The rest of the team was already sitting around the conference table when Steve walked in. “So, we have a stalker,” he said bluntly, “what do we know so far?”
Scott, bless him, raised his hand.
“Yeah, Scott,” Steve answered, trying - and succeeding, mostly - to suppress an eye roll. “You don’t actually need to raise your hand, you know that, right?”
“Oh, uh, sure. Yeah. Um. Yes, Sir. Captain. Captain America.”
“Scott,” Steve said on a sigh, “Steve is fine. You had something to say?”
“Oh, yeah! I, uh, don’t think we have a stalker. Not, uh, the Avengers.”
Steve shot him a confused look. “What do you mean? Every time we go out, one of these-“ he stops, looking for the right word, “ attacks happens.”
“Well, yes. And also no. I don’t think it’s the team, Sir. At least, not all of us, or not the Avengers as a whole.” He paused and looked nervously around the room. “I, uh, not that I think you’re wrong, or anything, but there’s been three of these, uh, things now, right? And none of them have been when the whole team is there.” His eyes went a little unfocused as he chased a thought, when he started talking again, it appeared to be mostly to himself, “though, I guess we can’t rule that out, because the whole team hasn’t been out together since they started, not even on call outs. But…..” he shook his head a little before looking back up to Steve.
Everyone looked at him, waiting for him to continue. Everyone except for Tony, who was slouched down in his seat with his arms folded across his chest and his eyes closed, and Clint.
Clint groaned internally and stared intently at his fingernails while desperately hoping the surprisingly comfortable conference room chair would just swallow him whole. He knew what Scott was saying, had come to the same conclusion himself in the car on the way back to the tower, but he desperately hoped he was wrong. Scott was right, though, and no amount of trying to convince himself that it could have been any one or all of them, would change reality. Well, ok. Probably not Tony. His stalkers were usually all about flashy death threats and Michael Bay-esque explosions, while this was just, well, annoying. Mostly. No one got hurt, at least.
Steve shot Scott a meaningful look before getting frustrated and finally asking, “and? What else? It seems like you have more.”
Heaving a huge sigh, Scott continued, “well, each time it’s been a group of us. The pizza place was Tony, Clint, Natasha, Sam, and Rhodes. The next one, the ice cream place, was you, Clint, Wanda, Carol, Sam, Rhodes, and Bucky. And then this one, today at the coffee shop, was me, Clint, Natasha, Bruce, and Wanda. But!” he gulped, “last week Wanda, Sam, and I went out together on our hunt for Avengers bobble heads, and nothing happened. Rhodey and Carol went out on their totally-not-a-date and were fine. Natasha goes out all the time to do whatever she does but never has issues. Dnd then there is other spider, the kid, and he is just out running around all over, and usually instagramming his exact location.”
Across the table Bucky gave a little snort, “you could say the same about Stark.”
“Yeah!” Scott agreed emphatically. “And probably lots of other comings and goings, but I don’t track you guys. Anyway, there has only been one commonality between the incidents and not incidents I know about.” He looked around the table, seeming very proud of himself for coming up with this before anyone else. “It’s Hawkeye! Hawkeye has the stalker!”
Clearly caught off guard, Steve just blinked at him, before turning his attention to Clint, who was trying to melt into the padding of his chair. “Well, that’s pretty easy. Clint, you’ve been out more than what Scott listed since this whole mess started, right?”
“Um,” Clint sighed. “No. Not, uh, as such. I…” He cleared his throat before continuing with a grimace, “I think Scott’s right.”
“Right. Ok. So,” Steve appeared to be at a loss, this whole thing kept getting more ridiculous. “So, Clint has a stalker.”
“Now, Cap, that’s not fair,” Tony chimed in, a gleeful expression on his face, at the same time Bucky blandly added, “who the hell would wanna stalk Barton?” Truth be told, Bucky would – and had – but that had nothing to do with the current meeting and, therefore, no one needed to know. In his defense, the guy was fascinating. A disaster, sure, but a damned interesting one.
“Hey! I am plenty stalkable!” Clint squawked, forgetting himself and now legitimately a little offended. “And there are multiple Instagram hashtags to prove it,” he added with a small pout, folding his arms across his chest with a huff.
“Nope. Mr. Loxley, you misunderstand me. This sounds like,” Tony paused for dramatic effect, before continuing like he was delivering a just-discovered fundamental truth of the universe in a musical, “a NEMESIS !” There were jazz hands and everything.
Steve blinked at Tony several times, trying to determine if the genius was being serious or not. “Ok, Tony, I’ll bite. What is the difference between a nemesis and a stalker?”
“Intent, Cap. Well, basically. A stalker wants the person; to be them, to be loved by them, stuff like that. A nemesis wants to take the person out. Or, in my case, publicly shame or embarrass them” He paused thoughtfully for a moment, “Usually in some spectacular way that shows how much more intelligent or powerful or whatever they are than the person they are trying to take out. The Mandarin – well, Killian, really – was technically stalking me, in that he was tracking my movements and all that, but it wasn’t to steal a lock of my hair to try and make a Tony doll, he genuinely wanted to kill me and ruin my name in the process. He was my nemesis, or at least, he thought he was. I think, if Clint had a stalker he’d be getting a bunch of arrow shaped stirrers in his coffee or something, not…” Tony’s face went through a series of small contortions as he tried to find the words to describe the events. To be fair, it was pretty fucking difficult to classify the sudden appearance of a gaggle of drones, the nothing special sort that were available on amazon, that had been outfitted with speakers and lights that created a hell of ruckus, but not actually hurting anything or anybody. “Not send a fleet of disco drones to chase him around the city.”
“Ok, so then whomever is after Clint wants to hurt him or kill him?” Steve didn’t sound less confused, but who could blame him. This whole thing was a fucking mess. “What does that have to do with dispatching a bunch of party drones to throw an impromptu rave in a coffee shop? That’s irritating, but mostly harmless. That’s an oddly elaborate prank.”
“Wait,” Clint said, rejoining the conversation, “Captain America knows what a rave is?”
Tony beamed proudly from his seat, “I got him to sit down and watch the Blade movies with me. It was a good time.”
“Stark, you have the most unexpected taste in movies, and I’m very sad you didn’t invite me to Homicidal Vampire Rave Movie Night, but good on you for getting our fearless leader to sit down and watch something so pointless,” Clint replied.
“Next week we’re watching Angsty Industrial Cyborg Kung-Fu movies. You’re welcome to join us.”
Scott looked confused before perking up, “the Matrix movies? I’m in.”
“Can we-“ Steve heaved a massive sigh and scrubbed a hand over his face, “ please , can we please just stay on track?” Off to his left, Natasha snickered, which just made Steve sigh again, “Let’s just try, just this once, to stay on topic.” He looked pointedly around the conference room, making sure he had the group’s attention. “We can do that, right?”
Thor raised his hand and looked at Steve, waiting for permission from their clearly flustered leader. Steve gave an exasperated nod, “You know, no one actually needs to raise their hands, right?”
The big Asgardian nodded agreeably before asking, as earnestly as anyone has ever done anything, “What’s a rave?”
It wasn’t that the room erupted in pandemonium – they were Avengers, they didn’t do that sort of thing – but the conference room wasn’t exactly a prime example of decorum as all at once the room was full of the sound of barely stifled giggles. Except for Steve, of course, who looked like he was questioning every decision he’d made that led him to this point.
“A rave,” Tony had a slightly maniacal glint in his eye as he replied, “is just an excuse to flail around in an over-crowded, filthy warehouse lit exclusively by strobe and spot lights while listening to horrible music and taking drugs of questionable origin.”
Bucky blinked at Tony a couple of times. “That sounds fuckin’ awful. What is the appeal of that?”
Steve grit out, “can we please move on,” at the same time Tony cheerfully answered, “oh, it’s a good time, especially when you’re young and convinced you are bulletproof.”
Across the table, Clint sat as still as he possibly could, trying his hardest to appear innocent and unassuming. This was a shit show, and it was, in truth, somehow his fault. He had no idea how, but that wasn’t exactly new. He’s not sure how he knew, but he absolutely knew that this was about him. When the drones showed up, horrible flying four rotor things, which were plenty loud on their own, but the fact that played alarm noises at about a billion decibels positively fucked up Clint’s aids and left him completely deaf, which made the bright, multicolored, flashing lights disorienting for him. He knew he should share this with the team, but, fuck it. It was embarrassing, and everyone knew he was deaf anyway, so it wasn’t exactly useful information.
“So,” Clint cleared his throat and tried again, “So, Cap, all we really know is that these things show up wherever I am hanging out. Well, that isn’t the tower.”
Tony snorted a laugh at that.
“Yeah, Stark, we know. Your security can’t be Jedi mind tricked into believing these are not the drones we’re looking for, or whatever, but that isn’t really the point, is it? They haven’t even tried, or we’d know about it, yeah?”
“Oh. Good point.” Tony drawled, clearly thinking, “JARVIS, is Barton actually right?”
“Correct, Sir,” replied a posh voice that seemed to emanate from everywhere. “Not only have there not been any attacks of this sort on the tower, I have not found any indication of this sort of attack outside of the three instances involving members of the Avengers.”
“Alright. This is a job for science!” Tony clapped gleefully. “What? No! Don’t look at me like that. This is a job for science. The best lead we have is that Clint is the target, so that is our hypothesis. So we need to send him out alone and see if more Disco Drones show up. If they do, we know he, specifically, is the target. If not, we need to send two of us out to get doughnuts or something, and see what happens.” He turned and looked at Clint meaningfully, “When do you want to do it?”
“Tony, we can’t use Clint as bait! We’ve been over this; Avengers are not lures!” exclaimed an incredibly exasperated Steve Rogers. “Not you, not Clint, not any of us!”
Tony scoffed and turned to glare at Steve, “that is so rich coming from you, Rogers. If you thought for a second it was you, you’d be out of the building before we could say no.”
Steve glared back at Tony, knowing the other man was right, but refusing to back down. “Doesn’t matter. We can’t use Clint as bait.”
Instantly, all eyes were on Bucky.
“What? Why’re you lookin’ at me like I suggested we punch kittens?”
“Buck, you’re advocating for sending Clint out alone specifically to be attacked.”
“Oh, come off it, Cap ,” Bucky shot back at Steve, laying the Brooklyn on extra thick. “’m advocating for sending Barton to be accosted by giant, mechanical beetles. It seems unlikely that they are going to suddenly be weaponized or interested at all in actually hurting people, or they already would be. An’ stop makin’ him sound like some sort a helpless damsel. Only one person has survived both The Winter Soldier AND the Black Widow. Ever.” He sighed, before adding - voice quiet and with a bitter edge, “and we both limped away from those encounters with scars.”
“Aw, Buckaroo,” Clint beamed at him, “I didn’t know you cared.”
Bucky glared at him. “Stating fact. For all that Clint Barton is a human tire fire, Hawkeye is a legend, and not someone to be underestimated. At least, not by people who have never had to fish him out of a dumpster. ‘Sides, I don’t want anyone thinkin’ I could be bested by, y’know,” and he gestured dismissively in Clint’s direction.
Clint had no idea what to do with that. He’d never been complimented by Bucky before – Hell, he hadn’t really even been acknowledged by Bucky before - and it made him feel sort of warm. Probably because the Winter Soldier just called him an equal. It then occurred to him that Bucky had just let the entire room know that they had come up against each other. Several lifetimes ago, back when they were both weapons, though with much different circumstances. Natasha knew, because she knew everything about Clint, but she may well be the only person in the world, let alone the room, who did.
“Exactly, Elsa! And, please, Steve, give me some credit,” Tony honestly sounded a little wounded, “I would never put anyone on the team in danger intentionally. He’ll have his comms and we’ll send Itsy Bitsy and Olaf to watch him. Y’know, spy on him? Like they’re, spies or something. They’d have to be incognito, of course; the whole thing is shot to hell if there’s two other Avengers with him.” He grimaced and looked squarely at Steve, “but if these things go after Katniss alone, we will have to go out without him. All the Avengers minus Hawkeye, to make sure they done come after us. If they do…”
Steve scrubbed a hand over his face. “Right. We’d all have to go out solo and see who else triggers an attack.” He sighed; this sucked, but Tony and Scott were right. Hopefully Clint was the Target, and they could go from there. “Fine. What’s the plan, then?”
“Clint leaves the tower by himself, goes somewhere and does something while being followed by Natasha and Barnes who are hanging back waiting to see if the disco drones show up,” Tony said, a little confusedly. “I thought we covered this?”
“Tony, that isn’t a plan,” Steve sighed, “that’s-“
“I was gonna take Lucky to the park, anyway. Let him terrorize some ducks, maybe get us both some ice cream,” Clint broke in, cutting Steve off. “If there is another attack, at least there will be enough space that people won’t trample each other, and it’ll make it easier for Natasha and Barnes to tail me without it looking like an Avengers trip to the park.” He paused thoughtfully, “plus, you know, ice cream.”
Reluctantly, Steve admitted it was a solid plan, or at least as solid a plan as using a member of the team as bait could be. “Yeah, ok,” he relented, “late night or early morning would look strange for you, so let’s make it early afternoon, while people are still working, but it has already started to heat up. We can at least try to make sure there are as few people in the park as possible.”
“Quarter to two, perfect,” Clint said with a grin after checking the time on his phone. He popped up from his spot around the conference room table while messing with his hearing aids. “Lucky’s gonna be stoked.” Natasha cleared her throat, halting him on his way out the door, and he turned to look at her. “$20 says I spot you inside 20 minutes, and I get a ten-minute head start.”
“Sure,” he said throwing her a sly grin and an exaggerated wink as he strode out the door, “it won’t take me that long, anyway.”
“Clint, hey. Hawkeye. BARTON!” Steve’s voice rang out, but Clint ignored him and kept going. “Fucking hell, this isn’t how you plan a mission. Fuck’s sake, the last attack was less than two hours ago. There is no reason to expect the bad guy is going to be ready to go again so soon. He didn’t even have his comms.”
“Firstly, Capsicle,” Tony said with no small amount of glee apparent in his voice, “his hearing aids are his communicators, he just takes them out of transmit mode when he isn’t on the clock. Secondly, I'm pretty sure he was going to go to the park no matter what. Thirdly, Ms. Romanoff, $20 that you’ve got eyes on him before he gets to the park.”
Natasha sticks her hand to Tony in agreement, while Steve looks around the room wondering how the hell anyone could think he had any sort of authority over these people. He started to say something, but was stopped by Bucky, of all people.
“Save it, Stevie. The day the Widow passes on a bet is the day she dies, and we all know she’s immortal. And short of tying Clint down, there is no way to keep him in the tower, so you may as well let him go. I’ll follow, too.” He got up and started towards the door, before he stopped to turn to Natasha. “$20 says I get eyes on him before you do.”
The grin she leveled at him was just this side of feral. “Sure. Sounds like fun.”