Chapter 1: That Makes Sense
Cover Art provided by SomethingIncorporeal.
My Enemy Is My Friend
Fandom: The Avengers
Pairing: James "Bucky" Barnes/Clint Barton
Warnings: No Warnings Apply
Full Streaming Audio
MP3 | Size: 49 MB | Duration: 53:59
Growing up, I never really thought of my sight as all that impressive. I mean, everyone could see clearly from 200 meters away, right? My father beat the shit out of me for lying when I was six and said that I saw him kissing Miss Norma from three blocks away. My mom cried. I still don't know if she cried about what I saw or what Dad did.
I didn't say much about it after that, but I still saw and wondered why other people didn't. It took Trickshot two years of watching me after I joined the circus to realise how good my eyes were. I'd already been working with the acrobats for six months. I still don't know what gave me away.
It was my sight that got me in trouble with him a few weeks after I turned seventeen. I was already the Amazing Hawkeye by then. I had also been his lookout for a few years. I didn't know what they were doing, but I knew they didn't want anyone to know what it was. Barney told me it wasn't anything bad, just something the cops and the tax man wouldn't like. Yeah. That was an understatement.
It took me four months after they beat the shit out of me for narcing before I worked up the courage to take a job solo. It was all low level stuff to start. One drug dealer wanted another drug dealer dead. I made it happen. Then one cartel boss wanted another dead. I still made it happen. I haven't killed any legitimate heads of state yet but I'm working my way there. I've already killed two not so legitimate.
I've met other people like me. Other assassins. For the most part, they tend to be either sadistic assholes or cold scary bastards. The Winter Soldier was the scariest of them all. Cold hearted bastard who rarely spoke. You only ever know him when his metal arm is wrapping around your throat and choking the life out of you.
I actually saw him from two blocks away. I was up on the roof across the street from my mark: some big shot company man who also did a little money laundering and people trafficking on the side. The client wanted him taken out in front of his board. Shot through the skull so they were all covered in blood. Personally, I thought it was all a little over kill but the money was good and the dude was bad. Who am I to quibble? Just meant I had to use the rifle instead of my bow. I love my bow.
I had my shot lined up and ready and I kept glancing at the street. It's a nervous habit. I wasn't sure where the glint had come from the first time I saw it. Someone's Ray Bans, maybe? I studied the street for a solid minute. Tokyo in September in the business district looks a lot like New York: plenty of suits and people focused on getting where they're going.
Then I saw it: the glint of a metal hand hidden behind a riding glove. The man was larger than everyone else and moved like he owned the street. Long black hair fell over his eyes and everyone avoided his gaze. He was a man on a mission and he was entering the building I was sitting on top of.
I figured there were two possibilities: there were two hits on this guy or someone had a hit on me. I'm good at what I do but I don't merit the freaking Winter Soldier. At least I don't think. Maybe he was working low balls for the hell of it. God, I hoped there were two hits.
I checked the line I had secured that would take me all fifty floors down fast. My bow was around my chest and I'd leave the rifle in a heartbeat.
Ten minutes later, the only door to the roof opened. I already had a pistol trained on the big guy while I kept half an eye on the meeting room across the street. If I was really lucky, I'd get the shot and keep my life. I can be an arrogant idiot and don't like to leave a job unfinished.
"Hey, there, big guy," I said. The Winter Soldier just looked at me. He'd stopped moving but I think it was more out of confusion at seeing me than any real fear of my gun. He was carrying a rifle case and I saw the bulge of a semi-automatic under his coat. Then of course there was the scary metal arm.
I'm a sniper. I control my breathing for a living. I kept my cool on the outside. Respirations and heartbeat remained normal. No tell-tale sweating. My eyes moved easily between him and the target. Inside, I was pissing myself.
"If you're here for Mr. Hamasaki, I got it."
"And if I'm not?" he asked. He had an American accent. I hadn't exactly been expecting hard Russian or anything (even if he was a Russian assassin) but the bland American threw me for a moment.
"Then who are you here for?" I asked. If he looked at me wrong, I was going over the side.
He watched me for several long minutes. People were starting to come into the conference room and I really wanted to concentrate on that but there was no way I was diverting more of my attention away from him than I already had.
"Mr. Hamasaki," he finally said. "I was not informed of your presence," he added like that was somehow my fault.
"Yeah? You and me both, big guy." The target was entering the room and moving to his seat. If I was going to take this shot, I needed to do it now. "So, if I turn my back on you, are you going to put a knife in it? Or a bullet?"
The Soldier set his case down and held his hands open. Harmless. Like a barracuda. He moved slowly to my side so he could see the conference room. If he was going to kill me, he could always use my rifle to take out the target. Comforting thoughts, mine.
I could still get to my escape route and I still had my bow around my chest so I was happy as I was going to be with the freaking Winter Soldier five feet away.
The meeting was getting underway across the street and Mr. Hamasaki was sitting with his back to me. This job was almost too easy. I lined up the shot one last time and glanced at my wind markers to confirm speed and direction. I took a single breath in, held it and squeezed the trigger. The expected recoil didn't move me and I was already packing up my rifle as people started screaming in the room. As expected, blood and brain matter had bathed the room in gore. It was all a little too anime horror for my taste but whatever. Money was money and the guy was dead.
"So," I said, packing the rifle away with quick efficiency. "I figure there are two possibilities for why you're here."
The Winter Soldier raised an eyebrow. He was looking curiously between me and the conference room. A glance at the rifle now in the case and I remembered that most snipers needed a scope. Yeah, Winter Soldier, I thought. I'm that badass. Please don't kill me.
"Either the client really wanted to make sure Mr. Hamasaki was dead and one of us was insurance," I continued. "Or you're here for me." I looked him dead in the eye when I said it. I can't read people as well as some of the grifters I know, but I'm not bad. Especially when trying to figure out if someone is trying to kill me.
He looked me up and down. I fought not to fidget. I really needed to get out of here before the cops started coming but I refused to be rushed. And apparently so did the Winter Soldier.
"You are not my mission," he finally said, like that solved all his problems. And maybe it did. It solved none of mine.
"Good. That's cool." I swung my rifle across my back. "So I'll see you around then."
He squinted his eyes like he wasn't sure what to say to that. Sirens sounded from a few blocks over and his gaze moved to them. I took the chance and swung over to drop the hundred feet or so to the balcony where I'd left a window open.
When I looked up to pull my line down, he was gone. Shaking my head, I packed everything up and ducked inside. Five minutes later, I was walking down the street away from the sound of sirens. My head was down and my weapons looked like luggage. It's a classic for a reason.
I don't know what gave him away but I pulled a pistol from my belt and pointed it to my left as the Winter Soldier came out of an alley. He raised the eyebrow again.
"What happened to not your mission?" I asked.
He shrugged his flesh arm. "You're not. Who are you?"
For a split second it looked like there was genuine curiosity on his face before it went blank again.
"The Amazing Hawkeye," I answered with no small amount of sarcasm.
He nodded once. "That makes sense."
Before I could ask what the fuck that meant, he was gone. Bastard.
Chapter 2: A Poisoned Partnership
Clint and James work together. They find they're pretty good at it.
It was almost a year and a half before I saw him again. I'd asked around where I could and gotten the same response: don't fuck with the Winter Soldier. Don't try to find him. Don't take him on and for god's sake, don't mouth off. I didn't mention to anyone I asked that I'd already done all of the above.
Berlin is a beautiful city. The people are great and I like the German language. If I ever retire, I might settle in Berlin. The only bad thing about Germany is that I always get this stupid song stuck in my head about a kleine Krokodil. Don't ask. I blame the internet.
My target was an assistant. She was pretty in a dominatrix kind of way. I could tell from afar the woman didn't take crap from anyone. I'd thought at first that she was her boss's mistress. Now I was thinking she might be pulling strings her boss had no hope of seeing. It was sad because I respect someone who works from the shadows to get shit done. She didn't expect recognition for what she did and she didn't throw her weight around to demand respect. And people, the ones who mattered anyway, respected her all the more. It would be a pity to kill her. In another life, I'd be incredibly attracted to her.
The contract didn't specify how she needed to die which meant I was leaning for quick and quiet that could be written off as natural causes. I was crawling around the air ducts in the company headquarters when I saw him.
The Big Guy had gotten into the building dressed as just another office schmuck. His business suit looked entirely too good on him and was clearly tailored. His hair was combed back into a neat ponytail and his arm...looked like a normal arm. Now wasn't that a neat trick? He had a badge clipped to his lapel naming him Gerhardt Schuller. That was a damn lie.
He was standing in the back of a large room across from my mark and her boss. For a moment, I thought we'd been sent after the same target again before I realised he was staring at the boss. Wasn't that interesting?
His eyes shifted again and he was looking at the vent cover and me. I stared. There was no way he'd heard me. He was probably just that good. I held my breath and waited. He wouldn't do anything now with everyone in the room and I had no way of knowing if our truce would last from job to job. Finally, he tilted his head and frowned ever so slightly like he was just remembering who I was. Then he left the room.
I considered staying where I was until a shudder of a thought ran down my spine. What if he attempted to crawl into the vents himself? I wouldn't discount the chance he could make it and I did not want to be trapped up here with him. Not until I knew what his play was. So I moved carefully back the way I'd come. There was a small break room tucked into a corner. All it held was a fridge and a coffee and tea station. It was full of activity at certain times but deserted the rest of the day. Wouldn't you know it but now it was occupied by one, Gerhardt "Winter Soldier" Schuller.
I stopped just past the last corner still in the vents. This far back, if he shot at me, I could get away with hopefully only minor injuries. His head tilted in concentration and he looked up at the vent. I tried not to grumble. There was no way he could hear me.
"You are not my mission," he said. His voice was soft and he still had the American accent. His words startled us both. It was such an odd phrasing and made me think he didn't get paid for his work. Someone ordered him. But Natasha had told me the Red Room was gone.
Deciding to deal with one problem at a time, I inched forward and paused. He could shoot me now and definitely critically wound me. Nothing. He didn't move. Sighing, I crawled forward until I was at the vent. We stared at each other.
"Does that mean you won't kill me?" I asked. I was pretty sure that's what he meant, but it never hurts to be specific.
The very edge of his mouth twitched in what I was calling a smile. And a win.
"I have no intention of killing you."
Shrugging to myself, I popped the cover and flipped out of my haven. My boots were silent as I dropped to the floor. We took a moment to size each other up. For once, I didn't have my bow on me. It was hidden not far away. Right now I was carrying mostly knives. My cargo pants had been replaced with a tighter knit and a hoodie. I looked like the circus reject that I am with terrible taste in clothes but there were no zippers to scrape along metal and give me away.
"So," I started. "You're after the CEO."
He squinted at me. "You're not?"
His eyes moved back and forth like he was reading something only he could see before he nodded. "That is acceptable."
I raised an eyebrow. "If I'd told you someone else, would your intentions have changed?" I asked. I have very little sense of self preservation. It's a flaw.
"Yes," he stated.
I got the distinct feeling he was working for an organisation. One who wanted the CEO out of the way but didn't want their own assets caught up in collateral damage. Natasha would not be happy that someone had apparently taken over after the Red Room. Or maybe she already knew.
"I don't suppose you'd be up for working together?" I asked. "I mean, I'm confident in my abilities but I don't want to leave you swarmed by polizei after I take my target out." I shrugged one shoulder in a calculatedly nonchalant way. "Professional courtesy and all that."
He was definitely smiling now. Win win. "Perhaps. It might be difficult for you when this place is covered with police after I complete my mission."
If I'd had Natasha's number, I'd have texted her to brag that I was bantering with the Winter Soldier. It was probably a good thing I didn't since I'm sure she'd appear to slap me upside the head with her Widow's Bite and call me rude names in Russian. Instead, I held my hand out to the man in front of me. He stared at it confused for a moment before he finally reached forward to shake it.
I'd bet money it had been a long time since someone had touched him in any way that didn't hurt. And now I was sympathising with the Winter Soldier.
"You got a name?" I asked, trying to push those thoughts away. "Since we're working together and all."
He started to say Gerhardt Schuller but paused and his face went through the strangest contortions. God, had anyone addressed him by his own name since he became what he was? Natasha had told me a little of what went on at the Red Room and if this man was still going through it? I had to remind myself forcefully that my job wasn't to save the goddamn Winter Soldier.
"James," he finally said, though it sounded more a question. I valiantly kept myself from asking if he was sure. That would be cruel.
"James. You can call me Clint."
He didn’t ask if it was my real name. I wondered if he had a file on me that had already told him what my real name was. Maybe his organization did. As much as I don’t always think I’m in a league with the Black Widow and Winter Soldier, I’ve encountered them enough times to realise that I am. I’ll admit: it stroked my ego a fair amount when I put that together. But it meant that there was a good chance that whoever pulled his strings had information on me. Hell, knowing my luck, Trickshot gave them everything he knew for a decent payday and a chance to fuck me over.
Since planning an assassination in a break room is a bit gauche, we decided to adjourn to my safe house. Well, the one I was going to tell James about, anyway. An hour later, I had a pot of coffee that I was drinking straight from the carafe while I sat on the back of an old couch and stared at my collection of maps and schedules. One short knock, two long knocks and three shorts announced James’ arrival. I’d suggested he tap out “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and the look on his face had been totally worth the half expected injury.
“It’s open,” I called after I moved into the kitchen and out of direct sight.
James entered slowly with a puzzled look on his face and one hand on a weapon. I relaxed and returned to my spot. “It is unwise to leave your door open,” he commented. Natasha had been meaner when she told me I was an idiot for leaving it open. I gave James the same smile I’d given her.
“Maybe. But you came in slower because you were expecting an ambush, didn’t you?” He frowned like he was going to deny it and then his chin tilted up slightly and one eyebrow twitched. I raised my coffee pot to him in a salute before gulping the rest. “See? I’m brilliant. Coffee?”
“No, thank you.”
I shrugged at his loss and went to brew another pot and use the chance as an excuse to get a good look at James. He’d changed into jeans that fit him entirely too well and a tight t-shirt with a denim jacket covering his arm. The hint of metal I saw on his gloved fingers told me he’d undone whatever he’d done to hide it at the company. His hair was loose again but still had a touch of whatever gel he’d used. Sighing to myself, I hit start on the pot.
I’d changed into loose sweatpants and a shirt with more than a couple of small holes and felt a bit underdressed, but I knew myself. I could work it. With anyone else, I’d have put the moves on as soon as James walked in the door. For some reason, though, with James, that didn’t feel right. What little I knew of the Red Room and his mannerisms made me think that if anyone made advances on him at all, it was always for a job and they had an angle. I was going soft for a man who would probably snap me in two and wonder why I’d hurt myself like that.
“So,” I started. “Most of my information is on the assistant, but her schedule matches Boss Man’s enough that we shouldn’t be short much. I was leaning toward poison, personally, but I can adjust if you need to.”
When I looked up, James had his head buried in my research but was nodding just enough I knew he’d heard me.
“Poison is acceptable.”
I smiled. People think the Winter Soldier is all automatic weapons and big displays of force but some of the jobs I’ve heard rumours of his completing were elegant as fuck and no one was the wiser. He’s said to have poisoned the whole British royal family. The beauty was, he didn’t kill them. Just gave them enough “food poisoning” that they skipped an event, reducing security and making it easier for him to get his real target. Beautiful.
James was flipping through the papers and had started to frown. “What’s up?” I asked.
My coffee dripped it’s final drop and I grabbed the entire carafe again and then a cup as an afterthought in case James changed his mind about coffee. I can be a good host. Sort of.
“You have no pictures of your target,” he commented. “Have you not done surveillance?”
I shrugged and blew on the top of the coffee to cool it slightly. I may be uncouth, but I still didn’t want to burn my mouth. “I did. But I don’t need them.”
He leaned back to look me over again. “You have an eidetic memory?”
“Not exactly. I don’t remember everything. Just enough.” Trickshot had trained me to remember absolutely everything I saw on missions. It was as close to eidetic one could be without having the actual genetic quirk. James squinted and then nodded. He didn’t say anything but I realised if anyone might understand it, it was probably him. God knows what they trained him to do. “You looking for anything in particular?”
“I was interested what angle you favour.”
I’m proud of myself. I did not make the obvious innuendo-laced comment. It hurt not to. Instead, I told him I took whatever got the job done.
Four hours later, we had decided to poison them during a meeting. Boss and Assistant attended a regular Wednesday afternoon lunch meeting with other bigwigs. Bonus for us: it occurred off company property. James said he had to be seen at the scene so he would pose as staff. My job was easy: I just had to lace the cups. Restaurants have larger than average duct work to relieve excessive kitchen heat. It would suck for me but no more than the times I’ve sat perfectly still on a roof in Abu Dhabi in August. At least there was no chance of a popup sandstorm.
Security checked everyone coming and going and they watched staff serving. But they wouldn’t be looking for a line coming out of the vent that I would drop the poison with. James’ instructions were to make it look like a possible accident so I would lace a few other people with much smaller doses that would make them sick but wouldn’t kill.
We had two days to kill before then. It would take me six hours to prep my part. I planned to enter from the roof before dawn and, more importantly, before staff arrived. My line had to be set ahead of time and well lubricated because I would have a narrow window while trays and drinks were held to one side before serving. James would be there to delay things if I needed.
I was hoping he might suggest that we spend the time together. Maybe do a little extra surveillance. What can I say? The guy was quiet but interesting. I genuinely wanted to get to know him. Instead, he announced that the plan was sufficient and left. I guess I would have to entertain myself for two days.
I found him getting in position at the restaurant the next day. I wasn't close enough to figure out how he got his fake job. Hell, for all I know, he called his bosses and they made a phone call of their own. Either way, when I saw him next he was all decked out in his waiter garb.
When he had been Gerhardt Schuller, he softened his face a bit but he was still definitely the Winter Soldier playing dress up. Now, his entire demeanour changed. He still had the hair pulled back in a ponytail but just enough fell in his eyes that, combined with the way he was now slouching and avoiding eye contact, made him completely invisible. He was good. Damn good.
I was across the street and up high. It was the perfect angle to watch him work. I wasn't sure if he was aware of me until one moment when he straightened completely and looked me dead in the eye. I have him a cavalier salute while his eyes were on me and then swore like a sailor. I did not want to go up against him. And not just because it would be hard to kill someone I liked. It would just be damn hard to kill him.
I left him to it late Tuesday afternoon. I needed to get a nap in before I finished my own preparation. Once I was in position at the restaurant, I'd have a chance to half dose but that was never really restful. It gave me just enough that I didn't lose my effectiveness.
At 3 am he knocked on the door. It was locked this time and I greeted him with a weapon in hand as I cracked the door. He was back in jeans but had a duffle in hand. I frowned as I let him in.
"Hey. What's up?"
"I am here as your support," he said. His eyes shifted just slightly in a tell. Anyone else I'd have shot on sight, killed my target and gotten the hell out of Berlin. What can I say? I'm suspicious. It means I don't really have friends, but it also means I'm alive. With James? The look almost reminded me of Natasha even though I'd never seen the woman uncomfortable.
"Yeah?" I gestured him to sit. He did and then pulled out two earbud comms. His waiter uniform was what was making the bag bulge. "What's this?" I asked as he handed me one.
"Do teams not need to communicate?" He asked with this weird look on his face. I think I was the first time he'd worked as a team and he was seriously asking.
"Yeah, I guess." I considered the device as my mind wandered to who else might be listening. "Cool."
He gave me a small smile and I decided not to ask if his handlers would be listening in. I would definitely get rid of it after the mission just in case.
"When do you plan to leave?" he asked, glancing at my attire.
I was in jeans and a hoodie. I lifted the hoodie and pulled down on the jeans to reveal my circus reject outfit underneath. People give you funny looks when you run around at 4 am wearing the thing.
"In a few minutes." I gave him my best crooked smile. "You planning to come with?" I meant it as a joke but his eyes changed. There was a spark of hope followed quickly by doubt and disappointment. I sat down next to him as close as I thought he could handle. "I mean, I'd like the company. Usually I'm on my own. It's why I talk to myself."
"Sure," he said. Now I could hear him forcing the nonchalance and I wasn't sure what that meant. "I should keep track of my asset," he added and I had to stop myself from making the sexual comeback. See? I have some self control.
I finished packing the last of my things and turned to my new shadow. "Alright, then. Shall we?"
We walked in comfortable silence the half mile toward the restaurant and went high a block before we got there. It was an addition to a taller building so we were actually higher than the roof I needed. James helped me set my line to get back up and then hide it. Oddly, I wasn't worried that it would disappear while I was in the vents.
I rode the line down but James jumped. He somehow landed softly and without any visible sounds of distress. I definitely didn't ever want to end up on a roof chase against him. Actually, I didn't ever want to go against him and it was having less and less to do with knowing he could track me down with minimal effort and more to do with just not wanting to lose him as a possible friend. Or whatever it was we were to each other.
He remained silent as I eased into the vent and as I settled the vent cover into a semblance of what it had been. Close enough no one would investigate but loose enough I could throw it off in a hurry if I needed to.
"Good luck, Clint," James said just as I was turning away. I paused, not sure what to make of the simple words.
"Good luck, James," I finally said. As I began making my way to my nest, I thought I heard him sit down on the roof, like he would keep sentinel until time for him to play his part. I ignored the warmth that spread through me at the thought.
Sniper stake outs are boring as hell. I was set up within a half hour. I could hear early morning traffic outside consisting mostly of trash trucks and buses. I was in the half asleep fugue state I fall into when the first of the staff started to arrive. I barely noticed the first few cooks except to notice that they had coffee. Coffee that I couldn't have. Dammit.
The kitchen became really active around 8 am as more cooks arrived. I could smell whatever they were making for family meal and the vent was starting to warm up. Reminding myself that I had chosen this plan, I laid my head back down on my arms and started counting back from one hundred. The wait staff, including James came in an hour before the place opened and they all had a meeting beneath me to discuss the daily specials and expected large parties including my target. I felt a pang of what could have been guilt when the maitre d mentioned a birthday party scheduled for that night. That would be cancelled when bodies started dropping.
The first patrons arrived around eleven and I forced myself awake by watching couples and groups and the odd individual and making up the stories of their lives. James played his role well. Guests and staff both overlooked him as he needed while his tables would remember very little about the man who served them. Twenty minutes before the staff would start putting together tables, I started dropping glycerin down my line. It would lubricate the line without leaving any kind of taste that might alert our targets.
I smiled as James regularly passed beneath me with a towel which would conveniently fall from his pocket so I didn't have a tell-tale wet spot that might encourage them to move the tables. He then shifted everyone slightly to the left so that the drink carrier would be directly beneath me.
I'd gone over the plan so many times in my mind that the actual execution felt a bit like a dream. James held a tray of drinks steady and I watched my drops move steadily down and into the liquid below. The surface barely rippled. By the time he was serving Boss Man and Assistant, I was already packing up. I waited long enough to watch each of their pupils blow wide as they started sweating profusely. The decoy victims collapsed first. Four of them.
James faked concern very well. Then screaming as our targets stopped breathing. By the time someone could call for emergency services, I was exiting the vent system. I had my bag and was over a block away before I heard sirens. My job was done and my bank account was about to be a bit bigger.
I wondered idly where James went in between missions. Maybe if his handlers let him have some time we could hang out. Probably not, but a dude can dream. I kind of hoped I’d see him at the safe house as I broke things down.
Chapter 3: Forgotten Ally
James doesn't remember Clint.
I followed rumours of the Winter Soldier’s exploits like a damn groupie. I’m not ashamed to admit it. James was an incredible assassin and the man intrigued the hell out of me. I always heard about his jobs after the fact, of course. Our paths didn’t cross directly for a long time. We had jobs in nearby cities a few times. The same small country. But it took three years before I saw him again.
We were in New York City. I was actually working two jobs simultaneously: robbery and surveillance. Neither are normally my bread and butter, but I like to mix things up from time to time. I’d heard through the grapevine that someone had a pretty hefty bounty out for a book out of some rich guy’s collection. Research didn’t tell me much about it’s value, but someone was willing to pay a lot to get it. Value in the eye of the beholder or whatever. The job had been rejected by more than one person already because there wasn’t enough resale value. Obviously, they’d never considered ransoming the damn thing back to the owner.
The surveillance mission was what had really caught my eye. It was the kind of job that should have gone to a PI. Watch some lady go about her day and report back. She was crazy predictable. If I wore one, I could set my watch by her. Awake by six am. Coffee, shower, more coffee. Work. Not even interesting work. Just some office job. Lunch at her desk that consisted mostly of coffee and energy bars. Home. Rest of the night on the computer. Honestly, I’d set up a couple of cameras and an alert program on a little computer so I didn’t have to get up at the asscrack of dawn.
It was a six month mission that I was four months and a whole lot of boredom into. Thus, the theft. The two jobs were just different enough and just far enough outside my norm that I wasn’t worried anyone would put two and two together. I even threw in a little free surveillance of SHIELD. Natasha had told me about them when we first met and I’d started crossing paths with them more and more. I wanted to know about the hornet’s nest for when they eventually decided that I was a tasty looking bit of prey.
I was chilling at the cafe across from Ms. Boring’s office. I had sight of her on my phone with headphones to listen in on the bug I’d managed to place awhile back at request of my employer. She was typing. A lot. At a decent speed, too. No music. Only conversations I could sort of hear were from coworkers. She could go a couple of days without talking to anyone. I had a civil engineering textbook open on the table so the waitress didn’t start bothering me to leave. It still amazes me how easy it is to sit at a place for hours with a textbook and a notebook. On the other hand, this was how I’d recovered from the lack of school in my childhood.
I would glance up every minute or so to survey the area. There he was. Standing further down the street and watching the building housing my subject. I broke cover and stared. Hopefully it would just look like I was deep in thought. Actually, I was trying to figure out if he’d seen me. There was something different about him. I mean, besides the fact that he was dressed like any other hipster on the street.
I realised what it was when he turned toward me. His eyes were blank and passed over me without any hint at recognition. How much of his memory had they wiped? All of it? Just the times we’d worked together? Did he even remember his name anymore? Could he get any of it back? Did he want to?
I turned to my phone and the feed as he scanned the area again. My target was still at her desk. Typing. Was James after her? If someone wanted her observed, maybe someone wanted her dead. Which made no sense because she didn’t do anything of note. I had a camera on her computer screen at home and she played video games. Hell, she went hours without moving from the screen like she was mesmerised by the--oh. Well that was suddenly obvious once I really thought about it.
She was mesmerised by the screen because there was something else there. Something I wasn’t seeing. The woman had no life, no friends. She barely spoke. Easily forgettable. I closed my eyes and groaned. She wasn’t just any target. She was one of us.
I tilted my head enough to bring James back into view. Was this his life outside of missions? Was he watching his own meaningless existence played out in another city? Hell, for all I knew, his own cubicle of hell was just a few blocks and a stone’s throw away. The question I had to ask myself now was whether or not I would report this. Sure, I knew that I knew the Winter Soldier’s face but no one else knew that I knew.
I stalled. She would be at work for another thirty two minutes. I packed up my fake homework and dropped just enough cash on the table to be forgettable. Normally I let her walk home without a very close eye. Not today. She lived twelve blocks away and walked every day with only enough stop for one of the take out places on the way. She never detoured more than half a block in any direction.
By the time she left, I was in position on the roof. My homework was stashed behind a utility vent in a trash bag with the hope that I’d be able to retrieve them. You can learn a lot about good sniper nests if you know how the buildings were designed. She turned north and walked at a calm pace, neither looking left nor right but never touching anyone. Now that I knew what she was, the answer was staring me in the face.
When she was half a block away from her building, James started moving and I swore. The real question now was if he was here to observe like me or eliminate. Honestly, it didn’t make a difference either way. Nothing in my agreement said that I had to protect the woman. In fact, there was a clear “don’t approach” directive.
I pulled out my phone as we all waited for the traffic to change and sent a quick message. Target has another tail. My mind was racing through possible scenarios and only about a quarter of the possible outcomes ended well for all of us. One way or another, I was pretty sure I was about to finish this job and abandon my other.
My phone buzzed before we got two blocks. Visual?
Of course they wanted a picture. When I was eight stories up with a crappy camera phone and my own stupidity to help. I’d been crossing streets on utility wires so far. In another three blocks, I had to go to street level or detour because the opposite buildings were too different in height. Street level it was. I pushed a little ahead and dropped to the street before either James or my target could arrive.
James was a Red Room trained assassin so I couldn’t just bump into him and grab a quick selfie. He hadn’t remembered me outside the office, but he might remember me from the cafe. I would have. The timing on this was going to have to be fucking flawless and for that, I couldn’t think. It was like when I jumped off buildings: I just had to trust myself and do it.
I pulled the camera up and ducked behind a fire escape. She walked past across the street and I threw a tin can down the alley just as James passed. He looked at the can and I snapped the picture. By the time he looked toward me, I’d turned around and huddled behind my hoodie like all the other homeless in this city.
By some miracle, he didn’t shoot me and I had just enough time to breath a sigh of relief before I headed back up to the roof. She stopped at the Thai place tonight and I took the chance to text the photo. She never stood in line very long and I wasn’t sure if these places just always had her order on hand or if she was placing them online. I couldn’t get a visual on her work computer and the few times I’d attempted following her inside, she never said more than thank you.
James pulled a phone from his pocket and frowned. I got a bad feeling. He surveyed the roof tops and I felt absolute terror. Just before I had to duck back, I got a glimpse of the screen and saw the same picture I’d just taken. Whoever hired me either had a mole in the operation or he was being ordered to take me out as well.
I was done. Our target had been northbound and I turned east. James would have to decide if he wanted me or her. I was hoping his orders made her the priority. I descended three blocks later and traveled in a zig zag for another sixteen but my stomach was in the back of my throat and the little hairs on my neck were at the worst kind of attention. I wasn’t surprised when I turned another corner and found James waiting for me.
“Hey, big guy,” I said, holding my hands up in surrender. “I guess this means I’m your mission this time.” He paused and the tiniest spark of hope jumped at the back of my mind. Please, let him remember me. “James?” I asked, almost choking on his name.
I’ve always known I’m going to die a violent death, probably at the hands of either another assassin or some nameless government lackey. My only hope for a long time has been that someone will hear about my death and drink in my memory. I like to think Natasha will. If nothing else, she’ll probably shake her head and tell my memory that I was an idiot. I’d started to think maybe James would at least pause at the news. Now there was a good chance that he might be the cause of the news and that was just not okay.
“Listen, buddy. I know you were sent after another target and you should know that I am not going to get in your way. You’re free to kill her or watch her or whatever your orders are. I’m gone. Gave my last report. This one is all you.”
His hand fell to his side at the mention of his other target but I kept going. He didn’t draw which was progress. But I was still too close to him to be happy.
“How did you know I was following her?” he asked and honestly, that was pretty much the last thing I expected him to say.
“What?” I said, sounding like a dumbass.
“How did you know I was following her?”
“Because I saw you. And the chances of there being two targets this close are stupidly low,” I answered honestly.
He made a face that might have been frustration or confusion. He’s really hard to read at the best of times. “How did you know that I was following her?” He put the stress on himself.
“Because I know you, James,” I said, almost a whisper. “Your James, the goddamn Winter Soldier. We’ve worked together before.”
His hand wavered ever so slightly and that tiny spark of hope got a little more oxygen. “Who are you?” He sounded desperate and I had the urge to hug him and tell him it was all going to be okay. Except I was pretty sure he’d shoot me if I moved.
“I’m Clint. The Amazing Hawkeye.” It wasn’t sarcastic like the first time we’d met. Just the truth.
Unfortunately, the truth was apparently a mistake. His eyes hardened when I called myself Hawkeye. He didn’t go for a gun but he did try to hit me and instinct took over. I’m an acrobat by nature and most of my training is in gymnastics. When Natasha and I spar, she says I’m somewhere between a brawler and a gymnast with a little wrestler thrown in to fuck with people.
James struck out at my shoulder level so I grabbed his arm, turned and flipped us both. When we came up, I was on his back and trying to choke him. So he slammed us into the wall behind us. I heard a rib crack and that was going to hurt like a bitch but right now I focused on holding on and choking him enough to subdue him. I wouldn’t kill him unless I had no choice but I’d damn sure hurt him.
He threw his head back and caught me in the nose. The shock of it slackened my muscles enough that he threw me off to land in a pile of garbage before he did pull his pistol. Luckily, he was at point blank range and I knocked the gun away and pulled a knife. We traded blows and I managed to draw blood twice. But he was still coming and not tiring. Me? I was feeling the rib and my head was trying to swim from a glancing blow. It was time to retreat.
I slashed my blade at his throat and was stupidly happy when he pulled back to miss it and I redirected the blade to sink into the metal shoulder where I knew they could repair the damage. As it sank, I fell back and kicked out like a donkey to slam my foot into the blade. The action drove the blade in deep and knocked him back with only a grunt of pain. But it was enough for me to scale the side of the building.
I could hear him following and actually managed a sigh of relief. I wanted him to follow me because if he was following me, then I hadn't hurt him too bad. I got up and two buildings over before I crested the first roof. He saw me head back down. With luck, he’d assume that I hit street level and ran. Actually, I hit street level and kept going down. Down the sewer access and into the maze beneath the streets. I could cross over to plain utility tunnels in a block and a half and then I should be good.
I paused at the junction to listen and didn’t hear him. I couldn’t be sure if I’d lost him until I didn’t turn around with a bullet between my eyes. I crossed into the Bronx between sewer and utility, always alert for him. I surfaced only once to ditch my phone and then came up for good at a subway exit.
There was sweat running down my face and I told myself that none of the salt came from tears. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at lying to myself.