As the last man standing slumped to the floor, he took a deep breath and pondered how the power of a gun and the rush of taking someone else's life made him feel so good. He'd never known he was capable of killing someone before, and he wasn't sure he was capable of ever doing it again.
He swayed slightly from hunger and exhaustion before grabbing onto a chair and sliding down into it. He'd followed the bastards from his family's home in Queens the day before, the scenes of what had occurred still flashing through his mind.
The front door swinging open, a group of men in expensive looking suits filing into the room. Demanding payment from his uncle, watching him refuse.
He had watched helplessly as the strangers pulled out their guns and searched the house, killing everyone that they found. Well, almost everyone. That was what had made the hiding place under the stairwell so great – no one ever thought to look there. He wished now that he hadn't decided to keep the spot a secret.
Their screams still echoing in his head, he'd grabbed his uncle's gun from above the door and tracked the three men and one woman, gaining information about them from people who thought they were just helping out a young kid in the big city.
His brief moment of silent retrospective was interrupted by the door bursting open, and he felt his heart sink. He hadn't thought of the consequences of what he'd just done, had only thought that he had to avenge his family's murders. He took a deep breath and glanced towards the door, just knowing that the police chief was going to walk in and put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
“Go get the boss. Looks like someone beat us to it,” the tall brunet man spoke before turning towards him, a look of concern on his face. “You don't look like someone who would know these guys. But then again, there are so many new ones around these days, I'm not sure I've kept track. Who do you work for?”
“I worked for my uncle in Queens,” he choked out, wincing as his voice broke, “before these bastards killed him, along with my aunt, yesterday.”
The brunet man in the doorway glanced over as another man walked up to his right before taking a deep breath and turning his attention back to the young man. “These boys showed up at your house?”
“Yes, sir.” He quickly glanced down at the insignia on the men's jackets, recognizing it immediately. These men worked for Stark.
Maybe jail wouldn't have been so bad, he thought. At least I would have been alive.
“What's your name, kid?” The second man spoke for the first time, the look on his face far more serious than the other's.
Great, he thought, you've gone and killed associates of Stark's.
“Look, I'm sorry,” he cried out, standing up. “I didn't mean to get involved! I just had to do something! Please don't kill me! Please!”
“No one is going to kill you.” The voice that echoed through the doorway made them all pause, and the two men slowly backed away from him. “Barton, Rhodes? Go wait outside.”
After a few mumbled words, the men headed out of the room, and once they were gone, the owner of the voice stepped through the doorway. He felt himself blink several times to make sure he was seeing correctly because there was no way he could possibly be standing face to face with Tony Stark, the head of the most powerful mob family in New York City.
“What's your name, kid?” Tony asked as he walked into the room, casually stepping over broken chairs and dead bodies, surveying the scene.
He stayed silent, not sure if he could believe that they weren't going to kill him yet.
“Come on, kid. Tell me your name. I'm not going to hurt you.”
“Why should I believe that?” The words escaped his mouth before he had time to stop them, and he felt himself wanting to sink to the floor and beg for mercy. That had surely sealed his death sentence, especially when he saw Tony whirl around to look him in the eyes.
“You know who I am.” A simple statement, but one that carried a lot of meaning.
“The police have come around with your picture before. They thought you were hiding out in a brownstone just down the way from ours for a while. They paid my uncle to keep watch and report anything he saw.”
Tony just laughed. “The police are stupid. Trying to scare all the people around here into thinking I'm some terrible assassin when all I do is keep things in order. If it wasn't for what we do, this town would be crawling with bastards like these,” he said, kicking the legs of one of the dead bodies. “We came here tonight with the same goal, it seems. So I'm going to ask you again, especially since you know my name, if I may have the name of the man who singlehandedly took care of a job two of my best men needed six months to plan out.”
His eyes widened with nearly every sentence that came from Tony's mouth, but none more so than the last. He decided that he was dead either way, so he might as well play along for a while, and took a deep breath. “Peter.”
“Parker. Peter Parker.”
“Parker,” Tony said slowly, studying him. “What are you going to do when the police come looking for you, Peter?”
“Turn myself in, sir.”
“I've got a better idea.” The smile that spread across Tony's face sent chills down Peter's spine. “How about you come back to the house with me and we can discuss how to keep you out of trouble?”
“Out of trouble? But sir, I...”
“They'll hang you for this,” Tony said, walking closer and putting his arm around Peter's shoulders. “And talent like yours should not be wasted. So let's go back to the house and we'll get this all worked out.”
Peter nodded slowly, realizing that he had no choice. They walked towards the door, Peter's eyes dropping to the floor sheepishly when they walked past Tony's two associates.
“Take care of the mess and meet me back at the house,” Tony called out as they reached the club's backdoor. “You've got a new recruit to train.”
“Yes, sir,” they said, and then Peter was following Tony out the door and into the backseat of a waiting car.
There was another man inside of the car once he climbed inside, and he stared at Peter with a curious look on his face. “Boss, who is this?” It didn't take Peter long to realize that this was the infamous Steve Rogers.
“This is Peter,” Tony said, nodding when the driver asked if they were ready to go. “He did the job for us, and we're going reward him for that.”
Steve looked at Peter again before starting to laugh. “You're kidding me, right?”
“No,” Tony said icily. “I'm not.”
“Kid, do you have any idea who you just killed?” Steve asked as the car began to pull away from the club.
Peter shook his head no, too afraid to speak. Steve was notorious for losing his temper and being quick to the trigger, and Peter didn't want to set him off.
“That was the Defenders.”
Peter's eyes widened as he recognized the name from the news reports he'd heard on the radio. The Defenders were a group of mobsters that had been causing havoc around the city. Cage was the leader, they said, but Murdock was the brains behind it all. Jones was supposed to be a French contact, and Rand connected them with the Far East. His uncle had owed money to the Defenders?
“I didn't know,” Peter said softly, causing Steve to laugh again.
“He doesn't have a clue what he did, and you want to reward him?” Steve said, looking over at Tony.
“He did what Barton and Rhodes couldn't,” Tony said. “The least I can do is make sure his talent isn't wasted in jail. And that is my final word, Steve.”
Peter turned to look out the window of the car as Steve started talking about some job in Chelsea he wanted to send Barton on. He had absolutely no idea what he had gotten himself into, but he had a feeling that he was stuck now.
three years later...
1:12am – The Docks, Brooklyn
“He's not going to like this, Peter, and then he's gonna tell Stark, and then we're gonna be ordered down to the Tower and we'll never come back.”
Peter glanced away from the two that were huddled together on the ground in front of him. “Ned, shut up. They wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time, and we aren't going to kill them just for that.”
Ned sighed and walked over to the man, yanking him up. “Look at him, Peter. He's got the tattoo. That means he's got ties to En Sabah Nur. What if they both do? He's not gonna like that. We've already got that girl who claims to know so much about En Sabah Nur there and now these two show up?”
“No, no En Sabah Nur,” mumbled the man. “That's why we came here, to get away from En Sabah Nur. To save Wanda.”
Peter sighed and looked over at the man. “What's your name? And what the hell are you doing here at the docks?”
“We heard a noise, and thought someone needed help,” the man said softly, avoiding eye contact with Ned.
“Yeah, well, someone did need help. They needed help in dying, and I was about to do that when you two came running in here.” Ned let go of the man and stalked off, muttering to himself.
Peter shook his head at the tone of Ned's voice and smiled at the man in front of him. “Ignore Ned. He always gets a little rough when he doesn't get in the kill he was craving.”
“I'm sorry,” the man whispered.
“It's alright. He can run but he can't hide.” Peter reached out his hand and helped the girl up. “But you two are going to have to come back to the house with us. The bastard will have seen you, and he'll no doubt be looking to get you out of the way.”
Rushed words that Peter didn't understand came flowing out of the girl's mouth, along with hand gestures in Peter's direction. He watched bemused as the man he'd been speaking to spit out a few words in return, immediately silencing her.
“She is, I mean we are, yes. The house. Yes.” The man nodded his head and Peter smiled, pointing in the direction Ned had gone in.
“Car's that way.” The girl got the hint and headed off in that direction, but Peter grabbed the one in front of him before he could move. “I want to know your name, and when we get back to the house, I want to know why you've got the X tattoo and why she needs saving from it, or I'm sure my boss has a bullet with your name on it. Understand?”
“Pietro,” he whispered, eyes meeting Peter's without fault. “And if you help Wanda, I will tell you anything.”
“Good to know, Pietro,” Peter said as he started walking, his hand still firmly on Pietro's elbow. “Boss likes people who cooperate far better than he likes the ones who don't.”
“What do you mean Pietro is gone?!” Charles Xavier groaned and reached for his drink, downing the remaining contents of the glass before looking across his desk at Hank McCoy, one of his trusted lieutenants. “This is why we never trust the Brotherhood.”
“The Brotherhood is just as upset as you are,” Hank said, reaching for the bottle of whiskey and refilling Charles's glass.
“Any track on him?” Charles sat back in his chair and sighed, closing his eyes and rubbing at the bridge of his nose.
“The last sighting was in Buffalo, and then he vanished. Pietro has friends around there, so he'd know the area well. There's speculation he caught a train.”
Charles glared across the desk and Hank swallowed hard. “I want him found, and I want him killed.”
“A search is going on, Charles, and don't worry, the men know what to do with him should he be found.” Hank took a deep breath and leaned back, drinking from his glass. “There's something else.”
“A few of the boys mentioned the name Bucky Barnes.”
Charles squeezed the bridge of his nose, trying to stop the building headache from getting any worse. “Barnes is dead. We killed him in Albany five years ago.”
“We never found his body after the blast, Charles. And there's talk that he's alive and operating out of somewhere down south, out of our territory.”
“He's dead, Hank,” Charles exclaimed, the chill in his voice clear. “No one could have made it out of that alive.”
“Fine, he's dead. But would you let me arrange for someone to go to the City to check this out? Maximoff may have heard the talk and went there hoping to find him.”
“The City?” Charles laughed. “That's Stark's territory. If, and I don't think for a moment that it's true, but if Barnes was alive, he'd be dead by now if he tried to set up shop there.”
“Unless he struck a deal with Stark.” Hank stood up and glanced at the clock, stretching slightly. “I'll talk the Brotherhood into sending one of their youngsters to check it out. That way if they get caught, we don't lose anyone, and the Brotherhood has only lost some kid with a bit of promise.”
“Fine. And I want updates the moment you know something else.” Charles stood and walked past Hank, glaring at his bodyguard as he fell into step beside him. “Rasputin, I don't want to be followed around tonight.”
“You're the boss here, and for as much as I'd love to listen to you, sir, I'm to protect you, and that means following you around.” Rasputin tried to hide a smile when Charles groaned.
“En Sabah Nur thinks he can treat me like a child. I'd love to tell him what I think about that.” Charles paused when they reached the garage, standing back so Rasputin could examine the car before they got into it.
“And I'd love to see you do that sir, but for the fact that I'd have to kill you as soon as you were finished.” Rasputin finished looking over the car and stood back, holding open the door to the back seat. “Now, shall I take you home?”
Charles glanced around the garage and when he was certain they were alone, leaned forward and whispered. “The Underboss's house tonight.”
“Yes, sir.” Rasputin started to walk towards the front of the car, but Charles grabbed him by the front of the shirt.
“You never took me there, is that clear?”
“Took you where, sir?”
“Good boy, Piotr. Good boy.” Charles smoothed out Rasputin's shirt and then climbed into the back seat, a smirk on his face.
Peter looked up as the door to his office opened, a slight smile crossing his face when Ned walked into the room. “What?”
“He's back,” Ned said, glancing over at the small sofa where the two from the docks sat. “Told him he had guests. He wasn't amused.”
Peter shook his head and stood up, looking over at the sofa and motioning for them to stand. “I didn't expect him to be. How'd he react about the hit?”
“Didn't tell him that yet,” Ned said, holding the door open and watching the two as they carefully walked into the hallway. “Figured I'd wait until he saw the reason why. Maybe he won't kill us then.”
“He's not going to kill us,” Peter said, shutting his office door behind them and pointing down the hall, nodding when the two started walking in the right direction. “Besides, it's not like it's going to be difficult to find him again.”
“Peter, he knows that we're out for him now,” Ned sighed. “He's probably halfway to Pittsburgh at this point.”
“Not possible,” Peter said, shaking his head. “He won't have had enough time to shut down his operation, even temporarily. He won't be going anywhere until at least tomorrow morning. We'll have plenty of time to go get him after we show them to Boss.”
They stopped in front of a solid oak door and Ned knocked sharply. He waited for the acquiescent shout before opening the door and ushering the men inside, Peter following behind. The tall back of the chair faced them, a small trail of smoke gently circling through the air above it.
Peter pointed to the chairs and once the two from the docks had taken up seats, he did the same. He watched as the chair slowly swiveled around, the sight of the man seated in it causing the two to bow their heads and start murmuring in what Peter was increasingly thinking was some Eastern European language. Ned flashed Peter a confused look before Bucky Barnes set his cigar down in the ashtray and looked over at them.
“No sir,” Peter said softly. “We were interrupted by them.”
Bucky nodded sharply. “Go finish it.”
“Yes sir,” Ned said, grabbing Peter by the elbow and dragging him towards the door.
Bucky nodded again and picked up his glass, swirling the dark liquid together with the ice before downing it. “I don't want to see either of you again until the job is finished.”
“Yes, sir,” Peter said, opening the door and walking out, Ned right behind him.
Bucky stared at the two in front of him, silently searching his mind to remember who exactly they were. His eyes drifted closed as he took another drag off his cigar, snapping open again when something occurred to him. “How did you know where to find me?” he asked, the Russian flowing off his tongue despite not having spoken the language in quite some time. “Everyone in Syracuse believes that I am dead.”
“There were rumors,” Wanda said softly, looking across the desk at him. “I believe they started in in Albany, made their way down to the Brotherhood. Everyone laughed and did not believe them, but when we knew I had to leave, we decided to risk their truth.”
“Wanda,” Bucky said slowly, shaking his head. “You didn't have to leave.”
“Yes, I did,” Wanda replied, glancing over at Pietro. “I killed him. In front of him. It was run or be killed. We decided to run.”
Bucky groaned and leaned back in his chair, staring at Wanda in disbelief. “You killed him?”
“I had to!” Wanda exclaimed, calming slightly when Pietro's hand rested on her arm. “I had to!”
Bucky stared at the two of them for a moment before sitting forward. “You will stay out of sight until I tell you otherwise. You'll be shown to rooms, and you are not to leave them unless Peter takes you from them. I will talk to my boss, see what he says. But I make no promises about my ability to help you. My allegiance is to him.”
“You've been chosen for this assignment because we think you're the only one who can handle it,” Warren Worthington III said, staring across his desk at the young woman. “You've shown an exceptional learning rate, and you're the only one of the group that has the telegram code memorized. That's a good thing because you're going to be using it.”
“Yes sir,” Ororo Munroe said quietly, nodding. She shook her head briefly after the final nod, trying to knock the awe of out her gaze and concentrate on what the captain in front of her was saying.
“Azazel here,” Warren said, gesturing towards where his bodyguard stood, “will take you to the train station and make sure you're on the right one. From the moment you get on that train, you're on your own. You get caught by the police? You keep your mouth shut and let them hang you. You get caught by one of Stark's men? You keep your mouth shut and let them kill you. But you never, ever mention you have any affiliation with this place or any of us.”
“I won't sir, I promise.” Ororo nodded again, reaching out to take the folder that Warren was handing her. “I'll do you proud, sir.”
Warren sat back in his chair and looked at the kid, eyes tracing over the eager features and nervously twitching hands. Ororo was a good one, one of the best they had, and Warren knew he was taking a huge risk by sending her on such an important mission at such a young age. “Succeed in this, and I'll recommend to En Sabah Nur that you become a full-fledged soldier when you return. You'll have earned your stripes.”
Ororo's eyes lit up at the prospect and she nodded eagerly, suddenly desperate to complete this mission. “Thank you, sir.”
Warren turned his attention to Azazel and nodded. “Azazel, take her straight to the station and then come right back. I'm going to need you for something else later.”
“Yes, sir.” Azazel nodded at Warren and walked over to the chair where Ororo sat, pulling her up by the wrist. “Let's go.”
“Okay, I've got to stop off at my room and get a few things thrown into a suitcase, but that shouldn't take any more than a few minutes.” Ororo gently pulled her arm from Azazel's grasp and practically skipped out of the room.
Azazel glanced back at Warren when he heard his boss start to laugh. “What?”
Warren only smiled. “Just the innocence of youth, that's all. Too bad she'll have lost all that by the time she comes back. If she comes back.”
Peter looked up as Flash opened the door to his office, shoving a girl inside. “I told you to be gentle with her.”
Flash chuckled. “I was. I'll be outside.”
Peter shook his head and stood as Flash closed the door behind him, walking over to where the girl had landed on the floor. “I'm sorry about that, Michelle, I didn't want him to rough you up.”
“It's alright,” Michelle said softly, accepting Peter's hand and standing up. “Thought it would happen. Heard Stark was never gentle with prisoners, so I did not think I'd be treated gently here.”
“You're not a prisoner,” Peter said, leading Michelle over to the sofa and then moving to pour them both a drink. “You're a guest. If you were a prisoner, you'd be chained to a wall downstairs.”
Michelle nodded and took the glass Peter extended to her, staring down at the ground. “I think I know why you want to see me this late. You want information.”
“I do want information,” Peter said, sitting down next to her. “I want to know about you.”
Michelle shook her head, refusing to meet Peter's gaze. “Not much to know.”
“I don't believe that,” Peter said. “If you end up in this business, you've got a story to tell.”
They sat in silence, both occasionally drinking from their glass, listening to the sounds of some lady singing drifting up from the club below them. Michelle sighed suddenly and stood up, pacing back and forth by Peter's desk.
“It was an accident,” Michelle said slowly. “A man killed my father so I killed him back. He was someone important, they offered a choice. Kill for them or be killed. Took the chance, ended up like this.”
“Sounds a lot like my story,” Peter observed, standing up and stopping Michelle's pacing with a gentle hand to her elbow. “So if anything, I know how you feel.”
“Don't like the job?” Michelle asked, looking at Peter through hooded eyes.
“Not always,” Peter said, one of his arms sliding around Michelle's waist and pulling her close. “You ever do this before?”
Michelle nodded and bent forward, pressing her lips to Peter's. “Not for a while.”
“Wanna?” Peter asked slyly, one hand sliding through Michelle's hair to pull her closer. “I'll take you back to my room.”
Michelle stared at him for a moment before nodding. Peter grinned and led her towards the door, groaning when they were met by the sight of Flash standing right in front of them.
“Move, Thompson. We're going up to my room.”
“Not without an escort, you're not.”
“The entire floor up there is guarded, I don't need you standing outside my door.”
“I won't be,” Flash said, moving slightly out of the way. “But I'll be right next to you the entire way up there. Direct orders from the boss. He's not happy about how that job was botched.”
Peter sighed but took Michelle's hand and started walking down the hallway. “Fine, but the second we're upstairs, you are disappearing.”
“Don't worry Peter,” Flash said with a laugh. “I don't want to watch.”
8:08am – a tiny apartment, Manhattan
Clint sighed and let his eyes drift closed as Natasha's hands slowly rubbed his sides, sweatslick skin pressed together. “Mmm, Natasha, that was a fantastic way to wake up.”
Natasha smiled and sat up, straddling Clint's hips and leaning down to kiss him softly. “What time do you have to be at work today?”
Clint's eyes flew open and he searched for his watch, gently shoving Natasha off of him when he noticed the time. “Eight minutes ago.”
Natasha frowned as Clint climbed from the bed. “You could skip out on it, spend the whole day here with me.”
Clint grabbed his pants off the chair and quickly pulled them on, glancing back at the bed. “I'd lose my job if I did that. Now get up, because you've got to go too.”
Natasha sighed and stood, grabbing her dress off the floor and pulling the telegram out of the pocket. “Here, this is what I was supposed to be delivering last night.”
Clint paused in buttoning up his shirt and grabbed the paper from Natasha's hands, reading it quickly. “What the fuck? Peter, are you insane?!”
Natasha looked at him oddly. “You're mad because your friend got a new dog?”
Clint stuffed the paper into his pocket and slammed Natasha up against the wall, his hand grabbing onto the young woman's chin and forcing her to look at him. “You fucking read my telegrams?!”
“No, not usually!” Natasha exclaimed, confused at this sudden change in Clint's behavior. “But I was the only one in the room when it came in, and I had to log it, and it caught my eye and I read it. What's the matter with that?”
Clint let go of Natasha and backed away, glancing at his watch once more. “It's private communication, Natasha. Don't ever read it again.”
“I won't, I promise.” Natasha nodded quickly and grabbed her coat, ducking out the door before Clint could say another word.
Clint sighed and grabbed his tie, slinging it around his neck as he closed the door behind him. He knew he was in for one hell of a yelling for being late, but he didn't even want to think about the reaction he'd get for being late and bringing Stark the news that Peter had sent.
The sounds of an angry conversation drifted through the walls, making Clint cringe from where he stood in the hallway. “I don't know what Bruce has done now, but the boss is none too happy about it.”
“When is the boss ever happy about the way Bruce does things?” Rhodey asked, leaning against the wall next to Clint. “If the boss had his way, we'd be in a hell of a lot more legal trouble than we already are.”
“The boss was furious enough already because he thought I kept this from him, but I didn't.” Clint sighed and glanced over at Rhodey, pulling the telegram he'd received that morning from his pocket. “Only got the message from Peter this morning.”
“Ah, so that's why you were so late getting in today,” Rhodey said with a knowing smirk. “You were having some fun with your telegram girl.”
“She's not mine,” Clint spit out bitterly, glaring at Rhodey. “She's just a kid who thinks she wants to work at the pub, and since that's what she thinks I do, she always has a lot of questions. I don't care about her at all.”
“Oh, Clint, you care far more than you are willing to admit. Otherwise, you wouldn't be so angry about me mentioning it.” Rhodey pushed off the wall and stood up straight as a door slammed open and Stark came storming past them.
“Barton, you stay here and talk to the smartass. Rhodes, you're coming back with me.”
Rhodey nodded at Clint and fell into step behind Stark, shaking his head as they passed Banner's secretary, whose mouth immediately snapped shut before she said a word. Clint watched until they had walked out of the building then headed down the hallway, knocking once on the office door before going in.
“I suppose he thinks that you'll be able to talk me into committing immigration fraud, now does he?” Bruce looked up from his desk and sighed at the sight before him. “Put your gun away, Clint. You know I'll find some way to get what he wants to be done without me having to break about fifty laws to do it.”
Clint shook his head and sat down in one of the office's chairs, his gun still trained on Bruce's forehead. “I know you will, or I'll be pulling the trigger. And I'm going to sit here, just like this, until you do.”
Bruce groaned and spun around in his chair, searching for a book on the shelves behind him. “He thinks that because we both have a connection to Rogers and Barnes that I will just go along with whatever he says. Do you have any idea what it is he wants to be done this time?”
“I was just told to bring him here, not anything about why.” Clint settled back into the chair and sighed, knowing from experience that Bruce would get nothing accomplished until he was calmed down.
“He wants me to make it look like those two that are over at Francis came here from Sokovia through the appropriate channels and have been here for months!” Bruce sighed as he found the book and pulled it from the shelf, turned back to his desk. “Then he gives me a whole file full of all the things the two of them are wanted for and tells me to make all that go away! Multiple murders, Clint. I'm a lawyer, not a miracle worker!”
Bruce slammed the book down onto his desk and looked over at Clint, a thin smile on his lips. “You know I work better when I don't have a gun pointed at me.”
“And I work better when I'm executing a plan and not babysitting mouthy lawyers.” Clint sighed and lowered his arm, resting the gun against his thigh. “How long until you can have it all taken care of?”
“It will be a week, at least. Someone should send a message to Francis telling them to keep those two out of sight until I do.”
“I'll send Peter a telegram.” Clint stared at Bruce for a moment then stood, sliding the gun back into the pocket hidden inside his coat. “Listen, if the boss asks you...”
“I have a giant red mark on my forehead from where you hit me with that thing to get me to work.” Bruce laughed softly. “Have fun with your telegram girl.”
Clint groaned and headed for the office door, running a hand over his face. “She is not mine.”
“Maybe not in your eyes, but she certainly is yours in hers.” Bruce laughed as the door slammed in front of him and opened the book, trying to find the section he'd be needing.
“Better keep the dog inside for a while so it can get used to its new surroundings.” Natasha looked across the counter at Clint with eager eyes. “Right, Clint?”
“That's right,” Clint said, flashing Natasha a brilliant smile. “Go give that to Johnny so he can get that sent up to Peter for me, will you? Then come back here and talk to me.”
Natasha nodded and walked into the back of the shop, passing the paper off to Johnny before hurrying back out to the counter and Clint.
Clint laughed as Natasha rushed back to the counter, reaching out and grasping her hand across the piece of wood. “When do you get off work?”
Natasha ducked her head and smiled shyly. “Five.”
“Want to meet me at the fish and chips place at the end of the block? I've got time for dinner tonight but not for anything else.”
“Oh,” Natasha said, the smile dropping off her face. “I see. So you're seeing your other friend tonight?”
“No,” Clint said, an edge of annoyance creeping into his voice. “I have to work.”
Natasha nodded, a smile appearing again. “Can I come to hang out in the pub then? You can teach me about bartending and I can keep you company.”
Clint pulled his hand back from Natasha's, shaking his head. “No, Natasha. You don't want to do that.”
“Why not?” Natasha laughed. “I've told you for months now that I want a job over there.”
Clint stared Natasha in the eyes for a few moments before blinking and pulling back from the counter. “Stay here, I'll be right back.”
Natasha watched as Clint left the office and jogged across the street, going into the pub and emerging a few minutes later with another woman. They slowly walked across the street and back into the telegram office, Natasha's eyes on them all the time.
“Natasha,” Clint said, walking back to the counter. “This is Hope. Hope, this is Natasha.”
Hope stuck out her hand and smiled when Natasha shook it. “Nice to meet you, Natasha. I hear you're interested in becoming one of our Associates.”
“Yes,” Natasha said, nodding her head.
“You come with good recommendations from Clint here,” Hope said, grinning. “So let me be the first to welcome you to the Family. Give notice at the end of your shift today, and make sure you're at the pub at nine tonight so you can meet the Boss.”
Natasha grinned. “Okay, I can do that.”
Hope nodded at both of them before walking out of the office and back across the street. Clint turned to Natasha and grasped her fingers again, squeezing them slightly.
“Natasha, you trust me, right?”
“Then I'll see you tonight at nine.”
Natasha watched, confused, as Clint headed for the door. “What about fish and chips?”
“We'll have plenty of time for that now,” Clint said, turning at the door and flashing her a smile before leaving.
“Why does Stark always do this to recruits?” Darcy asked, glancing up from her stethoscope to peer at Barton over the rim of her glasses.
“He calls it a test,” Clint said softly, trailing his fingertips over a large bruise on Natasha's right arm. “His way of knowing if they'll be loyal or not.”
Darcy glanced down at her patient and sighed. “She's been coming in and out of consciousness all day. She should be fully awake soon. I ask that you not make a mess of my office if the answer to the question is no.”
“I don't think it will be, not with this one,” Clint said softly, eyes studying Natasha's face as she moaned and shifted in the bed. “But I will make sure that occurs elsewhere if I'm wrong.”
“Thank you,” Darcy said, setting the chart aside and heading towards the door. “I'm still trying to get the blood out of the carpet from the last time.”
Clint laughed as the door closed, starting when he felt fingers tangle together with his.
“Is she gone?”
“Darcy?” Clint looked down at Natasha and saw big eyes staring up at him. “Yeah, Darcy's gone.”
“Are you going to kill me?”
“No,” Clint said, shaking his head. “Not unless I have to.”
Natasha blinked. “So basically I go along with what you say or you kill me, right?”
“Something like that.” Clint bent down and pressed a kiss to Natasha's forehead. “Natasha, I asked you if you trusted me and you said yes. I need you to trust that I know what I'm getting you into, okay?”
Natasha smiled slightly and nodded, bringing a grin to Clint's face. “You should have just said you were a gangster, Clint. I would have jumped you a lot sooner if I'd known.”
“Not something we flash around, Natasha.”
“I know,” she said, groaning when she moved into an uncomfortable position. “So tell me what you've gotten me into? And please tell me that no one's going to beat me up again, at least not any time soon.”
Ororo slumped to the floor and unsuccessfully tried to dodge the foot that connected with her stomach. They'd grabbed her mere moments after she'd entered the club, dragging her to a dark room in the back and immediately demanding to know who she was. Remembering her captain's orders, Ororo remained quiet, but for the groans that escaped with each new kick to the stomach.
The voice echoed towards him from somewhere across the room, reaching her ears right before the foot connected with her head, knocking her back against the cinderblock wall.
“I said that's enough. Hurting her will get us nowhere.”
“T'Challa,” came a soft whine from right above her, clearly belonging to the foot that kept kicking him, “she's got the X insignia. We've got to kill her.”
The insignia. The one stitched on the inside of the collar of the jacket that she'd worn. Ororo groaned again, this time not from pain but her stupidity. Her vision was blurring, and all she wanted to do was close her eyes, but she knew that was not a good idea. They could do anything to her if she slipped into unconsciousness.
T'Challa walked across the room and pushed Drax out of the way, kneeling next to the young girl just as her eyes slipped closed. “We'll never get information out of her if we treat her like we're barbarians, Drax. She's been sent here for a reason, and we need to know what that reason is.”
“The Captain isn't going to like this,” Drax said, staring down at T'Challa like he was crazy. “Since when do we diplomatically go about things?”
“Since there's a situation going on that you don't know about, Drax.” Drax and T'Challa turned towards the door and saw Peter Quill standing there, an amused look on his face. “T'Challa was supposed to fill you in.”
T'Challa sighed. “Which I was going to do but then the kid walked in, and I thought detaining her was more important.”
Quill nodded and walked into the room, staring down at T'Challa and the girl. “Unconscious?”
“I think so,” T'Challa said, running his hand along the back of the girl's head. “She knocked her head on the wall.”
Quill glanced around the room and picked up the coat that the girl had been wearing, fingering the insignia lightly. “You two take her to Doc, then when she's all patched up, she's all yours, T'Challa. Befriend her. Fuck her. I don't care. Make her trust you, and get her to tell you why she's here. I'll inform the Captain and the boss of our new guest.”
Drax nodded and bent down, lifting the kid's legs while T'Challa lifted her shoulders. “I still say Rogers isn't going to like this.”
“Rogers doesn't have a choice,” Quill said, walking out of the room. “These orders are direct from Stark.”
Hank paused outside the door to Charles's office, the frown on his face slipping deeper when he heard what sounded like a struggle going on inside. Drawing his gun from its resting place along his hip, Hank took a deep breath and opened the door, the index finger of his right hand just ghosting over the trigger, ready to pull.
Charles groaned from off to his left, bringing Hank's gaze across the room. When his eyes finally landed on his captain, he felt the blood drain from his face and struggled to keep hold of his gun. “Fuck.”
The two men on the sofa looked up at the sound of Hank's voice, Erik blushing and reaching for his shirt while Charles laid his head against the backrest and sighed deeply.
“McCoy, go back into the hallway and stay there until I tell you to come in.”
Hank nodded shakily and slid his gun back into its holster, heading back into the hallway and closing the door behind him. Charles sighed again before looking over at Erik, chuckling at the faint blush that covered his lover's cheeks. “So we've been caught.”
“If he tells En Sabah Nur, you'll be reassigned,” Erik said, tugging his shirt over his head and standing to avoid Charles's grasp. “And by reassigned, I mean sleeping with the fishes.”
“Stop being so dramatic,” Charles exclaimed, standing and fixing his undone belt. “En Sabah Nur won't kill me just for sleeping with you.”
“I'm under explicit orders not to have any kind of relationship with you,” Erik said softly. “I've been risking your life since the first moment I let you kiss me.”
Charles stared at him briefly before reaching out and pulling the other man towards him. “If you knew, then why did you let me?”
“Because by that point, I'd already fallen in love with you.” Erik pulled away and walked towards the door, shaking his head. “I'll send McCoy in.”
“Erik!” Charles exclaimed, his frown turning into a sneer when Erik walked out and Hank walked in. “What the fuck were you thinking, bursting into my office like that?!”
Hank dropped his eyes to the floor. “I was about to knock but I heard what I thought was a struggle. I was doing it to protect you, sir. I thought you were in trouble.”
“I was fine,” Charles said curtly, walking over to sit down at his desk. “Next time, knock. If a bullet suddenly comes through the door, you'll know I'm in trouble.”
“Yes, sir,” Hank said, sitting down across from him. “I was coming to deliver a telegram from Albany. I think it's a message from the boss.”
Charles snatched the paper from Hank's hand and stared at it, reading the simple sentence several times before looking up at his most loyal soldier. “Did you read it?”
“I had to transcribe it, sir. Everyone else was still asleep.” Hank blushed again. “I thought you were too, so I was just going to place it on your desk for when you woke.”
Charles sat back and sighed. “You saw nothing this morning. You know nothing about that. And if I ever think for a second that you've mentioned it to anyone else, you'll be dead before I can ask you a question. Is that clear?”
Charles nodded. “Good. Now, were you a good boy who searched the house for Selvig?”
“Yes, sir,” Hank said, nodding. “There's no sign of him, but all his belongings are still in his room.”
“He should be back by now,” Charles mused. “I suppose we should get in contact with the Asgardians and see if he's just decided to take an extended vacation. Take care of that.”
“Yes, sir,” Hank said, nodding again. “Anything else?”
“Yes,” Charles said, staring straight into Hank's eyes. “Stop acting like some virginal schoolgirl who has accidentally walked in on a boy getting dressed. You keep acting weird and others will start asking questions.”
Hank nodded and stood up, leaving the office. He paused when he felt a hand grasp his elbow just outside the door, looking up to see Erik's eyes locked on his. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to.”
“You have good instincts, kid,” Erik said, releasing Hank from his grasp. “You thought you heard something and didn't hesitate to go in there. That's a sign of a good soldier.”
Hank was stunned. “Thank you.”
Erik smiled at him, his eyes growing cold. “Just knock next time, yeah?”