She saw me. I don't know HOW, but this woman knew I was here. I'd been in my perch for hours before she and her crew showed up, and I hadn't moved a muscle. Yet somehow, she knew. I was sure of it.
"Guys, I'm made," I whispered into my communicator, careful not to move.
"That's impossible, Clint. Bucky and Steve both checked from pretty much every vantage point. Even with their enhanced eyesight, they couldn't spot you," Natasha whispered in that way too damn calm voice of hers.
"I'm telling you, that woman knows I'm here." I watched in disbelief as she tensed, rubbed the back of her neck again, and turned, slowly running her eyes over the top of the building on which I had made my perch. She turned back around equally slowly, but then she pulled out her phone. "I'm definitely made," I repeated willing the team to believe me.
We'd come to Trenton, New Jersey after following a lead that some HYDRA weapons were being moved through here. Initial intel had told us that the gunrunner, Amos Beckham, had a warrant out for his arrest after failing to appear in court. Of course, wanting to know full well what the situation was, we'd done an investigation into the situation. We'd relatively easily been able to uncover that Plum Bail Bonds had written the bond, and from there it was an easy leap to someone from Rangeman being the most likely to be brought in to hunt down Beckham.
So we'd started a run on Rangeman, its CEO Carlos "Ranger" Manoso, and any employees whose employment we could verify. And that's when things had gotten interesting. Our investigation had shown that Ranger had a solid team made up of largely former special forces operatives and mercenaries who seemed to be extremely loyal to their country and each other. They may have intense, checkered pasts, but so did most of our team. And we'd been able to verify that none of them were HYDRA.
Cap and Natasha's uncovering of HYDRA's infiltration in SHIELD and, it turned out in the months that followed, Stark Industries had left some very large gaps in Stark Industries' regular security. When you added in the fact that Stark had recruited Maria Hill to begin to create a privatized global security branch of Stark Industries, well, we were in need of a lot of trustworthy, loyal teams of employees to fill in those gaps that were really more chasms. Finding this ready-made, large team that seemed to check all the boxes of qualifications we needed had caused a unanimous change in mission parameters.
Instead of busting in right away to take everyone down, we'd set up a longer term surveillance mission. We'd still make sure we didn't lose the shipment of weapons, Amos, or the buyer, but we wanted to check out what kind of moves Rangeman had. Who the woman was in relation to Ranger or Rangeman, we didn't exactly know. She definitely didn't show up on any official employment records we'd been able to find, but she seemed to have a close relationship with pretty much everyone who lived and/or worked in that building. We had been able to determine that she also worked for Plum Bail Bonds, her name was Stephanie Plum, and she was cousin to Vincent Plum, the owner of Plum Bail Bonds. It seemed she was a bounty hunter who handled the lower bonds, and that was presumably how she'd met Ranger and his men.
But this wasn't a low-bond case, which is why I didn't understand why she was here and no doubt blowing my cover with that phone call. So when she hung up her phone, looked in my direction again, then ducked around the corner of the building, I started cursing up a blue streak. Still, it seemed no one on the team believed me, and Cap insisted that I wait it out. Exactly two minutes later, I felt what had to be one of my least favorite feelings in the world- the metal of a gun barrel pressing into the back of my head.
"Don't. Move. A. Muscle," a voice behind me said confidently. I went completely still, comforted by the fact that my team had heard the man and were mobilizing to provide me backup. All I had to do in the meantime was play along, so I obeyed when the voice continued, "Okay, you're going to slowly put your hands behind your head, one at a time."
Following his directions, I allowed myself to be restrained, and when I was finally able to turn around, I felt vindicated that at least it was Ranger Manoso himself who had managed to get the drop on me. He carefully and thoroughly frisked me, and I noticed him becoming more and more wary as the number of weapons he found increased. As we walked downstairs, with me at gunpoint, I said calmly, "I'm not here to cause any problems for you; I'll cooperate."
He didn't seem at all reassured and just said, "I recognize you, but I haven't placed you yet. Generally, that's not a good thing."
With a record like his, I was sure the guy had made a lot of bad enemies, so I couldn't say I blamed him one bit for that reaction. When he guided me to an SUV and shackled me into the back, I didn't take it personally, just waited to see how everything would play out. Apparently satisfied that I was secure, I was surprised when he walked over to where Stephanie had been and brought her over to the car.
They climbed into the front seats with Ranger in the driver's seat and he said, "well, there's your man, Babe. He had himself a sniper perch, just like you said, so why don't you tell me why you think he isn't dangerous?"
She turned in her seat and leaned around it to get a good look at me, and when her blue eyes fixed on mine for the first time, I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. Unable to hold the question back any longer I asked, "How did you know I was there? ESP? Telepathy? What are you, Wonder Woman or something?"
Ranger went absolutely still in the front seat and tensed up when he heard what I said while the woman let out a delighted laugh and jumped out of the car and into the backseat, causing Ranger to start cursing and telling her to stay back. I was completely baffled by her reaction until she said, laughing the whole time, "no, as much as I wish I could be Wonder Woman, I'm just a regular person, but I know what and who you are!"
I felt my eyes widen against my will, but relaxed when she pulled out her keys and started undoing my restraints, directing her comments to the man in the front seat as she chastised, "Ranger, how could you not recognize him? This is Hawkeye; you just captured an Avenger. That can't be good. Also, he's my soulmate, so I kindly request that you not restrain him again… unless I specifically ask you to, but I think I'd probably be more likely to want to do that myself…"
I was relatively sure she hadn't meant to say that last part out loud, so for now I didn't comment on it, though Ranger's amused gaze met mine in the rearview mirror so I was pretty sure he'd be teasing her about it later. She had my shackles undone and maneuvered so that her side was facing me and leaned forward a little. When she pulled up her shirt, I could see my handwriting spelling out my first words to her in black ink along the small of her back, and couldn't help but feel more than a little unworthy. I ran a finger over them, noting the smattering of grey words on her torso, front, and back, in numerous different handwritings with interest. I was pretty sure I recognized some of those, and the "Sooooo, Connie says I'm supposed to make you into a badass fugitive apprehension agent" also in grey on her arm had me putting two and two together looking at Ranger again in question. He was her mentor.
He simply nodded in a way that seemed to both answer my question and promise me a most violent death if I didn't treat Stephanie right. As far as I was concerned, that just meant he was good people so I returned the nod to show my understanding. Unwilling to start out with my newfound soulmate with a lie, I said, "we've been doing surveillance on your team as part of an operation involving Amos Beckham, so I know who you both are as well. Stephanie, please, you gotta answer my question though. If you're just a regular person, how'd you know I was there? Because I had two super soldiers check over that hiding spot, and they couldn't see me even with their enhanced vision."
She just shrugged, as she continued to stare at me like she couldn't believe her luck. "A few ways. The first was the tingle. I've always felt one on the back of my neck when Ranger, who is my platonic soulmate by the way, was nearby. I felt the same thing with you but like ten times stronger. And it had more, I don't know how to describe it other than to say fire, behind it. I guess actually, that was pretty much it. Beyond that it was just a gut feeling that I like to jokingly call my 'spidey-sense'. I just knew someone was up there, but I didn't feel uneasy the way I do when it's a stalker or someone trying to kill me."
Ranger spoke up then, "we'd done a reconnaissance of the area ourselves before sending Steph in, so we didn't want to believe it, but we've all learned to trust Steph's gut first, question second."
"I'm setting aside the comment about stalkers and people trying to kill you for now because I'm assuming there isn't an active threat at the moment," I paused waiting for confirmation from both before saying, "why are you here? And why were you going in alone? Unarmed? I know you don't have the background Ranger and the men we've been able to verify as his employees do."
I felt inexplicably drawn to Steph, which was probably the soulmate bond trying to form, so I was relieved when she apparently gave up trying to fight it and just crawled into my lap, sighing with contentment when the mark on her back and the one she hadn't seen yet on my abdomen lined up and made contact through our shirts. She tucked her head against my chest and under my chin, so I wrapped my arms around her before she answered, "I'm not unarmed. I'm wired and I have a taser. Ranger and his men were there for backup. I was just trying to plant some bugs so we could figure out when the best time would be for the capture. And see what else was in play because we were concerned that he was mixed up in something bigger. Given your presence, I think we can safely assume there's a big old check mark in that column."
I could hear the sound of motorcycles approaching quickly so I said, "you'd be right about that. And since Ranger so kindly smashed my earpiece, I can only assume that's my extraction incoming. Call off your men, Ranger and everything will be fine."
He did as I asked just as Cap and Natasha pulled up on either side of the SUV, with Natasha actually on the sidewalk. Ranger just lowered the back windows so that they could see in, and I smiled out at my teammates. Steph turned her head so she was facing Cap, who was obviously recognizable, but she just stayed in her position and said, "That is one sweet ride; I've got to admit, I'm jealous."
Clearly baffled by the one-two punch of the position he had found us in and the words Steph had spoken to him, he just said, "Thank you, ma'am. I certainly enjoy it."
"Ah," she replied. "So you're the polite one."
From her other side, Natasha spoke up, "Care to tell me who you are and exactly what you're doing to my best friend and the world's best sniper? I've never seen him distracted like that."
Steph shifted to look over at Natasha and she froze. "If I'd known you were the possessive one, I would have been scared out of my mind my whole life."
Natasha's serious expression turned highly amused as she asked, "so how did a 'regular person' blow your cover, Barton?" quoting Steph's words that were written in black across my abdomen to me. Goodness knows she'd seen them enough times, even carefully applied stitches around and through them, before.
Steph quickly explained the same way she had to me. Once she was done, I couldn't stop myself from blurting out, "so, how many more soulmates do you have?" I felt her face heat up in a blush against me and mentally cursed myself because that was actually a very rude question, even for a soulmate, to ask when I'd just met her. Natasha just reached through the window and smacked me, which I murmured my thanks to her for.
"Well," Steph said, shrugging off my insistence that she didn't have to answer, "you're my only romantic bond, so you can relax about that. Then there's these three here as platonics and if I'm counting right, four more platonics who I've yet to meet?"
Thinking it through, there was Bruce, Tony, Sam, Bucky, and Thor. The first four all had at least one set of grey words that they'd mentioned and hadn't met the owner of yet, but Thor had explained to us how soulmates, platonic and romantic worked on Asgard, so she wouldn't have words for him if they were paired anyway. I said to Cap, "what do you wanna bet it's actually five?"
"I'll take that bet," Natasha said a little too eagerly, "because I think it's six."
I had no idea who she thought the last one was, but I nodded my head in acceptance of the bet. I couldn't wait to introduce Steph to everyone and see if we were guessing correctly.