Title: Sometimes You Need A Scorecard
Fandom: Leverage, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Bourne Legacy
Pairings: Eliot Spencer/Clint Barton/Natasha Romanoff; Phil Coulson/Natasha Romanoff; Pepper Potts/Tony Stark; Alec Hardison/Parker; Sophie Devereaux/Nathan Ford
Word Count: 20,303
Summary: Sophie told Eliot he was no longer the same man that worked for Damien Moreau. The Leverage Team finds out he is still that man plus a little more, and that’s okay because a Hawk and a Spider have his back.
Author’s Note: Spoilers: Season 5 Leverage to The Gimme A K Street Job.
“Barton’s been compromised.”
“Widow’s on a retrieval. I hope we need you … After.”
“Loki has control of the Tessaract.”
“What the fuck were you and Fury thinking?”
“You can kick my ass later if we live.”
“Intel in route.”
“I will collect on that ass kickin’.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Looking at the information on his phone, he cut his morning run short and headed back to his apartment. The plane was waiting.
He was throwing his duffel in the back of the cab when Nate’s little black Mercedes stopped next to him.
“Thought you were coming to help with the theater?”
Eliot groaned inwardly at Sophie’s disappointed expression.
“I was … Now I’m not.”
“Hey! Where’s Eliot going?”
“Can you yell a little louder, Parker? I don’t think they heard you across the river.”
Losing patience, he got in the cab.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“I don’t know … Maybe … I’ll try to let you know … Just … Try to stay out of trouble.”
“Your file said you’re inactive?”
All eyes turned to Parker.
Not willing to placate them further, he motioned to the cabby who dropped him at a vacant lot where a black Jeep took him to a private hangar.
Settled on the plane, a junior agent handed him a stack of files. The longer he read, the darker his expression turned. Eliot had known something was wrong before Agent Phil Coulson of SHIELD called. The bond he shared with Agent Clint Barton aka The Hawk or Hawkeye had gone silent causing him to spend what was left of the night trying to break through whatever had cut him off from his lover. The only thing his efforts garnered him was the fact that Clint was alive and a headache.
Up to date on all of SHIELD’s intel, Eliot laid his seat back and closed his eyes. He had a feeling once the plane touched down in New York there would be very little sleeping.
Eliot Spencer met Clinton Francis Barton in Delta Force. Some idiot of a desk jockey thought it would be funny to team the least talkative person in training with the most talkative. After several post training discussions, which led to cuts, bruises and cracked ribs, their partnership settled … Their love of anachronistic weapons sealing their friendship.
They were sent to separate units, but after a few months, Eliot had been called to his Colonel’s office where the exasperated man had given Clint into his charge. The Hawk and The Wolf joined a group of elite whose identities were buried deep in the military rosters. They’d been together two years when those elite team members began losing their lives as mission details became compromised.
It came to a head when Eliot and Clint were sent to San Lorenzo to assassinate a General Flores. The two men had become suspicious of their CIA handlers and the intel they’d been given, so they cultivated contacts outside their normal channels. When they hit the ground in San Lorenzo, instead of killing Flores they had taken the General and his family into hiding. The traitors had gathered their assets and had run them to ground where The Hawk with help from Flores took them out with arrows and bullets while the Wolf hunted them on the ground with guns and blades.
They were holding their own until an asset got in position to take a shot at Clint. The Hawk’s cry of pain was the last thing the asset heard as Wolf’s sword pierced his heart. Eliot ran, shot and slashed his way back to the abandoned house where they’d taken refuge. There was a pause in the shooting as everyone checked their clips and reloaded.
Eliot leaned against the wall a pistol in each hand. Smacking them against his thighs to seat the magazines, he cocked the pistols while scanning what he could see without exposing himself. Taking a breath to center himself he stepped out of the door and stopped when he saw the rogue agents on their knees in front of a tall black man with an eye patch, a white man straight out of Men In Black, and a willowy brunette with eyes like glaciers. He raised his guns.
“I got Cyclops.”
“I guess that leaves me with Dorothy and Toto.”
“What about the other twelve?” The man with the eye patch asked.
“Cut the head from the snake …” Eliot shrugged as he assessed who would die first.
Everyone’s breath stopped as they waited for what came next.
“And the body dies. Gentlemen …” Black gloved hands spread to show they held no weapons. “Why don’t we let my colleagues take care of hauling away the trash while we go somewhere more comfortable and talk?”
“Who is it we’d be talking to and why should we trust you?” Eliot drawled.
He had had enough. All he wanted was to get Flores and his family safe and check how badly Clint had been hit. Then decide whether to punch him or kiss him for getting hit in the first place.
“Nick Fury, Director of Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division or SHIELD. Dorothy is Agent Maria Hill and Toto is Agent Phil Coulson, and we’ve been trying to catch these guys in the act for a while now.”
Eliot sat up and went to the galley in search of a cup of tea. Nick Fury had snatched them from Delta Force with such brutal efficiency that all their CO could do was whimper in submission. After their move to SHIELD they’d stopped hiding their relationship, and when Clint had come home with a Russian assassin trailing him like a stray pup, he’d thought his life couldn’t get much stranger.
He’d expected the call to come from Agent Natasha Romanoff, The Black Widow, but figured Coulson sent her after Clint. Coulson was Fury’s right hand same as Hill was Fury’s left so their decisions were Fury’s. He put a thought to the universe to protect them both. If Clint hurt or killed the red-headed assassin, Eliot never would get all the pieces put back together.
Taking his mug of tea back to his seat, Eliot turned his mind inward to his bond with Clint. Still there. Still silent. No emotions. No thoughts. He pushed his mind along the bond-searching. He hoped that like their mission to take down Operation Outcome, if he pushed hard enough he’d find where the archer was hiding inside his own mind. Just when he thought he’d found him a wall of blue appeared that he couldn’t penetrate no matter how hard he pushed.
When he returned to the outside world, it was a toss-up as to which hurt worse-his head or his heart. He closed his eyes to push down the pain, but he’d cracked the door and the memories kept pouring through.
He exchanged a look with Clint when they were called to Fury’s office. They hated the Director’s missions. The end result left them battered, bleeding and close to broken. Fury had gotten word on a series of experimental programs the CIA was using to make black ops operatives so he set up them up as Kenneth Kitsome and Nicolas Taylor, and dropped them into the unit in Iraq led by Air Force Colonel Eric Byer, CIA liaison.
Unknown to Fury at the time, they had taken an extra precaution before the drop. They’d gone to one of SHIELD’s pet telepaths and had her set an empathic bond between them so they would be able to feel if the other were alive, and to track them if necessary.
Eliot had used the bond to locate Clint and Dr. Shearing. He’d used Clint’s favorite bow with tranquilizer arrows to knock them out … The helicarrier only minutes behind him. Phil had debriefed the couple, and the battle was on to get to Clint to throw off Aaron Cross. It was not the first time Eliot and Natasha had retrieved their lover, but they lived with the constant fear that Clint would never emerge from under Aaron Cross, and they would lose him to Dr. Marta Shearing.
They’d been dragging Clint to the range every day hoping that communing with his bow would awaken The Hawk, but what had finally brought the Hawk back was the day his bond with Eliot went silent.
They’d never stabilized Eliot’s cognitive changes like Dr. Shearing had done for ‘Aaron’. Eliot kept that fact to himself, and when Clint didn’t immediately come out from under the Aaron Cross persona, he’d stopped taking the blue pills knowing his system would soon crash.
When he next opened his eyes he felt weak and incredibly thirsty pinned down by a hawk and a black widow. Thankfully he could reach the water bottle without disturbing his exhausted lovers. Enhanced hearing picked up two sets of footsteps stopping at the door to his room. Enhanced sense of smell detected Phil Coulson and Dr. Shearing. The expression on her face told him she finally saw Clint Barton and Eliot Spencer … Not science study subjects numbers 5 and 7. Phil led her away without a word.
The ass chewing from Fury was one of his more memorable, but the appraising glare and nod of approval and dismissal at the end left Eliot know the blustery words were for the benefit of the long ears on the command deck. Fury was well aware of the WSC spies among them.
Their lives settled into their sniper, retrieval specialist, and infiltration roles, a three person team with Coulson as their handler, until Eliot went undercover with Damien Moreau. After Moreau, Fury decided Eliot’s reputation was an excellent way to bait people like Moreau. The information he collected on his retrievals was invaluable, and his life with Clint and sometimes Natasha ‘settled’ until he received a call from Victor Dubenich.
Eliot’s thoughts jerked to the present at the thought of Dubenich. The past year had dredged up entirely too many nightmares that often drove him from the warmth of the two bodies not often enough in his bed. Scrubbing a hand over his face, he heard the whine of the landing gear and the smell of the ocean, alerting him they were about to land.
Senior Agent Phil Coulson met him on deck with an expression that spoke of exhaustion, anger, and worry. He hadn’t seen Phil since debriefing him about the Kanack job a month ago so he took a minute to pull the man into the shadows and into a tight hug. He felt the older man relax, take a deep breath then nodded against his neck. Eliot released him.
“I had to send Tasha after Banner.”
‘Instead of Clint,’ was understood. Eliot briefly rested his forehead against Phil’s.
“All that comes through the bond is that he’s alive.”
Both men straightened and proceeded to the conference room overlooking the command deck where Phil introduced Agent Spencer to Iron Man, Tony Stark, Captain America, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, The Hulk and Thor. He greeted each man, Thor in his native tongue, which caused dropped jaws around the room and a thump of approval across his shoulders from the Asgardian. Coulson’s eyes danced when Eliot gave him a wink that also acknowledged Natasha skirting the shadows.
Eliot listened until Rogers left with Phil. Going to the armory he got his tactical suit and collected his weapons. Employing Clint’s mode of travel through the helicarrier, he lifted himself into the maintenance duct work and made his way to the detention level and Loki. Not even Natasha knew he was there as he watched her twist Loki’s tail. He wanted to learn what he could about the entity that had taken over so many good people. The Black Widow turned away from the adopted Asgardian as he taunted her with death at Clint’s hands. She touched her hand to her comm.
“He’s after the Hulk.”
She turned back.
“Thank you for your cooperation.”
Eliot waited until she closed the hatch before dropping from the ceiling. He leaned against the railing arms crossed over his chest and watched Loki pace his cell. He paused in his pacing to verbally attack Eliot, but Eliot just gave him a pitying look and walked away, the trickster shouting curses behind him.
This was going to get ugly.
“Do you know anything about where he went?”
Alec Hardison smiled to himself at Nate’s question … Eliot had been gone two days.
“Knew you’d ask, but no. The cab dropped him at an abandoned warehouse. There’s no tickets of any kind under any of my aliases or any of his that I know about.”
“What about the idea Parker had of him being re-activated?”
“We just got settled. You really want me pokin’ around government databases?”
Alec was surprised when Nate actually stopped to think about the question.
“It’s not like this is the first outside job Eliot’s taken. What’s got you so up in the air about this one?”
Nate shook himself loose from his thoughts.
“This one feels different … Personal … Eliot was upset … Worried.”
Hardison’s head jerked up.
“It’s probably just my imagination.”
“We’ll give it a few more days. Maybe keep an extra eye on the news.”
Nate rubbed tired eyes. The others had wandered off after dinner while he remained in the office. The guy covering for Eliot was a good chef, but the mastermind missed the passion that went into Eliot’s creations. The retrieval specialist was going to be monumentally pissed when he returned to find Hardison had once again changed the menu. He wondered if the hacker was trying to drive Eliot away before Nate’s plans came to fruition, or if the younger man was making a power play to cover his own insecurities. Hardison was always trying to best Eliot, forgetting the sharp intellect hidden behind the flannel and denim. He was considering taking Hardison to task when a flash of blonde caught his eye.
“Come sit for a minute.”
His thoughts got sidetracked as he waited for her to settle.
“You said a minute. You’ve got well … Twenty seconds left.”
Shaking his head to clear the confusion, he got to the point.
“When we were in Boston, did you ever notice anyone with Eliot?”
“You mean like Nurse Gail?”
Nate smiled at the sneer in Parker’s tone. Almost five years together and she was still territorial. Though she and Hardison were working hard at their relationship, she was jealous and suspicious of anyone Eliot dated.
“More like you and Hardison.”
“There was this man and woman … I think they were like us … Me and Eliot us … Not the rest of you us. I only saw them once, but Eliot had some places I never found.”
“Thank you, Parker.”
Nate threw his whiskey back letting the alcohol burn in his throat sear the shock from his system. Eliot had safe houses Parker couldn’t find, and friends … He thought about Parker’s description. People like her and Eliot. That was another shock, and explained her jealous protection of Eliot. The memory of the look they exchanged in the park when she’d asked Eliot what he did for Moreau. Parker had found a life preserver in Eliot’s brokenness to keep her from drowning in the ocean of her awakened emotions.
If they lost Eliot, they might lose Parker.
Eliot tapped his comm as he came back through the conference room on his way to the landing deck.
“There’s going to be an attack!”
Hill and Coulson moved to scramble troops.
‘WHAT! WAIT! How’s he know that?”
Stark and Banner ran agile fingers over touch screen displays.
“Who’s in that Quinjet!”
Hill barked from her post.
“They have the proper clearances.”
Before they could move explosions rocked the helicarrier.
“We’ve lost an engine.”
Thor ran for Loki’s containment cell. Black Widow took Bruce deeper into the helicarrier where she hoped he’d remain calm while Steve and Tony ran for the disabled engine.
Eliot let himself go. There was no need to hold back like he did with the Leverage crew. His mind planned while his body executed. Battling the enemies of SHIELD Clint had collected for Loki, Eliot caught sight of the archer high on the superstructure lining up a shot. Enhanced eyesight saw the cloud of bright blue obscuring grey-green eyes, red and sunken from lack of food and sleep. A growl rose in Eliot’s throat a he fought to reach him both mentally and physically.
He saw Hawk’s head snap around as he felt a tear in the blue wall blocking their bond. Clint hesitated … The blue cloud started to recede from his eyes. He shook his head.
Then it was gone. The cloud once again covered his eyes and blocked their link as an arrow sailed past his head. Eliot ran after Clint, but got side tracked to Loki’s cell by Thor’s distressed yell. He caught Phil as the recoil from the gun nearly toppled him. The trickster ran as Eliot pulled out field dressings to staunch the blood flowing from the agent’s wounds. He felt the fire of his anger bank into an icy rage.
“Dammit, Phil. You want Widow to have my guts for garters?”
“Sorry. Tell Tasha …”
“Tell her yourself, and work on your timing ’cause if really sucks.”
Eliot shielded the fallen agent with his body as he felt someone enter the room. The scent of leather, gun oil, and lies wafted around Nick Fury. He came to his feet like a striking rattler.
Nick Fury backed up a step. He saw his death in the wintery eyes watching him from beneath lowered brows.
“Eliot, you can’t kill the Boss.”
“It can be the last thing we both do, Phil.”
“Think of Clint and Natasha.”
Phil’s lung sounds were diminishing … Medical better get here quick.
Nick shuddered despite the protective body armor and his own healing abilities from the super soldier serum. He’d watched the Wolf and Hawk spar after their enhancement at the hands of Operation Outcome, and had no desire to feel the Wolf’s teeth at his throat.
“Agent Romanoff has gone after Agent Barton … You should lend her a hand.”
He was surprised when his voice came out steady and carrying the snap of command. The medical team waited nervously at the door. Torn, Eliot growled his frustration at whether to go after his lovers or stay with the man who’d become his brother.
Eyes locked and though his expression told Phil Coulson he was unhappy at leaving the wounded man, he gave a nod to the medics, and a glare at Fury before leaving for the Black Widow’s last known location.
“Coulson is down … The medics have called it.”
If there was time, Eliot would have howled his pain to the sky, but with the helicarrier listing badly all he could do was run toward Clint and Natasha. There’d be time for mourning later … Maybe. He finally heard the sounds of fighting and a skull meeting metal. He rounded the corner in time to see Clint pull himself to his knees, and feel his presence burst through their bond.
Eliot’s heart clenched at the confusion in Clint’s voice as a hard right laid him out. The couple was silent as Eliot hoisted the unconscious archer over his shoulder.
Restraints fastened, Eliot turned and opened his arms then closed them around the trembling body of his spider.
When Eliot felt Clint’s mind begin struggling toward consciousness, he stepped outside. He wanted to stay, but Natasha insisted. They had to finish his unmaking before they could rebuild him. Years of repressing his deep cover personas had left Clint more vulnerable than they’d realized. Eliot closed his eyes against the pain in his lover’s voice.
“Do you know what it’s like for someone to take out your brain and play … Stuff something else back in? Do you know what it’s like to be unmade?
“You know that I do.”
Clint knew, too, but once he’d come out from under Aaron Cross, and was debriefed, he refused to talk about Byers, Outcome or the pretty dark haired doctor. Eliot pinched the bridge of his nose to ward off a headache. They should have pushed harder. He was out of the room’s line of sight leaning against the cool metal wall as Natasha worked to soothe the archer’s battered psyche.
Eliot had straightened with the intention of entering the room when Captain America came rushing down the hall. He turned away as they all three came out of the room and headed for the armory.
Parker rushed out of her apartment into the office.
“Hardison! Quick turn on the news!”
Drawn by the yelling, Nate and Sophie appeared on the steps. Parker’s face was pale as she urged Hardison to hurry.
“You’re gonna make me miss it.”
The screens flared to life. They stared at the carnage on the screen.
“You raised all that fuss over a movie?”
The older couple turned back toward their apartment.
“Nate, it’s not a movie. That’s New York City.”
Parker moved closer to the screens.
“Oh my god! That’s Eliot!”
All they saw was a man with long dark hair herding people to safety as strange creatures flew through the air. The man spun firing a staff like weapon at the alien that was coming toward him and his charges.
“Eliot fightin’ aliens! Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!”
Hardison twirled around the room.
“Hey, isn’t that the tower you’re always drooling over? Sark … Snark … Stark?”
Parker pointed to the screen.
“Turn up the volume.”
Nate pulled Sophie against his side.
“These scenes are coming to you live from New York City where we’ve been told an alien invader known as Loki of Asgard has opened some sort of portal allowing beings called the Chitauri to invade Earth. What you’re seeing now are troops from SHIELD, the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division, trying to evacuate survivors away from the fighting. We’re also told the Director of SHIELD, Nick Fury has activated something called The Avengers initiative consisting of billionaire, Tony Stark, who the world knows as Ironman, Captain America, another Asgardian, Thor, The Hulk, and several others whose identities are unknown at this time…”
The news anchor continued his rambling narrative as buildings fell, people were crushed and explosions ripped through Manhattan. The camera showed The Avengers regrouping on street.
All eyes turned to Parker.
“When you asked me about Eliot. The man with the bow and the red-haired woman.”
“You saw them with Eliot?”
Ironman grabbed the archer and took off along with The Hulk while Captain America, Thor and the red-head scattered on the ground.
“This is so cool.”
Hardison was practically orgasmic.
“Aliens killing people and destroying New York is cool?”
Sophie’s voice was full of disbelief. Hardison stopped and his expression turned sheepish.
“Not the killin’ and destroyin’, but aliens? … Even you have to admit that’s cool.”
The station was beginning to show pictures from all around Manhattan. They finally stopped on Stark Tower where a beam of blue light split open the sky. At ground level it showed the bottom ten floors of the tower. The broken windows were covered by what looked like hurricane shutters that appeared impervious to the alien blasts. Black suited soldiers were directing survivors into the tower. There was one without a helmet with a red bandana holding his hair back from his face.
“That really is Eliot.” Sophie exclaimed.
“Hardison can you tell what the emblem is on Eliot’s suit?”
“Give me just a minute … It’s an eagle … It’s the logo for SHIELD.”
“They did reactivate him.”
Parker’s voice was breathy.
“I’m not sure he was ever not active.” Nate countered.
“Why would he work with us?”
“SHIELD’s not your typical government agency. I’m not even sure they are a government agency … At least not for our government.”
“I wonder if Eliot can get me an autograph.”
They all asked on concert.
“You’re kidding. Tony Stark is a geek’s god. If Eliot knows him then I’m sittin’ pretty.”
“You should probably wait and see if he comes back from outer space before you ask Eliot to get his autograph.”
Sophie said as they pulled their chairs in front of the LED screens to continue watching.
“Oh! I wanna do that!”
Parker pointed at the screen where they saw the archer leap off the building and shoot an arrow at the same time. It stuck in the side of the building and the attached rope allowed him to swing through one of the building’s plate glass windows.
The blue beam was cut off and all the aliens stopped and collapsed where they stood or fell out of the sky. The camera panned back to the front of Stark Tower where they listened as Eliot called for medical personnel and teams to start searching for survivors. There were dark places on his uniform, but they couldn’t tell if it was his blood or someone else’s.
Now that they attack was over, Hardison muted the sound.
“So what do we do about Eliot?”
Eliot missed Phil Coulson. The man was an organizational genius and would have had the search and rescue people marching in rank and step if he were here. He was forever grateful that Phil had made sure he would have access to Stark’s AI.
JARVIS had been invaluable in helping him get survivors inside the confines of the fortified Stark Tower. The survivors were moved out to evacuation centers now that the Chitauri were dead, and Eliot was now using the lobby as a command post.
“Maria, when can I get some relief here?”
“Not for a while. We’re limping toward dock now, but it’s going to take time. We don’t have anyone to send.”
“Dammit. I need to be out with the SAR teams.”
“Fury wants you right where you are … With Coulson down … You’re the closet thing we’ve got.”
“How is he?”
“Touch and go. He’s still in surgery … A lot of muscle and ligament damage along with a punctured lung. He might be able to fly a desk, but I don’t know about going out in the field … That’s if he makes it through the next few days.”
“Fuck. This whole deal has just screwed the pooch in so many ways it could be a sex show in Mexico.”
Eliot froze. He didn’t like what he was hearing in Maria’s voice.
“Fury told The Avengers Phil is dead.”
“WHAT! Holy Fucking Hell. Why would he do that? Does Clint know?”
“No, but Natasha does. I think Fury and Coulson cooked up the idea after they shot Phil full of the good drugs.”
“The son of a bitch is damn lucky he’s in surgery. I hope some dumb ass doesn’t blurt it out to Barton … We’ll never get him dug out from under that mountain of guilt.”
“I hate to dump on you, but I thought you should have a heads up.”
“Thanks Maria. Where is Cyclops? I wanna know where to find him when I have time to kick his ass up between his shoulders.”
“With the Council rubbing their noses in The Avengers’ success.”
“Great. Keep me in the loop?”
“I’ll do what I can, but it’s above my pay grade.”
“Nothing’s above your pay grade, and I have a new friend Phil introduced me to that can give me a hand.”
“Good luck with that. Stark gets pissed when people take his stuff.”
“I’ll give him back … Some day. Get some rest, Maria.”
“Take your own advice, Wolf. Out.”
“Yes, Agent Spencer?”
“I’m not stepping over any boundaries here I don’t about?”
“Great. You’ll tell me if I do?”
“Can you find Agent Coulson while we do all this other shit, too?”
“I assure you that I am accustomed to keeping up with Sir’s machinations so it will pose no problem to look for Agent Coulson while we’re working, Agent Spencer.”
“Outstanding. Please call me Eliot.”
“If I may be so bold, Agent … Eliot, you have several wounds that you should have attended.”
“JARVIS, are you familiar with Operation Outcome?”
“Not currently, Sir.”
“I am one of two people that survived the treatment. By the time the medics track me down there won’t be enough open wound left to worry over, but we’re going to keep that little tidbit of information between us unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“I concur at this time, Sir.”
Hours later, Eliot was still standing in the lobby of Stark Tower with the heads of police, fire and National Guard working to switch SHIELD units for LEOs and Guard. He’d finished relaying orders for the final teams to be pulled out when The Avengers tumbled through the door literally holding each other upright. The specialists on protection detail brought their weapons to bear on Hawkeye.
“Everyone. Stand. Down.”
Clint and Natasha’s heads snapped up at the sound of Eliot’s command. Shock kept even Tony silent though they formed a protective circle around Hawkeye and Black Widow.
Eliot heard Clint’s surprised whisper … He could feel the emotions tumbling through their bond, but he stayed focused on the members of his detail who failed to lower their weapons.
“Was I unclear?” He brought his hand to rest on the butt of his pistol.
The soft question caused the hands holding the three weapons still pointed at Clint to tremble.
“But … He …”
“Was I unclear?
“No … No … Sir.”
“You will lower your weapons or I will shoot you myself, and shooting you will generate reams of paperwork that will make me extremely cranky.”
“You will report back to base and pray to your gods you’re never assigned to work with me again.”
“Anyone else with a problem protecting this building and The Avengers can also report to base.”
The implication was clear to the remaining men and women. Have a problem with The Hawk you had a problem with The Wolf. Only one other left.
“Colonel, is your command post operational?”
“Get moved there ASAP so Mr. Stark can secure his building for repairs. There will be SHIELD agents with all your teams until all Chitauri remains and machinery is collected at which time all operations will be left in your capable hands.”
Eliot shook hands with everyone. He heard Stark draw in a breath, but raised a hand to forestall his words.
“Move your detail to an exterior perimeter. When everyone has cleared the lobby you’re relieved to return to base.”
JARVIS, lock it down after they’re clear. Elevator?”
“Thanks. Let’s go.”
Clint and Natasha moved first, Steve close behind supporting Bruce. Thor and Tony stood undecided.
“Everything is fine, Sir. If you go with Agent Spencer he will explain. His words are not for public purview hence his rush to get everyone some place private.”
The ride to the residential floors was silent until the doors opened.
“Do you want to clean up first or talk first?”
“Clean up. We’ve got a truck load of carry out coming in a half hour or so, and I really need to get this suit to the cleaners.” Tony quipped as he stepped out of the elevator. “There’s … Suites. Pick one they’re all stocked.”
He waved over his shoulder as he headed toward his workshop still muttering under his breath. Soon it was just the three SHIELD agents. Eliot waited for them to reach out. Clint moved until he was plastered against Eliot, Natasha supporting him from behind.
“Eliot, it … He … I … Couldn’t …”
His breathing hitched as he buried his face in Eliot’s neck.
“I know Darlin’. I couldn’t reach you either, but we’ve got you back.”
“Your crew …”
“You don’t worry about Portland. That’s for tomorrow or the next day. I for one would like to wash the Chitauri brains out of my hair. Agent Hill was kind enough to grab your ‘go’ bags and send them over with the relief team, so let’s see what kind of religious experience we can find in a Stark Tower bathroom.”
An hour later they were back in the living room, shawarma, with a variety of toppings and side dishes scattered across the bar. Eliot and Natasha watched Clint to make sure he actually ate. Clean and fed, Tony could no longer restrain himself.
“So Agent Spencer, are you replacing Agent … Phil?”
Eliot chuckled at Tony’s condescending tone.
“I couldn’t replace Phil in my dreams let alone in real life, but Director Fury asked me to stand in until it’s seen how well he recovers.”
“RECOVERS! HOW THE FUCK DO YOU RECOVER FROM BEING DEAD!”
Eliot’s glare was so chilling that Stark took a step back and nearly fell over Steve. He turned to catch Clint as he felt the archer’s mind start to shut down.
He snatched Clint by the nape of the neck and shook him.
At the broken tone, he pulled Clint against him still glaring at the others.
“No Darlin’. JARVIS?”
“Agent Coulson was moved to Recovery thirty minutes ago. The doctors are cautiously optimistic about him recovering most of the range of motion in his shoulder, but concerned about diminished lung capacity, and are safeguarding against respiratory infections.”
“Thank you, JARVIS.”
“You’re very welcome, Eliot.”
Eliot relaxed into the couch, Clint plastered against his left side and Natasha tucked under his right arm, her head on his chest as they watched the others except for Bruce vent their outrage at Fury’s lies. He kept his hand running through the short hair to give Clint an anchor in the storm of his emotions. Once he felt them relax, he enjoyed listening to how Fury was about to pay for his duplicity.
“Can we get in to see him?”
Clint’s voice was still quiet as though afraid to hope.
“We can go by later, but Fury wants to keep us away from the Council so we’ll give it a few days then scatter. Stark, do you mind a few house guests or should we find somewhere else.”
“No. I mean you can stay. I’m sure JARVIS has already scheduled repairs, but we can fly to Malibu until Fury wants us back.”
“Sounds like a plan. I need to make a stop in Portland.”
He was interrupted by a chirp from his phone.
“Thor, the Council wants to execute Loki so if you want to save your brother you better get on the horn with the All-Father.”
“I will. Thank you, Wolfson.”
Eliot nudged the drowsing Clint to wake him then made their good nights and headed to their room. He turned back from locking the door and was shoved against the door and two sets of hands began stripping off his clothes.
“You were on the street.”
“In the battle with the Chitauri.”
“I had Phil’s team.”
They found all the healing cuts, laser burns and bruises.
“I’m good compared to you two. Out running the Hulk, battling each other … A concussion, bruises, jet crashes, catching rides on flying scooters, and jumping off buildings.”
That got a snort from Natasha and a smirk from Clint.
“Just another day at the office.”
“Since we’ve all been awake for the better part of four days … Bed sounds like a the perfect place.”
“It’s been a month.”
“Sleep now. Play when we’ve pulled our asses out of the fire.”
Eliot could have kicked himself as Clint’s face fell and Natasha glared.
“Truth. JARVIS, how’s Phil?”
“Vitals are stable, his chest has drained well. The doctors are pleased with his progress.”
They all groaned as the luxurious mattress enfolded their exhausted bodies. Anything other than sleep was definitely going to have to wait. Sleep was warm and tangled and safe until Clint’s dreams of Loki rolled down his mental link to Eliot.
He didn’t jump or tense though his heartbeat picked up until he realized the images in his mind weren’t his. The dreams had not yet brought the archer awake, but he was beginning to twist in Eliot’s arms. Love and safety and home were feelings Eliot fed back through the bond, Clint’s breathing calmed, his body settled back into deep sleep. Slipping from between his assassins, he stepped into the bathroom. After relieving himself he stood in the shower until the images from Clint’s dreams leeched into his memory where they could be locked away. Though it had been four days as opposed to four years … This mind fuck was going to be harder than Aaron Cross.
Guarding their sleep until a decent hour to start coffee and breakfast, Eliot lost himself in the array of food he found in Stark’s kitchen. Talking with JARVIS while he worked, helped ease some of the anxiety of what the next few days would bring, and the smells wafting from the kitchen soon drew everyone from their beds. The easy camaraderie over breakfast was soon broken by a call from Fury requesting their presence at SHIELD’s land headquarters in two hours.
They made it through the debriefings … Barely. Eliot had to keep mentally snatching Clint back from his inner abyss. The argument between Thor and Fury over Loki’s fate was near shaking the walls. Psych tried to separate Eliot from Clint, but since Eliot was standing in Coulson’s stead, the only ones that could override him was Assistant Director Hill or Director Fury. Clint had jumped through all the hoops successfully and with the mental bond between Eliot and Clint installed by SHIELD’s own psychics they had no reason not to release the archer.
While the other Avengers kept Fury tied in knots, the trio decided to slip in and see Phil. Clint had been holding himself together fairly well until they passed through several wards of wounded.
“Clint, these wounded are from Manhattan. This is Loki’s work. They are all Loki’s work. You were just a tool just like Dr. Selvig was a tool … Agent Peterson was a tool … Everyone he touched was simply a means to an end.”
Natasha didn’t stop talking until they’d passed through all the wards, and were standing outside the doors that would take them to the isolation ward.
Agent Phil Coulson looked diminished buried under miles of wire and tubing, but his color was looking better. The doctors had removed the ventilator, and had finished removing the chest tube, leaving the drugged agent to sleep. It broke Eliot’s heart broke to watch two of SHIELD’s deadliest assassins stand by Coulson’s bed holding hands like frightened children. They joined their clasped hands with Phil’s, and watched the hitched breathing as he slept. Eliot settled to wait.
He’d closed his eyes for just a minute when Clint’s excitement at the fluttering of eyelashes brought Eliot awake.
Natasha bent over and kissed Phil’s forehead while Clint offered him a sip of water.
“If you ever give Fury the okay to tell us you’re dead again, we will not be responsible for how we punish you.”
She gave the injured man a sweet smile.
Phil Coulson, SHIELD’s mild mannered bad ass shivered at THAT smile from the Black Widow.
“I promise. It was not my most thought out plan, and the drugs they gave me were very good.” He looked between her and Clint. “You’re both alright? … Clint?
“Yes Sir. Tasha hit me in the head … Really hard.”
“Cognitive re-calibration. It worked with Dr. Selvig, too.”
He walked to the opposite side of the bed.
“I’m sorry we pulled you back into this.”
He patted the other man’s arm.
“It’s fine, man. You gave me almost five years, and I’m tired of spending most of my nights alone.”
“I’m here as long as you need me.”
Eliot stepped back and let Hawkeye and Black Widow fuss over their handler. He was surprised to find the words that he’d only meant to ease Phil’s mind were actually true. As long as Clint and Natasha chose this life he would be here. They had accepted that he’d had to walk away … Now he was accepting that he needed to return, not just for them, but for himself, too.
They stayed until Phil drifted back to sleep then returned to Fury’s office.
“Agents Barton and Romanoff. You will remain with The Avengers, and as such will vacate your quarters here and on the helicarrier. Stark has assured me that accommodations have already been provided for you. Any problems will go through your acting liaison, Agent Spencer, until such time as it’s determined whether Agent Coulson will return to field duty.”
They were still furious with the Director so with a mere nod of acknowledgement they left to pack what little they had in their quarters. Most of their personal effects were in a loft in a converted warehouse the trio owned on the river, and as they encountered some hostility on the helicarrier, Tasha took point while Eliot guarded their backs.
Last stop was the armory to collect their battle suits, Clint’s bows, arrows and Black Widow’s stingers.
They were back at the Tower by three where Eliot and Clint met Pepper Potts for the first time, and Tony directed everyone to the tower’s secure weapons storage. As they made their way back to the main living area, Tony started to explain the changes he wanted to make since he had to remodel anyway.
“What does Legolas need for a practice range, and what is it with Spencer and my kitchen?”
“It’s how he unwinds.”
“He any good?”
“What’d you think of breakfast?”
“That was Spencer?”
Clint smirked at the billionaire’s reaction.
“I may have to dump Pepper and marry Spencer.”
“Man’s already spoken for.”
“Oh you mean that puppy pile you had going on my sofa?”
Tony stopped to look at Clint.
“You’re serious? How long?”
“Since Delta Force.”
“She came to us about a year after she followed me home from my mission to ‘terminate with extreme prejudice’.”
“How come I’ve never met Agent Eliot Spencer? What he’s Agent’s prodigal son?”
“He’s been on a long term mission. Coulson called him home when I was compromised.”
Ignoring how Clint’s tone had dropped to a near whisper, Tony pushed on.
“Then tell me your wish list for your playground while your boyfriend plies me with gourmet meals.”
“You are going to tell Agent Spencer about the office you set up for him?”
“Nope, JARVIS can do that. I think I’ll chain him in the kitchen instead. Here, look at what I’ve got …”
Tony pulled up schematics on his tablet and handed it to the archer who immediately began questioning Tony about limitations and space.
That’s how Eliot found them all a couple hours later, going over blueprints, making suggestions, and generally getting to know each other.
“JARVIS. Bring ’em to the table.”
The screens went dark, causing an instant uproar.
“Dinner is served.” The AI informed them.
Clint and Natasha sprinted for the dining room.
“What’s the rush?”
Steve was confused to see Tony urging Pepper along.
“Apparently Agent Spencer is also quite the chef so I want to get there before you and Thor.”
“Tony!” Pepper scolded.
“What? You want me to tell the truth.”
Tony needn’t have worried. Eliot cooked plenty, the table practically bowing under the weight of full bowls and platters. It didn’t take long for the meal to be demolished, even Thor pushing back from the table rubbing his stomach.
“Truly a meal fit for the gods.”
Eliot left the table to retrieve dessert, and while everyone was distracted, had gone back into the kitchen and not returned. Clint and Natasha exchanged a look after noticing a half eaten meal and their vanishing lover. They slipped away from the table.
“Doing paperwork in the office Sir did not tell him about two floors down.”
“Wonder how much paperwork an alien invasion generates?”
Clint grinned as Natasha swatted his arm.
“It is mostly electronic in nature, but in actual paper would probably deforest half the state of Maine.”
Both agents stopped in their tracks, mouths agape.
“A computer with a sense of humor … Who’d of thought?”
“Thanks JARVIS. We haven’t had nearly enough to laugh about lately.”
“My pleasure, Agent Barton.”
“Clint. Since we’re all co-habitating you should call me Clint.”
“As you wish, Sir.”
He grinned at Natasha’s eye roll.
“What? We’re just one big dysfunctional family.”
“Speaking of which …”
“Think he’s freaking over Portland?” Clint asked as they stepped off the elevator.
“They have become … Important.”
“Yeah. Nat …?”
“You’re leaving us. You talked about the red in your ledger. You never talk about that shit unless you’ve made a decision you think will hurt us.”
“Eliot will be with us, and Phil needs us to get back to himself.”
“You mean you. Like … What? You’re the carrot and the stick?”
Clint slapped his hand over his mouth.
“Dammit, I love Phil, too. I didn’t mean to sound like a jealous boyfriend.”
“We have grown past that I think.”
“What about Eliot?”
“Eliot sometimes knows me better than I know myself. That is not always a comforting thought.”
Natasha frowned when Clint threw back his head and laughed.
“Oh Nat. That’s how I feel around you and Coulson all the time. Good to know I’m not alone.”
She gave him a small smile as they stopped in front of the door to Eliot’s office.
“Normal is never going to apply to us in any way shape or form, and I have used you for too long.”
The door opened to reveal a scowling Eliot.
“Tasha? What’s this about using someone?”
“I will be staying with Phil while you go to the west coast.”
They followed him into the office.
“You’re right. He shouldn’t be left alone. It could set back his recovery. Call when they’re going release him. We’ll get him moved in here during his recovery … Bring some of his clothes and things from his apartment … Have JARVIS order in foods he likes … To put him at ease … Be comfortable.”
“I am not nurturing, but I don’t wish him to think we left him because he is wounded.”
Natasha seemed confused by her need to stay and oversee their handler’s recovery.
“He doesn’t need you to entertain him he needs you to support him. He knows who we are. You’ll only scare him if you go mother hen on him.”
Seeing her body language relax, Eliot turned back to his desk.
“Go play with the other kids so I can dig out from under this pile of work before I smother.”
At midnight Clint and Natasha pulled Eliot to their room. It was their last night and they didn’t want to spend it without the three of them together. Tomorrow they would part ways, the three of them going into places where even they could not predict the outcome.
For all the footage he’d combed through, Hardison had found only a few images of Eliot during the battle, and in the first hours after clean-up started from the lobby of Stark Tower. After that he vanished. They were sitting around eating and watching the footage again when Parker jumped and ran. They followed the thief around the corner to find her hanging from Eliot’s neck.
“Bandages … Where are the bandages. I saw you get hit.”
“I’m fine, Parker. My tac vest took the damage.”
He squeezed her hard. This might be the last time he got to have this.
He looked over her shoulder at the Nate, Sophie and Hardison. Setting the blonde on her feet, Eliot drew in a deep breath to begin his explanation when a limping shuffle coming toward the office had him spinning and shoving Parker behind him at the same time.
“Eliot, I need your help.”
Nate and Eliot listened to Toby’s story. Just as Nate opened his mouth to give him the brush off, Eliot pulled him to the side.
“Toby taught me how to use a knife … How I could create with it instead of destroy. He’s one of the guys that kept me from fallin’ all the way down, and now I’m askin’ the other guy to understand why I’m gonna help him.”
Nate went off to tell the others while Eliot went back to Toby. When he was sure his old friend was out of earshot, he pulled out his new Stark phone.
“JARVIS, I’m gonna be about a week. Can you let the pilot know … Send him back to Tony.”
“I have conferred with Sir. He wishes the jet to remain until you are ready to rejoin them.”
He walked back through the kitchen to see how things were running since he’d been gone. What he saw caused a tightness to form in his chest. A look at the menu confirmed what he’d seen in the kitchen.
“Hey man, you checkin’ out the changes I made while you were gone? See I been doin’ ….”
Hurt and angry that the hacker never listened to what he said, he tossed the menu at Hardison and headed to the office to see what plan Nate had put together.
The next four days were exhausting. There were a few bright spots like teaching Parker about food, watching his less than stellar students actually absorb what he was trying to teach them, taking out the thugs that worked for Jean-Luc, and walking away after pinning down Rampone.
After the irritated bike messenger left the pub, Eliot steeled himself for what came next.
“We need to talk.”
Nate gave him a nod. They were sitting at the counter, Eliot standing under the blank TV screens.
“From Parker’s reaction, I’m going to assume that you saw the battle in Manhattan, and I’m going to assume you saw me on some of the news footage.”
“Is the government taking you back?” Parker asked.
“The short answer is ‘yes’. The long answer is more complicated.”
“You been spyin’ all this time?” Hardison asked sending a wide-eyed look to Nate.
Eliot shook his head. They didn’t need to know that some of the jobs they’d pulled fulfilled parts of Nick Fury’s personal wish list. Those were happy coincidences as far as he was concerned.
“When Dubenich called me for that first job I was on leave … Had been since I left Moreau. I’m never going to be entirely free from my agency, but I’m pretty autonomous. Due to some things that went on before the Chitauri invasion I was recalled, and for the foreseeable future will be stationed in New York.”
“What do you mean won’t be free?” Sophie asked.
“What agency?” Hardison pulled out a keyboard.
Eliot ran his hands through his hair.
“You work for SHIELD?” Hardison’s voice was a squeak.
“You didn’t think this was something we needed to know?”
Nate sipped his drink while he studied the retrieval specialist.
“No. I didn’t go around asking anyone else about their past. Sophie conned us … You conned us … Sterling conned us … Me working for SHIELD wasn’t even a blip on the radar in comparison.”
“What’s a SHIELD?” Parker asked.
“Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.” Eliot offered
“Division of what?”
“The government.” Hardison’s tone was curt.
“Like a spy?”
“Not the government and sometimes.”
“Can you teach me spy stuff?”
“No, Parker, I won’t teach you spy stuff. The stuff you know is sneaky enough.”
“Is that what Moreau meant when he said it’d be just like Belgrade?”
Eliot paled at the hacker’s statement.
“No. Moreau never knew I worked for SHIELD.”
His attention wandered as sensitive hearing picked up familiar voices and footsteps in the bar. The rugged face never changed, but his brain gave a sigh of relief. He wasn’t alone.
“You know I can’t talk about before … It’s all classified.”
“Nothing is ‘classified’ from me.” Hardison wiggled his fingers for quotations. “After we got back from San Lorenzo I had some time …”
“Hardison.” Nate’s voice held a note of warning.
“So I let my fingers do the walking …”
“That’s been almost two years ago, Hardison. Why are you showing us these now?”
Sophie grabbed Nate’s arm bringing his attention back to her as he felt her hand tremble. Following her line of sight he pulled his attention to Eliot. The last time he’d seen that expression was in a warehouse with Moreau’s enforcers, who all ended up dead.
“Isn’t this how all spy movies end? The big reveal.”
Hardison pointed the remote at the screens. Before he could press the button several things happened simultaneously.
Parker darted around Hardison and grabbed the remote.
Clint Barton walked in and slid his arms around Eliot’s waist, resting his chin on his shoulder.
The rest of The Avengers fanned out behind the couple.
Everyone waited to see who made the first move.
Never patient with people, the Leverage crew was not surprised when it was Parker who spoke first.
“NO! You don’t get to do this. Why would you do this?”
“For us … I did it for us. Every time I see you you’re with Eliot. I refuse to lose to an assassin.”
“LOSE! LOSE WHAT?!”
The blonde was so distraught the tears went unnoticed and no one dared breathe.
“Me? He was teaching me to be a better me. So I fit in with regular people. So you didn’t have to be embarrassed because I don’t know stuff. I asked all of you and you didn’t have time for me. Only Eliot took time.”
Her words trailed off. She threw the remote at Hardison, walked over and tucked herself under Eliot’s arm. Clint opened his arms long enough to include the thief.
Hardison took a step forward before his mind registered what his eyes were seeing. He back pedaled until he bumped into the counter.
“Eliot, you wanna introduce your friends?” Nate asked.
Tony took that as his cue.
“Tony Stark, billionaire, philanthropist, former playboy, genius. JARVIS?”
The screens flickered to life.
“Threat neutralized, Sir. I have been with Agent … Eliot the entire trip. Agent Romanoff and Coulson would like a word.”
“On screen.” He turned back to his audience. “Did I mention I’m also Iron Man? This lovely couple is Black Widow and Agent Agent.” He waved at the screens.
“We got this Nat. You take care of Phil.”
The red-headed assassin gave a narrow-eyed glare before nodding her agreement. Agent Coulson started to remind them that he could take care of himself about the time the screens went dark.
The relief in Eliot’s tone was palatable.
“It was my pleasure, Eliot.”
Hardison started forward, but without being seen to move, Eliot yanked Tony behind him. Hardison stopped and looked up at the blond wall in front of him.
A toothpaste smile and large hand appeared.
Hardison took two steps back.
“Why do you provoke Wolfson?” Thor asked confused.
“Because people with high IQs have no common sense and think the rest of us are too stupid to see when they’re being asses.”
The sandy brown head turned toward Stark and another man.
“Stark and Banner being the exceptions, sometimes.”
“Is this true?”
Thor turned back to glare at the strangers.
“What … No … Wait … The Avengers? You’re working with THE AVENGERS?! Why didn’t you say …?”
Parker’s glare, Nate and Sophie’s disappointed looks along with the predatory looks from the men standing with Eliot seemed to throw a switch in the hacker’s brain.
“I think that’s what Eliot was trying to tell us when you interrupted him. Eliot, continue with what you were saying.”
Nate held his whiskey glass up in a salute.
“Nothing. I’m going to New York. Call Quinn or Shelley if you need a hitter.”
His face was a mask when he stepped out of Clint’s embrace, hugged Parker, pressed his lips to her forehead, and stepped away. Grabbing his duffel Eliot didn’t look back.
The Leverage crew watched as Stark put an arm over the enforcer’s shoulder.
“Agent would be so proud. Anyway … You think my kitchen in New York is impressive wait ’til you see the one in the Malibu house. JARVIS has been very protective of the kitchen since you two bonded …”
The sounds of Tony’s ramblings faded away until only the man that had been literally wrapped around Eliot remained. The late afternoon sun made the eyes in the handsome face a kaleidoscope of grey, green and blue.
“He was going to keep you, but you hurt him. You don’t get to do that again.”
Hardison started forward to make his case when something embedded itself in the post by his head. The hacker looked at the post and the broad head arrow tip stuck in the wood. When he looked back toward the door, it was empty.
“That went well.”
Sophie grabbed her ruana and bag.
“I’m going to the theater.”
“I’ll go with you.”
Nate downed the last of his drink.
“Good job, Hardison.”
“Is that supposed to be a crack? ‘Cause if it is … Harsh, man … Harsh.”
He turned to pull the arrowhead out of the post and nearly ran into Parker. She was studying the lethal part of the arrow like it held the secrets of life.
“Do you know who that was?”
“Yeah. I know the names of all The Avengers … Clint Barton … Hawkeye.”
“Him and red-head are the ones I’ve seen with Eliot.”
“You tellin’ me Hawkeye and Black Widow are Eliot’s lovers?” His voice went up a notch.
“Him and Clint I think. I didn’t always see the woman.” Her dark blue eyes were cold when she looked up. “No, I didn’t peek in the window.”
“But you … Eliot …”
“Was my friend … Family.”
Parker walked up the steps cradling the broad head in her hand.
Natasha walked into the gym to see Tony spread eagle on the floor his lungs pumping like a bellows. She stepped over him and looked down. Brown eyes fluttered open.
“Tell Pepper I loved her.”
A dark red eyebrow arched.
“Wolf Man’s trying to kill us all.”
“By beating us to death?”
“Improving your endurance.”
Stark rolled to his feet.
“Where is Agent this morning?”
“Physical therapy. He will soon join you in your endeavors.”
“It’s not too soon?”
“Eliot has worked wonders.”
Tony had to agree. From the time they landed in Malibu, Eliot had taken over the kitchen and their physical conditioning. There were no more missed meals, and staying up all night working did not get him and Bruce out of their conditioning. Even Agent was healing faster than the doctors had predicted.
They were still the most mentally and physically scarred crew on the east coast, but Clint and Coulson were working through their nightmares of Loki, the agents on the helicarrier had stopped giving Barton, Selvig, and the others who’d been possessed by the Tessaract trouble when they had meetings on the boat. Nothing was ever said, but Tony had asked JARVIS, for the AI always kept an eye on all the Avengers. His computer simply said that Agent Spencer had been involved in the retraining of certain agents, and that many of the people now on the helicarrier had not been on board during the attack led by Agent Barton.
“Widow, does he ever talk about them?”
“Not to me.”
He’d drifted to sleep with strong arms wrapped around him, but something was scratching at the back of his mind. The last time that happened he’d been reaching out to Eliot as he helplessly watched Loki’s scepter move toward his chest. Eyes snapping open, he reached out to find the bed empty. Getting dressed he followed the tug in his mind to the highest place in Stark Tower.
Usually when people thought of high places they thought of him, not Eliot, but Eliot always did the unexpected. It had saved their lives numerous times in the past so it stayed in his arsenal. He found his partner in an overstuffed chair he’d pulled over to the windows, talking to JARVIS … A beer sweating on the floor next to him.
He and Eliot were fairly matched in size though Eliot was broader, so Clint burrowed into the over sized chair and that broad chest seeking the extra warmth that was a result of their stint in Operation Outcome.
“The bed got cold.”
Eliot pulled the archer close and rested his lips against his temple.
“I’m turning everything back to Phil tomorrow. He and Steve will run the show.”
Eliot’s voice was rough with the emotions tumbling across their bond.
“What? … Oh no … Fury can’t do this … Not now. Phil’s not field ready.”
“You’re going to be his eyes.”
“Eliot … No. You have to take me with you.”
“I can’t. You and Nat are well known members of the Avengers. You can’t go where I’m going.”
When Clint woke the next morning he was bruised and sore and every part of his body had been well used. They had come back to the room where Eliot had made love to him both mentally and physically. He showered and was in the elevator before he realized that their bond was entirely too quiet.
“JARVIS, where’s Eliot?”
“Not in the tower, Agent Barton.”
“Where’s Agent Coulson or Romanoff?”
“Everyone is in the dining room. I believe they’re waiting for your arrival.”
He rushed into the room to find not only the team and Coulson, but also Fury and someone Clint Barton had hoped to never see again. Dr. Marta Shearing. A baggie holding dark hair lay on the table. The Hawk’s eyesight lit on the hair. He closed his eyes and locked everything down. The Avengers were rudely introduced to Agent Clint Barton, master assassin.
Marta came towards him, her expression happy.
“Aaron, they never told me what happened to you.”
“There is no Aaron, Dr. Shearing. He was an alias used to infiltrate the CIA’s human experimentation program of which you were an integral part. My name is Agent Clint Barton.”
She turned confused eyes on Nick Fury.
“But, Nick Taylor … He’s been coming to my lab … I just viraled him out.”
The rest of the team had moved to stand behind Clint. It was Tony who spoke first.
“I think I and Dr. Banner would like to see the files on … Nick Taylor.” His dark eyes never left Fury’s face.
“Those files are ‘Eyes Only’.”
Nick Fury didn’t know why he bothered reminding Stark. The man probably already had the files, but wanted to see if SHIELD was going to deny him.
“My chef and personal trainer disappears into thin air, you show up with some genetics hack you’ve stolen from the CIA while said science hack drools over Legolas like he’s the Holy Grail. So why don’t you roll over and show us your soft underbelly.”
“What did you do, Marta.”
Eyes wide Dr. Shearing froze like a rabbit under the raptor’s gaze.
“I’d answer him before he puts an arrow in your eye.” Natasha whispered from behind the scientist.
Dr. Shearing jerked at the Black Widow’s venomous tone. She quickly backed up until she bumped into Fury.
“When Number 7 came into the program his senses were already sharper than normal including his intuition. One of the chromosomes we altered controls cognitive ability and the senses. The treatment not only enhanced his five normal senses, but also his ‘sixth sense’ … Intuition … Whatever.”
Fury picked up the story.
“Apparently when Eliot’s young hacker friend was having his jealous snit and was tiptoeing through CIA files looking for Eliot Spencer and his known aliases he pinged one of Byer’s geeks. Eliot came to me while you were on a mission in Pakistan with this information, and asked to take another cognitive treatment in an attempt to boost his abilities even higher.”
“Those two weeks … He looked horrible, but never broke his schedule.”
Bruce looked at Shearing like he found her on the bottom of his shoe.
“So he’s going to take on Eric Byer, Mark Turso and NRAG by himself.” Clint asked.
“He’s the perfect candidate. The treatment worked. His intuition has grown to where he’s practically telepathic or precognitive or whichever one of those terms they use.” Marta blurted.
“So the end justified the means, Doctor?” Steve asked. “Several of us are the end result of that thinking.”
Shearing paled and stepped back.
Clint spun around to stalk out of the room taking the baggie with him.
“It’s the only way we stop this.” Fury called. “They can kill all the subjects, but as long as they have the files they’ll never stop.”
“There’s always backups and redundancies.” Tony pointed out.
“Not with this stuff. It will be off network.”
Eliot sighed pinching the bridge of his nose. Before going through the experimentation process for Operation Outcome, he and Clint had their own particular brands of genius. Clint with his knowledge of angles, trajectories and such, and Eliot with his knowledge of people, their psychologies and behaviors, and planning contingencies based on those behaviors. The alterations had boosted those abilities, and now with the second boost and no time to acclimate to the increase in his psychic abilities, Eliot was fighting to narrow down the scenarios running through his brain. His only back-up and voice in his ear for this operation was JARVIS.
His cover into the CIA was a former weapons specialist moved to desk duty after an injury. His job in this capacity was the inspection, maintenance and inventory of all the weapons currently in the CIA armory. This gave JARVIS a way into the system and kept Eliot away from prying eyes.
He was a week into his inventory when his instincts started clamoring at him to hide. He put everything away so it looked like no one was in the armory before moving into the shadows just as JARVIS warned him Eric Byer and Mark Turso were coming into the armory.
Knowing there was little surveillance in the armory they found a blind spot and discussed the budget hearings in the Senate and how best to divert funds into a new program for LARX.
“The problem is even though it’s been five years since Bourne and Landy we’re still under the gun.” Byer complained. “Auditors are still watching every file and piece of scrap paper in every building, office or lab ever used especially by the National Research Assay Group.”
“What do you want to me to do?” I warned you about keeping that stuff. It should have been incinerated after you lost Cross and that doctor.” Turso snarked.
“That’s thousands of hours and millions of dollars of research!”
“It’s not just our jobs, but probably our lives if those files ever see the light of day. It also ruins plans to restart any of the programs. We have buyers for what we can produce. Buyers you really don’t want to screw over, Eric.”
“It’s not just my chestnuts that will roasting Mark, it’s yours too.”
The retired admiral looked like he’d sucked a lemon, but capitulated.
“Everything in the vault over at NRAG?”
“It’s all on external drives that we use on standalone systems so they’re never on the network servers.”
“What’s the protocol for getting the drives out of the vault?”
“I’ll worry about that. You need to find me someone to carry them out of the building … Someone you don’t mind using for cannon fodder.”
“They’re all cannon fodder, Mark.”
Eliot watched the two men leave noticing the empty security station outside the door. He finished out the day while beginning to plan his way back into the NRAG.
Clint was quietly fretting over Eliot’s silence, while Tony and Bruce were much more vocal with both Coulson and Fury. JARVIS wished there was a way he could alleviate some of the worry, but Eliot had sworn him to silence unless Sir asked him directly for the AI told the agent he refused to lie to his creator.
JARVIS, have you heard any buzz on our Wolfman?”
“I’m afraid not, Sir. There has been no communication between Agent Spencer and SHIELD.”
“You’re welcome, Sir.”
“See Hawk. No news is good news. You know if you’re feeling frustrated maybe I could talk Pepper into …”
The words stopped spilling from Tony’s mouth by the dinner roll Clint had thrown … Hawkeye never missed.
The second alias JARVIS and Eliot set up was a low level agent generally used for playing messenger within the Agency. Pick up the package deliver the package. George Kenneth was such an agent. Quiet, invisible, no one remembers him because he is so non-invasive in his comings and goings.
Eliot made sure every time Byer or Turso needed someone he was there. His patience was rewarded when Turso handed him a box for delivery to a NRAG safe house. On the drive to the house in Alexandria, Virginia, JARVIS copied the drives onto one of his servers so only Eliot and Tony had access. The files would be erased when the last of the agents in Treadstone, Black Briar, Outcome, LARX and any descendants died. If Jason Bourne, Eliot, Clint or the remaining nine LARX subjects produced children, JARVIS would monitor them for any manifestation of abilities due to their parents altered chromosomes. Subjects in these programs didn’t usually live lives conducive to having families, but the contingency had to be covered.
Eliot picked up what Turso told him was the last box to go to the safe house when Byer looked up from the papers on his desk.
“Have we worked together?”
Byer studied his badge then his face. Eliot was glad for the tinted glasses that gave him relief from the fluorescent lights.
“How long have you been here?”
“The NRAG or the Agency, Sir?”
“Five years. I was just transferred back from northern Afghanistan, Sir.”
Byer gave him one more look.
“Sorry, you reminded me of someone. Thank you, Agent Kenneth, that’ll be all.”
With a curt nod Eliot headed for the agency car. He didn’t draw a normal breath until he was out the gate headed toward Arlington. The minute he turned onto the street where the safe house was located something felt wrong.
“I believe Admiral Turso and Colonel Byer’s endgame is about to begin. There are a dozen agents in and around the house.”
“Great. All I need to do is convince them they killed me without pissing off Clint.” Eliot grimaced.
“Indeed, though I believe Agent Barton would not be the only person distressed. We’re not far from the river.”
“The classics never go out of style.”
Eliot shoved his Stark Tablet and phone into a waterproof case, put his comm in his ear, and slipped the strap over his head. He parked on the street instead of pulling into the driveway, got out of the car carrying a box like he had every day for the past three. Byer and Turso stepped around the corner of the house as one of the Byer’s shock troops opened the front door. Eliot stopped.
“Is something wrong, Sir?”
“I’m afraid so Agent Kenneth. You see there’s been a security breach, and I’m afraid you’ve become our number one suspect.”
If Eliot didn’t know better, he’d have sworn Byer was truly sorry for what was about to happen.
“But all I do is make deliveries.”
“Which, will be the saddest part of the story, Agent Kenneth or may I call you George? A good agent with years of experience duped by a superior that is in the wind after stealing government documents.”
“Don’t you think that’s too many inconsistencies even for you, Colonel Byer … Admiral Turso?”
Shocked that Kenneth knew their ranks, everyone froze giving Eliot the opening he needed. He dropped the box exposing the two silenced Glocks he held. He shot the shock trooper in the door and the two flanking Byer and Turso causing everyone to run for cover while he ran in the direction of the river.
He ran a chaotic pattern that seemed to have no definitive destination. So far the extra kick that the additional treatment had given his precognitive abilities was keeping him out of the shock troops’ crosshairs. The house was in the Ashton Heights only a few miles from airport. If he could get to the river he could make his way to the airport. JARVIS had informed him that Pepper was in DC, which meant one of the Stark Industries jets was sitting at Reagan National. All he had to do was get there.
A rush of information caused his vision to white out making him stumble as a bullet ripped through the flesh of his right latissimus muscle. Eliot rolled and came to his feet the pain helping to clear the onslaught of information as keen hearing picked up the sounds of helicopters. Raising mental barriers around his precognition he turned to his other senses to keep track of his pursues. Seeing the fence surrounding Fort Meyer and Arlington National Cemetery, he turned south ducking under the edge of the underpass as chips of concrete and metal bit into his skin, making him wish for his Stark designed battle suit.
Leaning against the bridge support under Interstate 395, he fought to calm his breathing. On the other side of the road were the Pentagon and the airport. The helicopters had to turn back, but he could hear the squeal of tortured rubber as Turso’s goons tore through the city streets. There wasn’t much time. He had to get to the airport before he started leaving a blood trail.
“Sir, if you can get to the plane, Ms. Potts will be leaving within the next two hours.”
“Cake, JARVIS. What’s the chatter?”
“They’re coming into the front side of the mall now, Eliot.”
He cursed the lack of cover, ducking in the Pentagon Mall, picking up a little something to cover his ruined suit jacket and heading out another door. Jogging across the delivery area of the mall, Eliot ran between high rise condos heading for the bird sanctuary hoping for enough cover to get him to the river without shock troops and airport security using him for target practice.
The river was right there. Eliot stopped under the railroad bridge to catch the position of his pursuers and his breath. They were close so he kept under the scant cover of the trestle as he ran for the water. He heard the words, ‘take the shot’ as he leaned forward to dive into the Potomac. Fire raced up his back, the dark head jerked right as a bullet plowed a furrow up his back, but missed his head as he jackknifed into the river.
Fate must have felt like she’d fucked him enough for one day as he pulled himself from the water, and hid under the tarp over the bed of a maintenance truck that stopped ten feet from Stark’s plane. He climbed into the baggage compartment knowing Tony would have it heated and pressurized since he transported sensitive equipment. The pilot was prepping for takeoff so he rolled up in one of the padded blankets used to protect fragile cargo, and thought about how pissed Clint was going to be when they pulled him out of the plane. The plane jerked banging his bleeding back against a metal strut, and Eliot didn’t think anymore.
Clint ran sensitive fingertips over a dozen custom arrowheads as Tony explained each one’s capabilities. The archer stood to compare one of the actual tips to the life sized schematic.
“That won’t work there because …”
The arrowhead dropped as Clint grabbed his head and went to his knees. Tony turned around when he heard DUM-E’s distressed beeps.
“JARVIS! You tell me what’s going on with Spencer right now!”
“Agent Spencer is at present unconscious in the baggage compartment of the plane carrying Ms. Potts from Washington, DC to LaGuardia.”
“How soon before they land, and how bad is he hurt?”
Clint was on his feet, but still pale. Closing his eyes he breathed deeply for several minutes. When he opened his eyes he seemed to be himself.
“The bond’s been real chaotic all day so I figured things had come to a head. Caught me off guard when it went quiet … Took a minute before I could figure out if he was dead or unconscious.”
“Can this bond thing tell you how bad he’s hurt?”
Shaking his head, Clint scrubbed his hand through his hair.
“If I may finish?”
“You’re in contact with him?” Clint asked.
“He is wearing his comm. Agent Spencer has a through and through bullet wound in his upper right back, cuts from flying debris, bruises and contusions from the river, and a bullet wound that runs the length of the left side of his back. I have notified Director Fury who is sending a Medical team to the airport as we speak.”
“I gotta go. Eliot won’t let them near him hurt. Fuckin’ Fury knows that.”
The archer ran out the workshop still cursing everyone from Fury down as he headed for the garage.
He was surprised when Tony shoved him toward the passenger side of his Acura NSX.
“I’ll drive. We’ll get through security faster. Besides I’m not going to be the one to tell Wolfman you wrecked on the way to rescue him.”
The calloused fingers circling his wrist made Tony look at the younger man.
Brown eyes met grey-green in understanding. With a nod the powerful car roared to life and spared no horses through the streets of New York City.
Chaos reigned when Tony slid to a stop by the Stark Industries jet. Tony and Clint saw Eliot, covered in blood and dirt standing against the wall of the hangar using his body to shield Pepper from the men and women surrounding him. Bodies littered the ground between the plane and the hangar. The two Avengers recognized Happy and Rhodey and several SHIELD agents they’d worked with on other missions. Nick stood by the medical van on his cell phone. They’d walked into the middle of a Mexican Stand-off.
Tony started forward only to be pulled up short by Clint.
Brown eyes pleaded with Clint.
“He won’t hurt her. He’s protecting her.”
“It’s the treatment he got before he left. He didn’t have time to assimilate everything before they shipped his ass to DC. He’s wounded, confused, and all six of his senses are overloaded. He’s identified Pepper as a friend, but he doesn’t know Happy or Colonel Rhodes that well. Ask JARVIS if his comm is still working.”
“Can’t you just do your Obi-Wan thing?”
“I’m getting a lot of static, I think I can get through, but he needs two points of reference. JARVIS would be one, and I’ll be the other.”
Tony pulled out his phone. Nick Fury yelled.
“Are you seeing better from a distance or are you going to do something?”
“Assessing the situation and beginning to resolve said situation now, Sir.”
“You need to hurry the hell up. I’ve got bodies stacking up on the tarmac and airport security is getting twitchy.”
The Hawk turned on his superior.
“You would NOT be in this situation if you hadn’t jacked his senses. You would NOT be in this situation if you’d called me the minute you knew he was wounded. You know the protocol … You wrote the fucking protocol for this situation. You’re lucky you only have unconscious bodies and not DEAD bodies … Sir.”
Fury backed up from the deadly expression in the colorless eyes before he caught himself and straightened.
“Just talk him down, Barton.”
The Hawk mantled then settled.
“His comm is live. JARVIS has been talking steady. So far Eliot’s trusting what he says, but there’s too many people, and he’s in too much pain to get a handle on his senses.”
“Okay. I need you to act as an anchor. Shit. Eliot usually does this part. JARVIS keep talking. Tell Eliot I’m trying to reach him on our private channel. Tony, I know you don’t like touching, but I need your hand on my arm, shoulder … Somewhere so I have a connection to the outside world.”
“I can do that.”
His hand settled on archer’s shoulder.
“How do you feel about taking on a wounded wolf without your armor?”
“Good … Yeah … Okay, let’s do this … He’s had his shots … Right?”
Pepper proved what a smart woman she was by staying silent and letting Eliot protect her as she watched Clint and Tony move closer. She could hear JARVIS talking to Eliot, but Eliot’s answers were too soft to carry. When Eliot began to rub his temples and pinch the bridge of his nose, hope flared that Clint and JARVIS were getting through. When he raised his head, Pepper could tell the confusion had cleared, but stayed where she was when Tony shook his head as he released Clint’s shoulder.
“Hey Babe. Ready to let Medical patch you up?”
Blue-grey eyes darted around taking in bodies, Fury, and Pepper.
“Fuck. Happy … Colonel Rhodes?”
“Just knocked out … Everyone’s just knocked out.”
Clint continued his crooning tone until he had his arms around Eliot.
His exhausted body gave out, but Clint and Tony were there to ease him to the ground. Tony had barely straightened when he got two armfuls of trembling strawberry blonde.
“It was terrifying and beautiful and confusing and I know he thought he was protecting me and is he going to be alright?”
Medical personnel approached quietly, working slowly and efficiently to get to his wounds. As they loaded the gurney in the back of the black van, Clint dropped Eliot’s comm in Tony’s hand.
“Tell JARVIS, thanks for watching over him.”
Clint climbed in behind as Tony and Pepper turned to their friends.
The door slammed on Stark’s reply.
Three days later, Eliot and Clint were in the Challenger traveling north for a visit with Professor Xavier. They hoped a few days working with the telepath would help Eliot get a handle on his increased abilities. Happy and Colonel Rhodes were still nursing their bruises and embarrassment at being taken down by a wounded man. They both relaxed at being away from SHIELD, and Stark Tower. Clint still felt out of place at SHIELD, or on the helicarrier, and Eliot felt out of place with The Avengers now that Coulson was back at work.
The one bright spot in the whole mess was Natasha. Coulson’s near death experience pushed the red-head out of the safety of her place between Eliot and Clint, and into admitting she had deeper feelings for Phil … Just don’t call it love.
Buzzed through the gate, Scott Summers and Logan were waiting when they stopped at the front entrance.
“Agent Barton, if you’ll come with me, you can take your luggage to your room while Logan shows Agent Spencer where to park.”
“It’s Clint and Eliot.”
Grabbing their bags out of the trunk, the archer grinned at Scott. The two X-Men visibly relaxed.
Fifteen minutes later the four stood outside the library door. A willowy red-head opened the door giving them a smile as she motioned them inside, leaving with Scott and Logan.
“Gentlemen, welcome and have a seat. Jean has brought us a variety of refreshments it you’d like.”
Eliot moved to the buffet and fixed Clint a cup of coffee and himself a cup of tea. An arched eyebrow at the Professor had the telepath moving from behind his desk as he parked his chair so he was an equal distance between the two men as Eliot handed him his tea.
“Director Fury was somewhat vague about the reason for your visit.”
With a sigh the two men explained the history of their bond and the experimentation done during Operation Outcome, and Dr. Shearing’s latest round of manipulation to further enhance Eliot’s precognitive abilities.
“May I?” Xavier asked.
Nodding his consent, Eliot made the effort to relax the barriers he kept in place against everyone but Clint. He fought to stay relaxed as he felt the whisper of the Professor’s mental touch. He rubbed his forehead when he felt the telepath withdraw.
“The reason you became overloaded, Agent … Eliot, was with Dr. Shearing’s last treatment whatever chromosomes it was she manipulated, the mutation did not stop. I’m afraid it’s going to continue to mutate probably at a faster rate than you can assimilate.”
“So I’ll what … Go insane from information overload.”
“That is a possible scenario. Another is having Phoenix stabilize or ‘reset’ what was done.”
“Will she take out our bond?”
Eliot’s eyes widened then his expression shuttered at Clint’s question.
“If that’s what you want.”
“No, that’s not what I want … I’m just making sure she won’t mess with it.”
He glared at Eliot who had the good sense to look sheepish.
“I’m sure you’ll want to get back to the city without delay so why don’t we meet back here after dinner, which is in two hours … If that’s alright with you?”
They nodded their agreement.
“Make yourselves at home. Most everyone’s out back.”
The X-Men and the students were welcoming and the beer was cold so they spent a relaxing afternoon and dinner. They soon found themselves back in the library with Xavier and Jean Grey. The Professor asked Clint to join him in his office while Jean worked with Eliot. The archer wanted to refuse, but the expression on the telepath’s face said it wasn’t an option. When the door closed Clint could no longer feel his bond with Eliot.
“What? … No!”
He turned to go back.
Xavier kept his tone level. The trauma of being enthralled by Loki and the Tessaract lay very close to the surface of Clint’s thoughts, and he did not want to add to it by having to resort to mind control, but he could not be connected to Eliot while he was connected to The Phoenix.
“It will only be for a short time. You and Eliot cannot be in contact mentally while Jean is working.”
Smoky eyes studied the Professor, the dark blond head cocked just so. Satisfied with whatever he saw he gave a short nod and went to settle in one of the many window seats. He knew how to wait.
Nate looked at the information Hardison had found on PEP Athletics. Parker was getting ready to fly to Washington, but there was a lot of territory to cover. They really needed Eliot … He needed Eliot. The retrieval specialist disappearing into the bowels of SHIELD put a wrinkle in his plans.
“Hardison, have you found a way to get in touch with Eliot?”
“No. I didn’t know I was supposed to find him.” He turned away from the three scowls. “He left us, and he specifically said to call Quinn or Shelley.”
“He would have come back if you hadn’t been so mean.”
“I was trying to …”
“To what, Hardison, Eliot has not just one lover, but two … Besides Quinn doesn’t have Eliot’s finesse, and Shelley’s a showboat.”
The hacker ducked his head. What had started as an act of jealous pique had snowballed as each success yielded another piece of the Eliot puzzle that he just had to follow. In his excitement he couldn’t help but share his discoveries, which constantly agitated Parker
Parker frowned. Her relationship with Hardison had been rocky since Eliot left. He would show her files and all she could see was the danger to Eliot. She didn’t know how to stop the hacker, but maybe Eliot’s friends could help her. Making sure she’d gotten rid of all of Hardison’s gadgets, she headed to the suburbs.
Letting herself into one of her many safe houses, she sat cross-legged on the bed and pulled Bunny into her arms, then pressed one of his eyes until she heard a click. She reached inside and pulled out the phone Eliot had slipped in her jacket pocket the day he left with his new … Old … Whatever family. She pressed the only number on the phone.
“Yes, Miss Parker.”
“I am called JARVIS. Agent Spencer said I should render assistance if you called.”
“Cool. Can you stop Hardison before he gets Eliot killed?”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that.”
“Eliot’s dead?” Her eyes started to fill with tears.
“He was wounded in the course of an operation that was precipitated by your Hardison’s stumbling about like a club footed cow.”
“But Hardison’s the best there is at hacking.”
“Yes, well, others have said the same.”
“But can you stop him from hurting Eliot?”
“Agent Spencer’s records have all been placed out of the reach of anyone. All of Sir’s family records have been placed out of reach.”
“That’s good then. Do you know when Eliot’s coming home?”
“I expect Agents Spencer and Barton to return to the Tower by Friday.”
The AI purposely misunderstood the question.
“The Tower? No. I meant to Portland.”
“Agent Spencer has no plans to return to Oregon. He’s been permanently assigned to The Avengers Initiative.”
“Is it because of Hardison?”
“I can’t say, Miss Parker. Agent Spencer’s reasoning is his own. Perhaps you should call him and ask.”
“Use this phone and if there is no world ending event taking place I will connect you.”
“Thanks JARVIS. Tell him I called? Oh, and tell him to call Nate.”
“I will pass along the message.”
Parker put the phone back in its hiding place, and headed back to the office. She didn’t know who JARVIS was, but from the way he sounded there was no way she was going to be able to steal Eliot back. Maybe she could get Eliot to steal Leverage.
A nimbus of red haloed the head of the beautiful woman standing in the guest room. The wolf had moved to cover the hawk as both men began to wake when she entered the room. Caught by surprise at how lightly they slept, it had taken her a moment for her power to give their minds a nudge that sent the men tangled in the middle of the bed into a deeper sleep.
Jean Grey had shied away from the private areas of their minds, but the Phoenix entity had been intrigued by the intelligent but feral nature of the men. Though they were blooded warriors they still held to a code that seemed as warped as they. Fascinated, the Phoenix watched their dreams then reached out to soothe the wolf, the flames of life that danced on her fingertips quieting the faces that tumbled through his dreams. Curiosity satisfied, she stepped back from the bed pleased with her work.
If Jean blushed at the wink both men gave her as they settled in the orange Challenger the next morning, the Professor was gentleman enough to not mention it.
They were unpacking when Eliot asked JARVIS for his messages.
“Director Fury and Agent Coulson request your presence upon your return, and there was a call from Miss Parker.”
“Parker … Isn’t that your little blonde thief?” Clint asked.
Eliot arched an eyebrow at the question.
“What can I say? I’m a fan.”
“You both hang out in the duct work way too much.” Eliot teased.
Grabbing a handful of the dark hair that the Phoenix had grown back to its original length while they slept, Clint pulled the retrieval expert into a kiss that deepened until duffels and covers were thrown to the floor along with clothes and weapons.
Clint collapsed onto Eliot’s chest as his breathing and heart rate began to spiral toward normal. He gave a breathy whine as Eliot’s softened cock slipped from his body. Rolling, he pinned the archer to the bed his tongue catching the rivulet of sweat running down his neck.
“If we didn’t have go the office I’d tune up that whine … It’s still a tad sharp.”
Teeth worried the tendon giving a little shake with a growl. Clint, still wallowing in the physical and mental sensations arched up while wrapping a strong leg around Eliot’s hip to encourage him to keep going.
“Insatiable much, Hawk.”
“It’s been fuckin’ forever. The Brothers Royale aren’t going to be happy when you get finished with them so we might as well let them be their usual lovable selves a little longer.”
“The quicker we take care of business, the quicker we can get back to enjoying the fruits of Stark’s labor.”
“Oh yay. Let’s go play with SHIELD’s pet telepaths, listen to Fury bitch ’cause you hid the files, and Coulson bitch over the paperwork needed for stowing away in the belly of a plane then beating up an Air Force officer in a private hangar at LaGuardia.”
Clint complained as he rolled over to watch the beauty that was a naked Eliot Spencer heading for the bathroom. Remembering the Tower’s showers were big enough to accommodate a Roman orgy had Clint launching himself from the bed to scrub Eliot’s back.
Fury met the news of Eliot hiding the Operation Outcome files with a brief tantrum before throwing a file on the table glaring while Eliot read its contents. When he finished he pinched the bridge of his nose. It was a tell he was going to have to eliminate.
“Is there any way I can convince you not to do this?”
“We use independent contractors all the time, Agent Spencer. They’re the best at what they do, and with your influence they’ve also been very helpful to SHIELD. Don’t you want them under our umbrella of protection?”
“Dammit, Nick. You’re not protecting them or there wouldn’t be half the alphabet sitting in front of a bar in Boston.”
Eliot refused to let Nick Fury rattle him. When Jean Grey turned his precognition back to the levels he would have naturally developed even without Operation Outcome’s tampering, she’d left behind an instruction guide. Only Clint and The Phoenix knew what she’d done, and the psi-talents that worked for SHIELD weren’t strong enough to ‘see’ other than what the two men wished.
“Once Nate has all the pieces, he’ll see through your little farce.”
“Are you going to give him those pieces?”
“I won’t need to … I’ll be calling Nate, who’s going to tell me to meet them in Washington, and when it’s all said and done he’ll be making noises about moving the team back to the east coast since I won’t leave Clint or The Avengers.”
Fury spun around from where he’d been watching the repair crews put the finishing touches on the helicarrier. They’d be back out in open water by this time tomorrow. The smirk on Spencer’s face told the Director he hadn’t hidden his reaction.
“You’re right. Leverage Associates is an asset I need out there, but I need them close to you. I’m asking a lot for you to ride herd on them and The Avengers, I want Coulson back to being my ‘one good eye’, and I’ll see what I can do about getting you a competent assistant that the children will tolerate.”
“Now you’re just being a tease. You know I hate paperwork.” The smile faded. “You’re not expecting Coulson to return to full field status?”
“I expect he will … Eventually. That’s why I’m keeping him.”
“I leave you to tell Agent Romanoff. Love may be for children, but she considers Phil to be hers and like Stark, she doesn’t like people to touch her stuff.”
“I thought you and Barton belonged to Widow?”
Eliot chuckled at the puppet master’s confusion.
“We do, but telling her Loki killed Phil made her realize he’s belongs to her on a deeper level. You need a scorecard, Nick. You’re losing track of your players. Movie night has become quite the bonding time at Stark … I mean Avengers’ Tower … There’s beanbags and giant couches … Piles of bodies everywhere. You soon lose track of …”
“ENOUGH! TMI, Spencer. I’ll let you handle Ford as you see fit, but get me an answer, and keep Alec Hardison out of my systems. Dismissed.”
“You’re in luck … JARVIS doesn’t like Hardison and has become fiercely protective of any systems with information about ‘his people’.”
Eliot didn’t stay to see the Director’s reaction to that comment, but he could hear the man shouting for Agent Hill as the bridge door closed behind him. After their conversation he looked for Fury to name Coulson and Hill to both be Assistant Directors … Hill to stand beside him while Coulson skulked in the shadows around SHIELD’s pet projects.
He could feel Clint’s surprise and laughter as he let parts of his thoughts flow through their new bond. Thanks to The Phoenix, it went from a strictly empathic to a full blown telepathic bond. The archer met him at the gangway with a few more of their things that had been found during the clean-up.
Clint took care of stowing the gear they’d brought back to the Tower while Eliot went to start dinner. They silently discussed Eliot’s meeting with Fury, agreed that they would miss having Natasha with them, but were happy Phil had someone who understood him and would push him to get back to normal.
A bleary eyed Tony and Bruce wandered through the kitchen on their way to the dining room … Tony to the bar and Bruce to set the table.
“If you’re talking to Legolas tell him I’ve got some new toys to check out after we eat.”
Eliot studied the genius for a minute wondering if Tony was that intuitive or if the energy from the arc reactor was close to the same frequency as psi energy. Speculations of what would happen if he touched the arc reactor energy ran through his mind.
*Pepper and I might have a thing or two to say about you feeling up Stark’s chest.*
Clint sent through the bond.
*That’s not the only place there’s an arc reactor.*
*Don’t you think we’ve been experimented on enough for one lifetime?*
The fatigue and fear that came through had Eliot feeling contrite so when Clint walked in the kitchen he pulled him close and murmured apologies against his throat.
If they were unusually clingy after Clint and Tony came from trying out the new toys, the others didn’t tease though Natasha quirked a questioning eyebrow from where she sat with Phil’s head in her lap. She relaxed at the wink Clint gave her.
Mentally and physically exhausted they headed for their room. Realizing he hadn’t called Parker, Eliot saw it was only nine o’clock in Portland.
“Are you coming home?”
“I am home, Parker. As much as I miss being with you guys, I have to be here, but you can come visit.”
“What about the jobs? … The Brew Pub?”
“You guys will have to keep saving the world one bad guy at a time. I’ll be here doing the heavy lifting.”
“Who’s gonna teach me stuff?”
Eliot’s heart clenched at the forlorn question.
“You’re fine, Parker, but if it gets bad you can visit and drive Tony crazy.”
“Yeah, but just you. JARVIS would probably drop Hardison down an elevator shaft without a rig.”
“I know the feeling. Hey! Call Nate. We got a job in DC and he said he needs you ’cause Quinn and Shelley aren’t you.”
“As soon as we hang up I’ll call him.” Eliot chuckled.
“When I get to the airport where do I tell the cab to take me?”
“Stark Tower even though some people are calling it The Avengers Tower.”
“Will you cook?”
“I always cook, sweetheart.”
“Can I push your boyfriend off the roof?”
“You won’t have to … He’d jump before you and probably without a rig.”
“Cool. Nate’s yelling so I gotta go inside. I didn’t want anyone listening.”
“I don’t jump off buildings without a good reason. What is it with everyone? A building crumbles under you and people think you’re some kind of daredevil.”
Clint huffed as he pinched Eliot’s side in retribution. Eliot grabbed a handful hair and pulled back the archer’s head kissing him deeply while the phone dialed Nate’s number.
He grinned at the glazed expression in grey eyes.
“Parker said you wanted to talk to me.”
“You talked to Parker?”
“That’s what I said, but if you don’t need anything I’ve got a hot body in an obscenely decadent bed.”
“What … Oh … Yeah … We … Uh… Have a job. I need you to meet us in DC in two days.”
“Things are quiet at the moment. I can probably arrange some time. How long?”
“Three … Four days at the most.”
“Send me the file and where you’re staying.”
“We’re getting ready to run it. Hardison can pull you into the conference.”
“Security protocols. I’ll have my guy handle it. I’ll be right there.”
He cut the call and powered up his Tablet and threw the screens out where Clint could watch.
“JARVIS, can you patch us in, capture the files, but only show me?”
The Leverage offices appeared with everyone present on one screen while Hardison’s Power Point appeared on another.
“Eliot, you’re looking well.” Sophie said.
Hardison smiled but his tone was a bit sullen. Parker waved.
“Now that we’re all here, run it.”
At breakfast the next morning, Eliot pulled Pepper to the side and asked when she was returning to Washington.
“You could have asked JARVIS.” She admonished.
“Your schedule is none of my business unless I need to find you because Tony is injured.”
“You’re scheduled to take off at 7pm. The limo will be out front at 6:15.”
“Thank you, JARVIS. Need a ride?”
“If it’s not an inconvenience…”
“Never. It’ll give me time to pick your brain on some things.”
Eliot’s stomach flipped at the warm smile with devilish twinkle in her eye. He might have to rethink flying commercial. He’d faced SAVAK interrogators that didn’t worry him as much as Pepper Potts.
Once they got to Washington, she insisted he share Stark Industries’ residence at the Ritz-Carlton while he was in town. Though he knew he wouldn’t see much of it, Eliot agreed enjoying the smile that lit her face … Even Happy was pleased that she wouldn’t be staying alone. Lucky for him the rest of the team except Parker were staying in one of the suites at the Ritz.
Sophie answered his knock.
“Eliot, come in. We were expecting room service, but this is even better.”
He kissed her on the cheek and gave her one of his rare smiles.
“El, my man, you’re lookin’ good.”
Eliot eyed him warily. The crap he’d been through with the CIA because of Hardison’s poking in corners was not so far back in his memory as to dull the pain of his injuries.
“Hardison … Nate.”
“Good. Let’s get started. Eliot you’re Steven Trent …”
While running the game, Eliot watched the others. Nate hovering in the background while letting the four of them run loose through the halls of Congress had his precognition working overtime. When Nate kept sending him back after LaGrange instead of stepping in to take control, Eliot’s hackles rose … He knew all the Congressman’s weak spots, no one ran background checks like JARVIS, but he wanted to see what game their mastermind was playing. By the time the PEP Athletic CEO was in custody, and the cheerleader bill passed the committee, he still didn’t have enough information.
When they climbed out of the cab at the hotel there was surprise waiting. The SI limo sat out front with Happy leaning against the door. He straightened when he saw Eliot and opened the back door revealing ‘Agent’ Clint Barton. He stepped out of the car and waited until the others gathered behind Eliot.
“The Director sent me to bring you and your team into the office.”
Eliot could hear Hardison suck wind to launch a tirade when Happy started to crack his knuckles. He heard the hacker’s jaw snap shut. He wanted to laugh at Happy’s antics, but he was too busy pulling back the reins on his anger at Fury.
“It’s fine, Sophie. Go pack your stuff. We’re going to a meeting after which you can go shopping in New York City.”
“As long as it’s nothing serious …”
“I’ll brief you on the way to the airport after you get checked out.”
He had them herded into the elevators before they realized what he was doing, Clint stood silent sentry at his shoulder, their mental bond lit up like the fourth of July.
What the fuck?
You know Fury.
He keeps on he’s going to need Phil to be both his eyes. He didn’t listen to a damn word I said.
He listened he just didn’t accept your ‘No.’ for an answer. Fury gets what he wants one way or another.
This couldn’t have waited until tomorrow? Am I packed?
No and yes. Happy let me in the SI Residence. When was the last time you slept?
It was going to be tonight so do not start. Is this why you’ve been blocking the bond?
I’m just the messenger.
You’re going to get the message when we get back to the Tower.
Eliot was glad for his habit of leaving his shirt tail untucked as the emotions Clint sent down the bond got an instant response from his body.
Fifteen minutes later he was herding everyone into the limo the stern visages of Clint and Happy keeping everyone quiet, though Parker did give Clint a wink. When everyone was settled he explained Nick Fury’s plan.
“You’d be independent contractors taking whatever jobs you wanted, but every once in a while SHIELD would throw you a case file. In addition to the usual ‘alternative income streams’ you’d receive some kind of recompense, and the protection of SHIELD should things get dicey with the LEOs, Sterling, various and sundry other agencies.”
“A ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card?” Parker asked.
“In a manner of speaking … The idea still being, don’t get caught, Hardison cleaning up after, SHIELD techs will double check that all the I’s were dotted and T’s crossed. Leverage keeps doing what it’s been doing, but carrying a full time client on the side.”
“What about you?” Nate asked.
“I stay where I am plus act as liaison between Leverage and SHIELD.”
“You’ll still punch people for us?”
Hardison’s question earned him a punch in the arm from Parker.
“Ow, Momma. You don’t have to hit so hard.”
Flashing SHELD ID gets them waved through airport security with little delay. Their luggage is loaded in the Quinjet while Clint runs pre-flight and Eliot gets everyone buckled up before taking the co-pilot’s seat.
Clint and Eliot eavesdrop, while listening to the radio chatter from the helicarrier and Eliot gives Clint a sharp look as they continue over the water. After twenty minutes of arguing, the consensus is they listen to the offer before making a final decision. Parker and Nate are the ‘Aye’ votes. Parker because it gets Eliot back and Nate because it dovetails with his other plans. Sophie and Hardison the ‘Nay’ votes.
After an hour of flying over open water, Clint finally radioed for landing instructions.
“Q4387 what is your payload?” The Air BOSS asks.
“Delivery for the Director.”
“Say again Q4387.”
“Above your security clearance, Air BOSS. Set us down.” Eliot’s tone is cold.
Clint brought the Quinjet to rest at Fury’s private entrance.
“Leave all bags, electronics and weapons on the jet. It will be secure until we depart for the mainland.”
He watched and waited. Clint lowered the ramp and Eliot watched a little longer before Hardison and Parker both grumbled, but threw a few more things in the basket Eliot set on the seat. The retrievalist turned his stare on Sophie.
“Seriously, you think …”
With a huff several more items hit the basket, and only then did Eliot turn to lead them off the Quinjet, Clint followed behind after grabbing his bow and quiver.
Loaded for bear, darlin’?
With this crew … You bet. I may shoot Hardison in the ass just for grins and chuckles.
The Glock and knife would have been enough.
Honoring the brand. It’s not Hawkeye without the bow.
I can see I’m going to have to separate you and Stark.
Their internal dialogue was cut short as Eliot motioned for them to sit at the conference table overlooking the bridge. Eliot and Clint exchanged a smirk at Hardison’s bug-eyed expression.
“Is that …”
He spun around to go for the stairs and promptly ran into a leather and body armor wearing Nick Fury. With a yelp and a leap that would have done an Olympic athlete proud, he got in behind Eliot while Clint fought to keep a straight face and Hill and Coulson acted the perfect agents. Eliot rolled his eyes at Nick’s smirk. Hardison sat between Sophie and Parker.
“I am Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD. These are my Assistant Directors, Hill and Coulson. Agent Spencer briefed you on why I asked you here today so I’ll get right to the point. Yes or No?”
“As you know Eliot is a man of few words so before we give our answer we’d like to hear the long version as opposed to the cliff notes.”
Nate sat back and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Bottom line, I wanted to haul you all in, sit you down at a table and tell you to sign the contract in front of you or I was going to let all the alphabets and Interpol fight over who got to put you in jail.”
At the word jail everyone’s attention snapped onto the one-eyed king.
“Agent Spencer made his displeasure known for that idea and as I have a certain fondness for my right eye and sleeping, so we came to a compromise.”
Everyone turned to look in the same direction as Fury when he glared at the three agents leaning against the rail and each other, the curvy red-head twirling a small dagger over her knuckles. The others turned their attention back to Fury, but Hardison continued to stare until cold green eyes met his and the grip on the dagger shifted. The hacker snapped his head back to watch the Director and his Assistants.
“I like her.” Parker whispered.
Eliot bumped Natasha with his hip and gave her a wink as Coulson activated the smart table.
“In front of each of you is a contract. It’s a standard contract in these situations … Non-disclosure, terms of the agreement between the parties, etc. We will have an agreement before you leave today, or I guarantee you will feel the heat like never before. AD Coulson will take care of any changes or addendums, but I for one recommend you do NOT undo all of Agent Spencer’s hard work.”
They all looked over at Eliot who presented them with the same bland special agent face everyone else was wearing. Four heads bowed over the table.
In his office, Fury watched the monitors. He watched as the brunette, Devereaux, looked at Eliot. He watched as she looked at the contract then back to where he still leaned against Barton with Romanoff leaning against them both.
“Eliot, what did this cost?”
Her expression said she didn’t believe him.
“You don’t have to do this. This is not who you are.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Sophie. It’s exactly who I am, and have always been. That’s why Dubenich wanted me. That’s why Nate called me back in Los Angeles.”
Brown eyes jerked from Eliot to Nate who shrugged and continued to read. Sophie signed her name.
“But … But… I thought …” Hardison wasn’t sure where to look.
“Since Eliot and Parker have the most to lose if one of Nate’s plans goes sideways then I agree.”
“Do I get to play with all your cool toys?” Hardison grinned at Coulson.
“No. Agent Spencer has put safeguards in place that will burn you to ground if you try.”
“Now that’s just harsh. I thought we was bros.”
“Yeah … Well you almost got me killed poking around the CIA so sign the damn contract and get your ass on the jet.”
Eliot stalked out of the door while the agents that remained stared at Hardison like he was next on their hit parade. He signed. Coulson turned them over to Agent Sitwell who got them ID’s that gave access to parts of SHIELD such as medical.
“Agents Romanoff and Barton will escort you back to the flight deck. Welcome to SHIELD.”
Sitwell smirked at the two Avengers as he continued down the hall.
Clint fed Eliot a running commentary through their bond as he watched Hardison pant after Natasha. Parker dropped back to walk beside him. Nate and Sophie dropped back until it was Hardison and the Black Widow.
“She’s going to hurt him isn’t she?” Parker asked.
Clint gave a nasty chuckle.
“She’s a Black Widow. What do you think? Don’t blink.”
The hacker reached out and laid his hand on the small of the red-head’s back.
“Hey little Momma maybe you could …”
Was all he got out before he was being strangled by a clean musk smelling vice while being hit with a Widow’s Bite. As he crumbled to the deck, Natasha tucked and rolled to her feet while Hardison twitched on the deck. She looked at Parker.
“He’s yours … You bring him.”
Parker picked up a foot and started to drag the hacker toward the flight deck, his chin bouncing on the deck.
“At least get him on his feet.” Sophie said.
The thief rolled her eyes and with Nate’s help got Hardison on his feet. Between the two of them they got him in the Quinjet. It was a subdued group that landed at the SHIELD heliport and herded into a black Suburban. When Eliot stopped in front of the Trump International Hotel it was just after midnight.
“You’ve got two nights here on SHIELD’s dime. That’ll give you time to sleep and get plane tickets back to Portland.”
“What about you?”
“I’m taking my boy and going home … Well what passes for home or an insane asylum depending on how long Tony’s been awake.” He mumbled.
Parker grabbed his arm.
“Yes, Parker, just not at the ass crack of dawn.”
She hugged his neck so hard he felt like Natasha had him between her thighs.
“Come for breakfast.”
The blonde grabbed her bag and a key card from Sophie and sprinted for the elevators. With a tired sigh he turned to climb in the SUV.
He turned to look at Nate. Sophie and Hardison were trailing behind Parker.
“What did you give Fury for our deal?”
“Nothing I haven’t given before.”
The door shut in the mastermind’s face.
Sleeping through the night had put Eliot in a much better frame of mind, but he was still relieved when the elevator opened to only Parker. JARVIS would take care of jamming any tracking devices Hardison stuck on her so he relaxed to her familiar kind of crazy.
She got a little shy when the others started to wander to the table, but was soon asking Natasha to show her the move she did on Hardison. Tony sat and stared while he inhaled his first cup of coffee.
“Have you ever stolen from me?”
Parker looked puzzled.
“Who are you?”
“Cute. Tony Stark-Iron Man-genius-billionaire-philanthropist-sometimes playboy.”
Parker stared at Tony.
“OH, the guy in the suit that did the thing. Yeah. No, I’ve never stolen from you. I promised Eliot. You give money away … Are you crazy?”
“Okay then, you can stay.”
“How’s she doing?” Clint asked as he filled his coffee mug.
“Just one more inmate.”
Parker was arguing harnesses, alarm systems and rigs with Clint and Tony while Eliot slipped off to his office. With Fury taking back Coulson and making him one of his Assistant Directors, his work load increased. If Nick didn’t soon get him someone to handle the drudgery, he was going to ask Pepper. That woman had better sources than SHIELD.
Seeing the time, Parker hopped off the couch.
“Gotta go. They’ll be having a fit ’cause I’m flying under the radar.”
“Come on Barton, Parker’s given me some ideas for expanding your quiver while keeping down the bulk.”
At the floor for Tony’s workshop, Parker stopped Clint.
“You’ll watch him? Sometimes he gets caught … Inside the memories.”
Clint smiled warmly at her concern.
“We’re the Hawk and the Wolf, it’s what we do, Sweetheart.”
“Nate’s worried. He’s afraid about what Eliot promised the one-eyed king for us.”
“So am I, Parker … So am I.”
The archer gave her a warm, dry kiss on the cheek.
“Take care, little thief.”
She stared wide-eyed at the door until it stopped.
“This isn’t the lobby.”
“I thought perhaps you would like to say goodbye to Agent Spencer.” JARVIS said.
“I should, huh?”
“I believe it would help raise his spirits.”
“Thanks, JARVIS. Do you watch out for everyone like you do Eliot?”
“They’re becoming Sir’s family so I watch over them.”
Eliot looked up from his computer.
“Going back to the hotel?”
“Yeah. I’m sure Hardison’s giving birth to some kind of farm animal because he can’t track me.”
“It’s not my business so I’m only going to say this once. I know you’ve got bolt holes all over the world, but if you need some place that’s not Archie, promise me you’ll use that phone I gave you or come here.”
“Good. Now I got work …”
The words were cut off when Parker pressed a brief kiss on his lips before darting out of the office.
Things settled. Eliot was moving between Leverage and The Avengers with little conflict. Fury had given him Agent Jasper Sitwell. While Clint was away with Sitwell on a mission, Eliot sequestered himself and called for JARVIS. After the AI had answered Eliot’s questions, Eliot began securing his office.
“If I may inquire where you’re going?”
“I’m sorry, JARVIS, but I can’t put you in a position to go against your main programming.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“If I tell you my plans and Tony asks you where I am what do you tell him?”
“Where you are … Your reasoning is sound.”
“Thank you, JARVIS.”
For the next month, Eliot disappeared for days at time, never giving any explanation on his return. Clint was beginning to worry. There was little the two men didn’t know about each other, but whatever Eliot was doing he was hiding it away so deep it couldn’t be seen in their bond. When he’d asked JARVIS, the AI seemed evasive so he went to Tony.
“Sir, I was not being evasive with Agent Barton, I simply do not have that information. Eliot specifically said he wanted me to be ignorant of the matter for this very reason.”
“Son of a bitch, I’ll put an arrow through his good eye.” Clint growled.
“What … What have you got? Something about Fury?”
Stark started flipping screens.
“We are in SHIELD’s system, Sir, but there is nothing about any mission for Agent Spencer.”
“No. This would only be on paper or in the Director’s head. That’s the way the most secret stuff is handled. Paper only … ‘eyes only.”
“You think Agent would know?”
“Sir, Agent Spencer has returned and his currently in the quarters he shares with Agent Barton.”
“He appears to suffering mild dehydration, exhaustion, bruises, and several wounds that have healed to the point I cannot determine their cause.”
“That would be my cue. Thanks, Tony, JARVIS.”
The next several hours were spent trying to mentally and physically sooth Eliot into sleep. The dreams were jumbled, and while Clint could pick up bits and pieces it wasn’t enough to put the pieces together. He’d just gotten Eliot settled back into deep sleep when their door cracked and a slim blonde slipped through. She kicked off her shoes and slipped under the covers and tucked herself against Eliot’s chest. With Clint curled around his back and Parker tucked against his front, the retrieval specialist finally relaxed.
Nick Fury locked the door to his quarters. His black leather coat landed on the chair. Three fingers of Bushmills in a glass. He started reading through a stack of reports on his desk when several newspaper clippings fluttered from among the crisp white sheets. Picking them off the floor, he smiled as he read the names. Lt. Col. Eric Byer, Retired, Victor Dubenich, Admiral Mark Turso, Retired, and Damien Moreau … All dead from natural causes. They’d served their purpose, but had become liabilities to his plans.
A satisfied smile lit his face as he leaned back in his chair and propped his feet on the desk. His wolf was back with his hawk, and he had a shiny new set of assets to deploy.
All hail the one eyed king. Long live the king.
~ Fini ~