Clint watched the low hills slip by as the Rig rolled on. Sand and more sand were all he could see and Clint felt a moment of disgust at the harsh landscape. There was nothing green here, no plants growing, which meant no animals to hunt and no people to trade with. Not that people, especially friendly people, were abundant in any areas of the world now. Clint knew where the Green was, knew that it was pretty much in the opposite direction of where they were headed, but he couldn't head there, not yet.
He glanced in the rearview mirror, taking in the two sleeping bodies that slumped together in the corner of the cab. They were far too young for where Clint had found them, and he didn't want to think about what had been done to them.
Clint sighed and tried not to think about all the supplies that they were starting to run low on. They'd had to choose a direction and run with it, hope that they would be able to find someplace that would let them have supplies. He didn't like running blind, liked to have an idea that there was at least guzzolene at the end of the line. The Rig was going to need fueling soon.
Movement out of the corner of his eyes signalled Natasha climbing along the outside of the cab.
"We're getting low on fuel," Clint said, hardly taking his eyes off the landscape as Natasha landed on the running board, just outside the cab. "You memorized the old bases. Are we anywhere near one?"
Natasha was quiet for a long moment, and Clint knew she was thinking back to the old maps. Maps that weren't necessarily accurate anymore, not since humanity had fought a war it couldn't win. Some roads still existed, but most were in poor repair and those good roads? Well, those were watched by Scavengers, Reavers, and whatever the group of murderers and thieves of an area were calling themselves. They weren't ones that Clint intended to tangle with, not with just him and Natasha. Not with the twins in the back.
Natasha rattled off the direction change. Clint turned the wheel to the left, turning the Rig to the south.
"A few more degrees," Natasha instructed.
Clint glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "Do you want to drive?"
"Later," Natasha replied, smiling at him.
Clint shook his head. "What am I looking for?"
"Old military post," Natasha replied.
Clint sighed, and muttered. "Let's hope Stark's codes work."
"There might be people there," Natasha pointed out. "We won't need codes."
"Unless they don't know what they're sitting on," Clint pointed out.
Natasha's eyebrows quirked slightly, which Clint knew was her agreement.
He headed down the stairs to the Watchers’ building. There he actually stopped to observe Melinda training some of the newer guards, including Daisy. He scanned the group for her and spotted her sparring with Melinda. She struck at Melinda with quick reflex, dodging some blows, and taking others, but continuing with determination. She'd come a long way, since Phil had found her hidden in ruins of what had appeared to be a relatively recent settlement.
Phil hated that scavenging was so necessary, but food and supplies were limited. Before the war, humankind had been able to build amazing things, but that had been before the world died. Now, they were forced to use whatever had survived the world's death, in whatever way they could. People would kill others for supplies, but Phil had turned away from that life. He wanted to build someplace where people could be safe. Scavenging was a way to find supplies without hurting anyone and maybe saving a survivor or two that had managed to hide through a raid.
Finding Daisy in one of those trips made all the scavenging trips worthwhile. He still wasn't sure how the raiders had missed her, but they had. He'd found her, brought her back here, and raised her as his own. Now she spent half her time with May and the other half with Mack working on their remaining fleet of cars.
Phil privately preferred that she spend the time with Mack. Becoming a mechanic was so much safer than being a Watcher, but the world was cruel and it was best that she learn how to defend herself. She had excelled in both areas though, and while he feared for her, he was completely proud of what she had done. Mack said she could fix any vehicle and Melinda was making sure she was going to surprise any asshole that attempted to hurt her. Phil couldn't help the small smile that graced his face at the idea at that idea.
"She's come a long way," Grant said, coming to stand next to him. He crossed his arms, watching Daisy.
"She has," Phil agreed, feeling himself stiffening at Grant's sudden arrival.
"She's really incredible," Grant stated with admiration, but Phil thought he heard a darker undertone.
Phil glanced at the other man and frowned slightly, but declined to comment at the look in Grant's eyes, or how he never took his eyes off Daisy. There was something off in that look, but there wasn't much he could do about it. Grant was a valuable member of the community and had never done anything that would make anyone or Phil think he was a threat to any member.
However, Grant always seemed to be near Daisy, and while their city was small, it wasn't small enough that Grant should always be there. Phil had caught a few of Grant's looks, when he thought no one was looking, the lingering, lust filled looks. Grant was looking for something, Phil just wasn't sure what that thing was. It could be that Grant was looking for a mate to bear his children and warm his bed. Grant could also be looking for a partner to stand together to deal with uncertainties and challenge of this world. Phil certainly didn't approve of a mate for Daisy; she deserved a partner. Phil wasn't sure if Grant was capable of being a partner to Daisy. Maybe, it was because Grant had been close to Garrett, and even though Grant had never shown any signs of Garrett's darker side, Phil could never forget how their association had ended.
He watched until Melinda dismissed Daisy and called up another trainee. Phil shot Daisy a proud look when she glanced at him and she flashed him a quick smile. He made his excuses to Ward and headed off to continue on his rounds.
He stopped in to check on how Jemma was coming with the greenhouse. It was a work in progress, but they needed it if they were going to be able to provide food for the future. Plants needed water to grow, and they were lucky enough that they were sitting on an aquifer that could provide enough for both the plants and the people. It made them a target, but it was the only way to ensure long term survival for humankind.
Next he went to check on was stopping to check on Mack and the cars, along with an update on what they should be on the lookout for if any of the Scavenging teams found any wrecks. A stop with Bobbi to see how ammunition was holding out. If anyone found out about the plants that were starting to grow, they would need the guns to protect their oasis. Finally, a check with Fitz to see about the strength of the walls. They were slowly expanding by building a second ring of walls, but it was going to take time.
"Hey Coulson," Hunter called from atop the wall. "We got a rider."
"Just one?" Coulson said, turning to look in his direction.
"Yeah, motorbike. Couldn't have come from very far."
Phil frowned. A single motorbike sounded more like a scout, and if it was a scout…
"Send someone to get Maria," he called up as he headed for the stairs to get to the top of the wall. He'd want Maria involved in making a decision about whether or not to trust this outsider.
Maria glanced past her to Phil, who shrugged as he settled into the corner to take notes. The redhead's relaxed attitude was so very different from any other conversation that they'd had in this room. Over the years, there had been several as first Phil, then Maria had tried to screen out potential traitors and troublemakers. They wanted this place to be community where good people could come and live in relative safety, but allowing strangers in was always risky.
Maria turned her attention back to the redhead. “You said you wanted sanctuary?” Maria repeated, throwing back the woman’s own words from when she'd shown up on the door.
“For a bit," the redhead answered.
"A bit?" Maria repeated, arching an eyebrow. It wasn't too surprising; there had been several people that only planned to stay for a short time, before heading on. Maria had yet to have someone actually leave, though. Most were happy to find a place that was friendly.
"We need to restock," Red said. "We'd like sanctuary while we do that."
"Where do you plan on restocking?" Maria asked, curious.
"I was hoping that we might be able to work out a trade," Red replied.
"A trade?" Maria looked at her with sharper interest. Few people came in offering to trade, and those that did often seemed to have ulterior motives. "What are you hoping to get?"
“The essentials: Food, water, and guzzolene.”
Maria knew that was an honest answer. Everyone was looking for those three items; they were needed in order to survive. "So, what would you give for those items?"
The redhead shrugged. “I don’t know." Red's head tilted as though she was thinking about the answer. "You could tell me what you want for it.”
Maria felt like she was being tested with the offer. She wondered what been demanded of the redhead when she asked for those items in the past. She had an idea of what it had been. "Do you have any possessions that you'd be willing to part with?"
Red hesitated. "We don't have much."
Maria nodded. "Most people don't." She paused. "We?"
"There's four of us, including me," Red stated.
"You didn't mention that before." Maria glanced beyond Red to Phil, who shook his head. He hadn't heard that either.
Red paused. "No, I didn't. Best to find out what kind of people you're dealing with before admitting your numbers."
Maria's eyes widened and she nodded. She'd passed Red's first test and she was willing to offer some information as a sign of trust.
“There's a few things we could trade for," Red continued. "The bike, for instance, But I don't think they're enough for how much we need."
"Bike isn't near enough for supplies for four," Maria agreed.
Red nodded. "Like I said, we don't have much that we're willing to part with. However, I spotted that you're in the midst of some construction."
"We're trying to make our compound safer, more resilient against raiders," Maria agreed, nodding. Feeling a bit of unease, because she wasn't sure how the woman had noticed the construction, not with the way she'd been brought it in.
"We’re all capable of manual labor, and Clint and I have a certain expertise that would be beneficial.”
"Clint?" Phil asked from the corner.
"My partner," Red replied, looking at him. "He's one of the four."
"He? A Man sent you to scout?" Maria asked, completely surprised. Scouting was dangerous, especially if they didn't know what they were getting into. She wasn't sure that Phil would send any woman out for scouting if he was available. Maybe, he'd send out Melinda, but he'd need convincing. Though to be fair to Phil, he would try to risk himself before anyone, man or woman, and if called it on it, would admit to overprotective streak. Phil tended towards wanting to protect any woman that might have children in the future, so that humans as a species could continue to grow and with so few babies being born, despite reports of people trying to have them. Maria could understand that desire.
Red shrugged. "I'm more than capable of handling myself." She glanced at Phil. "Men tend to underestimate me."
Phil huffed in his corner, causing Red to smile briefly as she looked at Maria. "I don't think you'll do that here."
Red smiled, wide and beautiful as she looked at Maria. "I can see that."
Maria felt her lips twitch upward. "You have an expertise?"
Red took a deep breath, smile falling away. “Infiltration with intent to sabotage.”
Maria's face hardened. “Is that a threat?”
The redhead snorted. “Please, if we wanted to infiltrate you, I wouldn’t have told you that was our expertise. I’m telling you, because it's our skillset, we can spot weaknesses in your defenses.”
“You think we have weaknesses?” Maria asked, leaning back onto her desk as she crossed her arms. She knew they weren't completely secure, but she thought between everyone they were securer than most places.
“Every place does," Natasha responded calmly. "Only the paranoid and the power-mad tend to keep a place truly locked up, and really, the power-mad tend to want to keep people in rather than out.”
Maria leaned against her desk. “You sound like you speak from experience.”
“I do speak from experience. I’ve slipped into more places than you can think of.”
Maria studied her for a moment; somehow, she had a feeling that Red had done just that. She hesitated. “And you’ll help make us secure?”
“If you want us to we can just help build things. Honestly, either of those options are fine.”
Maria considered her options. “Why come to us? Why offer to help us?”
"Luck, really," Red answered. "We're running low on supplies, we spotted your walls, and I came in closer to see what kind of people you are. You greeted us with… a lot more kindness than we usually see with strangers"
"So you'll help us, if we help you?" Maria asked.
Red nodded. "We don't intend to stay. We need supplies before heading home."
"Home, where is home?"
"Back east, past the Great River and Mountains."
"Along the coast?"
Red nodded again.
"I thought everything was destroyed along the coastline."
"Not everything. There are ruins everywhere, but humankind has proven to be hard to kill as a species."
Maria smiled at the admiration in Red's voice. "Ruins."
"And like here, a compound was built on the bones of those ruins."
Maria frowned slightly. "How'd you know we're built on ruins?"
"I've studied a lot of maps, pre-end of the world," Red replied. "There was an army base in this direction. You're in about the right place to be built on it. I made an assumption."
Maria felt herself relax slightly. "How did you get access to maps?"
"Long story, I'd rather not get into it." She paused, ducking her head, to look up at Maria. "So is a trade possible?"
"Possible," Maria agreed, because it was. "Just, how do I know that we can trust you?”
Red was quiet for a long moment. “You shouldn’t. Just we like we shouldn’t trust you...”
Maria crossed her arms as she glared at the intruder. “There has to be some trust, if we're going to allow you in. If we're going to trade.”
"But you can trust us not to attack unless we're attacked," Red said.
"We're not going to attack you, unless you hurt one of our own, and even then not until we're sure you're guilty," Maria replied.
"So we have an uneasy truce until we know more about each other, until we prove to one another that we trust, yes?" Red asked.
Maria nodded. She looked back at Phil. "So where do we go from here?"
"You know the policy," Phil replied.
Maria resisted the urge to roll her eyes, instead she met Red's blue eyes, who gave her an amused look. Maria's lips twitched upward. "We'll need to confiscate your weapons."
Red nods. "Understandable. Though as a warning, since I know my partner; he'll make a fuss, appear to give in, and then steal a gun or two from one of your lethargic-- no, inexperienced, maybe unaware-- guards.”
Maria frowned. "You're telling me he's going to steal a gun?"
"He'll try, and based on what I've seen, he'll succeed," Red stated. "He doesn't like to be without a weapon or two, but again, unless you're planning on hurting us, he won't use it on anyone."
Maria tilted her head. "Just him? You won't be stealing one?"
The smile Red directed at her was dangerous and just for a moment, Maria couldn’t help the sudden chill that ran down her spine. “Don’t need one.”
The feelings disappeared as Red's smile returned to something less sinister, but Maria still felt some unease.
"And the other two?" Maria asked.
"Not likely. They… they were being experimented on. We saved them," Red said softly.
That hadn't been an answer that Maria was expecting. She glanced at Phil, who was staring at the back of Red's head. They both were wondering about how accurate that statement was. Maria's gut was telling her that it was truth though. Red was being honest, brutally honest. She was making sure Maria knew what she'd be letting in the walls. “So, if you're going to steal weapons anyway, why shouldn’t we let you keep your own?”
“To be honest, we can only steal them if you have guards that are not as aware as they should be. Based on what I've seen, you have a few. Not taking them sets a bad precedent and goes against policy." Natasha glanced to her side, not turning to look at Phil, but acknowledging him. "Besides, your people probably won’t like it, if we come in armed, especially since we do have a War Rig.”
Maria frowned at her. “A War Rig? Why would you…?”
“Long story. It was designed for us, stolen, we stole it back.”
“That will need to be locked up.” Phil noted from the back.
“My partner will agree to that, after he makes his fuss. I'd suggest offering a compromise to let him check on it; he's protective of it," Red stated.
"Your partner likes to make fusses," Maria mumbled.
Red smiled. "He does. It's a test to see how desperate people are to bring him inside walls."
Maria frowned, considering Red's words. "Is that a bad thing?"
"Desperate usually translates to ulterior motive, which hasn't turned out well for him," Red replied.
Bad thing then, Maria decided. "Anything else we should know about?"
Red was quiet for a long moment. "Nothing pressing, but if you want to talk after we've each had our chances to size one another up, then we certainly can."
Maria glanced back at Phil. Her gut was saying to trust them a bit. "Alright, if you're willing to work, we'll resupply you. You'll have to give up your weapons though."
"Of course," Red agreed, rising from her chair and offering Maria the cuffs that Phil had snapped on her. “I look forward to working with you. Commander…"
Maria took the cuffs. "No Commander, just Hill. Maria Hill."
The redhead smiled and extended her hand. "Natasha Romanov."
Maria shook it slowly and then escorted her out. Phil lingered in the doorway as they stepped outside. She spoke with him quietly, requesting that he warn the guards about the potential theft, while Romanov pretended not to listen. Phil nodded and then escorted Natasha back toward the gate.
She smiled when she saw Jessica standing there waiting patiently. She was a newer arrival and hadn't quite found a spot that fit her talents until she'd offer Maria to help run messages. That was how she'd started, but her role was growing and she seemed to have a knack for keeping track of where Maria needed to be.
"What'd I miss?" Maria asked.
"Nothing that can't be rescheduled, and I've already been running all over to do so. Trip says that he has the results back from your test."
Maria nodded and resisted the urge to spread her hand across her stomach, trying not think of how few children they had running around the Compound. "He give any indication?"
Jessica snorted. "Please, Trip doesn't share that information. He says it's personal and private and that if you show up at the clinic, he'll see you as soon as he's done with whatever he's doing when he gets the message."
Maria sighed. "Well that's one benefit to being in charge."
"I wish I didn't have to wait," Jess stated.
"Are you and Alex trying?" Maria asked, curious, because there wasn't any reason for them not to try if they wanted. Alex had arrived before Jessica, but from everything Maria had heard, it had practically been love at first sight. At least, according to Grant, whose only romantic bone was focused on Daisy.
"Alex wants children, but I think he wants to wait a bit," Jessica said. She smiled.
"I wouldn't if I were you," Maria stated. "You never know when you could lose the ability."
"Yeah, but… Alex really wants his kids to grow up with Grant's and…"
"Grant fancies himself in love with Daisy?" Maria asked, quirking an eyebrow.
Jess ducked her head, hiding her face behind long black hair. "Yeah, and Grant's… something else."
Maria paused, studying her for a moment. "Is that why you want to wait? Because if Daisy will reject Grant, you'll have a chance at him?"
Jess snorted. "No, I don't have chance with him. He wants Daisy, not me, and Alex makes me happy."
Maria shook her head. "So why wait? If Grant manages to woo Daisy, they can still grow up together.”
"Alex doesn't want to try until Grant has at least convinced Daisy," Jessica explained. "I'm fine with waiting, besides, it's not going to be much longer. Grant is getting ready to make his feelings known."
"I'm just saying…" Maria started.
"Maria, please, I just found Alex. He wants to wait and I'm happy to have him all to myself for a bit."
"Okay," Maria relented. "I'm going to see Trip. Where do I need to go after that?"
"Jemma wanted to discuss something with you."
"Trip, then Jemma." Maria nodded to herself. "Let Mack know, we're going to need to put a full Rig in the garage."
"Will do," Jessica said, giving Maria a smile as they split up to take care of their assigned tasks.
Clint stared up at her, holding the needle in hand. "Trade? We're not trading the Rig and I doubt they'd give you much for the bike."
"Labor. They're willing to let us work for it," Natasha replied.
"How?" Wanda asked, pulling the shawl she'd found tighter around her body. Clint could understand that feeling.
"Building walls or making repairs," Natasha stated. "Nothing that will put any of us on our backs."
Clint snorted, looking back down at his mending. "You sure?"
Natasha sighed. "As much as I can be. It's our only chance. Clint, we need supplies, especially if you want to find your brother and then make it back to Starkton."
"If we can make it back that far," Clint muttered. "We're, what, 2000 miles away and we don’t know what’s between here and there? Except the parts where we do. And, well, we want to avoid those parts.”
“I could scout ahead,” Pietro offered. “Not like they could stop me.”
“Considering how much food you need to eat when you do that, I think keeping you with us is the better bet,” Natasha stated. She smiled at him. “We at least need to fatten you up, maybe give you a few self-defense lessons.”
“You have been giving us those,” Wanda pointed out. “Whenever we stop.”
“Yes, but this will give us the opportunity to rest, gain our strength, before we have to fight who knows how many people.”
Clint glanced to see Pietro and Wanda sharing a look. He knew Natasha had already run through the risks on her ride back. He trusted Natasha utterly though, so he nodded. “Alright. Push comes to shove, we bust out of there.” He tied off his stitch and got to his feet. “Wanda, Pietro, no… extra-ness. Don’t mention it: you were held, experimented on, but nothing happened. If they search the rig, don’t look at any of the places where the guns are, don’t think about them.”
“Will they search it?” Pietro asked.
“If they're smart they will,” Clint said with a shrug.
Wanda snorted. “As if we know where all the weapons are. Paranoid.”
"It's not paranoia if they're actually out to get you," Clint stated as he headed back to the cab to go through the startup sequence to get the Rig moving. Wanda and Pietro climbed up into the back as Natasha went around to climb in.
It was a short trip to the outside of the Walled Haven. Clint pulled to a stop, just outside the large doors. There a small force was waiting for them complete with two cars, not as armored as Clint's Rig though. He glanced at Natasha. “You sure about this?”
Natasha nodded. “It’s our best bet.”
“Well, let’s go meet our new friends.” Clint climbed down out of the driver's seat, leaving the Rig idling, so that the startup sequence wouldn’t be needed. He had a feeling that they were going to want to drive the Rig in and well, Clint didn’t want to let that secret out.
Wanda and Pietro stood together to his left as Natasha went to the man standing in front of the group. They talked for a moment, before Natasha led him toward Clint and the twins. He eyed the man, who was slightly scruffy and weather beaten, like the rest of them. He wore a prosthetic left arm; Clint could see the pistons. He moved like a fighter. Well, he must have been to survive long enough to need a prosthetic.
“This is my friend Clint,” Natasha said. “And the twins, Wanda and Pietro. This is Phil Coulson, one of the leaders of this Haven.”
“Hello,” Phil said, giving them a small smile. He had surprisingly kind blue eyes; Clint could see why Natasha had chosen to trust him. “We’re willing to offer you a place to rest, medical attention, and a share of our food. Provided that you’ll help our settlement.”
“And how exactly will we help you?” Clint asked, unable to hide the accusation.
“We’re working on putting a second wall up, so that's where we could use the most help. If you have other talents, I'm sure we could find a place for them as well."
Natasha's glare cut him off from making a comment about his ability to kill or how good he was at sex. “I’ve got good eyes.”
“We haven’t been taught much,” Wanda said, with a quick shake of her head.
“Natasha made it sound as if you're just here to refuel. Otherwise, I’d offer training,” Phil replied, looking over at them.
"Sounds fair; let's head in," Clint said.
Phil held up his hand. “You’ll need to turn in your weapons.”
Clint had known it was coming, but that didn't mean he liked it. “You want us to give all our means of protection.”
“Yes, to make sure that you’re not going to kill all of us in our sleep.”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Clint replied. “But I also don’t want our weapons magically disappearing.”
Coulson stared at him for a long moment. “We can collect them all and keep them in your Rig.”
“So you’re letting us keep our Rig?”
“When you’re ready to leave, we’ll load it, but I doubt you’d be comfortable sleeping in it.”
“I don't know, that Rig's been my home for a while now. She's pretty comfortable."
Phil gave Clint a look. "We have a garage. Your Rig will be there. Your weapons?"
“Fine,” Clint said, pulling out his gun and offering it to Coulson. “The rest are in the cab.”
Coulson stared at him. "If you think I believe that's the only weapon on you, then you're mistaken."
Clint sighed and tossed two knives more as Natasha started removing their weapons.
Coulson looked back at the twins. "You too."
"We have no weapons," Wanda stated.
Coulson moved toward them. "I don't believe…" He trailed off as Clint suddenly was in his path with a second gun pointed at him.
"They're not carrying," Clint stated. "They're as innocent as you can be in this world."
Coulson glared at him. "Which makes them perfect for you to hide a gun on them. However, in deference to them. Melinda, would you please check out the young lady. Hunter, the young man."
Two broke away from the crowd and Clint watched as they searched the twins gently to ensure no weapons. Once they moved away from the twins again, Clint put the safety on and added it to the pile.
"That's all of them," Clint said.
"You're going to be checked," Phil said moving to pat him down. "Bobbi, if you don't mind."
Clint stiffened as the blonde approached him and Phil made his way toward the Rig.
“Hold it!” Clint said, before the blonde could touch him. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m pulling your vehicle into the city. You’re not driving it in there.”
“You’re not driving my Rig. It’s my Rig.” He growled, following him.
“Then we can leave it out here, but we’re not responsible if it gets damaged or if Scavengers come by. We don’t know you haven’t led some to our door.”
Clint grinned wild and fierce. “If you’re worried about someone following us, well, that Warlord and his minions are all dead. Made sure of that.”
"Clint!" Natasha said. "He's not going to hurt the Rig and it should be put inside. Some other group might have picked up the trail."
Clint met Natasha's eyes. He could handle some person putting hands on him and giving up his weapons, but the Rig was all they had.
“Why don’t you let Clint ride with you,” Natasha said, looking at Phil. “It’ll make him feel better. The Rig… The Rig is part of our team. It takes care of us and we take care of it.”
Phil glanced between them and relented with a slight nod. "After I know he's weaponless."
"Ready?" the blonde asked, before touching him.
"Be happy I'm not charging a stud fee," Clint growled.
The blonde snorted. "Not interested in Vultures." Her hands were clinical and didn't linger as she patted him down and found another knife.
"Oops," Clint stated as Natasha rolled her eyes.
"What's this,?" Blondie asked, indicating the metal that wrapped around his knee.
"Brace," Clint replied. "Messed it up a while back."
"We have a couple of doctors, you should get it checked out," Blondie said.
Clint blinked, glancing back at her. "Sure… Can I go now?"
Blondie shoved him gently toward the rig. "Go."
Clint headed toward the rig, climbing to sit in the back and watch over Coulson's shoulder. Coulson climbed in, but didn't shift the Rig into gear until his people and the others had walked into the city. Then the other man shifted the truck into gear and slowly drove it through the narrow streets to where a garage was, where he backed it in. Clint rather hated how well he handled his Rig.
“I’ll show you to your quarters,” Phil offered as he turned the Rig off and slid from the driver's seat.
Clint nodded, climbing over the chair and double checking to make sure the Rig was off. He gave the dashboard one last fond pat, before grabbing a bag from the backseat and following Phil out of the Rig. Phil eyed the bag.
“What’s in the bag?”
“Clothes,” Clint replied.
Phil stopped and looked at him. “What’s really in the bag?”
Phil’s hand extended, fingers wriggling and Clint handed over the bag. He hefted once and then again, giving Clint a distrustful look. Finally, he opened it, digging to find only the clothes, which he handed back over to Clint. He eyed Clint.
“This way,” Phil said, leading him to a building. The ground floor was torn up, but there were two bedrooms and a small living space on the second floor. Phil turned and left after that.
He paused in front of Clint, before extending his hand. “It was nice to meet you, Mr. Barton. I trust that you’ll follow our rules.”
“Of course, Coulson, I’ll behave so long as you don’t give me a reason to misbehave,” Clint replied, taking Coulson’s hand and shaking it. With that, Phil turned and left.
“Is that Stark’s bag?” Natasha asked.
Clint turned and looked at her, smiling. “Of course.”
“Stark’s bag?” Wanda asked.
Clint pulled out the clothes in the bag and pulled up the lining on the bottom to pull out an assortment of arrows along with two thin knives
“Where’s the bow?” Pietro asked, glancing in the bag.
“Like that ever left my person,” Clint stated, gesturing toward his knee brace. The knee brace could be taken apart and put back together as a bow. It wasn't his best bow, but it would do in a pinch. He started putting clothes back in the bag, catching sight of blue on the hand that just been shaking Coulson's. He paused, staring at the color in shock. He knew that blue, recognized it almost immediately, despite having seen that shade for the first time only a short while ago; it was the same blue as Phil's eyes. “The fuck…?”
“What?” Natasha asked.
Clint raised his palm to her, showing her his impossibly blue palm, because you didn't find your soulmate in this Wasteland that once been the world. Clint could dimly remember his mother telling stories about how if he met his soulmate whenever they touched their skin would change color. Before the world ended, people had found one another, at least according to Fury and Steve. Clint couldn't think of anyone that he knew that found their soulmate since.
Natasha’s eyes widened. “That’s… that’s practically impossible.”
“But not impossible,” Wanda stated, looking at Clint to the hand. “Was Coulson's hand colored?”
“I didn’t look,” Clint stated. Already the blue was starting to fade and become one with his own hand. He glanced at the door, but there were no signs of Coulson returning. He probably hadn't even noticed, the building was darkened by boarded up windows.
“Clint…” Natasha started. “This changes things.”
“No,” Clint stated, clenching his hand into a fist. “It doesn’t. Maybe in the old days soulmates were honored, but now… Now, it's just something else that can be torn away from you. He doesn't know, he doesn't need to know, we're not staying."
"So what are you going to do, avoid touching him?" Natasha asked.
"All I have to avoid is skin to skin," Clint snapped. "That's what everyone says. It doesn't work through clothes!"
"That's how I've heard it," Pietro said, looking at Wanda, who nodded her own agreement.
"I'd be more worried about him touching Clint, since Clint likes to go sleeveless," Pietro added.
Clint glared at the young man. "I can avoid him. I have to. I promised Barney…"
"That'd we'd find him, which we're going to do," Natasha finished. "But Barney, he never would have thought you'd find your soulmate. He'd…"
Clint shook his head. "It doesn't change a damn thing."
"Still, did you look at Coulson?" Natasha asked. "You and I both know, he's got the looks. He has the potential…"
"To be just my type," Clint agreed. "Nothing has changed about our situation. Coulson is in charge here..."
"Second in command," Natasha corrected.
Clint closed his eyes, because that didn't make that much of a difference in the situation. "Still, he has responsibilities. He can't leave and we can't stay. I'll avoid him. No one gets hurt." Except, maybe Clint, because he wasn't sure how could avoid hearing and learning about Coulson in the man's Haven.
"I'm not sure what to think," Phil admitted, looking over the Rig and its ornaments, stylized birds and spiders, as if it held some key to the newcomers. The foursome had settled and had been following the community's rules, but Phil was certain there was something else going on.
"All of them were underfed, dehydrated," Trip stated, leaning against one of the other vehicles in the garage. Phil glanced over him, amazed at how the man had managed to settle between two spikes in what Phil thought would be uncomfortable position, but Trip looked completely at ease. "Barton stood over me as I looked over the twins. They had less scarring."
"Did you look at Barton's knee?" Bobbi asked, having stolen Mack's stool. "He's got that brace on it."
"Nothing that I saw, could be an old injury, might have twisted it and he's trying to protect it. Barton didn't actually let me look at him. I asked him and he showed me." Trip sighed. "Honestly, I think he's either been by himself for too long or he's been tortured or both.
Phil closed his eyes. "Anything about the twins?"
"They said they were experimented on and there's some thin scars that would agree with their story. Pietro's heartbeat was fast, really fast."
"Any signs of…" Maria asked, frowning when Trip snorted.
"I was not stupid enough to ask to inspect her privates for scarring or abuse, not with Pietro and Clint standing over me." Trip shook his head. "She said she hadn't when I asked if she'd been raped."
Maria nodded, frowning. "Have they caused any trouble?"
"They haven't caused any trouble at all when they've come to help building the wall," Fitz said, from where he was seated next to Mack, in one of the modified backseats of the car. "In fact, Natasha has made several suggestions to keep the wall from being scaled."
Maria looked at him sharply, frowning. "Is that a concern?"
"To her it was," Fitz replied.
"Are you making those improvements?" Maria asked.
"I looked at it," Mack said. "I highly doubt anyone can climb it."
"I think we should listen to them," Simmons said. She bit her lip. "I think they're a lot better than our security."
"Excuse me?!" Hunter growled, pushing away from the wall where he was standing at the accusation. Trip was on his feet a moment later, ready to defend Simmons from Hunter. Bobbi extended an arm to hold Hunter back, but her lips were pursed.
"It's just… only trusted members are supposed to know about Project Icebox," Simmons stated.
"Have some of the plants been damaged?" Phil asked, frowning.
Simmons shook her head. "No, Clint gave me some seedlings and said, I could keep half of them if I would take care of them while he's here."
Phil looked over at Maria, who was looking at him, before looking back at Simmons. "How did he know to give to them to you?"
"I don't know," Simmons stated. "I tried to turn him down, but he was insistent."
"He can be pretty intense," Daisy agreed.
Phil felt his hackles rise. "Have you been around him?"
"He offered to help teach her to shoot," Bobbi said. "He's been useful enough that I want to give approval for him to use a weapon, though I'm fairly sure he has one."
"He should be weaponless," Maria stated, looking at Phil. "That was part of the agreement."
Phil sighed. No one had reported a missing weapon to him. Bobbi and Hunter certainly would have brought it up today, if they knew someone was missing one. Natasha had warned that Barton was likely to steal one.
"Well, there's been some odd holes in some of the targets," Bobbi said, with a shrug. "So unless Fitz or Simmons have been making something new and testing it at night…"
"We haven't," Simmons stated quickly. "We'd let you know."
"We do learn from our mistakes," Fitz agreed.
Phil raised his hands. "So everything is pointing to them wandering around, getting into places they shouldn't be, and…"
"Nothing," Bobbi said. "No ammo shortages, so if they have a weapon, they're using their own ammo."
"None of the plants are missing, I checked thoroughly." Simmons added. "I had Fitz double check, and Trip triple check."
"Barton checks out his rig daily. I think he's afraid we're going to mess with it," Mack stated. "He's paranoid and I think he knew that I leaned against it the other day. He stared at that spot for a lot longer than he normally stares at it."
"Does he go in?" Maria asked.
"Occasionally," Mack said. "I try to stop him to do the check, but sometimes he leaves before I realize he's gone."
"Did you see the plants in there before?" Phil asked.
Mack shook his head. "They've got secrets, Phil, and that Rig has secrets that they aren't telling us about."
"They've been sparring and probably teaching the twins every night," Melinda stated. "Their rake work is a lot better than yours."
Phil frowned. "Are you sure?"
Melinda shook her head. "I tried to put a design in it, but I know there are a few Watchers that cut through there."
"How much do you trust them?" Maria asked. "How much should we trust them?"
"I don't think they'll harm us," Melinda said.
"I think they've decided we're decent," Simmons agreed. "And we should survive."
"I overheard Clint call us 'One of the few good ones'," Daisy offered. "Wanda asked if how he could be sure."
"What he'd say?" Fitz asked, peering over the side of the car to look at the top of her head.
"No skulls as decorations and something which I didn't hear," Daisy said, looking at Coulson.
Phil nodded. He'd seen enough to know that some of the survivors had taken to using skulls and other human remains as ornamentation for vehicles and buildings. He glanced at Maria.
"It sounds like they're survivors of the Wastelands, like us," Maria stated.
Phil wrapped his arms around his body. "I'm not sure I trust them. I don't like that they're hiding things, and I feel like something is just off about them."
Maria nodded. "But Natasha was honest about how things have played out. I think the best thing to do is give them a little bit of a longer leash and see what they do with it."
Phil nodded his agreement. He wasn't sure about the outsiders, but Maria seemed to want to believe they could trust one another, despite that outside the walls - violence ruled the world.
“I don’t see a way up,” Maria stated.
“Neither do I,” Phil agreed. “What do you want to do about it?”
“Make one of them scale it?” Maria suggested. “I mean, then we know it can be done.”
Phil considered for a while, before nodding. “Yeah, I’ll go see if I can find one.”
“I could…” Maria started, but she paused as she caught sight of Trip, standing just outside the gate and waving his hand. “Or I can see what Trip wants.”
Phil chuckled. “I’ll go see who I find first.”
“I think Barton was working with some of the girls at the range,” Maria offered as they turned to head to the gate.
“Which girls?” Phil asked, frowning.
“Wanda, Kate, Daisy.” Maria glanced over to see Phil’s frown deepen.
“Whoa,” Trip said as they neared. “That is one sour face, boss.”
“Sorry, I need to go find Daisy,” Phil said, slipping past him.
“Overprotective,” Trip muttered softly.
Maria nodded. “What’s the matter, Trip?”
“Well, remember how at the meeting, we discussed that our guests were snooping around and not hurting things…”
“Yeah,” Maria nodded as the slipped through the gate. She paused, looking over at Trip. “They didn’t get into the medical supplies?”
“Medical records, you know how I neat I keep them, right?”
“No, but I’m sure you do,” Maria stated. Trip kept his clinic as spotless as he could with what they had.
“A couple of my records were out of order when I came in the morning. Records that only I should have access to.”
Maria sighed. She was certain Clint and Natasha had been wandering, but this was a crossed line.
“I know we weren’t talking to them about it, because of the no harm thing, but…”
“Since Phil is going to talk to Barton. I’ll go have a word with Natasha,” Maria offered.
“Please,” Trip agreed.
Maria frowned slightly as she considered all of Trip's information. "Well, if Barton's at the range, then Natasha is probably at the mats." Natasha had taken to teaching some hand-to-hand skills to some of the more advanced trainees.
Maria headed toward the training mats with Trip following, clearly wanting to ensure that this was handled. She couldn’t blame him; so many people came here distrusting what Trip did. Organic Mechanic, Natasha had called him; it sounded like someone that didn't care for the patient, just wanted to get them back to work as quickly as possible, or someone that would experiment with another's body. Similar enough to what Trip did that he was often feared, but Trip wasn't like that; he worked hard to provide a safe environment for people to heal.
Maria caught sight of Natasha’s red hair first. The slender woman was sparring against Melinda and Maria couldn’t help but admire their technique. Melinda was one of the best, probably only Bobbi could beat her in a one-on-one match and even that was a toss up. Maria wasn't a combat specialist, not anymore, and she'd never been as good as those two. She'd always been better with a gun, but maybe she should take more time to train with either Melinda or Bobbi to make sure her own hand to hand skills didn’t get rusty.
Maria arched an eyebrow and mentally added Natasha to the list of potential sparring partners. Especially as Maria realized that there was no way that Natasha wouldn't win the fight if it was anything besides friendly sparring. Barton had outright claimed to be a killer, but Natasha hadn't felt it necessary to make the same claim. Maria had a feeling that her hands were just as bloody.
The bout came to an end with both women stepping back and away, from a signal that Maria had missed. The two women nodded together and then stepped back toward the center of the ring. Maria almost thought they were going to start again, but instead Melinda spoke quietly with Natasha for a moment. There were a few gestures, miming of some moves, before they shook hands. Natasha turned, smiled when she spotted Maria, and headed over to them.
“Considering the looks, I assume you want to talk to me,” Natasha asked, tilting her head.
“We need to talk about your nighttime excursions,” Maria stated.
Natasha blinked, studying them for a long moment. “Nighttime excursions?”
“Your spying on us,” Trip clarified. “Breaking into my clinic and…”
“Not here!” Maria snapped. “Let’s go to my office.”
Trip fell silent and gave a sharp nod.
Maria glanced at Natasha to get her affirmation. “Lead the way.”
Maria led the pair to her office, closing the door behind them.
“So, I was breaking into your clinic?” Natasha said, taking a seat.
“And going through my records," Trip added.
Natasha snorted, giving him a disbelieving look.
“What was that?” Trip exclaimed.
Natasha waved her hand. “I have no interest in an organic mechanic, beyond ensuring that you’re not using living blood bags.”
“Are you saying you didn’t break in last night?” Maria asked.
“I didn’t,” Natasha replied and then looked considering for a moment. “I know Clint went out last night, but he has even less interest than myself.”
“What about Wanda or Pietro?” Trip asked. “They…”
“They did not leave.”
“How do we know that you’re telling the truth?” Maria asked, studying Natasha.
Natasha sighed. “We did not take or harm anything. For the most part we looked. Did I break into your clinic? Yes, weeks ago. I did not touch anything beyond ensuring that there were no hidden passages hiding blood bags or any other human experimentation. We’ve learned to be cautious about where we stop, and it was our way of knowing if you were safe or not.”
“So you did it to check us out?” Maria asked. “Find out if we could be trusted?”
Natasha nodded. “And I won’t apologize for it. However, I’d be willing to help you find who did.”
Maria nodded and looked at Trip. “Do you want to find out who did it?”
Trip sighed. “Yes, but I'm not sure I believe her.”
Maria looked over at Natasha, who had been completely honest. Was all that honesty a ruse until now? No, Maria didn't think so. "I understand, I'll discuss this with Natasha."
"Are you dismissing me?" Trip asked.
"For now," Maria promised. "You've brought the problem to my attention. You know how I feel about the records. I'll let you know my final decision."
Trip hesitated, before nodding. Maria waited until he left, before looking at Natasha.
"I wouldn't trust me about this either," Natasha said a few seconds after the door closed.
Maria sighed. "Funny thing is I want to believe you."
Natasha's eyebrow rose. "Really?"
Maria nodded. "You've been honest about everything else. Except the sneaking around part."
Natasha shrugged. "I promise to tell you all the weaknesses we've uncovered?"
Maria glared. "That doesn't excuse it!"
"No," Natasha agreed. "I'm sorry it was necessary."
"Not going to promise not to do it again?"
Natasha shook her head. "Clint isn't used to buildings anymore. He's going to wander, so am I."
"And breaking into places you're not supposed to be?" Maria asked.
"I think we've covered the whole town…"
"The whole town? You've been here just over a week!" Maria was amazed.
"Your security from inside threats is… lax," Natasha stated. "Which is why Clint and I will keep watch on your medical building when we get restless and go wandering."
Maria opened her mouth to object, but a horn sounded. She closed it was a snap. "Shit, we’ll talk about his later.”
“Is that the attack horn?” Natasha asked, rising to her feet.
“Yes,” Maria said, heading to the door to go find Phil, so that they could handle the situation. "Stay here!"
Maria thought she heard a snort; she doubted that when she came back Natasha would still be here. It was unlikely with her being here just over a week that Natasha had been assigned to Wall or Vehicle duty in the case the compound was raided, but somehow she figured Natasha would manage to be in the thick of it.
"You can't see my eyes," Wanda stated, without looking back at him.
"I know you like to close them as you aim," Clint replied.
Clint watched as Wanda tensed moments before she squeezed the trigger. Her shot hit the outer ring of the target. "What did she do wrong? Daisy?"
"Closed her eyes?" Daisy suggested.
"Tensed up," Kate replied with utter confidence. "She tenses, which pulls off her aim more than if she was tense all the way through."
"Five points to Bishop house," Clint stated.
"Ha!" Kate crowed. "That's 100 points, I get to shoot the bow now!"
Clint frowned as he turned to look at her with narrowed eyes.
"It is 100," Wanda stated. "You gave her fifty for getting two bullseyes yesterday."
Clint sighed and picked the bow off his lap to offer it to the girl. She eagerly took it and pulled an arrow right out of the quiver on his back as she went over to the line.
Clint chuckled to himself as Wanda wandered back over, gun pointed toward the ground. He'd at least taught her that. She gave him a look that clearly said she still didn't understand why she had to learn this, even though they'd been over it.
Glancing over, he saw Kate was struggling to pull the string of the bow back. It really was too heavy of a draw for her. He bit his lip and considering digging out the spare bow he had tucked away in one of the hidden compartments of the Rig.
"Hey Phil," Daisy said.
Clint turned to find Phil headed toward them with a slight frown on his face. Clint had seen the other man a few times in passing. He hadn't quite gathered the courage to go and talk to him. Instead, he'd started talking to Phil's friends and family, though really Daisy had started talking to him.
"How's the training going?" Phil asked just as Kate yelled, "Damnit."
"I keep telling you that it's too heavy of a draw for you," Clint said when he saw that Kate had completely missed the target. It didn't matter, Kate had fallen in love with his bow.
Kate shot a glare at him over he shoulder, before stomping down the range to collect the arrow and bring it back.
“You're up Daisy,” Clint stated looking at her.
Daisy nodded, before taking the gun from Wanda.
“Actually, as much as I’m sure this lesson benefits you. I need to speak with Mr. Barton,” Coulson said, interrupting.
“What’s up?” Clint asked, looking at him.
Coulson studied him for a long moment. “Your friend made several suggestions that someone could scale our walls.”
“Which they totally could,” Clint agreed.
Coulson’s eyes narrowed. “Our people don't think so.”
“So, what you want me to prove it?” Clint asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Oo, can I watch?” Kate asked.
“Yeah, Clint would be pretty amazing at it,” Daisy agreed.
“No, he’ll have to go outside the walls,” Phil stated with a slight shake of his head.
“You going to lock me out?” Clint asked.
Phil shrugged. “Even if you can scale it, I think someone would notice you climbing up it.”
“Provided there’s not a distraction elsewhere, sure,” Clint agreed. “But some of those crazies out there are also smart. They can and will attempt some feints to cover their real attack.”
“Let’s see if you can climb it, first,” Phil said.
Clint stood, stretching his hand out and Kate placed his bow back in it along with the arrow. He looked them over. “Alright, Kate vs. Wanda and Daisy. Yes, Wanda and Daisy, it'll be your combined score. Ten shots for each of you.”
“That’s not fair!” Kate objected.
“Is it bad I was thinking the same thing?” Wanda asked, looking at Daisy.
Daisy snorted. “I think if you get ten, I get ten, and she gets ten we can beat her.”
Wanda arched an eyebrow. “Have you seen my shooting?”
Clint chuckled to himself as he looked at Coulson. “Lead on, Sir.”
Coulson glanced at the girls, before nodding. He started heading toward the gate. “Are you sure about that?”
Clint nodded. “Of course, I am. Kate will win the first round or two, but she’ll give Wanda some pointers and then those two will win and it’ll be more even.”
Coulson hummed softly. “Where’s Wanda’s brother, Peter?”
“Pietro, and he's working with Tasha."
Phil nodded as the reached the gate. "So, my idea is that we'll let you out and you make your way back in."
"What's in it for me? I mean, there's a chance that one of your guys might shoot me, if they see me sneaking around."
Phil sighed. "We'll double your supplies for the day."
"Your as in?"
"I'll meet you at this gate at sundown to let you back in," Phil added as the opened the gate.
Clint paused, before he stepped outside. "You don't think I can do this."
"I trust my people's judgement," Phil stated.
"We wouldn't have said something, if we didn't think it was possible," Clint pointed out.
"Or you said something, so we'd waste resources fixing a problem that isn't a problem."
"How about a little wager then," Clint replied. "If you have to open that gate for me at sundown, you don't have to pay me anything. I lose all the supplies I would have earned today."
"And if you make it in?"
"If I get in and without anyone seeing me, then you double all of my supplies for the day. If I get in with someone seeing me, then you pay a regular day's wages for me."
Phil studied him for a long moment. "You're awfully cocky."
Clint smirked. "Well, I've been told I'm pretty awesome. So do we have a deal?"
"Deal, I'll see you tonight."
"Maybe," Clint said and sauntered out into the wasteland.
Phil frowned as he scanned the horizon and couldn't spot the other man.
"Something the matter, sir?" Grant asked, coming out of the tower.
"Did you see Barton leave?" Phil asked.
"Yeah, he walked out, he was…" Grant frowned as he gestured toward the sand. "He was right there."
"Find him!" Phil growled, because he didn't really want to lose all of those supplies. Maria was going to kill him, but there was no way that Barton could actually get away with that. He still had to make that climb though.
Phil started walking around, looking for him. He hadn't seen any signs of Barton when he headed that direction, so he kept heading in that direction until a horn blew. Phil turned at the sound, eyes widening. "Shit."
Phil turned, running in the direction of the horn.
"Phil?" Grant asked.
"Stay here!" Phil snapped as he passed him by, heading to where the horn had blown. He skidded to a stop in front of Hunter. "We've got attackers," he pointed in the direction and offered Phil his binoculars
Phil took it and raised it to his eye. "That's a war party."
"Yeah," Hunter said.
"What's going on?" Maria asked as she appeared, Melinda and Bobbi seconds behind her.
"War party from the looks of it," Phil stated, passing Maria the binoculars. "What do we want to do?"
"Send a small group out to find out if they scare easily. Have a larger force ready to go, if they don't," Maria ordered as she passed the binoculars down the line. "Let's get the young ones into hiding, we don't need casualties."
"I'll take the war party," Bobbi offered.
"I've got the kids," Melinda agreed, handing Phil the binoculars.
"I'll help, make sure everything is tucked away," Maria stated. "Phil, you have the wall."
Phil nodded and watched as the ladies hurried off to their appointed tasks. Phil lifted his binoculars, trying to look for any signs or symbols. They were still too far off for him to make anything out.
"What do you think?" Hunter asked.
"We should be able to handle them," Phil stated. "If we're smart, then we won't lose too much."
"What about the ones coming up your rear?"
"There's no one coming up the rear, no alarms have sounded," Phil stated.
"I know what I saw and if you're not going to listen to my warning, then you're a bigger fool than I thought you were. A fool and his food are soon parted after all."
Phil put the binoculars down and turned to find Clint leaning against the parapet and looking in the opposite direction. He lifted the binocular.
"Where the hell did you come from?" Phil asked as he scanned the horizon that Clint was looking in.
"Climbed the wall, like you wanted. By the way, you were dead like fifteen minutes ago."
"I'll make a note of what you've earned later," Phil replied, putting the binoculars down. "I have a situation we're dealing with."
"You've got another one coming up on you."
Phil glared at the other man. "I didn't see anything. There's no way your eyes are better than binoculars."
"You'd be surprised," Clint stated. "Beside, I was on top of the tower when I saw them."
Phil studied him. "So we divide our forces, that force…" Phil pointed toward the group he knew was coming in. "Takes out those and then goes around picks off the others? Is that your plan?"
"You're in the middle of a pincer movement, Coulson!"
"The Watchers will sound the alarm, if, and that's a big if, there is a second attack group." Phil looked away toward the vehicles approaching. It was large enough that he could already see the dust storm. "Otherwise… we don't dare split our forces right now. I need you to leave, so I can do my job and get as many of our people back from this."
"Excuse me for trying to help," Barton growled and headed toward the stairs. Phil watched him go, before turning and mentally preparing for the fight to come.
Daisy turned to look at her brother. “So you didn’t hear why Maria wanted to talk to Natasha?” Daisy asked.
Pietro hesitated, glancing at Wanda. “Her nighttime excursions.”
“Nighttime excursions?” Kate repeated. “That sounds like she’s spying on us.” She looked over at Wanda.
Wanda shrugged. “They needed information to know that they could trust you. Now it’s habit to wander.”
“Spying on us would lead to trusting how?” Kate asked.
“Do you know what a bloodbag is?” Pietro asked, narrowing his eyes.
Kate shifted uncomfortably. “No.”
“In some places the radioactivity is high,” Wanda replied. “When others come that are normal, they are captured. Their blood is tested and they are held to give blood to those who sick. Their purpose is to give blood, to live in cages, until they give blood.”
“That’s disgusting,” Kate said.
“And you could appear appear completely non-threatening and have them hidden away behind one of your locked doors,” Wanda stated. “And we wouldn’t realize until it was too late.”
Kate and Daisy shared a look.
“Not to mention the places where they are doing experiments on humans,” Pietro added. “And they collected all of our weapons.”
“Okay, fine, you had reasons,” Kate said, throwing her hands up. “But you keep doing it?”
“Not us,” Wanda said, shaking her head. “Both of them, they have seen more, have more nightmares.”
“They go out and exercise, little spying, just moving,” Pietro added.
Daisy nodded. “Phil likes to pace, usually does it in his rooms, but occasionally, he’ll wander the walls.”
Kate sighed. “Clint hasn’t…”
“Why would Clint say something to you? You are safe here, you are not planning on leaving. If he is here when you leave, if you plan to, he will sit you down, then he will talk to you. Now you are child,” Wanda said, softly, thinking of the quiet talks that Clint and her had held over campfires since her and Pietro’s rescue. He hadn’t shied away from telling Pietro his risks as well.
“So, that conversation could take a while,” Daisy stated. “Maria and Natasha anyway, especially, if Trip is upset.”
“And who knows how long Clint will be with Coulson,” Wanda stated.
“So let’s get our competition done,” Kate suggested.
Wanda glanced at Daisy, who met her look.
“You already beat us twice,” Daisy stated. “My ego can only take so much loss.”
“So what should we do instead?” Kate asked, looking at all three of them.
Wanda felt her lips twitch upward and she ducked her head to glance at Pietro, who was giving her an amused look. Pietro was content to just have her for company, but Wanda liked Kate and Daisy. They both admitted their friendship was something that was partially due to them being two women close in age and in guard training. Daisy was also close with Jemma, but she was more occupied with science and busy with community projects.
“I don’t know…” Daisy started as a horn cut through the air. She trailed off. “Raiders?”
“Raiders.” Kate said. She made a face. “We should head to the shelter.”
“Yeah,” Daisy said.
“What do we do?” Wanda asked, indicating her and Pietro.
“Unless you’ve been told otherwise, shelter. Technically we’re supposed to guard the younger ones, but there aren’t many younger than us,” Kate replied.
Wanda nodded. “Lead the way.”
Daisy pushed herself off the wall and started walking. Kate fell into step behind her.
“There’s another reason to question if this place was safe,” Pietro murmured into her ear. “Could have Breeders to increase the chances of survival.”
Wanda elbowed him. “They wouldn’t do that here.”
“I know, but not every place is led by Hill and Coulson,” Pietro pointed out.
“Do you want to stay here?” Wanda asked, softly. “I don’t think Natasha and Clint would mind.”
Pietro was quiet. “I would not mind, but… We owe them, and Clint is not ready to stop.”
“So we go?” Wanda asked.
“We go,” Pietro said with a nod.
“Wanda! Pietro!” Clint yelled, followed by a whistle. Wanda rolled her eyes as she stopped to look at him. He still had his bow and was jogging toward them. “C’mon.” She glanced to see Kate and Daisy had stopped to look at them.
“Where are we going?” Pietro asked.
“The Rig,” Clint answered.
“You’re going out?” Daisy asked, frowning.
“Yeah,” Clint said with a nod.
“Wanda is younger than me, I’m supposed to go to shelter,” Daisy argued.
“Yeah, well, we’re not part of your Haven,” Clint stated. “You do what Coulson wants you to. Wanda and Pietro are my responsibility. They come with me.” He glanced at them and both gave a quick nod. Clint’s lips twitched upwards at the confirmation. “Now, c’mon, we have to get Natasha.”
He turned and headed off. Wanda debated a moment, Daisy was older and Kate was a better shot. “There's lookout on the back of the Rig's tanker. It’s hard to tell if someone is up there from the ground, if they’re laying down. No one would know until we were outside the city and then it would be too late to turn back.”
With that she turned and took off after Clint. Pietro was next to her. “Was that wise?”
“They want to defend their home. They should be able to,” Wanda replied.
Clint led them to the garage where Natasha was arguing with Mack and Clint immediately joined in the argument. Wanda stayed out of it, glancing away when movement caught her eye. She saw Kate and Daisy, climbing aboard and shifted to make sure that Mack wouldn’t spot them.
Clint and Natasha won their argument and they quickly climbed aboard the Rig, sliding into the main cabin. Clint didn’t waste time and was hitting the buttons and switches necessary to unlock the Rig. Clint threw the truck into gear and sent it rolling through the streets and through the gate.
“Where are we going?” Wanda asked.
“Spotted a second group,” Clint stated. “We’re going to jam the Rig down their gullets.”
“What’s the plan?” Pietro asked.
"I want you to go set some charges," Clint stated.
"Try to funnel 'em,." Natasha added.
"Wanda, how close do you think you need to be?"
Wanda shrugged. "I'm not sure. What do you want me to do?"
"Smash, tip 'em if you can," Clint said, "Anything you can do to stop them, and when this is over, remind me to teach you about how to spot weaknesses on a vehicle."
Wanda nodded, as Clint went around the compound and started speeding up away from the walls. She squinted and could just spot the dust the vehicles were kicking up.
"Ten minutes," Natasha said. "Pietro, you'll go in five, when I switch with Clint."
Pietro nodded, reaching over and grabbing her hand. He squeezed it once and gave her a smile. Then he leaned down and got to work at collecting the bombs from where Natasha told him to.
It didn't take too long, before Natasha did a complicated maneuver that resulted in her in the driver's seat. Pietro opened the door and disappeared in a blur as Clint opened the upper hatch and climbed up. He was up there briefly, before leaning down. "We got stowaways."
"What?!" Natasha asked.
"Daisy and Kate, they're in the back look out."
Outside the first of the enemy vehicles were hitting Pietro's bombs and exploding.
"Shit," Natasha muttered. "Get them in here."
Clint nodded and disappeared.
Natasha looked into the rearview mirror. "Did you have anything to do with this?"
"Wanda! It's dangerous!"
"Daisy is older and better trained. Kate can aim better! Did I ask them? No," Wanda said. "I did tell them that the rear lookout could not be seen if they laid low. They got on without being seen! They chose to."
"Well, I hope you trust them, because our plan needs your abilities! It might be too late for Pietro," Natasha growled
Wanda's eyes widened. She had no reason not to trust them and really no reason to trust them with this big of a secret. Still, she forced herself to say. "I trust them."
"Alright then," Natasha said.
The door on the side opened and Kate and Daisy climbed in.
"There's a lot of cars coming," Daisy said.
"You should have thought of that before," Natasha replied. "Where's Clint?"
"He went to grab something," Kate said, climbing into the front seat. "There were explosions earlier, do you know what caused them?"
"I thought your town had set up some booby traps," Natasha replied.
Daisy shook her head. "I don't think so, I mean, they talked about it, but it always sounded like they were going to do it later."
Clint dropped down from the above hatch and thrust a bow and quiver into Kate's hands. "You take the right, I'll handle the left.”
The Rig was not in the best of shape as it slowly made it's way back into the haven, and neither were its occupants.
They were headed full steam toward the haven, only slowing down to allow Pietro back on. Wanda had made an excuse about Pietro choosing not to fight and that they'd dropped him off and Pietro had backed the story up so well that Clint wondered if there some sort of strange twin connection to go along with their powers. had some had decided to wait for them not far from the walls and had jumped back on as they passed.
Clint glanced into the rear view mirror to check on the others. Kate was banged up, slightly burned from a flamer. Daisy had proven herself in Clint's eyes, sliding out to make a repair to the Rig and holding off several of their enemies. She had a slice to one of her hands and was bruised. Daisy and Kate had seen to the other's injuries as headed back to the Haven. Wanda was in the best of shape though not quite mentally. She was curled around Natasha, who had taken a knife to her side, and was pressing a cloth to prevent Natasha from bleeding out.
The gateway opened and Clint slowed the Rig. Clint wasn't too surprised when Phil jumped on the runner, metal hand gripping the open window.
"Coulson," Clint greeted.
"We're missing two people," Coulson said in lieu of greeting. "You wouldn't happen to know where they are?"
"I'm right here," Daisy said from the back of the cab. "Kate is in the rear look out."
"Are you okay?" Coulson asked, voice softening slightly.
"Little banged up," Daisy answered. "So is Kate. Natasha is worse."
"They're going to see your organic mechanic as soon as the Rig is in the garage," Clint added.
"Doctor," Phil corrected. He looked at Clint, voice taking turning icy. "I want to speak to you."
"It's my fault," Wanda said softly. "I told them where to go."
"You what?" Coulson growled, directing his glare at her. Clint caught sight of white knuckles as Phil held onto the side of the Rig.
"I told Daisy and Kate how to get on the Rig," Wanda said softly. "Clint and Natasha had nothing to do with it."
Phli glared into the interior, voicing rising. "Why would you do such an idiotic thing?"
"Hey!" Clint snapped at Phil's tone. "You don't talk to her like that!"
"What she did..!"
Clint hit the brake, making Phil concentrate on keeping his balance. Clint turned to meet his glare. "Don't care! Wanda made a choice, but so did Daisy and Kate. They chose to jump on, they chose to stay on. They wanted to protect this town, so they did."
Phil glared at him, but said nothing.
Clint gentled his voice. "They did good, Coulson, real good. As much as I'm glad that we had the help, I never would have taken them if I had known they were on board. Unfortunately, by the time I realized they were there, it was too late to turn back."
"You wouldn't have brought them?" Coulson asked, looking Clint straight in the eye.
"Kate's too young and Daisy's your kid," Clint replied. "I wouldn't have done it without your knowledge, without your permission."
Phil stared at him for a long moment, before nodding.
"Can I take my rig back and get everyone to your… doctor?"
"Yeah," Coulson said nodding.
Clint reached back and pushed open the back door. He made a little head tilt and Phil slid into the back of the cab.
"What happened?" Phil asked, going over to Wanda and Natasha.
"She was stabbed."
Clint let them talk quietly as he maneuvered through the streets and parked the rig.
"Barton," Phil said, quietly drawing Clint's attention. "I don't think we should move Natasha,"
"I'll go get the doctor," Pietro offered.
"Go," Phil said and Pietro jumped off and went at a pace that seemed hurried to a normal human. Clint parked it and glanced at the garage, there were damaged cars and it was clear that some of their vehicles hadn't made it back.
"How many did you lose?" Clint asked, climbing in the back to look at Phil.
"No lives so far, just cars," Phil admitted.
Phil nodded. "All hands on deck. I'll make sure Trip sees to Natasha. It would have been a lot worse, if you hadn't taken the second group out. How'd you…?"
"I have really good eyesight," Clint admitted.
"It saved this place; we couldn't have defended both sides."
Clint shrugged. "It's worth saving. You got a good thing going here."
Phil smiled and was about to say something when Trip climbed board. "Heard we had a patient."
"That was fast," Clint said, moving out of the way. He glanced behind Trip to Pietro who shrugged.
Trip knelt down next to Natasha and got to work. "Heard your rig was coming back damaged, figured I'd see if there were injuries."
"Natasha's the worse, Kate got hit by a flamer, Daisy held off a couple of polecats," Clint said softly. "You've got some great defenders."
"We let Natasha get hurt," Daisy said, softly.
"She'll make it," Clint said, wrapping an arm around her.
"We'll get you and Kate to medical now," Phil said. "Trip, Pietro, and Clint will bring Natasha when she's stable enough."
"Take Wanda, too," Pietro said. "She's hurt, but she's hiding it."
Wanda glanced up, giving Pietro a betrayed look. "I don't want to leave Natasha."
"Go," Clint said. "We'll be there soon."
Wanda sighed and followed Daisy out of the cab. Kate was already standing to one side. Phil paused on his way down. "I'll make sure Wanda gets seen."
"Thank you," Pietro said as Clint nodded his own thanks.
He had a feeling all three girls' actions were going to be discussed. Clint hoped that discussion was over by the time they got Natasha in.
Her eyes opened slightly. "This place still standing?"
"Looks like," Clint said as Trip glanced up and gave her a grin.
"Decided not to run?" Natasha asked.
"You're hurt, plus had to bring back the stowaways."
Natasha nodded and hissed. "That hurts."
"Yeah, well, you've been stabbed," Trip replied. "It's going to hurt, but I think you're going to make it."
"I'll make it," Natasha said softly. "Someone has to keep Clint in line."
Trip laughed as Clint shook his head. He was feeling better with that comment, because that was Natasha. She'd make it, she was too stubborn to die.
Phil had one last stop until he was done and could take a moment to grieve. He stepped into the garage and looked around. Mack was organizing everything. Cars had been totaled and were being broken down to be use to repair other vehicles. There were several vehicles that were hauling the wrecks in to also be used. Phil lingered just within the doorway for Mack to notice him and finish up.
"How are things?" Phil asked, voice rough.
"We've lost a couple, but should be able to make up for the losses," Mack said, wiping his hands on a towel.
Phil shifted, trying to figure out what he needed to ask when he caught sight of Barton moving between the vehicles. "What's he doing?"
"Helping," Mack replied. "He needs to do some repairs to the Rig and offered to help."
Mack shrugged. "He spotted the second attack. He's got good eyes, he's spotted a couple of problems before they became big ones."
Phil nodded. "Out of curiosity, do we have a couple of vehicles that could make a scavenge run?"
Mack hesitated, before nodding. "Do we need one?"
"Yeah, we're going to," Phil said, before sighing.
"What are they after?"
"Medical supplies, primarily, and anything else. There's those ruins a day's ride."
"That's pretty much tapped out. Maybe the one a day a half to the southwest?"
Phil considered it for a moment, before nodding. "We'll have a meeting to discuss it. Probably should make it tonight, get them out of here sooner rather than later."
"Where at?" Mack asked.
"Medical, Trip won't want to leave his patients for long and this has the potential to go long," Phil replied.
Mack nodded. "Anything else?"
"Get me the numbers?"
"I had Masters write 'em down for you," Mack replied. "Tony! Get Phil those numbers, would you please?"
"Sure, boss," Masters' raspy voice called out as he popped up out of a car.
"Thanks Mack," Phil said. He waited until Masters came over and handed Phil the clipboard that described the damage. "Thank you, Tony."
"Not a problem. You need anything else?"
"I'll let you know," Phil murmured, turning to leave. He caught Masters quick nod as he turned to go back to the vehicles.
Then headed to rooms that Maria and himself kept as offices. He nodded at Jessica as he entered. "Any news?"
"No, Maria is with Trip to figure out the death ceremony," Jessica said. "She said that I should help you, if you have anything for me to do?"
Phil nodded and sent Jessica to round everyone up for the meeting.
Phil went into his office and got to work, cataloging damage and supplies. He hated that they'd lost anything, but thankfully the damage had been to the wall instead of occupied or essential buildings. He compared notes to make a master list of what needed to be done, barely noting when Jessica brought him dinner or telling him that she was leaving for the night. He ate as he worked, finishing just in time to head over to Trip's.
He wasn't too surprised to see that he was the last one to arrive, though he was a bit surprised to see how close they were to Romanov and a visiting Barton.
"Alright, Phil's here." Maria called an end to the private conversations. "What's the damage?"
"Overall, not horrible. We're still at two?" Phil asked, looking at Trip.
"I'm still kicking," Natasha said from her bed.
"Just two," Trip agreed with a nod. "We…"
"I know, we need medical supplies," Phil said. "We're going to need to do a scavenge run for that. Plus we'll need to take down a couple of buildings to use for the wall. Some older ones that we wouldn't want to stay in."
"We've got plenty of those," Fitz said. "I've got some in mind, actually."
"We'll talk later," Phil agreed, indicating himself and Maria. The three of them would make that decision later, because Bobbi and Hunter were already questioning Mack on vehicle availability, guzzolene, and what spot to hit.
"Maybe we should hit a couple of spots?" Daisy said, interjecting herself into the conversation. "Do like a loop?"
"We'd be gone for a while," Bobbi pointed out. "We could do a back and forth to some of these places?"
"But we might be able to find more of what we need, less waste of guzzolene," Daisy pointed out. "Medical supplies are going to be hard to come by."
"She's not wrong," Barton said. "Lot of places have been raided before."
Bobbi regarded him, before nodding. "What do you think, Hunter?"
"Makes sense, we can hit Stenchwind, Assford, Bitchcat, and Roadtick," Hunter replied.
"Those are not the names," Bobbi said, glaring at him.
"Yes, but you know exactly the spots I'm talking about, don't you?"
"Only, because they're our best bets." Bobbi said. She turned to look at Maria. "They were in my last few reports. Didn't have time or space on our last scavenger run to clear them out. We've been wanting to go back to make sure they're empty."
"I know, here's your chance," Maria agreed with nod.
"We'll need volunteers."
Phil nodded. "We'll..."
"I want to go," Daisy interrupted.
Bobbi glanced at her, before looking at Phil. She was set to deny Daisy.
"You should let her," Barton said. "She did good even if she was a stowaway."
Daisy cast Clint a quick smile. "Please, Phil, c'mon, you can't keep me here forever. This town is built on everyone doing their fair share. Let me do mine!"
"You can do yours as a mechanic," Phil replied.
Daisy glared at him. "I don't want to be just a mechanic, I want to go out there, please."
Phil hesitated. He glanced at Maria, who arched an eyebrow. "You're going to overrule me?"
"She's an adult by our own rules. So long as no one is more qualified volunteers, which isn't likely, she deserves a spot," Maria replied.
Phil sighed. "Fine."
He wished he was surprised when Daisy vaulted over Jemma to give him a hug, but he'd known she wanted this. He'd put her off for too long and she'd taken matters into her own hands. She'd come back with experience that couldn't be denied and Phil couldn't even blame the two outsiders. He pulled her close and returned the hug. "Come back."
Daisy pulled away to look at him. "Nothing is going to stop me from coming back. I'll be fine, I've got Bobbi and Hunter with me, too."
"I know," Phil said, brushing a hand over head. "I get to worry though."
Daisy smiled. "Yeah, well, you wouldn't be Phil, if you didn't worry about something."
"Thanks, Daisy," Phil grumbled.
"I'll be fine," Daisy said.
"I know," Phil agreed. Daisy leaned in for another hug, before pulling away. Phil watched her a moment, before turning to find Barton watching them. No, Phil realized as Barton looked back at Natasha, Barton had been watching him.
"This sucks!" Kate declared. "I can't believe Daisy got to go and I didn't!"
"You're still young," Wanda replied. "You'll have your chance."
"Yeah, I'll be able to go out there sooner. I don't have an…" She glanced around quickly and whispered. "Overprotective Phil."
Wanda smiled. "I don't know, might be nice."
"What's gotten into you anyways? You've been mopey since we've got back."
"It's hard to explain," Wanda admitted. It was mostly hard, because she wasn't sure about admitting her abilities. She'd been able to use them without the other two noticing, but only for smaller things.
"Right, which is code for, I'll only talk to my twin about it," Kate straightened up. "Which you probably should."
"I will," Wanda promised.
Kate hesitated, before wrapping her up in a hug, which Wanda was unable to return since Kate was pinning her arms to her side. "You do know that Natasha is going to be okay? She's a tough old broad."
Wanda huffed as Kate let her go. "You've been hanging around Pietro too much."
"Well…" Kate said, ducking her head.
Wanda's eyes widened slightly and she smiled. "He could do no better."
Kate grinned at that. "You'd think that, but…" She shrugged. "I'm not ready to be tied down yet."
Wanda shook her head.
"I'm going to practice with my new bow," Kate declared. "You want to join me?"
"Maybe later," Wanda said.
Kate nodded and headed for the stairs.
Wanda watched her go, barely noticing the breeze that signaled her brother's arrival.
"I could do better," Pietro stated, resting his chin on her shoulder.
Wanda chuckled. "I don't think so."
"She's like a younger, female version of the old man," Pietro replied.
"You like the old man."
"Not like that."
Wanda smiled, but fell silent, simply enjoying her brother's company.
"She did have a point though," Pietro said softly. "You have been mopey."
"I could have protected Natasha. I… hesitated."
"So don't," Pietro said. "Next time."
"Wanda, there will be a next time. Don't hesitate," Pietro said. "You are strong, stronger than me. We both hid our abilities, but if I had to reveal them to protect you, I would in one of my heartbeats."
Wanda turned to look at him. "I would die to protect you and… I think, Clint and Natasha…"
"Natasha is tough, she will make it," Pietro said. "She's asked about you."
Pietro smiled, brushing a strand of hair out of her face. "She wanted to make sure you knew not to blame yourself."
"Wanda, you protected Daisy, instead. I saw the red of your abilities. Daisy was protected."
"Natasha said Daisy was my responsibility, because I told her. I encouraged her."
Pietro nodded. "Then you did what Natasha wanted and she can't blame you."
"I could, should have been stronger!"
"Next time," Pietro said. "In this world, there will always be a next time, until we are dead."
Wanda steadied her brother and nodded. "Next time, I save them all."
Pietro leaned in and kissed her forehead. "Just make sure you save yourself too."
"Of course," Wanda said, but she knew she was lying. Next time, she wouldn't fail anyone.
He'd concentrated on Mack's fleet, getting more of their vehicles running, so that if they were attacked, there would be more vehicles than just the Rig. There were some, but Clint knew that more would be needed.
Once those vehicles were running, Clint went to work on the Rig. It mostly needed to be welded where a saw had cut through it. Little touch ups that kept him busy while Natasha was slowly recovering or at least faking a slower recovery, so they didn't notice that she was healing too fast.
The Rig would be ready to roll again, nearly as perfect as Clint could make her. He almost dreaded handing her over to Stark, but ultimately he knew that Stark would turn her into something even better. The man was magic with cars and weapons, though he wasn't as fond of weapons as he had been.
Time slipped away as Clint worked and if not for Mack yelling at him, Clint probably would have worked through dinner. He waited to wash the grease and oil off his hands, before heading to the mess hall. The workers there greeted him and handed him two plates, which he thanked them profusely, before heading to the medical wing. He paused just outside Natasha's curtain when he caught the sound of two voices talking. One was clearly Natasha and the other was… it sounded like Hill.
Clint peered around the corner and yes, it was Hill. She was seated in Clint's usual chair. There were two untouched meals as Natasha and Maria whispered to one another. Clint frowned as he caught Natasha looking at Hill. There was fondness and respect, perhaps a touch of admiration.
Nope, Clint wasn't going to get in the way of Natasha having a bit of fun. He turned and retreated, considering what to do with the spare meal in his hand. At least until he caught sight of Phil up on the walkway.
He should leave Coulson alone and go about his own business, but Clint found himself climbing the stairs.
"Hey," Clint called out.
Phil turned to look at him and sighed. "What do you want Barton?"
"Natasha already had a meal, plus she was busy. Saw you, figured, you might need one." Clint waved the second meal.
"Isn't Natasha in medical?" Phil asked.
"How can she be busy?"
"Dunno know, but her and Hill were talking, looked serious, so I didn't disturb them." Clint didn't want to mention just how serious it had looked either.
Phil hummed softly, glancing out.
"So, meal? Yes, no? Cactus?"
Phil gave him a bewildered look. "I'll take the meal, thank you. I'd hate for it to go to waste."
"My thoughts exactly," Clint said, taking a few more steps and offering it.
Phil took the meal, but didn't move.
"You know, you watching won't make her come back sooner."
Phil ducked his head. "That obvious?"
"Well, yeah, we're all worried about them. Bobbi will take care of Daisy, you know that?"
"Yes, and if Bobbi fails. Grant is with her and…" Phil trailed off.
"Oh, well, see if Grant is with her, then the only thing she has to worry about are his advances," Clint replied. "And since I know Natasha gave her some hand to hand tips. No worries there."
Phil paused. "You noticed his interest?"
"I think a blind man could notice Grant's interest," Clint grumbled. He hesitated, before looking at Phil. "You're okay with him?"
"If that's why she wants…" Phil shrugged.
"Really?" Clint asked. "Cause, Coulson, he's kind of on the creepy side."
"He didn't have the best mentor," Coulson said. "But he's never done anything wrong."
"You don't like him?" Coulson asked.
"I think she can do better," Clint answered.
Coulson snorted. "Of course, she can, I'm sure you have a candidate in mind."
Clint considered it. Daisy did seem to get along well with Pietro and he knew Pietro would treat Daisy decently, because Wanda and Daisy were friends. All that depended on Pietro staying and he wasn't sure the kid would do that. "Maybe."
Phil shook his head. "I can't help, but worry. The world is.."
"A horrible place," Clint finished. "But, come on Bobbi is in the top five badasses of this place."
"Tasha, number one. Melinda, Maria, Bobbi." Clint hesitated, before adding. "Daisy."
Phil snorted. "She's not a badass."
"She's going to be. You can see it in her eyes when she trains." Clint bit his lip for a moment. "Makes me think her dad was one too."
Phil smirked. "Was?"
"Haven't seen your moves, seem to be retired, at least semi."
Phil snorted. "Retired? Can anyone do that in this age?"
"I tried," Clint admitted. "Didn't work out for me."
Phil studied him for a long moment. "I think Daisy would still qualify me as a badass."
"Yeah, but I'm not sure where you land in comparison to those four."
Phil snorted. "I think I'm a bigger bad ass than Daisy."
"Maybe," Clint teased.
"Would you like to take this to the ring?" Phil asked. "I could show you my moves."
Clint was tempted, but the moment Phil landed a punch, Clint wouldn't be able to hide the way his skin changed color. "Nah, I'm going to eat," Clint said, forcing himself to turn and head for the stairs. "You might want to, too. Don't want to waste away waiting for them to come back after all."
"Thanks Barton," Phil muttered. Clint could feel the glare directed at him, but he didn't let it bother him. Nothing good could come of admitting to Phil that they were soulmates. They were destined for heartbreak.
He just wished that Natasha hadn't been right, Phil was definitely the type of guy that Clint could fall for, if he let himself, and Clint wasn't going to do that. Even though he'd seen how Phil cares for Daisy, how Phil joked with May, or offered advice to Simmons and Fitz. Everything he discovered about Phil made him want to know more, want to be closer, want to discover just how Phil treated his bedmates…
No, Clint forced himself to stop that line of fantasy. He was going to keep his distance. Hopefully, by the time he'd leave no one would be hurt by this and if anyone was, it would be Clint, and Clint knew how to handle getting hurt .
Phil froze, before heading up the stairs. Bobbi and the others were three days overdue. “Car? Just one?” Phil yelled as he headed up, there should be more.
“Just one,” Mack yelled back.
Phil swallowed and went to peer over the edge and yes, he could spot the one car approaching. Phil frowned at the sight.
“Looks like one of ours,” Mack stated, glancing at Phil.
“But where are the others?” Phil asked.
“Guess we’ll have to wait and find out,” Mack stated. “I’m going to get Barton. He’ll be able to tell if it’s actually our people.”
Phil nodded, watching the approach of the vehicle as Mack left. It wasn’t long before Clint appeared beside him, eyes narrowing.
“That’s the Mockingbird for sure,” Clint stated. “Looks like Hunter driving.”
“Anyone else?” Phil asked.
Clint glanced at him. “It’s the Mockingbird, there’s room to lie down in the back. If there are people injured, I wouldn’t be able to see them.”
Phil nodded. “Hunter will know to stop and get out when he gets closer, so that we can see it’s him. We’ll watch for the signs.”
Clint nodded. He hesitated. “What happens if it’s just Hunter?”
Phil froze at the idea that Daisy wasn’t with him. He didn’t want to think it, but Clint was looking at him with questions in those eyes. “I don’t know. It’ll depend on what Hunter has to say.”
“You might want to prepare yourself for the worst,” Clint said, reaching out and squeezing Phil’s good shoulder, before he headed back toward the stairs.
Phil looked over at Mack, who was staring at the vehicle. “He's right, it's hard to see into the back of the Mockingbird. There could be more in the back. Bobbi's a fighter, so is Daisy."
“I know, I just wonder…” Phil trailed off and sighed. “Well, I’ll know soon enough.”
Phil put the binoculars up again as the Mockingbird neared. He saw damage, a lot of damage.. Hunter stopped the car, but Phil wasn't surprised when Hunter leaned out the window, waving the flag for injured. No way to tell how many though. He handed the binoculars back to Mack and hurried to find Trip and Jemma.
The three of them were at the gates as the Mockingbird pulled in and to a stop. Hunter's face was bruised and covered in blood. He waved them to the back. "She needs it more."
Phil stepped back, letting Trip and Jemma haul Bobbi's injured body out of the car. They set to work almost immediately and Phil wanted to object, surely, there had to be someone else. Daisy had to be in the back, but as Phil leaned in, the back was empty.
Phil turned to find Maria, helping Hunter out of the front. “What happened?”
“We got hit,” Hunter said. “Between towns. Don’t know how they found us, but they kept coming.”
“Was there anyone else alive?” Phil asked, hardly recognizing his own voice as he tried to control his own emotions. Daisy had to be alive.
Hunter hesitated. “I’m sorry, Phil, I don’t know. We did everything we could and…”
“And?” Maria asked.
“Grant shot Bobbi,” Hunter stated, angrily. “I trusted that rat bastard and he was going to kill me, probably would have if Bobbi hadn't taken the bullet.”
“Ward?” Phil repeated, looking at Maria, whose eyes narrowed.
“I knew I didn’t like him,” she muttered.
Phil nodded; Maria’s dislike of Grant was well known. She’d always sensed there was something off about him.
"Any other survivors?" Maria asked. "Did they take captives?"
Hunter shook his head. "I don't know, it took me everything I could to get myself out of there. I don't think so. There was a lot of fire and…" He shook his head again.
“What about Daisy?” Phil asked, knowing that Grant, at least, appeared to have feelings about her. “Is she…?”
“I don’t know,” Hunter said, shaking his head. “I… I think she… maybe.. her car flipped, but she was riding with Grant and… I don’t know… Phil, I'm sorry!”
Phil looked toward the gates, thoughts going to Daisy. If Grant tried to shoot Bobbi, then who knows what he’d try to do to her. He had to go after her, he realized. He had to save her.
He turned looking at Maria. "Maria."
Maria looked at him. "Phil, whatever you're thinking…"
"It's Daisy! I can't leave her out there, not with Ward. Not if Hunter can't say for sure that she's dead."
"I can't," Hunter said with a shake of his head. "Ward wasn't alone. Whoever hit us, didn't seem inclined to go after him."
"I don't care, I'll go by myself if I have to!"
“You can’t go by yourself,” Maria ordered, looking worried.
“I have to know,” Phil argued. “It’s Daisy.”
"Phil, we don't have enough people to spare. It’s too dangerous, you could be killed, especially if you go out there by yourself!”
“He won’t go by himself,” the gruff voice took them both by surprise and Phil turned to see Clint standing there.
“We don’t have people to spare, Barton,” Maria scoffed. "Weren't you listening?"
“I’m not your people though,” Clint stated. “Rig’s mine, I’ll go with him.”
“What about Natasha?” Maria asked. “She can’t go with you.”
“Well, that just means I have to come back with Phil and Daisy, doesn’t it?”
Phil shook his head. “I can’t ask you…”
“You’re not,” Clint said. “She’s family. I… I get that. I’ll help.”
“We’ll go, too.” Wanda came to stand by Clint along with her brother Pietro. “We can’t do anything here, at least not right now.”
Clint and Wanda exchanged a look, and a slow smile spread across both of their faces. He looked back at Phil. “You got a team, Coulson.”
Maria sighed. “This is a suicide mission.”
“Not as much as you may think,” Clint said, with a slight smirk. “What do you say, Coulson, shall we go find your kid?” Clint offered his gloved hand.
Phil eyed it for a long moment, before shaking it. He’d sell his soul to protect Daisy, and while he had reservations about Clint, there were certainly worse people out there, and Clint did care about his people.
“We’ll take my share of supplies,” Phil stated. “What we need…”
“I’ll make a list,” Clint offered, giving him a half smile.
Phil rolled his eyes. “Food, water, guzzolene?”
“Guns and ammo,” Clint added.
“I’m pretty sure you already have guns and ammo,” Phil pointed out.
Wanda snorted. “Doesn’t mean he’ll tell where you hides it.”
“Need a gun,” Pietro added. “Suddenly there is gun in his hand, shoving it into yours, and you’re being told to shoot at things.”
“Then you get yelled at for wasting ammo if you miss,” Wanda finished, smiling at he brother.
“Old man is asshole,” Pietro agreed.
"C'mon, you two, we should go load up and get some rest," Clint said, scowling at them.
Phil stared at his retreating form for a long moment, before looking back at Maria. "You don't need me here."
"Doesn't mean I want you to go," Maria said. "Better come back."
"I'll do my best," Phil promised.
"Hey," Clint said, giving her a wide smile.
Natasha knew that look. That was the look when Clint did something so idiotic that even he knew it was idiotic. Her eyes narrowed immediately.
"Oh come on, Tasha," Clint said. "It's not that bad."
"Tell me what it is," Natasha demanded.
Clint sighed. "Hunter and Bobbi came back."
"Only Hunter and Bobbi?" Natasha asked.
Clint nodded. "Bobbi's in bad shape."
Natasha nodded. She'd heard some yelling earlier, but was still playing at being bed bound. "I heard, well, it sounded like Trip was frantic."
"Yeah, so uh, they got hit, they got betrayed."
Natasha's eyes narrowed again. "You're not going hunting without me are you?"
Clint barked a laugh. "Nah, no vengeance, at least that's not the plan. Daisy was with 'em and Coulson…" Clint shook his head. "They're family."
"We do not leave family behind and we do not assume they're dead until we have a body," Natasha said, leaning back as she considered this. "So you're going with Coulson?"
"Two against the world?" Natasha asked.
"Pietro and Wanda?"
"Yeah, they volunteered."
"Do they realize what that means?" Natasha asked.
"I'll make sure they do," Clint promised.
Natasha nodded. "You will come back for me?"
"Yeah," Clint agreed. "No, riding off into the sunrise without you."
Natasha snorted. "I believe it's sunset, you hopeless romantic."
"Except I'd head east," Clint pointed out, grinning at her.
Natasha motioned with her fingers for him to come near her and he came in. She pulled him down and kissed his forehead. "Be careful."
"You, too," Clint murmured.
"I'm in a hospital. What do I have to worry about?" She paused. "Who did the betraying?"
"Grant Ward. I can't imagine he was here alone though."
"Neither can I," Natasha agreed as she considered it.
"Are you going to be okay?" Clint asked as he pulled away.
"I'm good." Natasha smiled. She knew Maria would watch her back.
She grabbed Clint's hand. "Stop by before you go?"
"Of course," Clint agreed, smiling at her. "I better get some sleep and so should you, if you're expecting an early morning visitor."
"Good night," Natasha said.
Clint gave her a softer smile and slipped out.
Natasha settled back down on the bed as she considered everything. Clint running off to help Phil. She wanted to believe it was because Clint would do that for everyone, but she knew it was because of Phil and Clint were soulmates. Clint was a hopeless romantic, he pretended that he wasn't, but the man cared too much. Still, if anyone could bring Daisy back, then it would be Clint.
There was something odd happening in the hospital, but Natasha wasn't quite sure what it was. She'd told Maria that she'd overheard someone in the building late at night and had agreed to keep her ears open at night. Clint was right, it wasn't likely that Grant was here alone, but who else? And what did they want with the medical wing? Or, even the medical records, if Trip's accusations had merit.
Those questions were on her mind as she fell into a light sleep until a soft noise reached her ear. She came awake without showing any signs. There were three of them, two men, and one female. One of the men had a raspy voice and the other sounded younger. The woman was docile, following orders as they made their way through the medical wing.
The footsteps came nearer until they paused at the foot of her bed.
"What about this one?" Raspy voice said, standing over Natasha.
"She's one of outsiders," the woman said softly. "Didn't submit to medical."
"Don't see pretty girls like her very often," Raspy said.
"It's not for us to decide," the young voice said softly. "Grant will decide."
Raspy snorted. "You may believe in his mission, but me, I'm in it for the money and the women. Grant can't turn everyone, since not everyone has the right blood. Those that don't have the blood, well, they get to serve me and Grant's zombies. Right, babe?"
"Don't call me babe," the woman said. "Grant has a plan. He's making us a family. One you'll never be part of." Footsteps moved away and there was a second set of footsteps.
Someone sighed, but it was Raspy that said. "All hail Hive." The third set followed.
Natasha listened, but could not make out what they were looking for. She listened until she heard the door close again. Then opened her eyes as she considered everything. She'd talk to Maria in the morning, but the fact that Grant had left behind three of his allies was not a good sign.
Clint resisted the urge to roll his eyes as he slid the car into gear. Wanda and Pietro had headed to the rear lookout to keep an eye out and make sure that nothing was following them. "The Rig is loaded. I think it's safe to say I'm coming with."
Phil was quiet as Clint maneuvered his way through the streets. "I'm just saying, you don't owe me anything."
"Yeah, well, I like Daisy, she's a good kid."
"But she's not really a kid," Phil said softly. "Is that why?"
"Why what?" Clint asked, glancing at him briefly. Phil didn't look happy.
"Is it because you're attracted to her? You seemed to have amassed a little harem of your own," Phil replied.
Clint almost slammed on the brakes, but he managed to refrain from that or from hitting anything in his shock at that accusation. He stayed quiet as he managed to get the Rig out of the Haven. "Harem?!"
"Wanda. Daisy. Kate. I would add Natasha, but she's older than the others."
"Natasha is like my sister though we have… in the past, but not for a long time," Clint explained. "The other three are kids."
"That hasn't stopped some men."
"I'm not interested in kids," Clint replied. "Beyond trying to protect them and making sure they can protect themselves."
Clint could feel Phil's eyes on him. He glanced over at the other man. "Seriously, think of both Wanda and Pietro like they're my kids, which they both could be. Kate definitely could be."
"Is that why you gave her that bow?" Phil asked.
Clint sighed. "Minute she saw mine, she wanted it. She'll be able to handle mine after she builds some arm strength. Daughter of my soul, for sure."
He heard a soft huff and when he glanced over, he saw Phil smiling softly, which was a damn good look on him. Clint swallowed and mentally reminded himself that he should not be thinking about Phil's attractiveness. He was helping Phil find Daisy and then he was going to find his brother.
"And Daisy?" Phil asked.
"Melinda and Natasha are two peas in a pod. She saw an opportunity to learn from Tasha, except Tasha isn't afraid of using guns. She's a decent shot and Daisy needed work in that area."
"Grant was training her."
"Well, Grant sucked."
"He shot Bobbi."
"Yeah, well, I'm pretty sure I'm a better shot. I wasn't allowed to miss."
"Is that even enforceable?" Phil wondered.
Clint glanced at him. "In this world, you really have to ask?"
Phil frowned. "Not the best life?"
"Actually, I'm pretty damn lucky," Clint replied. "May have had an asshole wanna be warlord for a father figure, but Fury saw something in me, so he decided not to kill me when he took out said wanna be warlord."
"Fury?" Phil asked.
"He was my boss for a bit. You should see the Haven he built. That's the place that's going to revive this world."
"Why would you ever leave that place then?" Phil asked.
"I found my brother after losing him, which is kind of rare, especially in this world. So, I decided to retire, start my own haven with my brother. I really wanted to make this world better."
"We got hit hard, got captured, sold, several times. Tasha saved me, we saved the twins, and ended up at yours."
"Now you want to go back to Fury?" Phil asked.
Clint nodded. "Safer there."
Phil made a soft noise of agreement.
"What about you?" Clint asked, unable to hide his curiosity. "You always lived there?"
"No, but I was… I was never captured or sold," Phil said, softly. "I… I was the right hand to a guy that was turning into a warlord, but I didn't realize it until after."
"He attempted to rape Maria. She killed him and was going to kill me, because I was one of his generals. Managed to convince her not to and we took over his place and turned it into our own."
"How'd you fall in with a guy like that?"
"I thought we were helping! And we were at first. He just started becoming more like the world instead of changing it. I mean, we saved people… Melinda, Daisy, Bobbi, Mack… Grant. He was always close with Grant. Grant was his son."
Clint frowned. "Think this is revenge?"
"I didn't before, but maybe." Phil said softly.
"Well, one way or the other, we can find Grant and take him out."
"We don't have to do that…"
"Except, if he's becoming like any of the warlords that I know of, how else are we going to stop him from killing others? If this a revenge thing, don't you think he's going to be going after Maria and the rest of the town next?"
Phil was quiet for a long moment, before silently nodding. "One way or the other then, we'll go after Ward. I don't know how we'll find him."
"I have a couple of ideas," Clint said, thinking of Wanda and Pietro. They'd give themselves away to Phil, but he knew that they knew that. They had offered to give up their secret when they had offered to come along. Their abilities just might be the game changer they needed.
Of course, Clint had then wandered off into the desert and left Phil alone with the twins, who had built a small fire. Phil had arched his eyebrow at it, but had bit his tongue refusing to question why. It was dangerous and was sure to attract any other living person in the desert, but he doubted that the twins would be convinced to put it out. There was something about it, both of them were seated near it and Phil was near it as well.
“You know,” Phil started. "They say people used to sit around campfires and tell ghost stories.”
“Ghost?” Pietro asked.
Phil racked his brain for a bit as he tried to think what ghosts were. “They believed that everyone had a soul and ghosts were souls of the dead that wandered the earth.”
“And they were tell stories about them?” Wanda questioned.
“I think they were scary stories for fun.”
Pietro huffed. “Doesn’t sound fun.”
“No,” Phil agreed. “Definitely not.” He looked up at the sky. “Not since the world ended anyway.”
Wanda hummed in agreement. “How did the world end? Do you know?”
Phil blinked as he considered the question. “I always thought it was a bomb, a big one that destroyed the eastern coast. Someone nuked us.”
Wanda and Pietro shared a look.
“Not what you’ve heard?” Phil asked.
“We heard we did it to ourselves. Our…" Pietro made a gesture that he took to the people from before the war.
"I would hope our fathers and grandfathers were not involved," Wanda interjected and Phil nodded, he certainly recognized the sentiment.
"I want to say ancestors," Pietro added.
Phil made a face and shook his head. "Forebearers?"
"Four bears?" Pietro repeated. "What do bears have to do with the end of the world?"
"Merely trying to help," Phil said, holding up his hands. "Please continue…"
"Our..whatever, assholes that fucked up the world," Pietro said. "They elected some…"
“Idiot,” Wanda supplied.
“Yes, the idiot then launched them at those that elected them, to remove the undesirables.”
“Well,” Phil said. “I know they weren’t the only ones with weapons. They could have launched their bombs and their enemies launched theirs.” Phil gestured, making two arcs with his fingers and making an explosion. “Mutually assured destruction.”
“Sounds likely,” Pietro said with a shrug. “I wouldn't believe everything they told us."
Phil nodded. "You ever wonder how many of us are alive out here? I mean, we were one country, one continent. I have to assume that the other countries would be affected."
"Probably," Wanda agreed. "We'd have to drive north or south to find out."
"Yeah," Phil agreed. "I've always been curious about what killed this place?”
“Aliens,” Clint stated as he stepped into view.
“Aliens?” Phil repeated.
“Aliens. Aliens invaded, they attacked, we responded, and we died, so did the planet,” Clint stated as he made his way over to the fire and sat down next to it. It was only when Clint had sat that Phil noticed that Clint had killed something, which he started cleaning.
“You’re saying creatures from out there, invaded us,” Phil said gesturing toward the night sky.
“No, well, kind of, they didn’t use flying ships, they used portals,” Clint explained. “And really it was war between aliens that spilled over and our world leaders sided with the wrong group, so we got destroyed along with them.”
Phil stared at Clint for a long moment, before shaking his head and looking at Wanda and Pietro.
“And where did you come up with this theory?” Phil asked, unable to keep the disbelief out of his voice.
Clint glanced up at him. “Fury. The Starks. The fact that I’ve seen two alien weapons.”
“Two?” Wanda asked, frowning.
Clint nodded. “Two, the first one has a lock on it.”
“A lock?” Pietro asked.
“Spell?” Clint said, shrugging. “I don’t know. All I know is that I tried to lift it once, couldn’t do it.”
“So it was heavy?” Wanda asked.
Clint snorted. “Immovable except for certain people. Still not sure how it’s decided who those people are.”
“How do you know it’s not just some advanced pre-war weapon?” Phil asked.
“Well, there’s also the fact that I’ve met one of the aliens.”
Phil stared at Clint for a moment and then he couldn't help but laugh at the very idea that Clint had met an alien. “Are you sure?”
“Completely,” Clint stated. “Odinson was part of the war.”
“Sure, he was,” Phil agreed, chuckling as he shook his head. “And how do you know he was alien?”
“I’ve known him for ten years, hasn’t aged a day,” Clint replied, echoing Phil’s smile.
“I doubt that,” Phil stated. “You'll see him again, he’ll have aged.”
Clint shrugged. “You don’t want to believe me then you don’t have to. I’ve got more important things to worry about.”
“Like how you’re going to cook that?” Pietro asked, gesturing to the animal that Clint was cleaning.
“There’s something I can use in the Rig, I just have to get it out.”
“So you’ll have it ready to be cooked and then… set it in the sand?” Wanda asked.
Clint paused in what he was doing. “Shit!”
Wanda and Pietro grinned, glancing at Phil. He cast them a smile, amused by Clint.
“Old man just wanted to show off his knowledge,” Pietro teased.
“Trying to impress us,” Wanda agreed.
“Forgot what he was doing.”
“Silly old man.”
By the time they were done, Clint had paused and was glaring at the pair of them. “I don’t have to share.”
“Like you wouldn’t share,” Wanda replied with no fear in her voice. "You like us."
"You like Wanda too much," Pietro amended.
"Well, you're an ass," Clint shot back. "Now go be useful and find a pan."
Pietro sighed, before pushing himself up and heading over to the Rig. Clint watched a moment, before looking over at Phil. He sighed dramatically. "Kids."
Phil smiled. "Is that why we stopped? So you could hunt?"
Clint nodded. "Saw a couple of signs, figured it wouldn't hurt to look."
"So Wanda and Pietro started the fire in case you were triumphant?"
"Yep, they're good kids."
"They are," Phil agreed. He closed his eyes and opened them, meeting Clint's. "We should…"
"Stop calling them kids, because they're old enough to make their own decisions?" Clint finished before Phil could suggest taking them back. He glanced over at Wanda, who was watching him with an arched eyebrow.
"I still don't understand why you came with," Phil admitted.
"Someone has to watch Clint's back and Natasha's injured," Wanda explained. "She would want us to."
He looked over at Clint.
Clint sighed. "I have family out there - a brother. I know what it's like to wonder, if he's still alive. Bobbi's team didn't go that far; we can find out."
Phil nodded, falling quiet as Pietro returned with a pan and Clint got to cooking. Phil looked up at the stars and considered Clint's alien theory. No, he could believe the twins' story and his own, but aliens..? That wasn't possible.
"Hey," Clint said, gently. "You sleeping?"
"No, thinking about your outrageous theory," Phil replied, shooting him a smile.
Clint shook his head. "I'd prove it, but then I'd have to kidnap you and I don't want to do that."
Phil chuckled and shook his head. "Did you need me for something?"
"Yeah," Clint said, extending a bowl.
"What's this?" PHil said, sitting up.
"Your share," Clint replied.
Phil glanced and saw that Wanda and Pietro were eating out of their own bowls. "You didn't…"
"Part of the Clint Barton Helps package." He pulled the bowl with a teasing bowl. "Unless you don't want it."
"No, I didn't say that," Phil said, reaching to take it. He fully expected Clint to go and sit with the twins, but instead Clint took a seat next to him, digging into his food. Phil followed suit and glanced at Clint as he chewed and chewed. "This is not what I expected."
Clint barked out a laugh. "Did you think it would be good?"
"Not quite so chewy," Phli replied around bite. "It's not bad."
"But it's not good either," Clint flashed him a grin.
Phil nodded as he smiled. Clint had been pleasant company on the trip. He talked about battles that his friends and he had survived, places he'd been. He also listened, asking questions, but changing directions before Phil had realized that he'd even given a signal that he didn't want to talk about things. If it hadn't been for Daisy being in danger, Phil probably would have been enjoying the trip.
He glanced over, catching Clint's profile in the firelight as he watched Wanda and Pietro. There was a fondness in his eyes and the smallest of smiles. He wondered if Clint had ever taken on a male lover.
Phil's eyes widened and he looked down at the bowl of food. Focusing on the food as he ate, trying not to think any more about those types of thoughts about Clint. It was just a physical reaction to an attractive man. Besides, he was out here for Daisy, and Clint… Well, Clint probably wouldn't be interested in a guy that hit on someone when their kid was in danger.
"Of course, I'm sure," Natasha replied, staring at her from where she was seated in her bed. Maria hated to admit how regal Natasha looked. She should look sick, or something, she was in medical.
"So, there are three of them," Maria said, resting her hands on the footrest and leaning on them.
"If not more," Natasha replied.
Maria arched an eyebrow.
"There could be more," Natasha replied. "We don't know how many plans Grant has and what they are."
Maria's eyes narrowed. "But we could find out. We know they're interested in something in this place."
"Medical records. One of them wanted my medical records."
Maria stared at her in bewilderment. "Why would they want that?"
Natasha shrugged. "I guess that's what we need to figure out along with the rest."
"You think they'll be back?"
Natasha nodded. "They've been in here multiple times, we'll just have to have a stakeout."
Maria turned to look over medical. "Not many places to hide in here."
"I can hide in plain sight," Natasha said. "Just pretend I'm sleeping."
"You think that will fool them?"
"They stood right where you were and didn't realize I was awake."
Maria nodded. "How many do you think we could hide in here?"
"Not many, you could always grab them later, after you or someone else has identified him," Natasha answered.
Maria nodded. "I need to talk to Trip, I'll be back later tonight."
"I'll be here," Natasha replied.
Maria hesitated, before reaching out and resting her hand on Natasha's blanket covered ankle. "Thank you for all of your help and your partner's."
"Don't thank me for his help," Natasha replied. "Thank him when he gets back."
"When." Natasha stated. "He always comes back and when he doesn't, it usually means I have to go and save his ass."
Maria smiled. "I'll be back later."
"Bring me some food when you do," Natasha requested. "I assume you'll be busy all day until around dinner."
"Sure, I'll bring dinner," Maria agreed as she stepped away.
"It's a date," Natasha called.
Maria stuttered in her steps. She knew that before the war, humans had gone on dates, but Natasha couldn't mean that. Maria shook her head as she left.
She spent the day checking on the fleet, the wall, and their defenses. Maria was certain that they could stand against many outside threats. Inside threats were what worried her. In the afternoon, she asked Jessica to ask Trip to come to her office. They talked there about Bobbi's recovery and what Natasha had heard. They argued briefly about who should spy, but Maria overruled Trip. Trip was needed to take care of too many people and while he was training a few people in what he knew, he was still the most knowledgeable.
Maria grabbed dinner and then brought it over to Natasha. They ate, quietly discussing their plan, and then Maria made a show of leaving and going to bed. She stayed there until it was dark and then snuck back and slipped into a closet. She resisted the urge to stop and watch Natasha sleep; that was far too creepy.
It took an hour or two before she heard movement in the ward. She waited, straining to catch the sound of voices, but they were quiet. She gently pushed the door open to try to spot one of the traitors. She caught sight of the one of their silhouettes and reached down to pull her gun. She slipped out of the closet and advanced on the… man, that was a man's silhouette.
Maria's eyes widened when she realized who it was. "Strucker."
"Evening Maria," Alex greeted her. "Have you met Tony?"
There was a slight sound, the only warning given for Maria to duck. Something large and long swung over her head. She twisted to see Masters swinging. "Fast for an old broad."
"Hardly old," Maria said, moving to raise her gun.
Masters moved faster, sword coming down, forcing Maria to roll to dodge.
Something knocked into Masters, hitting him hard and fast. Maria caught a flash of red. Natasha! Who shouldn't be moving, she was still injured. Masters grunted and then something dropped from the ceiling. There was a sickly green flash and Natasha screamed, before collapsing. Maria caught sight of Jessica.
"No," Maria whispered as Jessica raised her hand and the green lightning arced from her fingers and into Maria.
"Let's go look, she could still be out there," Clint said, opening the door.
Phil nodded, moving to climb out of the rig, rifle in hand and pistol strapped to his thigh. Clint grabbed his bow and quiver before climbing out. They were joined by Wanda and Pietro as they climbed down the far end of the war rig. Together the four of them made their way through the wreckage.
"No signs of bodies," Pietro noted as they met in the middle.
"Doesn't mean she's not dead though, they could have killed her elsewhere," Phil pointed out. "They might have tried to save her."
"Well, we're not giving up," Clint said, looking at Wanda. "Wanda, think you can help us out here?"
Wanda bit her lip, pulling the red shawl tighter around her body. "It doesn't work like that… I can't…"
"Wanda," Clint said. "You are amazing and I'm pretty sure you can do whatever it is you need to do. I need you to try."
She frowned, but nodded.
"Pietro, when she gives the signal, you follow that path. Stay safe, don't let anyone see you okay?"
"That would be my plan"
Pietro grinned, holding up two energy bars, before tucking them into his belt. "I got this, old man."
"Barton?" Phil started, frowning.
"Come on Phil, let's give the twins room to work," Clint said, grabbing his arm and gently guiding him backwards toward the rig. Pietro followed with them as Wanda headed toward the center of the wreckage and dropping her shawl.
"What is she doing?" Phil asked, softly. At least, respecting the look of concentration on her face.
"We may not have been completely honest about the twins," Clint admitted, looking over at Wanda. A red mist was starting to rise and it formed into a line heading toward the northwest.
"What the fuck?" Phil murmured as Clint felt a the wind of Pietro running past. "The fuck? Barton?"
Clint looked over at Phil. "They were being experimented on when we found them. It gave them something extra."
"Something extra?" Phil repeated. "And you decided not to tell me until now?"
Clint shrugged. "It wasn't relevant until now."
"The Shieldwall was attacked!"
"I believe I tried to tell you to put us on the wall, but you told us to hang back, so we wouldn't be in the way."
"I wouldn't have, if I knew about that!"
"It wasn't my secret to tell," Clint stated, crossing his arms. "After all, we had no reason to trust you either."
Phil glared at him. "Is there anything else you aren't telling me?"
"Do you have powers? Does Natasha?"
"No and I would say enhanced for Natasha."
Phil paused. "Enhanced?"
"A lot of it was training, but I'm pretty sure she had something done to her as well. She heals a little faster than normal."
Phil stared at him for a long moment. He opened his mouth to say something when there was a gust of wind.
"Found 'em," Pietro stated.
Phil coughed at the dust that Pietro kicked up.
"How far?" Clint asked.
"Going to be at least two days drive on your rig."
"Two days?! And you ran it in a few seconds?!" Phil spluttered.
"Rather like where you found Wanda and I. It's not going to be easy."
"It never is," Clint said, considering it. "Make sure you eat your fill of the energy bars and make sure Wanda does to. We're going to need every ounce of your abilities if we're going to handle this."
Pietro nodded, before going over to help his sister up. Clint looked back at Phil. "We have a long ride, you want to yell at me now or in the Rig?"
"The Rig," Phil growled.
Clint nodded and turned to head for the rig. He could feel Phil glaring at the back of his head.
Natasha came to all at once, fully aware that her hands were tied to the back of a chair along with her feet. There was someone breathing next to her. Plus there was the arguing.
"This place is abandoned," Jessica said. "There are lots of abandoned buildings. It's not even on Fitz's demolition list."
"So we can stash 'em for a bit, but what are we going to do with them?" Masters asked.
"We should do what Grant would want us to do," Jessica stated. "If they're one of us or If they're fertile, we keep them alive. If they're not, kill 'em."
Masters barked out a laugh. "If they aren't one of you and they aren't fertile and they're women. That means they're mine. Your Hive promised me a couple of…"
He cut off as Hill groaned herself awake.
Tony stated. "She can go."
"I haven't been able to confirm.."
"Oh, please, Hill's probably dry as the wasteland beyond the wall and just as lifebringing," Masters cut her off.
"Jessica?" Maria asked. "How could you? We were family."
"You were never my family," Jessica stated. "That's Grant and the others like me."
"Like you?" Maria asked. Natasha could picture Maria's confusion. "You were in the ceiling."
"I wasn't in the ceiling," Jessica stated.
On the ceiling, Natasha was certain of that. She hadn't considered there might be someone like Wanda and Pietro.
"You shot lightning, green lightning!" Maria said.
That explained why Natasha hadn't felt anything jab into her, before going down.
"How?" Maria asked. "Why?"
"I told you, I'm loyal to my family," Jessica said. "To where I belong."
"We accepted you, all of you, we accepted Grant," Maria spat out.
"What about Garrett?" Jessica asked. "He was Grant's family first and you cast him out."
"Garrett didn't want to build a family, he wanted to rule!"
"So you cast him out to die?" Jessica hissed. There was a long pause. "You can't kill her Masters, not yet, not until Grant brings her Coulson's head. Maybe, he'll convince Daisy to do it."
"Daisy would never hurt Phil! She doesn't even like Grant that much!"
"Grant can be very convincing," Jessica said.
Internally, Natasha frowned. There was some note in there, something that made Natasha think that Grant's convincing was through other means than talking.
"Enough," Alex said with a sigh. "I really don't want to hear about Grant."
"Grant…!" Jessica started.
"Grant wanted you to listen to me, Maria is just winding you up," Alex said. She heard a press of lips. "Now, hush, Grant left me in charge, remember?"
"I remember," Jessica said, softly. "You're in charge."
"So, we need to go back in and find out what we can," Alex said. "So Grant can decide what to do with her." He paused. "With them both."
"Right," Jessica replied. She sighed softly. "He'll be back soon. All he has to do introduce Daisy to her destiny and he'll come for us."
"Yes," Alex agreed. There was the slight shift. "And the three of us will be rewarded when we present Grant with these two and all the names of those fertile and those with the proper blood."
There was a slight snort, which must have come from Masters. "Proper blood…"
Natasha slammed her chair back, breaking it. Legs now free, she knocked Jessica and Alex down. They tumbled together. She popped up to find Masters watching.
"Nice move, can't wait to try it," Tony said and launched into his own attack, pulling out a sword.
She ducked under his swing and punched her hand up into her jaw, pushing Masters' head back. She threw more punches, hitting him with parts of the chair, knocking him back, off his feet, and into a table, where he groaned.
Natasha twisted, launching herself at Jessica, before she had a chance to fire any of her bolts. She heard the click of a gun and spun chucking a piece of the chair at Alex, who dodged. She kicked out, knocking the gun from his hands, and then attacking the other piece of the chair until he lay unmoving on the ground.
She ducked into a roll and grabbed the gun coming up. Fear, intense fear racked her, as she stood. There was nothing to fear here, Natasha thought, pushing the fear aside with a force of will that had been trained into her. She looked at Jessica, who was still upright, but backed into a corner.
"You think you can scare me?" Natasha asked, strongly suspecting the fear was coming from her. She advanced on Jessica. "I am Drakov's Daughter. Fear is nothing." Natasha moved to strike quick and true, knocking Jessica out.
"Drakov's Daughter?" Maria repeated.
"Long story," Natasha said.
"I thought you were hurt," Maria pointed.
Natasha shrugged. "I got better."
"Why were in the hospital then?"
"Best way to find out who was sneaking around," Natasha replied, going around to untie her.
Maria nodded. "Do you think it was just them?"
"The three of them will be rewarded," Natasha repeated, giving Maria a small grin.
"You were awake?" Maria asked, looking surprised. "What are you?"
"I'm human," Natasha replied. "At least as far as I know."
Natasha shrugged. "I don't know. Baseline human?"
"Baseline?" Maria repeated, rubbing her wrists after they were freed.
"Can we talk about it later?" Natasha asked. "We kind of need to secure these three and find some place where Jessica can't affect us with whatever she hit us with."
"I have an idea," Maria replied, looking around the room. "Where'd Masters go?"
"He was..." Natasha turned to find that he was missing. "Shit! Go, get some people to go after him and move these two. I'll make sure they don't go anywhere."
Maria nodded, getting up, and slipping out. Natasha eyed the two remaining on the ground. She raided the room, finding some rope to tie them up. It took about twenty minutes for Maria to come back with Trip and another girl.
"Hunter is looking for Masters," Maria stated. "Mack is securing the vehicles."
"Piper, ma'am," the girl answered. "Work in security."
Natasha nodded. Together the four of them secured Alex and Jessica in separate cells, in separate places in the Haven. Jessica's cell, Maria explained was one that had been designed for infectious diseases.
Trip demanded that both of them be checked out and then they were released with a few pointed comments about Natasha's recovered stab wound. Natasha ignored them, happy to be allowed to leave. She paused outside, taking in the warm sun. She glanced over and saw Maria beaten and beautiful.
"So what next?" Natasha asked.
"Find Masters, but something tells me he's flown the coop. Trip won't let me get involved anyway. I'll need to interrogate Jessica and Alex," Maria replied. "But that can wait until after they wake up, but now…" Maria trailed off shaking her head.
"Sleep?" Natasha suggested.
Maria shook her head. "I don't think I can get my mind to stop. You know, too much to do?"
Natasha nodded. "I understand. I've found sex helps. Interested?"
Maria blinked, completely surprised by the offer. "What? They just..."
"Threatened us," Natasha finished, calmly. "I stopped him, before they could follow through and since, I refuse to let that filth decide how I live my life. I like you, I want to have sex with you. Are you interested?"
Maria stared at her for a long moment. "Yes."
Natasha smiled. "Your place or mine?"
"Mine," Maria replied. "It's more private."
"Lead the way," Natasha said, reaching out to grab her hand. Maria squeezed it once and led the way.
Maria's quarters were secluded, but Natasha noted that there were a few more guards stationed nearby. They headed up the steps and into the Maria's sparse quarters. Natasha closed the door behind her and smiled at Maria.
"You're sure?" Natasha asked, giving Maria a chance to back out.
Maria nodded. "Yes…"
Natasha wasted no time, surging forward to kiss the other woman. Maria's mouth opened up under hers. They kissed for a long moment, before Maria's fingers found their way under Natasha's shirt to touch. Natasha smiled into the kiss and guided Maria back to where she'd spotted the bed.
"Spied on me?" Maria asked.
"Got the layout of the room at least," Natasha replied, smiling into the kiss.
Phil opened his eyes fully as he felt the Rig begin to slow. "Why are we slowing down?"
"We're not, we're stopping," Clint said.
"We there?" Phil asked, sitting up and seeing nothing outside.
"No, we've got about a half day still," Clint said.
"Then why are we stopping?" Phil asked.
"We're going into a hostile environment and we're going to need to leave in a hurry; I want to make sure that nothing is close to breaking on us."
Phil considered that, before nodding.
"No arguments?" Clint asked, sounding suspicious.
Phil shook his head. "No. Actually, I think it's a good idea, anything I can do to help?"
"Gas her up," Clint offered.
Phil nodded as Clint turned the Rig off and climbed out. Phil slipped out his own side and headed down to make sure the Rig was filled with guzzolene.
"Hey, Coulson, why are we stopped?" Wanda called down from the back lookout.
Phil gave her Clint's reasons as he started to pull out the hose to fill up the tank. He wasn't too surprised when he caught sight of Wanda climbing down.
"It's a lot easier to get down when this thing isn't moving," Wanda said, stretching upwards. "I'm not sure how Clint and Natasha climb all over it."
Phil continued working. "Do they climb on this when it's moving a lot?"
"From what I've seen, yes." Wanda wrapped her shawl around her shoulders. "Clint likes to drive though."
"I can tell," Phil said, offering her a smile.
"He lets Tasha drive and they taught me how to drive," Wanda added, smiling. "They didn't bother with Pietro."
"Well, he's faster on foot," Phil agreed.
"He'd get bored," Wanda murmured. "The world moves slow to him now."
"Now? You weren't always like this?" Phil asked, pausing in his work to look at her.
Wanda hesitated, before shaking her head. "We volunteered." She held out her hand and a ball of something red formed. "They lied to us, convinced us, that they were going to fix the world, and all they wanted to do was rule it." She snuffed out the red by closing her hand into a fist.
"Clint and Natasha?"
"Saved us, more Natasha than Clint, but Clint was, is dealing with own demons," Wanda murmured softly. "He helped and now, he helps more now."
Phil nodded. "Teaching you to shoot."
"Aim, which is a skill that will transfer. Plus, he believes in my abilities." She smiled softly. "Like the tracking spell."
“You didn’t think you could?” Phil questioned.
Wanda nodded. “He did. He’s seen more in this world.”
A blur and Pietro was suddenly there. "I thought you were getting some food."
"I was, Phil distracted me," Wanda replied.
Pietro gave him a long look, before shrugging. "Come, it'll be nice to eat on something that isn't moving."
Wanda laughed and followed her brother to where they kept the food supplies.
Phil finished filling the Rig's tank with guzzolene and wrapping up the hose. He headed toward the front of the truck and could hear the muttering from within.
"Clint?" Phil called.
There was a bang followed by a curse. "Phil?"
"Sorry, are you okay?" Phil asked, scaling the cab to peer under the hood.
"Fine," Clint muttered. "Tank full?"
"Yeah, you need any help?" Phil asked.
"I would totally be okay with you helping," Clint started.
"But…" Phil said, since he could hear it.
"Tony put this together and it's not newcomer friendly," Clint answered.
"How bad could to be it?" Phil asked.
"Well," Clint started and started telling him all about Stark and some of his crazier ideas. Phil found himself laughing and enjoying the mixture of fondness and annoyance in Clint's voice.
"He sounds like a character," Phil murmured.
"Oh he is, I don't know how Pepper and Rhodes put up with him."
"Pepper and Rhodes are...?"
"Rhodes is… Stark's self appointed bodyguard slash fellow black thumb slash driver," Clint explained. "And Pepper is kind of like Maria. She runs Starkton and does it so well it should be called Pottstown."
"Sounds like you've got a whole second family back there," Phil mused.
"Yeah," Clint agreed. "I kind of miss 'em."
"You ever worry about them?" Phil asked.
Clint snorted. "No, not with Bruce, Steve, and Odinson watching over the city."
Phil hesitated. "Are any of them like Wanda and Pietro?"
"Well, Odinson is an alien," Clint replied.
Phil rolled his eyes. "Not this again!"
"Sorry," Clint said, not sounding sorry at all.
Phil shook his head, feeling content to just linger.
"Hey Phil?" Clint called out, sounding uncertain.
"Yeah?" Phil answered.
"It's going to be a bit, and I've certainly yakked your ear off. I, uh, think it's your turn."
"My turn to what?"
"Talk about yourself. Come on, I've talked about my life. What about yours?"
"I've told you about how I ended up with the city," Phil argued.
"Yeah, but… How'd you meet Maria? Or Melinda?"
"You want to know that?" Phil asked, surprised.
"Yeah," Clint replied.
Phil hesitated, before launching into the story of how he met Melinda, because he'd met Melinda first. It had been back when she'd had been married, which Clint seemed surprised to discover. Which led to Phil talking about Andrew and the falling out she'd had with him. He didn't go into too many details, because the reasons were very personal to Melinda. Clint didn't push. From there he went on to talk about meeting Maria. He was rather lost in the retelling and didn't hear the Clint climbing out of the engine until he was suddenly face to face with the other man.
"All done?" Phil asked, surprised to find those multi-colored eyes suddenly so close.
"Yeah." Clint's eyes were warm.
Phil glanced down at Clint's lips, wondering how they would feel against his own.
"We, uh, should get going," Clint said, pulling back a bit.
"Yeah," Phil agreed, forcing himself to look away and move away. Somehow, he caught sight of the shadows of the Rig, watching as Clint twisted his way out. Nope, he did not need to think about how flexible Clint apparently was.
Phil headed down the Rig, spotting Wanda and Pietro. "Clint's all done, I think we're ready to roll."
"Alright," Wanda said, moving to climb back up to the lookout. Phil made his way back to the cab and climbed into the passenger side. He wasn't too surprised to find Clint already in the driver seat with the Rig running.
"Twins are climbing up," Phil said. "I'd give 'em a few."
Clint smirked, a mischievous gleam in his eye. "You know I can jump on the back end as it's gaining speed. I bet, it's child play for Pietro, too."
"Be nice, Clint," Phil growled, resisting the urge to smile at Clint's antics.
"No fun," Clint said, not looking at him. He opened the door and leaned out to yell "You two up there yet."
"Yes!" Pietro yelled back.
Clint came back in and started the car up. "Get some sleep Phil, we don't have much longer."
Phil snorted. "Doubt I'll be sleep."
"Try," Clint encouraged.
"I'll try," Phil promised, slipping down into his seat as the Rig began to roll.
He certainly hadn't expected that to find Phil waiting just outside the hood. It had almost looked like Phil was going to kiss him, but that was crazy. Phil wasn't interested in that. He shouldn't be interested in that. Maybe Clint needed to act like a bigger asshole, try to push him away. The problem was…
He liked Phil. Phil was kind and smart. He was a fighter, had to be in this world to have survived losing an arm. Clint was completely fucked if Phil was still capable in a fight. Clint glanced over at Phil, head tipped back, showing Phil's long line of throat.
Clint forced his eyes back to the horizon. He could do this, he could be polite and distant. Then, maybe, if Clint could, he would come back for Phil, and maybe start something once his business was handled. They both needed to survive Daisy's rescue first.
Clint's eyes narrowed as he caught sight of a slight change in the landscape. He watched it for a moment, before growling. That was definitely smoke, which meant something was happening. He reached over and rested his hand on Phil's leg.
"Hey," Clint shook Phil's leg gently. "Wake up."
"Mmm?" Phil roused. Clint caught Phil looking at him.
"Hey, I need you to go get Pietro," Clint said. "Send him up here."
"Something the matter?"
"Maybe," Clint murmured. Smoke was still rising after all.
"Alright," Phil said, popping open the door and disappearing.
Clint tried to keep the Rig as smooth as possible until Pietro appeared at his window.
"What's the matter, old man?" Pietro asked, leaning in.
"There's smoke, probably at Ward's outpost," Clint explained.
Pietro looked forward, eyes narrowing. "I'd say, I don't see it, but…"
"My eyes are better than yours," Clint finished. "Go investigate, if Daisy has rescued herself, then get her out of there."
"Will do," Pietro said, disappearing in a blur.
Clint breathed out, hoping that Daisy was freeing herself. It would make this rescue mission easier. He glanced at the rearview mirror, wondering if Phil was coming back. It didn't matter, he was probably safer with Wanda anyway.
Clint kept driving until the passenger door opened.
“I do not like climbing along the outside of this thing!” Phil grumbled as he re-entered the cab.
Clint chuckled softly, catching sight of the glare that Phil shot him out of the corner of his eye.
“Pietro came back and took Wanda,” Phil said.
“What?!” Clint snapped, looking over at him. “Why?”
“He didn’t say why, just grabbed her and went,” Phil replied. “I take it he didn’t clear it with you.”
“No,” Clint grumbled, glancing down at his dashboard and biting his lip as he considered why Pietro would come back for Wanda. Nothing good, that was for sure.
“How far out are we?” Phil asked.
“Further than I’d like to be,” Clint replied.
Phil fell silent for a long moment. “Is that smoke?”
“Yeah, which is why I sent Pietro there," Clint explained. "Shit’s going down and we’re not there. You’re going to need to take the wheel.”
“I’m a better shot, so you should drive.”
“You sure about that?”
“My eyesight is better.”
“That doesn’t mean anything!”
“Trust me, no one has better aim, except maybe Kate.”
“Kate?” Phil questioned.
“She’s damn amazing, Phil," Clint admitted. "I want to adopt her, so that Wanda has a sister instead of that annoying brother of hers.” Kate could totally be his kid.
Phil smiled. “You still like him.”
“He calls me ‘old man’,” Clint grumbled. “I know I’m older than him, but c’mon, we’re not old enough to be called old.”
Phil’s eyes widen slightly. “I don’t know, I guess, I’ve started thinking of myself as old somewhere along the line.”
Clint looked at him. “Seriously?”
“I’m losing my hair.”
“Fury's completely bald, would never think of his as old.” Mostly, because he was too afraid of it.
“I have wrinkles!”
“You have laugh lines, which is a fucking miracle considering the world.”
“I have to squint to do repairs on my arm now,” Phil replied, making a fist with his prosthetic.
“Eh, so do I, somewhere in this thing, there’s some old spectacles that help when I have to work on arrowheads.”
Phil studied Clint for a brief moment. “How do you work on arrowheads?”
“They’re trick arrows - bomb, electric, gas…”
Clint smirked at the description, but he really couldn't argue with that descriptor.
Wanda closed her eyes, images of an injured Natasha flashed through her memory. She took as deep a breath as she could, determined to do what she needed to do. She would protect her family.
She opened her eyes, noting buildings flashing by as Pietro slowed. He set her on her feet.
"Flame skull, may not be enemy," Pietro said, before disappearing.
"Oy, where'd you come from?" a dark haired man said, stumbling out of a building.
"Long story, looking for Daisy," Wanda replied, flexing her fingers.
"Are you?" the man said, dropping a chain.
Wanda nodded, firing a blast of energy when he flicked the chain at her as fire spread down it.
The man smiled. "One of us, huh?"
"There's no one like me," Wanda said, gesturing and sending him back into a wall.
"I don't know about that," Grant said. "We're a little special here."
Wanda turned and found Grant and Daisy walking out of building, Grant's arm wrapped around Daisy.
"Daisy," Wanda said. "We're here to rescue you."
"Rescue me?" Daisy asked, looking confused. "I don't need to be rescued. I belong here."
"What about Phil?" Wanda asked.
Daisy shrugged. "What about him?"
"He's your family," Wanda replied.
"No, I'm her family," Grant said, raising his hand. "And I think you would be a great addition." Dust, pieces of Grant's skin, flew from his hand toward Wanda. She threw up a barrier, destroying whatever it was and flicked it at him.
"Grant!" Daisy screamed when he toppled.
Daisy turned and a shockwave sent Wanda flying. She groaned, getting to her feet quickly as she realized that Daisy had flung that at her. Just as Wanda found her footing, the earth shook, knocking her to the ground.
"Can't use your powers, if you can't stand," Daisy mocked.
Wanda threw her hands to the ground, pushing herself into the air with force of her blast. Up past the building and then down onto a building, which immediately started crumbling. Wanda lifted off again, going to another, sensing the air movement, to dodge another blast.
She landed on an empty square, looking around for more of Grant's minions.
Red energy came to her fingers as a man in leather jacket stepped out with… a flaming skull. The skull showed no emotion as it advanced on her.
"Not your enemy, not one of Grant's," she yelled.
The skull hesitated, looking at her. Wanda felt Judged as he looked into her eyes. All her sins and deeds laid bare. Flaming skull stopped.
"They're on the other side of the building," Wanda said. "I can give you a boost."
The flaming skull nodded.
"This might hurt," Wanda warned, before lifting him up and into the air. As soon the flaming skull hit the roof, Wanda took off in a jog, trying to find a way back around.
"Yes," Phil said, eyes on the path, taking in the fires. "Anything else?"
"Try not to hit Wanda or Pietro."
"Yeah, I know."
Clint nodded, reaching up and opening the sunroof.
Clint paused, ducking back in.
"Stay safe," Phil said, blue eyes pleading with him.
For a moment, Clint was surprised that Phil was genuinely concerned; as far as he knew, Phil still didn't know that they were soulmates. It meant that Phil might actually worry about him, which amazed Clint. He forced a cocky smile.
"Don't try any crazy stunts with my Rig while I'm on top of it and I'll be fine," Clint promised, before climbing out and closing the sunroof partway. The front sat slightly higher than the back end and the cab. Clint scanned the compound as he pulled out an arrow, readying it. He braced for impact as Phil went through their gates and started shooting on instinct.
If they had a gun and looked to be a threat, Clint shot them. Split second decisions to save their lives. He swapped arrowheads as needed and moved with the Rig.
When a regular arrow was stopped by a guy that looked like he should be running a gladiatorial ring and having guys compete for his amusement, Clint sent a bomb arrow to him. The arrow was stopped, it went boom, and the broadhead following the bomb took him out.
Broadhead to the redhead with a gun.
Putty arrow to the guy that was shooting electricity.
Broadhead to another redhead with a gun.
Weird guy with sunglasses took a bolo arrow.
He fired a broadhead at what appeared to be a speedster like Pietro, but a woman. Pietro caught it and went back to fighting with the woman. Clint lost them a moment later.
Broadhead to a third redhead, this time with a rifle.
They came upon a clearing where two pyromaniacs were flinging fire at one another, one had a flaming skull. Fuck, this world just kept getting weirder and weirder.
Clint fired off two ice arrows at them, grateful that he hadn't wasted all of Stark's specialty arrows. The ground suddenly shot up in front of them, Clint attempted to brace himself, but Phil hit the break before he could, sending him lurching forward.
Clint slid down the window, popping up to run down it, firing an electric arrow the moment he spotted whoever might have caused the ground to move up.
A quick flash of orange red and Clint fired a broadhead in that direction, taking out a fourth redhead. Phil emerged from the cab, dropping to the ground, behind the barrier, carrying Clint's biggest rifle. He was barely on the ground, before he was firing taking out a fifth redhead.
"Did that one have a rocket launcher?" Clint asked.
"I believe so," Phil agreed. "Any signs of Daisy?"
Clint frowned, glancing at where he'd taken out the ground-controlling powered individual. "About…"
A blue-skinned tentacle monster--or at least a man with a tentacle monster for a head--appeared in the center of the clearing. He looked in the direction that the woman Clint thought was Daisy had landed, before looking at Clint. "You! How dare you!" Tentacles were twitching.
"That's Grant's voice," Phil said, looking up at Clint. Clint glanced down at him, and Phil made a motion with his head to indicate that he was going to try to go around the barrier. Clint shook his head.
"I'll make you pay for hurting her!" Tentacle monster Grant said, lifting his hand up and what looked to be dust started flying up out of his fingertips.
"I think we need to run now," Clint said, turning and starting up the cab.
"What?" Phil asked.
"Run!" Clint yelled as he caught sight of the red of Wanda's… powers? Clint was never really sure how to even describe Wanda's abilities. He wasn't sure what the red fields were made out of, just that they could knock someone off their feet or contain them. He followed it, catching sight of Wanda near the woman that looked like Daisy was.
Clint stilled, pulling out the arrow with the most explosives attached and stringing it. He drew it back. "Wanda! Drop it and run!" he bellowed. The bomb attached was going to a large blast area. It might take out Daisy, but Clint wasn't about to let some evil powered individual keep living.
She glanced at him and her power falling away as Clint fired the arrow.
"Down!" he said, tapping the button to activate it. He jumped off the rig, seeking shelter behind the ground wall. Phil was there a moment later.
"Why are we down?" Phil asked, a few seconds later.
"Because one of these arrows is a fucking dud and I'm going to kill Stark," Clint growled, pulling another arrow and putting it between his teeth to quickly scale the cab. Only to find that Wanda was containing the blast. "Shit, Let it go, Wanda!"
"I can do this!" Wanda yelled, sounding in pain.
"Can she do that?" Phil asked.
Clint almost did a double take to realize that Phil had climbed up the cab instead of staying on the ground, where it was fucking safer.
"Apparently," Clint said as he watched the blast burn up along with Tentacle monster Grant, all contained within Wanda's powers. Seconds later, she dropped to the ground. Clint was already running down the cab to head to her, which of course was when the fire head guy broke free and grabbed the chain on the ground. Fire raced down the chain, which he picked up and quickly wrapped around the other fire guy and killed him.
Clint drew another arrow, readying as the Firehead turned to look at them. "I wanted to do that?"
"Do what?" Clint asked. "Take out the tentacle head monster?"
"He killed my little brother," Fire head said.
"Well, he's dead now," Clint pointed out. "So why don't we take our people and just go."
"I'll go when I know his influence is gone too."
"Influence?" Phil asked.
"He had mind control power," Pietro said, arriving with a woman in his arms, which he carefully set down.
"Were all of them controlled?" Clint asked.
Pietro shrugged. "Daisy turned on us, so I would say yes."
"Daisy?" Phil asked.
"She's here," Wanda said. "She alive, Clint's arrow only knocked her out."
"You shot Daisy?" Phil said, turning to look at him.
"She tried to kill us," Clint pointed out, before going to check on her. "And it was an electric arrow with lower intensity." He paused as he made his way over. "Wanda…"
"My head hurts a lot," Wanda said. "Can I sleep in the cab?"
"Of course," Clint said, and was unsurprised when she disappeared in a blur. "Thanks Pietro."
Clint knelt down and checked to make sure Daisy was still breathing, breathing a sigh of relief when she was. He was fairly certain that Phil would never have forgiven him if she had died. Phil was beside him a moment later and together they waited for Daisy to open her eyes with a groan.
"Phil?" Daisy questioned.
"Hey," Phil greeted. "You're okay, everything is going to be okay…"
"No," Daisy said softly. "I don't think it is."
Phil looked confused and looked at Clint, who shrugged. Phil started talking to Daisy again as Clint glanced over to see Firehead checking on the woman that Pietro had brought to them. She was slow to get up, but Firehead had backed up and was letting her. He looked over at them.
"I left a couple alive back there," Clint yelled out. "Why don't you check to make sure they're clear."
Firehead looked at Clint for a long moment, before heading in that direction.
Wanda hesitated before getting up and following her.
"Daisy?" Wanda called out as she came closer.
Daisy turned and almost immediately looked away. "Go away, Wanda."
Wanda hesitated, but there was no heat to Daisy's words. Instead she ventured a little closer and considered what to say next. "I had a younger sister."
"I…" Daisy started, before turning to look at her. "What?"
"A younger sister, she died along with my parents. Only Pietro and I survived," Wanda said.
"An attack, on our little farm. Pietro and I were convinced that it was this walled city that had caused it, because the people that had attacked dressed like them."
"What'd you do?"
"We escaped, we ran, and we were found," Wanda said.
"Some people who offered revenge, if we would volunteer for an experiment."
"What happened?" Daisy asked.
Wanda held up her hand with the energy appearing in it.
"So did you go to get your vengeance?"
"No, thankfully, I didn't, because we realized we were wrong. We were pawns of an even bigger game," Wanda sighed, trying not to think of it. "Clint stopped that."
"Must be nice," Daisy replied.
"It is hard to know that I almost hurt those that would never have raised their hands against me. It is hard to realize that I have that darkness in me. I can't imagine what you're going through," Wanda said softly.
"Well, thanks for the pep talk," Daisy said, hunching down.
"I can't, Clint can," Wanda stated.
Daisy turned. "How would Clint be able to imagine…?"
"Because the artifact that gave me my abilities, took his mind, and imposed another's," Wanda said quietly. "Ask him, he will talk to you. He cares about you."
"I don't want to talk about it, I just…"
"You just?" Wanda prompted.
"I hurt you, I almost hurt Phil. I wanted to kill Phil!" Daisy yelled, hands hitting the ground. She froze, eyes wide and wild, as the ground shook.
"Breathe," Wanda ordered as gently as possible. "In… out."
After a few minutes of just breathing, Wanda asked. "Better?"
Daisy nodded. "Wanda, I wanted to bring Grant Phil's mechanical arm as… as some… sick dowry."
"But you didn't, we stopped you," Wanda reminded.
"And you never should have!" Daisy yelled as she stood, ground compacted beneath her fists. She didn't need a reminder, finding her control a little faster. "You never should have needed to."
"It wasn't you. You were a…"
"It was! I remember everything, I remember wanting to kill you, to kill Phil, to knock the walls of my home down. It's not right."
"You were still under his influence," Wanda offered calmly.
"Even if I was completely fine with that, it doesn't change the fact…" Daisy started.
"With Grant came control, because he was in control," Daisy explained.
Wanda nodded. "Tell me."
"Tell you what?" Daisy asked.
"Whatever you need to about what happened?"
"So, I should tell you that Grant dropped a rock and this dust came up. Next thing I knew I breaking out of a rock cocoon. Then Grant dissolved his fingertips and I had a home, I was loved."
"You still have a home and you still are loved," Wanda reminded her gently. A rock that gave people powers seemed dangerous, and Wanda made a mental note to make sure that Clint and Phil were aware of that. Wanda wondered if she should be feeling more surprised about how Daisy got her powers, but Wanda's abilities had come from a spear, an alien one according to Clint, but still a spear.
"You don't understand, it felt so… good to belong to Grant, to be part of his family," Daisy explained. "I just…"
"Do the others feels this way?" Wanda asked. "Maybe Lincoln or Elena?" Both of them had been victims of the mind control as well and both were friendly.
Daisy shook her head. "I haven't talked to them. I don't really want to."
"Okay," Wanda relented. "They've lost that connection, too."
"I know, but they've got control. I get angry or upset and the ground shakes."
"You can learn control. You need practice, which I'm sure you'll get when you go back to Haven."
"Except, until then I might accidentally hurt someone. And after all of this, I don't think I could handle it."
"So, a plan," Wanda said. "Clint would take you in the rig."
"And do what?"
"Save Clint's brother," Wanda replied.
Daisy shook her head. "If I go with him, Phil will go to."
"And you don't want to risk hurting him."
"No, I think… I think my only option is to go off on my own," Daisy admitted.
"And do what?" Wanda asked.
"Learn control where I won't hurt anyone on accident and can't knock down Fitz's wall, just because Kate was…"
"Bragging about her accuracy?"
"Being Kate," Daisy agreed, giving her a small smile.
"You think you'd be better alone though?" Wanda asked.
Daisy nodded. "Until I know I can't hurt anyone, yeah. I just think it would best for me to go."
Wanda nodded, unable to think of anything that would change Daisy's mind. "You'll tell Phil right? Say a proper good-bye."
"Wouldn't it…" Daisy trailed off. "Yeah, he'd come after me again."
"Good choice," Wanda agreed. "I will miss you."
"I'll miss you too, tell Kate I'm sorry," Daisy pleaded.
Wanda nodded. "Of course." She hesitated, before wrapping her arms around Daisy, pulling away immediately when she saw Daisy flinch. "Daisy?"
"Sorry, my arms have been hurting," Daisy said.
"May I?" Wanda asked, reaching for her arm.
Daisy held them out and Wanda ran her fingers over them, noting the look of pain in Daisy's face.
"We should bandage these," Wanda decided. "Let me?"
Daisy nodded and Wanda led her back to camp. She was glad when she didn't see Clint or Phil right away, because she wasn't sure what to say to them and she was certain Daisy would bolt. Daisy needed to be allowed to make the decisions, and that included going to speak to Phil on her own; that much Wanda was sure of.
Daisy nodded. "Yeah, I… I'm sorry."
"I just don't understand," Phil admitted. He hated that Daisy didn’t feel like she could go home. ”Home…"
"Phil, I told you, I remember everything, and I remember how I felt, and… I just can't go back, not yet," Daisy said.
"Do you know what you'll do?" Phil asked, wondering if maybe he could convince her to go home briefly, so that she could go with Clint. Trip would be able to see her and do something about her arms. At least, if she went with Clint, she’d have someone. He couldn’t help, but think of all things that could go wrong, if she went out there by herself, especially if she was injured.
Daisy frowned. ”There's a couple cars, I…"
"She can come with me," Robbie offered, standing next to his car, which was no longer burning. Phil had been surprised to see a normal looking face appear over the flaming skull. He'd insisted that he hadn't been part of whatever Ward had been doing here. His abilities had come from something else, something that he wasn't inclined to share with them. He'd come for vengeance and had been robbed of it by Clint and Wanda.
Phil frowned as he looked over at him. "And why…?"
"Really?" Daisy asked, looking at him.
"I got two seats, don't have a particular place in mind. Not with…" Robbie trailed off. Phil wondered if it was because of the Flaming Skull thing or the death of his brother.
"I… I think I'll take you up on that," Daisy stated, hesitantly. She glanced back at Phil. “Better than being alone.”
“You could go with Clint and Natasha,” Phil argued.
“Clint has to take you back.”
“Then he’s going to leave, so you can get seen by Trip and then you can go.”
Daisy smiled, but her eyes still looked haunted. “Like you wouldn’t come up with some other reason for me to stay.”
“I…” Phil started. “If you really wanted to leave, I’d let you.”
“I know, but Phil, I can't go back, not yet. Maybe not ever. I've changed," Daisy said, softly looking up at him. "Please, Phil, let me go. Maybe it's a mistake, but this is what I want, this is my choice and…"
Phil sighed, hating this. He’d found her, raised her, and he didn’t want to let her go. "I don't like it, but you are an adult and if I don't let you, then I'm no better than Ward."
"Thank you," Daisy said softly.
Phil nodded, reaching out to cup her cheeks as he felt his eyes water. "You stay safe. Be smart and…"
"Wherever I go, I'll try to make you proud, okay?"
Phil nodded, a tear slipped out as he leaned in and kissed her forehead. “You know the gates will always open for you.”
“I know, I… I can’t promise I’ll come back, but…” Daisy started and shook her head and Phil let his hands drop away.
“I’m already proud of you,” Phil said.
Daisy hesitated, before surging forward and wrapping her arms around him in a hug, which Phil gratefully returned for a long moment. “Bye Phil.”
She pulled away and Phil resisted for just a moment longer, wanting to hold onto this moment. Daisy gave him a sad smile.
“Good bye Daisy,” Phil said, watching as she started heading to Robbie’s car.
Clint appeared holding a bag, which caused Daisy to pause. “Are…”
"Kick some ass, kid," Clint said, offering the bag. "Remember what I taught you about aiming."
Daisy smiled. "Little different."
"Should be a little easier since it's actually part of you," Clint replied, shaking the bag.
Daisy smiled at him. "Sure, Clint." She glanced at the bag. “What’s in there?”
“Metal bracers, should be better support than those bandages,” Clint replied.
“Where’d you find these?” Daisy asked.
“Talked Pietro through making them, real fast,” Clint explained. He hesitated. “Listen, those arms don’t get better though, you head east until you hit the ocean and then follow that coastline north. You’ll find a big city with really tall walls. Ask for Claire, she’ll help with ‘em.”
“Claire?” Daisy repeated.
Clint nodded. “They’re good people there. They’ll question you about everything you’ve seen and about Tasha and me, if we aren’t back there.”
“That’s where you and Tasha are headed?”
“Eventually,” Clint said. “If you go, then you can tell ‘em the, last time you saw me, I was still hunting. I still have hope.”
Daisy nodded. “Anything else, any code words or anything?”
“Yeah,” Clint grinned, looking impish. “Tell Stark that I said arrows are so much better than anything he designed and enjoy the meltdown.”
Daisy smiled. “Going to use me to start a fight?”
“Continue one,” Clint clarified.
Daisy shook her head and headed to the car. She talked with Robbie quietly for a moment. Phil resisted the urge to call her back, to force her to come with them. He reminded himself that Daisy was an adult and fully capable of making her own decision. He hated watching as she climbed in the passenger seat. Robbie saluted them and then climbed into the driver's seat. Robbie’s car kicked up a bunch of dust and grit as it took off, but Phil watched as it drove away. He watched until it slipped behind a building and then sighed softly. Daisy was gone, leaving him with a bunch of powered individuals and Clint, who had made his way over to him.
“You okay?” Clint asked.
Phil shook his head. “I don’t want her to go.”
Clint slung his arm around him and tugged him in. “She’s smart, tough. She’s going to be alright.”
“I hope so,” Phil murmured, leaning into Clint. He sighed, enjoying the comfort. “Where have you been?"
"Taking care of something," Clint replied, squeezing Phil for a moment, before stepping away. "Pietro's been loading the Rig up. We've got two new recruits for your town. Electric boy and Blink and you'll miss it." He turned to head toward where the Rig was.
"That sounds like three and those are horrible names," Phil pointed out as he followed after him.
Clint shrugged. "Well, it's true."
Phil nodded. He reached out, mildly surprised when Clint leaned away to avoid the touch. "How'd you get the bloodstain?"
Clint glanced down to where Phil had indicated. He grunted softly. "Discovered I had some business to take care of here as well."
Phil frowned. "What kind of business?"
"I tried asking nice, when it didn't work, I resorted to other methods," Clint admitted, calmly. "Didn't like it, but it was necessary."
"You're not going to tell me, are you?"
"I told you Phil, you don’t get all my secrets,” Clint replied.
"Like the code to start the Rig?"
Clint's eyes widened. "You know there's a code?"
Phil sighed. "Yes, not completely sure what it is. I assume the twins know in case something happened to you."
"If they remember it," Clint replied, shaking his head.
"You don't think they do?" Phil asked. He hoped that Clint had good reasons for torturing someone, even if he wouldn't talk about them. Strangely, it didn't bother Phil, he believed Clint when he said that he had tried asking nice. He supposed it was because of how Clint had taken care of Wanda and Pietro while they'd recovered enough to make the return trip. He worried after Daisy, and to a lesser extent Elena and Lincoln, who'd been freed of Grant, and Robbie, who didn't always have his head lit on fire. Not that those three even wanted Clint's doting.
"Pietro doesn't need it, so no. Wanda might, if she believed me when I said she needs to be prepared for a time when Pietro can't carry her to safety" Clint explained.
Phil nodded. "Hard to believe that you're fallible when you're that age."
"Especially when you have abilities beyond mortal man."
"Says the man that fired three arrows at once."
"As a result of practice and talent."
Phil smiled. "Of course."
"You ready to go home?" Clint asked.
“Yes and No,” Phil said. “Daisy’s… Daisy’s safe-ish, but I wanted to bring her home.”
“She doesn’t want to go,” Clint said softly. “And that’s not easy.”
Phil shook his head. “I worked hard on making my haven someplace safe. The fact that she doesn’t feel like she can go back…”
“Phil, she’s traumatized,” Clint said, softly.
“All the more reason to come home,” Phil pointed out. “But I couldn’t force her. I don’t want to be that person.”
“You aren’t, you did good, she’ll come home. Just give her some time,”
“Unless she goes east,” Phil leveled a glare at Clint.
“Giving her options.”
“Dangerous options,” Phil grumbled.
“Gave her an idea of where to go to take some nasties out and do some good,” Clint said, shrugging.
“With two hurt arms?!” Phil asked. “She should be going to see Trip.”
“Honestly, I don’t think Trip can help her,” Clint hesitated.
“Why not?” Phil asked, frowning.
“I think they’re beyond Trip’s help. Claire could help though.”
Phil glared at him, before shaking his head. “Is it bad I feel like a failure?”
“No, you had set goals. You shouldn’t, because you did save Daisy. Losing your will like that…” Clint trailed off and shook his head. “It’s hard to get over.”
Phil paused as he watched Clint, because that sounded like Clint knew. “Clint?”
Clint glanced back at him and Phil struggled to find the words to ask.
“Told you, you don’t get to know everything,” Clint said softly, heading toward the Rig.
Phil watched for a moment, before trailing after him. He hated that Daisy had left, but somehow, somewhere along the line, he hated the idea that Clint was going to be leaving soon as well.
Elena said she'd been turned and possessed by Ward, but Lincoln had said he'd been turned by Ward's predecessor. Clint had felt guilty when he heard that Grant had actually been possessed. At least until Lincoln added that Ward had offered his own body to Hive and Hive had accepted. Further questioning had revealed that Hive could only fully possess humans, but could control powered individuals. Ultimately, Clint was glad that he'd chosen one of the arrows with biggest explosion. The combination of that and Wanda's abilities not allowing any part of Hive to escape had ensured that all of Hive had been destroyed. Clint didn't want to think of what else they could have hit Hive with to take him down, if he'd managed to survive that.
"Hey," Wanda called. "I had Lincoln start a fire."
"How many tries?" Clint asked, looking over at him.
"First time," Lincoln replied. "Getting a lot better."
"Good," Clint said. "Glad the practice is helping." He looked over at Elena. "Show the kid some things?"
Elena smiled. "A few."
Clint chuckled as he settled by the fire to start skinning the animals. "One of you two want to get me some…"
There were two blurs and Clint soon had a pile of everything he needed. "Thanks."
The conversation picked back up and Clint listened with half an ear as he cleaned and cooked the animals. Only speaking up when he saw Lincoln eying one of carcasses to inform him not to try to cook them with electricity.
He passed the bowls out after they were cooked. "Where's Coulson?"
"Moping." Lincoln pointed toward a small outcropping where Clint could make out Phil's figure.
Clint grabbed a spare bowl and headed over there, kicking a stone out in front of him. Phil turned at the noise.
"Food?" Clint said, offering a bowl.
"Thanks," Phil said, taking it.
Clint took a seat next to him. "What's the matter?"
"Just didn't feel like being the only non-powered person in the conversation," Phil replied, glancing back at the fire. "They're getting pretty technical."
Clint smiled. "That's good though."
Phil nodded, moving his left shoulder.
"That it?" Clint asked.
Phil sighed, giving him a look as he took a bite.
"You don't want to talk about it and by it, we're talking about Daisy?"
Phil said nothing.
"Okay," Clint relented, falling silent as they ate. He glanced over as Phil shifted, moving his left shoulder again. Clint waited until it happened again. "Your arm bothering you?"
Phil hesitated. "Not to used to wearing it for so long."
"You could take it off, we have four kids over there with super powers and two of them would be willing to fight someone off to give you enough time to put it on, one of them would probably do it to protect his own skin, and the fourth one is Pietro, who will drag attention away from us by insulting our attackers."
"Like Pietro wouldn't try to protect you," Phil grumbled. "Kid likes you as much as you like him."
"Eh," Clint grunted, though he had to admit he did like the kid, but he could be damn annoying. "Listen, you don't have to take the arm off if you don't want to, but if you do, we got your back."
Phil was quiet, before reaching down and undoing the straps. He removed the arm and laid it over his lap, still rolling shoulder.
"Sore?" Clint asked.
This was a bad idea, but Phil was hurting and Clint could maybe help. "I could.. massage it?" Bad idea, Barton. Bad, bad, bad idea. It wasn't a horrible idea, Phil wasn't removing his shirt and even if skin to skin contact was made, it was dark and more importantly, Phil couldn't turn his head to look at his back.
"Massage?" Phil asked.
"Try and loosen the muscles," Clint explained.
Phil studied him for a moment, before nodding.
Clint moved, sliding behind Phil. "I'm going to touch your shoulders."
Clint took a deep breath and started working on Phil's upper back. Phil let out a few grunts and hisses as Clint found a sensitive areas, refusing all of Clint's offers to stop. In the end, Phil was making soft noises of pleasure that had Clint trying to think back to his years of captivity to will down his responses to those noises and to try to avoid thinking just how much more responsive Phil would be this were skin to skin and Clint could touch him everywhere. "Better?"
"Much," Phil murmured, voice dropping. Phil's hand reached back and found Clint's knee, gently squeezing it. "Clint?"
"Yeah, Phil?" Clint asked, looking down at Phil's hand that was caressing his knee.
"Have you ever thought about other men?" Phil asked.
Clint's eyes widened. He should lie and say he never had. "Yes."
"We could, uh, maybe let off some steam?"
Stupid, stupid, Clint thought to himself, because that would certainly leave to Phil discovering the soulbond, which would only hurt both of them. "I'm leaving, Phil, I'm not going to stay."
"I know. I just thought we could enjoy one another's company." The hand slid backward.
Clint jolted back, standing up. "No, Phil, it'd be too painful."
Phil turned, eyes running over him, before dropping back down. Clint shifted, but he knew that Phil had seen. "This world is full of pain. I can handle it."
"No," Clint said, firmly. "All that would lead to is pain, trust me." Pain that Clint was feeling now, because he'd let himself get to know Phil, let himself get attached.
"I get it. I'm saying, I don't care," Phil said as he stood up.
"Well, I do." Clint turned to walk back to the kids.
Natasha stayed close to the back wall, not expecting much to come from this. Not if mind control was being used. Jessica was curled into one corner and glanced up when she saw Maria and Natasha enter.
"Jessica," Maria said.
"Maria," Jessica replied, considerably gentler than earlier.
"Feel like rolling over on Grant?" Maria asked. "Telling me what the plan is."
"Grant's dead," Jessica stated.
Natasha frowned, she hadn't been expecting that.
"How…?" Maria asked, cocking her head.
"The belonging is gone," Jessica stated. "The only way for that to happen is if Grant, Hive is dead."
"Hive," Maria stated.
"Grant. Hive… possessed Grant," Jessica replied. "He can control people, influence them at least. Some part of that was me, other parts…"
"You expect me to believe that you were mind controlled?" Maria asked.
Jessica raised her hand and the green lightning shot out toward the wall opposite of her. Maria didn't even flinch. "I can do that, I can cling to walls. Mind control…" Jessica shook her head.
"Can happen," Natasha stated, which spurred a reaction from Maria as she twisted to look at her. "I've seen it. The eyes turned blue. You didn't have any physical signs. How can we know you're telling the truth?"
Jessica was quiet. "Werner."
"Alex. His real name is Werner Strucker," Jessica said. "He's human, completely. He was never under Hive's control."
"And Masters?" Maria asked.
"He's not… one of us, I guess."
"Not powered?" Maria asked. "Like you or Hive?"
Jessica hesitated. "He's something else, he just needs to see you do something and then he copy the maneuver, but he's not… He's not the same as me."
"Enhanced?" Natasha suggested. "He's enhanced, you're powered?"
Jessica considered it, before nodding. "I guess that works."
"Powered? How are you powered? How did you get powers?" Maria asked.
"It's complicated," Jessica stated.
"We have time," Natasha pointed out.
"If Hive is to believed, we're the descendants of aliens. That bloodline enables us to be given powers through a process, a transformation."
"And if you don't have the bloodline?" Natasha asked.
"You never come out of the stone cocoon."
"So he possesses you and transforms you," Maria asked.
Jessica quickly shook her head. "He can only possess those with the bloodline that have been awakened. Anyone else, no control."
Natasha couldn't help the slight smirk. Hive probably hadn't been expecting Wanda or Pietro to show up on his doorstep.
"Werner was never possessed. He's not of the blood, but his family is loyal."
"To Hive?" Maria asked.
"To Hydra," Jessica whispered softly.
Natasha's eyes widened. "Hydra? Clint and I wiped them out."
"Might have wiped out one base, but Hydra… You cut off one, two more come alive," Jessica shook her head.
"And what's your relation to Hydra?" Maria asked.
"My parents are loyal Hydra subjects. They gave me to Hive to be his bride, back when Hive possessed Malick. Grant didn't want me. He told me he wanted me to love and obey Alex and I did."
Natasha frowned. "And now?"
"Now, I'm really glad I'm in this cell, because Hive always finds a way to survive and I can't believe he's really gone. I… I hope I'm safe here," Jessica said. "You were right yesterday, Maria, you offered us everything. I wish I could have accepted it then, but I hated it, because Grant hated it."
Maria was quiet for a long moment. "We need to talk to Alex. Do you think he'll confirm your story?"
"No," Jessica said. "He doesn't know Hive's influence is gone. He doesn't know at the very least, Hive has moved on from Ward, because he doesn't have that connection. He thinks Hive is unbeatable."
Maria nodded. "Are there any more of you?"
"Not here," Jessica said, shaking her head.
"What did Grant want? Why were you going through medical records?"
"Looking for those of the blood, to turn, to add to Grant's army," Jessica answered. "And fertility results, so he can breed a larger army."
Maria nodded. "Will Alex admit to any of that?"
Jessica shook her head. "He'll tell you to wait and see. Grant, Hive, Hydra, whichever he thinks sounds more menacing is coming and all will be revealed. He's dramatic like that."
Maria turned to look at Natasha and arched an eyebrow. Natasha tilted her head to indicate the door. Together they walked out.
"What do you think?" Maria asked.
"I think she's telling the truth," Natasha stated.
"You were mind controlled?"
"No, brainwashed," Natasha replied.
Maria studied her for a long moment, before nodding. "You think she's the victim."
"To a certain degree," Natasha said.
"Hydra? You've run into it before?" Maria asked.
Natasha nodded. "They enslaved Clint and had some human experiments going on. Breeding alien blood, doesn't surprise me."
Maria frowned. "We have to talk to Alex."
"Got a game plan?"
Natasha smiled. "We pretend we haven't talked to Jess. As we're talking, we start dropping what we know. I'd start with Werner, Malick, and end with Hydra."
"I don't like this," Maria stated, shaking her head. "This is too weird."
"I know, shame we didn't catch Masters, sounds like he would have confirmed the truth, if we could bribe him," Natasha replied.
Maria nodded. She took a step, before turning back. "About last night."
Natasha arched an eyebrow.
"I…" Maria glanced away, red coloring her cheeks.
"I'd like to do it again," Natasha replied. "You're rather amazing, even when Jessica claimed she was part-alien and mind controlled."
"I was more surprised that you weren't," Maria muttered.
"Does that mean, you don't want to do it again?" Natasha asked, adopting a pout.
"Does anyone say no to you?" Maria asked, drifting closer to her.
"Some," Natasha replied leaning in to whisper. "Because they're scared of me."
Maria shuddered. "I… Why is that turn on?"
"Because you like to live dangerously."
"I don't…" Maria started to deny it. She huffed, eyes narrowing, before leaning in and capturing Natasha's lips in a kiss. She clearly didn't want to talk about it and that was fine with Natasha.
Natasha wrapped her arms around Maria and drew her in, letting herself forget about the world for a moment. It was Maria that pulled away first, taking a step back. "We have to talk to Alex and then…"
"Then we can discuss this in bed," Natasha finished.
Maria echoed Natasha's own smile. "Exactly."
"Hey," Clint said, reaching over to touch Phil's clothed shoulder. "Wake up."
Phil grunted to alertness. "Home."
"Yep," Clint said, looking over to flash him a grin. "Ready for it?"
"Yeah," Phil said, though he didn't sound very thrilled. He hesitated. "How much longer do you think you'll stay?"
"Have to talk to Natasha about it, but I'm not sure we've worked to get enough supplies."
"No, you've done enough. I'll be happy to give you as much as you need," Phil promised.
"You don't have to…" Clint started.
"Clint, I couldn't have done what the three of you did. You saved Daisy, you saved me, take what you need," Phil said, softly.
"Thanks Phil," Clint said, softly. That meant that they could leave as soon as Natasha was healed up enough. He glanced in the rearview mirror to look at Wanda, who was looking at him.
She nodded when she caught his glance. She'd be ready then and so would Pietro. Natasha was the big question, hopefully she'd be feeling well enough to leave soon. The information he'd acquired was already old and they needed to act on it.
A few hours later and they were pulling into the gates. Clint stopped the Rig to let the passengers out, before taking it over to the garage and parking it. Clint shut down the Rig and headed toward his assigned rooms. Natasha should be there by now.
Clint rounded the corner and stepped back. He waited a beat and leaned forward, peering around the corner just to make sure he did see what he thought he saw. Yep, Natasha was kissing a dark haired woman. Clint pulled back, leaning against the wall and considered his options.
He could go around and confront her, but Natasha was private about her feelings. He could wait, but Natasha would see though that. His best bet was to act as if this was nothing special. Yes, that's what he needed to do.
He turned ready to just what the thought and came face to face with Maria Hill. Clint blinked.
"Hill," Barton stated.
"Barton. Heard your rig was spotted. Coulson take Daisy to medical?"
"No, uh, Daisy decided not to come back."
Maria's eyes widened. "Decided not to?"
"We saved her, but some damage had been done."
"Upset," Clint admitted.
Maria nodded. "I'll go talk to him."
"He's with some of the people we saved."
"Two, but one will probably leave."
Maria regarded him. "Thanks for the update. Natasha's waiting for you."
Clint nodded and slipped past her to head to their rooms. Natasha was waiting for him outside with a smile. Clint hurried to pull her into a hug. "Hey Tasha."
"Clint, glad you're alive," Natasha murmured, returning the hug.
"How's the leg?" Clint asked, letting her go, so that he could look down at it.
"It's fine," Natasha said, waving off his concern. "Tell me what happened."
"Upstairs?" Clint requested.
Natasha nodded. Together they headed upstairs and Clint started telling her about everything that had happened. He described the trip, Wanda's search, the fight, and the aftermath.
When he was done, Natasha regarded him for a long moment. "You fell for him."
Clint started to object. "I was careful. He doesn't know."
"We could stay, it's not like we have any information to go on…"
"Except we do now," Clint replied.
"There was an enhanced that Grant had found. He had the brand." Clint gestured toward his neck.
Natasha's eyes widened. "What did you do?"
"I asked nicely and when he refused I asked not so nicely."
"Three months ago, they were alive," Clint replied. "And I know where."
Natasha considered the information. "We need to move, if we want to have any chance of finding them."
Clint nodded. "Are you up for it? I mean, if you want to stay here, you can?"
Natasha gave him a look that was one part fondness and three parts 'you're an idiot'. "I'm going to see this through with you."
Clint smiled and wrapped his arms around her. "Thank you."
"Phil," Natasha said, breaking his line of thought.
"Natasha," Phil said.
"Came to say good-bye?" Natasha asked.
"Of course," Phil said. "You've become a valuable member of our town."
Natasha gave him a sad smile. "Who told you that?"
Natasha nodded. "You have a great town, but… Clint, we set out to do something and we should see it through."
"I hope you find whatever it is you're looking for and know that you're always welcome back."
"Thanks, maybe we will," Natasha said, before stepping in and hugging him.
Phil was shocked a moment, before leaning into the hug. "Take care of yourself Natasha."
"You, too," Natasha said stepping back. She paused and then leaned into the garage. "Hey Clint, Phil's here to say good-bye." She gave him a smile and patted him on the shoulder, before heading to the door of the garage. "I'm going to go say some good-byes of my own."
Phil sighed and headed in. He couldn't just leave now. Clint was climbing down from the rig. He nodded when he saw Phil. "Phil."
"Clint," Phil said, walking in closer. "Almost ready to head out?"
Clint nodded. "Yeah, it's just about all packed up. We're all set to roll out tomorrow morning."
Phil hesitated. "I don't suppose there's any way I can convince you to stay?"
Clint's eyes widened, before shaking his head. "No, it's, I… I need to go."
"Okay," Phil said, frowning.
"Sorry," Clint murmured.
"I know we got a rough start, but I'm glad I met you. You've been a help, a big one."
"Thanks Phil," Clint murmured, before going to step away.
Phil extended his hand, "Good luck Clint. I hope you find whatever it is you're looking for."
For a moment, Phil thought that Clint wasn't going to accept his hand, but eventually he did. The grip was firm and now Phil realized the calluses were from his bow. "Thanks."
Phi pulled his hand away and nodded at him, before leaving. He wanted to turn to and try to convince Clint, but he doubted anything that he could say would convince the other man. Phil balled his hand into a fist, remembering Clint's brief touch and how it felt. Sighing, Phil opened his hand and stopped as he took in the purple smear spread over his skin.
Phil found himself turning without thinking about it and going back in. "Hey."
"Phil?" Clint asked, tucking his his right hand behind him. "Something the matter?"
He held up his hand and watched as Clint didn't react and then threw up a look of faux surprise. Phil resisted the urge to hit Clint, barely. "Why didn't you tell me?!"
"Tell you…?" Clint started, but trailed off, looking away. "Because I was never going to stay. I'm leaving and not even finding my soulmate can change that! "
Phil stopped, right in front of him. "Clearly!" Angry and more than a little hurt. "You should have told me! I deserved to know."
"I didn't want to hurt you," Clint replied. "I like you, I didn't want to cause you any pain."
"Well, it hurt before I knew you were my soulmate!"
Clint blinked. "What?"
"I'm attracted to you! You're smart, loyal, kind, mostly and…" Phil gestured at Clint, because the man was gorgeous.
Clint's eyes widened slightly, before he surged forward to kiss Phil. Phil wrapped his prosthetic around Clint's waist to hold him there as his other hand went to the back of Clint's neck to hold him there. Mouths slipped together, only pulling apart to breathe.
"Clint, I…" Phil started, pressing his hips forward.
"Cab," Clint gasped out, pulling Phil forward as he walked backwards.
Somehow they made it into the back of the cab and lost clothing along the way. Every touch left a trail of blue or purple marks on the other's body. Clint seemed to be intent to make Phil all purple as he pushed Phil down along the backseat.
It was urgent and messy, because they both knew that this was a one time thing. Clint was leaving. Phil wasn't sure where Clint had found oil, but as Clint slid down his cock, he didn't really care. He wanted to remember that moment. Clint watching him with lust filled eyes as moved up and down.
It lasted forever and was over far too soon.
Phil sighed softly as he watched the color form in response to his touch as they recovered from their orgasms. He smiled at the touch.
"I have a brother," Clint said, breaking the silence.
Phil glanced up Clint's body to find Clint looking straight up at the ceiling.
"He's older and if it was just him out there, I… I don't think I'd leave."
"But it's not just him?" Phil asked.
"His wife was pregnant and has two kids," Clint said, looking down at him. "We had our haven and our walls went down. We were all rounded up and taken, sold. Natasha came after me and we found the twins, while looking for my family."
"You're going after the kids," Phil said, softly, closing his eyes for a moment.
"Yeah, I can't stay Phil. I want to stay, but I can't," Clint said, sounding distraught.
Phil pushed up and leaned in to kiss him, gently. "I understand. They need you."
"I'm coming back," Clint said. "I'm going to find the kids, I'm going to take 'em to Starkton because Fury and Stark are going to keep that city safe, and then I'm coming back for you."
"No," Clint said. "You can't go and I can't stay, but I can come back."
Phil nodded, leaning in to steal a kiss, which gradually deepened. They both knew that Clint might not survive long enough to make it back.
They were slow to separate, but the need for food drove them out of the cab. Phil forced himself to leave after finishing the meal. Clint's words echoing in his head, because Phil wasn't sure that he couldn't go. Maria ran things along with the rest of the council. Phil played his part, but he wasn't essential. In fact, they made sure that no one person was essential. And Clint was his soulmate.
Phil paused and looked up, he wasn't too surprised to find himself outside of Maria's. Clint couldn't stay, but maybe…
Phil's eyes widened, but he didn't move. "I need to talk to you."
"I was sleeping," Maria stated, trying not to think of Natasha and the tool she'd gotten off the Rig and brought for them to enjoy. Sleep was a much better choice to tell Phil.
"Well, this can't wait," Phil replied, pushing past her and entering her sitting area.
Maria sighed and closed the door. "Why can't it wait?"
"Because he's leaving at first light," Phil replied.
"He?" Maria asked, going and sitting on the couch while Phil paced. That was unusual.
"Clint. Barton. He's leaving and he's just going to slip out of my life like that."
"Phil…" Maria stated, because this didn't sound like Phil.
"He's my soulmate, Maria, my soulmate," Phil stated, looking at her.
Maria blinked, considering her last week. She found that she that particular impossibility was the least surprising of them all.
"You don't seem surprised."
"I've had a hell of a week," Maria admitted. "So, he's your soulmate."
"He can't stay. He's looking for his niece and nephew," Phil said softly. "They're actual children, both of them are under the age of ten and there might be a third, because his brother's wife was pregnant."
"You want to go with him?" Maria realized.
"Is that insane?"
"Maybe, if you hadn't spent as much time with him," Maria said, considering it. "This isn't because of Daisy?"
"I think Clint would have taken both of us," Phil admitted. "Daisy would want me to go, if she knew. Hell, she'd want to go."
"She would," Maria agreed. "You want my blessing?"
Phil nodded. "I don't want to leave here on a bad note or if you need me."
Maria smiled. "Phil, I think we can survive without you."
"You sure?" Phli asked.
Maria nodded. "Go, kick some ass, if you get a chance, come back, but you're not going to make or break us. We'd like it if you stayed, but I'm not going to tell you to stay when you clearly want to go."
"Thank you," Phil said.
"Go, say good-bye, because you don't want an angry Melinda or anyone else coming after you."
Phil nodded. He hesitated and Maria pushed herself back off the couch and quickly wrapped her arms around him. A hug, which Phil quickly returned. "Be happy."
"You too," Phil said, pulling away. He leaned in and kissed her cheek, before pulling away and leaving. Maria counted to ten after the door closed and headed back into her bedroom.
"Looks like you're gaining a crew member," Maria said, as she pulled off her shirt.
"I know, I left the one of smuggling compartments open."
Maria paused and frowned. "I would hope that Phil wouldn't have to sneak aboard your Rig, since Clint is his soulmate.”
Natasha's widened. "Huh, didn't think Clint had the balls to tell him."
Maria threw her shirt away. "You knew?"
Natasha nodded. "Was there when Clint realized it. It's legit."
"Why didn't he…" Maria trailed off as she realized everything. "Because you're leaving, because it's Clint's family, and you two won't leave them out there, even for Clint's soulmate."
"Why upset one more life?" Natasha asked. "You understand?"
Maria nodded, pressing a hand to her stomach. "Yeah, I get it."
Natasha's eyes flickered to Maria's stomach, but she said nothing. For that Maria was grateful, she'd made a choice that was necessary for their compound long term survival. Phil was aware of what she was attempting, because she wanted to set an example to all the working women.
"Come here," Natasha said. "It's our last night, too."
"No, wait." Maria held up her hand. "Who were you talking about before Phil?"
"Kate, she's been lurking around the Rig for the day or so. With Daisy gone, I figured, she's going to sneak aboard again."
"And you weren't going to say anything about that to me? She's my responsibility!"
"I would have said something tomorrow, if I didn't see her or if we aren't interrupted by one of your Watchers bringing her here because they caught her."
Maria shook her head. "You were only going to take her if she could prove herself!"
Natasha chuckled. "No, but I wanted to know if she could."
Maria smiled, climbing on the bed. "Natasha… You're… you're something else."
Natasha pulled her into a kiss and Maria leaned into him, licking into Natasha's mouth. She pulled back and smiled.
"So, You're not going to ask?" Natasha murmured as she kissed down Maria's neck.
"I'd like it if you stayed," Maria stated, pulling away and dropping down to be even with Natasha's breasts. "Clint's your family, if he goes, you go." Maria licked at a nipple. "I get it."
"Thank you," Natasha said, pulling her up and into another kiss.
Maria pulled away, smirking. "You're not going to ask."
Natasha laughed, rolling them. "You, Maria Hill, are too devoted to this compound. Perhaps if Phil stayed…"
"I can tell him I'm going instead," Maria offered, unable to hold back the smile.
Natasha snorted. "That would ensure if we survive everything, we come back here."
Maria leaned up and Natasha met her in a kiss. It wasn't love, what they were doing, but it was vastly enjoyable. It could be love, but they both had other responsibilities that would only get in the way.
One night with Phil wasn't nearly enough. He wanted more, but knew he couldn't have it. The Rig was set to roll and he couldn't think of any reason to delay it. He'd just hoped that maybe Phil would be by to see him off.
"I'd go," Clint heard Pietro say on the other side of the Rig. "He's becoming crankier as he gets older."
"Still want to talk to him, Pietro," Phil's voice.
Clint quickly darted around the cab to see Phil there, a rucksack against his feet.
"Come to see us off?" Clint asked, trying for levity.
"Maybe," Phil said.
"I talked to Maria last night."
"You, us, this place," Phil said. "I could never ask you to stay."
"I know," Clint said. "I appreciate that."
"Turns out Maria couldn't ask me to stay either," Phil said over him.
"I can go, if you want me to go, I can go."
Clint stared at him. "I can't…"
Phil smiled. "I'm offering. They're family, I get it, I want to help."
"Seriously, going to throw my own words back at me?" Clint asked.
Phil shrugged. "Figured you wouldn't argue with yourself. Got room for me?"
"You can ride on my lap," Clint said, moving forward to kiss him. "Crazy fool."
"Yeah," Phil agreed, smiling at him. "Let's go find your family, Clint."
Clint nodded and turned to see Wanda, Pietro, and Natasha watching them.
"I'm not sure I like this," Pietro said.
"I just want to make a no sex in the Rig rule," Wanda replied.
"Too late for that," Natasha said.
Pietro frowned and looked at her. "How do you know?"
"Because they've had sex at least once and it wasn't at the apartment. Clint's only going to do that in the Rig," Natasha replied. "Get used to it, kids."
"I'm riding in the back," Pietro stated, but he climbed into the back of the cab.
"I think it's sweet," Wanda said. "In a disturbing sort of way."
"Thanks Wanda, there's a reason you're my favorite," Clint said, leaning in and kissing her cheek, before heading to other side to climb into the Rig.
He heard Natasha and Phil talking and was surprised to see Phil take the passenger side with Natasha climbing into the back with Wanda and Pietro.
"Did you already say your good-byes?" Clint asked.
"I did, would have been here sooner if I hadn't," Phil said. "I was worried you were going to leave without me."
"Nonsense," Natasha said. "I heard you talking to Maria, I would have delayed you."
"How did you…?" Phil said, turning to look at her.
Natasha arched an eyebrow at him and gave him a smug smile.
"Did you meet the love of your life, Natasha?" Clint asked, meeting her eyes in the rearview mirror.
"Nonsense," Natasha stated. "Love is for children and crazy people and you two are now at the top of my Crazy people list."
"She won't admit it, but she's just as crazy as us," Clint said, glancing at Phil. "She loves me after all."
"Well, if what you said was true," Phil said, considering his word. "She'd have to be to come after you."
"Crazy or in love?" Clint asked.
"I think it's both," Phil stated. "That's what family is, a bunch of love and a whole lot of crazy."
Clint laughed, reaching over and grabbing Phil's prosthetic and pressing a kiss into the back of it as he stepped on the accelerator to speed out of the haven. "Works for me."