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What It Feels Like

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“What’s her name?”

 

Will startles. He turns to face Jane, almost unconsciously moving his left hand and the phone clutched in it out of her sight. Jane lifts an eyebrow and gives Will the nearly universal “Seriously?” look.

 

“What?” Will asks and he’s proud to sound only slightly defensive.

 

With a half shrug Jane lets the matter of the phone drop and says, “I said, what’s her name.”

 

“…Whose name?” Will is genuinely confused. Jane sighs and gives him another look; one Will isn’t sure how to interpret.

 

“We’ve been holed here almost two weeks. Two weeks that you’ve been nearly inseparable with that phone. Which is not IMF issue, I might add. That level of dedication? I’m guessing a woman, so… What’s her name?”

 

“Jane,” Will says, turning his whole body towards the brunette.

 

“What?”

 

“No, I mean, the person I last texted is named Jane.”

 

“Oh?” Jane says, lengthening the O and letting her inflection play suggestive games with it.

 

“’Oh’ nothing. Nothing like that. She’s actually the girlfriend of a friend,” Will laughs.

 

“Sure,” Jane draws the word out; making sure Will gets she’s not buying his story. He laughs again.

 

“I do have friends, you know,” Will gives her a mock stern glare.

 

“I don’t doubt that,” she teases him, coming to poke his side, “It’s just I doubt this ‘Jane’ is just a friend.”

 

“That so?” Will brings the phone up and in front of him and starts flipping through the few innocuous photos he’s got in it. Finding the most harmless shots of Jane and Thor he has (one where Thor’s hair is on a ponytail and he’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt, for a change), and shows it to Jane. “That’s them.”

 

Jane leans in a little to look at the couple smiling and Will surreptitiously watches her expression. Part of him almost wants her to recognize Thor from the snap shots people took of the Thunder God during the Battle in New York. What most people remember from those pictures is red cape and Mjölnir, that and the fact that the guy could fly. But Jane, like Will, has been trained to pay attention to details such as faces. Another part of Will is wishing Jane hasn’t seen that many pictures and won’t recognize Thor at all and Will won’t need to explain why he has a candid picture of an Avenger.

 

He’s been William Brandt on and off for almost two years now. He’s only known Jane Carter for eight months, but they’ve been pretty intense and Clint would love to have her in the know. Bending rules isn’t a characteristic of his William Brandt persona, but after everything he went through two months ago Clint developed distinctly unfriendly feelings towards lying to people close to him. Those feelings have been giving Clint uncomfortable dreams and thoughts regarding his lies to his IMF team. Alone Loki’s mind games he could have probably shaken off in time but thinking Phil was dead for two days (first due to Fury’s machinations and then World Security Council’s interference) had been like a kicking the already beaten.

 

Thinking of Coulson’s near death makes him clench his fist automatically. Jane who was still looking at the picture takes a hold of Will’s wrist.

 

“Everything okay?” she sounds worried.

 

“Yeah.” Seeing she isn’t really believing him, Will continues, “A… friend of mine was in an accident during that leave we had two months back. He almost died. Hell, we all thought he--” He can’t hold on to the persona of Brandt and it’s pure Clint as he almost chokes on the word “died”.

 

“Oh,” Jane says, clearly not sure what to say. “He?” She asks after a pause, sounding only mildly suggestive, obviously trying to lighten the situation.

 

Clint laughs, and it sounds little ugly to his ears but Jane doesn’t react, she only gently squeezes the hand he’s still holding the phone for her to see. He shakes his head. “He’s my best friend. We’ve know for… must be over ten years by now.”

 

Jane regards him for a while, and Clint looks back at her. “I’m glad he’s okay, then.”

 

Clint offers her a smile. “Thanks, Jane.” At least about this he doesn’t need to lie.

 

She smiles back, “What’s his name?”

 

“Phil.”

 

They look at each other silently for a moment, still smiling slightly. “So. That couple. He have a brother?” Jane’s back to teasing tones. Clint huffs out a breath and shakes his head in an exasperated manner and pushes himself back into the headspace of William Brandt before answering. He is not going to be thinking about Loki.

 

“No.” If it comes out little curtly, well, nothing Will can do about it. Except change subject, “Shouldn’t Ethan and Benji be coming back already?”

 

“Maybe there’s a line,” Jane shrugs and walks to the window.

 

Will suppresses the instinct to say something like “What’s with the obsession over warehouses as bases of operation? Way to be cliché,” because that’d be Clint speaking and instead he just says “You’re probably right,” and turns back to the computers Benji set up to help monitor the warehouse 400 yards from their current hole in the wall base, owned by this weeks psycho’s front company. Okay, Will might be exaggerating a little. Trevor Handelsen is the fucker of the month; even IMF doesn’t deal with threats to national security every week.

 

Will is spared from thinking deeper into their current mission as he sees Ethan and Benji coming back.

 

“Heads up, food’s here,” he calls to Jane.

 

“Finally! I was beginning to think we’d have to starve to death,” Jane smirks at Will when he turns to give her a look for her efforts. He just shakes his head at her, thinking they’ve been cooped up way too long inside these four walls.

 

“We need to get out of this room, and soon,” he mutters to the screens. Jane mmhmm’s her agreement emphatically.

 

 


 

One might think that having worked as a spy/master assassin/field agent for over ten years Clint would have learned not to say stuff like that aloud. But no. Then again Clint’s always been the guy who says the “Could have been worse” line.

 

It’s barely three hours after they’ve stuffed the final wrappers to trash that stuff starts happening on the computer screens. One of their perimeter alarms has been triggered. It doesn’t take the team long to realize their surveillance has been made. The dozen or so guys armed with what looks to be M16's and MP5K’s are a huge tip off, especially with the way they’re creeping towards their surveillance position.

 

“Is that one,” Benji points to a man little behind from the others, “carrying detonation pins?”

 

“Shit,” they say almost as one. They have no real backup since their mission was supposed to be easy information gathering and monitoring gig. (Nothing is ever easy.) Will goes over their situation quickly and comes up with poor chances for continued survival and he’s already slipping into Clint’s headspace when he comes to that conclusion and reaches for his personal phone. After all, it had been one of the conditions he got on this mission – “—inform S.H.I.E.L.D. should you be in any danger, physically or mentally, understood agent Barton?”. This should amount to “any danger”.

 

Ethan, Jane and Benji jump when Clint’s phone starts to talk almost immediately after he sends the distress message through Stark designed Avengers comm.

 

Your message has been directed to agent Coulson.

 

“JARVIS,” Clint tries his best not to sound too homesick at the sound of the AI’s voice, “I need a lift for four. And preferably back-up. There are at least dozen men with machine guns and one appears to have explosives.”

 

Who would you like me to inform?” Clint thinks there’s something pretty calming about JARVIS’s even, British tones.

 

“Those you can reach, I suppose. Tasha and Cap, at least. And the Director, too.” Clint feels a little conflicted. He knows who he wants to have his back (the Avengers) but he also knows who he needs to tell (S.H.I.E.L.D.).

 

Would you like me to patch you in on the comm. line?

 

“Yeah, sure. Thanks, JARVIS.” There’s barely a crack and Clint can hear someone draw breath so he hastens to say, “You’re on speaker.” He figures it won’t hurt to try and keep his secret a while longer.

 

Okay,” Cap sounds a tentative, but Clint knows Steve has been introduced to speaker phones so he figures he’s just filling the silence, gathering his thoughts. “Fill me in.”

 

“Dozen or more men. Machine guns and explosives,” Clint says and it seems “explosives” is a magic word because the other three in the room explode into action, gathering stuff, cocking guns and readying themselves for a firefight, their momentary distractedness gone. “We’re in four-story abandoned building, we have roof access. They’re about two minutes out. You?”

 

Closing in fast to your location. Maybe two minutes.” Clint thanks all known deities for Trevor Handelsen being based in New York City and not on the other side of the country.

 

“Good. Plan?”

 

I’m here,” Tony’s voice speaks up, “So, how about I distract these guys with pretty lights and you haul your ass to the roof so Cap and Widow can pick you up. All of you.” The way Starks says it doesn’t really make it sound like a suggestion, but that’s nothing new and Clint’s already used to it. Steve voices his affirmative over the line and Clint turns to the others.

 

“You coming?” He asks and from the looks on their faces gathers he’s already behaving differently enough from William Brandt that they’re starting to notice. Ethan gives Jane and Benji quick glances and then nods, “Let’s go.”

 

They get out of the room and to the stairs before the tell tale whine of Iron Man’s repulsors can be heard just before something explodes. Clint has to nudge Jane to continue climbing because she froze at the sound, ready take cover.

 

Emerging on to the roof Clint hears the familiar swooshing of a Quinjet, even though he can’t see it, mixed with the repulsor shots, machine gun fire and the pinging sound that bullets make when they hit the Iron Man suit. Then there’s a sound of something hitting the roof little to the left of the door and the Quinjet flickers into view. Clint can hear Benji gasp.

 

“That’s new,” he mutters, walking towards the opening hatch pushing Jane and Benji in front of him. Jane steps in first and her gasp “You’re Captain America!” is audible even over the racket going on below.

 

Clint grins. He sort of loves seeing or hearing people having that reaction to Steve. There’s something deeply satisfying seeing the toughest (or most unflappable, as in Phil’s case) people get flabbergasted and/or flustered in Steve’s presence.

 

“He really is,” Benji mutters weakly as he goes in. Clint and Ethan briefly have a battle of wills before Clint rolls his eyes and goes into the plane before Ethan.

 

Seeing his cover is pretty much already blown (he kind of has Captain America on speed dial) Clint goes straight to Steve, receiving a manly half hug.

 

“So. Invisibility?”

 

“Tony,” Steve says like it explains everything and it really does.

 

“Figures. Thanks for coming.”

 

“Of course we came,” Steve’s smiling that earnest smile Clint swears only Steve can pull off. Cap holds out a com set to him which Clint immediately accepts.

 

“S.H.I.E.L.D.?” he asks as he puts away his phone.

 

“On their way. Phil said they’ll handle this one,” Steve glances Jane, Ethan and Benji seated on one side of the Quinjet, their eyes taking in the sights around them. Clint get’s the message. Coulson will deal with the guys with guns, Clint gets the explanations. Somehow, he might prefer the gunmen.

 

Great,” Tony speaks up, “then I can get out of here. Any chance I’d get a ride?

 

“What’d you do this time?” Natasha’s voice comes muffled from the cockpit but also clearly from the comm.

 

I resent that, Spider Lady. One of them got of a lucky shot into my flight stabilizer. It’s not going all that smoothly,” Tony usually plays down stuff like this and seeing what the billionaire is angling for makes Clint huff.

 

“So this wouldn’t have anything to do with your curiosity, then?”

 

Me, curious? What ever about?” Tony doesn’t sound nearly as innocent as he probably thinks he does.

 

“Uh huh,” Clint does his best to sound unimpressed, even though he’s fighting a grin. He’s missed the craziness life around Tony Stark is. “Just… Try to behave, please?”

 

Cap laughs at that, and walks to the hatch, shaking his head. “That’ll happen.”

 

Clint looks to his team – his friends? – and goes to sit opposite of them. “Hold onto something, we’re letting in one more passenger.”

 

The wind starts howling as Cap presses the button to lower the slip and Iron Man swoops in, true to Tony’s words little unstably.

 

“I know I’m pretty, but come on now, no need to stare,” Tony says, his voice coming through Iron Man’s voice processors and Clint finds he’s missed even that, slightly distorted, sound. He looks around and realizes they are all indeed staring, even Cap, who’s examining the damage to the suit’s back.

 

“Can you get out of it?” Steve asks.

 

Opening the faceplate Tony replies, “You offering to undress me, Cap?”

 

Used to Tony’s liberal innuendos Steve just gives him a steady look. Tony grins at him, “Might have some issues with the back plate, but otherwise, yeah.” Then he turns to Clint and his grin widens. Clint grins back, he can’t help it. “Damsel in distress, Barton? Really?”

 

“Oh fuck off, Stark,” Clint quips back lightly, stands and, careful of the suit, copies the hug he got from Steve with Tony. Tony studies Clint’s face for a moment before turning to the IMF team who are looking curiously at all three of them. Clint thinks Benji might have just a little bit of drool in the corner of his mouth.

 

“Sooo… You’re them.” Tony says insinuating anything and everything possible. Ethan raises his eyebrows at Clint who hurries to explain “He has no idea who you are. He’s fishing.”

 

“I don’t fish,” Tony says, dropping the subject as he goes over to “his” part of the Quinjet to remove the suit, Steve trailing behind him probably expecting his help to be needed. Clint doesn’t think for a moment both of them aren’t listening in. Hell, Natasha is more than likely listening in.

 

Sighing, he goes back to the bench opposite the three. He’s met with assessing eyes “So,” is what he gets out before he runs out of things to say.

 

“So,” Jane agrees.

 

“I don’t really know what to say to you guys,” Clint says slowly, searching for his words.

 

“How about the truth?” Ethan suggests, touch snidely.

 

“I –” Clint falters, then reaches to push a button on his comm. set, “Sir?”

 

Yes, Barton?” Coulson sounds calm as always.

 

“What can I tell the IMF agents?” This makes Ethan raise his eyebrows again and Jane tilt her head. They’re all trying to figure him out, and Clint can’t really blame them for that. He’d be doing the same if confronted with Jane (or Benji or Ethan) knowing (alleged) superheroes and being buddy-buddy with them.

 

Viewers discretion. They’ll be debriefed after you land.

 

Clint thinks back few hours, to having wished he could tell Jane the truth and can’t help the chuckle that escapes. “Copy that. And Phil? Be careful,” he tells Coulson and after hearing an affirmative takes the headset off. He rolls it in his hands as he looks to his three team mates, trying to decide how to proceed.

 

“You call your best friend “sir”?” Jane asks, sounding little unsure. Clint blinks uncomprehendingly at her few times before remembering he’d told her Phil’s name earlier, a fact that she’d apparently used to make a leap of logic.

 

“Yeah, I do. At least, over the comm.’s,” he smiles at her and reminds himself that he knows these people. It’s them, at the moment, who feel like they might not know him.

 

“I’m Clint Barton,” he blurts out and winces a little. He meant to be little smoother than that. Figuring he better just barge onwards now that he’s gotten started he continues, “I work for S.H.I.E.L.D.”

 

Seeing confused faces he elaborates, “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.”

 

He hears Tony mutter to Steve “That’s still an awful name.” and Steve shushing him.

 

“I’m actually more of an assassin than a spy and certainly only passable analyst. I’m one of the best marksmen in the world. Which combined I suppose is the reason I was asked on to a loan for IMF when one of their top agents went on a holiday with his newlywed wife.” Clint glances at Ethan before continuing again, “We all know how that went down.” Well, they do. Just different versions of it.

 

“I went back to S.H.I.E.L.D. afterwards. That was about year and a half ago. Had all kinds of fun; watched Captain America slowly thaw out, met an alien that is actually kind of a Norse god of Thunder. Then, almost year later, I get a call from the IMF asking if I’d like to work with Ethan Hunt. I’m pretty sure they were expecting trouble, even if not Ghost Protocol level trouble. Anyway, the Secretary played me and then he played you, too. I mean, seriously –no offence, Ethan– but there’d been no way you’d have “overpowered” him and me. Well, mainly me. And then, well, you know what happened. When we split after the Salzburg-Munich mission I got a classified assignment from S.H.I.E.L.D. and little over a month after that, well. More aliens were coming to Earth and trying to take over New York City.” Clint pauses, not really wanting to talk about Loki or what he’d been made to do under his control.

 

Jane breaks the silence with a soft, “You were there, weren’t you?”

 

“Yeah. Lot happened that day. Remember how I told you about my friend today? Yeah, I – we – really though he was dead. For two days,” Clint stops there before he chokes up again. He’ll better finish this on one go. He’s a little shocked to hear growl coming from Captain America, though, and when he looks over he sees compassion is Steve’s eyes and he has to smile. “But he wasn’t. And let me tell you, you have not seen a talking to until you’ve seen it done by pissed off Captain America,” he laughs a little, and then laughs more, seeing the furtive glance Benji is giving Cap. He’s obviously imagining it.

 

Clint turns to look at Steve again when he hears him mutter to Tony, “It was deserved. The Director could have at least taken the time to let us know…” and Clint has to smile slightly when Tony nods few times, pats Steve on the shoulder with his still armored hand and says “I know, buddy, I know.”

 

“So, yeah. I was there. In New York. With these guys,” Clint continues, gesturing at Tony and Steve. “And the Hulk. And the Black Widow, who’s by the way, our pilot at the moment. And Thor.” Clint looks at his audience’s faces fully for the first time since he started his story telling. He’s awarded with the looks of dawning realization as each of them piece together what he said, and didn’t say, with what they know.

 

“You were that guy with the bow?” Jane asks, little hesitantly, obviously thinking her question sounds a little silly.

 

“That’s right,” Tony interrupts before Clint can answer, sitting down next to Clint and wrapping his arm over his shoulders. “Hawkeye, the world’s greatest marksman.” Before Clint can say anything Tony moves forward at his usual pace, “Anyway, where are we headed? The tower of the carrier?”

 

Natasha’s voice answers something from the front.

 

“What’d she say?” Tony asks, mainly Steve.

 

“The helicarrier. Apparently the Director wants Clint’s friends debriefed and to sign some paperwork.”

 

“What is it with this organization and their obsession with debriefing? You know, that’s how I met Coulson. I’m sure had you woken up while he was by your bedside his first words to you would have been 'I need to debrief you'.” Tony muses talking at his normal, erratic speed.

 

“Followed closely by 'Could you sign my cards?'” Clint can’t resist adding, just to tease Steve, who always blushes a little when reminded Coulson is a fan of Captain America.

 

When Clint turns his attention back to the IMF agents he finds all three of them are smiling and still watching him; assessing, measuring, but there’s something slightly different about it than before. They’re already looking at him differently. Clint just hopes it’ll be good different.

Chapter Text

 

Clint hasn’t seen the IMF team since they parted few hours ago; the team to receive their briefing and Clint to give a brief report of the night’s happenings to Director Fury. The only reason Clint gets to leave this quickly is due to the fact that he will have to come back the following day to give much lengthier report, both verbally and in writing, of the last two or so months he’s been on loan to the IMF.

Leaving the Director’s office and softly greeting people passing by on the corridors, he heads back to the Quinjet. Just as Clint predicted he finds Natasha there, lounging in the pilot’s seat. Silently he takes the co-pilot’s seat.

For a while Clint just looks out of the window at the sky and the few people walking around the deck going about their tasks. When he turns to finally look at Natasha he finds her eyes already on him.

“We waiting for Steve?”

“Yes,” she replies, her eyes cataloging his appearance in a blatantly obvious manner. After having known the other assassin for close to eight years Clint can read the ‘How have you been?’ in the act.

The fact that he knows what she meant does not mean he has to act accordingly and Clint enjoys ruffling her feathers from time to time. “Thanks for today,” is what he says instead. Natasha huffs and Clint grins at her.

“I owe you,” Natasha says plainly, her face carefully blank.

“I thought we were over that owing thing. How long are you gonna hang onto it?”

“A long time,” Natasha’s eyes pierce into Clint’s and he knows she’s saying ‘You saved my life’ (and ‘Do not mess with me’). He knows better than to argue about this with her, knowing she would take his protests as an insult, so he chooses to let the matter drop, for now.

“How you’ve been, ‘Tasha?” Clint asks and shrugs innocently at her when she gives him a pointed look.

“Good. There were two Oh-My-God-Aliens-Exist missions I was sent on. Doctor Banner’s words,” Natasha doesn’t look uncomfortable but as that is no guarantee with her, Clint decides to proceed gently and all the caution he possesses (which, admittedly, isn’t always that much but at least he tries).

“Bruce is still around?”

“Yes,” Natasha says simply, her eyes following a technician approaching the Quinjet with a refueling hose.

Clint isn’t sure if he should be surprised or not, the Doctor had stayed at the Stark Tower after the Battle, at least the few weeks Clint himself had stayed there, but a part of him had expected the Doctor to take his rucksack and go back to the other side of the globe.

Then again, Clint’s own decision to stay at the Tower could also be seen as a surprise, but Tony had offered and at the time Clint hadn’t been keen on staying on S.H.I.E.L.D. provided quarters. He hadn’t felt sure of his welcome – and after Phil was transferred into a real hospital three days after the attack, Clint had made an effort to stop feeling any residual guilt for his decision.

And after he had been released from the infirmary – having been required to spend the night there in observation – he’d taken Stark up on his offer. Natasha had followed Clint, probably for a multitude of reasons (order’s from S.H.I.E.L.D. to keep an eye on him probably not the least of them). But the main reason had been easy for Clint to see in the worried look in her eyes when they followed him around even more closely than usual, and in the occasional, wary way she touched him (Natasha being the antonym of a touchy-feely person she normally is). The worry hadn’t completely disappeared even after they had gotten the word Phil was alive.

Now, looking into her eyes, and not seeing that worry there anymore, Clint asks in a calm voice, “And how’s that going? Living with him that close?”

Clint is actually little surprised she hadn’t moved back to S.H.I.E.L.D. housing after he’d left on the IMF mission six weeks ago.

Natasha gives him a look, telling him she knows exactly what he’s asking, even without the asking. She answers anyway.

“He understands that I –,” Natasha shifts on her seat and looks at Clint. “He understands.”

“Yeah,” Clint says quietly, remembering the night following the attack when, without needing words, Natasha and he had curled up together on two, pushed together infirmary beds at the Helicarrier. Haltingly Natasha had told him about facing the Hulk alone in the confined spaces of the service pathways and how, after Thor drew the Hulk’s attention elsewhere, she had been so terrified she couldn’t move, not until Clint had been spotted (‘I couldn’t trust them not to…’ she had whispered, not finishing her sentence but they both knew what she meant to say. ‘I couldn’t trust them no to kill you.’).

Together they had also mourned for Phil Coulson and Natasha had promised him that when things would eventually get straightened out in the city below, they would get a bottle of vodka, or two, and properly toast to Phil Coulson. Of course, by the time things were easing up and they would have finally had time for vodka, Phil had been out of the ICU and awake for short periods and they’d had their own rooms at the quickly mending Stark Tower along with Tony, Pepper and Bruce.

Instead, they toasted for whole host of things – including but not limited to: surviving against all expectations, human resilience, Russian war songs (near the end of the first bottle Natasha hadn’t been the only one singing), Stark’s awesome liqueur collection, and to the color red (because it is the opposite of blue and also the color of Natasha’s hair). Clint’s hangover had been spectacular and while his problems hadn’t gone away he felt a little lighter thinking about them.

“Stark has been remodeling the Tower,” Natasha says breaking the hush that had fallen.

“Like he talked about before I left? Tell me more.”

“Ms. Potts showed me the plans. The floor we stayed has been designated as common quarters and the rooms we used will be guest rooms. Apparently each of us gets one whole floor.”

They share a slightly incredulous look that Clint decides to interpret as ‘only Tony Stark...’

“Sounds grand and exactly what Stark would do. Who all is included in ‘us’?”

“You. Me. Doctor Banner and, of course, Tony. Ms. Potts lives with him. Steve hasn’t agreed definitively, not yet, but I think Tony is still doing a floor for him. Steve’s been staying at that little apartment of his in Brooklyn but he’s over at the Tower most days. There is also a floor for Thor but only a bare minimum has been done to it since Doctor Foster refuses to decide on anything without Thor’s input. From Ms. Potts I gather the Doctor is mostly doing it to annoy Tony.”

Clint smiles to how at ease Natasha sounds describing the new home Tony Stark is apparently building for them before realizing something.

“Oh, so that’s what she meant,” Clint has to let out a few amused huffs, before elaborating, “Jane texted me earlier – something about ‘if that Stark won’t soon stop sending me e-mails about paint I will sic Darcy on him and then we’ll see who laughs longest’. Direct quote, I swear,” Clint smiles at Natasha who returns the smile.

He’d been re-acquainted with the petite Doctor the fourth night after the invasion.

Though maybe saying “re-acquainted” is misleading since the first time Clint had met Jane Foster had been around a year ago, when S.H.I.E.L.D. had first been made aware of the existence of aliens, and he hadn’t spoken with her beyond a semi-polite “ma’am” when he’d accompanied Phil to seize all of her research. She’d been running around, understandably too upset about loosing her equipment and materials to pay any attention to individual agents.

Their second meeting hadn’t started off much better. Jane had been more than little angry since Thor had apparently paid her a short visit before he returned to Asgard with his brother and she had then been told parts of the story by news casts and Dr. Erik Selvig, who himself didn’t know everything nor could he tell her much over unsecured lines. She’d without further ado hunted for and taken the next available flight from Tromsøto New York City(there hadn’t been any till three days after the invasion). And because she had really only met and interacted with Phil in New Mexico, she had logically been asking for him at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. Somebody had directed her to Sitwell, who had wasted no time in pointing her towards the Stark Tower. Meeting a seething Jane Foster in the Tower lobby Clint (and Natasha who had followed him) had been summarily met with ‘Don’t you dare to re-direct me to someone “better qualified to answer your questions, ma’am”! I want answers. Now.’ So it had been Clint and Natasha who had finally filled her in.

After a whirlwind of four days, comprised of signing confidentiality agreements, debriefs, meeting people and extracting promises to notify her if any one of them heard of Thor, Jane had headed back to Tromssøto finish what she’d barely started there but she and Clint had kept in contact, if somewhat sporadically. Over the weeks occasional “How is Agent Coulson?” and “Has there been any word from Thor?” morphed into Jane telling him how crazy her assistant was (and few hijacked texts complained about the even crazier boss who refused to eat like normal people – regularly).

The two women quickly became Clint’s main source for daily laughs especially during the latest boring intelligence gathering mission for the IMF. Darcy Lewis was the reason his personal phone even had the picture of Jane and Thor he’d shown to Jane Carter earlier. In turn, Clint had groused about the crazy Ethan got up to at times and tried to outdo himself in the vagueness of his answers in each subsequent text he send back to Darcy’s exceedingly nosier questions about his undercover work. Having more than two friends is still somewhat new experience for Clint but one that he finds himself liking.

After their laughter fades out Clint and Natasha sit in comfortable silence, watching the people going around, doing their jobs on the deck.

It’s half an hour later, when Clint sees Steve appear on the deck and head towards the Quinjet that he turns to look at Natasha.

“Missed you.”

“I missed you, too,” she says and they share a smile just as Clint hears Steve’s steps on the ramp and, soon enough, he’s standing in the cockpit.

“What’s the plan, Captain?” Clint twists a little in his seat to look Steve into the eyes.

“Director Fury suggested we head back to the Tower – gives you time to see the others – before the IMF agents join us after they’re done here,” Steve replies, and Clint snorts. That didn’t sound like a suggestion and he says as much.

“No,” Natasha agrees as she starts flipping the switches on the dashboard, “it really didn’t.” With familiar ease she puts on the flight headset, readies the plane for flight and goes through the protocols to get permission to take flight from the aircraft carrier.

“Hey, wait a second!” Clint suddenly realizes the implications of her actions, “We’re gonna fly there? Since when can you fly a Quinjet to the Stark Tower?”

“There’s a landing pad on the roof. Tony added it a week ago,” Steve says from his seat, right behind Natasha’s.

“Aww, all these new things, and no one told me?” Clint smiles slightly to let Steve know he’s not really affronted.

“The landing pad is on the same roof Doctor Selvig used to open the portal from so the transformation was relatively simple and the, uh, invisibility cloaking you saw earlier is actually a test run, or so Tony says,” Steve answers and Clint silently rewards him a point for not pausing when he mentioned the portal.

They are quiet as Natasha smoothly maneuvers the Quinjet of the deck and towards the Tower. Clint takes advantage of the waning daylight and looks at the repairing city.

“She looks to be rebuilding well; everything looks cleaner than when I last saw her,” he comments, knowing from Phil that Steve is involved in the efforts.

“She’s getting there. Most of the outside damages have been repaired but there are still many homes and businesses that need work done in the inside.”

The flight to the Tower takes only few minutes and when Clint sees the lonely ‘A’ hanging from the side of the building he raises his eyebrows. “How come Tony hasn’t fixed that?”

Steve gives a slightly weird sounding laugh, “He says it’s fitting since ‘the Avenger’s’ now live there.”

Clint gives the blond man searching look, only to be shrugged off with a smile. So, there might be an Issue, with a capital letter, behind the reason Steve hasn’t moved into the Tower with the rest of the Initiative. Clint hopes he’ll have time to find out more before the IMF recalls the team. That is if he’s still wanted there, or has a team. Resolutely Clint turns his thoughts back to the Tower; he can worry about the other thing later.

For the last two weeks he’s spend trapped essentially all day everyday in one room, or sleeping in another, Clint found he kind of missed the couches in the “common room” at the Tower. And the big screen TV. Watching Animal Planet had been great distraction and a good source for off-topic conversations with his newly formed team. Tony had actually called their night of rating the predator hunting styles ‘a team building exercise’.

Just as Clint is getting up from his seat his private phone pings with a text message from Phil, informing Clint his friend will be over to the Tower once he is done with his debriefs and has had a chance to change clothes. Clint grins and simply fires back a quick ‘Bring food!’ Clint, not so secretly, is of the opinion that Phil’s knack to find delicious food anywhere (really, anywhere) should be listed in his agency dossier as a special ability.

Getting off from the jet to the roof and the few steps down on to the private terrace of the Tower’s penthouse they’re greeted by Tony Stark, holding some sort of smoothie.

“Barton! Has somebody filled you in on the remodel I’m doing on the Tower?”

“Tony, let them get in, at least!” Pepper’s voice calls through the open glass door, emerging around a corner, her eyes focused on a tablet in her hands. With manner that speaks of familiarity she makes her way to the terrace, thrusts the tablet in Tony’s free hand and motions everyone to head inside.

“Hello, Natasha. Steve,” she greets the Tower regulars before turning to Clint.

“Hello again, Agent Barton, I’m sorry, we didn’t get much of a chance to talk before you had to leave but I’ve heard a lot about you,” she extends her hand for a shake which Clint accepts, shaking his head slightly.

“Please, Ms. Potts, call me Clint. I just hope that what you’ve heard hasn’t been all bad.”

“Well then, Clint, call me Pepper. And no, don’t worry, Phil and Natasha both have had only good things to tell,” Pepper assures him with a genuine smile playing on her face.

“Good, good,” Tony interrupts, “I don’t see a problem in that,” he says giving the tablet back to his girlfriend. “So. Did you hear?”

Pepper huffs, obviously thinking Tony’s being his rude self but too used to it to comment, and with a one last smile to Clint shifts her attention to the tablet, drawing Natasha in to discuss it. The act reminds Clint that Natasha had gone back to being Pepper’s PA slash bodyguard in the aftermath of the Battle of Manhattan. Her red hair had done her no favors in trying to stay unnoticed (not to mention flying around in one of the alien vessels) and doing something was more her style than sitting idle.

“I heard you had a crazy plan,” Clint answers, stealing a look at the quiet Super Soldier standing next to him. Steve’s attention is on a large TV screen mounted on the wall, showing a news clip of the aftermath of the mess Clint and the IMF team had been in the middle of not so long ago. Apparently it’s being labeled a drug lab explosion.

“It’s not so crazy if you think about it, actually. It’s genius. Makes life easier for everybody. And it’s more secure than if everyone lived all over the city,” Tony continues on talking, telling Clint much the same things Natasha had, and drawing Clint and Steve over to a table that is showing a floating holographic model of one the Iron Man suits. With a few flicks of his fingers and a command to J.A.R.V.I.S. they’re looking a model of the Tower.

With another flick the focus goes onto the highest floor. “This is Pepper and me,” another jab and the hologram moves to the floor below, “The common floor, you stayed there after the attack. Then there’s Bruce. Thor. Cap. You. Natasha,” each name is accompanied with a flick and floor plans, Bruce and Natasha’s more detailed than the other three in between them.

“Then there’s this one,” Tony flicks on another floor, “there’s a lab, gym and my workshop. So far. There’s room for other stuff to be added later.”

Clint has to admit he’s impressed if not only for the fact that Tony not only situated his floor close to Natasha’s but also for putting as many floors as he did between Natasha and Bruce. Seeing Tony is definitely waiting for some kind of response Clint gives a light laugh. “This is definitely some sort of crazy,” he grins, “but maybe it’ll work. You really gonna have us all here without paying rent?”

The slight jolt Steve makes Clint think he’s found the root for the Captain’s Issue. Tony is looking squarely at the Super Soldier as he answers Clint, “Yes, I am. In case you’ve forgotten I’m a billionaire. I don’t need your money.”

For a moment Steve and Tony just stare at each other, before Steve nods once and Tony grins. Covering his own grin at the exchange Clint says, “Well, that works for me. Better here than in S.H.I.E.L.D. quarters, or having the neighbors constantly calling the police, thinking I’ve died when I’m away on missions.”

“You make it sound like that happens regularly,” Steve notes.

“Twice to me. Five times to Natasha,” Clint grins widely, “Something to do with her male neighbors missing her, I’m sure.”

From the couch half a dozen feet away Clint hears Natasha harrumph and mutter something to Pepper, making the other woman laugh.

Before her laughter has died J.A.R.V.I.S. announces that Agent Coulson has arrived and is making his way up.

 


***


 

 

After Phil has exchanged the usual niceties with the others, Pepper suggests he and Clint go take a look at Clint’s new living quarters on the 65th floor.

“Take this with you and talk with J.A.R.V.I.S. about what you wanna do with the space,” Tony produces another Stark tablet from somewhere and passes it over to Clint. With a quick glance he can tell it’s already showing the schematics to his floor.

Tony’s back at the holotable and asking Steve what kind of an apartment he’d like to have before the elevator door is fully closed. The small space is quickly filled with a smell of something delicious coming from the bag Phil is carrying.

“I hope there’s something to sit on, because that smells good,” Clint says, “What is it?”

“There’s an Indian place two blocks from here that is back in business. I got Tandoori Chicken.”

Clint hums his acknowledgement as the elevator door opens. He takes a few steps and has to stop to stare. “Oh, that explains a lot.”

“What do you mean?” Phil asks, coming stand next to Clint. He’s looking around looking faintly curious.

“Well,” Clint starts, walking further in, looking for something to sit on, “some time ago I got a text from Tony asking how I felt about windows, but you see, it wasn’t the first non-sequitur I’ve gotten from him and after the few of those I learned not to ask and just answer.” The space is clearly unfinished, bare concrete structures, but surprisingly clean from dust and other by products of on-going construction.

“Huh. So, what did you say?” Phil comes to stand in a room that Clint is pretty sure will be his living room.

“I think I replied something like ‘windows are great’.” They stand there side by side looking at the six huge windows that form two of the room’s four walls.

Phil turns back to Clint and nods slowly. “…You’re right. That does explain a lot.”

Quick tour of the floor doesn’t yield better places to eat so Clint and Phil sit on the two steps leading up into the kitchen area from the living room. They don’t talk much while they eat from a habit, having long since learned that if they talk shop while they eat they’ll never finish a meal.

Before taking one last forkful Clint looks over and asks, “How did it go?”

Phil takes a sip from his water bottle and makes an unimpressed face, “Apparently Iron Man showing up scared the thugs into pretty much surrendering on sight. Except, of course, for the man with the explosives. Small miracle, but no one got seriously hurt, except him. Agent Callahan shot him on the arm. Then the idiot tells us there’s a timer on the one explosive he did get to set,” Phil shakes his head.

“Amateur,” Clint mutters, not quite seeing how it ties onto what he knows about Handelsen. Clint wouldn’t have figured Handelsen for someone who hires amateurs.

“Indeed. We cleared the building in time and called the clean up team.”

“Yeah, I briefly saw the news. They’re saying a drug lab exploded.”

“As good a story as any,” Phil says, gathering their trashes back into the plastic bag, “They will collect a sample but from what the guy had with him, it’s a pretty fair guess what a test will show. He carried military grade C-4.”

“Goes along with the military assault riflesthey were carrying. Also pretty much confirms that Handelsen is dealing with someone with better access than his usual guys,” Clint muses, thinking about the mission. “IMF?” he asks ambiguously, not quite sure what he wants to ask.

“When I left they were just setting up the interviews and to my understanding your team was to observe. After that they are being escorted here. Officially you are still on loan to IMF, but as you and I both know a lot will depend on Hunt and your team. It is more than likely this mission will be seen through as a joint op between S.H.I.E.L.D. and IMF, so you’ll have to work with them at least once more. Beyond that is up to them.”

Clint nods along and has to smile at Phil’s efficient, cover-all answer.

“God, I’ve missed you,” he leans to his friend’s shoulder, “Ethan doesn’t withhold information, but next to you it’s like pulling teeth!”

Phil gives him a wry smile and winks so quickly that Clint might think he’d hallucinated if he didn’t know the man underneath the blandly smiling exterior. Jabbing his elbow very slightly into Phil’s side he muses, “You should do that where Stark can see you. His reaction would be hilarious.”

“I’ll put it under consideration,” Phil allows, his facial expression betraying absolutely nothing.

Clint huffs, “Just don’t do it if I’m not there to enjoy it.”

Phil gives him his patented blank agent smile. “Why were you on a recon mission, anyway? To my understanding that’s not SOP for IMF field teams of your caliber.”

“I’d say they’re babying me but that’s not how IMF rolls. Maybe Ethan finally managed to piss someone off in operation control?”

Phil doesn’t look like he believes that, and honestly, neither does Clint. He and Jane have talked about this exact thing a few times – they’ve certainly had ample time for it – and from her Clint knows Benji had actually asked Ethan about it. Their team leader had had no answer; whether he was telling the truth or not, none of them could be sure.

“You should probably make sure you get informed when the IMF agents get here,” Phil says, getting up and dusting his pants.

“You’re probably right... Then we can see about this apartment,” Clint says, taking yet another look around.

“J.A.R.V.I.S.?” Clint asks little hesitantly, the place doesn’t look like the A.I. could be connected to it (not yet, at least – Clint has no doubt it will be, eventually, since the building does belong to Tony Stark) but Tony did say to talk to J.A.R.V.I.S. so Clint figures he’ll give it a chance before trying another method.

Yes, Agent Barton?” the A.I.’s voice comes little muffled from the tablet Clint has tucked under his arm, making him jolt minutely.

“Can you let me know when Agents Hunt, Carter and Dunn from the IMF arrive?”

Certainly, Agent Barton.

“Thank you, J.A.R.V.I.S.” Clint had quickly adopted a polite way of talking to the A.I. when he’d first started sleeping over at the Tower. He’d read enough science fiction as a kid to want to play it safe.

“So,” he says, tilting the tabled so that Phil can see it more easily, “This is obviously the living room, don’t you think? And that’s kitchen,” he says gesturing the slightly raised area behind them. “But what is this?” he points at an L shaped area that seems to crowd his bedroom into a corner.

Phil tilts his head, “Could be used as an office, or maybe award room? You have all those marksmanship awards you could hang up.”

“Maybe,” Clint also tilts his head, trying to see what Phil saw, “What would I do with an office?”

Phil doesn’t answer and only gives Clint a slightly raised eyebrow, which is fine since it was really a rhetorical question, anyway.

“I should ask Natasha, huh?” Clint remarks with a little smile.

“You should ask, Natasha,” Phil agrees with an emphatic nod.