive in their wake.
The only thing on Phil's mind was how much he was looking forward to that coffee. He had a good reason to stay awake for just a little bit longer.
Annnnnd that's the end! Thanks for reading along and all the lovely comments I got, which were all appreciated!